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

In-Laws Visiting? 15 Ways to Tidy Up in No Time

Let’s start off by saying that if your in-laws give ample notice before they step on your welcome mat, you’re in pretty good shape. In many families, in-laws are notorious for popping up at a moment’s notice, but that’s another topic for another day.

It doesn’t matter if your mother-in-law (MIL) and father-in-law (FIL) are arriving in two hours or two days, you surely want to do all you can to make sure your apartment is as presentable as possible. Do you worry about what your spouse’s mother will say if the cleanliness of your space isn’t up to her standards? Does she have the audacity to conduct a sneaky dust test with her fingertip as she slyly strolls through the apartment?

We understand that your place might never be spotless from top to bottom. And honestly, who has time for that? But if you’re focused on doing at least a little tidying up before the ‘rents make their debut, here are some crafty and creative ways to quickly get your pad in better shape.

  1. Focus on surfaces that tend to gather a lot of dust and fingerprints – TVs, computer screens, table tops, toilets, and mirrors. Grab a cleaning towel, spritz it with your favorite all-purpose cleaner – a really good smelling one – and do a lap or two around your apartment wiping down every surface within reach.

  2. Sink full of dishes? Either wash them quickly or load them into the dishwasher. Those who don’t own a dishwasher (or even if they do and it’s already full) sometimes resort to stashing dirty dishes in the oven. Odd choice, but this should be your last option only if you know for sure there are no plans for a home-cooked meal. Just know that if MIL decides to test your baking skills on a whim, the jig’s up. If you do end up giving in to this last minute trick, don’t forget to return the dishes to their rightful location once the in-laws have left the building.

  3. Scented candles will be a savior. The earlier you light them up, the better. No scents on deck? Here’s an easy alternative: boil a small pot of water and add slices of lemon or lime. No fresh citrus on hand? Sprinkle in some cinnamon or nutmeg. Learn how to make do with what you have!

  4. No time to get all your odds and ends completely out of sight? Group like items together. Random pens all over the apartment will appear disorderly, so gather them in a row on a side table instead. You can do the same by neatly stacking or lining up items like shoes, books, magazines, bathroom products, pencils, crayons, etc.

  5. Is one of your bedrooms just a complete disaster? Close the door and forbid anyone to enter. If the door locks, even better.

  6. Throw junk mail in the trash. Any other mail should go into a junk drawer, assuming there’s room.

  7. Will the in-laws be making their debut at night? Light dimmers will work wonders to keep your mess from taking center stage. Not only will it hide your mess, but it’ll set a calming ambiance.

  8. No time to sweep, mop and vacuum? Vacuums actually work pretty great on hard surfaces too, not just carpet. Just test out a small area first to make sure it doesn’t scratch your hardwood, tile or another solid surface.

  9. Grab a grocery or trash bag and take a lap around the apartment gathering items that need to be trashed.

  10. You can also use this bag trick to gather items for certain rooms. So if the living room is littered with items that belong in the home office, collect them in the bag and place the bag in the office to organize later.

  11. If the visit is really last minute, grab a basket or bag, gather everything that’s out of place and place the basket in an inconspicuous area like the laundry room, utility closet,  bathtub or on top of the fridge.

  12. Got pets? Give every sofa and chair a quick brush to get rid of pesky hairs.

  13. Empty the trash. This goes for the kitchen, bathroom and wherever else a waste bin might be located. Essential oils, carpet freshener, and cinnamon all are great for making an empty trash can smell good.

  14. Are the in-laws already en route? Power up iTunes, cue up your favorite three to five songs and press play. Vow to have your apartment looking new and improved by the time the playlist ends. You will also work up a good sweat, so pat yourself on the back for mastering the art of multitasking!

  15. If time runs out and you’re still not finished cleaning, strategically place the vacuum cleaner in the middle of the living room or hallway. Then declare, “Oh, you just caught me in the middle of cleaning up!” This message will convey that you acknowledge the mess and you’re tending to it. Hey, a little white lie never hurt anyone.

Does this list sound exhausting or even unrealistic? Here’s a radical idea: don’t clean at all. Welcome your in-laws with open arms. But if you see them giving your space a major side eye, politely let them know that you are a busy person and, on any given day, this is what your apartment looks like. Let us know how that goes.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock / Creatista

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Source: apartmentguide.com

How to Attract Remote Workers to Your Apartment Community

Thanks to the pandemic, the number of employees who work from home swelled over the past year. Even though offices are beginning to open, with workers returning to the workplace, surveys show that many plan to telework at least part-time in the future.

