How to Clean Grout: 5 Steps to Sparkling Tile

Grout is a construction material that is used to fill the space between tiles, and with normal wear and tear it tends to get pretty dirty. Since it’s typically a lighter color and has a porous competition, grout is particularly prone to showing dirt, mold and stains. The good news is that it’s not difficult to clean grout, and in several steps, you can have sparkling tiles once again. Below you’ll find step by step instructions for how to clean grout and learn how to keep it clean long-term.

How to clean grout

Cleaning grout just requires a good grout cleaner, a scrub brush and a little elbow grease. So throw on a pair of rubber gloves — especially if you’re handling chemicals — and let’s get started.

Step 1: Remove surface dirt

scrubbing grout with brushscrubbing grout with brush

Scrub the grout using warm water and stiff-bristled brush to remove as much surface dirt as possible. If you don’t want to invest in a special grout brush, you can always use a scrub brush or even an old toothbrush.

Step 2: Mix a cleaning solution

spoon full of baking sodaspoon full of baking soda

Purchase a commercial grout cleaner or make a homemade cleaner.

One proven DIY cleaner is made from two parts baking soda and one part hydrogen peroxide. Try adding a teaspoon of dish soap to this mixture to help cut through extra greasy grime.

You’ll want to avoid acidic cleaners as they can dissolve or pit the grout as well as oil-based cleaners, which can leave a film that will attract dirt.

Step 3: Apply the cleaner and let it sit

brushing cleaner on floor with broombrushing cleaner on floor with broom

Pour the commercial or your DIY solution over the grout, and depending on what cleaner you use, let it sit for about 10 minutes.

Step 4: Scrub the tile

gloved hand scrubbing groutgloved hand scrubbing grout

Use your brush to scrub the tile again. Since the grout is porous, make sure to scrub hard so that you reach the tiny spaces dirt and grime may have seeped into.

Step 5: Rinse away the cleaning solution

woman mopping floorwoman mopping floor

Wash away the cleaner with a mop or wipe clean with a damp cloth.

Best DIY grout cleaners

There are a handful of DIY grout cleaners that you can make from just a few ingredients you likely have on hand. If you don’t feel like venturing out to the store, try making these grout cleaners at home.

  • Baking Soda and Water:
    • Mix equal parts to create a paste
    • Scrub directly on grout
  • Baking Soda and Hydrogen Peroxide:
    • Mix two parts baking soda and one part hydrogen peroxide
    • Let it sit on grout for 5-10 minutes, then scrub and rinse
  • Baking Soda, Hydrogen Peroxide and Dish Soap:
    • Mix 1/2 cup baking soda, 1/4 cup hydrogen peroxide and a teaspoon of dish soap
    • Let it sit on grout for 5-10 minutes, then scrub and rinse
  • Heavy Duty Cleaner:
    • Mix 1/2 cup baking soda, 1/3 cup ammonia, 1/4 cup white vinegar and 7 cups warm water
    • Apply to grout and let sit for 5 minutes, then rinse

Additional grout cleaning tips

Everyone has their own method for cleaning, but these additional tips will help ensure that your tile stays in optimal condition.

  • Clean grout regularly — weekly or biweekly — to prevent the buildup of mildew, dirt and mold
  • For frequent cleaning, you can create a natural solution using two parts baking soda and one part water instead of hydrogen peroxide
  • You might also consider applying a grout sealer. It’s easy to apply and is water-resistant, so it will repel moisture and prevent mold and water damage.

Although cleaning can be tedious, sticking to a regular cleaning schedule will help keep your apartment beautiful and functional. Visit our blog for more cleaning and maintenance tips.




How to Retire in Austria: Costs, Visas and More

How to Retire in Austria: Costs, Visas and More – SmartAsset

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From Oktoberfest to the Salzburg Summer Festival, Austria seems to have festivities year-round. This German-speaking nation of some 9 million has a rich cultural heritage and can boast of such fabled composers as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven, among others, as former residents. Citizens and visitors also come to Austria for the Alps, which offer some of the best snow skiing in the world. As you weigh whether to retire in Austria consider working with a financial planner to make sure you can afford it and handle your taxes in the most efficient way possible.

Cost of Living and Housing in Austria

The cost of living and housing in Austria is very similar to the U.S. In general, consumer prices are 6% higher in Austria, according to Numbeo, a cost-of-living database.

However, rent prices in the U.S. are about 44% higher, on average, than in Austria, so your housing costs could be significantly lower if you decide to live in Austria. Compare rental costs in Vienna and New York City: If you choose to rent a one-bedroom apartment in the heart of New York, you will likely pay about $3,415 per month. The same apartment in the heart of Vienna costs about $1,089 per month. A three-bedroom in the heart of New York City costs about $6,610 per month, and the same apartment in Vienna costs about $1,969 per month.

