5 Surprising (and Useful!) Ways to Save for a Down Payment

The Mistake-Proof Guide to Home Buying

Illustration of man nailing dollar bills to a roof

5 Surprising (and Useful!) Ways to Save for a Down Payment

One of the biggest misconceptions of home buying? The 20% down payment. Here’s how to buy with a lot less down.

Image: Jacob Thomas/Offset

Buying your first home conjures up all kinds of warm and fuzzy emotions: pride, joy, contentment. But before you get to the good stuff, you’ve got to cobble together a down payment, a daunting sum if you follow the textbook advice to squirrel away 20% of a home’s cost.

Here are five creative ways to build your down-payment nest egg faster than you may have ever imagined.

1. Crowdsource Your Dream Home

You may have heard of people using sites like Kickstarter to fund creative projects like short films and concert tours. Well, who says you can’t crowdsource your first home? Forget the traditional registry, the fine china, and the 16-speed blender. Use sites like Feather the Nest and Hatch My House to raise your down payment. Hatch My House says it’s helped Americans raise more than $2 million for down payments.

Less Than 20% Down?

2. Ask the Seller to Help (Really!)

When sellers want to a get a deal done quickly, they might be willing to assist buyers with the closing costs. Fewer closing costs = more money you can apply toward your deposit.

“They’re called seller concessions,” says Ray Rodriguez, regional mortgage sales manager for the New York metro area at TD Bank. Talk with your real estate agent. She might help you negotiate for something like 2% of the overall sales price in concessions to help with the closing costs.

There are limits on concessions depending on the type of mortgage you get. For FHA mortgages, the cap is 6% of the sale price. For Fannie Mae-guaranteed loans, the caps vary between 3% and 9%, depending on the ratio between how much you put down and the amount you finance. Individual banks have varying caps on concessions.

No matter where they net out, concessions must be part of the purchase contract.

 

3. Look into Government Options

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, offers a number of homeownership programs, including assistance with down payment and closing costs. These are typically available for people who meet particular income or location requirements. HUD has a list of links by state that direct you to the appropriate page for information about your state.

HUD offers help based on profession as well. If you’re a law enforcement officer, firefighter, teacher, or EMT, you may be eligible under its Good Neighbor Next Door Sales Program for a 50% discount on a house’s HUD-appraised value in “revitalization areas.” Those areas are designated by Congress for  homeownership opportunities. And if you qualify for an FHA-insured mortgage under this program, the down payment is only $100; you can even finance the closing costs.

For veterans, the VA will guarantee part of a home loan through commercial lenders. Often, there’s no down payment or private mortgage insurance required, and the program helps borrowers secure a competitive interest rate.

Some cities also offer homeownership help. “The city of Hartford has the HouseHartford Program that gives down payment assistance and closing cost assistance,” says Matthew Carbray, a certified financial planner with Ridgeline Financial Partners and Carbray Staunton Financial Planners in Avon, Conn. The program partners with lenders, real estate attorneys, and homebuyer counseling agencies and has helped 1,200 low-income families.

4. Check with Your Employer

Employer Assisted Housing (EAH) programs help connect low- to moderate-income workers with down payment assistance through their employer. In Pennsylvania, if you work for a participating EAH employer, you can apply for a loan of up to $8,000 for down payment and closing cost assistance. The loan is interest-free and borrowers have 10 years to pay it back.

Washington University in St. Louis offers forgivable loans to qualified employees who want to purchase housing in specific city neighborhoods. University employees receive the lesser of 5% of the purchase price or $6,000 toward down payment or closing costs.

Ask the human resources or benefits personnel at your employer if the company is part of an EAH program.

5. Take Advantage of Special Lender Programs

Finally, many lenders offer programs to help people buy a home with a small down payment. “I would say that the biggest misconception [of homebuying] is that you need 20% for the down payment of a house,” says Rodriguez. “There are a lot of programs out there that need a total of 3% or 3.5% down.”

FHA mortgages, for example, can require as little as 3.5%. But bear in mind that there are both upfront and monthly mortgage insurance payments. “The mortgage insurance could add another $300 to your monthly mortgage payment,” Rodriguez says.

Some lender programs go even further. TD Bank, for example, offers a 3% down payment with no mortgage insurance program, and other banks may have similar offerings. “Check with your regional bank,” Rodriguez says. “Maybe they have their own first-time buyer program.”

Not so daunting after all, is it? There’s actually a lot of help available to many first-time buyers who want to achieve their homeownership dreams. All you need to do is a little research — and start peeking at those home listings!

 

© Copyright 2018 NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®

Who Represents You in a Real Estate Transaction?

A for sale sign in front of a house

Knowing which type of relationship you have with your agent, and his broker, will help you negotiate the best possible deal, whether you’re a buyer or a seller.

Image: Liz Foreman for HouseLogic

When you hire a real estate agent, it’s important to understand whose side she’s on as you select a home to buy (or list your current home for sale) and head towards closing, where the actual transfer of ownership happens. There are a lot of ways agents may represent clients. Yours might represent:

  • Only you
  • Only the other parties in the transaction
  • Everyone in the deal

By knowing where your agent’s loyalties lie, you’ll know what you can tell her and what you can’t. (If, for example, you’re dealing with an agent who doesn’t represent you but is representing the sellers of a home you want to buy, you won’t want to tell her how high you’re willing to go on the price.) In some states, your agent has to explain the type of representation (also called agency) she’s offering you and ask you to sign a contract identifying who the agent and her broker represent. If an agent doesn’t bring up the subject or ask you to sign a contract, ask about it so you know whom she’s representing.

No matter what form of representation you agree to, watch out for your own interests and understand the six ways brokers and agents represent clients below.