Apartment owners and managers need to take notice of this trend. After all, at a time when unemployment remains high, remote workers are employed – and capable of paying their rent. They also represent a large pool of prospective tenants, so targeting them can turn into a competitive advantage.

Here are three things you can do to attract the work-from-home cohort:

  • Provide the tools teleworkers need. High-speed internet service and reliable cell phone reception are a must. The 2020 NMHC/Kingsley Apartment Resident Preferences Report found that 92% of tenants want high-speed internet access, while 91% said the community amenity they most desire is reliable cell phone reception. Tenants are even willing to pay higher rent for high-speed internet — $35.05 per month more, the survey found.
  • Tweak your marketing plan. Help the prospect envision working in your space. Stage model units (live or virtually) to include work spaces in bedrooms, or create zoom-worthy spaces on balconies or rooftops.
  • Don’t focus only on attracting new tenants; meet the needs of existing ones. Happy tenants are more likely to renew their leases, saving you the cost of turnover. They also can be a source of referrals. Convert business centers from open spaces to individual offices, and add programming designed to meet the needs of remote workers, such as a poolside yoga class to relieve stress or an online time-management workshop. People are craving human interaction these days, and programming can enhance a sense of community.

Source: century21.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

Full House? Maximize Your Space With These Tips

Make a call to 1-800-Got Junk? Their minimum fee is 9 to remove and dispose of about as much stuff as fits in a pickup truck. There are also local, independent junk removal companies that offer competitive pricing. Or haul it away yourself, donating the usable items to your favorite charity for resale.
“The VIGDA corner room divider can be easily assembled following the provided instructions,” an Ikea spokeswoman said. The VIGDA consists of a track that is attached to the ceiling, with curtains that hang to the floor. It costs while Ikea drapes start at .99 a set.
“He literally took a flat king sheet and drilled screws through it into one corner of the living room,” his mother, Alyssa Brown said. “He made this little triangular room of his own.”

A completes his work from an office set up in his closet at home as his kids spend time in his room beside him. This photo illustrates one way to maximize small spaces: put your office in your closet.
Getty Images

5 Tips for How to Maximize Your Space 

I considered adding air conditioning to the garage, which had two big windows, but that was way too expensive. I thought about converting the dining room to their room, but there would be no way to get to the kitchen without going through it.

1. A cleaned-out closet becomes an office nook 

When I got divorced several years ago, we sold our four-bedroom home and I rented a two-bedroom house in a great neighborhood with a lot of character and big yard. With two daughters away at college and a high-school-aged son rotating between his dad and me, I really didn’t need more than two bedrooms.

  • Remove all the shelving, except for perhaps the top shelf for storage.
  • Have your child pick out a color and paint the inside together.
  • Measure the width and depth of the closet then get a piece of scrap countertop or plywood cut at Lowe’s, Home Depot or an independent cabinet and kitchen shop. This could cost $50 to $100 depending on the size and material.
  • Nail wooden slats or 2-by-4s around the perimeter of your closet about 30 inches above the floor.
  • Place the desktop on the supports.
  • Add a bulletin board, plastic file holders, stapler and a cup for markers and pencils. Let your child decorate his or her “classroom” with a few photos or printouts of their favorite heroes and heroines.

2. Got Junk? Then you probably have space.

I put my dresser in the dining room, and my clothes in the hall closet. For a summer when the girls were home, I slept on the sofa in the living room or on a pull-out in the screened porch.

Pro Tip
If you are feeling crowded in your home and considering buying something bigger, it’s scary these days to see how much just a little more space will cost. The median sales price of a home was up 17% for the four weeks ending April 11 compared to the same period in 2020, according to Redfin, the nationwide real estate brokerage.

Katherine Snow Smith is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.

3. A sheet and a drill can create a room

But disappointed would-be homebuyers feeling priced out of the market can make simple changes where they currently live to maximize space and feel less cramped.
“The BEKANT screen provides privacy and absorbs sound to create division within the room,” she added. It costs 9 and is 59 inches high and 32 inches wide.
Here are some ways to create new spaces in your existing house or condo and enjoy it more while waiting for prices to drop. Who knows, you may decide there’s no place like home.
Is it time to pare down your belongings? Use these tips on how to minimize your stuff.