If you choose to purchase an apartment in Vienna, you can expect to pay about $845 per square foot in the city center. The cost outside of the city center is about $504 per square foot.

Retire in Austria – Visas

Austria offers several visas to Americans, but the most popular one for retirees is a settlement permit. To qualify for a settlement permit, a person must prove that he or she has sufficient funds, health insurance and a place to live.

Additionally, Austrian residency requires a language test to prove that you comprehend the German language. The settlement permit is for financially independent individuals who do not intend to work while in Austria. You may apply while in the country on a tourist visa or while still in the U.S. It is best to work with an immigration lawyer as the application process is entirely in German and can take several months.

Retire in Austria – Healthcare

Austria has affordable access to high-quality facilities for most residents, citizens and visitors. According to Knoema, an index that assesses the countries with the best healthcare globally based on life expectancy and health expenditure, Austria ranks 27th. In comparison, the U.S. ranks 49th.

Private health insurance in Austria costs about $240 per month, and a doctor’s visit may cost you up to $70. You must obtain health insurance to get a residence permit or settlement permit, and you can purchase health insurance policies for expats from Austrian or American companies.

Retire in Austria – Taxes

All U.S. citizens are generally required to file a tax return each year regardless of whether they are in the country or not. The foreign earned income exclusion (FEIE) can be applied depending on how much time a person spends outside of the country. For example, on your U.S. expatriate taxes you can exclude up to $105,900 of your 2019 foreign earnings.

If you earn an income while in Austria, that income may be taxed up to 55%. However, your foreign earned income will not be taxed by Austria. Therefore, your tax on your retirement income will be taxed as it would be if you were in the U.S., and any income you earn in Austria will be taxed separately.

Retire in Austria – Safety

The 2020 Gallup Law and Order Index ranks this Central European nation as the sixth safest in the world. According to the U.S. Department of State, Austria has low crime threats and is one of Europe’s lowest-crime countries.

The most common crime experienced by U.S. citizens is purse and wallet snatching, typically in crowded public areas, according to the State Department. Other crimes of opportunity occur in trains, restaurants, shopping areas and crowded tourist areas where criminals distract a victim who usually was not in direct physical control of valuables.

In general, road safety is not a concern. The threat of terrorism, though, is currently listed as Medium when directed to or affecting official U.S. government interests.

The Takeaway 

Austria ranks among the top three most livable countries, according to the Global Peace Index. In fact, a recent study by the Economist Intelligence Unit ranked Vienna as the most livable city on Earth. This city alone offers a seemingly endless array of museums, fine art and world-renowned architecture. The cost of retiring in Austria will be similar to the cost of retiring in the U.S. So whether you choose to waltz through Vienna or ski in Innsbruck, this land-locked country, which shares borders with Italy, Switzerland, Germany and Hungary, has a retirement lifestyle for almost everyone.

Tips on Affording Retirement

  • Consider working with a financial advisor about the cost of retiring abroad. Finding a financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. The SmartAsset matching tool can connect you to several advisors in your area in just minutes. If you’re ready, get started now.
  • Many American will be able to retire in Austria on a combination of their Social Security benefit and a pension. You can use a free Social Security calculator to see what to expect from Uncle Sam in retirement.

Photo credit: ©, © Wiklik, © WONG

Ashley Chorpenning Ashley Chorpenning is an experienced financial writer currently serving as an investment and insurance expert at SmartAsset. In addition to being a contributing writer at SmartAsset, she writes for solo entrepreneurs as well as for Fortune 500 companies. Ashley is a finance graduate of the University of Cincinnati. When she isn’t helping people understand their finances, you may find Ashley cage diving with great whites or on safari in South Africa.

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The Reality of Retirement Planning | Discover

Start saving early, make a plan and determine how you’ll use your funds.

Saving for retirement should start early and continue throughout your career.

When planning for retirement, it’s helpful to think of reaching your goals within each of the following categories:

  • Saving for retirement
  • Planning for retirement
  • Using retirement accounts

Start Saving for Retirement Early

In your late teens and early twenties, retirement is probably the last thing on your mind. If you’re lucky, you’ll get advice from your parents or an older colleague to start retirement accounts and put the maximum allowed amount in them – that’s good advice.

Father and son making dinner in the family kitchen

If your employer offers a 401(k), put money into it and request matching funds from the company if offered. You can also invest in an IRA account. These come in many forms. Some are tax-deferred, allowing you to pay taxes at a later date when your taxable income may be lower than today. Others are not tax-deferred, allowing you to avoid paying taxes on these funds when you withdraw them during your retirement.