1. Buyer’s Agency

Want the agent to represent you and only you when you buy a home so that all the information you share with her is confidential? Opt for an exclusive buyer’s agent.

Who pays the buyer’s agent? Surprisingly, even if you hire a buyer’s agent, you can still ask the sellers to pay his fee. You can pay your buyer’s agent yourself, or ask the seller (or the seller’s agent) to pay your agent a share of their sales commission.

2. Seller’s or Listing Agency

An exclusive seller’s agent represents only the sellers, not the buyers. If your exclusive seller’s agent finds a buyer for your home, he may have another agent — maybe even a co-worker from the same brokerage — represent the buyer in your transaction. In some cases the buyer may have no agent at all. Your exclusive seller’s agent is loyal only to you, so it’s OK to discuss strategy with him.

Who pays the seller’s agent? The seller pays a commission to the seller’s agent from the proceeds of the sale. The seller’s agent may, and often does, share the commission with the homebuyer’s agent.

3. Subagency or Cooperating Agency

Let’s say you find a home online. You call the real estate brokerage that’s offering the home and an agent who answers the phone offers to show you the home right now. You think, “Great, she’s showing me the home, she must work for me.” But unless you’ve hired her as your buyer’s agent, she’s working for the sellers.

The same thing can happen if you go to see a home with an agent whose brokerage doesn’t hold the listing. That agent is assisting you, but she’s not your agent; she’s cooperating with the sellers to get you to buy their home.

In some states, that agent may also be a subagent (think subcontractor) of the seller’s agent. Some states allow subagents, some don’t.

Bottom line: Always ask any agent showing you a home whom she represents. Never tell a subagent anything you don’t want the sellers to know.

Who pays the subagent? The seller’s agent shares her commission with the subagent.

4. Dual Agency

In many states, agents can represent both the buyer and seller. These dual agents seek to bring both sides together. They can’t do something that’s only good for you and not for the other side.

A dual agent situation often arises when one agent represents the buyers and the sellers of the same home. The agent must disclose the relationship and, in many states, you must agree in writing to such dual representation because of the potential for conflicts of interest. While dual agents have an obligation not to share any confidential information of a client without their permission, be sure to inform the agent that the information is confidential and know that any non-confidential information may be shared with the people on the other side of the transaction.

Who pays the dual agent? Usually the seller pays the commission.

5. Designated or Appointed Agency

What happens when the buyer’s agent and the seller’s agent both work for the same broker?

To make sure both sides of the home sale are treated fairly in this situation, some brokers designate an agent in their company to represent only the buyers and another to represent only the sellers. A designated agent or appointed agent will be loyal to you and only you. The strategy helps avoid a dual agency situation.

Who pays the designated agents? The sellers pay the commission and the designated agents share it.

6. Nonagency or Transaction Brokerage

In some states, you can work with an agent who acts as a facilitator. By doing so, you set up a nonagency, transactional, or facilitator relationship with the “agent” even though that person is technically not your agent under the law. Typically, nonagents owe you fewer obligations and duties than those who are actually agents. For instance, they would still be required to treat you fairly, but wouldn’t necessarily owe you confidentiality.

Nonagent responsibilities vary from state to state. To find out what those services entail in your state, ask the broker and agent.

Who pays the nonagent? You, as the seller, might agree to pay a flat fee or a commission, which would be stipulated in the listing agreement.

A REALTOR® can help you sell faster, get a better price, and guide you through what can be a complex process. So you’ll want to find an agent who suits your needs. Knowing which type of relationship you have with your agent, and his broker, will help you negotiate the best possible deal, whether you’re a buyer or a seller.

Article written by Dona DeZube
Looking to buy or sell a home?

Chris Lee and Rusty’s Team at RealtySouth 205-233-5183

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© Copyright 2018 NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®

8 Ways to Get Rid of Awful Pet Smells That Turn Off Buyers

Dog sitting on colorful striped rug

You probably only think you’ve eliminated pet odors. Here’s how to make sure.

image: Ellen Mertens

Having pet odors inside your home can turn off potential homebuyers and keep your home from selling. Ask your real estate agent for an honest opinion about whether your home has a pet smell.

If your agent holds her nose, here’s how to get rid of the smell:

#1 Air Out Your House

While you’re cleaning, throw open all the windows in your home to allow fresh air to circulate and sweep out unpleasant scents.

Once your house is free of pet odors, do what you can to keep the smells from returning. Crate your dog when you’re out or keep it outdoors. Limit the cat to one floor or room, if possible. Remove or replace pet bedding.

#2 Scrub Thoroughly

Scrub bare floors and walls soiled by pets with vinegar, wood floor cleaner, or an odor-neutralizing product, which you can purchase at a pet supply store for $10 to $25.

Try a 1:9 bleach-to-water solution on surfaces it won’t damage, like cement floors or walls.

Got a stubborn pet odors covering a large area? You may have to spend several hundred dollars to hire a service that specializes in hard-to-clean stains.

#3 Wash Your Drapes and Upholstery

Pet odors seep into fabrics. Launder, steam clean, or dry clean all your fabric window coverings. Steam clean upholstered furniture.

Either buy a steam cleaner designed to remove pet hair for around $200 and do the job yourself, or pay a pro. You’ll spend about $40 for an upholstered chair, $100 for a sofa, and $7 for each dining room chair if a pro does your cleaning.

#4 Clean Your Carpets

Shampoo your carpets and rugs, or have professionals do the job for $25 to $50 per room, depending on their size and the level of filth embedded in them. The cleaner will try to sell you deodorizing treatments. You’ll know if you need to spend the extra money on those after the carpet dries and you have a friend perform a sniff test.

If deodorizing doesn’t remove the pet odor from your home, the carpets and padding will have to go. Once you tear them out, scrub the subfloor with vinegar or an odor-removing product, and install new padding and carpeting. Unless the smell is in the subfloor, in which case that goes next.