IKEA has organizational devices for small spaces such as the VIDGA, which is a curtain-like room divider and a BEKANT, which is a narrow standing desk.
IKEA has organizational products for small spaces, such as the VIDGA, left, which is a curtain room divider and a BEKANT, right, which is a screen that divides a room, gives privacy and reduces sound. Photo courtesy of IKEA

4. Ikea to the rescue

If a closet or a spare bedroom is packed to the brim with a broken vacuum cleaner or rusty exercise bike covered in old clothes, getting rid of all that offers more space for humans.
The rest of the house was decorated with my stuff, but they still had a room of their own and a place they felt was theirs.
“The MICKE Corner Workstation can be placed anywhere in the room. With shelving and a magnetic board, you can organize this workstation in your own unique way,” the Ikea representative said. It costs 9, and can be placed so that it creates two walls against a corner with a small opening to “get in” to the desk-and-shelf unit.
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Ikea has several products from to 9 that can create partitions or turn a corner into an office or bedroom.

5. Rethink and Reconfigure 

Here are some ways to maximize space and carve out individual rooms for a lot less than adding on or leasing a bigger apartment.
Ultimately, I made the master bedroom their room. I slept in it 90% of the time since they weren’t home often, but it was filled with all their “stuff” and their clothes.
But I struggled with my daughters having to move out of the house where they grew up and all their “stuff” being packed away in boxes in the attic. (“Stuff” defined: photos, embroidered pillows, framed record albums, twinkling lights, artwork, music boxes, stuffed animals, an old bubble gum machine, etc. It’s the “stuff” that makes a room, your room.)
This “corner room” could also house a play space, Lego table or easel in a living room or kitchen, offering privacy to a child and keeping toys out of sight in the main room.
The sheet supplied one wall, and the existing walls completed the rest of his triangular space that had enough room for a comfy chair, end table and a fan. The fan helped drown out the noise of the rest of the three-bedroom apartment. He used earphones when playing his XBox to contain his noise.
A screened porch, sunroom or dining room may be put to better use as a bedroom or classroom when everyone is home. Eat in the kitchen or at a coffee table, and make that dining room into one or even two rooms for sleeping, schooling or working.
Ready to stop worrying about money?
When Beau Brown was a high school senior during the first year of the pandemic, he did school at home alongside his two siblings and his parents, who were working at home. Feeling cramped, he found a way to carve out a little space for himself.  But his easy fix could create a beloved hideaway for a kid for any age. <!–

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Shelving units can be secured on one end to a wall and stick out into a room to divide it into two spaces. One KALLAX shelving system is almost five feet high and three feet wide for . Two of these would make a good-sized wall down the middle of your kids’ shared bedroom, or section off a corner of the living room for an office.

Understanding a Rental Lease Agreement

Make sure you understand what you’re signing.

You love it. You want it. You’re ready to sign on the dotted line, but stop and take a deep breath first. This is everything you need to know before signing that rental lease agreement.

What is a rental lease agreement?

A rental lease agreement is a legal document that sets out the terms for you to rent a residence from a landlord, apartment community or property management company.

The agreement protects you and the prospective landlord. Both of you need to abide by the rental lease agreement’s terms.

It’s smart to get a second set of eyes on the lease before you sign it. Colleen Wightman, a licensed Realtor and a leasing specialist based in Rochester, NY says, “Have a licensed real estate agent or, better yet, an attorney look at the lease agreement. You are legally bound once you put your signature on it…Let the landlord or property manager know at the time of signing that you’ve had it reviewed by an attorney. That will make the landlord pay attention; you are someone who knows what you’re doing.”

Reviewing a lease.

What’s in this agreement?

The rental lease agreement starts off with the basics: your name, the date, the name of the person or entity who will be leasing the property to you and the property’s physical and address.

While each lease is different, they will all cover the following information:

  • Arrangement to lease: There’s an acknowledgment from both parties that you and the prospective landlord agree to the arrangement. The rental lease agreement will name the length of time, i.e., the number of months you will be renting for and when that begins and ends. This is either for a long-term or short-term duration.
  • Rent: It will state the rent amount, to whom you’ll pay the rent; how you’ll pay it (debit or credit card, some other electronic system, personal check) and when it’s due. The lease agreement will state the day rent is due each month and what happens if you fail to pay the rent — such as late charges.
  • Additional monies: This section would discuss situations in which you might pay extra money in addition to the monthly rent. “These would be things like a non-refundable pet deposit or perhaps an additional month’s rent in lieu of you having a perfect credit score,” said Wightman.
  • Property use: This part clarifies who will be living in this rental — you alone? with a roommate? spouse? pet? — and it states that the apartment is only for residential purposes with no illegal activities permitted.
  • Apartment possession: You are not liable for the rent if the landlord or management company doesn’t let you move in on the date promised. Your rent will then be pro-rated.
  • Security deposit: By signing the agreement you acknowledge that you will pay the landlord a specified amount of security deposit (usually equal to one month’s rent). This money will cover any property damages that you incur. The landlord must notify you in writing when and how much of the security deposit they keep. Keep in mind, the security deposit is different from “last month’s rent,” money you pay upfront to cover the final month you will live in the apartment. In some states, the security deposit pays for that final month. Check your state laws regarding the use of security deposits. Also, check your state’s laws regarding how your landlord holds your security deposit.
  • Addendums, provisions and disclosures, and amendments: This section lets you know that if you or the landlord/property management company want to modify this rental lease agreement in any way, it must be done in a written agreement signed by you (the tenant) and the landlord/property management company. What might you need to modify? Let’s say the apartment comes with one parking space, but you’ve got a motorcycle and a car and you want to park your motorcycle on the side of the building if that’s possible. “If you’re augmenting what’s offered — have it put into the lease because both parties have to agree to it,” shared Wightman.

Is the rental agreement lease term flexible?

Yes! You might sign a short- or long-term lease.

Leases come in all sorts of durations. Maybe you can sign a lease that’s longer than 12 months and can get a more favorable monthly rate. Or perhaps you need the apartment for less than 12 months. Maybe the landlord will agree to a six-month or even month-to-month lease, in which you actually rent one month at a time (this will likely be more expensive).

The bottom line is that anything like this needs discussing upfront, documented on the lease agreement and signed by both parties.

A couple reviewing a lease.

What if I need to break my lease agreement?

The short answer is, “Yes, you can…but.”

There will be information on your lease agreement about the rules on “early release” — likely resulting in penalties for breaking your lease. You may have to give a certain amount of notice if you choose to do this. You may have to find another renter to take your place. Or, you might have a buyout clause.

Check your lease agreement upfront so that you can prepare in case this happens. And, always be honest and open with your landlord. You don’t want to incur financial penalties or land in court.

What about working from home?

The coronavirus pandemic sent many of us into our bedrooms with our laptops. But if your rental contract says you’re only using your apartment for residential purposes, will you get in hot water for working from home? As long as you’re not inviting a third party into your home to conduct business, you’re all right.

Fair housing and discrimination

Before you sign the lease, make sure to read through the fair housing laws. It’s important to make sure that the person renting the apartment is in compliance with all fair housing laws.

Service animals can be a hot-button issue. Even if there’s a no-pet rule, Wightman says “As long as you have all your paperwork in order, a landlord cannot deny renting to you because you have a service animal.”

But make sure you get it into the lease that you have a service animal and that you’re in compliance with any and all appropriate paperwork you may need to provide. Also, it’s important to know that the landlord will likely ask for a non-refundable pet fee. It’s best to prepare for that miscellaneous cost.

Sign of the times

Read through any sort of documentation that you’re going to sign and be held accountable to. So often, people don’t think about “the legal ramifications of signing something they’re not thoroughly reading,” said Wightman.

You may feel the urgency from this rental market, but take the time to go through the rental lease agreement. “Being aware upfront and being thorough is always in the renter’s best interest,” Wightman shared.

The information contained in this article is for educational purposes only and does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal or financial advice. Readers are encouraged to seek professional legal or financial advice as they may deem it necessary.

Source: rent.com

Renovation vs. Remodel: What’s the Difference?

If you’re a homeowner considering a range of home improvements, you may not know if what you’re planning is a renovation or a remodel. Does it matter? Yes, because there are key differences.

A renovation is an update of an existing room or structure, while a remodel affects the design and purpose of an area. The more extensive work in a remodel will influence the cost and length of your project.

What Is a Renovation?

During a renovation, one or more rooms are updated and repaired. This might include new cabinets, flooring, and paint.

The bones of the room are typically left intact, though some structural issues may be fixed in a renovation, such as replacing rotting wood or swapping out window frames suffering from water damage.

A kitchen renovation might include replacing appliances, faucets, and knobs, while a bedroom reno might call for paint, new rugs, or new lighting.

Bathroom renovations often involve installing new tile, towel racks, and faucets.

Recommended: Home Improvement Cost Calculator

Advantages of a Renovation

Renovations are typically less costly than remodels, thanks to several factors.

You Can DIY

If you’re handy, you can slash some of the cost of hiring someone to undertake your renovation by doing some of the work yourself.

