Best Home Listing Description Ever? Brutal Honesty Pays Off in Florida

A listing for a lemon of a house has turned into sweet, sweet lemonade.

The description of a decrepit home on Avoca Avenue in Zephyrhills, FL, that was listed for $69,000 mixes scathing accuracy and a serious sense of humor.

The tongue-in-cheek presentation has paid off in a big way. The listing of the woebegone home has racked up hundreds of thousands of page views, and what’s more, an offer is now in place.

“I find it so funny, because my husband always told me that I don’t tell good jokes, and I tell him I’m like the funniest person I know. This has just been the greatest vindication. Everybody keeps calling and texting and emailing saying that they thought it was hilarious,” says Philippa Main, the listing agent responsible for the property description that people can’t stop sharing.

We spoke with Main about her savvy marketing skills, and have highlighted a few of our favorite passages of her lively prose.

Exterior of home in Zephyrhills, FL
Exterior of home in Zephyrhills, FL

Philippa Main


Philippa Main


Philippa Main


Philippa Main


Philippa Main

‘Here it is, literally the worst house on the street!

‘The seller has done the hard work of cleaning up the almost half-acre property (it only took 7 dumpsters!), so now is your chance to take it from here.’

The idea for a listing description that faced the home’s ugliness head-on came to Main after seeing the property for the first time and discussing the reality of the situation with her client.

Both of them had hoped that the home would be in a sellable state after the tenants moved out and the lot was cleaned up. The reality was far different.

So Main, who majored in public relations in college, approached her client and suggested a way to get some eyes on the listing.

She knows that listing details sometimes stretch the truth, and she also knows all about the frustration generated by unmet expectations—for home shoppers and agents alike.

“The funniest and the most annoying part of being a real estate agent: If we see in a listing they’re describing this ‘great natural light’ or this ‘open-concept floor plan’ or ‘tons of storage,’” Main says. “We get there, and it’s, like, a single, creepy lightbulb you would see in one of those interrogation movies. And that’s it.”

She decided to embrace the dark side of this Sunshine State calamity.

“I just wanted to make sure that I got ahead of all of the questions about the condition, and just kind of put it all out there for everybody,” she notes.


Philippa Main

Missing windows
Missing windows

Philippa Main


Philippa Main


Philippa Main

‘The roof leaks, the floor creaks, and there’s a terrible draft, but this 3 bed, 1.5 bath home is very open concept. And by that we mean the inside is open to the outside, because several of the windows are broken.’

The “open-concept” crack is something Main doesn’t take all the credit for. Her inspiration came from an unlikely source, “SpongeBob SquarePants.”

“There’s an episode where SpongeBob and Squidward do Opposite Day, and so SpongeBob’s version of selling the home is pointing out all of the worst things about it,” she says. “As soon as I walked into this property, I heard it in my head, and I was, like, ‘Oh, here we go!’ I sat down and kind of approached the listing with that kind of sense of humor, and the absurdity of the whole situation.”


Philippa Main


Philippa Main


Philippa Main

‘There is a large, sunny window in the kitchen … and absolutely nothing else—a wonderful feature for someone interested in a bright reading space (and ordering takeout for every meal).’

The kitchen description came to her after the overzealous junk haulers took a bit too much off the property, which once housed old mattresses, old TVs, hundreds of tires, and much more. They were told to take everything away.

“When I walked into the home, I didn’t realize that, for some reason, the junk guys had taken things very literally,” Main says.

“They took out all the kitchen cabinets. I’ve seen kitchens missing a lot of things, but this kitchen has one positive element that I can highlight, and that is it.”


Philippa Main

‘Now I know you’ve heard of a detached garage, but have you ever heard of a detached foundation?! Because that’s what you’ll find here in the large bonus room. And if you’re looking for a house that screams, “I’ve got bizarre and ominous energy!” then, honey, stop the car, because you’ve found it right here, conveniently located off of US-301.’

The major foundation problems and the location near a major highway were two pieces of information Main says that she really needed to convey to potential buyers.

“I feel like this has gone viral and a lot of people are laughing at just kind of the surface level,” she says. “But I actually did try to include important details for those who are truly interested.”


Philippa Main


Philippa Main


Philippa Main


Philippa Main


Philippa Main

‘And whether you like to turn up the heat or keep it cool, it won’t matter here, because there is no HVAC system.’

Main says the lack of a heating and cooling system is crucial information for any potential investor to know, since it is a must-have in Florida and constitutes a huge expense.


Philippa Main

‘Oh, and don’t forget about the brick chimney that perfectly epitomizes how we all feel after 2020—about to collapse and going nowhere (literally, there is no fireplace inside the house).’

A chimney without a fireplace?

“I looked and I couldn’t find inside where there was a fireplace,” Main says, adding that it’s difficult to ignore the crumbling chimney when walking around the property.