#5 Paint, Replace, or Seal Walls

When heavy-duty cleaners haven’t eradicated smells in drywall, plaster, or woodwork, add a fresh coat of paint or stain, or replace the drywall or wood altogether.

On brick and cement, apply a sealant appropriate for the surface for $25 to $100. That may smother and seal in the odor, keeping it from reemerging.

#6 Place Potpourri or Scented Candles in Strategic Locations

Put a bow on your deep clean with potpourri and scented candles. Don’t go overboard and turn off buyers sensitive to perfumes. Simply place a bowl of mild potpourri in your foyer to create a warm first impression, and add other mild scents to the kitchen and bathrooms.

#7 Control Urine Smells

If your dog uses indoor pee pads, put down a new pad each time the dog goes. Throw them away outside in a trash can with a tight lid. Remove even clean pads from view before each showing.

Replace kitty litter daily, rather than scooping used litter clumps, and sweep up around the litter box. Hide the litter box before each showing.

#8 Relocate Pets

If your dog or cat has a best friend it can stay with while you’re selling your home (and you can stand to be separated from your pet), consider sending your pet on a temporary vacation. If pets have to stay, remove them from the house for showings and put away their dishes, towels, and toys.

 

© Copyright 2018 NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®

 

Weird, But True: Fancy Bath Salts Can Help Sell Your Home

A white clawfoot bathtub in front of closed doors

You’re not just selling a home, you’re selling a lifestyle.

Image: Trinette Reed/Stocksy United

We get it. You’re pragmatic. You’ll buy that deep cleaning and decluttering your house are important steps in a comprehensive home staging process that could help your home receive higher offers and sell faster. But what’s up with those staging recommendations like making your bathroom feel like a spa and your kitchen smell like Rachael Ray just stopped by? Is that froufrou stuff really worth your time?

It is. Actually, the fact that you’re a pragmatist is the reason you’re going to want to shell out for some luxury staging items. The science is in: You’re not just selling your home, you’re selling a lifestyle, and those fancy final touches make a powerful sales pitch.

That’s right. Although the $11,000 you spent on a sturdy new roof might help seal the deal after the inspection, a gorgeous $30 jar of bath salts could be what prompts the offer in the first place.

The Psychology of Emotional Selling

There are plenty of rational reasons for a buyer to want to purchase your house — that new roof is just one of the many. But according to Peter Noel Murray, Ph.D., in “Psychology Today,” decision making and emotions are inescapably intertwined. So much so that people with brain damage affecting the connection between emotions and rational thought are unable to make decisions, even with a clear set of pros and cons before them.

What’s more, functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, results have confirmed the active role emotions play in consumer decisions about brands. How else can the overwhelming success of brand names over generic products be explained when generics are often the exact same thing?

People want to be associated with the brand that feels more upscale, or as Terrylynn Fisher, a REALTOR® with Dudum Real Estate in Walnut Creek, Calif., says, “Everyone aspires to have more than they have.” In a 2007 study, researchers found that people’s enjoyment of wine increased in tune with the wine’s perceived price — even when it wasn’t actually expensive.

Think of your home as the luxury, brand-name product, and all of the other houses on a buyer’s list as the generic version. Those homes might have a new roof as well, but when it comes to falling in love with a house, it’s that fancy label — aka, the chic bath salts or fancy wine decanter on display — that could make all the difference.

“You stage appropriate to the price range but [staging makes it feel] a notch above,” Fisher says. “[Buyers] want to feel like it’s a move up.”

Of course, different brands have different identities. How can you know that luxury is the right brand to convey to house hunters? In another “Psychology Today” article, Brent McFerran, Ph.D., explains that consumers’ desire to make luxury purchases is tied to their desire to showcase their accomplishments. What could be a better representation of someone’s accomplishments than their home?

When a home appears luxurious, it promises aspirational home buyers the lifestyle they have worked so hard to earn. They deserve to live in a house with fancy wine decanters and an orchid in the bathroom. They’ve earned it.

Orchid in a bathroom staged for saleImage: MidMod Decor

Leveraging Luxury (Affordably!)

What’s that? Your home isn’t already laden with luxury goods? The good news is that it doesn’t take many luxury items — or any genuinely expensive ones — to create an upscale look for your home staging. Overstock discount stores like HomeGoods or Burlington Coat Factory are great places to find fancy, brand-name items like those bath salts or top-of-the-line bed linen sets at a bargain.

When it comes to the staging items you were going to get anyway, sometimes the right item makes a subtle but impactful difference. In an article for “Houzz,” Kristie Barnett, known as “The Decorologist,” recommends overstuffed, oversized throw pillows. They’re not much more expensive than smaller pillows (a 26-inch pillow stuffed into a 20-inch cover from Ikea will run you about $15), and they add a seriously luxurious touch to the living room. Another inexpensive luxury tip from Barnett: Paint interior doors black. Who knew your doors were one cheap, easy coat of paint away from seriously chic?

Finally, when choosing luxury items for your home staging, be sure to focus on the lifestyle you’re promoting. Yes, those bath salts in that elegant glass jar are beautiful on their own, but the reason you’re using them is to recreate the feeling of a spa in your bathroom. Support that beautifully scented splurge with fresh, white towels, decorative baskets, and maybe even a small bamboo plant.

Sound like the kind of bathroom you’d like to call home? With any luck, that’s what house hunters will think too. You already know your well-maintained home is the best rational choice for the right buyer; this easy staging strategy can make it the obvious emotional choice as well. There’s nothing like a little note of luxury to tug at their hearts and help them envision your house as their future home.

 

Looking to buy or sell a home?

