Organizing Your Pantry in 6 Easy Steps
When your pantry is tidy, every trip to grab a bag of chips or stash the week's groceries will be a treat.
Food pantries can take just about any form. These versatile storage areas for canned goods, paper products and less frequently used small appliances may be housed in a walk-in room, a simple drawer, a wall cabinet or a closet. Hutches, armoires and even open shelving also work well.
Regardless of the setup, the key to a successful pantry is keeping it organized. Here are a few tips and tricks to get you started.
Similar to a refrigerator, the first step to seeing what you have to work with is emptying it out and giving it a good overall cleaning. Start with the ceiling — look out for spider webs! — and work your way down to the floor.
Next, give shelves a thorough wipe-down with soap and water, capturing any dust and crumbs. If you’re feeling ambitious, repaint your shelves or even wallpaper the pantry. If not, simply line the shelves with contact paper and mop the floors.
While boxes and food items are strewn throughout your kitchen, grab a donation box and think about what you really need and use.
Were certain items out of reach that would be better relocated closer to the stove, like herbs and olive oil? Place those items where they may make more sense, and make a list of the items you need from the store to fill the culinary gaps.
Throw away expired products, and set aside any items you don’t think you’ll use — like the navy beans for that special recipe you never got around to making — for your local food bank
If the clean-out process revealed hard-to-reach items in the back of your pantry, relocate them. Put things you rarely need — like extra mixing bowls and seldom-used appliances — in the back, and label the front of the shelf to remind you of their new location.
If your pantry is deep enough, opt for installing roll-out shelving or wire bins for those hard-to-reach essentials.
If you have open shelving or glass-front cabinets, handling a mix of boxes, bags and random containers can be a challenge.
Invest in a large set of clear glass or plastic jars for storage. Their attractive uniformity will cut the visual chaos, and they’re perfect for storing baking supplies like flour and sugar.
Once you have a handle on what you want to store, it’s time to round up the items you need to put your pantry back together. Your list may include spice jars, Mason jars, contact paper, racks for aluminum foil and plastic wrap, and bins and baskets to wrangle small items.
You’ve taken everything out and purged what you don’t need. Now it’s time to reload the pantry with everything you plan to store.
Group like items together — coffee and creamer with sweeteners; flour and sugar with baking soda; pastas and grains with oats; soups and olives with other canned items. Play around with your arrangement until it looks so organized that you feel proud enough to show it off.
Streamline your wardrobe, and help others at the same time.
I recently had a closet collapse. I came home from a day at the office to find heaps of what had been neatly hung, color-coordinated clothes in one giant, messy mound on the floor. Worse than picking up the pieces of chipped drywall? Admitting that maybe it was time to get rid of that favorite shirt of mine — from college. In the ’90s.
So I sought the help of style expert Darcy Camden to find out what she tells her clients. Camden has been cleaning out closets and styling men and women for more than a decade (read: she spends a TON of time in strangers’ homes). The busy fashionista (she’s a mother, too) insists there are easy ways to declutter that tangle of t-shirts or pile of old papers. And you can do it in as little as an hour.
Purge a little at a time, says Camden, who has helped more than 900 clients in her career.
“Most of my clients think that purging a closet is a huge all-day endeavor, but it often makes more sense to do a little at a time,” she says. “I encourage everyone to keep a Goodwill donation bag in their closet or bedroom, and add to it here and there as you discover items that don’t fit or have gotten worn out.”
“It rarely makes sense to keep something that physically doesn’t fit you — even if you love it,” Camden says. Put it in a pile to donate, and imagine how much joy the next person will get from that item.
When the weather warms up or cools down, it’s a great opportunity to think about what you’ve worn — and what you haven’t. “If you didn’t wear it last winter, you probably won’t wear it next winter,” Camden says.
Fab new pants? Great! But only put them in the closet after removing a pair that’s collecting dust.
“I tell my clients to subtract one old item for every new item you purchase,” Camden recommends. “If you spend an afternoon shopping and come home with five new things, spend some time reviewing your closet. Remove five older things you’re no longer wearing.”
Think of how much you can keep out of the landfill by gifting your giveaways to a good cause.
“I’m constantly amazed that my clients are worried their castaways aren’t good enough for Goodwill,” Camden says. “Will they really want this stained old t-shirt? Or this single sock? Yes!”
“Working closely over the years has given me tons of insight into what happens to donations,” she continues. “Your smelly socks and stained clothing provide jobs and can be recycled or reused. Never throw away clothing to a landfill.”
Last year, Seattle Goodwill kept more than 53 million pounds of useful goods out of landfills. In addition to helping the planet, those donations also help fund job training and educational programs
Gray skies don’t have to mean a drab indoor life.
As winter plods along, you may wish you could just hibernate until spring. But there is, indeed, joy to be found in the quieter months of the year.
While the trend may have come and gone in the U.S., the art of hygge, that feeling of being ultra-cozy and content, is just part of everyday life in Denmark.
The thing is, the Danes know how to thrive in winter. You might already know they’re the happiest people on earth, but did you know a lot of them attribute their unseasonably sunny outlook to their home- and self-care habits?
When it’s cold and rainy out, you might hear the siren song of your favorite TV streaming service. Aah, sweet, solitary binge-watching! But if you’d like a more satisfying way to spend a chilly evening, here are a few ideas to channel the Danes and make an intentionally delightful day out of drab weather.
Candles are a key ingredient to a supremely comfortable atmosphere. Not only do they provide beautiful, soft lighting, they also add warmth and scent to your space.
Tip: Choose seasonal scents to inspire celebration, or choose a summery scent, such as coconut and floral, to help combat the seasonal blues.
Cake is central to the cozy experience. But it doesn’t just begin when you eat the cake (or cookies or pie) — it begins when you buy the ingredients.
Go to your favorite market, choose your ingredients carefully, and mix them with great care, taking your time to enjoy the task at hand. It’s just a bonus that your baking will flood your space with delicious smells — and taste good too.
Tip: Call up a friend or family member whose recipes deserve appreciation, and ask if they could show you how to work out their spectacular skills. Baking together makes for a lovely afternoon, no matter the weather!
Plush throws, sheepskins and cushions make for a much more inviting space. Cover your surfaces in as many luxurious fabrics and pillows as you can find and snuggle down.
Tip: Feel free to go faux, or if cost prohibits, find inexpensive alternatives.
Do you tend to hide from your friends as soon as the days get short? Fight the urge to retreat, and invite your nearest and dearest (or those you want to know better) over to share your coziness. Bonus: Ask them to bring a bottle of your favorite seasonal beverage!
Tip: Low on funds but want to host a dinner party? Ask everyone to bring an ingredient for soup, and make it together, or just plan a casual potluck.
If they’ve been gathering dust, this is the time to bring them out! Whether you go for the competitive strategy variety or laugh-out-loud social games, there are options for everyone. For the minimalists among us, even a deck of cards can offer plenty of entertainment.
Take your kitchen forward without setting yourself back too much.
Kitchen renovations require time and money, often taking several months to complete and costing tens of thousands of dollars. If you don’t have the financial resources for a full-on renovation, there are a variety of ways you can give your kitchen a new look for a lot less. From refacing cabinets to replacing lighting, a few cosmetic tweaks can give you the kitchen you’ve always wanted.
Many homeowners are turning to kitchen refacing as an easy way to update their cabinets. Refacing involves replacing the doors, drawers and hardware and covering the entire exterior of the cabinets in a brand-new veneer. If you’re happy with the layout and function of your kitchen, but aren’t so keen on the aesthetic feel, consider cabinet refacing.
“It’s for people who have kitchens from the ’70s and ’80s that have solid wood cabinets,” says interior designer Anna León, who has a background in kitchen refacing with Home Depot. “They can take off the original doors and put on modern doors.”
The cost, which typically starts at around $6,000, depends on the size of the kitchen and the materials used. With an array of options available — such as woodgrains, painted wood and pressure-fused laminate doors like Thermofoil — you can transform a kitchen’s facade easily. Contemporary Thermofoil doors also come in a variety of fun looks, including glossy, matte and woodgrain.
While a full kitchen gut and renovation may take several months to complete, cabinet resurfacing typically takes three to five days.
Painting cabinets is more affordable than refacing, costing around $3,000 to $5,000 for a professional to do the job, according to León.
Or, you can always DIY, which is the most affordable option, but it’s laborious and takes a great deal of time.
“Painting cabinets is great, but it’s all about the prep work,” says Richmond, VA-based interior decorator Lesley Glotzl. “You have to prep and paint them perfectly or they’re going to chip or peel. You can’t cut any corners.”
Creating a new backsplash is an easy way to freshen up your kitchen. Be sure to choose a timeless material that will complement your cabinetry, and avoid mixing styles and periods. For instance, if you have ’70s-era cabinetry, you won’t want to pair that with something trendy like subway tile.
If you’re a confident DIYer, tile your backsplash. Or for $20, you can paint it in a bold high-gloss paint that you can easily wipe down after cooking.
In Glotzl’s home, she installed a beadboard backsplash and painted it in a high-gloss blue.
Shiplap is an affordable and durable option as well, and it’s not difficult to DIY. Glotzl also recommends using vinyl wallpapers from companies like Osborne & Little as a backsplash, as they come in an array of fun textures, colors and patterns.
For countertops, head to your local stone yard and choose a granite at the lower end of the price range. Formica — a more affordable option than natural stone — has a lot of cool countertop options in patterns like Greek key or textures like barn wood or grasscloth.
If you’re short on counter space and aren’t looking to add more cabinetry, consider buying a premade island or bar-height table that you can float in the center of your kitchen.
Or, if you have a more contemporary kitchen, consider purchasing a stainless-steel food prep table from a restaurant supply company. Just make sure you have at least 36 inches between the cabinets and island on all sides for easy traffic flow, advises Glotzl.
If your cabinets don’t have lip molding on the interior, remove cabinet doors to create open shelving and show off your beautiful serving dishes.
Or, if you have an empty wall, create your own shelving system with floating shelves from a retailer such as Pottery Barn or IKEA. Just be sure you install brackets underneath the shelves if you plan on loading them up with dishes and cooking wares. Glotzl recommends Van Dyke’s Restorers for shelving support.
Lighting can dramatically change the look and feel of any room. Tear out harsh fluorescent lighting and replace it with can lights.
Make food prep easier by having an electrician install under-cabinet halogen fixtures or ambient Light Tape. Over the kitchen sink is the perfect place for a statement piece like a sculptural pendant light.
Pulls and knobs
If you’re going the cabinet-refacing route, you’ll have plenty of new pulls and knobs to ponder. You can find them at online retailers or local shops.
If you’re painting your cabinets — or even if you’re not — new pulls and knobs can go a long way toward creating a new look in your kitchen. This simple solution is one that works particularly well for renters.
Appliances and plumbing
Dated appliances paired with updated cabinetry will make your kitchen feel incomplete. New stainless-steel appliances are the finishing touch. For less than $500, you can get a new stainless-steel electric range; for less than $700, a brand-new top-freezer refrigerator.
“Compared to everything else you have to do, it ends up feeling like pocket change,” says León.
You can easily update your faucet for under $100 (although, of course, you could spend a lot more). And a new farmhouse sink could be yours for less than $400.
How to detect and avoid five of the most common household hazards.
Home is where you feel comfortable and safe. It’s where you tuck your kids into bed and lazily watch hours of Netflix on the couch.
