5 Tips for Approaching the Open House

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For decades, sellers and their agents have been using open houses to help generate interest in their listings. Open houses give the general public the chance to view a home without scheduling a private showing. While open houses do get a lot of curious neighbors and casual browsers, they can be a good opportunity for serious buyers to decide if a home is worth pursuing further, or a way to get a better grasp on neighborhood home values. 

In fact, 59% of home buyers attended an open house during their shopping process last year and 43% of buyers said attending the open house was very or extremely important to determining if the home was right for them.* On average, home buyers attended 2.6 open houses before buying.

Whether you’re a sincere buyer or simply curious about the inside of a home, you should know how open houses work and understand how you can be a good open house attendee. 

Note: If open houses are restricted or unavailable due to public health concerns, work with your agent to arrange a private tour or video tour. All Zillow-owned homes include a self-tour option — just use our app to unlock the door and tour at your convenience.

What is an open house?

An open house is an event during which potential buyers can tour a home that’s on the market. It’s usually hosted by the seller’s listing agent, or by the seller themselves, in case of a for-sale-by-owner (FSBO) listing. Open houses usually take place on weekends, during a set range of hours typically midday.

Open house benefits for buyers

No scheduling required: Unlike a private showing, you don’t need to set up a specific appointment to see a home. Simply show up during the open house hours and view the home at your own pace. 

Scope out the competition: If you’re interested in a home, attending the open house can help you gauge interest from other buyers. This can be helpful when determining how quickly you need to submit an offer and how much you should offer. 

Understand current home values: Seeing what homes are selling for in your area and what you can buy at a particular price point can be helpful if you’re just starting your search. 

Redefine your nonnegotiable home features: Checking out homes in person can help you redefine your list of must-haves: Do you really need that extra bedroom? What does a backyard of this size really look like?

How do open houses work?

Not every seller or listing agent will hold one, but here’s the typical process for sellers setting up an open house:

  1. The seller and their agent determine a day and time for the open house.
  2. The agent lists the open house on the local MLS.
  3. The agent advertises the open house on social media, online and with print ads or flyers. 
  4. The agent prepares for the open house — purchasing refreshments, printing flyers, setting up signs and adding little touches to make the home feel welcoming to buyers. (Yes, as a shopper, you can eat the cookies.)
  5. The agent hosts the event, greeting buyers and answering questions about the property and community.
  6. Buyers remove their shoes, tour the home, take pictures and video (if allowed) and jot down important notes. 
  7. Any buyer who liked the house will contact their own agent. They’ll then set up a private showing to see the home again or they’ll submit an offer right away — the latter is common in fast-moving real estate markets.

Who hosts an open house?

The person hosting an open house could be any one of the following: 

  • Listing agent: As the person hired to sell the home, the listing agent should be an expert on the property. 
  • Listing agent’s team member or associate: A busy listing agent may also send another agent in their place — either someone on their team or another agent in their office. They should be experts in the local market, but may not be as familiar with the individual home. 
  • Homeowner: If a home is for sale by owner (FSBO), the homeowner will be hosting their own open house. They’re undoubtedly the expert on the home, but their local market expertise may be limited. 

How to prepare for an open house

There are times when you might just stumble upon an open house while you’re on a walk or running errands. But if you’re intentionally looking for open houses as part of your home-buying strategy, try these tips.

Seek out relevant open houses

If you plan to visit multiple open houses in one day, make sure you’re focusing on listings that fit your criteria for budget and location. It’s not worth wasting time looking at homes outside your budget or those that are too far from your work or school. 

Tip: With Zillow’s home search tool, buyers can filter by homes with upcoming open houses (this filter can be applied in addition to other search filters like price, bedrooms, bathrooms, square footage and location). When you use the open houses filter in conjunction with filters for your other criteria, you can easily find the right open houses for your search.

A map of home listings on Zillow.

You can also tour most Zillow-owned homes any time between 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., any day of the week — just select the tour option on the listing. Although the listing agent will not be present, you can avoid a busy open house and rest assured the property is in move-in ready condition.

Do research on the market beforehand

With help from your agent or on your own, find out how each home you’re planning to visit stacks up against others nearby. Is the price in line with similar listings in the area? Are there any defects? Has it gone under contract recently and then returned to the market? Are there a lot of other interested buyers? Has it been sitting on the market for a long time? (“Days on market” is an indicator of a stale listing, but the standard number of days on market can vary based on where you live.)

Stay open-minded

If you’re searching on a tight budget in a hot neighborhood, there’s a good chance that the home that fits the bill will need some TLC. Fortunately, attending an open house can give you a better idea of the home’s condition and potential, while also giving you the opportunity to ask renovation-related questions — e.g., the location of load bearing walls and the details of local regulations. 

How to attend an open house

Now that you’ve done your research and are prepared to add some open houses to your home search, here’s what you should do once the day arrives. 

Ask questions

An open house is your best opportunity to ask the listing agent (or their associate) your questions — don’t be shy. Ask questions that you wouldn’t be able to answer just by reading a home’s listing description, such as:

  • What are the HOA restrictions?
  • Has the seller done a property tax appeal?
  • Have there been any recent renovations or repairs?

Tip: If you’re not currently working with an agent and you ultimately decide you aren’t interested in a particular home you tour, the open house could help you see if the listing agent might be the right person to represent you — many agents represent both buyers and sellers. 

Be honest

If anyone other than the listing agent or the homeowner is hosting the open house, they’re likely an agent hoping to find potential buyer clients. If you’re already working with an agent (or if you have no real interest in buying), be honest.

Check for damage and disrepair

Professional or edited photos can make a home look a lot better online than it is in person. At an open house, take the opportunity to closely evaluate a home’s condition and take note of any potential defects that would factor into your offer price. 

Assess the windows: Look for flaking paint, misaligned sashes and condensation due to air leaks. These could be signs of windows that need replacement. 

Check for water damage: Look for warped baseboards, ceiling stains and musty smells. 

Make note of cracks: Noticeable cracks in the ceiling or drywall could indicate foundation issues. 