Chris Lee and Rusty’s Team at RealtySouth 205-233-5183

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© Copyright 2018 NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®

The 9 Super Useful Tools Every DIYer Need

You Can Do It! The DIY Beginner’s Guide

Drawing of a tape measure

That tape measure you have? It’s probably all wrong.

Image: Eatcute/Shutterstock

Here are the nine essential tools you need to start hammering out great projects:

#1 Two Hammers

You know you need a hammer. Duh.

But Beth Allen, a licensed contractor and DIY instructor, is about to blow your mind: You don’t need a hammer. You need two.

A lightweight hammer is important for more delicate projects, like adding trim to a bookcase (without the fear of splitting said trim) or putting a nail into drywall.

“Heck, I’ve used a shoe for that kind of hammering,” says Allen, which gives you an idea of how lightweight we’re talking. “You can even use the floral hammer that comes in those ‘lady’ toolsets.”

But don’t let that be your only one: You’ll need a heavy-duty hammer for nailing into studs or putting a big anchor in the wall.

She recommends fiberglass over wood for avoiding intense vibrations in your hand while crushing your first project (figuratively, we hope).

#2 A Long, Sturdy Tape Measure

What’s wrong with your trusty Ikea measuring tape? “It must be at least 25 feet!” Allen says.

“That move where you measure partway, run out of tape, and have to use your toe as a placeholder? Nope, nope, nope.”

Take it from a pro: That measurement-fudging dance causes miscalculations that can run you big bucks in mistakes — we’re talking, like, realizing those freshly delivered kitchen appliances don’t actually fit in their designated spots. Whoops.

A grown-up measuring tape that’s long, wide, sturdy, and equipped with a solid locking mechanism.

You want one made of steel, which conveniently is the most widely available option. And make sure to invest in one with red rectangles every 16 inches, which is the standard width between wall studs.

#3 Your Dream Drill

Allen gets downright giddy when she talks about her cordless drill.

Not crushing on yours in the same way? Then you haven’t found the right one.

“To start, don’t even look at something smaller than 12 volts,” she says. “You’re not going to have enough power to even drill into wall studs without hearing the motor grind. You do not want to hear that thud thud thud of stripping a screw.”

Allen also recommends a rechargeable model with a pair of lithium batteries on the side so you’ll never be without a charge — and never have to fight with a cord while squeezing in a tight or awkward place, like closets.

Plug-in drills do have more power, but most home DIYers don’t need that extra power for two reasons:

1. You’re not exactly building a house from scratch (right?)

2. A cordless model allows for a steady flow of torque, meaning you don’t have to worry about how hard or gently you pull the trigger.

Best way to find the perfect drill: Find one you can hold above your head comfortably for about 30 to 45 seconds.

And don’t bother fussing over the brand. Store-brand drills can be just as quality as the major labels. “You can find a great drill, especially during sale season, for $70 to $100.”

#4 A Jigsaw

When most DIY newbies think of saws, they think of the rotating blade attached to a table. Not your best starter saw. “A table saw will take your fingers off,” Allen warns.

For the sake of your digits, a simple, cordless jigsaw is a better choice. A jigsaw also is lightweight enough to carry and cut wherever you need, and versatile enough to cut delicate pieces like trim or molding — it can even cut curves when needed.

A jigsaw has a slower pace, and the blade does downward strokes, which means it’s safer because the debris falls down, not out.

Most stores will have options suited for smaller hands, lefties, and those who prefer an ergonomic tool.

To get the most out of your jigsaw, add on an assortment of blades that will let you cut metal and PVC. A $10 combo-blade package should do it.

#5 A Tile Saw

Got tiles? Want tiles? If you have even a single tile project coming up, let us assure you, you want to own your own tile saw.

Tile projects can be tedious and time consuming, and if you’re rushing to return it on time, you could end up with sloppy work.

Look for something in the $100 to $150 range, keeping in mind that rentals will run you about $50 per day for the most simple one.

Plus, it’ll see you through future tile projects, from fireplace surrounds to bathroom backsplashes, even patio pavers. Ooo! The starter diamond-cut blade your saw comes with should last you through a few hundred square feet, so no need to pick up extras right away.

The tile saw is a good reminder for buying versus renting for all tools: Consider how many times you’re likely to use it, get prices on buying and renting, and do the math. You might be surprised how often treating yourself is the more economical option.

#6 Two Pairs of Safety Glasses

When you’re DIYing, the weather is always cloudy with a chance of wood chips. Or drywall dust. Or tile flakes. Not things you want in your eyes.

Look for a pair of safety glasses that fit comfortably (“like sunglasses!” says Allen), and wrap around on the side to protect you from all angles.

“Try them on and look down — that’s the way your face will be angled while working,” Allen recommends. “They shouldn’t slide off or feel too snug, otherwise they’ll drive you crazy and you’ll want to pull them off.”

Don’t feel shy about shaking your head around in the store to make sure they feel good when you’re moving, and if you live somewhere especially hot or cold, look into options with anti-fog coating.

And this is one piece of equipment you don’t want to skimp on. “I’d avoid the dollar store options,” says Allen. “Your vision is your life, and anytime there’s the possibility of projectile anything, you’d be a fool not to wear a quality pair.”

Why two pairs? Because there’s often someone holding up the shelf while you drill, or keeping the wood steady as you saw — and they’ll probably want their eyesight later too.

#7 Shop-Vac

When you’re in the midst of any sort of project (especially ifyou do any demo in older homes), you may have no idea what gross or potentially dangerous stuff is inside the construction dust you’re generating, so getting rid of it as quickly as possible is just smart.

Don’t be tempted to use your house vacuum — it’s not made for home-project debris, and could clog your motor.

To handle your DIY successes (and fails), you’ll want one that has at least a gallon capacity and 5.0 “peak,” which is the power and speed at which it sucks stuff up.

