How to Dream Big About Your Outdoor Space (But Keep It Real)

Design Ideas That Stand the Test of Time

A firepit with a white bench with accent pillowsImage: A Beautiful Mess

House hunting? Envision the possibilities for backyards with these design ideas.

A funny thing happened this summer after leveling out the backyard. For the first time since moving into my house, I actually began to picture my dream backyard space. And the truth is, I have a long way to go.

For myself and plenty of other first-time homeowners, it seems to be a little easier to picture the future potential of interior spaces, like where the Christmas tree is going to go during the holidays, what hardwoods might look like instead of ugly carpet, etc. But if you’re anything like me, being able to see a yard’s future potential just doesn’t come to mind as easily.

I think it’s mainly because where the interior typically has defined areas and specific functions, the yard often starts as more of a blank slate (or in my case, a mess that has to first be cleaned up before a blank slate is possible). As a result, I wound up constantly second-guessing my outdoor project plans, putting them off, and taking years longer than I probably should have to get started.

If I could go back in time, I would have started on my dream yard a lot sooner. But now that I’ve had the opportunity for some trial and error, I can now see what I was missing all along. The key to adding the wow factor for a beautiful backyard is actually quite simple: divide and conquer.

1. A Place for Storage

When I first bought my house, I had no idea how important the space in my one-car garage would be. Even though I do an annual cleanout, it’s just not enough space for renovation supplies, outdoor equipment, paint, power tools, and lumber. The items I need for the interior upgrades compete for storage space with the equipment to maintain a healthy lawn and garden, leading to one massive mess that I’m constantly stepping over (and bumping my shin into).

Through years of organizing the interior spaces, I’ve learned a key lesson in home improvement: Make the space around you work for how you live your life.

I know that sounds like strange and obvious advice, but it isn’t until you live in a space for a little while that you realize what your habits are. Many times, new homeowners, including myself, will work toward a design that is totally wrong for them, focusing on how it “should be” and neglecting the reality of their everyday needs.

If you have an aunt who has that formal living room that never gets used, you’re plenty familiar with this concept. She’s basically paying for hundreds of square feet of underutilized space, heating and cooling it, and for what? A nice couch that the family never sits on?!

This same lesson works for outdoor spaces: It’s about how the space gets used today, tomorrow, and a year from now. Have a place for gardening tools, the mower, etc., in an easy-to-reach and well-organized location, and the existing space is much more efficient.

A white pegboard with tools in a garageImage: The Ugly Duckling House

The garden improves by force of habit because you’ll be going out there more often, working in your garden more often, etc. Since I’ve used just about every possible square inch of my garage, my next big project will be building my own outdoor storage shed, ideal for gardening and related equipment.

The design of the structure will be custom, but I’m taking heavy inspiration from fellow bloggers, like “Finding Silver Pennies.” Rather than just serving as a dumping ground for extra stuff, this shed is more like an extension of the home’s design. I love the idea of adding trim, decorative hardware, and little garden boxes!

2. Room for Entertaining

When I moved into my house, there was one space that I knew would need an upgrade: the 8-by-10-foot slab leading out from my kitchen and into the backyard. Prepare yourself for a hideous photo in 3 … 2 …  1 …

A concrete slab outside a sliding door with a white chairImage: The Ugly Duckling House

It’s my only true space for placing outdoor furniture at the moment, and even though it got a little bit of a makeover a few years ago (below), what I really want to do is expand this space for more guests and entertaining (just two seats aren’t going to cut it!).

A wicker chair on a concrete slab with two blue potsImage: The Ugly Duckling House

For a while, I thought that I might have to hire help to expand the patio or bust up the concrete, but that might not be necessary. Kelly from “View Along the Way” came up with a great DIY option for her slab-turned-wooden deck, which I think is a genius option!

Before: Like mine, it wasn’t much to look at:

After: No more stepping down onto discolored concrete:

A newly built wood deck outside of a red doorImage: View Along the Way

By building a new deck (or extension) over existing concrete, I have the option to expand the area as a whole. I’ll have to add some supports in expanded areas, but it beats having only 80 square feet of space for furniture. Guests won’t be crowded, and I’ll be more inclined to actually use this area rather than constantly avoiding it.

3. A Beautiful Garden

It’s hard to plan for a beautiful garden if you have a habit of killing indoor plants. If you too have a black thumb like I once did, take it from me: There’s hope! The secret is to pick plants that are either native to the area or to the natural climate you live in, which allows the plants you pick to thrive — even if they’re eventually neglected (ahem, guilty!). In the southeastern U.S. where I live, that means plants like hydrangeas, azaleas, and gardenias.

A blue hydrangea with green leavesImage: The Ugly Duckling House

Local nurseries and home improvement stores often carry plenty of options that do well in your climate (and the less exotic choices are often the most affordable plants, too).

I’ve also found that raised garden beds have been the easiest to start with since they help deter weeds and provide plenty of quality soil for growing. They can even help cover neighbor-neglected fences, like the one to the right of my property. There was nothing I could really do about a fence that I didn’t own, but I could try to dress it up from my side!

Before: While I’m glad my neighborhood doesn’t have the added expense of an HOA, it does mean that neighbors have to work out problem areas amongst themselves. With a little creativity, I took a neglected fence and made it into something I liked.

An old, mossy wood fence with patchy grassImage: The Ugly Duckling House

After: By adding some low-maintenance garden beds along one side of my yard, I created a spot that would eventually fill in with a living, flowering hedge.

A garden bed against a fence with brown mulch and plantsImage: The Ugly Duckling House

The plan is to later expand on this concept with the rest of the yard once the new deck and shed are in. These two additions will open the door for creating new gardening spaces next to each structure. I suppose I won’t get to call myself a black thumb for much longer!