The earlier you start saving, the more your retirement savings will grow. You might want to teach your children to save for retirement as a financial life lesson. If they have any earned income from babysitting or after-school jobs, help them open Roth IRAs. Explain to them that the money they have saved will grow, earning interest that will be available for them when they retire. This can help to establish good retirement savings habits that will benefit them as they mature.

Starting to save early is ideal. If you haven’t started yet, don’t put it off any longer.

Young professionals meeting over coffee

Plan for Retirement

When considering how much to save for retirement, common advice is to “save as much as you can.” Although this is great advice, it’s not terribly useful. It’s far more helpful to take a practical approach and base the goals for your retirement savings on your future needs.

Establish a retirement budget with expected expenses and income in mind. Do your best to account for the effects of inflation and changes in your spending needs. Analysts suggest that retirees have expenses averaging 75% to 80% of those during their working years. However, don’t rely exclusively on this rule of thumb; use your personal expectations.

Although your expenses will likely decline in retirement, it’s probable that your income will also be reduced. Your total retirement income, including estimated withdrawals from savings sources, will need to meet or exceed your expected expenses for as long as you are retired. If you anticipate that other sources of retirement income won’t cover your needs, you will need to increase your current retirement savings.

One important retirement consideration involves comparing your current taxable income and your expected retirement income to estimate your tax rate now vs. later. This will help you make decisions on whether to use taxed or tax-deferred investments to reduce your lifetime tax burden.

Newly retired couple enjoying an afternoon

It’s also important to consider the question: “When is the best time for me to retire?” The longer you wait to retire, generally the more value you’ll receive annually from retirement accounts, social security payments and other retirement income sources. If you plan to retire early, you may receive lower benefits and you’ll need to have more money in your retirement accounts to ensure you don’t run out of savings during retirement. Check with the Social Security Administration for retirement estimators and other guidance.

A financial planner or online retirement calculator can help you input assumptions to create multiple “what-if” scenarios. Any gap you have in expenses minus annual income is your target annual retirement savings need. Multiply this by the number of years you expect to be retired to calculate how much to save for retirement.

Use Retirement Funds

As the big day approaches, plan for using your retirement accounts for expenses.

  • Notify the Social Security Administration of your plans.
  • Prepare to withdraw required minimum distributions from each retirement account. This should happen by age 7012 for IRA owners that were 7012 prior to 12/31/2019 and by age 72 for IRA owners that would have been 7012 in 2020 and beyond to avoid stiff penalties.
  • Decide whether to withdraw first from taxable or tax-deferred accounts.
  • Apply for Medicare.
  • Consider additional funding plans for health care and long-term care.

Remember: You can’t take it with you…but you don’t want to fall short.


‘I Left My New York City Apartment To Live on a Farm’

Jewel Elizabeth never, ever thought she’d love living on a farm. This Pilates and yoga instructor thrived on the bustle of New York City.

“I got hooked on the energy of the city during college, so I couldn’t wait to move to the Big Apple permanently once I graduated,” says Elizabeth, who’s also a comedian. She settled in the neighborhood of South Harlem in 2009.

However, just over a decade later, on the weekend of March 14, 2020, COVID-19 descended on and shuttered the city she loved—and life as she knew it.

“First, I heard that Broadway theaters had shut down, then three of my comedy sketch shows were canceled,” she says. “Within days I was shocked to hear that the state had told fitness studios to close down, too. New York was becoming a weird and scary place.”

At the time, her boyfriend was doing land development in Sterling, MA, and his company had agreed to pay for his lodging—a farmhouse he’d found on Airbnb—for the rest of the year.

“He’d been trying to convince me to come up to visit for months, but I’d never been into it, and I always had so much going on,” says Elizabeth. “However, with the COVID-19 panic at a fever pitch, I finally took a leap of faith and hopped on a train.”

Elizabeth thought she’d be on the farm for a week or two tops—but now, over three months later, she’s still there, and is considering making her move to the country permanent. Here’s why, and what other people planning a major COVID-19 life change can learn from her experiences.

The farmhouse and one of the barns that Jewel Elizabeth currently calls home.
The farmhouse and one of the barns that Jewel Elizabeth currently calls home.

Photo courtesy of Jewel Elizabeth

What it’s like to move from the city to the country

Although the 5-acre farm was weirdly isolating and a bit lonely at first, Elizabeth soon found new friends—of the four-legged variety.

“The owners have moved to Hawaii and sold off all their animals, but both our neighbors have active stables,” she says. Today, the city girl who couldn’t imagine her life outside the hubbub of the Big Apple spends her days feeding carrots to horses.