Keep in mind it has to be light enough for you to comfortably carry both empty and when it’s filled with a gallon of water-soaked sawdust or sand.

#8 An Outdoor Extension Cord

You’ll need that for the shop-vac and other tools!

And like the measuring tape, go with quality and length.

“At least 50 feet,” says Allen.

Your shop-vac will require a cord with 12-amp power and a three-prong plug on both ends — a more expensive option than your typical two-prong, 14-amp cord, but a worthy upgrade.

(And yes, you read that right: 12 amps powers more than 14 amps. Lower amps equals higher power capacity. Weird, we know.)

#9 Something To Put It All In

Your dad might make a big fuss about handing down his first toolbox to you, but maybe use that as a decorative planter (Pinterest it! It’s cute!).

The truth is, there are way better options today.

“Look for one on wheels, like your favorite carry-on suitcase,” says Allen. Your biggest priority is to choose something you’re going to be able to move around easily. Why haul every tool to the project site individually?

Look for deep drawers and shallow trays so you can easily organize the itty-bitty things like bits and store the bulky stuff, too

 

Looking to buy or sell a home?

Chris Lee and Rusty’s Team at RealtySouth 205-233-5183

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© Copyright 2018 NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®
 
 

7 Genius Entryway Storage Ideas to Get You Out the Door Faster

The “Feels-So-Good!” Guide to Getting Organized

Girl running out of her front door past entryway storage

7 Genius Entryway Storage Ideas to Get You Out the Door Faster

Creating personalized bins is a good start.

Image: Johner/Offset

It’s so easy (and so unfair) how quickly your entryway can go from clean to chaos — and that chaos makes trying to get out the door brutal.

Think of all that time wasted hunting for your keys and umbrella, or digging through a pile of coats to find the one you need. Five minutes spent searching for stuff each morning becomes 35 minutes a week, or more than 30 hours a year!

Corralling your clutter can feel overwhelming, but with the right mindset and a few clever hacks, your entryway can be what helps you get out of the house on time — not what slows you down.

Here are seven ideas to help you out:

#1 Personalize Buckets

How do those hats and gloves end up all over the entryway? Half the time, it happens when someone tosses them aside while searching for their own stuff. That’s why separating each person’s storage space is so ingenious.

“Susie has her own basket, Tommy has his own basket,” says professional organizer Yve Irish. Assigning space and responsibility to each individual family member saves you — and your kids — time digging through other people’s belongings.

You don’t need a huge closet to do this — even little baskets in an inexpensive Ikea shelving unit can do the trick.

Irish recommends pairing a storage system with training to make personalized buckets work: “Teach your children to return items to their basket when they come home,” she says. “You want to make sure that happens and they get into the habit.”

#2 Hang Your Purses and Bags

Digging through a forest of coats to find the right purse for your outfit is a hassle. It’s also not great to shove your bags onto a cluttered closet shelf or (ugh) pile them on the floor — a practice some believe is bad luck. There’s a feng shui saying, “A purse on the floor is money out the door.” So hang your bags from the closet rod using S-hooks instead.

S-hooks used to organize pursesImage: Libby Walker for HouseLogic

Lacking a closet? If your walls are less than five feet apart, you can install a tension rod between them. Or choose a decorative wall shelf with hooks.

No matter how you hang them, do a purse purge first to avoid creating a handbag jungle. Keep that oversized bag you only pull out for special occasions tucked out of the way.

#3 Create a Charging Station

While you might charge your primary smartphone overnight by your bedside, creating a charging station in your entryway can save valuable time, especially if you have a work phone or use the kids’ tablets for car rides. When they’re always charging in the same spot, you won’t waste time in the morning hunting down chargers.

Assemble tech storage using assigned baskets with neatly-organized cords, or go big with a built-in. At organization blog “A Bowl Full of Lemons,” a cabinet with plugs inside was installed in the mudroom to serve as a neat home for laptops, tablets, and smartphones, which all charge up inside.

#4 Install an Information Station

Papers can be pernicious devils, accumulating in ugly piles, blocking surfaces, and creating stress. Cut off the problem at its head with an information station, starting with a customized paper organizer on the wall.

“We had an extreme amount of clutter,” says Aniko Levai, the blogger behind “Place of My Taste.” As part of a grand entryway remodel, she created a wall organizer to keep papers and small items out of the way.

The process is simple enough for even the newest DIYer. Levai created the organizer by combining painted wood, fabric, a few small hooks, and a $15 wall magazine rack from Ikea.

But not all paper needs to be saved, and mail-sorting procrastination is the stuff cluttered entryways are made of. Setting up your recycling center near your entryway — in the closet or a free corner — can turn paper sorting into a quick, easy to-do task every time you walk in the door.

If you have the space, add a shredder into the mix or add a whiteboard for reminders.

#5 Add Lots of Shoe Storage

Step into any big box home store and you’ll find two dozen shoe storage options, from stackable organizers to hanging canvas cubbies. The perfect option for you is a matter of taste and space, but let’s be serious: However many shoe cubbies you think your family should need, the truth is probably three times that amount. That’s why we’re partial to this clever solution from Sara Davis, who transformed an old wooden mail sorter — found at a local antique shop — into a gorgeous, 45-slot shoe cubby.

While antique mail sorters may not be available everywhere, you can create your own by converting a bookshelf or cabinet, bundling cut PVC piping into handmade cubbies, or buying a large shoe cubby. Davis’ solution is perfect for her long, thin mudroom, which is 17 feet long, but only five feet wide.

“It’s hard to miss, so it’s a great reminder for the kids to take off their shoes,” Davis says.

#6 Assign Lockers

Industrial-style decor is in — take advantage of the trend in your entryway by installing lockers. (Yes, we mean the aluminum models your kids use at school.)