Test functions: Open cabinets, doors and drawers. Run the faucets. Check the water pressure. An open house is a good opportunity to make sure every part of the home is in good working order. 

Gauge potential renovation needs: Home improvements can really add up. As you walk through a home, keep an eye out for urgent renovation needs like floors, fixtures or large repainting projects.

Open house tips for buyers

Whenever you attend an open house, put yourself in the seller’s shoes — you’re letting a bunch of strangers walk through your home while you’re not there. While every seller wants their open house to net a buyer, they also want to keep their home safe and their furnishings free of damage.

Do

  • Take off your shoes or wear booties if requested.
  • Greet the host and provide your name.
  • Sign in if necessary or requested (this is a safety issue for the seller and their agent).
  • Take notes on your phone about your likes, dislikes and follow-up questions.
  • Ask if you can capture a video (if the listing doesn’t already include a video).
  • Respect other buyers and guests. 
  • Wait for others to exit a room before you enter.
  • Provide feedback if requested.
  • Thank the person hosting the event.

Don’t

  • Refuse to comply with an agent or homeowner’s house rules.
  • Criticize the home or the owner’s style.
  • Listen in on other visitors’ conversations.
  • Touch the owner’s belongings.
  • Let kids run around without supervision.
  • Bring food or beverages in (except water).
  • Reveal information that would compromise your negotiating power, like your budget or level of interest in the home.
  • Bring pets.

*Zillow Group Consumer Housing Trends Report 2019 survey data

Source: zillow.com

What Are Comps? Understanding a Key Real Estate Tool

Whether you’re buying or selling a home, comparing similar homes can yield a wealth of helpful information.

“Comps,” or comparable sales, is a term anyone on either side of a real estate transaction should know well. It refers to homes located in the same area and very similar in size, condition and features as the home you are trying to buy or sell.

Buyers look at comps when deciding what price to offer on a home, and sellers use comps to figure out how to best price their home for the market. Real estate agents look at comps all day long as a way to keep on top of their local market. If you are a buyer or seller, it’s helpful to have a strategy to analyze comps, because all comps aren’t created equal.

Location is the highest priority

If you are trying to price a home or figure out its value, you need to look nearby. The market is based on location, so keeping as close to the subject property as possible — meaning, within the same neighborhood — is the most effective approach.

If you can’t get enough comps nearby, it’s fine to keep expanding out. But there will always be a boundary, like a school district, that you need to stay within.

Timeframe matters

The best comps are homes that are currently “pending.” Why? Because a pending home is a piece of live market data. A pending home means that a buyer and seller made a deal, and that deal will reflect the most up-to-the-minute stats on the market.

A good local real estate agent, leveraging her network, can get a fairly accurate idea what the ultimate sale price or range is for a pending deal. Try to stick with sales in the past three months, and never go more than six months, because older data is not reflective of the current market.

Factor in home features

Once you have location and timeframe, it is key to look for homes with similar features that have sold, as opposed to comparing price per square feet. While the latter is helpful, it won’t consider factors like views, a new designer kitchen or a finished basement vs. unfinished.

If you have all three bedrooms on the top floor, look for something similar. Try to compare your subject property to like properties when it comes to traits like total size, the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, and the size of the lot. You can make adjustments once you have found similar homes.

Don’t overanalyze the comps

Putting your trust in a good local agent will keep you from agonizing over the petty details of each comparable home. Your agent is likely familiar with some of the recent sales, and can help shed light on why one comp fares better than another. You may not know that one home was next to a fire station or across from a parking lot, or that another didn’t have a real backyard, but your agent will. These small nuances will affect the home’s value.

Find your home on Zillow to see your Zestimate® home value with your comps.

Related:

Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Zillow.

Source: zillow.com

Tips for Getting Approved for a Mortgage

When you start your home buying journey, you’ll notice advertisements of beautiful homes accompanied by happy families that make it seem like there is an abundance of lenders waiting to hand you the keys to your new home.

The truth is, getting approved for a mortgage is not always easy, and getting financed for such large amounts of money can be risky. If your home-buying fantasies have been interrupted by application denials, it’s time to take control of your borrowing power and find out what you can do to turn those “no’s” into a “yes.”

1. Document Your Income

Borrowers mistakenly downplay the importance of a stable income history, especially if they have a high credit score or large bank balance. No matter how favorable your credit and financial status may seem, you will be subject to income scrutiny. Be prepared to prove your income by providing tax documents for the last two and three years and paycheck stubs from the past few months. You may also be asked to provide a list of all your debts, including auto loans, credit cards, alimony, and student loans, and a list of your assets, including investment accounts, auto titles, real estate, and bank statements.

In addition to proving that you have adequate income to cover the loan, lenders will verify that you’ve been working in the same field for at least two years – the longer you’ve been working for the same employer, the better.

Getting a MortgageGetting a Mortgage

2. Shine Up Your Credit History

Maintaining a positive history while you apply for home loans is especially important. Lenders want to see that you have a good record of paying your bills on time. Before you apply for a mortgage, review your credit report. Give your credit a boost by keeping your credit card utilization below 30%. If you have any past debts, pay them. Lenders want to see a flawless credit history for the past 12+ months – the longer you go without a negative mark on your report, the better.

Keep in mind that lenders may re-check your credit score during the application process, so make sure all your accounts are on-time and current and avoid any other large purchases that could affect your score until after you receive an approval.

For credit repair assistance, contact Credit Absolute.

3. Two is Better than One

If you don’t have income high enough to qualify for type of loan you need, a cosigner with an adequate amount of disposable income to be considered on your mortgage may help your approval rating – regardless of whether this person will be helping you make your payments or living with you. In some cases, a cosigner with a positive credit history can help someone with less-than-perfect credit. However, he/she should keep in mind that they are guaranteeing to your lender that the mortgage payments will be paid in full and on-time.

4. Offer a Larger Down Payment

If you can pay for a percentage of the home on your own, your application for the rest of your home financing just may tilt in your favor. The larger personal investment you have in the house, the less likely you will walk away from the property and let it go into foreclosure.

