How to Style a Gallery Wall

After moving into a new place, the biggest question you’re asking yourself is likely, “How am I going to decorate?”

A great use for all that blank, white space is a gallery wall. This is an easy way to feature your favorite framed artwork and personal photographs.

Follow our tips to style your own gallery wall:

1. Decide what to hang: Choose your medium (painting, drawing, photograph), size, and frame (including color, material, and shape). Don’t be afraid to mix and match! When adding variation, just make sure it’s balanced and doesn’t clash. If you have a collection of various frames but want to make everything uniform, consider painting them all the same color.

2. Plan the arrangement: Play around with the layout before you start putting nails into the wall. Decide if you’re going to group multiple pieces in a shape (diamonds, squares, and rectangles work well) or in a straight line. You might want to do a little sketch on paper (to scale). Then lay out your collage on the floor. Place each frame approximately one or two inches apart for cohesiveness. If you’re mixing sizes, start with the biggest piece and work around them with the smaller ones. Consider choosing one piece of art as the focal point and place it in the center.

3. Test your layout: Once you’re happy with the arrangement, cut out pieces of paper that fit each framed piece. Mock up your collage on the wall with paper and tape to help visualize the result. Make tweaks, and move the pieces around until the layout is just right.

4. Start hanging: This is the moment you’ve been waiting for! Break out your hammer and nails. Place the frames over the paper, replacing each cut-out with the actual piece.

Once you’re done, take a few steps back to admire your work! One of the best things about a gallery wall is that you can swap personal photos and art if you find a new piece that you want to feature.


Good to Great: Take Your Kitchen from Good to Great

You and your family spend a lot of time in the kitchen. Whether you are cooking a family meal, eating dinner, or enjoying a midnight snack, the kitchen is a family gathering point. Little renovations and adjustments can take your kitchen from good to great.

  • Island: Add an island. An island provides extra counter space, room for more seating, and much-needed storage space. If you are on a budget and can’t get an island installed, purchase a stand-alone version or even put a small table in the middle of the kitchen.
  • Range Hood: Range hoods draw up steam and smoke, circulate air, and keep your kitchen from smelling like whatever you’re cooking. Your neighbors will also appreciate it because it decreases the likelihood that your smoke alarm will go off when you are simply cooking pasta! There are a wide variety of range hood options. You can find one for almost any budget and, to decrease costs, you can install it yourself.
  • Countertops: Beautiful and durable countertops help to take your kitchen from good to great. If you are looking to sell, they are a great selling point for potential buyers. You can remodel your countertops without spending a fortune. The prices vary depending on the type of material you choose to use.
  • Backsplash: Cooking can be messy. Sick of oils and sauces making marks on the walls? Get a backsplash. Similar to countertops, the price varies based upon the material you choose. If you are on a budget you can also do it yourself!
  • Appliances: New appliances make a big difference. Prices range depending on the technology but they make cooking easier and more convenient. New appliances can also attract sellers and increase the offer price of your home.

Eat, drink, and be merry in a kitchen you and your family will love for years to come! We’d love to hear your thoughts on the next room we should tackle taking from good to great. Tweet your recommendations to @Century21!


Is the Home You Love Worth It? Home Pre-Inspection Tips to Put to Use


To hear professional home inspectors tell it, Americans take better care of their automobiles than their homes. Consequently, every homebuyer should plan to spend the $400 to $600 necessary to have the house they like best thoroughly examined by an independent third party before closing.

But wait: Before you’ve made your final choice and order a home inspector to take a look, you should do some preliminary investigating of your own. That way, you can protect yourself from picking the wrong house and allowing a better maintained property to slip away.

Even rookie buyers can get a good idea of just how well kept a house has been. Even when the seller has given the place a fresh coat of paint and trimmed the lawn, there still are often telltale signs that the owner may not have been as diligent as he could have. But keep it mind, it would be counterproductive to put every house under this kind of microscope. Once you narrow your choices down to two or three homes, it’s time to take a harder look. Then, after you make your final decision, call in the experts.

Look at Small Details

For example, a clean furnace filter can be taken as an indication the house has been well cared for. But who’s to say the seller didn’t just replace a filter that hadn’t been changed in years? If the filter hasn’t been changed regularly, the furnace hasn’t been working efficiently and it may not live up to its expected life span.

So how do you now? You don’t for sure. but if you spy a pile of spare filters tucked away in a storage closet, it’s a pretty good sign that the owner is on the ball. Someone who is in the process of selling isn’t buying extra filters he won’t use.