While not ideal for a super-small entryway, lockers can instantly triple your storage space if you have the room, as each one has hooks on three surfaces, as well as shelving. Even better, install short tension rods and use S-hooks for even more hanging storage.

And they provide plenty of room for creative decoration. You can paint them to match a variety of decor.

#7 Make a Station for Wet, Muddy Footwear

Your entryway is always one of the first victims of nasty weather. Is it a rainy autumn? Say hello to a puddle of dirty leaves. Winter? Snow boots can leave the entire room soaking and soiled.

Weather-safe storage solutions can be the key difference between an unorganized mess and a pristine entryway. The biggest culprit is shoes. While a mat can go a long way toward preserving the cleanliness of your entrance, you’ll need to develop a plan for storing boots — without them dripping everywhere.

Try this DIY solution: Line the bottom of a chest with a mud tray, and then fill the tray with a layer of river rocks. The rocks allow the water to drain away from the soggy boots so they’ll be ready to use the next morning — and the whole process is hidden away inside the chest.

Looking to buy or sell a home?

Chris Lee and Rusty’s Team at RealtySouth 205-233-5183

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Organize Your Home by Feb. 1 in Less Than an Hour a Day

The tip about coffee mugs? We’ve all been there.

 

Did you ever notice that your self-improvement pacts with yourself are action oriented? Walk 10,000 steps a day. Fix that leaky faucet. Register for VolunteerMatch.

But “get organized”? It’s a goal so broad that just trying to figure out what action to take makes you wonder what you were thinking in the first place. It’s like you need an organizing plan for your organizing.

Ta da!

Here it is. Follow these steps, spending less than an hour day (sometimes just a few moments), to a better organized home:

1. Do That Project

“What about your space is making you feel uncomfortable or overwhelmed?” asks Amy Trager, a professional organizer in Chicago. Is it the paperwork disaster in your office? The pile of clothes teetering on your dresser? Or that mess that surrounds your doorway? Start with what’s annoying you, she says. One hour on that task will get your organizing engine revving.

2. Create a “Go Away” Box

Put anything you’re planning to donate in it (or give to a friend, or take to recycle). And keep it by the door so you can easily grab it when you’re leaving.

3. Deal With the Decorations

Hallelujah — the holidays are over! When you’re putting away your décor, donate anything you didn’t bring out last season, and separate decorations by holiday. No need to dig through your St. Patty’s clovers when you’re searching for a menorah.

4. Create a System for Your Entryway

Set up a “command center” so your front door doesn’t become a lawless accessories arena, especially during winter months. Add hooks for coats, bins for shoes, and a mail sorter if you need it. (Remember to keep a place for your “go away” box).

5. Wrangle Your Pet Supplies

Minimize the time spent scrambling when your pup is desperate for a walk or eager for a meal. Hang hooks and cubbies near the door and keep leashes, kibble, bowls, and toys in one convenient spot.

6. Organize Your Spices

Arrange your herbs and spices alphabetically, by cuisine, or by brand — whatever makes them easier to find when you’re in the middle of your noodle stir fry.

7. Pare Down Your Utensils

You’ve accumulated several dozen kitchen utensils in your culinary career: can openers, microplanes, four (what?!) wine openers. Pare down the collection and use drawer dividers to keep the remainders in order.

8. Reconfigure Your Pots and Pans

Stop digging around in your shelves for the oversized, cast-iron skillet. Donate the pots and pans you hardly use, and install cupboard organizers to help manage the rest.

9. Throw Away Expired Foods

You never use Worcestershire sauce — except that one time. Go through your refrigerator and pantry and ditch or donate anything past its prime.

10. Stack Your Pantry Staples

Make better use of your pantry by sorting through your staple dry goods — think flour, sugar, pasta, oatmeal, dry beans — and putting them in airtight, stackable containers. You’ll free up a ton of space, too.

11. Downsize Your Kitchen Gadgets

You had noble intentions when you purchased that spiralizer. (Zucchini noodles every night, right?) Give those space hogs to someone else with lofty dreams.

12. Say No to Coffee Mug Over-Saturation

Every time you lose a sock, a new coffee mug appears. Keep one or two mugs for every coffee or tea drinker, and donate the rest.

13. Sort Your Food Storage Containers

No singles allowed. Toss any tops or bottoms that have no mates.

14. Reassess Your Display Shelves

Shelves crammed with knickknacks, books you’ll never read, and stuff you somehow accumulated are just a waste of space. Donate books to the library, discard the junk, and arrange what’s left in a way that pleases you.

15. Deal With Your Cables

With a Roku, PlayStation, DVD player, and a cable box, it’s no surprise your entertainment center is a mess. Create ID tags for each plug from bread tags or cable ties, and bundle the clutter together with velcro strips.

16. Put Clothes on New Hangers

Switch your clothes over to the slimmer, grabbier hangers. They use less space and keep your clothes from sliding down to your closet floor. As you do this, discard the clothes you never wear.

17. Corral Your Accessories

Belts, scarves, purses, hats — all the accessories that don’t have a drawer or spot in the closet can end up everywhere. Buy an accessories hanger or install a simple series of hooks to give your wardrobe’s smallest members a home.

18. Purge Under the Bed

Under-bed storage is ideal for out-of-season clothing. But when out-of-season becomes out-of-sight and out-of-mind, clear out those clothes you’ll never wear again from this precious storage space.

19. Declutter Your Desk

When your workspace is swimming with collectibles, staplers, Post-its, and more, paring down can keep you focused when it’s time to hunker down.

20. Shred Old Paperwork

Not every form, statement, and tax record needs to stay in your filing cabinet forever. Check out this list to make sure you’re not wasting space. Shred the rest to ward off identity thieves.