4. Nighttime Lighting

I just love the idea of nighttime outdoor entertaining. Cozy seating, plenty of space for evening chatter, and the ambiance of delicate lighting make for a breathtaking space. Stefanie from “Brooklyn Limestone” has a great example of how to separate zones in the yard using outdoor lights (below). This small patio area is surrounded by a series of string lights suspended above, which separates it from the hammock and dining area nearby.

5. An Inviting Fire

Once the need-to-have things are in, it’ll be time to build some furniture and create a fire pit area for people to sit around and enjoy the new yard. There are lots of DIY options out there, and since store-bought kits for fire pits tend to be on the pricey side, I’m planning to use inexpensive concrete blocks, similar to how “A Beautiful Mess” created their awesome s’mores fire pit.

A firepit with a white bench with accent pillowsImage: A Beautiful Mess

After years of working on the interior, one tends to lose a little momentum and inspiration to keep the DIY train moving along. But transitioning my thought process to these exterior improvements has given me a serious boost in energy to continue making changes and hang on to my home improvement mojo.

New homeowners: Don’t make my same mistake! Start working on your yard as a process long before you think you’ll need to.

Now that I know the true potential waiting in my backyard, I can focus on making these dream outdoor zones into a reality. With any luck, this will be the year for lots of outdoor entertaining in a brilliant new space.

 

 

 

 

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 Low-Maintenance Upgrades You’ll Love

Low-maintenance fiber-cement siding

You can have a virtually chore-free home with these easy-care materials.

Image: Stl Siding Pros

Homeownership should be about enjoying your home — not being a slave to it. The trick is to choose materials and products that make maintaining your home a snap.

Here are eight projects that’ll give your home a gorgeous makeover — and give you your weekends back.

#1 Swap Out Your Siding With Fiber-Cement

Fiber-cement siding is the curb appeal champ that seems to never age the way wood does. It comes in a variety of shapes and forms: horizontal lap boards, shingles, and vertical board-and-batt style. Simulated wood graining is nearly indistinguishable from the real thing at about half the cost.

Why it’s low-maintenance: Tough, long-lasting fiber-cement siding is dimensionally stable when the weather changes, which puts less stress on paint finishes, helping preserve those good looks for years (and letting you enjoy a big reduction in upkeep). It’s also rot-, fire-, and insect-proof. Warranties range from 30 to 50 years.

Newer versions feature durable, baked-on paint finishes guaranteed to last 15 years. That means less repainting and touch-up work than wood siding, reducing the time and money you’d spend on routine maintenance. And unlike vinyl siding, fiber-cement takes paint well if you should decided to change colors.

Life expectancy: 50+ years; 15 years on pre-painted and finished siding

Maintenance cycle: Repaint every 15+ years.

Cost: $5 to $11 per square foot, installed.

The next-best thing: Vinyl siding is low-cost (about 20% to 40% cheaper than fiber-cement), never needs painting, and is rot- and insect-proof. It’s also lightweight and easy to install, which helps keep installation costs low. It has an expected lifespan of about 35 years.

However, it isn’t fireproof, nor does it take paint well, which means you’re limited to the colors offered by the manufacturer.

#2 Switch to Metal for a “Forever” Roof

Low-maintenance metal roofImage: Tali Hardonag Architect / Photo: Paul Keller Media

Metal roofing is one of the toughest, most maintenance-free roofing materials made. In addition to the traditional standing seam panels — the ones with ridges running from the peak to the eave — today’s metal roofing includes products that mimic slate, clay tiles, and wood shakes.

Metal roofing also is extremely fire-resistant — in a fire-prone area, having a metal roof may qualify you for a discount on homeowners insurance.

Why it’s low-maintenance: Most metal roofing comes with a 40- to 50-year warranty, and the replacement cycle is almost three times longer than that of three-tab asphalt shingles.

Look for baked-on enamel finishes with rust-proof undercoating that are warranted for the life of the product. The finish won’t crack or shed like asphalt, meaning you won’t be scooping those little granules out of the gutter every spring and fall.

So you know: There are two types of rust-proof undercoating. For reliable protection from rust, The Metal Roofing Alliance recommends:

  • For galvanized zinc undercoating: A galvanizing thickness level of at least G-90.
  • For Galvalume undercoating: Thickness level of AZ-50 or AZ-55.

A metal roof does cost about two to three times more than asphalt shingles. But that doesn’t account for the benefits you reap by not having to repair or replace as often. Here’s to your many maintenance-free weekends.

Life-expectancy: 50+ years

Maintenance cycle: Repair or repaint every 50 years.

Cost: $3.50 to $11 per square foot, installed.

FYI: Most metal roofing is made with steel, but homeowners in coastal areas should choose aluminum products to protect against rust.

Steel and aluminum are recyclable.

The next-best thing: Concrete tile just sounds tough, doesn’t it? Bingo — it’s resistant to wind, hail, water, fire, and pests, and often comes with a lifetime warranty against defects and performance failure. Concrete tiles often outlast the building they cover.

Caveat: It’s heavy; you’ll need your roof structure evaluated by a building engineer to make sure it can support the added weight. Retrofitting a roof to carry concrete tile can add $1,000 to $10,000 to the cost of installation.

Cost: $4.50 to $10.50 per square foot, installed.

#3 Get Handsome Easy-Care Floors with Laminate

Laminate plank flooring gets the nod here for its ease of installation (it’s a good DIY project), relatively modest cost, and easy-peasy maintenance. We like that it can mimic natural stone and exotic hardwoods like koa and rosewood for a fraction of the cost.