“When you actually go in the home, you realize: ‘What is even the point of this chimney?'” she says. “I just feel like it adds to the whole ominous energy. Like, ‘Why is it here?’ And you’ve got to throw a reference to 2020 in there, because why the heck not?”


Philippa Main


Philippa Main


Philippa Main


Philippa Main

‘What else can be said about this one-of-a-kind opportunity? It’s not in a flood zone and will be conveyed with clear title! But we don’t have a survey and the Seller has never seen the property, so buyers are strongly encouraged to do their own due diligence.’

Main says her client signed off on the listing, and she made sure it was compliant with the requirements of all local and national organizations.

My clients “are so laid-back. They’re such fun guys. They were basically, like, ‘This is so funny, this is great! We’re happy that it’s getting the attention.’ But at the end of the day, their whole thing was they knew I would get it sold, one way or another,” she says.

‘And if you’re not interested in crying yourself to sleep every night while you rehab this home, might we suggest tearing it down and building a brand-new one in its place? The neighbors would likely thank you.’

Evidently, the publicity worked. After fewer than 10 days on the market, there’s a pending offer. Main was not at liberty to disclose whether the buyers do plan to cry themselves to sleep every night with a rehab or please the neighbors with a teardown.

Main is taking in stride her newfound fame as the author of what some are calling the best listing description. Her sense of humor hasn’t taken a dent.

“My phone started ringing off the hook,” she says, “and I was just, like, ‘What is happening?’ I will tell you this: I would never want to be a famous person, because this is a lot of work.”


Philippa Main


Philippa Main


Philippa Main


Philippa Main


Philippa Main


Say What? Home-Buying Lingo You Should Know

Need a crash course on real estate terms? This glossary will get you started.

DTI, PMI, LTV … TBH, it can be hard to keep all this stuff straight. This lexicon of real estate terms and acronyms will help you speak the language like a pro.

Appraisal management company (AMC): An institution operated independently of a lender that, once notified by a lender, orders a home appraisal.

Appraisal: An informed, impartial and well-documented opinion of the value of a home, prepared by a licensed and certified appraiser and based on data about comparable homes in the area, as well as the appraiser’s own walkthrough.

Approved for short sale: A term that indicates that a homeowner’s bank has approved a reduced listing price on a home, and the home is ready for resale.

American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI): A not-for-profit professional association that sets and promotes standards for property inspections and provides educational opportunities to its members. (i.e., Look for this accreditation or something similar when shopping for a home inspector.)

Attorney state: A state in which a real estate attorney is responsible for closing.

Back-end ratio: One of two debt-to-income ratios that a lender analyzes to determine a borrower’s eligibility for a home loan. The ratio compares the borrower’s monthly debt payments (proposed housing expenses, plus student loan, car payment, credit card debt, maintenance or child support and installment loans) to gross income.

Buyers market: Market conditions that exist when homes for sale outnumber buyers. Homes sit on the market a long time, and prices drop.

Cancellation of escrow: A situation in which a buyer backs out of a home purchase.

Capacity: The amount of money a home buyer can afford to borrow.

Cash-value policy: A homeowners insurance policy that pays the replacement cost of a home, minus depreciation, should damage occur.

Closing: A one- to two-hour meeting during which ownership of a home is transferred from seller to buyer. A closing is usually attended by the buyer, the seller, both real estate agents and the lender.

Closing costs: Fees associated with the purchase of a home that are due at the end of the sales transaction. Fees may include the appraisal, the home inspection, a title search, a pest inspection and more. Buyers should budget for an amount that is 1% to 3% of the home’s purchase price.

Closing disclosure (CD): A five-page document sent to the buyer three days before closing. This document spells out all the terms of the loan: the amount, the interest rate, the monthly payment, mortgage insurance, the monthly escrow amount and all closing costs.

Closing escrow: The final and official transfer of property from seller to buyer and delivery of appropriate paperwork to each party. Closing of escrow is the responsibility of the escrow agent.

Comparative market analysis (CMA): An in-depth analysis, prepared by a real estate agent, that determines the estimated value of a home based on recently sold homes of similar condition, size, features and age that are located in the same area.

Compliance agreement: A document signed by the buyer at closing, in which they agree to cooperate if the lender needs to fix any mistakes in the loan documents.

Comps: Or comparable sales, are homes in a given area that have sold within the past six months that a real estate agent uses to determine a home’s value.

Condo insurance: Homeowners insurance that covers personal property and the interior of a condo unit should damage occur.

Contingencies: Conditions written into a home purchase contract that protect the buyer should issues arise with financing, the home inspection, etc.

Conventional 97: A home loan that requires a down payment equivalent to 3% of the home’s purchase price. Private mortgage insurance, which is required, can be canceled when the owner reaches 80% equity.

Conventional loan: A home loan not guaranteed by a government agency, such as the FHA or the VA.