21. Tidy Your Files

Now that you’ve shredded the paperwork you don’t need, tidy up your files by organizing them and labeling them clearly. Colorful folders can help organize by theme (home stuff, tax stuff, work stuff, etc.).

22. Get Rid of Mystery Electronics

Admit it. You’ve got a drawer where black mystery cords, chargers, and oddball electronic bits go to die. Free that drawer up for better uses, or at least get rid of the ones you know for sure are “dead.”

23. Pare Down Your Personal Care Stuff

Your intentions were honorable when you bought that curl-enhancing shampoo — but it expired two years ago, and you haven’t used it since. Throw away any expired potions, salves, hair products, and medicines.

24. Tackle Under-the-Sink Storage

Clean everything out. You’ll be amazed at what you find (like those Magic Erasers you could never find). Then put back everything you’re keeping in bins you can easily pull out so nothing gets lost again.

25. Hang a Shelf

Wall storage is so often overlooked. Find a spot in your home where a shelf would solve a problem, and hang it. Maybe it’s for some toiletries in the bathroom, or laundry supplies, or for your kid’s stuffed toys

26. Reduce Your Towels and Linens

There are the towels you use — and the stack of towels you never use. Donate them to the animal shelter. Those torn pillowcases? Convert to rags or toss. Same for napkins, dishtowels, pot holders, etc.

27. Hang a Shoe Organizer

Hanging shoe organizers can solve a ton of storage problems beyond the obvious. They can store scarves, mittens, cleaning supplies, craft supplies. You can even cut them to custom-fit inside a cabinet door.

 

28. Organize Your Junk Drawer for Good

There’s no shame in a junk drawer — but why not organize it? Dump the whole thing on one surface and sort everything into piles. Use drawer dividers to keep each pile in its own space.

29. Store Your Tools the Right Way

Finding the right Phillips-head screwdriver to put together that cute IKEA bookshelf shouldn’t be so hard. Track down your hammers and screwdrivers, and arrange them in one easy-to-access spot, such as a pegboard.

30. Plan for the Future

See how much you’ve accomplished! Take a look around your newly organized home, making note of any spaces you missed. Then dream a bit about your next home project. Maybe paint that dining room, finally?

 

5 Tasks Every Homeowner Should Do in January

 

Improve, Organize & Maintain, Cleaning & Decluttering
Whew. The holidays are done. The new year has rung in.
That’s when smart homeowners know it’s time to do these five things that’ll save time, money, and hassles all year long:
#1 Organize Your Seasonal Storage Space

Wrapping Paper Stored on Closet Ceiling| Storage Solutions

Image: Frank Farm / frankfarm.org

Packing away holiday decor presents a big opportunity. It’s the best time to sort, declutter, and reorganize that space where you store your seasonal stuff.
So before simply stuffing your holiday things back in there somewhere, take inventory, then sort, filter, donate, trash, and re-home as many of your things as possible.
It’ll help keep you more organized all year long, and make it easier to find all your holiday stuff next year.

Spend Oh-So-Wisely on a Kitchen Remodel
6 Materials Savvy Remodelers Never Use in Their Kitchens
How to Shop for a Retro Kitchen — and Not Get Stuck with Junk
Replace or Reface Your Kitchen Cabinets: The Options and Costs
#2 Deep-Clean the Kitchen

A gas stovetop with food crumbs, green teapot

Image: Jamie Bonilla

All of that holiday merriment-making is rough on a kitchen. Give it a good deep cleaning now that the glittery dust has settled.
Purge your pantry and frisk your fridge, passing what you can on to local food banks. Scrub the walls and kick-boards, and even pull those appliances right out from the walls for a thorough vacuuming to prevent gunk (and stinks!) from accumulating.
#3 Plan Summertime Projects Now (Especially if You Need a Pro)

An outdoor space with patio furniture and a dog

Image: Photo by ADZA

Finalize plans for any landscaping, decks, patios, or other outdoor projects that need warm weather. Two good reasons:
1. If you’re DIYing, you’ll be ready to roll at the first hint of nice weather.
2. If you’re hiring a contractor or other professional, getting your bids and contracts in place now will save you from competing with the spring rush (wait too long, and you may not be able to book anyone!).
#4 Create a Schedule to Clean ALL Your Home’s Filters

Two home air filters

Image: Michael Sheehan (“HighTechDad”)

 

It’s not just your HVAC. The filters in your fridge, your vacuum cleaner, your dryer, your air filter, and other household items need to be changed or cleaned at least once a year to be effective, usually more often — especially your dehumidifier. Yucky mold grows easily there.
Check manufacturer instructions for all the filters in your home, and create a master schedule, then add them to your calendar app to remind you.
#5 Save Some Green at White Sales

A bed with white sheets and a white bedspread by window

Image: @hawkes_landin

Linens and towels go on sale in January. It’s a long-standing retail tradition that started back when linens only came in white (hence the name), and still has a solid rep as a money-saver — only in more colors today.
Cut your threadbare bath towels into rags and restock your supply, plus fill in any gaps in your bed linens you may have noticed if you had a house full of holiday guests.