Because most renovations don’t require structural changes, you likely won’t be on the hook to hire licensed professionals to get it done. That means anything that you’re capable of—painting, wallpapering, floor sanding—you can do and pocket what it would have cost to hire help.

Just make sure you are skilled enough; hiring a professional to redo what you couldn’t complete may cost you money you didn’t plan on spending.

You May Get a Better Return on Investment

Since a renovation doesn’t call for major expenses like hiring licensed professionals or other construction-related outlays, in some cases the project offers more bang for the buck than a renovation does.

Renovation-related tweaks will still improve the look and feel of your home, and thus increase the value of your home, without the major expense a renovation entails.

You might want to try this handy home improvement ROI estimator.

You Can Expect Fewer Hidden Costs

When you’re renovating a room, your action plan is pretty cut and dry, and there aren’t likely to be surprises that require you to spend more than you planned.

Not so with a remodel, which, due to its scope, may result in additional costs to fix unforeseen problems such as hidden water damage, termites, or asbestos. These surprises can also lengthen the time of your project.

What Is a Remodel?

Remodels are typically more extensive than renovations. They include altering the function and sometimes the structure of an area of the house.

If your project calls for tearing down or adding walls, or changing the layout of a room, you’re planning a remodel.

Some examples of remodels: changing a powder room into a laundry room, knocking down a wall between a dining room and kitchen to create a great room, building an addition to your existing home, or expanding a closet into a dressing room.

Even if you’re not tearing down or adding walls, your project may be a remodel. This might include moving kitchen appliances around to improve room flow, tearing out a tub and installing a walk-in shower in a bathroom, or turning a small guest bedroom into a home office.

Recommended: Closet Remodel Guide

Advantages of a Remodel

Many homeowners find there are pluses to a remodel as opposed to a renovation.

You Have the Opportunity to Customize Your Home

As homeowners grow with their home, they may find that their needs change.

Some may want an addition to accommodate an aging parent, while others may have expanded their families and need to convert a home office into a nursery. Empty-nesters may want to use one of their bedrooms as a study or gym.

A remodel affords them more options than a renovation does because they can make the necessary changes—however major—to achieve their needs.

You May Experience Hidden Benefits

Adding an island to a kitchen and removing a wall to create a larger space might mean more than increased room to prepare meals. You may find your family spends more time together in rooms that are spacious and inviting.

Similarly, retrofitting your heating and cooling system, adding under-floor heating, and replacing insulation might result in lower utility bills, freeing up money for hobbies or vacations.

Why a Remodel May Cost More Than a Renovation

All of that means remodels are costlier than renovations. Here’s why.

You May Need Permits

Thanks to the extensive nature of most remodels, many cities require homeowners to secure a permit before they begin work, especially if the project involves creating an addition to the home, or if new walls or new roofs are being installed. This is to ensure that building codes are followed.

If you need permits, you will want to factor the time it takes to secure them into your timeline. Once the permits are approved, the project may begin. And once it is completed, it will likely need to be approved by a local inspector.

You May Need Professional Help

If your remodel requires electrical, duct, or plumbing work, you will likely need to hire a licensed professional to complete it.

You may also need to hire a general contractor to hire and oversee these workers and others for larger remodels like adding a guest suite to the home or converting an attic to a home office with an en-suite bathroom.

These vendors, while necessary, can be costly since you are paying for their time in addition to any materials.

You May Be Dealing With Construction

While it can be exciting to imagine what your home will look like after a remodel, getting there can be taxing. That’s because you may be living in a construction zone as the project is underway.

It can be difficult to have to eat multiple takeout meals because your kitchen is being worked on, or deal with dust from work being done in the next room over.

If their remodel is especially extensive, some homeowners find they need to rent a home nearby until the remodel has been completed.

Recommended: Average Cost To Remodel

Paying for a Remodel or Renovation

Whether you’re undertaking a renovation or remodel, you’ll want to have a budget and a payment plan. Some renovations are small enough that homeowners can pay upfront.

Those tackling remodels and larger renovations might tap a home equity loan or home equity line of credit, when the home is used as collateral.

An unsecured, fixed-rate home improvement loan is another option.

A cash-out refinance also can free up part of the difference between the mortgage balance and the home’s value.

Recommended: Home Equity Loans vs Personal Loans for Home Improvement

The Takeaway

Undertaking home improvements can be exciting for homeowners. But before you embark on a project, know whether you’re looking at a renovation or a remodel, how much inconvenience you’re willing to put up with, and what you are willing to pay.