Having a significant amount of cash is also a strong indicator of how you handle your finances. Banks don’t just want to hand anyone a loan; they want to provide financing to people that are guaranteed to pay them back.

5. Consider a Smaller Loan

While your pre-approval may indicate that you qualify for a loan up to $250,000, you want to tread carefully in asking for the highest loan amount. In fact, the closer you get to your limit, the more difficult it is to get approved.

If you don’t qualify for the mortgage that you want and you aren’t willing to wait, try setting your sights on a less-expensive property. Consider a townhouse instead of a house, accept fewer bathrooms and bedrooms, or move to a neighborhood further away to give you more options. For a more drastic approach, consider a different area of the country where homes are more affordable until you can trade up or build your financial history.

Source: creditabsolute.com

Everything You Need to Know About Bill Gates’ Extraordinary House, Xanadu 2.0

Not many houses have their own Wikipedia page. But then again, few residences have owners with a net worth greater than the GDP of over 100 countries.

Once the richest man in the world, the Microsoft co-founder is now #4 on the list of wealthiest people, surpassed only by Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and French LVMH founder, Bernard Arnault. Bill Gates’ net worth is a mind-boggling $130 billion, though in recent years he’s stepped aside from most of his business endeavors to run the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the world’s largest private charitable foundation.

Despite his vast wealth, Bill Gates didn’t stray too far from home. Born and raised in Seattle, WA, the billionaire lives in a 66,000-square-foot mansion built into a hillside overlooking Lake Washington in Medina — a small city on the opposite shore from Seattle. Ironically, the tiny city (which had a population of just under 3,000 people at the 2010 census) is also home to fellow billionaire Jeff Bezos.

Bill Gates house near Seattle, Washington
Bill Gates’ home near Seattle, Washington. Image credit: house via reddit, snapshot via Wikimedia Commons, author Simon Davis/DFID

Gates’ house — which goes by the name of Xanadu 2.0, after the fictional home of Charles Foster Kane, the title character of Orson Welles’ infamous Citizen Kane — is worth well over $100 million and boasts some unique features worthy of its owner’s deep pockets. Let’s take a closer look, shall we?

The house has almost as many kitchens as it has bedrooms

The massive 66,000-square-foot home fits many rooms with very different uses between its numerous walls. To list some of the most conventional ones first, Gates’ house has 7 bedrooms, 24 bathrooms (yes, you read that right, that equals over three bathrooms for each bedroom suite), and an impressive total of 6 kitchens.

If you think that’s one burner stove too many, it will make more sense once you learn that the billionaire’s home has a 2,300-square-foot reception hall that can accommodate up to 200 people. The dining room alone sits 24.

There’s also a 60-foot pool, a 1,500-square-foot art deco theater, and a 1-bedroom guest house where Gates reportedly wrote his book, The Road Ahead, while the main house was still being built.

Another unique feature is a massive 2,500-square-foot fitness facility that has a trampoline room with a 20-foot ceiling (which tells you quite a bit about the billionaire’s favorite way to blow off some steam). It also has a sauna, steam room, and separate men’s and women’s locker rooms.

Xanadu 2.0’s most striking room is the library

An avid reader whose book lists hold headlines every year, Bill Gates made sure his house has with a massive — and downright impressive — library.

bill gates in his home office
While images from inside of Bill Gates’ home are hard to come by, Netflix’s documentary Inside Bill’s Brain: Decoding Bill Gates gave us a sneak peak of how the billionaire lives. Pictured here: Bill Gates in his home office. Image credit: Saeed Adyani courtesy of Netflix

From a design perspective, the paneled library spans 2,100 square feet and features a domed reading room and two secret pivoting bookcases, one of which was fitted with a bar. At the base of the dome, there’s a memorable quote inscribed, taken from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby. It reads, “He had come a long way to this blue lawn and his dream must have seemed so close he could hardly fail to grasp it.”

But the value of the room extends beyond its design, to the books and manuscripts you’ll find inside. Among them is Leonardo da Vinci’s 16th-century collection of scientific writings, the Codex Leicester, which Gates purchased for a whopping $30.8 million.

Bill Gates’ house is as tech-heavy as you’d expect

As you’d probably expect from a man who once revolutionized the world of personal computers, the Microsoft cofounder’s home is heavy on tech, incorporating some very unique uses for technology.

The house features an estate-wide server system, a 60-foot swimming pool with an underwater music system, and about $80,000 worth of computer screens lined up around the house to display art. In fact, visitors and guests of Gates mansion are given devices (worth an extra $150,000) to pick and choose their favorite paintings or photographs to display.

According to Business Insider, the house also comes with a high-tech sensor system helps guests monitor each room’s climate and lighting. When visiting Gates’ house, guests receive a pin that interacts with the sensors, allowing them to change temperature and lighting settings as they see fit. Moreover, there are also speakers hidden behind the wallpaper, which means music can follow visitors as they move from one room to the next.

The house took 7 years to build

In a tribute to its moniker (the word Xanadu is defined as an idealized place of great or idyllic magnificence and beauty), Bill Gates’ home is an architectural feat that took 7 years — and lots of manpower — to complete.

Bill Gates' house as seen in summer 2015 from Lake Washington.
Bill Gates’ house as seen in summer 2015 from Lake Washington. Image credit: Dllu via Wikimedia Commons.

Xanadu 2.0’s architecture, a modern design in the Pacific lodge style, is the result of the combined efforts of Cutler-Anderson Architects and Bohlin Cywinski Jackson. Ironically, the latter is most known for creating the signature aesthetic of the Apple Stores.

What sets it aside is that it’s also an “earth-sheltered house”, which means it uses its natural surroundings as walls for temperature and to reduce heat loss.

According to an older report, the house was built with 500-year-old Douglas fir timbers rescued from an ancient lumber mill, painstakingly sanded and refinished. In total, half a million board feet of lumber was used during construction.