Days on market (DOM): The number of days a property listing is considered active.

Depository institutions: Banks, savings and loans, and credit unions. These institutions underwrite as well as set home loan pricing in-house.

Down payment: A certain portion of the home’s purchase price that a buyer must pay. A minimum requirement is often dictated by the loan type.

Debt-to-income ratio (DTI): A ratio that compares a home buyer’s expenses to gross income.

Earnest money: A security deposit made by the buyer to assure the seller of his or her intent to purchase.

Equity: A percentage of the home’s value owned by the homeowner.

Escrow account: An account required by a lender and funded by a buyer’s mortgage payment to pay the buyer’s homeowners insurance and property taxes.

Escrow agent: A neutral third-party officer who holds all paperwork and funding in trust until all parties in the transaction fulfill their obligations as part of the transfer of property ownership.

Escrow state: A state in which an escrow agent is responsible for closing.

Fannie Mae: A government-sponsored enterprise chartered in 1938 to help ensure a reliable and affordable supply of mortgage funds throughout the country.

Federal Reserve: The central bank of the United States, established in 1913 to provide the nation with a safer, more flexible and more stable monetary and financial system.

Federal Housing Administration (FHA): A government agency created by the National Housing Act of 1934 that insures loans made by private lenders.

FHA 203(k): A rehabilitation loan backed by the federal government that permits home buyers to finance money into a mortgage to repair, improve or upgrade a home.

Foreclosure: A property repossessed by a bank when the owner fails to make mortgage payments.

Freddie Mac: A government agency chartered by Congress in 1970 to provide a constant source of mortgage funding for the nation’s housing markets.

Funding fee: A fee that protects the lender from loss and also funds the loan program itself. Examples include the VA funding fee and the FHA funding fee.

Gentrification: The process of rehabilitation and renewal that occurs in an urban area as the demographic changes. Rents and property values increase, culture changes and lower-income residents are often displaced.

Guaranteed replacement coverage: Homeowners insurance that covers what it would cost to replace property based on today’s prices, not original purchase price, should damage occur.

Homeowners association (HOA): The governing body of a housing development, condo or townhome complex that sets rules and regulations and charges dues and special assessments used to maintain common areas and cover unexpected expenses respectively.

Home equity line of credit (HELOC): A revolving line of credit with an adjustable interest rate. Like a credit card, this line of credit has a limit. There is a specified time during which money can be drawn. Payment in full is due at the end of the draw period.

Home equity loan: A lump-sum loan that allows the homeowner to use the equity in their home as collateral. The loan places a lien against the property and reduces home equity.

Home inspection: A nondestructive visual look at the systems in a building. Inspection occurs when the home is under contract or in escrow.

Homeowners insurance: A policy that protects the structure of the home, its contents, injury to others and living expenses should damage occur.

Housing ratio: One of two debt-to-income ratios that a lender analyzes to determine a borrower’s eligibility for a home loan. The ratio compares total housing cost (principal, homeowners insurance, taxes and private mortgage insurance) to gross income.

In escrow: A period of time (30 days or longer) after a buyer has made an offer on a home and a seller has accepted. During this time, the home is inspected and appraised, and the title searched for liens, etc.

Jumbo loan: A loan amount that exceeds the Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac limit, which is generally $425,100 in most parts of the U.S.

Listing price: The price of a home, as set by the seller.

Loan estimate: A three-page document sent to an applicant three days after they apply for a home loan. The document includes loan terms, monthly payment and closing costs.

Loan-to-value ratio (LTV): The amount of the loan divided by the price of the house. Lenders reward lower LTV ratios.

Market value coverage: Homeowners insurance that covers the amount the home would go for on the market, not the cost to repair, should damage occur.

Mechanic’s lien: A hold against a property, filed in the county recorder’s office by someone who’s done work on a home and not been paid. If the homeowner refuses to pay, the lien allows a foreclosure action.

Mortgage broker: A licensed professional who works on behalf of the buyer to secure financing through a bank or other lending institution.

Mortgage companies: Lenders who underwrite loans in-house and fund loans from a line of credit before selling them off to a loan buyer.

Mortgage interest deduction: Mortgage interest paid in a year subtracted from annual gross salary.

Mortgage interest rate: The price of borrowing money. The base rate is set by the Federal Reserve and then customized per borrower, based on credit score, down payment, property type and points the buyer pays to lower the rate.

Multiple listing service (MLS): A database where real estate agents list properties for sale.

Origination fee: A fee, charged by a broker or lender, to initiate and complete the home loan application process.

Piggyback loan: A combination of loans bundled to avoid private mortgage Insurance. One loan covers 80% of the home’s value, another loan covers 10% to 15% of the home’s value, and the buyer contributes the remainder.

Principal, interest, property taxes and homeowners insurance (PITI): The components of a monthly mortgage payment.