Without your care and vigilance, however, your home may develop conditions that can make you severely ill — or even kill you.
Here are five ways your home can potentially harm you and expert advice on keeping these issues from affecting your household.
Though mold isn’t a pathogen (a disease-causing agent), it’s still an allergen that you don’t want hanging around your house.
“When people say they have a mold allergy or they have a mold condition, it’s an allergic reaction,” says Peter Duncanson, director of business operations for disaster restoration specialists ServiceMaster Restore. “[Molds] generally considered toxic are ones like stachybotrys, which are black in color — but not all black molds cause the same reactions.”
Molds, including black molds like stachybotrys, form if moisture concentrates in an area where a food source is present, such as skin cells or paper. You know you have mold growing in your home if you smell an earthy, musty scent. Though mold exposure won’t severely harm the average person, repeated exposure is not advised for your health.
“The buildup [of mold] causes a more violent reaction, and those reactions are generally respiratory in nature and pulmonary, so you have trouble breathing,” Duncanson explains. “A very severe reaction to mold can be anaphylactic — you can’t breathe, and you go into an anaphylactic shock.”
Luckily, you can prevent mold by keeping your home dry, running the exhaust fan when taking a shower, and purchasing a dehumidifier for the basement in the summer.
If you do find black mold (or what’s commonly referred to as toxic mold) in your home, don’t panic. Contact a professional who can safely remove the mold and eliminate the water source feeding it.
Asbestos was a commonly used building material up until the mid-20th century, when it was determined to be a very dangerous carcinogen that causes mesothelioma cancer. Though builders aren’t legally allowed to use asbestos in building materials and other products anymore, traces of it are often found in older homes.
“Asbestos is not harmful to you if you don’t disturb it,” Duncanson says. “The problem arises when you start cutting or doing demolition and asbestos becomes airborne.”
It may be tempting to DIY an open-concept living space in your vintage bungalow, but if your home was built before the 1980s, seek the advice of a professional before you start knocking down any walls. The latency period of mesothelioma cancer can be years, so problems may not arise until much later in your life.
Handling asbestos is a dangerous task, and professionals have the equipment to remove it safely without risking your health.
Carbon monoxide poisoning, which kills thousands of people each year, occurs when there’s too much carbon monoxide in your blood. This can result in tissue damage or death.
Improperly ventilated appliances like stoves, water heaters and gas appliances can release carbon monoxide. Improperly cleaned chimneys cause smoke to circulate throughout the home — this can also give you carbon monoxide poisoning, according to Andy Kerns, a home maintenance researcher.
To protect yourself from carbon monoxide poisoning, properly ventilate appliances and clean heat sources like wood-burning stoves every year before use. Call a professional if you have any doubts about the safety and security of your appliances or ventilation within your home.
Seven people in the U.S. die each day from house fires, according to the National Fire Prevention Association. Most of these house fires are the result of normal, everyday use of appliances, candles and cooking equipment. The most surprising fire starter, however, lives in the laundry room.
“Dryer lint can collect in the dryer and become an electrical fire starter,” says Kerns. “Dryers are the number one cause of house fires.”
To prevent house fires, ensure that your appliances have the right rating before you plug them into outlets. Always extinguish candles after usage and carefully watch the stove when cooking.
The bathroom is often ranked as the most dangerous room in the home. Wet, slippery surfaces often lead to falls — and result in anything from embarrassment to a fractured hip.
“Bathtubs, especially, are an area where you can fall and hit your head,” notes Kerns. “A lot of people get pretty severely injured in the bathroom, particularly when they’re older.”
As we get older, bathroom safety gets more pertinent, so it’s a great idea to install things like grab bars or a walk-in tub for ease of use as you age. Be sure to wipe down any wet surfaces, and place bath mats by the sink and tub to prevent bathroom falls.
Taking the time to slow down and keep your home safe is essential for any homeowner. Give your home a monthly, semiannual and annual checkup to keep it in tip-top condition for years to come.
“Given how busy our lives are, and all the different things we have to keep track of in our digital environments, it’s harder and harder to keep some of the physical maintenance issues top of mind. I think a lot of people tend to let things go until there’s a problem,” says Kerns. “Don’t leave it up to your memory. Have a good, reliable organizational system that keeps you up to date.”
These styles from the '70s and '80s prove it's OK to say "in with the old!"
Each year, fashion leaves a strong impression on the design industry and its offerings for the season. For 2020, the vibe includes handmade organic details paired with the sparkle of the ’70s disco club and the velvety softness of the ’80s.
But beyond the nostalgic hints that those artistic impressions carry, what lies ahead for interiors? How will we change and evolve in our home environment? Read on and see what speaks to your design style as we approach another new year.
Many manufacturers, designers and architects have focused their products and projects on a sustainable, environmentally friendly approach to home building and design. Thanks to modern technology, sustainable products don’t mean inferior quality, comfort or design.
In fact, these products celebrate eco-chic versions of modern or traditional designs in both elevated and affordable versions. While products like linoleum or cork flooring may have been long forgotten, they will see a strong comeback in the new season, thanks to its natural characteristics.
The traditional beauty of floral patterns, either abstracted or straight-up chintz, will continue to be the pattern to use, especially when paired with deep luxurious velvets and maximalist styled spaces. But home designer, beware: Chintz can be tricky. Its bold old-fashioned prints can easily turn to frilly English bed-and-breakfast if you’re not careful. When done right, the floral theme can add color, texture and just the right touch of classic elegance to your interior.
Handmade items made with sustainable materials like jute, rice paper and clay will be all the rage in 2020. These elements go far in grounding a home, allowing its inhabitants to be in touch with the earth and their roots. The incorporation of natural materials popular years ago — like caning, rope, sea grass and bamboo — has a strong influence over modern furniture silhouettes and decor details. Elaborately embossed wall coverings, including gold rivets and metallic accents, give surfaces a beautiful tactile sensation and modern ambiance.
Increasing social consciousness around climate change has influenced the design industry to produce products accordingly. Plastics are being used for indoor and outdoor furniture frames, while water bottles are being used to create outdoor rugs and accents.
For a more luxe look, acrylic products are having a comeback, giving a room the architectural structure it needs without taking up visual real estate. Acrylic in a small space, like an entryway or sitting area, provides a surface that can be layered with more organic items and not feel fussy.
The rise of digitally printed fabrics has created a true appreciation for real embroidery, thick wool boucles, linens and other artisan-inspired elements. Rich textural expressions are the theme of the upcoming season. Think velvet upholstery, hemp drapery, cork walls, wicker and jute for furniture and finishes.
The surge of minimalism and Scandinavian design, characterized by neutral colors and simple materials, is finally declining. In its place, bright colors and graphic patterns are becoming more prevalent in the home.
Don’t be afraid to mix colors, patterns and textures. Take a gallery wall to the next level by having it cover an entire wall, or add a dramatic large-scale piece to your space. In this case, more is more.
And speaking of timeless metal accents, sparkle is still on the design scene for living room decor compositions. Add a hint of disco glamour and luxury by introducing bronze, gold and chrome details through decorative accents, furniture inlays, hardware, lighting, mirrors and accessories.
Staying home doesn't mean you can't have an adventure.
Disneyland, the beach, camping … just a few of the many places your kids would nominate as a vacation destination this summer. But staying home?
So how do you sell a staycation to your little ones? And not spend a ton of money? Fill it with fun and adventure.
Check out these eight kid- and budget-friendly ideas that will make your summer staycation just as lively and memorable as any trip.
Pitch a tent, grab the camp chairs and roll out those sleeping bags. It’s time to go camping — in your backyard!
Study the local flora and fauna, practice wilderness skills, roast marshmallows over a fire pit, tell scary stories and spot constellations in the night sky.
Let your little chefs put their skills to the test with a “Top Chef” competition. Introduce a mystery ingredient, work in teams and see what you can come up with.
If competition isn’t your style, simply head to the farmer’s market or grocery store and pick out a unique ingredient and see what your family can come up with to put in a dish.
Have a sweet tooth? Throw a bake-off and create your favorite cookies, cupcakes or cake. Share the snacks with friends and neighbors too.
Create your very own town fair, and bring your friends and family members in on the fun. Serve up classic carnival food like corn dogs, french fries, funnel cake and cotton candy.
Set up DIY games like ring toss, cake walk, corn hole, balloon darts, a fishing hole and more.
Finish off the night with an outdoor movie by stringing up a sheet and using a projector.
Take an online course to learn a new skill or craft, or figure out how to play an outdoor game like bocce ball or croquet. Practice a different language with books from the library, or hit the zoo to learn about a new animal.
Wrangle all the cardboard boxes, blankets, chairs and pillows you can find and build the ultimate playhouse or fort.
Construct tunnels with boxes (bonus if you can snag a large refrigerator box), create rooms with blankets and chairs, and arm your fortress by building a pillow moat. Play castle or just snuggle up in your cozy den and watch a movie — don’t forget the popcorn.
Keep the fun going into the night: Add twinkle lights and have a sleepover in your new castle.
Hot summer day? Cool down by making your own backyard into a mini water park.
Break out the sprinkler and burn off some energy by splashing around. Fill the kiddie pool and hop in with your little ones, or wage a water balloon or squirt-gun fight for an afternoon that’s guaranteed to cool you off and make you feel like a kid again.
Live in an apartment or don’t have the water gear? Head to your local splash pad or community pool. To save money, look for free or discount promotions at the pool or water park.
Arts and crafts are a great way to get those creative juices flowing, make fun memories and create cool pieces to treasure for years to come.
Tie-dye some plain T-shirts, create your own modeling clay using flour and salt, make beaded bracelets, or try your hand at loom weaving.
Keep things even simpler by drawing with some sidewalk chalk, building a birdhouse out of Popsicle sticks, or simply getting messy with some finger paint.
Set up a string of clues for your kids to follow that lead them all around the house, yard and even the neighborhood. Make up your own clues or check online for clever rhymes or location ideas.
End the hunt with a fun prize, which can be anything from a chest full of faux gold coins, a long-desired toy or trinket, or a plate of fresh cookies or cupcakes. Add a dash of extra fun by dressing up as pirates or explorers.
Whether you have a lot of free time or a little, a chunk of change to spend or a limited budget, there are plenty of fun staycation ideas to make your summer special.
Can't paint the walls? No problem. These pops of color require no landlord approval.
Living in a rental can dampen your design options. With unchangeable fixtures and cabinets, bland paint colors, and the threat of losing your security deposit if you make changes, a lot of renters suppress their personal style and settle for builder-grade basic.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. By getting creative with your furniture and accessories, you can have a colorful and inviting home without sacrificing your deposit or infuriating your landlord.
Many homeowners paint the walls as a relatively easy way to bring color to a space. But landlords and property managers often forbid changing a rental’s interior paint color.
Think beyond paint, and you’ll discover a multitude of ways to dress up your walls without touching a paintbrush. The key is to think big.
Find large-scale art pieces that speak to your style and feature punchy colors. Collect snapshots in ombre frames of your favorite hue (instead of traditional black or white) and assemble a gallery wall.
Have an artistic streak? Paint a mural on a large piece of canvas and tack it over an entire wall.
For the less artistically inclined, removable wallpaper or decals in bright shades and eye-catching designs provide an instant pick-me-up. You can also cover entire walls or awkward spaces with a pretty patterned curtain or piece of fabric for a cozy bohemian vibe.