Home Service Log

Another clue that the furnace is in good shape is to look for a service log showing that the machine has been serviced regularly, at least once a year.

Of course, homebuyers, even those who have purchased several houses, shouldn’t substitute this kind of rudimentary investigation for a complete and exhaustive inspection by a trained professional. Even if the furnace has been serviced consistently, it could be on its last legs, and only a pro will be able to determine that.

Go Through the Motions as an Owner

Don’t be afraid to kick the tires and act like you’re already living there. You have every right to open closets, flush toilets, run the dishwasher through a full cycle, turn on all the stove-top burners, check the refrigerator and open the in the windows. The owner shouldn’t object – not if he really wants to sell.

If you are really interested in a property, make an appointment with the owner to return with your agents in tow. Give yourself plenty of time to give the place a good once-over. Then, you can decide if you want to proceed.

Tips from Professionals

Here, in no particular order, are some other suggestions from professional inspectors to help you decide if the choices you are considering are inspection-worthy:

Tips for Inspecting Basements

If the house has a basement, follow your nose. If there is a damp, musty smell, there’s usually an issue. A dehumidifier is another tip-off to a wet basement. They aren’t part of the decor. Also, look for stains or rot where the stringers, or side pieces, on the basement steps touch the floor. If there is a water problem, the moisture will wick into the wood. If there is nothing on the basement floor, that could be a sign of water problems. Inspectors love to see stacks of old magazines in the corner with spider webs. That means they have been there a long time and the there is no water problem.

Water Damage to Look for

Some owners will try to hide water damage in their bathrooms by re-caulking and grouting tiles. But you can beat them at their own game by tapping on the tile where it hits the tub or shower floor. The tile should sound and feel solid. If it sounds hollow, give it a nudge to see if there is any give to the wall. If there is, something’s going on behind there that isn’t good.

Electrical Inspections that are Amateur-friendly

After water issues, improper electrical wiring is the second most common defect found by home inspectors. It is difficult for an amateur to determine if the electrical system is adequate, but there are clues. If you see a lot of fuses lying around, especially burnt-out ones, it’s a dead giveaway that the wiring is probably undersized. Another sure-fire indication that the wiring is insufficient: A bunch of extension cords snaking around, hither and yon.

Always Check the Roof

Roofing problems also are fairly common, so look for shingles that are cupping at the corners. They may have to be replaced. If the roof appears to be sagging between the joists, the entire thing may have to be removed. And if there are already are two layers of shingles, the cost could be 20% higher or more. If the house has been well maintained, the owner will know exactly how many layers are on the roof, the age of the top layer and if new sheathing has been put down between the two layers.

Turning on Faucets is Always a Great Idea

Turn on the faucets on the bathroom sink and tub and flush the toilet, all at the same time. If there is an appreciable drop in water flow, there could be a serious pressure problem, possibly caused by mineral buildup in old pipes.

Keep in Mind…

* Maybe one in 20 houses examined by the pros qualifies as well maintained. But if the seller keeps a maintenance log backed by files of receipts, warranties, instruction manuals and color swatches, it’s probably a safe bet that the house has been a labor of love. Neatness counts, too. There should be access to all space, and nothing should be blocking the furnace or electrical panel.

Lew Sichelman

Syndicated newspaper columnist, Lew Sichelman has been covering the housing market and all it entails for more than 50 years. He is an award-winning journalist who worked at two major Washington, D.C. newspapers and is a past president of the National Association of Real Estate Editors.



How to Make an Offer Stand Out in a Seller’s Market

With a rapidly changing market and low inventory, homes are selling faster than ever. New listings can have several offers before you have even had the chance to see it. With this being the case, not only do you have to spring into rapid action, you have to come prepared with an offer that will stand out above the other buyers out there. 

Read: How is COVID-19 Impacting Homebuyer Preferences?

While it can be difficult to be the first of multiple offers coming in, you can make your offer the one that will get you the home that you have fallen in love with. The tips could be exactly what you need to get into your next home. 

Get The Inside Scoop

Say you have decided to purchase a home that you have fallen in love with and you’re prepared to put in an offer on that home. Before you meet with your real estate agent to write the offer, you should ask your agent to get the inside scoop of what the seller may want by asking the listing agent. 

When your agent contacts the listing agent, make sure that they ask questions about the home’s availability and if there are multiple offers for that home. If there are other offers, you will have to evaluate just what you are willing to do to get the home. Keep in mind that the listing agent may not be able to disclose anything to your agent at the request of the seller. 