Private mortgage insurance (PMI): A fee charged to borrowers who make a down payment that is less than 20% of the home’s value. The fee, 0.3% to 1.5% of the yearly loan amount, can be canceled in certain circumstances when the borrower reaches 20% equity.

Points: Prepaid interest owed at closing, with one point representing 1% of the loan. Paying points, which are tax deductible, will lower the monthly mortgage payment.

Pre-approval: A thorough assessment of a borrower’s income, assets and other data to determine a loan amount they would qualify for. A real estate agent will request a pre-approval or pre-qualification letter before showing a buyer a home.

Pre-qualification: A basic assessment of income, assets and credit score to determine what, if any, loan programs a borrower might qualify for. A real estate agent will request a pre-approval or pre-qualification letter before showing a buyer a home.

Property tax exemption: A reduction in taxes based on specific criteria, such as installation of a renewable energy system or rehabilitation of a historic home.

Round table closing: All parties (the buyer, the seller, the real estate agents and maybe the lender) meet at a specified time to sign paperwork, pay fees and finalize the transfer of homeownership.

Sellers market: Market conditions that exist when buyers outnumber homes for sale. Bidding wars are common.

Short sale: The sale of a home by an owner who owes more on the home than it’s worth (i.e., “underwater” or “upside down”). The owner’s bank must approve a lower listing price before the home can be sold.

Special assessment: A fee charged by a condo complex HOA when cash on reserve is not enough to cover unexpected expenses.

Tax lien: The government’s legal claim against property when the homeowner neglects or fails to pay a tax debt.

Third-party review required: Verbiage included in a home listing to indicate that the lender has not yet approved the home for short sale. The seller must submit the buyer’s offer to the lender for approval.

Title insurance: Insurance that protects the buyer and lender should an individual or entity step forward with a claim that was attached to the property before the seller transferred legal ownership of the property or “title” to the buyer.

Transfer stamps: The form in which transfer taxes are paid by the home buyer. Stamps can also serve as proof of transfer tax payment.

Transfer taxes: Fees imposed by the state, county or municipality on transfer of title.

Under contract: A period of time (30 days or longer) after a buyer has made an offer on a home and a seller has accepted. During this time, the home is inspected and appraised, and the title is searched for liens, etc.

Underwater or upside down: A situation in which a homeowner owes more for a property than it’s worth.

Underwriting: A process a lender follows to assess a home loan applicant’s income, assets and credit, and the risk involved in offering the applicant a mortgage.

VA home loan: A home loan partially guaranteed by the United States Department of Veteran Affairs and offered by private lenders, such as banks and mortgage companies.

VantageScore: A credit scoring model lenders use to make lending decisions. A borrower’s score is based on bill-paying habits, debt balances, age, variety of credit accounts and number of inquiries on credit reports.

Walkthrough: A buyer’s final inspection of a home before closing.

Water certificate: A document that certifies that a water account has been paid in full. The seller must produce this certificate at closing.



How Are Mortgage Rates Determined?

Buying a home is a major financial undertaking. After all, the median home listing price in the U.S. was nearly $230,000 in 2019, and the prices have only gone up since then. If you need to obtain a mortgage loan to complete the purchase, it can get even more expensive.

When you add in a mortgage loan, you’ll also be adding in interest on the money you borrow for your home purchase. The amount of interest you’ll pay hinges on current mortgage rates, so it’s well worth knowing where they’re at — and how they work.

The good news is that right now, mortgage rates are at an all-time low. So while buying a home isn’t cheap, you can save a ton on interest if you make a move while rates are at bottom rung levels. Before you take the leap, though, you’ll need to know how your mortgage rate is determined and how that affects your loan.

[ Read: Compare Today’s Best Mortgage Rates ]

In this article

What factors determine mortgage rates? 

Let’s start by answering the question: how does mortgage interest work? You’ll either have a fixed mortgage interest rate or a variable rate, depending on the type of mortgage you choose.

Fixed-rate mortgages are more popular because they provide an interest rate that never changes over the life of the loan. The rate you start with is the rate you end your loan with. That gives you predictable monthly payments that won’t change.

Variable rates, on the other hand, are interest rates that can change with the market over the life of your loan. These rates start out as fixed for a period of time and then change to rates that fluctuate depending on the market and other factors.

No matter which type you opt for, your mortgage rate will determine how much interest you’ll pay for the money you borrow over the life of your loan.

[ Read: How to Calculate Your Mortgage ] 

But how do interest rates work, and how are they determined, when it comes to a mortgage loan? A handful of factors play a role in determining average rates in the market, which is the starting point for the rate you’ll be offered. You also bring unique factors to the table — like your credit score and your other existing debts — and these factors will further shape the rate you get.

So, how are mortgage rates determined? Here are the broad strokes that lenders consider:

  • Market rates: It’s a common misconception that the Federal Reserve sets mortgage interest rates, but that’s not true. Mortgage-backed securities (MSBs) are the driving force here. Most lenders only hold a mortgage for a short period of time before bundling it with other mortgages and selling it to investors as a MSB.