Rentals often come with outdated cabinets, fixtures, and flooring that can’t be altered. Beige, brown and off-white are the norm for these spaces, but that doesn’t mean you have to let it restrict your style.
Add visual interest and draw attention by bringing in splashy pieces of furniture and decor. Look for pieces in your favorite color or choose a theme, like sunny yellow and coral, to drown out the drab.
Vibrant painted wood chairs can give your dining space some zing. Or purchase a couch or chair in a daring tone like emerald or sapphire.
Don’t have a ton of cash to spend? Go DIY. Find furniture with good bones at your local thrift shop or garage sale, and give it a makeover. Use spray paint for smaller decor pieces and latex or chalk paint for dressers and side tables.
Add extra flair with stenciled details and paint-dipped legs. Line the backs of bookshelves with decorative paper, and temporarily replace boring kitchen and bathroom pulls and knobs with vibrant versions.
Textiles in assorted colors will be your best friends for dressing up your outdated or dull apartment. Start with an inviting rug in a rich jewel tone or a trendy overdyed hue. And stay away from traditional white and beige curtains — instead, opt for a bright color or lively pattern.
The same goes for bedding. White may be a traditional go-to for duvet covers, but in the case of a blah apartment, pick a print or hue that will make your bedroom an energizing getaway or relaxing retreat. If you’re looking for a calm feel, search for a bed set in cool indigo, lavender or sage. Want to make it upbeat instead? Try poppy colors like coral, tangerine or sunflower.
Fun throw pillows and blankets will spice up your bed, couch, lounge chairs and more. Keep the color trend going into the bathroom and kitchen by choosing pretty hand towels and bathmats.
By punching up the walls with custom artwork, bringing in attention-grabbing furniture, and using pretty textiles to boost the style factor, you can have a colorfully custom home without ever touching a drop of paint.
The key is moderation and intention. Stick with a few favorite shades and mix it up by using variations of those hues instead of pulling in every color in the rainbow. Choose a few important focal points to infuse with color and let the rest blend in.
You’ll be happier for the design boost, and your landlord will be glad you haven’t made any big changes. That’s a win-win situation for everyone involved.
Where are the towels? Who packed the cat food? When you're surrounded by boxes, what you need is a strategy.
So you’re finally in your new home, surrounded by piles of boxes, tired and glad that your relocation is about to end.
To fully complete your moving adventure, however, you need to unpack your belongings and make your new place feel like home. But where do you even begin?
No matter how much you want to get it over with, there are three important things to do before you can actually start unpacking.
What matters most when unpacking your items after a move is ensuring that your essentials are immediately accessible. So prioritize your belongings, and unpack only the necessities first.
You may not be able to unpack the entire bedroom right away, but you’ll definitely need at least the bed the day you move in. Reassemble the bed frame (if necessary), lay down the sheets, unpack the pillows and spread the blankets so you can get a good night’s rest — you’re going to need it!
Provided that you have a change of clothes and some comfortable indoor shoes (as well as curtains on the windows to ensure your privacy), the rest of your bedroom items can wait until you find the time and the energy to deal with them.
Without a doubt, your personal care items, toiletries and medicines should top the list of the most important items to unpack after your move. Put out toilet paper and soap, find your toothbrush and toothpaste, hang the towels and the shower curtains, and unpack any other bathroom essentials you’ll need to wash away the weariness and stress of moving.
Kitchens tend to take a very long time to unpack and organize properly due to the large number of items that need to be sorted and carefully arranged.
As soon as you’ve hooked up the large appliances, such as the fridge and the stove, move on to your smaller kitchenware. Plates, silverware and glasses should be the first to find their places in cupboards and kitchen cabinets, closely followed by cooking utensils, pots and pans, and pantry items.
If you have young children, unpack some of their favorite toys, books, games and blankets during the first few hours in your new home. Keeping your young ones happy and occupied will let you concentrate on your work and finish it faster.
Of course, you should also take care of your pets’ needs immediately upon arrival. It’s a good idea to pack adequate pet food and some of your animal friends’ favorite toys in your open-first box.
When you’ve unpacked the three most essential rooms in your home (bedroom, bathroom and kitchen), everything else can wait a bit. There are no deadlines to meet, so you can set your own pace when unpacking and decorating your new place — just unpack in order of priority without procrastinating.
If you stay organized, set reasonable goals, clean after every unpacking phase, and dispose of the packing materials in a safe and eco-friendly manner, your new surroundings will soon stop looking like a warehouse full of boxes and start feeling like home.
Moving doesn't have to be a waking nightmare. Here's how to avoid a move from ... you know where.
Moving may top the list of stressful experiences that can feel like a bad dream — one that can easily come true unless you take precautionary measures.
Problems can occur at every stage of the relocation process, but the most common moving nightmares fall into three categories. Here’s how they typically play out — and how to avoid them.
Moving involves a lot of loose ends, and even the smallest oversight can result in a disastrous move.
The best way to avoid problems when moving house is to plan each phase of your relocation adventure in meticulous detail and stay one step ahead all the time.
Heavy traffic or road accidents can also turn your move into a real nightmare.
Of course, there’s nothing you can do to prevent traffic accidents or breakdowns. But you can at least reserve a parking place directly in front of your old and new homes, and choose a moving company that has experienced drivers and several moving vehicles in good condition.
Many moving horror stories involve rogue or incompetent movers.
The good news is that there is an easy way to avoid such nightmares. All you need to do is carefully research your movers before hiring them to make sure you are dealing with licensed and experienced professionals you can trust. It’s also a good idea to purchase appropriate insurance for your belongings, just in case.
Small kitchens can be a challenge. Use these tips to set up a kitchen that lets your inner chef shine.
Many homes come with kitchens that are less than ideal. The lighting can be terrible, the appliances old, the floors grimy … and counter space? Well, that’s a nice idea.
Get the most out of the kitchen space you do have with these tips.
You can create extra space, even when it seems impossible. Over-the-sink covers, cutting boards and colanders help increase your workspace.
Burner covers for your stove and a large cutting board or tray can create extra counter space when you’re entertaining and want to set out snacks (provided you don’t need to use your stove).
Fold-up tables (attached to the wall or stand-alone) offer extra space when needed. If there’s room, a butcher block or island instantly create food prep or storage space.
Another simple way to create space? Pare down your belongings — especially on the counters — and only keep the necessities.
A wall above the stove may be perfectly suited for a pegboard where you can hang pots, pans and utensils. Magnetic knife and spice racks can fit into small wall spaces under cabinets or above sinks.
Refrigerators can serve as storage space for magnetic spice racks, towels, pot holders, or dry-erase boards or chalkboards, which are both useful and decorative. And over-the-cabinet hooks and towel racks add extra storage quickly and easily.
Small bookcases are a kitchen’s best friend. They are perfectly narrow, they come in many heights and they offer tons of storage options.
In addition to keeping cookbooks tidy, they can also hold pots, pans, dishes, food items, storage containers and baskets.
Add hooks to the side of your bookshelf to store aprons or other lightweight tools.
Art and color are fast ways to personalize a small kitchen. Color-coordinated kitchen accessories become art in and of themselves, and a simple color palette lets the eye rest in a small space.
When using every inch of space, don’t forget to leave room for a few decorative elements. Hang attractive tea towels with pushpins for a practical splash of color. And fresh flowers on a shelf or table instantly brighten the space and add life.
If you have a windowsill, an herb garden is the perfect way to use the space and bring vibrancy. You might even consider installing a vertical garden.
Every older kitchen has at least one eyesore: an ancient microwave, a scratched-up refrigerator or a hideous vinyl floor. If you’re not ready to put down the cash for a remodel, cover these as best you can.
Cover exposed sink pipes with curtains attached to the bottom of the sink (bonus: extra storage space). Store your old microwave or replace it with a newer, more attractive version.
As for scratched or just plain ugly refrigerators and appliances, adhesive vinyl can create a like-new look in a matter of minutes.
Cover unsightly floors with kitchen-friendly mats that also make standing at the counter easier on your feet, and refresh old cupboards and drawers with plain or patterned drawer liners.
Lighting in any kitchen is hard to get right. Many fixtures make the space feel dated, and upgrading bulbs and cleaning light covers will make a difference right away. Consider installing adhesive under-cabinet lighting to better illuminate your workspace.
If you can direct your lighting, such as track lighting, make sure it points to the kitchen triangle — that well-worn path from the stove to the sink to the refrigerator.
If overhead lighting is scarce, consider using table lamps and even floor lamps. A floor lamp in a kitchen might seem odd at first, but put it at the end of a counter or tucked behind a table, and you’ll be grateful for the extra light.
Win home shoppers over before they even think about stepping foot inside.
A polished home exterior creates an inviting experience, which is especially important if your home is on the market or you’re planning to list it in the near future.
Check out our tips to get the most curb appeal for the lowest cost — while turning your neighbors’ heads and getting the attention of prospective buyers.
The easiest way to enhance curb appeal is dedicating a weekend to deep cleaning your home’s exterior.
Sure, you’ll want to trim bushes, sweep and mow your lawn, but there’s more to curb appeal than keeping a tidy front yard. Turn the nozzle on your garden hose to the strongest setting and clean off your driveway, sidewalk, windows and fence.
If dirt and grime are caked on your home’s exterior, you can rent a powerwasher for around $50 to $75 a day. Just avoid areas with caulking, like windows and doors, because you can strip some of the sealing. And as tempting as it may be to powerwash your roof, don’t do it — you may damage the shingles’ coating.
When it comes to your windows, spraying them with a garden hose isn’t enough. For maximum sparkle, clean your windows outside and inside. Instead of relying on a glass cleaner, try a mix of detergent diluted in warm water.
Shutters are an easy way to accentuate the size of your windows. They make your windows look larger and add visual interest by disrupting a bland exterior wall. For maximum curb appeal, choose a shutter color that contrasts with your home’s color to make it pop.
Paint accent areas
Paint is a quick and easy curb appeal booster. Instead of painting the entire exterior of your home, focus on the trim, door and shutters.
You can typically find a gallon of exterior paint for $20 to $30. But before you decide on a color, consider home exterior color trends, along with your home’s natural style.
Give your door a face-lift
If you don’t love your front door, you don’t need to dish out loads of money to replace it. Think beyond paint — consider adding molding, which offers a decorative frame for your door that welcomes visitors.
You can also add metal house numbers, which you can find for as low as $5 a number.
Replace your house numbers
If you’d rather not add house numbers to your freshly painted door, here are some alternative DIY ideas:
Update your light fixtures
Replacing your exterior light fixtures is another curb appeal must. You can usually find outdoor sconces for around $20. Just make sure your new light fixtures have the same mounting system. And if you want to save on lighting, a fresh finish can do wonders. Try spray-painting them — a can of spray paint costs around $10.
Keep porch furniture neutral
Just as you would aim to simplify the interior of your home so shoppers can envision themselves living there, the exterior of your home should be neutral and welcoming too.
Put your pink flamingo and wind chime collection into storage, and focus on porch decor that offers pops of color and character. You can find brightly colored outdoor chairs or throw pillows for $20 to $30 each.
Don’t forget the small things
These low-budget fixes make a big impact, so don’t forget the little details!
Don't let the mold panic set in just yet — it might not be as bad as you think.
Mold is everywhere. It grows on the sides of houses and in basements, it blackens surfaces like brick and concrete, and it thrives in the soil of your yard and garden.