Why it’s low-maintenance: Laminate flooring has a tough, clear plastic wear layer that resists scratches, moisture, and stains; it never needs refinishing during the life of the product. Some are reinforced with aluminum oxide, one of the hardest compounds known. Laminates also are dimensionally stable, so seams won’t open up during changes in temperature and humidity.

Depending on the thickness and composition of the plastic coating, warranties range from 15 to 50 years. Some manufacturers offer lifetime warranties against staining, fading, and wear.

Life-expectancy: 25+ years

Maintenance cycle: Sweep or vacuum as needed; use water sparingly when cleaning.

Cost: $1 to $7 per square foot; add $2 to $5 per square foot for professional installation.

#4 Choose Quartz Countertops — They’ll Never Stain

Almost 80% of designers responding to a recent survey from the National Kitchen and Bath Association said quartz countertops are their top choice. In addition to being long-lasting, quartz counters come in many colors and unique patterns to go with any motif. It’s composed of about 95% quartz particles with resin binders (quartz is one of the hardest naturally occurring substances). It’s about the same price as granite.

Why it’s low-maintenance: Quartz is tough, durable, antimicrobial, and scratch-resistant. It’s almost impossible to stain, and it cleans up easily. It’s completely non-porous and never needs sealing. A 10- to 15-year warranty is standard; some manufacturers offer a lifetime guarantee.

Life-expectancy: 30+ years

Maintenance cycle: Occasional cleaning with mild soap and water.

Cost: $40 to $100 per square foot.

FYI: Quartz is an abundant natural resource. And old quartz countertops can be crushed and reused in new counters

#5 Replace Wood Windows With Fiberglass (No More Warps)

Fiberglass is moisture- and rot-resistant, and won’t warp like wood. They provide good thermal insulating properties. Plus they come pre-finished and look like real wood, or are painted in factory-applied finishes. And they’re cheaper than quality wood windows.

Why it’s low-maintenance: Fiberglass is dimensionally stable so it doesn’t warp even under extreme temperatures. Seams are bonded together and won’t separate or have gaps, so repairs are virtually non-existent. That means the window will operate reliably for years.

Fiberglass holds paint well — a good option if you’re looking to apply your own custom color. The fact that fiberglass doesn’t warp or shrink means paint finishes are long-lasting and touch-up work is rare.

Warranties range from 10 to 20 years, which includes the glass and glass seals.

FYI: The Department of Energy says that windows with an Energy Star label can help lower home energy costs by 7% to 15%.

Life-expectancy: 40+ years

Maintenance cycle: Clean as needed with water and mild detergent; repaint every 10 to 15 years.

Cost: $400 to $730 for a 3-foot-by-5-foot double-hung window, depending on options such as argon gas insulation and low-E coatings.

#6 Opt for Composite Materials to Never Seal a Deck Again

Low-maintenance composite deckingImage: Romanelli & Hughes Building Company / J.E. Evans Photography

Not so many years ago, composite decking looked about as natural as a used tire. No longer — today’s varieties do an excellent job of mimicking the color and grain patterns of real wood such as redwood, cedar, and even exotic woods like Brazilian walnut and teak.

Why it’s low-maintenance: Composite decking won’t chip, splinter, or fade. There’s none of the periodic application of deck cleaner or the refinishing required of wood decks. (On occasion, you’ll want to hose off dirt.) Composites won’t rot and are impervious to insect attack. Types with antimicrobial coatings won’t harbor mold and mildew. A 20- to 25-year warranty is typical.

Life-expectancy: 25 years

Maintenance cycle: Scrub with soap and water every two to three years.

Cost: $25 to $70 per square foot, installed.

FYI: A lot of recycled materials go into composite decking, including plastic bags, sawdust, and plastic milk jugs.

#7 Take Another Look at PVC for Porch and Deck Railings

Like a lot of imitation items made for outdoors, PVC railing systems for decks and porches have come a long way since the obviously fake systems of not so long ago. More companies have come into the marketplace with PVC aluminum, composite, and fiberglass products that do a good job of looking like well-crafted wood railings and balusters. Hidden fastening methods do away with some of the tackier connectors painfully visible on older systems.

Why it’s low-maintenance: PVC-capped aluminum railing systems are the best of both worlds — a rust-proof metal core and metal fasteners, all covered with weatherproof PVC. Factory colors are limited, but repainting and touch-up are banished.

Composites are good at looking like expensive woods, and they’ll never need staining or painting. Most systems are combos, with a composite sleeve that slides over a strong, pressure-treated wood post and pre-painted aluminum or composite balusters.

Warranties range from 15 to 25 years.

Life-expectancy: 50+ years

Maintenance cycle: Clean with mild soap and water as needed.

Cost: $15 to $60 per linear foot, depending on style and complexity.

#8 Add An Irrigation System That Knows When To Water (and When Not To)

A weather-sensing, water-conserving irrigation system waters your lawn and landscape plants without your input. It gathers local weather data and automatically adjusts output to provide the right amount of moisture for your landscape’s growing needs.

If you take off on vacation, an automated system continues checking weather conditions and applying the proper amount of water to your trees, shrubs, and lawn.

Some automated irrigation controllers meet EPA guidelines; the EPA estimates that switching a clock-operated system to a weather-sensing, WaterSense-certified system saves the average homeowner 8,800 gallons of water each year. That’s good for the environment, and money in your pocket.

You’ll save on sleep, too. Program your system so that, while you snooze, sprinkler heads run during the wee morning hours, when temps are cool, evaporation is minimal, and water usage is optimized.

Why it’s low-maintenance: Although the system itself needs periodic upkeep, such as draining the lines in winter and occasionally fixing or replacing sprinkler heads, you’ll more than recoup your time by not having to water your plants yourself, dragging out hoses and setting sprinklers by hand.