When there’s a lot of demand for MSBs, mortgage rates generally go down. Case in point: today’s low mortgage rates. Because the economy has been unsteady in the last year, people are turning to safe investments, including MSBs. With more demand for these bundles of mortgages come lower rates.

  • The type of mortgage you want: In general, you’ll pay more in interest for a 30-year mortgage than for a 15-year mortgage loan because you’re paying the interest for a longer period of time. The rates are often lower for shorter-term loans, too. If you choose a mortgage with a variable rate, like a 5/1 adjustable rate mortgage, the rate can, and will, change over time.
  • Your financial details: Specifically, lenders look at three numbers: your credit score, your debt-to-income ratio and your loan-to-value (LTV) ratio.
    • Credit score: You know the drill here. Higher is better.
    • Debt-to-income ratio: The debt-to-income ratio factors in all of your debts, like student loans or car payments, and compares them against your income. If too much of your money coming in is eaten up by debts, lenders will have concerns — and will usually charge you a higher interest rate. You want this ratio to be no higher than 36%, and lower is better.
    • LTV: This is the amount of money you’ll need to borrow (the loan) compared against the overall value of the house. Basically, it’s the size of down payment you’ll be able to make. A smaller down payment means a higher LTV ratio, which is riskier for lenders. As a result, you’ll get a higher mortgage interest rate.
  • Their own interests: Some lenders specialize in certain types of mortgages and, as a result, might offer you a better rate for those. Some lenders decide certain factors matter more than others (e.g., credit score over LTV). Ultimately, lenders will only fund a mortgage for you if they think it serves their best interest. The more optimistic they feel about you repaying your loan, the lower rate you’ll be able to land.

You can’t shape a lender’s priorities or the market. You can, however, control your own financial profile and planning. Work on your credit score, pay off your other debts as much as possible and save up for a larger down payment. This will help you get the lowest mortgage rate possible.

Do mortgage rates vary between lenders? 

Mortgage rates do vary between lenders — and the differences can be significant. So how are mortgage rates determined from lender to lender? Each has its own underwriting guidelines, meaning it will look at specific things about you, your finances and your future home. All told, during underwriting, the lender is trying to decide if you’re someone who will reliably repay your mortgage. If they consider slightly different factors than another lender, they may offer you a slightly different rate.

On top of this, some lenders work in niche markets. For example, if you have a less-than-ideal credit score, you might be able to get a lower rate by working with a lender who specializes in loans for people with poor credit.

Lenders can also offer different rates for different loan products (e.g., 30-year fixed, 15-year fixed, 5/1 adjustable rate mortgages, investment property mortgages).

[ Read: Best Investment Property Mortgage Rates ]

To compare rates between lenders, make sure you’re comparing apples to apples. At the start of this year, for example, 30-year fixed rate mortgages had an average interest rate of 2.87%, while 15-year fixed rate mortgages had a much lower average interest rate of 2.34%. You’ll almost always get a lower interest rate for a shortage mortgage, so double-check that any mortgages you’re comparing have the same loan term.

You’re also not stuck with the lender you originally choose. You can explore refinancing with a different lender down the road. The caveat here is that a refi usually comes with a new set of closing costs. In other words, it isn’t cheap.

[ Read: Today’s Best Refinance Rates ]

How the Fed’s decisions affect mortgage rates 

As noted, many people think that the Federal Reserve’s funds rate determines mortgage rates. It doesn’t — not directly, at least.

To better understand, it’s important to answer the question of how do interest rates work in general? It all comes down to how risky the lender perceives the loan to be. More risk means a higher interest rate.

But when times are economically shaky, the Fed steps in to ease concerns. Otherwise, lenders might be more hesitant to loan money. That, in turn, would mean less purchasing across the economy, worsening the state of overall financial affairs.

So how does the Fed help the situation along? It lowers its funds rate, or the rate at which banks can lend each other money. With this lower rate, money can flow more freely, keeping the economy moving.

[ Read: How the Federal Reserve’s Decisions Affect Your Finances ]

Because it affects banks’ access to money, the Fed funds rate shapes the prime lending rate, or the rate banks charge their most creditworthy customers. Mortgage lenders generally base their rates on the current prime lending rate.

So, technically speaking, the Fed’s rate doesn’t directly touch mortgages at all. But because the effects of their funds rate trickles outward, it does impact a broad variety of lending programs. When that rate goes down, other rates — including mortgage rates — tend to follow.

All this said, the Fed did directly impact mortgage rates during the COVID-19 pandemic. To shore up the economy, they bought more than $1 trillion in MSBs. The heightened demand for these mortgage bundles drove rates even lower, and those low rates were passed on to the buyers. That’s why we’re seeing such a huge uptick in home sales at the moment.