“Going out to feed the horses is now the equivalent of what grabbing a coffee was in my former life,” she jokes.

One of the two barns on the farm's 5 acres
One of the two barns on the farm’s 5 acres

Photo courtesy of Jewel Elizabeth

Instead of hitting the hot spots in the city, she now spends her Saturdays “driving farm to farm to find fresh eggs,” she says. “The chickens are on their own schedule, and most farms here have an honor system cash box. Take eggs from the cooler, leave money in the box.”

The acreage where she and her boyfriend live is lush with fruit trees, a vineyard, and a garden where they grow herbs, tomatoes, cucumbers, and more. In fact, they had so much asparagus that, over Memorial Day weekend, they decided to open their own roadside farm stand.

“We found ourselves with about 60 stalks of asparagus, so we did what everyone else does here and bundled them up. I spent hours tying string around stalks, putting them in a cooler with a cash box, and selling them on the side of the road,” says Elizabeth.

She sees another farm stand in her future. “Apparently, our blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, and blueberries will also come in soon and, like the asparagus, we’ll have way too many.”

Fresh asparagus picked on the farm to be sold at her new roadside farm stand
Fresh asparagus picked on the farm to be sold at her new roadside farm stand

Photo courtesy of Jewel Elizabeth

At first, Elizabeth admits, it felt a bit strange to have so little to do—a culture shock stemming from her once-busy schedule.

“The city has a way of always keeping you running from event to event—always hustling,” says Elizabeth. Being on the farm, she says, has encouraged her to slow down “to a medium pace.”

In fact, Elizabeth was surprised to discover that living in a place with less to do and see helped her get a whole different set of things done—things she’d always meant to do but kept putting off.

“I finished a course to get my registered yoga teacher card. It had been on my to-do list for five years.”

While she sometimes misses the buzz of New York’s comedy scene, “I’ve been satisfying my comedy bug by trying to write a TV pilot,” she adds. “It’s actually been really nice to have some downtime in a quiet place.”

Elizabeth has also managed to carve out a steady stream of work teaching Pilates and yoga classes virtually.

“Paywise, I’m doing fine,” she says. “I’m not making nearly what I made in the city, but I also don’t buy $25 cocktails now.”

This professional shift to virtual classes allowed Elizabeth to see the potential longevity in her current living situation.

“My boyfriend and I had been talking about moving in together, but with our crazy schedules, we just never made it happen,” she says. “But after spending tons on an apartment I hadn’t been in for two months, I said it’s time. I called my landlord to cancel my lease, and she was very helpful and understanding.”

And just like that, Elizabeth found herself back in New York City over Mother’s Day weekend moving out of her studio apartment. Almost three months after she spontaneously hopped on a train and left the city, she was now trading her old life for more permanent country living.

Jewel Elizabeth's former apartment building in South Harlem
Jewel Elizabeth’s former apartment building in South Harlem

Photo courtesy of Google Maps

New favorite things

The biggest shift that Elizabeth is loving is the amount of space she has. In New York City, she’d been paying $2,000 a month for a 150-square-foot apartment. Now, she lives for free (at least for the rest of the year) in a 2,500-square-foot, four-bedroom, two-bathroom house with two barns (which actually wouldn’t cost that much more than the studio she was in if she were paying out of pocket).

“I turned one of the downstairs bedrooms into a yoga studio, and it’s my favorite place now,” says Elizabeth. “I teach live classes on Zoom five times per week out of there, and I just leave the camera and mat. No moving couches or trying to get good angles in a studio apartment.”

She also appreciates the lower cost of living.

“There is basically no overhead here,” she says. “We eat the veggies we grow for free, and get meat from our friendly local butchers.”

Elizabeth's new virtual yoga "studio" in the farmhouse
Elizabeth’s new virtual yoga “studio” in the farmhouse

Photo courtesy of Jewel Elizabeth

Elizabeth knows she’s lucky to be living there rent-free, but even once her boyfriend’s current project is up, they’ve discussed the possibility of moving to another farm.

“We have been looking at properties,” she says. However, she admits it’s tough to plan too far in advance with the COVID-19 situation still lurking.

“Most of my friends in New York City seem really sad,” she says. “We’re used to the city being so vibrant. Without theater and restaurants and bars, it seems difficult to stay. I’m hoping I come back one day, but for now, the farm feels right. Living here has been a great lesson in letting go of expectations.”