Warranties include one year for parts, and up to 10 years for some wireless sensors.

Life-expectancy: 50+ years for pipes; five to 25 years for sprinkler heads and valves.

Maintenance cycle: Annual draining of irrigation lines; occasional replacement of sprinkler heads.

Cost: $2,500 to $6,900 for a sprinkler system covering 5,000 square feet; DIY kits for similar size run $1,400 to $1,800.

FYI: If a summer heat wave puts your community under water restrictions, you can program an automated system to comply.

 

Looking to buy or sell a home?

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

 

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6 Tips for Choosing the Best Offer for Your Home

Woman reviewing house offer over the phoneSelling your home will go a lot smoother if you think of it as a business transaction and don’t let emotions get in the way. Image: © Masterfile

Have a plan for reviewing purchase offers so you don’t let the best slip through your fingers.

You’ve worked hard to get your home ready for sale and to price it properly. With any luck, offers will come quickly. You’ll need to review each carefully to determine its strengths and drawbacks and pick one to accept. Here’s a plan for evaluating offers.

1. Understand the process.

All offers are negotiable, as your agent will tell you. When you receive an offer, you can accept it, reject it, or respond by asking that terms be modified, which is called making a counteroffer.

2. Set baselines.

Decide in advance what terms are most important to you. For instance, if price is most important, you may need to be flexible on your closing date. Or if you want certainty that the transaction won’t fall apart because the buyer can’t get a mortgage, require a prequalified or cash buyer.

3. Create an offer review process.

If you think your home will receive multiple offers, work with your agent to establish a time frame during which buyers must submit offers. That gives your agent time to market your home to as many potential buyers as possible, and you time to review all the offers you receive.

4. Don’t take offers personally.

Selling your home can be emotional. But it’s simply a business transaction, and you should treat it that way. If your agent tells you a buyer complained that your kitchen is horribly outdated, justifying a lowball offer, don’t be offended. Consider it a sign the buyer is interested and understand that those comments are a negotiating tactic. Negotiate in kind.

5. Review every term.

Carefully evaluate all the terms of each offer. Price is important, but so are other terms. Is the buyer asking for property or fixtures — such as appliances, furniture, or window treatments — to be included in the sale that you plan to take with you?

Is the amount of earnest money the buyer proposes to deposit toward the downpayment sufficient? The lower the earnest money, the less painful it will be for the buyer to forfeit those funds by walking away from the purchase if problems arise.

Have the buyers attach a prequalification or pre-approval letter, which means they’ve already been approved for financing? Or does the offer include a financing or other contingency? If so, the buyers can walk away from the deal if they can’t get a mortgage, and they’ll take their earnest money back, too. Are you comfortable with that uncertainty?

Is the buyer asking you to make concessions, like covering some closing costs? Are you willing, and can you afford to do that? Does the buyer’s proposed closing date mesh with your timeline?

With each factor, ask yourself: Is this a deal breaker, or can I compromise to achieve my ultimate goal of closing the sale?

6. Be creative.

If you’ve received an unacceptable offer through your agent, ask questions to determine what’s most important to the buyer and see if you can meet that need. You may learn the buyer has to move quickly. That may allow you to stand firm on price but offer to close quickly. The key to successfully negotiating the sale is to remain flexible.

© Copyright 2018 NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®

Home Sellers Are Really Cashing In These Days, Report Find

By | Feb 1, 2018

Home sellers had it good at the end of last year, racking up profits they hadn’t seen in more than a decade, a new report finds.

In the last quarter of 2017, sellers pocketed an average $54,000 over what they originally paid for their homes, according to a recent ATTOM Data Solutions report. That’s up 0.49% over the previous quarter and nearly 14.6% over the same quarter the previous year.

And it’s the most sellers have netted, an average 29.7% profit, since the third quarter of 2007. Thank the national housing shortage for those sky-high returns.

“If you’re selling, you’re taking advantage of a red-hot housing market with low supply, high demand, and fast-appreciating home prices in many areas,” says Daren Blomquist, senior vice president at ATTOM, a real estate information firm.

To come up with those figures, ATTOM compared the median home prices in the last quarter of the year to just over eight years ago (the average amount of time owners stay in their homes before selling). ATTOM looked at recorded sales deeds, foreclosure filings, and loan data for its report. Only metros with sufficient historical data and a large enough population, mostly 200,000 and up, were included.

West Coast homeowners did the best. Sellers in Silicon Valley’s uber-pricey San Jose, CA, scored the biggest profits, of about 90.9%. That was followed by San Francisco, at 73.3%; Merced, CA, at 64.6%; Seattle, at 64.4%; and Santa Cruz, CA, at 59.8%.

“Those are the markets that were more insulated from the downturn, because many of them are highly desirable, on the coast with well-paying jobs. They were the first to recover when things turned around,” Blomquist says.

But they’re not the only ones doing well.

“This housing boom started on the coasts, but is spreading to the middle of the country,” Blomquist says.

More than half of all of the metros included in the analysis saw record-high home prices in 2017. Some of the bigger names were San Francisco, Los Angeles, Dallas, Houston, and Atlanta.

Homeowners are staying put

The downside for sellers was that the same housing shortage and ultrahigh home prices are hindering many of them from trading up and finding a nicer or larger home in their area. After they unload their properties, they still need a place to live.

That could help to explain why homeowners stayed put for record lengths of time. Those who sold their properties in the last quarter of the year had owned them for about 8.18 years. That’s a slight increase from 8.12 years in the previous quarter and 7.78 years a year earlier.

It’s also the longest homeowner tenure since data began being collected on it in 2000.