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7 Tips for Maintaining the Value of Your Home

Before signing the dotted line for a new home, your real estate agent might point out features about the property that could be “good for resale value.” And while you may be in the market for your forever home, the unexpected twists and turns of life mean that people sell their homes for a million reasons.

For homebuyers who are in the market for a smart investment, selling their home when the time is right is the objective from Day One. They may anticipate the future of an up-and-coming neighborhood, get a killer deal on a short sale or foreclosure, or intend to upgrade once they grow their families.

For others, a move can be unexpected. Issues like financial changes (for better or worse), job transfers, unexpected bills, marriage or divorce, or the need for more or less space can all motivate homeowners to sell.

And for a few, they just realize that the house they bought isn’t right for them.

In fact, Americans move every five to seven years on average. (Apparently, we’re a restless lot.)

No matter what your future plans are for your home, doing what you can to maintain its value can be a smart strategy. And while some value-add items take care of themselves, like the property’s location and the current real estate market, the majority are up to the homeowners.

And let’s be real. When it comes to working on a home, a little work here and there is a lot less painful than a lot of work on a moment’s notice.

Here are some ideas for creating a home maintenance checklist:

Update, Update, Update.

If a home that’s for sale has an updated anything, the real estate listing will scream it out in ALL CAPS. This can apply to appliances, cabinetry and countertops, flooring, popcorn ceiling, bathroom remodels, kitchen remodels, and more.

But which updates will actually add value to the house is a different question, and the answer can vary depending on current trends. In 2020, for example, home buyers are looking for large, spacious kitchens and, thanks to COVID-19, a home office space.

If your kitchen is due for an update, try to keep in mind that this doesn’t necessarily mean stripping it to the studs and starting from scratch. Are the cabinets in good shape? Consider a fresh coat of paint or stain to reflect the latest color trends.

value estimator could help inform your decision.

Keeping an Eye on the Big Ticket Items

Repainting to cover wall damage or update to a more modern color is a project that may not take too much time or money out of your budget.

Repairing or replacing a home’s expensive items, like the foundation, roof, electrical, plumbing, water, septic, well, A/C—can come with some serious sticker shock.

Issues with a home’s foundation, for example, can cost upwards of $10,000 to remedy. But a foundation inspection? That’s more like $350 to $1,000 . And keeping an eye on the foundation and walls yourself is free. Note that estimates will vary based on factors like location, the size of the house, and the extent of repairs required.

Aside from the foundation, replacing a home’s central heating and air system can be a significant expense that can also cost five figures to replace in the event of a total failure. The biggest contributor? According to an article on, it’s neglect .

Regular maintenance can help extend the life of the system so it can reach it’s full life expectancy—which is generally about 15 years.

Staying On Top of Maintenance

According to HomeAdvisor’s State of Home Spending Report , the average homeowner spent $1,105 a year on maintenance in 2018. That sounds like a lot, but when compared to the average cost of $7,560 for home improvement projects in 2018, it starts to sound more affordable.

What’s more, the report found that homeowners completed an average of 6.7 home maintenance projects vs. just 2.2 home improvement projects.

For their study, they listed items like HVAC maintenance, cleaning gutters, and landscaping as maintenance-related projects, but the list can also include keeping up with the pool or hot tub, power washing siding, decking, or concrete areas.

If it seems like a lot to remember, consider setting reminders on your smartphone for things like replacing A/C filters, having carpets professionally cleaned, or flushing out the hot tub.

You may also consider adding a line item into your budget for maintenance items, since these are normal costs of owning a home and it can help to plan for them.

Improving Curb Appeal

If there’s a “For Sale” sign in front of your house, the outside will be the first thing a potential homebuyer judges about your property. If not, the way your home looks as visitors arrive still makes a statement.

To evaluate the outside of your home, look at it from a visitor’s perspective. Is the grass trim? Are the weeds under control? Consider taking a look at the driveway, mailbox, and front porch area and asking yourself, if you were thinking about purchasing this home, would you be interested based on the curb appeal?

If the answer is no, it doesn’t mean you have to dig into the dirt. An affordable landscaper can help if your home is lush with vegetation, invest in mulch to help keep weeds under control, and consider native plants and shrubbery that require the least maintenance.

Another item that deserves attention is your front door. It creates a statement about your home, serves as a welcome to visitors and, if it’s steel, comes with an amazing return on investment—as much as 91% of the costs, which average around $1,500.

Upgrading Energy Efficiency

89% of homebuyers report wanting to see efficient windows and appliances in a home), but also if you want to reduce spending on bills and taxes . And it doesn’t just mean big investments like switching to solar or wind-powered energy, although those are both growing trends .

Making your home more energy efficient can also be as simple as replacing bad weather seals, ensuring that the attic has sufficient insulation, paying attention to the air and heating, and using energy-efficient light bulbs and appliances.