When a city girl suddenly finds herself on a farm
When a city girl suddenly finds herself on a farm

Photo Courtesy of Jewel Elizabeth


3 Questions for Anyone Refinancing to a 15-Year Mortgage

3 Questions for Anyone Refinancing to a 15-Year Mortgage – SmartAsset

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If you’re tired of having mortgage debt, refinancing from a 30-year loan to a 15-year loan will allow you to pay it off faster. On top of that, you’d also pay less in interest, as shorter loans come with better rates. Refinancing to a 15-year mortgage has some definite perks, but it’s not always the right move for everyone. Asking a few key questions beforehand can help you decide if it makes sense for your situation.

Refinancing your mortgage can have an effect on your overall financial plan. Talk to a local financial advisor today.

Question #1: Can I Afford the Payments?

Shortening your loan term conversely increases your monthly payments and you need to understand how that’s going to affect your budget before signing on. Seeing your payments increase by several hundred dollars may not mean much if you were already paying extra toward the principal, but it could be a deal breaker if it becomes too taxing on your income.

If you have a $200,000 mortgage, for example, refinancing to a 30-year fixed term with a 4 percent interest rate would put your monthly payments at about $955, assuming that you made a 20 percent down payment. Going with a 15-year loan instead with a 3 percent rate would increase your payments to nearly $1,400 a month. That’s roughly the equivalent of a car payment, so if you don’t think your budget can handle it, you want to know that sooner rather than later.

Question #2: Is the Savings on Interest Worth the Higher Payment?

Refinancing to a 15-year loan will certainly save you some money on interest, but it’s important to figure out whether it’s justified by those higher payments. Using the same $200,000 mortgage as an example, that 30-year fixed loan would initially cost you about $666 per month in interest. On the other hand, you’d start out paying about $498 per month in interest by choosing a 15-year fixed mortgage.

Obviously, that’s a pretty big difference, but you also have to take into account what the extra money you’re spending on payments would be worth if you invested it instead. If the difference in your payments with a 15-year loan versus a 30-year loan comes to about $168 a month, that’s money you could put into an IRA.

Question #3: Will I Risk Losing Out on a Bigger Tax Break?

Homeowners can ease the sting of all that interest they’re paying on a 30-year loan by writing it off at tax time. The IRS allows you to deduct interest you pay on primary and secondary mortgage loans as long as you itemize. Deductions reduce the amount of your income that’s subject to tax.

When you refinance to a 15-year loan, you can still take the deduction for your mortgage interest but it loses some of its value since you’re not paying as much interest. You’ll also have less time to benefit from it, which may work against you as you get closer to retirement. If you’ve built up a substantial nest egg and you’re expecting your tax rate to increase during your golden years, the loss of the mortgage interest deduction could make a significant difference in the size of your tax bill.

Bottom Line

If you’re heavily in favor of getting rid of your mortgage, refinancing to a 15-year loan can put you on the fast track to mortgage debt freedom. Just be sure you’ve weighed all the pros and cons first so you don’t end up getting in over your head.

Financial Planning Tips

  • Before deciding whether to refinance or not, think about the impact that altering your mortgage could have on your budget and financial plan. SmartAsset’s free tool can match you with financial advisors who can help you determine what’s best for you. Get started now.
  • Having a stringent budget in place is a great way to get your long-term financial plan off on the right foot. This might include not only watching your spending on a monthly basis, but also on a weekly basis. From here, you can begin to safely set aside money for your retirement savings and other goals for the future. For help putting together a budget, stop by SmartAsset’s free budget calculator.

Photo credit: © Horrocks, ©, © Rich

Rebecca Lake Rebecca Lake is a retirement, investing and estate planning expert who has been writing about personal finance for a decade. Her expertise in the finance niche also extends to home buying, credit cards, banking and small business. She’s worked directly with several major financial and insurance brands, including Citibank, Discover and AIG and her writing has appeared online at U.S. News and World Report, and Investopedia. Rebecca is a graduate of the University of South Carolina and she also attended Charleston Southern University as a graduate student. Originally from central Virginia, she now lives on the North Carolina coast along with her two children.
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Matterport launches 3D virtual home tours using an iPhone – Redfin

May 4, 2020 October 5, 2020 by Lisa Taylor

Updated on October 5th, 2020

Since 2014, Redfin has created interactive 3D scans for our listings to help prospective buyers virtually walk through homes Redfin agents list for sale. These scans use 3D Matterport technology and until today, required a fancy camera that costs anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. Now, Matterport is making that technology available to everyone with an iPhone or iPad. Buyers love these scans and Redfin has featured them in our TV ads every year for the past six years. Check out this video to see them in action.

Since the pandemic began, views of virtual walkthroughs on are up 303%. So we thought we’d give the new Matterport software a try and compare a scan from an iPhone 11 to one from a $3,400 Pro2 camera from Matterport. Can you tell which version below was created with the phone?