A stronger economy means more all-cash sales, fewer foreclosures

In a sign of a stronger economy, more buyers are also opting to pay all cash for their residential real estate. These sales made up 29% of single-family home and condo sales in 2017. That’s up from 28.7% in 2017.

The metros with the most all-cash sales were Mobile, AL, at 69.8%; Binghamton, NY, at 60.9%; Macon, GA, at 57.7%; and Columbus, GA, at 56.2%.

“If you’re a buyer in this housing market, it’s a full-contact sport,” says Blomquist. “The buyers with the most cash often win.”

Meanwhile, distressed sales (think short sales, bank-owned sales, and foreclosure auction sales) fell to a 10-year low, to make up only about 14% of all single-family home and condo sales. That’s a drop from 15.5% a year earlier.

“There’s fewer people going into foreclosure because if someone does get into trouble or lose their job, they have equity in their home that can provide a cushion,” Blomquist says.

The metros with the most distressed sales were Atlantic City, NJ, at 39.4%; Mobile, AL, at 32%; Montgomery, AL, at 29.9%; Fayetteville, NC, at 27.3%; and Akron, OH, at 25.3%. ATTOM included only 203 metros with at least 200,000 residents in this analysis.

Meanwhile, institutional investors (e.g., private equity firms, pension and hedge funds) flocked to Memphis, TN. About 10% of its sales were to investors. It was followed by Columbus, GA, at 8.6%; Birmingham, AL, at 8.3%; Killeen, TX, at 7.3%; and Macon, GA, at 7.3%.

Looking to buy or sell a home?

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

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7 Tips and Tricks to Keep Your Home Cleaner Longer

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The ‘But I Don’t Have Time!’ Guide to a Tidy Home

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Keep your home cleaner longer

Use humidity, a car product, and more wow ideas to save cleaning time.

Image: Hex/Stocksy United

When cleaning your home, why not do it in such a way that’ll keep your home cleaner with less effort?

Here are 7 ways to keep your spring-clean fresh all year long:

#1 Use Humidity to Defy Dust

Low humidity levels cause static electricity. Not only does static attract dust, it makes it stick, so it’s difficult to remove. High humidity causes problems, too — it’s an ideal environment for dust mites. These microscopic critters are a double threat: They’re a common allergen, and they contribute to dust production. There are as many as 19,000 dust mites in half a teaspoon of house dust, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. Yuck!

What to do: Keep your home’s humidity level between 40% and 50%. That’ll eliminate static while decreasing dust mite growth.

Tip: About 80% of dirt in homes walks in from the outside. Stop dirt with a bristly doormat before it’s tracked inside.

#2 Apply a Car Product to Keep Shower Doors Scum-Free

You can eliminate soap scum build-up by coating your glass shower doors with a rain-repellent product made for car windshields. When applied to glass, products like these create an invisible barrier that causes water, oils, and debris (like soap suds) to bead and roll off.

A glass shower door with soap scumBefore
A clean glass shower doorAfter

Image: unOriginal Mom

What to do: Find this product anywhere that sells basic auto supplies. You’ll know it’s time to reapply when water stops beading on shower doors. Keep in mind, windshield rain repellants were made to treat glass, not plastic, so only use on glass door.

Another option: Automatic shower cleaners claim to let you clean your shower and tub less frequently — like every 30 days. After you finish bathing, the gadget will douse your shower and tub with a cleanser that prevents soap scum build-up while combating mold and mildew. You can buy automatic shower cleaners at most big-brand retailers, like Target and Walmart.

 

#3 Seal Your Stone Countertops

Natural stone countertops, including granite and marble, are porous, so if they’re not sealed, liquids like red wine, juice, or soy sauce can stain them. A countertop sealer repels stains by causing spills to bead instead of getting absorbed. Most countertops are sealed when installed, but the sealant does wear down.

What to do: To keep your countertops in tip-top shape, re-apply sealer twice a year. To see if you need a fresh coat, pour a tiny bit of water on your natural stone countertop. If the water doesn’t bead or doesn’t stay beaded for two to three minutes, it’s time to reseal.

Shopping for stone countertops? Slabs with lots of swirls or veins tend to be more porous, and, therefore harder to keep clean.

#4 Use Protectants on Furniture and Carpets

Protective furniture sprays and carpet sealants, like Scotchgard and Ultra-Guard, guard against inevitable spills by causing liquids to bead on the surface instead of being absorbed.

Some of these products also protect fabrics from fading and resist mold, mildew, and bacteria.

What to do: Apply the appropriate sealer once a year after a deep upholstery and carpet cleaning.

#5 Clean Your Oven the Old-Fashioned Way

Forget oven cleaners that promise an easy job. Most cleaners give off noxious fumes and make a horrible mess. The basic ingredient in many oven cleaners is lye, which can burn your eyes and your skin; it’s usually fatal if swallowed.

What to do: Use a wet pumice stone to scrape off dirt and grease. It’s faster than oven cleaner and toxin-free.

Tip: Need to wipe your range or anything else down? You can bust filth faster by heating up a clean, damp sponge or cloth in a microwave for 30 seconds before wiping with or without a cleaning product. Put on rubber gloves before you pick up that hot sponge.

#6 Do Quick Touch-Ups

Small cleaning projects prevent filth from building up. When you spot clean daily, you can prevent smudges from staining, banish dust bunnies, and even combat allergens.

Dry sweeper cloths, sponges, and cloth on a wood tableImage: Anne Arntson for HouseLogic

What to do: Create a spot-cleaning kit so you can address small, dirty situations in minutes.

  • Cleaning pads are great for eradicating dirty fingerprints on walls and light switches.
  • Damp micro-cloths can reduce airborne dander when used daily to wipe down pets.
  • Dry sweeper cloths can quickly pick up dust and dry dirt off floors, shelves, and electronics.