You should also ask your agent to inquire about the seller’s preferences and what they may want. Some sellers prefer you use a specific title company or have a specific possession date that would align with a date that is convenient for them. The more your offer aligns with the seller’s goal, the better a chance of getting your dream home. 

Read: Is the Home You Love Worth it? Home Pre-inspection Tips to Put to Use

Make a Simple Offer

While making an offer on a home can be complex, you should aim to make your offer as simple as possible. The fewer contingencies that you have put in place, the better. 

Some contingencies you might put in place range from a financing contingency to a home inspection contingency. 

Realtor showing terms of contract on tablet to couple. Real estate agent sharing property details with clients.Realtor showing terms of contract on tablet to couple. Real estate agent sharing property details with clients.

Also, when you put in an offer, keep in mind that it’s not all about price. You may be prepared to go well over asking, but remember that the best offer will be the sum of the terms that work best for the home’s seller. While you want to get this home, you do not want to overextend yourself financially. 

Things Will Move Quickly

As you embark on your home search, you will want to see as many homes as possible. If you work with an agent that has a busy schedule, ask to utilize one of their team members to see the homes on your list.Remember, you will want to move quickly especially when the market is hot and your agent will do the best they can to work with you to get you the house you want. 

One Last Tip

Writing an offer can be cumbersome and can take more time than you may be willing to wait. The key tip: be patient. Let your agent provide the seller and the listing agent with your offer and wait a few days to find out if they accept or not. This is completely normal so do your best to be patient in hopes that you are able to get your next home. 

One thing that you may be able to do to get your offer accepted is to suggest to your real estate agent that they outline the terms and contingencies of your offer in a pager on the front pack of the offer package. This will give the seller and listing agent the opportunity to see what the offer entails from the beginning. 

During a hot market where homes are selling as fast, you have to be diligent in writing your offer so that they will stand out from the rest. For more tips and tricks on the homeowner journey, read through our free How To guides on buying, selling, and financing your home.

Dru Peters

As a Sr. Marketing Coordinator for, Dru provides information and resources for agents and Realtors spanning from market reports to technology advances in the industry. With the knowledge gained from working closely with real estate professionals, Dru also shares advice for consumers on how to best navigate the homebuying and selling waters.


Best Cities to Buy a Vacation Home for Post-pandemic Retreats

The coronavirus pandemic has made it tough to buy a home, including vacation homes. Homebuyer sentiment is at a ten-year low, and millions of families are struggling with unemployment or small businesses that are in trouble. They are forgoing their traditional week or two at the beach or mountains this year and staying home. Short term rentals built a whole new economy in popular vacation spots and many vacation homeowners count on revenues from short-term rentals to pay their mortgages.

Perhaps the only good thing about these hard times for vacation owners are the bargains that are opening up in vacation destinations nationwide. Home sellers have been in control for years, especially in the hottest short-term rental markets. If you are fortunate enough to be immune from the economic crisis that is sweeping the nation, now is the time to buy that vacation home you’ve been considering.

beach town vacation home post-pandemic buyingbeach town vacation home post-pandemic buying

Here are five of the nation’s most popular summer vacation destinations where bargains can be found.

Cape Coral-Fort Myers, Florida

Sales are 20% lower than last spring, and new listings are growing at a rate of 24 listings per 1000 households in the Cape Coral-Fort Myers market. Plenty of good deals are attracting a wave of buyers from Northern states despite the pandemic.

The Cape Coral-Fort Myers real estate market is rapidly growing, yet it still retains its small-town charm. Its quality of life, miles of Gulf Coast beaches, islands, and the economy continues to attract people. lists more than 80,000 homes for sale in the Cape Coral area and about 9,000 in and around Fort Myers.

Lakeland-Winter Haven, Florida

Through April, sales were down 20% from April 2019, creating buyers’ market conditions in Lakeland-Winter Haven offer a dense suburban feel, and most residents own their homes. Located 25 miles inland from the Tampa Bay area. November, April, and March are the most pleasant months in the Lakeland-Winter Haven metro area. Click here to see available listings in Lakeland and in Winter Haven.

Santa Barbara, California

The California coast forms a crescent north of Los Angeles that connects breathtaking beaches, mountains, and vineyards. The Channel Islands National Park offers scuba diving, hiking, and whale watching. Santa Barbara’s downtown offers world-class shopping and dining.