Indoors, mold lives in sink drains, shower grout, houseplant potting mix, kitchen sponges and anywhere else that moisture has a chance to settle. Are you hyperventilating yet?
A little bit of mold is nothing to worry about, as long as you can identify the cause and promptly clean it up with a solution of bleach and water.
But before we go any further, let’s get this out of the way: Any mold, regardless of color, can make you feel sick, especially if you suffer from allergies or asthma. To be on the safe side, always wear a mask and rubber gloves when dealing with mold, and make sure that the space is well-ventilated.
Also known as black mold, the infamous Stachybotrys chartarum is not toxic, but toxigenic, because it is capable of producing mycotoxins. Technicalities aside, this uncommon mold species is especially feared for its supposedly dangerous effects.
You may have read an article about how toxic mold is “secretly making your family sick” or watched local news reporters announce that black mold was found in a restaurant inspection, making it feel as if the plague arrived overnight and could be headed to your place next.
Some alternative health websites even call it “toxic mold syndrome” and warn of terrifying symptoms like memory loss or idiopathic pulmonary hemorrhage.
Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), however, say that “These case reports are rare, and a causal link between the presence of the toxigenic mold and these conditions has not been proven. … All molds should be treated the same with respect to potential health risks and removal.”
Stachybotrys chartarum is unusual among household molds, because it requires constant moisture to survive. So if your house is oozing moisture from a roof leak, broken pipe or outright poltergeist, black mold is the least of your worries. Time to call a professional and put an end to the drip before termites or wood rot threaten to put an end to your home’s structure.
Mold is often a symptom of a bigger problem, be it as minor as a dripping faucet or as major as, well, a missing roof.
If you suspect that the slowly spreading black stain on your basement or room wall is the infamous black mold, don’t bother wasting your time identifying the stuff. Scam artists abound, and the Environmental Protection Agency even says that “In most cases, if visible mold is present, sampling is unnecessary.”
There are no established standards for judging what is an acceptable amount of mold, and even the non-toxigenic types can cause allergic reactions and make your life miserable. Remove it.
Mold needs three things to survive: Moisture, a growing surface and food (dirty stuff).
The easiest way to prevent mold is to make sure that it never gets any moisture to begin with. Keep your house clean, dry and well-ventilated, especially in the bathroom wherever water collects, such as on tile grout or shower curtains. If your bathroom has gnats or a damp odor, look no further than your clogged sink drains — and be sure to wear some rubber gloves.
To clean and remove mold on hard surfaces, the CDC recommends using a solution of no more than one cup of bleach to one gallon of water.
To remove mold on exterior surfaces, use a pressure washer, and make sure that everything is properly sealed.
If mold is found on soft and porous surfaces, such as drywall, carpeting or furniture, it’s best to dispose of the affected material before the mold spreads further or exacerbates your allergies.
Flood-damaged homes with heavy mold infestations should be handled by professionals whenever possible. The Federal Emergency Management Agency warns that “Infants, children, immune-compromised patients, pregnant women, individuals with existing respiratory conditions (allergies, multiple chemical sensitivity and asthma) and the elderly appear to be at higher risks for adverse health effects from mold.”
In addition, flood-damaged houses are often contaminated with chemicals and human waste, which are far more dangerous than the mold itself.
A little design magic can make even the tiniest bathroom feel spacious.
Small bathrooms aren’t the easiest spaces to work with. They’re usually cramped and crowded, with limited natural light and awkward layouts.
Whether it’s your powder room or your apartment bathroom that’s cramping your style, here are a few tips for making any small bathroom seem bigger — no wall demolition required.
1. Brighten the room
Bring in as much light as possible. Light, bright rooms always feel more spacious than dark and drab ones.
2. Add mirrors
Install larger — and more — mirrors than you typically would in a bathroom. The reflected light will open your small space into one that feels more spacious.
3. Streamline storage
Keep all storage as flush with the walls as possible, because anything that sticks out will chop up the space and close it in. Install recessed shelving and medicine cabinets instead.
4. Eliminate clutter
Nothing crowds a space faster than clutter. A good rule of thumb: If you don’t need it there, store it elsewhere. Pare what you keep in the bathroom down to the bare necessities.
5. Raise the bar
Raise your shower curtain bar all the way to the ceiling — it’ll draw your eyes up and make the ceiling seem taller, creating the illusion of a larger space.
The same goes for any window treatments. Raising sheer curtain panels to the ceiling also creates the illusion of a larger window, making the small bathroom seem larger.
6. Hide the bathmat
Having a bathmat on the floor all the time can make your bathroom feel smaller. Put your bathmats away when you’re not using them to expose the flooring and make the space appear larger.
7. Install a sliding door
Swinging doors can take up almost half the room, depending on how small the space is. A sliding barn door or a pocket door won’t encroach on your bathroom’s already limited real estate.
8. Think pedestal sink
The added bulk of a full vanity takes up valuable space, so try a pedestal sink instead. You may not have a place for soaps or towels on the vanity, but there are plenty of wall-mounted solutions perfect for bathroom accessories.
9. Choose light-colored flooring
Even if your walls and ceiling are light and bright, a dark floor will negate their effect and close the space in. Keep the flooring light to create a space with a bright and open flow.
10. Go frameless, clear and cohesive in the shower
Clear glass shower doors make the room appear larger, while frosted glass breaks up the space and makes it seem smaller. The same goes for a frame around the glass. A frame can make the area seem choppy rather than smooth and open.
Additionally, install the same shower tile from floor to ceiling. The seamless look from top to bottom adds cohesion and openness.
Just a few changes to your small bathroom can make dramatic differences in how open it feels. Once you’ve tried these tips and tricks in the bathroom, apply them throughout your home! It’s all about creating the illusion of space.
Nothing eases the pains of moving like a fully refunded security deposit. Make sure you get your cash back with these expert tips.
Getting your security deposit back after you move may feel like an impossible feat, but it isn’t. Remember that your security deposit is essentially your money, so not all hope is lost when it’s time to move out.
“It’s the landlord’s obligation to return [the deposit] at the end of the lease,” says Abbie Philpott with move-out company Pleased to Clean You.
Here’s some expert advice for making sure your security deposit money goes back into your wallet — where it belongs.
Take precautions when you move in to save time (and money) when you move out. To avoid getting charged for damage, use removable poster putty or removable hooks to hang things, and use felt pads to protect wood floors from scratches.
You know all of those rental-related documents you received when you moved in? Olivia Joyce with end-of-tenancy cleaning company Move Out Mates suggests reading them thoroughly and keeping all of them in one place.
“Research the proper procedures for ending your rental agreement, and comply with them,” she says.
Unfortunately, “fair wear and tear” is subjective.
“I’ve seen cases in which landlords stretch this phrase to the limit,” Philpott says. She urges tenants to photograph everything in the rental property to serve as proof of the property’s condition.
While photo documentation is great, sometimes it’s not enough.
“Take a video walkthrough of the unit when you first move in and again when you move out,” suggest John and Melissa Steele with Team Steele San Diego Homes.
If the property manager tries to keep your deposit, your video will serve as proof that you kept the rental in quality condition.
“It makes it very hard for them to argue with you,” the Steeles add. “It has helped us save a few hundred dollars, and it only takes a few minutes.”
Further, keep a record of each time you contacted your property manager to report maintenance issues. And whenever reporting maintenance requests, do so via email or through a reporting system that sends you a confirmation. This serves as proof for your record keeping.
Confirm how far in advance you need to alert your landlord about your move-out date. While your rental agreement may already note this, a quick conversation serves as both a helpful confirmation and a courtesy to your landlord.
In addition to the standard vacuuming and dusting, plan to do a serious deep clean if you want all of your deposit money back.
“This means behind and beneath appliances, plus details like light switches, door frames and more,” says Joyce.
And don’t forget to confirm whether your rental property is required to be professionally cleaned. If so, keep your service receipt as proof for your landlord.
If possible, coordinate a move-out day with your roommates.
“You don’t want to leave it up to your roommate to make sure the apartment is perfectly cleaned and ready for the next tenant,” says Seth Wanta, Chicago resident. “You also don’t want your roommates to move out before you, leaving any junk for you to clean up. Make it a team effort!”
Invite some trusted friends over and go through your move-out checklist together. You may be surprised by how many things you would have missed if you went through your checklist solo.
Joyce suggests marking every damage or deterioration, because some of them are the landlord’s responsibility, while others should be deducted from your deposit.
Once you know who’s responsible for what, you can fix any issue that occurred during your occupancy.
Ask your landlord to do an unofficial inspection before your move-out date. This not only helps you assess what needs fixing but also allows both of you to get on the same page about what needs additional cleaning or repairs.
Give yourself a few days between this inspection and your move-out day so you have time to correct anything your landlord may be unhappy with.
Small repairs like replacing light bulbs, filling nail holes and unclogging drains are small things that make a big difference.
“They’ll take you no more than an hour to complete, but they’ll raise the general condition of the property,” says Lauren Haynes, a supervisor with Star Domestic Cleaners. “The landlord will definitely appreciate the work done and will be less likely to claim deductions from the deposit.”
Additionally, Kristen Chuber with Paintzen advises painting a coat of the original paint color on any walls with scuffs or holes. Chuber suggests either going a DIY route for around $50 or hiring a service and asking for cheaper “whiteboxing” rates.
“Depending on the condition of your walls, this could be more cost-effective than losing that money out of your deposit, especially if your rental is small,” she says.
And if you don’t have the funds for either option? “The next best thing I’ve seen is the Magic Eraser,” Chuber adds. “It’s been my BFF when it comes to getting rid of scuffs and marks.”
It’s illegal in most states for a landlord to keep your security deposit without explanation, so research renter’s rights related to security deposits at the city, county and state level.
Good starting points for this information are the websites of your state’s attorney general and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. While your property manager should already be aware of these regulations, you should be too. Landlord-tenant laws exist to help you, but be your own advocate.
Finally, while following these 10 suggestions will certainly go a long way, so does being nice. Patience and politeness are memorable qualities, especially if you live in a large apartment complex where plenty of other residents are moving out around the same time as you.
If thinking about the process of getting your security deposit back is daunting, rest assured that it doesn’t have to be. With some planning and clear, considerate communication, you’re well on your way to getting your hard-earned deposit money back into your hands.
Try out these inexpensive ways to touch up your house — fast!
When it comes to selling your house, it’s a lot easier to catch the big repairs than to see the small details. But buyers notice it all, and even one squeaky door can signal issues to them. Here are a few last-minute, easy tweaks that make a big difference.
Clean/replace blinds ($5-15)
Dirty blinds are an eyesore, and you can easily clean them with a damp cloth. Broken blinds are easy to replace, and make a huge visual difference. Even knotted-up strings, missing wands and crooked hardware can turn off potential buyers. They see the replacements necessary as the result of poor maintenance. Make it easy for them by running to your local hardware store and grabbing some replacement blinds.
Silence squeaky doors and drawers ($7)
Potential buyers will cringe at the sound of a squeaky door or drawer that you’ve totally tuned out. Grab a $7 can of silicone spray from your local hardware store, and spray down all door hinges and drawer tracks.
Expand the space (free)
Moving furniture to the edges of a room is an easy fix for making areas seem larger. Hide extra furniture such as ottomans and side tables that crowd areas, and move furniture to the outsides of the walls and rugs. Open blinds and windows to bring in more natural light and visual space. Replace family photographs and artwork with mirrors to reflect light, as well.