More homes with famous owners

“Neverland” No More! The Past & Present of Michael Jackson’s Former Home
The Mysterious Allure of Stephen King’s House, the Beating Heart of Bangor, Maine
The Three (Tragic) Lives of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin HouseErnest Hemingway’s Iconic House in Key West Stands Tall and Mighty After 170 Hurricane Seasons

Source: fancypantshomes.com

Living Large in a Small Space

Squeezing your life into a tiny apartment, home, or condo can be a challenge, but you don’t have to sacrifice style or live knee-high in a sea of clutter. No matter how small, a space can be enjoyable and feel spacious with just the right touch. Here are some ways five tips on how to maximize your space, making it feel like home:

Downsize

You don’t have to get rid of everything but going through the process of downsizing can ease the clutter by getting rid of things you don’t really need. You probably did this before moving into your new space, but if you’ve had some time to accumulate more stuff, you may need to revisit it.

Brighten the atmosphere

Choose a crisp, light color scheme for things like curtains, sofa, and throw rugs to make the room feel bigger, brighter and comfy. Avoid darker tones that make a space appear uninviting and small.

Lots of natural light in a space can make it seem larger, too. Changing window treatments, if possible, or simply opening blinds and curtains during the day can make any room more pleasant.

Mirror appeal

Take a page out of restaurant strategy and try hanging up a few mirrors. It gives the illusion of feeling like you’re in a much larger and lighter space, and sometimes the illusion is all you need to feel better.

Style with function

With little space, you can’t give over space to something with just one function. A table with storage underneath or a desk that pulls out from the wall gives you effectively more space to work with. If you’re in a one-bedroom apartment, or even a studio, opting for a sofa bed can be a smart choice if you host guests from out of town. This takes away the need for an extra room and bed, while still being practical for everyday use.

Curtain call

Hang your curtains higher (the higher the better) to give the appearance of higher ceilings. You can also let in more light and make windows look wider by extending a curtain rod by four inches or more on either side of the windows. This will not only give the illusion of more square footage, but allows more light to enter too!

Shelve it

Getting clutter off of the floor can make any space seem bigger. If you’re letting items collect, trying various shelving. For a sleek, modern look, try floating shelves — this helps reduce the mess and keeps things simple. Hang them on your walls for a fashionable look that also leaves you plenty of floor real estate.

Curtain call

Getting clutter off the floor can make any space seem bigger. For a sleek, modern look, try floating shelves — this helps reduce the mess and keeps things simple. Hang them on your walls for a fashionable look that also leaves you plenty of floor real estate. If that’s enough, you might need to get more creative.

Be clever about storage

You still need places to stick your stuff, and a little creativity can get you a lot more space. If your bed frame is off the ground, you can put some boxes and other storage containers underneath it – the same goes for any other furniture with space under it. When you run out of that space, look to hooks and racks that go on the back of your doors. These are especially helpful in closets, where you can get shoe hangers to held more than just shoes, or bathrooms, where you can store what doesn’t fit in your drawers or cabinets. Still not enough space? Some cleverly placed peg boards can convert wall space to storage space, as well as keeping commonly used things in easy reach.

With these tips, take a look around your space and see how you can update! Have more tips to share based on your personal experience? Share in the comments below!

Photo by Stephen Crowley on Unsplash

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Source: apartmentguide.com

Understand the Type of Homeowners Insurance You Need

Home is where the heart is. Often, it is also where the heartache is when disaster strikes. Long before something goes wrong, you need to ask “How much homeowners insurance do I need?”

Homeowners insurance protects your home and possessions against a variety of perils including damage or theft, and also natural disasters such as flood, hurricanes, fires and earthquakes.

“Homeowner’s coverage provides financial protection, that’s really what it’s all about,” said Mark Friedlander, director of corporate communications at Insurance Information Institute in New York.

Mortgage companies require a certain amount of coverage, but unlike car insurance, there aren’t any state mandates requiring people to have it.

“If you don’t have a mortgage, you are not obligated to buy homeowners coverage and we think that’s a critical error that people make because unless you have a lot of money set aside, you’re going to have financial hit and you’re not going to be protected,” Friedlander explained.

Even if you do the minimum to satisfy your mortgage company, it often isn’t enough. Friedlander said most people make the mistake of not having enough insurance to adequately protect themselves and their families.

So how much homeowners insurance do you need?

Home Insurance Basics

If you’re doing the smart thing and asking yourself, how much homeowners insurance do I need, it’s best if you understand some of the basics of the policies.

Policies generally cover:

  • Damage to the interior or exterior of your house from a covered disaster. The types of disasters are listed in the policy. Usually if the specific event is not listed, it is probably not covered.
  • Contents of your home if damaged or destroyed in a covered event or if they are stolen.
  • Personal liability for damage or injuries caused by you, a family member, or pet.
  • Housing and other expenses while your home is repaired or rebuilt after a covered event.

Within each policy, there are basically three levels of coverage. This becomes important after a covered event when you begin to repair or rebuild.

  • Actual Cash Value: This covers the house (structure) plus the value of belongings inside with a deduction for depreciation. You will get paid for what the items are currently worth, not necessarily what you paid for them. This is the least expensive coverage.
  • Replacement Cost: This covers the house plus the value of belongings without depreciation. This coverage would allow you to rebuild or repair up to the original value of the home and policy coverage limits.
  • Guaranteed or Extended Replacement Value/Cost: This is the most expensive but most comprehensive of coverages and provides the best financial protection for you. It covers the cost to repair or rebuild even if more than the policy limit, usually with a ceiling of 20 to 25%. In addition to this, many policies have additional coverage you can buy that will cover the cost to comply with current building codes that may not have been around when the house was initially built.

“A lot of times, actual cash value policies are for homes that don’t qualify for replacement cost policies. They are not in as good of shape or have an older roof or something like that,” said Craig Peterson, an agency owner for American Family Insurance in Overland Park, Kansas. He usually recommends no less than replacement cost policies to his clients.

As important as it is to know what types of coverage you have and what situations are covered, it is as important to know what is not covered at all or may be covered with additional restrictions or different deductibles.