Upgrading the energy efficiency of your home is something that might even be rolled in with another project, such as maintenance or updating.

Installing Smart Tech

Even if your home is more than 100 years, old adding smart tech can make it 21st-century ready. Smart home assistants like Google or Alexa, for example, can control everything from the lights to the TV to locking the front door.

They can also allow you to remotely control your heating and air temperatures, make sure the oven is actually turned off, and even give you a sense of security with security systems or video door bells. In order for the home assistants to accomplish all of these features, additional smart appliances may be required.

While some types of home tech are hard-wired into the house and others are more portable, even being able to say “wired for surround sound” can be a bonus on a home listing.

According to a recent Forbes report, smart home tech is starting to move up the must-have list for homebuyers. But, like energy efficiencies, adding it to your home can be a perk even if you have no immediate plans to move.

Keeping the Bugs at Bay

One important job that comes with homeownership is keeping unwanted critters outside where they belong. Public enemy No. 1 in this category? Termites. They can wreak havoc on a home’s wood structures to the tune of $1 billion in property damage every year.

The problem is so widespread that some home loan companies require buyers to get a termite letter , which is basically a guarantee that the home is free from termite damage.

DIY recommendations for keeping the pests at bay can also check off items on the home maintenance list, including keeping gutters and downspouts flowing, filling in any places where water pools around the home or in the yard, filling in cracks in the foundation and keeping air vets free and clear.

And if an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, then a $75 to $150 termite inspection is worth avoiding a $1,000 termite treatment.

Beyond termites and the havoc they wreak, there are a variety of other living creatures that can cause damage to a home or surrounding property, including attic squatters like mice or raccoons, carpenter bees, moles, mosquitoes, and even grasshoppers that brunch on beautiful landscaping.

Making Improvements Affordable

Budgeting a few extra dollars a month for A/C filters is one thing, but putting on a new roof is a bigger beast. Before going down the path of home improvement, it can be important to determine whether the goal is to add resale value, or something that’s just a personal desire. If it’s the former, consider using a Home Project Value Estimator that can help determine whether it’s a smart investment, or if it might be wiser to take a different route.

From there, one next step could be to weigh the various options for paying for a home project. Some companies offer same-as-cash financing options, or deferred-interest loans , but in those cases it’s important to remember that if the balance isn’t paid by the deadline, it could lead to a payment that includes any leftover balance plus interest.

One way to avoid deferred-interest surprises is with a personal loan. Securing a low interest rate and a fixed monthly payment can mean no surprises, less hassle, and maybe even enough to hire an expert for the heavy lifting.

Ready to bring back or improve the value of your home? With SoFi’s Home Improvement Loans, qualifying borrows can get approved for up to $100,000.

Apply for a SoFi home improvement loan today!

Tax Information: This article provides general background information only and is not intended to serve as legal or tax advice or as a substitute for legal counsel. You should consult your own attorney and/or tax advisor if you have a question requiring legal or tax advice.
External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.
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How the Bernie Sanders Mittens Meme Made a Michigan Home Listing Go Viral>

For those of you nowhere near a computer or phone in the past few days, here’s the quick backstory: Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders spurred a viral meme sensation that has taken the World Wide Web by storm.

It all started when Sanders was photographed outside at Joe Biden‘s presidential inauguration on Wednesday looking relatively unimpressed by the historic occasion. There the 79-year-old sat, arms crossed, in a chair while wearing a practical heavy winter coat and—here’s the kicker—patterned knitted mittens. Something about the image of the gruff-looking Sanders tempered by the childlike mittens lit up the internet’s collective brain. It was meme time!

Soon images of Sanders took over social media feeds everywhere. Be-mittened Bernie, as he’s affectionately known, was digitally added onto the deck of the USS Enterprise, riding on a log flume, and selling Girl Scout Cookies. The hashtag #berniesmittens trended on Twitter.

And now the meme has shown up on the true final frontier: real estate listing photos!

Can Bernie Sanders’ mittens help sell your home?

Bernie Sanders is everywhere—even in this Michigan home for sale.
Bernie Sanders is everywhere—even in this Michigan home for sale.

The general rule of thumb for listing photos is to keep them extremely straightforward and free of personal belongings, especially personal photos. The thinking is that personal photos can somehow turn off potential home buyers.

An even bigger no-no than a snapshot of Mom and dear old Dad? A listing with anything at all political that could potentially turn off 50% of buyers.

But try telling that to Tiffany Szakal, real estate agent with in Grand Rapids, MI, who has a property to sell.

“The house came back on the market Thursday as I was falling in love with all the amazing Bernie memes,” she said.

And there was something about Szakal’s listing itself—which is a government-owned home specifically for low-income buyers on, ahem, Donald Place and directly behind Wealthy Street—that reminded her of the self-described democratic socialist senator.