Tip: Keep stored items cleaner longer by shutting closets, cabinets, and drawers, so circulating dust and dirt can’t get in.

#7 Update Your Light Bulbs

Okay, It’s not really cleaning. But good lighting can make you and your home look and feel great — and help you spot that spill before it gets funky.

A room lit with low-wattage incandescent bulbs and compact fluorescents can look dark and dingy. “Daylight” bulbs brighten things up. These full-spectrum light bulbs mimic natural light, so they give better visual accuracy. Bonus: Like sunlight, these bulbs can boost your mood.

What to do: When shopping for bulbs, look for those marked “daylight” that have a range between 5,000 to 6,500 kelvins.

 

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®

4 Things to Do in February to Avoid a Yucky Spring

Do This Now - fix a muddy yard

A mud-remediation plan. That’s No. 1 on this short list.

Image: Simone Golob/Offset

That dark time when winter is like that friend who can’t take a hint to leave.

Give a push with these four easy tasks that’ll help usher in spring.

#1 Make an Anti-Mud Plan

Rainboots in a mud puddleImage: Amanda Voelker/Offset

Mud may be the least of your frozen worries now, but it’s a-coming.

Be prepared with a remediation plan. With your yard in its frozen-tundra state, you can easily see the troublesome spots.

Research potential ground cover, like gravel, a rain garden, decorative rocks, or the right grass that’ll soak it up. Then you’ll be ready to execute your anti-mud plan the moment it’s warm enough — and do it in time to keep the mud at bay.

#2 Organize Your Cleaning Closets and Laundry Room

Before the madness of spring cleaning begins, organize (or even renovate!) your laundry room and clean closets or cupboards.

This will not only breathe a new life into these oft-ignored areas, but perfectly pampered cleaning stations can seriously rev up your spring cleaning motivation.

#3 Deep-Clean Your Entryway

Snow. Salt. Boots. Shovels. Your entryway floors, baseboards, rugs, and more have had a rough few months. Give that smallest of rooms some deep cleaning love now, before the salt crust becomes a permanent part of your entryway decor in spring.

#4 Hail a Handyperson

Handyman painting the wall in a houseImage: Kathrin Ziegler/Getty

Spring and summer are peak handyperson seasons. Skip the surge pricing and the agony of waiting for callbacks by hiring someone now. At least for the indoor chores.

Plus, you may be surprised at what outdoor chores can be done.

You’ll be spring-ready before the first flower buds.

 

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© Copyright 2018 NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®

4 Tips to Determine How Much Mortgage You Can Afford

Driveway leading to front door of a home

What’s a rule of thumb to determine how much mortgage you can afford? There’s no one rule, but these four tips will tell you.

Image: karamysh/Shutterstock

Home ownership should make you feel safe and secure, and that includes financially. Be sure you can afford your home by calculating how much of a mortgage you can safely fit into your budget.

Why not just take out the biggest mortgage a lender says you can have? Because your lender bases that number on a formula that doesn’t consider your current and future financial and personal goals.

Think ahead to major life events and consider how those might influence your budget. Do you want to return to school for an advanced degree? Will a new child add day care to your monthly expenses? Does a relative plan to eventually live with you and contribute to the mortgage? Do you like to travel?

Consider those lifestyle issues as you check out these four methods for estimating the amount of mortgage you can afford.

#1 Prepare a Detailed Budget

The oldest rule of thumb says you can typically afford a home priced two to three times your gross income. So, if you earn $100,000, you can typically afford a home between $200,000 and $300,000.

But that’s not the best method because it doesn’t take into account your monthly expenses and debts. Those costs greatly influence how much you can afford. Let’s say you earn $100,000 a year but have $1,000 in monthly payments for student debt, car loans, and credit card minimum payments. You don’t have as much money to pay your mortgage as someone earning the same income with no debts.

Better option: Prepare a family budget that tallies your ongoing monthly bills for everything — credit cards, car and student loans, lunch at work, day care, date night, vacations, and savings.

See what’s left over to spend on home ownership costs, like your mortgage, property taxes, insurance, maintenance, utilities, and community association fees, if applicable.

#2 Factor in Your Downpayment

How much money do you have for a down payment? The higher your downpayment, the lower your monthly payments will be. If you put down at least 20% of the home’s cost, you may not have to get private mortgage insurance, which protects the lender if you default and costs hundreds each month. That leaves more money for your mortgage payment.

The lower your down payment, the higher the loan amount you’ll need to qualify for and the higher your monthly mortgage payment.

But, if interest rates and/or home prices are rising and you wait to buy until you accumulate a bigger downpayment, you may end up paying more for your home.

#3 Consider Your Overall Debt

Lenders generally follow the 43% rule. Your monthly mortgage payments covering your home loan principal, interest, taxes and insurance, plus all your other bills, like car loans, utilities, and credit cards, shouldn’t exceed 43% of your gross annual income.

Here’s an example of how the 43% calculation works for a home buyer making $100,000 a year before taxes:

  1. Your gross annual income is $100,000.
  2. Multiply $100,000 by 43% to get $43,000 in annual income.
  3. Divide $43,000 by 12 months to convert the annual 43% limit into a monthly upper limit of $3,583.
  4. All your monthly bills including your potential mortgage can’t go above $3,583 per month.

You might find a lender willing to give you a mortgage with a payment that goes above the 43% line, but consider carefully before you take it. Evidence from studies of mortgage loans suggest that borrowers who go over the limit are more likely to run into trouble making monthly payments, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau warns.

#4 Use Your Rent as a Mortgage Guide

Use a calculator that compares renting and owning to help you see what makes sense for you.