Different policies cover different perils for different types of structures like a condo, renter’s policy, etc. The policies have designinations from HO-0 to HO-8.

There are also differences when it comes to paying things like additional living expenses, hotels, meals, etc., if your home is uninhabitable.

For more information about the basics of home insurance polices and what they cover, What Home Insurance Actually Covers (and Where You’re on Your Own) can answer many of your questions.

How Much Homeowners Insurance Do I Need?

So how much home insurance coverage do you need to buy? There are many factors to consider.

Basically, you need to look at what your house would cost to rebuild, the likelihood of certain types of disasters in your area, the value of your possessions and your liability exposure.

“You are preparing for the worst case scenario, not for a minor claim. You need to be prepared for a catastrophic loss,” Friedlander said. “That’s possible whether it’s hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires. In virtually any part of the country you are living somewhere where you could sustain a catastrophic loss and lose your entire home.”

A village is flooded from a hurricane in this aerial photo.
Getty Images

Rebuilding Cost

After a disaster, you want to make sure you can cover the costs of repairs or rebuilding.

The cost to rebuild your house is not the same as your home’s market value. In most cases, the land your house sits on will still be there after a catastrophe, so you do not need to insure that value.

“What we typically see is a majority of homeowners are underinsured,” Friedlander said. “Unfortunately, many of the homeowners purchase insurance protection to satisfy their mortgage lender but they confuse the real estate value of their home with what it would cost to rebuild it.”

So don’t focus on what you paid for the house, it’s market value, how much you owe on your mortgage or the property tax assessment.

“Most companies use a replacement cost calculator where we plug in the square footage, bedrooms, bathrooms, all the features we can about the house,” Peterson explained. “It gives us a valuation based on the cost to rebuild and we base the coverage on that.”

Consider what type of coverage you want (actual cost, replacement cost, or guaranteed replacement cost) when you are shopping for policies.

Friedlander said actual cash value saves some money on premiums, but warns you will get less in the event of a major loss. Replacement cost coverage is about 10% more in premiums but you will get about 30 to 50% more when you file a claim.

Peterson said it is important to make sure when you’re shopping for insurance that unique things that happen in your area are covered. Depending where you live, you  might need additional coverage for earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, sinkholes, etc., that are not generally part of coverage.

Value of Possessions

To know how much coverage you need, you need to know what you own. Placing a value on your possessions is important.

“The important thing is to do a home inventory and kind of assess what your valuables are and determine what the value of everything is so that you’re at the right level of protection.” Friedlander said.

Go room by room and consider taking photos or videos. Make sure to include things like:

  • Kitchenware
  • Furniture
  • Clothing
  • Electronics
  • Expensive valuables
  • Camping and sports equipment

You do not need to include your cars in this property inventory because vehicles are not covered by homeowners policies even if they are parked in the garage.

“Most of the time the personal property coverage is a straight percentage of the dwelling coverage, typically, 70 to 75%,” Peterson said, adding that is usually enough to cover contents.

On most policies, there is often a limit on pricier items like jewelry, art, furs, silver, or electronics. So if a fire destroys your house and you lose $10,000 worth of jewelry, your policy might only cover $1,000 of that.

To make sure all of your items are covered, Peterson recommended a separate personal articles policy to protect those pricey items.

Liability Coverage

The liability section of your homeowners policy covers bodily injury or damage that policyholders or their family members (including pets) cause to others.

If your dog bites your neighbor and sues you for medical care, this part of policy could cover you. If your child throws a ball and it accidentally breaks the neighbor’s window, this part of the policy could cover you. If your friend falls at your house on a chipped floor and sues you, this part of the policy could cover you.

Liability coverage will also pay for the cost of defending yourself in court and any court awards up to the limit of the policy.

“The risk of not having enough liability coverage is that you’re going to be on the hook for anything beyond your coverage,” Peterson warned.

He said dog bites are his most common liability claims and he sees people all the time who do not believe they need it because they think nobody would ever sue them.

“We find that a lot with insurance. People don’t want to pay for things until they have a problem and then they wish they had. People are nice until something happens.”

The Insurance Information Institute recommends at least $300,000 in coverage but many policies only include $100,000. The more assets you have, the more coverage you need.

If you have more in assets than you have liability coverage for in your homeowners policy, you might consider an umbrella policy which extends your coverage to an amount you decide.

To determine how much liability coverage you need, add up the value of your assets, including your home. Make sure to include the following assets when figuring liability:

  • Vehicles
  • Investments
  • Future wages
  • Personal belongings
  • Money in bank accounts
  • Real estate besides primary residence

Peterson said if you have something that could pose a risk to others like a pool or trampoline on your property, you need to be especially aware of the amount of liability coverage you have.

You don’t need to figure out everything alone. A good insurance agent should be able guide you through the process of answering the question of how much homeowners insurance do I need.

“We always recommend meeting with your insurance professional once a year. We call it an insurance checkup,” Friedlander said. “Review all your coverages and make sure you are protected.”

Not having enough coverage can be a big mistake.

“People think that things can never happen to them and then they wish after the fact that they had taken a little more time and maybe gone for some of the coverages that they decided not to take,” Peterson said. “The biggest mistake people make is they try to save money on their policy iInstead of making sure that they’re covered properly.”

Tiffani Sherman is a Florida-based freelance reporter with more than 25 years of experience writing about finance, health, travel and other topics.

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Source: thepennyhoarder.com

5 Myths (and 5 Truths) About Selling Your Home

True or false: All real estate advice is good advice. (Hint: It depends.)

Everyone has advice about the real estate market, but not all of that unsolicited information is true. So when it comes time to list your home, you’ll need to separate fact from fiction.

Below we’ve identified the top five real estate myths — and debunked them so you can hop on the fast track to selling your property.

1. I need to redo my kitchen and bathroom before selling

Truth: While kitchens and bathrooms can increase the value of a home, you won’t get a large return on investment if you do a major renovation just before selling.

Minor renovations, on the other hand, may help you sell your home for a higher price. New countertops or new appliances may be just the kind of bait you need to reel in a buyer. Check out comparable listings in your neighborhood, and see what work you need to do to compete in the market.