So Szakal decided to have some fun. She asked her admin Aubrey Kuipers to digitally add Sanders into a few of the listing photos.

Now the first photo that comes up for the property on 321/325 Donald Place SE shows Sanders sitting in his chair and wearing his mittens on the home’s porch. And yep, there he is again in the kitchen, looking like he’s making a beeline for some hot cocoa to wrap those mittens around.

Szakal thought the photos would eventually fade into the multiple listing service with the millions of other listings out there.

But two hours after the photos were posted, a real estate agent tagged Szakal in a post. That post was also shared on a popular Instagram account. And so just like Sanders himself, the listing on Donald Place soon went viral. By the time Szakal checked the Instagram post, “there was something like 50,000 likes,” she said.

The quick decision to add a little Sanders to the listing is paying off in dividends.

“My phone has been ringing off the hook. I’ve gotten a ton of calls for a showing and tons of requests for information about the property,” said Szakal. “The timing of adding Bernie lined up perfectly.”

For anyone else who wants to add a little Sanders meme magic to their listing, Szakal is all for it.

“This is a collaborative industry, we should all share our ideas,” she says.

So as you peruse homes for sale this weekend and beyond, be on the lookout for Sanders. The senator might pop up in the family room, in the basement, or maybe even out in the backyard lending his mittens to a newly built snowman.


Selling Your Home? Read this Listing Safety Checklist First!

Selling your home entails several important steps, including purging clutter and fixing minor repairs. However, there’s one step you should never skip when listing—using a listing safety checklist to ensure you, your family and potential buyers stay protected. Not sure where to start? Our safety checklist will help you create a safe environment before their home ever hits the market!

Listing Safety Checklist

Secure Firearms

According to recent research, 42% of American households own at least one firearm. To prevent accidents or fatalities, homeowners should lock and secure all firearms during home showings and open houses. In fact, the National Rifle Association advises that firearms should be stored unloaded and inaccessible when not in use. Using a locking gun safe is a practical way homeowners can ensure firearms are not only out of reach.

Lock Away All Prescription Drugs

While many people keep their prescription drugs easily accessible in a medicine cabinet, it’s crucial that homeowners secure all prescription drugs prior to all home tours. This can protect homeowners from losing their prescription drugs to those who might sell or abuse them. Purchasing a locking medicine cabinet and storing it out of sight during home showings reduces this risk.

Clear Your Desk

The COVID-19 work-from-home era has turned many homes into functioning as offices. Sensitive documents are usually stored in desk spaces, so homeowners should be aware of  what could easily be seen during showings. Bills with account numbers, agendas of children’s activities, business-related contracts with personal information, checkbooks or financial statements—all of these run the risk of identity theft or worse. To prevent this, homeowners should gather all critical documents and lock them in a firesafe file cabinet. As an added bonus, remember—buyers should feel like they’re touring their future home, not someone else’s home; having an office devoid of these documents in plain view will also help market the space to future buyers!

Read: Working from Home? Create a Home Office with Any Small Space!

Checking All Locks

No listing safety checklist is complete without securing home access points. As potential buyers tour homes, they tend to open doors and windows, which can inadvertently lead to an unsecured home. While it’s important that Realtors make sure the home is secured before leaving a showing, sometimes an unlocked door is missed. After every showing, homeowners should also check that every window and entry point into the home is locked and secured. This simple but crucial step can help prevent break-ins.

lock the doorlock the door

(Read More: Safe and Stylish: Choosing Home Security that Matches Your Home Design)

“Appointment Only”

A “For Sale” sign in the yard is typically an open invitation for anyone to knock on a seller’s door and ask to see the home—including those who may not be interested in buying at all. For a homeowner’s safety, it’s crucial that they hire an experienced Realtor to list their home; they can screen applicants to insure they are committed to finding a home, and are financially capable of purchasing.. Homeowners should never provide their own tours to strangers. If a potential buyer knocks on your door, instruct them to call the Realtor on the “For Sale” sale sign to schedule an appointment.

Securing Your Valuables

Much like with firearms and prescription drugs, secure your heirlooms and valuables  like fine jewelry and antiquities. Anything that has tremendous sentimental or financial value should be locked and secured to prevent damage or theft.

Tip For Homeowners:

One of the most overlooked last steps for listing a home is making sure your firearms, valuables and other items are not only properly secured, but sufficiently insured. Check with your insurance company prior to listing to make sure you are carrying insurance on those items in case of damage or theft during the listing or moving stages. 

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Jennifer is an accidental house flipper turned Realtor and real estate investor. She is the voice behind the blog, Bachelorette Pad Flip. Over five years, Jennifer paid off $70,000 in student loan debt through real estate investing. She’s passionate about the power of real estate. She’s also passionate about southern cooking, good architecture, and thrift store treasure hunting. She calls Northwest Arkansas home with her cat Smokey, but she has a deep love affair with South Florida.