Its real estate offerings feature a sizeable luxury home market and affordable houses as well. The pandemic is taking its toll. According to the local MLS, closings have declined from 142 closings between March 15, 2019, and April 15, 2019, but only 95 closings during the period this year. The drop in sales gives buyers an advantage in a market that features “Access Hollywood” quality listings. To see for yourself, check out Santa Barbara’s available local listings on

Saugatuck, Michigan

Not all excellent beach resorts are on an ocean. If you live in the Midwest, there’s a great one on the east coast of Lake Michigan. With sun, sand, and freshwater to offer, try Saugatuck. Saugatuck is a 150-old former logging town that became a local resort a century ago. Now Southwest Michigan ranks as one of Conde Nast’s 25 best places to go in 2020. Oval Beach on Lake Michigan, sand dune rides, a beach that is litter-less, a chain ferry across the Kalamazoo River, and hammocks on every porch make Saugatuck a great place for families to relax. lists some beachfront properties that are more affordable than either coast. Best of all, it is an easy drive from Chicago and Detroit.

Ocean City, Maryland

This Mid-Atlantic shore town is straight from the 1980s with boardwalk, putt-putt golf, beach parties, and famous french fries. In fact, it’s one of the best boardwalk beaches in the US, according to National Geographic’s Traveler. Its real estate market is also more proletarian, featuring high rise condos and bungalows. The pandemic drove away sellers this year, and new listings fell 27% in April, a multi-year low, leaving fewer than 800 listings as the summer season opens. The pandemic also drove down asking prices, and the median new listing price is only $290,000, far below the median for the year, $352,000. Looking to buy? Browse available listings in Ocean City on

America is starting to open up just as the summer begins. As restrictions relax and more beaches open, 2020 might become a great year to get a deal on a beach property.

Steve Cook is the editor of the Down Payment Report and provides public relations consulting services to leading companies and non-profits in residential real estate and housing finance. He has been vice president of public affairs for the National Association of Realtors, senior vice president of Edelman Worldwide and press secretary to two members of Congress.


Fall into Fall: 5 Ways to Get Your Home Ready for Fall

Pumpkins, cozy sweaters, and falling leaves. Fall is almost here (the first official day is September 22nd), but you still have time to prepare for the new season in a big way.

Fall into Fall: 5 Ways to Get Your Home Ready for Fall image 1

Here are four ways to get your home ready for the fall.

Fall into Fall: 5 Ways to Get Your Home Ready for Fall image 2

1. Clean your gutters:Hire someone to clean out you clogged gutters or do it yourself. Watch Lowe’s video and read their articleto learn how to clean your gutters.

2. Fix any drafts: Check your windows and doors for any drafts. Hire someone to fix any problems or fix it yourself. This Old House has tips for fixing drafts without breaking a budget.

3. Buy a rake or leaf blower: Have all the necessary leaf removal tools on hand before the leaves start to fall. Get ready to jump into piles of leaves!

4. Clean the fireplace: Have the fireplace inspected to make sure it’s safe to use when the temperature starts to drop.

Now that you’re done, sit back, relax, and enjoy a hot cup of tea and your favorite pumpkin flavored pastry.


MCU Mortgage Rates Review

Municipal Credit Union (MCU) was founded in 1916 by and for city employees in New York City as a loan alternative to predatory lenders who operated in the area and charged city workers excessive fees for suspect loan products.

By 2018, the credit union held $2.68 billion in assets and served 425,000 members throughout New York State at 18 different branches. MCU’s mortgages offer a variety of options, including jumbo, large balance, and traditional fixed-rate and refinance loans.

Table of Contents:

MCU Overview

MCU was started in 1916 for city employees working in New York, New York. At that time, many employees were getting loans from suspect sources, causing harm to their own finances and overpaying for their loans. mcu logo

mcu logo

The mayor of NYC at that time, John Purroy Mitchel, thought these workers would be better served by their own credit union. He supported the move to start MCU and encouraged city employees to become charter members.

That first year, nineteen charter members joined and had a total of $570 in deposits. The ledger was handwritten and the credit union operated out of a single location.

Over the next 100 years, the credit union grew to reach over 400,000 members, over $2 billion in assets, and over 400 employees across 18 branches.

MCU has a variety of different mortgage loan options, although they seem to offer fewer loan types than some larger lenders do.

Borrowers who want a loan with MCU will need to prepare their documentation thoroughly and may need to provide a credit explanation letter with their application for any derogatory marks or potential disadvantages present in their credit histories.

Applicants can learn about possible loan costs using online calculators and references on the MCU website but will need to provide personal information about their credit in order to receive a complete quote.