2. My home’s exterior isn’t as important as the interior

Truth: Home buyers often make snap judgments based simply on a home’s exterior, so curb appeal is very important.

“A lot of buyers search online or drive by properties before they even enlist my services,” says Bic DeCaro, a real estate agent at Westgate Realty Group in Falls Church, Virginia. “If the yard is cluttered or the driveway is all broken up, there’s a chance they won’t ever enter the house — they’ll just keep driving.”

The good news is that it doesn’t cost a bundle to improve your home’s exterior. Start by cutting the grass, trimming the hedges and clearing away any clutter. Then, for less than $50, you could put up new house numbers, paint the front door, plant some flowers or install a new, more stylish porch light.

3. If my house is clean, I don’t need to stage it

Truth: Tidy is a good first step, but professional home stagers have raised the bar. Tossing dirty laundry in the closet and sweeping the front steps just aren’t enough anymore.

Stagers make homes appeal to a broad range of tastes. They can skillfully identify ways to highlight your home’s best features and compensate for its shortcomings. For example, they might recommend removing blinds from a window with a great view or replacing a double bed with a twin to make a bedroom look bigger.

Of course, you don’t have to hire a professional stager. But if you don’t, be ready to use some of their tactics to get your home ready for sale — especially if staging is a trend where you live. An unstaged house will pale when compared to others on the market.

4. Granite and stainless steel appliances are old news

Truth: The majority of home shoppers still want granite counters and stainless steel appliances. Quartz, marble and concrete counters also have wide appeal.

“Most shoppers just want to steer away from anything that looks dated,” says Dru Bloomfield, a real estate agent with Platinum Living Realty in Scottsdale, Arizona. “When you a design a space, you need to decide if you’re doing it for yourself or for resale potential.”

She suggests that if you’re not planning to move anytime soon, decorate how you’d like. But if you’re planning to put your home on the market within the next couple of years, stick to elements with mass appeal.

“I recently sold a house where the kitchen had been remodeled 12 years ago, and everybody thought it had just been done because the owners had chosen timeless elements: dark maple cabinets, granite counters and stainless steel appliances.”

5. Home shoppers can ignore paint colors they don’t like

Truth: Moving is a lot of work, and while many home buyers realize they could take on the task of painting walls, they simply don’t want to.

That’s why one of the most important things you can do to update your home is apply a fresh coat of neutral paint. Neutral colors also help a property stand out in online photographs, which is where most potential buyers will get their first impression of your property.

Hiring a professional to paint the interior of a 2,000-square-foot house will cost about $3,000 to $6,000, depending on labor costs in your region. You could buy the paint and do the job yourself for $300 to $500. Either way, if a fresh coat of paint helps your home stand out in a crowded market, it’s probably a worthwhile investment.

Related:

Originally published April 1, 2014.

Source: zillow.com

Bathroom Cleaning Hacks: The 25 Best Tricks of All Time

We use our bathrooms every single day, so it’s extremely important to keep them clean.

Not only is it nicer to look at, but a clean bathroom is also better for your health as you won’t be inhaling as many dust particles that trigger allergies or dealing with harmful mold. But where to begin? Here are 25 bathroom cleaning hacks to keep your bathroom neat and squeaky-clean.

1. Use vinegar as a natural glass cleaner

This is the easiest of all of our bathroom cleaning hacks. Instead of grabbing a bottle of commercial glass cleaner, use white vinegar. Apply it the same way you would any other glass cleaner — just spray it on, then wipe it down. There are no harmful chemicals or unknown ingredients — just vinegar.

2. Wipe down mirrors with newspapers

Recycle your old newspapers by using them to wipe down your glass and mirrors. Use them in place of paper towels or cleaning rags to get a streak-free shine that won’t leave behind as many dust particles.

A mirror fogged up with condensation from the shower bathroom cleaning hacksA mirror fogged up with condensation from the shower bathroom cleaning hacks

3. Keep mirrors from fogging with shaving foam

If you’re tired of your mirror fogging up from a hot shower, use shaving foam to keep it from happening altogether. Spray some of the foam onto the mirror and use your hand to rub it all over. Use a towel and wipe it away using circular motions until the mirror looks clean. This will stop mirror fog for a couple of weeks. When it stops working again, reapply!

4. DIY a drain cleaning solution

Bathroom drains can slowly become clogged with dirt, hair, and even soap residue. You can do a quick, easy, affordable drain cleaning with baking soda, vinegar and hot water.

Pour a small pot of boiling water down the drain, then one cup of baking soda. Mix together a cup of vinegar and a cup of water and add it, too. Wait about 10 minutes, then dump another pot of boiling water down the drain to rinse everything away.

Even if a drain seems fine, don’t wait until its completely clogged before you clean it. Performing this every few weeks will keep it from ever getting clogged and causing more serious plumbing issues later on.

5. Get rid of toilet stains with soda

Toilets can get some serious stains over time and some of them are difficult to clean. Rid your toilet of stains with coke. You can actually use coke to clean your toilet just by pouring it in, letting it sit for a few minutes and scrubbing it with a toilet brush. No more stains!

Black and white title floor in a white bathroom with plants. Black and white title floor in a white bathroom with plants.

6. Vacuum before and after

Start off your cleaning by vacuuming as many surfaces as possible to remove dust and hair. This will make it much easier when you scrub things down or wipe them off. Once you’ve done all of your cleanings, finish off with the vacuum again to pick up anything that’s been left behind.

7. Unclog faucets and showerheads with a bag of vinegar

If you have hard water, it can build up on your faucets and showerhead and keep water from flowing out of them normally. Tie a plastic bag of vinegar around your faucets and showerhead and let it sit for a few hours to remove hard water buildup, then just rinse them off with water!

8. Use lemon to eliminate watermarks on faucets

Faucets can easily accumulate stubborn watermarks on them, which can look pretty bad. Slice up a lemon and rub it all over your faucets to shine them and eliminate any hard watermarks that have built up.