Make sure all lightbulbs work ($5-20)
Sometimes closet lightbulbs, hallway sconces and other little-used light fixtures get overlooked for dead lightbulbs. You may even have to drag out the ladder for tall fixtures, but buyers check every switch, and the difference in lighting will be noticeable. A dead lightbulb is most likely the cause, but potential buyers may think worse electrical problems are at hand.
Freshen the air ($5-7)
An odor-eliminating spray (an unscented spray that eliminates odors) spritzed around the house can keep odors at bay. Candles or any scented spray can set off allergies and only mask odors instead of eliminating them.
Pretend your house is a hotel (free)
Make the beds, fluff the pillows on beds and couches, and fold blankets and towels neatly. Clear surfaces and floors of clutter, and put out some fresh flowers. Neatly arrange all bathroom products, empty the trash, and maybe even put out a fresh hand soap for a spa-like touch.
Corral all seasonal decorations (free)
Your eyes probably don’t even see the off-season string of lights in that tree or the unlit Rudolph hiding in the scraggly bushes. But buyers will, so pack up the outdated seasonal touches or throw them out. Even in-season decorations should be kept minimal and easily removable. Dead mums, old pumpkins, past-prime wreaths and garlands all need to be composted or dumped.
Check the front door ($10-40)
Many of us don’t use our front doors regularly, so it can become an overlooked area. Make sure the surrounding area is swept and the doorbell works. A new, plain doormat or shiny door knocker can make a nice first impression for buyers. Clean the mailbox, too — it’s often caked in grime and spiderwebs.
Dust off your vases, pitchers and mugs — your home will be overflowing with fresh-cut blooms in no time.
Have you ever ended up with a bed of dead flowers, mountains of mulch and a whopping garden center receipt? Let’s do something about that, shall we?
Get your gardening groove back with these nine tips.
There are two kinds of flower beds: those that have been well-prepared and those that are covered in weeds.
Give your unplanted bed the once-over. Does it get enough sunlight? Does water tend to collect there? Have you removed all weeds, roots and rocks so your plants will thrive? It’s a lot easier to fix these problems now than it is once you’ve planted the flowers and laid the mulch.
Start a flower bed from seed to save money, raise unusual varieties and enjoy the satisfaction of having grown a whole garden from a handful of tiny seeds.
Since some seeds transplant poorly, check the packet and make sure you don’t have to sow directly in the ground. Start seeds in trays, pots or coir pots, using a seedling mixture, place them in a sunny spot, and transplant as soon as they have developed sturdy stems.
Nursery-grown bedding plants give you instant gratification, but the short time between purchase and planting is crucial to their survival.
Pack them closely in your car to avoid damage, and take them home immediately so that they don’t fry in your car during other errands.
Water nursery plants as soon as you get home, as often as necessary after that, and a few hours before planting to help their fragile roots survive the trauma of transplanting.
Even the most carefully planned border can look sloppy without a clearly defined edge. Avoid those inexpensive and quickly deteriorating edges made of plastic, and choose a more natural and long-lasting alternative.
The cheapest solution is to make a shallow trench around the bed with your spade and maintain it throughout the season. For something more refined and permanent, set an edge of brick, concrete or stone in leveling sand. The initial cost may be higher, but they will save you a lot of work and make mowing easier.
Choose annuals if you plan on replacing them in a season or two, and plant perennials if you’d like them to last longer. Plant evergreen shrubs or ornamental grasses to provide structure and year-round interest.
Also consider the plant’s eventual height. Plant low-growing flowers (usually annuals) at the front of the bed where you can easily view them and replace them at the end of their season.
Follow the guidelines on the seed packet or plant tag as closely as possible. An often overlooked factor is the amount of space to leave around each plant so they have room to grow. To cover a lot of ground quickly, choose spreading varieties like Superbells and climbing nasturtiums.
Dig each plant’s hole to be twice as wide as the original pot so the roots will have plenty of room to grow. To give them an even better head start, make a little trench around the inside of the hole so the roots will spread down and out.
This step isn’t necessary for annuals, since they won’t be around long enough to enjoy their strong root systems, but it is helpful if you have clay soil.
When planting transplants and nursery plants, always place them so that their crowns (where the plant meets the soil) are level with the soil in the bed. If the crown is above the soil level, the plant may dry out when soil washes away from the roots. If planted too low, soil will settle around the crown and rot the plant.
Push the soil around the transplant and firmly tamp it in place with a trowel so no gaps are left between the roots.
Mulch is essential for conserving moisture and preventing weeds, but one inch is all you need. Established garden beds don’t even need mulch because the plants themselves are capable of protecting the soil.
Avoid landscaping fabric, since it actually keeps moisture from percolating into the soil. Instead, lay down sheets of newspaper before mulching.
Mulches vary by region, but whichever kind you use, follow this one rule: Don’t ever pile it up against the plants. They’ll rot in no time, and you’ll soon have nothing more than an ugly bed of mulch in their place.
Nowhere to park? Create your own driveway with one of these affordable methods.
A DIY driveway can be an easy want to add parking or improve the look of your home. Here are three relatively simple options.
1. Carve out a parking pad
The easiest, most affordable way to get an extra parking space is to clear out some grass and throw down mulch. It works fine, looks good and can be done in a day.
But beware: Mulch isn’t a permanent solution. Mulch breaks down over time, floats away in a heavy rain and fades in the sun. Over time, you may end up spending more money sprucing up the mulch than you would have pouring concrete in the first place.
Be sure to use a store-bought landscape barrier, or even lay down newspaper to prevent weeds.
If mulch seems too temporary, consider other loose materials like gravel, stones or crushed oyster shells.
2. Build a DIY driveway with pavers
A more solid parking option is a concrete or brick paver driveway. It can be installed either professionally or DIY. Thousands of videos online show the steps and all the tricks of the trade. It’s really quite simple:
When installed properly, a paver driveway can last for decades.
3. Go with classic concrete
Finally, there is the tried-and-true concrete driveway. There’s a reason concrete is still the most common driveway product in the world: It looks good, doesn’t cost a fortune and lasts a very long time.
There are fewer steps to pouring a concrete parking area than there is to installing pavers, but it’s not quite as beginner-friendly. If you’ve never poured concrete before, it’s a good idea to start with a smaller area, such as a sidewalk, before tackling a large area.
These tips will help you flush your to-do list for bathroom nuisances.
There are many common bathroom problems you can solve on your own, quickly and inexpensively. If you’re bothered by a wobbly toilet seat, or frustrated with a slow tub drain causing the tub to fill with water when you take a shower, read on! Here are some simple solutions to five common bathroom problems:
1. Clogged showerhead
It’s frustrating when you know your water pressure is just fine, but the water is still coming out of the showerhead with a weak spray. The culprit is most likely mineral deposits that have formed inside your showerhead, and are partially obstructing the flow holes.
Fortunately, the solution is cheap, nontoxic and requires an item you probably already have in your cupboard — white vinegar. Here’s how it works:
2. Wobbly toilet seat
This is a very common problem. Perhaps you tighten the nuts on your toilet seat bolts every few days, but they always seem to loosen up again. The solution is an inexpensive item called a toilet seat tightening kit. You can pick one up for under $10 from any big-box home improvement store. The kit comes with a special tool, which lets you install washers that keep the nuts and bolts secure. It takes about 15 minutes to do the job, and your problem will be solved for the foreseeable future!
3. Slippery shower
A shower seat might be a great option for a family member with mobility issues, or even to just sit down and relax while taking a shower. You can install a shower seat even in a small shower stall. Folding types open and fold down when you’re showering, and then fold up against the wall afterward. These seats are more affordable than you might think, with even higher-end models going for around $150.
4. Slow tub or sink drain
Before you call a plumber, pick up a Zip-It tool from any hardware store, and give it a try. The tool looks like a giant zip tie. You simply work it into the clogged drain, pushing it as far down as you can, then pull it back up. Lots of hair and gunk should come back up with it. Wipe off the gunk, rinse the tool and repeat until it seems like you’ve pulled up most of the clog. Then run hot water down the drain.
5. Dripping water supply valve
Here’s something to consider: If your water supply valve is dripping, you may not need to replace it. First, try tightening the packing nut. This two-minute fix will often take care of the problem, so you won’t need to call a plumber or think about replacing the valve yourself.
Hopefully this will help you solve some of those annoying bathroom issues on your own, without any need to call a handyperson!
Dreading the end of daylight saving time? Trick your way into a brighter space — even when the natural light prospects are dim.
Whether you live in a large home with a dark interior or a small apartment with only one window, follow these tips to bring in more sunshine — or at least make it look that way.
Paint it light and bright
Colors and values are nothing more than the light that reaches our eyes after bouncing off objects.
The amazing thing about white is that it reflects most of the light that hits its surface, creating the illusion of light. Case in point: that glowing ball in the sky we call the moon.
Paint colors that are saturated yet light in value create a similar effect, while lending their own distinctive personalities to a space.
Keep the contrast
A kitchen with white cabinets, countertops, walls and backsplashes is about as bright as it gets, yet the lack of variety can leave the overall effect a bit dull.
To keep things interesting, introduce contrast. Choose accessories, cookware and decorations in your favorite color, or even decide on an entire palette.
Sneak in some style and personality with a colorful mosaic backsplash, or add drama to the scene with dark furniture, picture frames or patterns.
Strategically place mirrors
Mirrors cannot make a room look brighter on their own, though there is some truth to the mirror myth, since they’re excellent at reflecting natural light in rooms that already receive it.
Don’t expect to get the same effect in dim hallways and bathrooms, though, since it does no good to duplicate a dim view. So, go ahead — replace those huge panels of mirrored glass in your bathroom with more attractive framed mirrors. You won’t miss out after all.
Install new windows
Yes, installing an entire window or two is the nuclear option, but if your home is so dim that you’re forced to keep the lights on all day, then it could be taking a toll on your utility bills — or even your mental well-being!
This isn’t a decision to take lightly (no pun intended), so talk to a contractor to discuss options and pricing before you break out that sledgehammer. You might be better off installing a skylight or light tubes.
Sometimes the problem isn’t the amount of light, but rather the quality. Overhead lights can brighten up a room, but the effect is harsh as high-noon sunlight.
Instead, you want the diffuse, indirect light of early morning. Place lights near the walls, and place LED strips under cabinets to cover the wall in a soft glow. Be sure to include task lighting wherever it’s needed most, such as the home office or wherever you need to read and work.
Rethink window treatments
If your curtains cover up too much of the window, replace them with something less obstructive. Sheer and semisheer window treatments let in plenty of light, without sacrificing privacy during the day.
If you’re tired of pulling up the Venetian blinds or plantation shutters every day, replace them with blackout window treatments you can open all the way during the day and close at night.
Brighten the view outside
Maybe you’re too busy focusing on the indoors to see the forest for the trees. But all those trees and overgrown foundation shrubs can block natural light from reaching the house, so cut those bushes and trim those tree limbs. If necessary, call an arborist.
Also, use plants with variegated or silver leaves in your landscape to reflect light indoors, and consider renovating your patio and paving it with something brighter.
Doors present a great opportunity to let in more light, improve the view from inside and make the entry more welcoming.
Since your front door is a reflection of your home’s personality, as well as your own, pick a style that’s appropriate to the architecture. If you’re concerned about privacy, choose one with stained glass or small windows at the top. Even a small amount of natural light will make a huge difference.