While the pro version on the left has a clearer picture quality and we’ll continue to use these cameras to scan our own listings, we think the iPhone version does a great job of showing all the home details. Download the iPhone app here and get your first scan free. If you’re an agent with a home on the market right now, submit your Matterport scan to the MLS and we’ll promote it on with a virtual tour banner and icon on the search map.


Building a House? A Simple Guide to the Home Building Process

If you’ve been searching the real estate market for the perfect home and just haven’t found the one for you, building a house can be the best possible way to guarantee the house of your dreams. Building a house offers the ultimate flexibility, giving you the freedom to take your vision and bring it to life.

However, managing the construction process isn’t always easy. Building a house from the ground up takes a lot of coordination, financial resources, and professional assistance. Here is what you need to know about the home building process.

building a house

building a house

Secure Financing

Unless you have a lot of cash on hand, you’re likely going to need some sort of third-party financing to afford the cost of construction on a new home. Luckily, lending is available to homeowners for construction in a similar way to securing a mortgage for an existing home.

It’s important to note that construction-related loans may be slightly harder to secure than a traditional mortgage. FHA first-time homebuyer loans are limited as well for new construction, so those without a strong credit history are advised to do research to ensure adequate financing is available.

For homeowners who are confident in the construction process and are able to hold to a set timeline, construction-to-permanent loans can be an excellent option. This kind of loan allows property owners to pay contractors and other construction professionals as the work is done. That cost is then converted to a mortgage when construction is finished. Construction-to-permanent loans allow for a set interest rate at closing and consistent fixed payments.

Plan Your Home

Before moving forward with buying land and starting construction, you need to know what kind of home you want to build. A small plot of land may not accommodate your mansion dreams, while lots in subdivisions may have restrictions related to size and style. When planning your home, consider points like:

  • Number of bedrooms
  • Number of bathrooms
  • Home layout, like a one-story home versus one with multiple floors
  • Appearance preferences, like siding material and color
  • Storage needs, including basement and attic spaces
  • Open concept versus segmented rooms
  • Outdoor space and landscaping
  • Potential extras, like solar panels, sunlights, fireplaces, or anything else that may affect the construction process

Did you know that homes with hardwood floors consistently sell for over list price? Consider the most popular and valuable home trends across the country before building a house. 

Be aware that compromise may be part of the process. It’s not unusual for plans to change as building gets underway for cost or logistical reasons.

Purchase a Lot to Build a House on

Once you have financing secured and know what kind of final product you want, you’ll need to choose a place to build your home. Since you’re building a house you can buy land anywhere, maybe you have your sights somewhere outside of Atlanta, GA or Dallas, TX? The options are endless. Parcels of land designated for new construction may be available in numerous locations, including underdeveloped suburban areas, rural areas, and as a part of subdivision development.

In some cases, where you buy can determine things like sewer, water, and electricity. In subdivisions, these details are usually completed when land parcels are listed for sale, but in less developed areas, this may be the responsibility of the property owner. Note that more rural land not protected by the subdivision development process or city law may require title insurance.

building a house

building a house

Handle Permits and Adhere to Regulations

Home construction is a highly regulated process. It’s not possible to just purchase property and start building. All construction projects need to adhere to local zoning laws and proceed under the proper permits.

Working with the right professionals can alleviate much of this burden. Contractors and construction companies will know what kind of permits are necessary to start the building process and ensure construction follows all regulations. The lead on your project can work with you to file papers and ensure you’re prepared to move forward in a safe, legal manner.

Hire Professionals

You may be handy with a hammer, but home construction really requires a professional team to guarantee a great final outcome. In order to bring your dreams to life, you will need to hire professionals for this process. This may include:

    • Land grading company: They have extensive knowledge on issues such as how to properly work with various types of soil and plants, and can advise you on the best methods for removing obstacles, and what kinds of structures can be placed in certain areas.
    • Architect: They see the big picture. Creating the complete look of your home, interiors and exteriors, that satisfy functional needs and are exciting spaces to live in.
    • Custom home builders: A custom home builder will guide you through each phase of the home building process. They will work with you to coordinate costs and design your ideal home, inside and out. This will likely involve working with an architect, interior designer, and landscape specialists.
    • Construction company: A construction company will handle everything from building the foundation to the final framing of the home. 
    • Electricians: They’ll make sure any fixed appliance that requires electricity, as well as any electrical outlets, will have the necessary electrical wiring installed. The electrician will run cables and wires to all switches, outlets, appliances and lighting fixtures throughout your home.
    • Plumbers: A plumber will install all plumbing fixtures, septic tanks and sewer lines in the home. 
    • HVAC professionals: They will install all climate control systems in the home. 
    • Interior Designers: Hiring an interior designer early in the home building process can be helpful for everything from furniture placement to planning for special finishes to determining locations of electrical outlets and plumbing fittings. 