Article written by Gabriela Barkho

Chris Lee and Rusty’s Team at RealtySouth 205-233-5183

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Before Buying, Real Estate Pros Insist on Doing These 4 Things

 

Made Possible
by REALTORS®
Before Buying, Real Estate Pros Insist on Doing These 4 Things

Grigory Pekarsky opening his refrigerator

 

 

Improve Your Money, Buy & Sell

 

Before Buying, Real Estate Pros Insist on Doing These 4 Things
What you really need to know about buying — from the people who house hunt for a living.
Take the long view when you’re buying, says Chicago agent Pekarsky. He plans to start a family in a few years, so he set his sights on a single-family with plenty of bedrooms. Image: Jacob Hand for HouseLogic
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One house you’re looking at has the wraparound porch you’ve fantasized about, but it’s on a high-traffic street. The condo you like has a doorman in the lobby (you can order online now!), but it has no dedicated parking. What to choose?
It’s not every day that you buy a home and make decisions about the next three, five, or 10 years of your life. Since you can’t exactly take a home on a test drive, how do you decide? That got us to thinking about real estate pros. When they’ve seen practically everything on the market, how do they choose?
Four pros who’ve seen it all share their advice and their stories of hunting for just the right home.
Compromise for Your Priorities
Veteran real estate agent Nancy Farkas knew exactly what she wanted in her home: ranch style, three bedrooms, high ceilings. But you know what she bought? A two-story Colonial.
Huh?
For Farkas, an associate partner with Coldwell Banker Heritage REALTORS®, in Dayton, Ohio, the home’s location and price trumped style. “I had a dog I had to go home and walk at noon, and the house was close [to work] and the right price,” she says.
Her advice: Make sure your practical and functional priorities don’t get lost in all the home buying hoo-ha (sparkling granite counters, new hardwood floors, a steam shower!). Remember, you can always add the hoo-ha, but you can’t make a home fit all priorities, such as location and price.

 


Dig Into the Details (Dull, Yes, But Worth It!)
When Grigory Pekarsky, co-owner and managing broker with Vesta Preferred Real Estate in Chicago, was looking for his first home, one of his priorities was to minimize his maintenance costs. He made sure to find out if the house had a newer roof, good siding, and a newer furnace. But he recommends you go even deeper to uncover a home’s not-so-obvious maintenance costs:
Scope out the sewer line — especially if you’re interested in an older home — to make sure there aren’t any tree branches or other debris clogging up the works. Otherwise, you might find some nasty sludge in the basement.
Look at the trees. How mature are they? Roots from older trees can invade the sewer line; untrimmed branches can pummel your gutters during storms.
Know what’s not covered by homeowners insurance. “I learned seepage isn’t covered. Shame on me,” he says.
Ask how old the appliances are. You might need to budget for something new in a few years. Sellers are only required to fix what the inspector finds is broken; they’re not going to upgrade working appliances for you

 

Seek a House That Matches Your Lifestyle
Having lived the high-rise apartment life as a renter, Pekarsky knew a single-family home was just what he wanted. He was tired of living in a relatively small space with no yard. He wanted a house he could “grow into in the next three to five years.” That meant multiple bedrooms and bathrooms for the family he plans on having. So what he bought — a three-story, single-family with a finished attic bedroom (shown below) on Chicago’s North Side — suits his lifestyle perfectly.

 

In addition, “you get the biggest value from owning the land,” he says. “In a single-family [home], people aren’t telling you what to do with the investment.”
On the other hand, Matt Difanis wished he’d bought a condo when he bought his first home, a small bungalow ranch in a charming, historic neighborhood in Champaign, Ill. It was first-home love — until it rained.
“If I didn’t clean out the gutters before every rainstorm, the basement would leak,” says the broker-owner of RE/MAX Realty Associates in Champaign. He didn’t realize that taking care of a single-family home wouldn’t be his cup of tea. “I should have opted for a condo without gutters to clean and a lawn to mow,” he says.
Agent Amy Smythe Harris of Urban Provision REALTORS®, in Woodland, Texas, bought a home with a sizable downstairs suite her parents could use now (and she could use years from now). She says her millennial clients aren’t forward-thinking about their lifestyles. Some are childless and say they don’t care about schools, pools, and tennis courts. Then they become parents a few years later and have to move.
“Once they have kids, the first question [they] ask is about school districts, and the second is about where the parks and pools are,” she says.
The pros’ bottom-line advice: Think of your lifestyle preferences and how those might change in the next few years. After all, the typical homeowner lives in a house for a median of 10 years before selling, NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® data shows.
Look at the House Through the Lens of Resale
All the real estate pros we talked to — no surprise here — emphasized resale. Take appraiser Michelle C. Bradley of Czekalski Real Estate Inc. in Natrona Heights, Pa. When she built her current home — a 2,200-square-foot ranch — she included a full, unfinished basement, even though she has no use for one and rarely ventures into it.
Why would she do that? Because basements are standard in her southwest Pennsylvania market. But Bradley’s not going to finish the basement until she’s ready to sell. That way, she avoids having to clean it and ensures she’ll install the most fashionable bathroom fixtures at sell time.
Her advice: “Don’t buy or build something unique that you can’t resell. If you’re not in an area with log homes, don’t choose a log home. If you’re not in an area with dome homes, don’t choose a dome home.”

 

Don’t Overspend for the Neighborhood
If you buy a home priced higher than average for the area, it’ll be difficult to resell at a higher price.

Don’t buy a home that’s not in line with the neighborhood’s average price . When you go to resell, you’ll find yourself in an uphill battle to maintain your higher price.
Other advice from the pros: Watch out for unfixable flaws that could affect resale, like:
What’s next to the home, such as vacant land that could be developed, high-traffic businesses, noisy power generation stations, a cell tower, etc.
Lot issues, such as a steep driveway that could double as a ski slope in winter, or a sloped yard that sends water special delivery to your foundation.
Of course, a home isn’t just about resale. It’s just one factor to consider. Remember the first point: Be willing to compromise for your priorities. If the home meets your priorities and you’re going to stay there awhile, then resale might be where you compromise.

Dona DeZube
has been writing about real estate for more than two decades. She lives in a suburban Baltimore Midcentury modest home on a 3-acre lot shared with possums, raccoons, foxes, a herd of deer, and her blue-tick hound. Follow Dona on Google+.
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Chris Lee and Rusty’s Team at RealtySouth 205-233-5183

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© Copyright 2017 NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®