It ought to be obvious, but when was the last time you cleaned all your home’s windows, both inside and out?
To avoid streaks on outdoor surfaces, don’t bother with the window cleaner and paper towels. Wash the windows with a sponge and mildly soapy water (dish soap will do), wipe dry with a squeegee, and finish them off with a soft chamois.
Approaching your 10th home-iversary? Congrats! It's probably time for a little maintenance.
No matter how much you love and care for your home, things are bound to wear out and need fixing — especially when you hit the 10-year mark.
To keep your house in tiptop condition, consider making these updates every 10 years or so.
The average medium-grade carpet has a life expectancy of approximately 10 years. Of course, that depends on several factors, including the number of people and pets.
Signs that you need to replace your carpet: rips, tears or stains, and odors that remain even after a good cleaning. And even without any of those, your carpet might just look old and worn out. An update wouldn’t hurt.
A water heater may not show many symptoms before it leaks or fails, so it’s important to know its age. If the manufacture date isn’t shown, then it may be embedded in the serial number on the tank.
A good rule of thumb: Any tank that’s been around for 10 years or more is a candidate for replacement.
A midrange ceiling fan should last about 10 years, if it’s running frequently. A common sign that it might be time for a new one: the lightbulbs seem to burn out more quickly than usual.
And since a ceiling fan is about style as well as function, you may just want a more modern model.
Like your water heater, consider replacing your dishwasher if it’s 10 years old. You’ll likely get a more energy-efficient model that’ll pay for itself over time.
Signs that you should replace your dishwasher sooner rather than later are an unresponsive control board, poorly cleaned dishes and cracks in the tub.
You’ll know you need a new garbage disposal when it doesn’t work as well as it used to. This is because the blades dull over time.
The average garbage disposal should last about 10-12 years with regular use, so if yours is around that age, consider replacing it.
The average lifespan of both appliances is about eight years. So, if your set is 10+ years old and running without any issues, consider yourself fortunate! That said, think about replacing them before you have any real problems or leaks.
There’s no hard and fast rule about when to repaint your home. It depends on where you live, humidity and many other factors.
People often repaint certain areas, such as a heavily used living room, every three to five years. But if some areas of the home haven’t been repainted in 10 years or more, now’s definitely the time to do it.
Few jobs offer as much bang for your buck as re-caulking. Whether you just haven’t gotten around to it yet or you’re moving into a 10-year-old home, go ahead and re-caulk the tub, shower and sinks. You can easily do this yourself, and it makes everything look so much brighter.
Re-glazing old windows is easier and more cost-effective than replacing them. And generally speaking, re-glazing should be done about every 10 years or so.
But check your windows every year before the cold weather arrives to make sure you don’t have any leaks or cracks.
Brighten your bathroom without breaking the bank.
Beautiful bathroom design doesn’t have to be costly. With these seven simple tasks, you can refresh your bathroom — and you don’t need to be a master DIYer to do them.
Before you make any big decisions, give your washroom a thorough cleaning. Remove rust from metal curtain rods and light fixtures, along with hard water stains in the tub and soap scum on tiles.
After seeing a spick-and-span space, you’ll have more insight into where you need updates. For instance, if you can’t buff out rust stains on a metal light fixture, it’s time to replace it. Or, while scrubbing the tub, you may realize you need to recaulk the perimeter.
Adding color or texture to walls is a quick and easy way to dramatically update a small space — like a bathroom.
In a cozy powder room, you can be adventurous and apply a funky wallpaper or pick a bright and bold bathroom paint. To add a polished, custom look to the walls, install bathroom wainscoting instead of tiles.
Don’t underestimate the impact of cabinet knobs and drawer pulls. New hardware can transform the appearance of outdated cabinets.
Also consider updating faucets, towel rods, and toilet paper holders. For a sleek and contemporary look, go with nickel. And if you’re looking to warm up the space, try a metal like bronze.
Replace old fixtures, or consider installing sconces on either side of the mirror, or contemporary vanity lighting overhead. If you’re short on wall space, a pendant light fixture is the best route.
To see yourself in the best light, install sconces on either side of the vanity at eye level. A fancy chandelier highlights unique features, like a clawfoot tub, and emphasizes lofty ceilings.
Accessorize the space with a new bathroom mirror or medicine cabinet. Smaller bathroom decor, like a soap pump, tissue box cover, and beautiful textiles, are easy and affordable ways to adorn your restroom.
To create a spa-like retreat, decorate with soothing shades of blue and white, and accessorize with organic elements like woven baskets, lush plantings, river pebbles and a teak bathmat.
Small spaces call for smart storage. Installing shelving above the toilet and doorway, along with tucking away organizing bins in cabinets, are great options for bathroom storage.
Bathrooms naturally are tight spaces with not much square footage or wall space, so don’t be afraid to use height to your advantage. If you have the space, wheel in a compact multishelf cart, or tuck a tall, narrow cabinet in the corner.
If a vanity looks outdated and can’t be brought back to life with a can of paint or shiny new hardware, then it’s time to replace it. Prefabricated vanities from big-box hardware stores come in standard sizes and can easily be popped into place.
If tile is chipped or cracked, tear it out and replace it with a classic white porcelain tile or natural slate that will stay relevant years down the road.
Starting to daydream about dining under the stars? Make that dream a beautiful patio reality.
For many homeowners, the patio borders on magical: a place to relax, entertain, cook out and take a break from the day-to-day. It’s surrounded by vibrant hues, and a meal prepared in an outdoor kitchen somehow tastes better than anything that comes from its indoor counterpart.
Creating that perfect outdoor space for you and your family all starts with the literal foundation of this alfresco living room: the patio materials. Your selection can have a huge effect on the appearance, durability and functionality of your favorite home addition.
Before you commit to a type of patio, first envision the finished space. You probably have a good idea of the location and approximate size, so go grab a chair, take it outside, and position it in the intended spot. Then sit, and picture each material in your mind’s eye.
Your patio should not only complement your home and landscape, it should also enhance your lifestyle. If you have a large space to work with, consider incorporating a combination of paving materials; some of the best patio designs include two or more. Using multiple materials lets you integrate inlaid borders that can visually separate an area for lounging from the outdoor kitchen.
When you’ve dreamed up your ideal design, consider which materials would best bring it to life, in terms of both aesthetics and practical issues, such as maintenance requirements and cost.
Poured concrete is the patio material of choice for many homeowners because it’s structurally sound, inexpensive, and can even be stamped or dyed to mimic higher-end paving materials. It’s best suited for moderate to warm climates where frost heave is not a concern.
Planning tip: A standard concrete patio is four inches thick, but if you intend to construct something very heavy, such as a built-in fireplace, ask the contractor to reinforce that particular area before you pour.
Available in a variety of colors, bricks create a warm and attractive patio. This classic patio style typically costs more than one constructed from concrete, not just for the materials themselves, but also for labor — a significant consideration when every brick must be set by hand, leveled and grouted.
Should you decide to invest, you can design the space with any number of patterns, from a traditional running bond to something with added textural appeal like a boxed basket-weave or herringbone.
Planning tip: For patios, solid 1- or 2-inch-thick paving bricks are the best choice, either dry-laid or mortared in place. Be wary about extending your brick patio into deep shade, or else you’ll need to watch out for a slick surface after every rainfall.
Often manufactured from cement, cinder or stone, pavers top the DIY patio wish list for their low price and super simple installation — they’ll have you out there grilling in record time.
If you’re planning to lay your own patio, you’ll need a suitable substrate consisting of at least three inches of sand, and a permanent border, such as a poured concrete curb, to keep the pavers from shifting.
Planning tip: Pavers may be dry-laid by butting them tightly, or installed with uniform mortar joints. If the patio lies over utility lines, know that dry-laid pavers will be simpler to remove and replace if (or when) you need to access the utilities below.
The highly desirable look of stone comes with a steeper price tag — particularly if your pick isn’t locally sourced — but you can’t beat it for natural appeal. Flat, irregularly shaped stones offer a calm and meandering effect, while uniform-cut slabs of granite, travertine, slate, or bluestone can produce a formal patio that’s fitting for any backyard.
Planning tip: Natural stone is extremely durable for any patio, but if you happen to be planning one poolside, opt for a nonslip variety, such as coral stone.
Available in ceramic, glass, porcelain, terra cotta and natural stone, tile creates beautiful mosaic patio designs that are refreshingly cool underfoot in hot climates. Because tile is thin, it requires the installation of a concrete slab.
Planning tip: Even if you plan to lay the tile yourself, it’s a good idea to have a professional pour an even slab. Also note that not all tile is suitable for patio construction. To withstand weather, all your materials — tile, thinset, grout and sealer — must be labeled for exterior use.
Crushed stone, pea gravel and sand
If you’re not a fan of rock-solid patios, crushed stone, pea gravel or sand could be more your style. Both crushed stone and gravel offer a variety of colors and textures at low prices, and even sandy Zen gardens can double as patio areas.
You will, however, need to install a solid perimeter to keep the loose material from spreading outside its intended border.
Planning tip: It can be difficult to remove snow and fallen leaves when the seasons change, so consider your climate and environment carefully. To maintain a manicured look, count on refreshing the surface every few years.
A home inspector can make or break a sale for both sellers and buyers. It's why, no matter whether you're buying or selling, the home inspection process can be somewhat terrifying!
For sellers, it's a stark reminder of the nagging issues you might have turned a blind eye to over the years. And for buyers, it's a recipe for pure heartbreak—falling in love with a home that might just end up making no sense to buy.
But don't let the inspection stress you out. And remember, that's not what your home inspector wants either—all he or she wants is a comprehensive to-do list and a happy client.
So form a team with your home inspector to make the process easier and more effective. Knowledge is key! Here are seven essential things you keep in mind.
We know your puppy is adorable—but even if your home inspector lovesdogs or cats, pets running underfoot makes the job much more difficult.
Inspections often require opening exterior doors again and again, offering pets far too many opportunities to dash to freedom. When you leave the premises for the inspection—and many inspectors ask sellers to do so—take your pets with you. Please.
With animals out of the way, "every time I walk in or out, I don't have to worry about losing a cat or a dog," says Alan Singer of Sterling Home Inspections in Armonk, NY.
Whether you plan on being there for the inspection or not, make sure to clean up beforehand. No, you don't need to scrub—an inspector won't ding you because your stove's grimy. But all that clutter? Yeah, that's all got to go.
"It makes a huge difference when I walk into a house where everything's put away," Singer says. "It's a game changer not just for me, but for the home buyer."
Often, the inspection is the first time the buyers are (almost) alone in the house for an extended period of time.
"If it doesn't feel like how it did before—if we're trying to dig through items—it can sour their experience," Singer says.
Your home inspector will likely come up with a seemingly endless list of problems after the walk-through. Don't panic!
"I'm on their side, but still, I'm judging the house fairly," Singer says. "Even my home has problems, issues, maintenance things."
Yeah, there are times when you should worry (we'll get to those a bit later). But not every issue is mission-critical, and your inspector will know which problems you should tackle first.
There are a few starkly frightening home inspection terms that seem to be in everyone's vocabulary: mold, radon, and asbestos.
And yes, they're scary—but no scarier than a roof that needs replacing, home inspectors say.
"People who write articles tend to scare homeowners about mold or radon," Singer says.