If you’re struggling to keep up with your rent, buy a home that will give you the same payment rather than going up to a higher monthly payment. You’ll have additional costs for home ownership that your landlord now covers, like property taxes and repairs. If there’s no room in your budget for those extras, you could become financially stressed.

Also consider whether or not you’ll itemize your deductions. If you take the standard deduction, you can’t also deduct mortgage interest payments. Talking to a tax adviser, or using a tax software program to do a “what if” tax return, can help you see your tax situation more clearly.

 

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© Copyright 2018 NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®

Find the Home Loan that Fits Your Needs

Father-of-the-Bride-Lookalike-house

Understand which mortgage loan is best for you so your budget isn’t stretched too thin.

It’s easier to settle happily into your new home if you’re confident you can afford it.

Here’s what you need to know about your mortgage financing options, including how to choose the loan that matches your income and tolerance for risk.

Mortgage Financing Basics

The most important features of your mortgage loan are:

1.  Term (how long the loan lasts)

Mortgages typically come in 15-, 20-, 30- or 40-year lengths. The longer the term, the lower your monthly payment. The interest rate on a 15-year mortgage might be 1% lower than the rate on a 30-year mortgage.

The trade-off for a lower payment on the 30-year mortgage is that you make more payments. Since you borrow the money for longer, you pay more interest to the lender.

2.  Interest Rate (how much you pay to borrow money)

Mortgage interest rates generally come in two flavors: fixed and adjustable.

A fixed rate gives you the same interest rate and payment until the end of your mortgage. That’s attractive when you’re risk averse, if your future income won’t rise, or when interest rates are low.

The interest rate you pay on an adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) changes at some point in the future based on where interest rates are at that time. ARMs are named for how long the rates last. For example, with a 5/1 ARM, your rate changes after the first five years and again every year after that.

ARM Risks and Rewards

An adjustable-rate mortgage rate goes up or down based on a particular financial market index, such as treasury bills. Typically, ARMs include a limit on how much the interest rate can change, such as 3% each time the rate changes, or 5% over the life of the loan.

Rewards for the uncertainty:

  • ARMs can be a good choice if you expect your income to grow significantly in the coming years.
  • The interest rate may drop if the financial market index that it tracks dips.
  • An ARM usually starts at a lower rate than a fixed-rate mortgage of the same length and that can mean big savings.

Risks: If rates go up, your ARM payment will jump dramatically. So before you choose an ARM, be comfortable with your answers to these questions:

  • How much can my monthly payments go up at each adjustment?
  • How soon and how often can my monthly payment go up?
  • Can I afford the maximum monthly payment?
  • Do I expect my income to increase or decrease by the time the mortgage payment adjusts?
  • Do I plan to own the home for longer than the initial low-interest-rate period, or do I plan to sell before the rate adjusts?
  • Will I have to pay a penalty if I refinance into a lower-rate mortgage or sell my house?
  • What’s my goal in buying this property? Am I considering a riskier mortgage to buy a more expensive house than I can realistically afford?

More Mortgage Options: Government-Backed Loans

If you’ve saved less than the ideal downpayment of 20%, or your credit score isn’t high enough for you to qualify for a fixed-rate or ARM with a conventional lender, consider a government-backed loan from FHA or the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Before you decide on any mortgage, remember that slight variations in interest rates, loan amounts, and terms can significantly affect your monthly payment. To determine how much your monthly payment will be with various terms and loan amounts, try realtor.com’s mortgage calculator.

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 Tips for Finding Your New Home

Couple looking at houses with a buyer's agentWhen looking for your new house, make sure to take into consideration how long you plan to stay there. Image: Thinkstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images

A solid game plan can help you narrow your homebuying search to find the best home for you.

House hunting is just like any other shopping expedition. If you identify exactly what you want and do some research, you’ll zoom in on the home you want at the best price. These eight tips will guide you through a smart homebuying process.

1.  Know thyself.

Understand the type of home that suits your personality. Do you prefer a new or existing home? A ranch or a multistory home? If you’re leaning toward a fixer-upper, are you truly handy, or will you need to budget for contractors?

2.  Research before you look.

List the features you most want in a home and identify which are necessities and which are extras. Identify three to four neighborhoods you’d like to live in based on commute time, schools, recreation, crime, and price. Then hop onto realtor.com to get a feel for the homes available in your price range in your favorite neighborhoods. Use the results to prioritize your wants and needs so you can add in and weed out properties from the inventory you’d like to view.

3.  Get your finances in order.

Generally, lenders say you can afford a home priced two to three times your gross income. Create a budget so you know how much you’re comfortable spending each month on housing. Don’t wait until you’ve found a home and made an offer to investigate financing.

Gather your financial records and meet with a lender to get a prequalification letter spelling out how much you’re eligible to borrow. The lender won’t necessarily consider the extra fees you’ll pay when you purchase or your plans to begin a family or purchase a new car, so shop in a price range you’re comfortable with. Also, presenting an offer contingent on financing will make your bid less attractive to sellers.

4.  Set a moving timeline.

Do you have blemishes on your credit that will take time to clear up? If you already own, have you sold your current home? If not, you’ll need to factor in the time needed to sell. If you rent, when is your lease up? Do you expect interest rates to jump anytime soon? All these factors will affect your buying, closing, and moving timelines.

5.  Think long term.

Your future plans may dictate the type of home you’ll buy. Are you looking for a starter house with plans to move up in a few years, or do you hope to stay in the home for five to 10 years? With a starter, you may need to adjust your expectations. If you plan to nest, be sure your priority list helps you identify a home you’ll still love years from now.