The specifics of hiring will vary from one property to another. For example, land sold as part of a subdivision development may not require grading, but rural land purchased outside city limits might. 

Hiring the Right Team

Land excavators, contractors, architects, and construction companies come in all shapes and sizes, and some are better than others. Instead of hiring the first names you come across online or in the phone book, be sure to do your due diligence on both reputation and abilities.

In some cases, like some government lending programs, including the USDA, approval of a particular builder or contractor is required to secure financing. Under these circumstances, it’s extremely important to pick competent, qualified professionals that can exceed expectations.

When evaluating professionals to work on your home, be sure to keep the following points in mind:

  • Work experience; a competent team should have several years minimum of experience in single-family home construction, including homes in the size and style you have in mind.
  • Adequate commercial liability insurance of $50,000 or more
  • Proper contractor or construction licensing and any other permits required to operate legally
  • Reference checks that include verification of quality service from previous clients

Many professionals provide free or affordable quotes and estimates as well. Seek pricing options from all your top candidates to best guide the decision-making process. Be aware that estimates can move and change as building progresses, so choosing a team at the very top of your budget could lead to potential problems should issues arise.

Oversee Building

Once you have secured financing, purchased land, arranged for all necessary permits according to local law, and hired the best possible professionals to help, the building process can get underway. This process can be quite fast using modern technology, but will still require numerous steps to complete.

  • Land Preparation: Before breaking ground, construction teams will need to make sure the land is ideal for construction. This can mean clearing and grading the area, digging trenches, and confirming utility installation.
  • Foundation and Footings: Once the land is ready, construction crews will build a foundation. Foundations may be slab, crawl space, or full basement, depending on region and land type, and will involve poured concrete with reinforced steel rods for security and stability.
  • Framing: When the foundation is firmly in place, construction workers will build the frame, or the skeleton of the house. This can include subfloors, joists, trusses, and studs. If construction occurs during a high precipitation time of year, windows and roofing may also be installed during framing to prevent weather damage.
  • Utility Installation: After completion of the core of a home, contractors can install electricity, water, plumbing, and HVAC systems. All of these installations should be approved by an inspector after completion.
  • Insulation and Drywall: Insulation will be added to all exterior walls, floors, and ceilings and covered with drywall. Options include fiberglass, foam, and cellulose insulation. Drywall will also be hung on interior walls and primed with paint.
  • Interior and Exterior Finishes: Once the basics are more or less complete, crews will install interior finishes, like molding, baseboards, doors, counters, cupboards, and other essentials. Contractors may also tackle things like driveways, walkways, and other landscaping requirements at this time.
  • Flooring and Fixtures: The last interior step generally involves installing flooring and all other fixtures, like faucets, light switches, tubs, toilets, and heat register covers.
  • Final Inspection: Once all features of a home have been built out, a final inspection is advised. Home inspections are a good idea for a new property as well as existing property, ensuring all elements of a home are in good working order and up to code. If builders made any mistakes in the process, an inspection can bring this to light so that repairs can be made before final project completion.

Building a house can be a stressful process, but there’s no better way to ensure your new house meets your every expectation. With a thorough understanding of the home building process, you can approach the construction of your dream home with care and confidence.


Vegetable Gardens, Front Yard Hangouts: The Top Landscaping Trends of 2021>

As the COVID-19 pandemic has forced a majority of Americans into spending more time at home than ever before, many of those folks are venturing outside. Back and front yards have become places to more safely socialize with others, Zen getaways, and sources of fresh fruit and vegetables. Folks are even escaping their partners’ annoying Zoom calls by stepping out the door.

Not surprisingly, the top landscaping trends of 2021 are expected to be pandemic-inspired as the health crisis drags on. These trends include turning outdoor spaces into year-round amenities, more vegetable gardens cropping up, and turning backyards into activity zones for the whole family, according to a recent report from Tilly. The online design company creates landscaping plans for clients across the country.

“Our world has changed dramatically, and a lot of people are spending a lot more time in their homes, their gardens, their yards,” says Tilly CEO Blythe Yost. “Outdoor spaces that haven’t been high on people’s lists of improvements are suddenly front and center.”

Indeed, the trend of the outdoors as an extension of indoor living has been popular for the past few years. But many cooped-up Americans jumped on the bandwagon for the first time in 2020. And that trend is expected to continue into the next year as the vaccines are rolled out.

“There was always this perception that the outdoors wasn’t safe. There’s bugs, there’s Lyme disease, there’s thorns on the roses, it’s too hot, it’s too cold,” says landscape architect Janice Parker, whose eponymously named firm has locations in New York and Greenwich, CT. “Socially distanced gathering really drove people outside. … It’s opened people’s lives and minds to nature.”