So let us—your humble (and rather defensive) writers—take a moment to correct that assumption: Don't worry so much about mold and radon!
Singer, who started his career in homebuilding, says, "everything is upgradable, fixable, or replaceable. You just need to have a list of what those things are."
Here's one problem we give you permission to stress out about (just a little): water. No, it's not a deal breaker (remember that part where we wrote almost anything can be fixed?). But it's important to address any water-related issues before the deal closes—or at least immediately afterward.
Make a note of issues such as puddles and leaky ceilings. And give special attention to the basement. Addressing water problems in the basement can be an expensive and difficult proposition, Singer says. "A wet basement can be hard to fix."
You might want to know how many more years the roof will hold up—and while your inspector might be able to give you a rough estimate, he can't give you a precise timeline.
"People think that we as inspectors have a crystal ball," Singer says. "Or that we have X-ray vision" to see through walls or examine the inner circuitry of your kitchen stove.
Sorry, folks: They don't, and they can't.
"We can't tell you how long it will last," Singer says. "We can just tell you if it's in good shape."
It's easy to forget your love for the home when you're counting the dollar signs and hours you might have to spend on repairs. But just remember to take a deep breath, think rationally, and consider whether it's a smart investment in your future.
Singer empathizes: "The justification can sometimes be a horrible process, because our brains are all about money and time and (asking) ‘What kind of mistake am I making?’"
Barring any major renovations needed—such as a new roof or mold removal—your inspector's visit will simply provide a to-do list. But not everything needs fixing immediately, so don't let a long list dampen your love for the home. Just take things one at a time.
Find Out What Really Happens When You Waive Contingencies to Score a Home
In a white-hot market, you may feel pressure to make some concessions to win over a seller—and, no, we're not talking about sending a basket of banana-nut muffins.
When you make an offer on a home, it's standard to throw in some contingencies—telling the seller that if the home isn't up to snuff for a variety of reasons, you have the right to walk away from the deal—with all of your cash in hand.
That's all hunky-dory in a buyer's market. But as the housing market has rebounded, buyers are getting competitive—more and more are waiving those contingencies, or protections, in order to speed the deal through to closing.
You want the house, and the seller doesn't want any hiccups. So getting those pesky contingencies out of the way is a win-win, right?
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Of course not!
It's riskier to waive some contingencies than others. We set out to discover which are the most innocuous of the bunch—and which are the most terrifying. We asked an expert to discuss the pros and cons of each common contingency, and then we ranked the risk factor of waiving it on a 1-to-5 scale, with 5 being the highest.
Remember—these aren't hard rules. Everything depends on your local market, your personal situation, and, above all else, your tolerance for risk.
Contingency: Early move-in
Fear factor: 2
Closings can be delayed, so many buyers ask for the right to move in their possessions (or themselves) early. But it isn’t something sellers or seller’s agents love.
“I would never allow my sellers to agree to it,” says Katie Wethman, a Realtor® with The Wethman Group at Keller Williams Realty in McLean, VA. "There are just too many unknowns if the deal doesn't close."
And those unknowns go both ways.
If you move in early, you'll lose some of your negotiating power. After all, it'll be much harder for the seller to believe you'll walk on the deal if you've already moved all your stuff in. And if the deal falls through, you'll face eviction from the seller and scramble to find a short-term living arrangement.
Bottom line: Moving in early could potentially do more harm than good, so waiving this contingency has minimal risk.
Fear factor: 1
The homeowners association rules contingency lets you get out of the deal if you discover the restrictions don't jibe with your lifestyle (say, they won't allow you to have three Rottweilers or paint your front door eggplant).
Let us be clear: We do not recommend getting to this point on your path to homeownership without asking about the basics of the home you're trying to buy—including HOA rules. Ask for a copy and read it beforemaking an offer.
Bottom line: Since we think you should do your homework, waiving the HOA contingency seems pretty low-risk.
Fear factor: 4
This contingency gives you the right to back out of the deal if your home financing falls through. And waiving it can go very, very wrong.
That's because any number of things could happen before your loan's been sent through underwriting. The lender could decide to lower the total loan amount, spike the interest rate, disqualify you from a certain loan, or a myriad of other "oh crap" situations. If you're locked into a home offer and can't hold up your end of the bargain, you could lose your earnest money.
But not every buyer needs to worry as much about financing. Say, for example, you're paying in cash. You won't need the lender, so you won't need this contingency. And if your credit is spotless, you're making a solid (at least 20%) down payment, and you've had the same good job for a while, you're also in a better position to take this risk.
Bottom line: Talk it over with your Realtor and mortgage broker and find out just how confident you should be in your financing. But keep in mind: Even with a pre-approval letter, things can still go awry in the final lending stages (including the appraisal—see the next item). That's why we're rating this one high on the risk radar.
Fear factor: 3
An appraisal is required by most lenders, and it can be useful to buyers trying to negotiate a price. But appraisals can be tricky.
That's because a number of factors can affect the outcome of an appraisal: the appraiser might rely heavily on the value of comparable homes that sold for mysteriously low prices, or perhaps he saw the house in less-than-ideal conditions.
And especially in a hot market where homes are selling for inflated prices, the appraisal value might not match your expectations—but you still won't get a discount.
"Sometimes the market—that is, the price a buyer and seller agree to—isn’t the same number as what an appraiser thinks it’s worth," Wethman says.
Bottom line: If you're looking to woo a seller, you might want to skip the appraisal contingency, especially if you think it won't change the asking price of the house. But be careful—your lender may not agree to a loan over the appraisal price, leaving you to foot the remaining cost of the home.
Because it could go either way, we're placing the risk level squarely in the middle.
Contingency: Home inspection
The right to get a full, professional home inspection—and flee into the night if new and horrifying info comes to light—is a crucial contingency.
Without a licensed inspector viewing the property, you can only guess what might be potentially wrong with the home, now or 10 years down the line.
By waiving this contingency, you lose the right to make any requests for additional repairs—or to run away—before the deal closes. This is scary stuff, people. Nobody wants to be stuck in a money pit.
If you're still convinced waiving this contingency is the only way to win the seller's heart, try finding some neutral ground, Wethman says. Like a general inspection contingency, which gives you the right to void the contract, but not to ask for repairs.
Bottom line: Unless you know you’re getting a fixer-upper and will have to make repairs anyway, you're gambling big time by waiving this one.
Contingency: Clear title
Fear factor: 5
If the opportunity arises to waive this one, it's time to run for the hills. Abort mission. Just say no.
You may not be able to waive a clear title search in your area—in some parts of the country, it isn't even legal. But if you discover you can, don't.
A title search will churn up all kinds of important info—like who actually owns the home and if there are any liens on the property. It might seem far-fetched, but title problems happen all the time. Waive your right to it, and you might find that along with your new home, you've acquired thousands of dollars’ in liens.
“Personally, I would never waive this even if it was an option,” Wethman says.
Bottom line: Seriously, the risk is high.
The Earnest Money Deposit: How It Helps Buy a Home.....
What is earnest money? Depositing earnest money is an important part of the home-buying process. It tells the real estate seller you're in earnest as a buyer, and it helps fund your down payment. The earnest money check is typically cashed and held in a title company trust account, or in the broker's escrow account. You get a receipt from your brokerage when you hand in the earnest money.
Without the requirement of earnest money, a real estate buyer could make offers on many homes, essentially taking them off the market until they decided which one they liked best. Sellers rarely accept offers without the buyers putting down earnest money to show that they are serious and are making the offer in good faith.
Assuming that all goes well and the buyer's good-faith offer is accepted by the seller, the earnest money funds go toward the down payment and closing costs. In effect, earnest money is just paying more of the down payment and closing costs upfront. In many circumstances, buyers can get most of the earnest money back if they discover something they don't like about the home.
How much should you put down in the earnest money deposit?
The amount you'll deposit as earnest money will depend on factors such as policies and limitations in your state, the current market, what your real estate agent recommends, and what the seller requires. On average, however, you can expect to hand over 1% to 2% of the total home purchase price.
In some real estate markets, you may end up putting down more or less than the average amount. In a market where homes aren't selling quickly, the listing agent may note that the seller requires only 1% or less for the earnest money deposit. In markets where demand is high, the seller may ask for a higher deposit, perhaps as much as 2% to 3%. Your real estate agent may recommend that you are more likely to win a bid if you give the seller a large deposit. In fact, the seller may be willing to negotiate on the purchase price a little if you make a bigger good-faith deposit.
On the other hand, you may not want to put too much earnest money down. Coming up with that much money, and losing the use of it for weeks or months before the sales contract closes, may not be the best use of your cash.
However, you may wind up having to do some paperwork for your mortgage lender, and the bank may want to verify the source of the funds for larger deposits of earnest money. It won't be a problem if you can show that you've had the money for at least 60 days.
When do you make an earnest money deposit, and who holds it?
In most cases, after your offer is accepted and you sign the real estate purchase agreement, the contract stipulates that you give your deposit to the title company. In some states, the real estate broker holds the deposit.
Always check the credentials of the title company or real estate broker taking the deposit, and verify that the funds will be held in escrow. Never give the earnest money to the seller; it could be difficult or impossible to get it back if something goes wrong.
After turning over the deposit, the buyer's funds are held in an escrow account until the home sale is in the final stages. Once everything is ready, the funds are released from escrow and applied to your down payment.
Can you get your earnest money deposit back?
If the deal falls through, a small cancellation fee is usually taken out of your earnest money deposit, but the remainder remains in escrow. Whoever holds the deposit determines whether you should get the earnest money back under the terms of the purchase and sale contract. Make sure that the purchase agreement covers how an earnest money deposit refund is handled.
To be on the safe side, make sure the purchase agreement contains contingency addendums that stipulate how a refund is handled (e.g., an inspection contingency protects the buyer if the real estate fails a home inspection). Buyers can also usually get their earnest money back if they find problems with the property, or if they are unable to get title insurance.
A financing contingency ensures that the earnest money is refundable and the buyer can get out of the transaction if he cannot get financing. Keep in mind that a pre-approval from a lender does not guarantee a borrower can get a loan at mortgage rates he can afford. Even if a buyer has a good credit score and is pre-approved for a mortgage loan, the lender can still turn him down based on unforeseen factors such as the appraisal amount being too low. In such cases, a standard contingency allows buyers to renegotiate the purchase contract, or get their money back.
Full Disclosure: What You Need To Tell Buyers About Your Home
Whether you have owned your home for a few years or a few decades, you know its quirks, best features, and flaws. When you decide to sell your home you need to be aware that your experience with your home is something you may have to share with potential buyers.
Most buyers opt to have a home inspection before they finalize their purchase, but you as the seller must also follow state and federal regulations regarding disclosure of known facts about your property’s condition.
As a seller you may feel uncomfortable revealing problems in your home that could discourage potential buyers, but it’s best to be open about issues before your home goes under contract. A home inspector is likely to find problems and the buyers will be less favorably inclined to negotiate with you if they feel you have withheld information. If a flaw is found after the sale is complete and the buyers have reason to believe you were aware of the problem, you could face a lawsuit.
Federal disclosure rules
The majority of disclosure issues are handled by state regulations, but federal laws apply to one area: lead paint. If your home was built prior to 1978, it may contain lead paint. Your home must be checked for lead paint and a disclosure form completed unless your home was built after 1978.