6.  Work with a REALTOR®.

Ask people you trust for referrals to a real estate professional they trust. Interview agents to determine which have expertise in the neighborhoods and type of homes you’re interested in. Because homebuying triggers many emotions, consider whether an agent’s style meshes with your personality.

Also ask if the agent specializes in buyer representation. Unlike listing agents, whose first duty is to the seller, buyers’ reps work only for you even though they’re typically paid by the seller. Finally, check whether agents are REALTORS®, which means they’re members of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®. NAR has been a champion of homeownership rights for more than a century.

7.  Be realistic.

It’s OK to be picky about the home and neighborhood you want, but don’t be close-minded, unrealistic, or blinded by minor imperfections. If you insist on living in a cul-de-sac, you may miss out on great homes on streets that are just as quiet and secluded.

On the flip side, don’t be so swayed by a “wow” feature that you forget about other issues — like noise levels — that can have a big impact on your quality of life. Use your priority list to evaluate each property, remembering there’s no such thing as the perfect home.

8.  Limit the opinions you solicit.

It’s natural to seek reassurance when making a big financial decision. But you know that saying about too many cooks in the kitchen. If you need a second opinion, select one or two people. But remain true to your list of wants and needs so the final decision is based on criteria you’ve identified as important.

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®

Keep Your Cool – Here’s What Really Happens at Closings

A man and a woman reading a letter while sitting on a couch

Details matter, especially when it comes to the all-important Loan Estimate and Closing Disclosure.

Image: Creative Market

financial best life logoThis article was contributed by financial expert and blogger Lauren Bowling, a recognized thought leader in the millennial finance space. A full-time online business owner, Bowling teaches others how to master their finances and create their own economy via her body of digital products, free online courses, and weekly blog content. 

After all of the components of the home buying process —: negotiations, appraisals, inspections, and insurance — it’s very exciting to (finally) get to closing. But do you know what really happens during this final appointment? Closing on a home can be nerve-racking simply because many first-time buyers don’t  know what to expect or what to bring along.

Here, we’ll walk through all the details of what to expect at closing.

Scheduling & Closing Attorney Selection

The date of closing is typically set in the offer letter as most sellers will want to know when they can expect the closed sale once the home is under contract. Typically, closing is set 30 to 60 days from when offer is accepted, although this can change depending upon a variety of factors, including inspections and paperwork processing with the lender.

Depending on the state you live in, closing may take place at the closing attorney’s office or the title company. It’s the buyer’s right to choose the closing attorney. This person acts in the interest of the buyer and takes care of the “housekeeping” items of the closing, such as preparing paperwork, making sure all paperwork is properly signed, conducting a title check on the property, and receipt and distribution of money, among other things. The fee for the closing attorney is often included in the closing costs.

If you’re buying a home with an FHA loan, a mortgage loan option backed by the Federal Housing Administration that allows home buyers to put as little as 3.5% down, many lenders may recommend one of their pre-approved attorneys. If you (as the buyer) don’t have an attorney, the lender can also choose one for you, but you’re not required to use that recommendation.

Paperwork You’ll Receive

There are two pieces of paperwork home buying consumers should familiarize themselves with: the Loan Estimate and the Closing Disclosure. Both of these tools explain the loan terms, like interest rate and other costs associated with the loan (taxes, recording fees, etc.). The Loan Estimate should be provided to you no more than three days after your loan application. Keep the estimate in a safe place to compare with your Closing Disclosure and check for any discrepancies.

No later than three days before closing, your lender must provide you with a Closing Disclosure, which will look very similar to your Loan Estimate. Double check the interest rate information, address, and all other relevant information for accuracy. If something appears different than what you thought, reach out to your mortgage broker or lender for clarification.

The Closing Disclosure will detail information about your mortgage loan and the exact amount you’ll need to bring to closing to cover closing costs.

On the day of closing, you’ll receive the following paperwork:

  • Mortgage note stating you agree to repay the loan
  • Deed of trust to secure mortgage note

What to Bring

  • Cashier’s check for closing costs (or paperwork confirming Don’t Get ScammedIf you’re wiring your down payment, discuss the wiring process with your agent early on to avoid an email scam where hackers pose as your agent. Read More In Hackers Are After Your Down Payment. How to Keep It Safe wire transfer of funds from your bank)
  • Proof of homeowners insurance (likely already verified, but bring a copy to closing just in case)
  • Copies of any paperwork you’ve received from contract to close (again, just in case, for your reference)

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Given the length of time between contract and closing, most closings should be fairly routine and go smoothly because all of the legwork has been done prior to this date (such as checking the title, inspecting the home, loan underwriting with the lender, etc.) Unfortunately, hiccups can happen, which is why it’s best to avoid the common mistakes below:

  • Try to avoid closing on the last day of the month. In the event something goes wrong, you’ll want time to correct. This is because pre-paid interest on the loan accrues and is due at closing, and if pushed to a new month, the interest will continue to build.
  • Don’t skip the final walk-thru. Buyers should do this to ensure no new damage has been made to the home shortly before closing. If buyers opt not to do this, they cannot hold seller responsible for damages after transfer of property at closing.
  • Don’t make any big financial purchases in between contract and closing. The bank loaning the money for the mortgage has financed the home based on the most current financial information available. If you finance a car, an appliance, or any other big purchase, this affects your financial information and can delay closing on the home significantly. Unless it is the most dire of circumstances, hold off on big purchases to get into your first home as quickly as possible.
  • Don’t skim the closing documents. You want to check for typos on names and addresses.

Armed with the information above, first-time buyers should feel comfortable going into their first closing. Once the closing is over, you should receive keys (unless otherwise negotiated with the seller) and you’re officially the owner of your new home!

 

© Copyright 2018 NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®

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