Outdoor oases will become year-round necessities

People don’t want to go inside just because the temperatures plunge. Heating lamps and outside fireplaces allow homeowners to turn their spaces into more year-round retreats, particularly in colder parts of the country. Couches and lounge chairs make these areas more desirable places to be.

“Outdoor heating, from fire pits to infrared heaters installed in pergolas and three-season porches, has become a must,” Craig Jenkins-Sutton, president of Chicago-based landscaping design firm Topiarius. “Retractable vinyl screens are also in high demand to help retain the heat and keep out the wind.”

There will also likely be an increased emphasis on privacy in backyards. This could be a row of evergreens or even a trellis wall with hanging vines to shield the view.

Vegetable gardens will continue to be all the rage

Growing one’s own food made a comeback in a big way last year when mundane trips to the grocery store suddenly became anxiety-inducing experiences. Is that person wearing a mask? Is he standing a minimum of 6 feet away from you in the checkout line?

Victory gardens became an affordable, and even enjoyable, way for cooped-up folks to pass the time and grow their own fruits and vegetables. And when done right, they produced quite the bounty!

This trend is expected to continue into next year with better thought-out gardens, more raised beds, and an uptick in potted herbs.

“It’s fun and you can get results,” says Parker. “Watching it grow and you can eat it is the ultimate process and connection. That’s incredibly satisfying.”

Backyards will becoming playgrounds

Enterprising homeowners are expected to continue turning their backyards into playgrounds on steroids. There is likely to be an increase in homemade zip lines, climbing walls, ninja warrior courses, and fancy monkey bars.

“You don’t have to travel, you don’t have to see anyone else to get your kids outside,” says Tilly’s Yost. She’s seen a lot of folks going the DIY route with inflatable pools for the kids, rope swings, and other inexpensive improvements. “You don’t need a whole, big jungle gym or playground.”

Pools, just about the hottest commodity of 2020, could remain in high demand.

“Kids drive the need for a pool,” says landscape designer Parker. “Grown-ups will go to a pool if we feel like we look good in a bathing suit. Kids will just be in it all the time.”

Front yards will get more social

Front yards are likely to remain social spaces. In cities, stoops have been the spot where neighbors can catch up while remaining socially distant. In the suburbs, driveways have been places where neighbors can share community news whether through an organized gathering or when they’re out walking the dog.

“We’ve been designing more seating options in the front yard,” says Yost. She likes to create spaces for a pair of Adirondack chairs out front. “You can get a little piece of social interaction when the neighbors walk by.”

Eclectic and native designs will reign supreme

Next year’s outdoor spaces may not be impeccable—we’ve all got a lot on our plates. However, homeowners will aim to make them beautiful without putting too much work into it.

“We find a lot of people are looking for low-maintenance designs,” says Yost. “We don’t want people to feel like it’s too perfect or too clipped or too finished. Not every plant you plant is going to be a winner.”

Native plants, which are suited to thrive in their environment and thus take less work, will remain popular. So will pollinator-friendly flowers, which attract bees and birds.

Landscaping will become more visual

People have also become more concerned about the views of their yard from inside their homes. They’re expected to seek out “framed” landscaping that looks good from certain windows. That means folks will likely plant a mix of flowers, shrubs, grasses, and other vegetation in those areas, so that something is always green or in bloom.

“The first thing I do when I take on any project is look at the view outside from the master bedroom window, the master bathroom window,” says Parker. “That’s always been important. You need to be able to look out and have your eye rest on something you enjoy.”

Vertical gardens will take center stage

Vertical gardens will remain eye-catching, focal points—particularly for small spaces. These vertical structures covered in vegetation can be placed indoors or outdoors, where they become a sort of artistic statement wall.

“Not everybody has a big, vertical space,” says Yost. “Even just hanging a plant or hanging a basket from a window can bring green and life to a vertical space. It could be growing English ivy up the side of a wall. If you’re in a more tropical climate, we do a lot more sedum walls.”

Working outdoors will be the new hobby

When the pandemic first forced folks to stay home, some folks took to binge-watching Netflix or riding their Peloton bikes into oblivion (or both). Others developed hobbies, like finally writing the Great American Novel, learning to bake sourdough bread—and gardening. Suddenly, weeding the vegetable plot or raking the leaves served as a mental health break that also provided some much-needed exercise.

Going into the new year, homeowners are expected to take on more of their yard maintenance than ever before.

“It’s really nice to see all these people becoming so invested in their gardens and their spaces,” says Yost. “It’s a really easy way to get involved with your environment, to step outside your front door.”