9. Skewer away gunk in tough to reach places

There are some places that are hard to completely clean and gunk will build gradually over time — think about the base of your toilet where it meets the floor or around the base of the faucet where it meets the counter.

To get into those crevices, use a wooden skewer with a rag over it. Use whatever cleaning product you prefer and wipe or scrub it away with your skewer and rag.

Four different types of soaps in a bath tub or shower. Four different types of soaps in a bath tub or shower.

10. Remove soap scum with cooking spray

Have you ever tried to wipe down your shower or bathtub only to find that after your first motion, you’ve got a rag covered in a thick goop? Soap scum is difficult to clean and fully remove if you’re not using the right cleaning methods. One easy way of dealing with soap scum is cooking spray.

Cover your bathtub or shower with cooking spray and let it permeate the soap scum for about 10 minutes. Then, just rinse it off with hot water. No more soap scum and no goopy rags!

11. Brighten grout lines with bleach

No matter how many times you wipe down tile, the grout lines never seem to get any cleaner. Make a concentrated effort by using bleach to brighten the grout. You can either dilute bleach with water in a spray bottle and cover grout lines or grab a bleach pen. Let the bleach product sit for a few minutes, then wipe or mop it away to reveal whiter grout lines.

Essential oils with flowers laid out. Essential oils with flowers laid out.

12. Deodorize with rice and essential oils

For obvious reasons, bathrooms can end up having some weird smells. Deodorize the space by filling a jar halfway with rice and mixing in a few drops of your favorite essential oils. Poke holes in the lid of the jar and place it somewhere in the bathroom (preferably near the toilet) to soak up any unfavorable odors.

13. Use grapefruit and salt to remove bathtub grime

Bathtubs can have some questionable grime accumulate with regular use. Since grapefruit is naturally acidic, it can cut through the buildup and leave you with a squeaky-clean tub. Cut a grapefruit in half and cover the open half in salt. Use it like a sponge and scrub away all the dirt and grime.

14. Remove the vent fan to clean

Your exhaust fan typically sees a lot of use, but rarely gets the cleaning it needs. It’s easy to forget about or not think about it in the first place.

Remove the vent cover and clean it in hot, soapy water and use a can of compressed air to get the dust off of the fan. Then wipe down the fan with disinfectant and replace the cover.

15. Reduce humidity with silica gel packets

The humidity in your bathroom can cause mold, especially in places that don’t get a lot of airflows, like in cabinets. Save those little silica gel packets that come in boxes when you buy certain items (like shoes) and keep them in your bathroom cabinets. They’ll help collect moisture from the air and prevent mold from forming in your cabinets. You can also use a dehumidifier if there’s not a lot of ventilation in your bathroom.

16. Wash mildew from shower liner by using bleach

Your shower curtain liner can get pretty gross after a while and it’s common to see mildew forming on it. But instead of buying a new liner curtain every time it gets bad, you can wash it with some bleach along with your normal laundry detergent.

This should kill off the mildew, but if it doesn’t after one wash, you can scrub the leftover places with a brush and some bleach, then wash it again.

ceiling moldceiling mold

17. Create a bleach solution to get rid of ceiling mold

The corners of your bathroom ceiling can grow mold from all the humidity and condensation, which we all know is not just terrible to look at, but can be hazardous to your health.

To get rid of mold, spray a disinfectant on the area and wipe it down. Then mix 1/2 cup of bleach with a half-gallon of water and wipe down the area with it. If you can still see mold after the area is dry, simply wipe it down again with the bleach solution until it’s gone.

18. Warm up the bathroom before cleaning

Did you know that many bathroom cleaning hacks and products actually work better when it’s warm in the room? Run a hot shower for a few minutes before you start cleaning to make your products work better. You don’t need to fog up the whole bathroom and make it feel like a sauna, but run the shower for long enough that the temperature increases by a few degrees.

19. Wax the shower to prevent grime and soap scum

This might be our favorite of all the bathroom cleaning hacks.

Soap scum and other grime can quickly accumulate on your shower walls, but covering them with some wax can prevent that from happening. Clean your shower as you normally would and make sure that it’s completely dry.

Grab some car wax, put a bit on a cloth, then rub it onto the shower walls. Leave the wax to dry for a few minutes, then buff it with a new cloth. Just don’t do it to the floors or else you might find yourself slipping all over the place!

20. Remove the toilet seat when cleaning

Even when you clean your toilet regularly, there are still small spots that are hard to reach — like where your toilet seat is screwed into the toilet.

Use a screwdriver to completely remove the seat and clean around the screw holes before putting the seat back on.

21. Squeegee daily

Keep a squeegee in your shower and use it on the walls each time you shower. This prevents moisture buildup, which causes mold, and will keep your walls cleaner for longer since it washes away soap scum.

22. Make a paste to remove caulk stains

The caulk around your bathtub, shower, toilet and sink can end up looking pretty bad. Even regular cleaning doesn’t always get rid of stains left behind in caulk by dirt and mold. If you do spot some stains, make a paste out of baking soda and water, apply it to the caulk and let it sit for a few hours. Rinse it off and you’ll have cleaner caulk!

bathroom cleaning hacks using a lemonbathroom cleaning hacks using a lemon

23. Use lemon to prevent stinky drains

When there’s every type of waste imaginable going down the drains in your bathroom, it’s understandable that they might begin to stink a little. To get rid of the smell, dump 1/2 cup of baking soda down the drain, then add 1/2 cup of lemon juice.

Don’t use the drain for an hour or two and let the solution do its job. Then rinse it by running hot water down the drain to leave it smelling fresh!

24. Prevent rust spots with clear nail polish

You might have seen bathrooms with red rings stained on the counters or in the bathtub from rusty metal product cans (shaving foam, hairspray, etc). To prevent these from forming, cover the bottom of metal cans with clear nail polish.

25. Clean the toilet tank with dish soap and vinegar

We often focus on cleaning the toilet bowl, because it’s visible and we have to look at it every day. But the tank is just as important and cleaning it can lead to a cleaner bowl that doesn’t stink. Remove the lid of the tank and add a few drops of liquid dish soap and a cup of vinegar.