SoFi offers no-fee home improvement loans of up to $100,000.

If a cash-out refinance makes more sense, SoFi offers that as well.

Or if you’re in the market for a home loan, SoFi has that covered, too, with competitive rates and options requiring as little as 5% down.

Check your rate and start planning that remodel or renovation.



SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Lending Corp (dba SoFi), a lender licensed by the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation under the California Financing Law, license # 6054612; NMLS # 1121636 . For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal.

SoFi Home Loans
Terms, conditions, and state restrictions apply. SoFi Home Loans are not available in all states. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

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Source: sofi.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

Survival Guide: What to Do When You Don’t Have a Closet

If you’ve ever lived in an apartment that was lacking in storage space, you’ll never again take closets for granted. Trying to fit all of your possessions into small closets (or no closets at all) is difficult and frustrating, especially for those who like their living spaces neat, clean and well-organized.

Not having a bedroom closet is perhaps the most challenging storage situation. I once lived with two others in a two-bedroom apartment that also had a large office, which was my bedroom. Lucky for me, the office had its own bathroom attached. Not so lucky: the closet was nonexistent.

If you’re living in a bedroom that doesn’t have a closet, it can seem inconvenient at best, but you do have options. Take a look at this survival guide for creating clothes storage when you don’t have a closet:

An Armoire or Dresser

One of the most obvious solutions is to buy a large armoire or dresser to store clothes in. What’s great about armoires over dressers is that they offer a place to hang any clothing that you’d rather not fold.

Dresses, blouses, and easily wrinkled items won’t have to be shoved into a dresser drawer, which could potentially save you from having to pull out the iron every day before work.

Dressers, on the other hand, are great for people with a lot of foldable clothes. Either piece of furniture comes in various sizes, so those who live in a small space will be able to easily find something that fits their room.

A Clothing Rack

Stores like Target and Ikea sell clothing racks of all different shapes and sizes. You’ll easily be able to find smaller standing clothing racks that have a single bar on which to hang your clothes.

There are also full closet organizers that you can mount to a wall with multiple shelves and rods great for holding an entire wardrobe. Though not as affordable, these are a one-and-done solution to not having a closet, and they’re pretty easy to install on the wall.

Bookcases

The variety of bookshelves available in stores and online is truly amazing, so they’re a great organization option for bedrooms with nonexistent closets. The bookshelves with cube-shaped cubbies are particularly useful for organizing different types of clothing and accessories.

If you’re planning on using bookshelves in place of a closet, be sure to buy plenty of baskets and bins that will help you keep the shelves neat and uncluttered.

Floating Shelves

Floating shelves are another useful storage option, and they’re especially great because they can fit onto walls of any size. Hang floating shelves across the width of an entire wall, or stack them from floor to ceiling. You can even install dividers on your shelves to keep all of your clothing items separated.

Under the Bed

Installing drawers under the bed is both practical and unobtrusive, so it’s a perfect solution for people who live in a small space. You can also inexpensively lift your bed to create even more storage space under it, using store-bought bed risers.

Consider storing shoes, handbags, and other less-often-used items under the bed so you don’t have to get down on the floor every time you change clothes.

A Trunk

For a storage solution that’s part decorative and part amazingly effective, find an antique or vintage trunk to keep at the foot of your bed.

Trunks are very spacious, so you’ll be able to store a lot of your wardrobe in it. Use it for bulky items like sweaters, sweatshirts, and sweatpants that don’t stack as easily on shelves.

Create Pretty Decor

Some of the prettiest and most colorful items in a person’s apartment can be found in their closet, like shoes, handbags, scarves, and jewelry. Instead of tucking those items away into storage, find creative ways to display them around the room and apartment.

Buy a small coat rack just for your scarves and hang them by the front door. Line pretty high heels and handbags along the bookshelves in your living room or entryway. Hang your statement necklaces from pretty hooks on the wall above your toilet, rather than using that space for a piece of art.

Use a Curtain

Many of the solutions in this survival guide leave your clothing out in the open or on display, but simply hanging a curtain can help you tuck your wardrobe out of sight. Attach it to your bookshelves or simply hang one from the ceiling in front of your shelves to hide your clothing.

Mix and Match

If you have one particular wall that would work well for a “closet,” mix and match the ideas to create exactly what you need for storing your own personal belongings. Hang floating shelves across the entire wall, then attach a closet rod to the wall beneath them. Or, find two small armoires and put them on either side of a short bookshelf.

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Source: apartmentguide.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