State disclosure rules
State regulations vary and often change, so rely on your real estate agent (here's how to find a real estate agent in your area) to be up-to-date on disclosure requirements for your area. Some states allow sellers to complete a disclosure form listing information about their home, or a disclaimer form that says the sellers don’t have any information about issues in the property.
In some areas you need to disclose what you know about natural hazards like whether your home is in a flood zone or in an area known for earthquakes; other required disclosures can involve pollution issues, prospective zoning changes, or if it's located within a historic district.
Another issue that sometimes causes problems is when a home has been a crime scene or if someone died on the property.
Things you should disclose to prospective buyers
The impact of full disclosure
Most sellers are aware of the benefit of letting prospective buyers know about positive features of their home such as new appliances or a new roof, but there can also be a benefit in disclosing defects in your home. Any issue that you have addressed during the years in your home can provide proof that you’ve kept up with maintenance. You may want to provide a binder with receipts and insurance claim information to show buyers what work has been done on your home.
If there’s an ongoing problem that buyers will need to handle, it’s better for them to hear about it from you so you can negotiate about when repairs must be made and who will pay for them. In fact, if you have a particular concern about your home, you may want to hire a home inspector yourself to get to the details before you put your property on the market.
Openness about your home’s condition is the best way to avoid lawsuits, even if disclosure is not required in your state.
What Is a Home Warranty? Peace of Mind for Home Buyers
What is a home warranty? In a nutshell, it's a policy a homeowner pays for that covers the cost of repairing many home appliances if they break down.
After all, lots of things you buy come with a warranty in case they break down, from cars to smartphones. But what about homes? It turns out you can get a home warranty plan, too.
“Home warranties provide financial protection from a service provider for homeowners who might be faced with unexpected problems with their appliances,” explains Shawna Bell of Landmark Home Warranty.
Many people buy a one-year home warranty plan right when they close on a home, since such protections can provide some much-needed peace of mind that you won't get hit with unexpected, out-of-pocket expenses soon after moving in. Imagine what a bummer it would be, after all, to wake up one morning to a broken boiler, knocking appliances, a leaking water heater, dripping plumbing, or malfunctioning fridge in your new home.
A home warranty plan can lessen those homeowner and appliance worries, which for many is worth every penny. A couple of warranty plans to consider: Choice Home Warranty and TotalProtect.
What does a home warranty, like one from Choice Home Warranty, cover?
Don't mistake a warranty for homeowners insurance, which covers your home's structure and belongings in the event of a fire, storm, flood, or other accident. Home warranty companies, in comparison, will cover repairs and replacements on home systems, including electrical systems, plumbing, water heater, washer, and kitchen appliances due to normal wear and tear—no calamities required.
Home warranty companies, including Choice Home Warranty and Home Service Club, generally set up a service contract to cover the following items (you can read a sample contract to find out):
How much do home warranty companies charge?
While homeowners are often required to get homeowners insurance along with their mortgage, home warranties are a fully optional purchase. Basic coverage starts at about $300 and goes up to $600 for more comprehensive plans, says Bell.
A homeowner can include add-ons to a service contract if needed (e.g., coverage for a swimming pool, various appliances, or an external well).
Although many home warranty companies offer plans to homeowners at any point, the best deals can often be snagged if purchased when you become a first-time home owner. You're eligible for these plans whether you're buying a condo or single-family home. And some warranty plans are the "build-your-own" type, which means you can customize a basic plan to cover particular systems (like plumbing) and appliances, or you might include optional add-ons like a tuneup for your HVAC.
“The home warranty offered at the time of the real estate transaction typically offers the most comprehensive coverage and price points, so that’s why it’s the ideal time to lock it in,” Bell says.
At the end of the first year, you usually have the option to renew your home warranty or bail with your service provider.
Benefits of home warranties for home buyers and sellers
A home warranty benefits homeowners by providing reassurance that they can move in without worrying about shelling out even more for add-on or surprise repairs.
A home warranty can also benefit home sellers (if they don't have it already), since it can cover these elements during the listing period; some home warranty companies even offer free seller’s coverage during this time with the hopes that the buyer will decide to continue the coverage. Often, home sellers will offer to pay for the first year of a buyer's home warranty to entice buyers to bite.
But not everyone thinks home warranty companies are worth the cost. Typically a warranty isn't necessary with new homes, since most of the appliances are already covered under manufacturers' warranties. But in general, the older your home, the greater the odds that something'sbound to break, and the wiser it is to get a home warranty. Best of all? Not all home warranty companies differentiate between newer and older homes in terms of cost, making a warranty an especially cost-effective option if you are purchasing an older home.
Be sure to read the fine print on the contracts from a warranty company such as Home Service Club and Select Home Warranty. And remember, this type of warranty doesn't usually cover pre-existing conditions and you may have to pay a deductible if something breaks.
What if something breaks under a home warranty
Home repairs are a big headache, so you're probably wondering if that broken appliance, leaky plumbing, ductwork, or HVAC is a covered item under your home warranty. To find out whether you may have to pay a deductible, call your provider or customer service to connect with a qualified contractor in your area.
One thing to remember is that a home warranty does not mean you're off scot-free for a certain "covered item." Typically you'll have to pay for a service call, service fee, or part of the bill up to your home warranty deductible first.
While not everyone will think a home warranty is worth it, it is a good idea for people who lean toward being better safe than sorry when buying a home. Consider the appliances you own and how reliable your plumbing is. Speak with your real estate agent for advice, and then check out the home warranty companies in your area (try Select Home Warranty and TotalProtect). This way, you can read a few sample contracts and decide for yourself.
Selling a House As Is: What It Means for Buyers
Selling a home as is sounds like a pretty sweet deal for sellers. Sellers don't have to scurry around fixing the place up.
But what does an as-is sale mean for buyers? When looking through property listings and the term “as is” appears, some people see it as a warning.
Others, such as real estate investors, may see a house selling as is as an opportunity. That might get prospective buyers wondering what exactly does “as is” mean?
Selling a home as is
Technically, when a real estate agent lists a house to sell as is, it means the homeowner is selling the home in its current condition, and will make no repairs or improvements before the sale (or negotiate with the buyer for any credits to fund these fix-its). The term "as is" is rarely tacked on a property sales listing that's perfect and move-in ready.
On the contrary, people often sell as-is homes that are in disrepair, because the homeowners or other sellers can't afford to fix these flaws before selling (which would help them sell the home for a higher price).
Alternatively, a home may have been through foreclosure and is now owned by a bank, or the seller may have died and left the house to inheritors or an estate agent who have little idea what could be wrong with it but need to sell.
Whatever the reason, the current sellers aren't willing to pretty up a home before selling it. They just want to sell the real estate and move on. All of this means that the buyer of this house inherits any problems a home may have, too.
When a real estate agent lists as home to sell "as is," that doesn't change the legal rights of the buyer. The listing agent must still have the seller disclose known problems, and the buyer can still negotiate an offer with the final sale, contingent upon a real estate inspection.
Pros and cons of as-is home sales
So how can "as is" be the aforementioned opportunity, if the buyer is taking on all those problems?
It all comes down to cash value. Those two short words in a listing usually indicate that the home may be considered to be a fixer-upper. The house will have a relatively low list price to start with, and the sellers might even entertain still lower offers.
A real estate agent may even list a house with serious problems as "cash offers only," if the house's problems could prevent it from qualifying for a mortgage.
If the prospective buyers happen to be contractors or handy with a hammer, are looking for a property to flip, or maybe just want an extreme bargain, the promise of an as-is sale could be music to their ears.
Cash buyers and corporate investors look for home sellers who want a fast sale, but they expect those sellers to offer a low list price in exchange.
Yet the downsides of an as-is property are obvious and should not be underestimated. Any number of things could be wrong with the house that are not immediately apparent to the eye. Buyers might think they're getting a killer deal, but they could also be throwing their life savings into a black hole.
Should you buy a house that's selling as is?
Now that you know the pros and cons of an as-is home sale, you might be wondering whether to move ahead with the sale—and how. Since these sales can be bargains, they are worth considering, although there's one precaution buyers will definitely want to take prior to the sale: a home inspection.
A home inspector examines the house from basement to rafters and will point out any problems plaguing the place that may make the buyer want to reconsider the sale. The problems can be current or potentially in the buyer's future, such as an old roof that may need replacing five years later.
A real estate inspection costs around $300 to $500, and typically occurs after the buyer has made a sales offer on real estate that's been accepted and put down a deposit.
The buyer, not the seller, pays for the inspections—which makes sense, because that way the inspector is not working for the seller.
On houses that aren't selling as is, buyers may use problems found during the inspection to demand that repairs be made (or that credits be given so they can make those repairs themselves).
While as-is home sellers have already made it clear they won't lift a finger on that front, an inspection still serves an important purpose for buyers before the sale.
Provided the buyers place an inspection contingency in the contract, this means that if the inspector unearths problems, the buyers don't want to address, they can walk away from the deal with deposit in hand.
“You should always elect to do a home inspection, especially on a bank-owned property where no one knew how the home was cared for and no one knows what happened right before the past owners left the property,” says Winston Westbrook, a broker and owner of Westbrook National Real Estate Co. specializing in short sales and distressed real estate.
“Yes, you lose out on the cost of the home inspection, but the cost of the home inspection is well worth it, considering the headache you would have had in the future trying to make the house livable.”
On the other hand, if the inspection reveals additional problems, you might consider offering a lower price based on estimated costs of home improvement.
Remember that, despite what the seller says in the real estate listing, a real estate deal is still open to negotiation. If the sellers have a property on the market and it doesn't sell, they may be open to selling at a lower price.
The sellers may even make certain fixes requested by home buyers, if that's the only way they can sell the house.
Unless it's a hot real estate selling market and other potential buyers are competing with you, the listing agent knows that the property won't sell until you get a deal that works for you.
What Does a Home Inspector Look For? A Whole Lot
Hiring a home inspector to check out a house before you buy it takes time, but it can save you big money in the end. But what does this professional look for in your home?
A home inspector can check for major flaws that might need to be fixed. After all, even if a house looks like it's in great condition, appearances can be deceiving.
What does one look for in an inspection?
Answer: a whole lot.
“We’ve got 1,600 different items on our list that home inspectors are supposed to look at,” says Claude McGavic, executive director of the National Association of Home Inspectors, which trains and certifies home inspectors throughout the country.
And a home inspection can help a buyer big-time: Provided you have a home inspection contingency in your offer, you can renegotiate with the seller to fix certain problems or to lower the price. If the problems are more than you want to handle (think faulty foundation or roof on the verge of caving in), you can walk away from the deal with your deposit in hand. Either way, it’s a win-win for potential buyers.
A typical home inspector checklist
A home inspection consists of a checklist of potential problems connected to your real estate. While we won't list all 1,600, here's a version of a typical inspection:
How you can help the during a home inspection
Bring any and all red flags about your real estate property to your inspector before he begins, so he'll keep a sharp lookout for possible problems. If the seller has disclosed damage, give your inspector a heads-up about that, too.
Another smart move is to accompany the home inspector during his rounds. It’s in your best interest to understand this new home, its systems and potential problems. For instance, an inspector can introduce you to electrical panels, air-conditioning and ventilation switches, and shut-off water valves in the plumbing (which the seller may not know how to operate or forget to show you). If the inspector spots a problem, he can show you exactly how a system is malfunctioning, what it means, and maybe a way to fix it. And this info will serve you well not only before you buy, but afterward as well.