MCU generally has a good reputation, although the credit union has had a few struggles in the past that may impact how it is seen by consumers today. At one point, the State of New York even stepped in during the 1970s to run the institution due to corruption issues, according to a 1977 article by the New York Times.

Currently, MCU is not on Trustpilot. The credit union as a whole is not rated by the Better Business Bureau, but there is a BBB profile for the headquarters location, and an average of 13 member reviews give the institution just over one star.

MCU Mortgage Rates

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MCU Mortgage Options

Fixed-Rate Loans

With a fixed-rate loan from MCU, borrowers can count on a single monthly payment because the rate stays exactly the same for the duration of the entire loan.

Monthly payments are not subject to market fluctuations, which may be ideal for homeowners who plan to live in their properties for several years or who want to lock-in low mortgage rates that won’t go up later. MCU offers 10, 15, 20, 25, and 30-year fixed-rate mortgages.

Adjustable-Rate Loans

Adjustable-rate mortgages from MCU may go up or down depending on market conditions. As such, borrowers should be aware of the possibility that their loan payments could dramatically increase or decrease over time. Usually, though, rates start with a low monthly payment at a fixed rate.

For borrowers who plan to refinance later or sell their homes, adjustable mortgages may be the best option.

Jumbo Loans

Designed for high-value homes, jumbo loans allow you to finance the cost of your home more affordably. Typically, these loans are higher than $450,000 and borrowers must meet the qualifications for a bigger loan. Applicants may need to make a significantly larger down payment and bigger monthly payments.

High Balance Loans

Similar to a jumbo loan, a high balance mortgage from MCU allows borrowers to purchase and finance a more expensive home than a traditional loan may enable. High balance loans are generally for high home value areas where it is expected that neighborhoods will be expensive for homebuyers.

MCU Mortgage Customer Service

MCU has several different options for potential borrowers looking to finance a home purchase or refinance. Their standards are generally flexible, although they may require more documentation for loans made to purchase condos or co-op homes, such as the co-op’s financial statements and homeowner guidelines.

Prospective borrowers can learn more about MCU’s standards online or by communicating with a loan origination officer from the credit union. Applicants can apply online or through a local branch in-person.

MCU’s online calculators can be used to determine approximate monthly payments and borrowing maximums. Their online rate schedules provide more information about available loan rates.

Applicants can meet with a loan specialist at a local branch, ask questions directly, or even complete an online application and receive a decision as soon as a few minutes later.

MCU has a mixed reputation online, with some positive member reviews and some negative experiences reported as well. The credit union does not appear on Trustpilot and is not rated by the BBB.

To apply for an MCU mortgage, applicants will need to provide personal information such as income, credit history, and asset documentation. Depending on the loan type and the applicant’s own credit history, additional documentation may be needed, such as a credit explanation letter.

MCU Grades

MCU does not have a Trustpilot score and is unrated by the BBB.

The lender has had a negative reputation in the past. As reported by the New York Times, MCU was taken over by the State of New York in 1977 in order to manage what the state believed was substantial corruption.

While probably not MCU’s fault, millions of dollars were stolen by members after a glitch caused by the September 11th attacks in MCU ATMs, according to the New York Times. This caused losses to the organization and lead to 118 members being charged with theft. 

  • Information collected on Feb. 15, 2019

MCU Mortgage Qualifications

Credit Score Quality Ease of approval 
760+ Excellent Easy
700-759 Good Good
621-699 Fair Somewhat Easy
620 and below Poor Difficult
No credit score N/A Difficult

For applicants with credit scores between 621 and 699, it may be more difficult to find a great offer from MCU. When applying with a score below 620 or with no credit score at all, it may be challenging to qualify for any mortgage from MCU.

For the best offers and mortgage options from MCU, applicants will need credit scores at or above 760. Borrowers with scores in the 700 to 759 range may not qualify for the best loan offers but will probably have a few different loan choices available to them.

In order to have the best chances of a great mortgage option from MCU, applicants should have plenty of documentation available and provide a credit explanation letter for any possible weaknesses in the application.

Debt-to-income ratio Quality Likelihood to get approved by lender
35% or less Manageable Likely
36-49% Needs improvement Possible
50% or more Poor  Unlikely

MCU Phone Number & Additional Details

At MCU, borrowers with debt-to-income ratios (DTI) at or under 30 percent are the most likely to qualify for the best terms. The credit union has few options available for applicants with higher DTIs, so applicants should consider paying down debts before applying if possible.

Homepage URL:

Company Phone: 1-212-238-3521

Headquarters Address: 22 Cortlandt Street New York City, New York 10007

About the Author


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