Scrub the tank using a brush with a long handle (not the same brush you use to clean your toilet bowl), then let it sit for a couple of hours. Flush the toilet and put the lid back on and you’ll have a cleaner, less stinky toilet.

Consistency is key with bathroom cleaning hacks

Using these bathroom cleaning hacks, you’ll have a sparkling bathroom in no time! Just remember that consistency is key when it comes to cleaning — don’t wait too long between cleanings, or else your bathroom will end up being more difficult to clean. But cleaning every week will make it easy and make your bathroom a place you enjoy.

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Source: apartmentguide.com

Cleaning Tools You’ll Need for Your Apartment

Whether you’re in your first apartment or someone else used to buy the stuff to keep your place clean, there’s a number of cleaning tools you’ll need for cleaning your apartment.

Here’s a shopping list of must-haves and tips on how to clean an apartment.

Basic cleaning tools everyone should have

First, let’s tackle the items you’ll need in your closet or under the sink, the “tools” required to clean an apartment. Most of these items are reusable so it may be worthwhile to spend a little more for higher quality products.

  • Scrubby sponges (choose one color for surfaces and another for dishes, don’t mix them up)
  • Dish Scrubber with built-in soap holder (an alternative to the scrubby sponge for dishes)
  • Mop (the self-wringing kind or a Swiffer-type is easy to use, the choice will depend on your flooring)
  • Bucket or small plastic tub (for mopping)
  • Rubber gloves (trust us, you’ll want to wear them for certain tasks)
  • Broom (choose the angled kind)
  • Dustpan (some dustpans come with a small attached hand broom, which is a nice bonus)
  • Dust rag (you could cut up an old T-shirt for this)
  • Large scrub brush (you’ll need this for tubs and floors)
  • Small scrub brush (you’ll need this for corners and around faucets)
  • Toilet brush (some come with a decorative holder which hides the brush, a nice buy)
  • Plunger (one of these might come with your apartment, so store it near the toilet for emergency situations)
  • Trash cans (it’s extra nice to have a foot pedal one in the kitchen)
  • Vacuum cleaner (warning: used vacuums can contain fleas)
  • Optional item: blind/fan cleaner

Cleaning products you’ll need to buy and replace

You’ll find a wide variety of cleaning products at any grocery store, dollar store or drug store. And most of them last a really long time.

Also, note that you can substitute the brands below with other products, including those that might be more environmentally-friendly. (Use the brand name to find the right section of the cleaning aisle!)

  • Paper towels
  • Garbage bags
  • Laundry detergent
  • Dryer sheets
  • Spot removal (for laundry)
  • Dishwashing soap (for hand-washing dishes, choose a kind that’s easy on the skin)
  • Dishwasher soap (for the machine)
  • Soft-Scrub (this product has a little grit in it, and cleans stubborn stains from sinks and other surfaces)
  • Endust (for dusting wooden furniture and décor)
  • Tilex mildew root penetrator (for dirty grout in the kitchen and bathroom, or any tiled room)
  • Pine-Sol (which you add to water) or Swiffer products (mop product depends on your flooring)
  • Bleach (you’ll need to use this with caution, but when added to warm water, can erase stains)
  • Glass cleaner (like Windex) for mirrors and windows
  • Febreze or air freshener (it’s nice to keep this in your bathrooms)
  • Stainless polish (for stainless appliances and trash cans)
  • Stove-top cleaner (if you have a glass-top stove)
  • Oven cleaner
  • Hand cleanser (dish-washing soap can be harsh on the skin; some are designed for double-duty)
  • Lint removal roller (if you have pets, use this to pick up fur from fabric-covered furniture, linens)
  • Optional item: Shelf liner
  • Optional item: Poison Ivy Soap by Burt’s Bees is good to have on hand if you love nature

Natural cleaning products

Many cleaning supplies contain dangerous chemicals that can irritate the eyes or throat, or cause headaches and other health problems. According to the American Lung Association, some products release volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which can produce dangerous pollutants indoors and be especially harmful to your health.

You can purchase all-natural soaps and cleaning products or make your own citrus vinegar cleaning spray or other non-toxic products. For some other ideas, here are green tips for a naturally clean kitchen.

cleaningcleaning

How often to clean your apartment

How often should you tackle the various tasks to keep your home clean and healthy? The following are some general recommendations. But, for roommate harmony, it would be a good idea to look at these suggestions together, tweak them for your own reality, and make sure your hopes or expectations are in line with each other. Dividing up chores with your roommates is a critical part of learning to live well with others.

Bathroom

Clean your toilet (don’t forget to lift the seat) twice a week or more often, if needed. Clean your tub and shower walls, sink areas and the floor weekly.

Kitchen

Clean surfaces after each meal prep. Sweep the floor daily. Clean sink at least once a week. Mop floors weekly. Deep-clean refrigerator surfaces twice a year, or immediately after a spill. Clean stainless surfaces, as needed.

Oven

How often you should clean your oven depends on how often you use it. For avid cooks and bakers, you should scrub it once every three months. If you rarely use it, cleaning it about once or twice a year should suffice. If you use a microwave oven regularly, you should clean it at least once a week.

Dusting

Dust twice a month, or more often, if you have dust allergies.

Floors

Vacuum any carpeting weekly or more often if you have pets. Mop floors at least twice a month. Having an entrance rug to scrape shoes on will cut down on the dirt.

Furnishings

Use a lint roller often if you have pets on the furniture, otherwise, as needed.

Windows

Wash windows as needed or every month or two. Use a glass cleaner and a microfiber cloth to wipe away dust or grime on the window panes. Vinyl or metal blinds collect dust and should be dusted with a damp cloth. Curtains should be vacuumed at least once a month.

Make cleaning a priority

To stay organized, keep a list of needed cleaning supplies on your refrigerator or an app on your cell phone. Clean a little each day to keep from being overwhelmed. Relax, make a game of it, turn on some music and have fun!

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Source: apartmentguide.com