Home Construction

Buying A Fixer-Upper: A Complete Guide

Lots of us enjoy whiling away an hour or three watching those shows on HGTV that involve an attractive couple buying a house, spending what seems like a few hours (or days) making some repairs and upgrades here and there, then either moving into the home of their dreams or flipping it for some serious cash profit. And if you’re going to fantasize about some aspect of homeownership, you could do a lot worse than creating your own private castles in the clouds that you help build and finish all on your own.

That said, the reality behind buying a fixer-upper is a lot starker and more difficult than what you see on HGTV. There are more buyers than ever who are hoping to create their perfect fantasy home out of a fixer-upper, or who think they can flip a house just like those attractive couples on television — and some of them discover they’re wrong only after hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars have been spent, never to be recovered. To make sure you’re making the right decision and following a realistic plan with your fixer-upper, educate yourself about the following realities and necessities of buying a home as-is, whether you plan to fix and flip it or turn it into a gorgeous residence where you’ll be happy for years to come.

What’s your plan for the fixer-upper?

People tend to buy fixer-uppers for two main reasons: They want to try their hands at fixing and flipping a house, possibly exploring this kind of investment as a new career path, or they’d like to buy a house for cheaper than average in a certain neighborhood that they can polish up and live in. Regardless of which path you want to take, there are some other details you’ll need to plan before you start shopping.

Where are you going to live while this to-be-purchased house is being renovated, for starters? Whether you want to flip the house or turn it into your own primary residence, decide if you can stand living in a house that’s undergoing some serious changes or if it might make more sense for you to maintain a separate residence while the house is being transformed. The second option is obviously financially prohibitive for some people, but maybe you can get creative — do you have friends or family who might be willing to let you crash in a spare room while you’re working on the fixer-upper, for example?

If you do want to live in the home while it’s being fixed up, then you might need to truncate your timeline for some of the repairs. Living in a home where all of the bathrooms are off-limits at once due to simultaneous renovation is not really feasible for most of us humans, and you might want to remodel your kitchen step-by-step instead of doing it all at once if the idea of living off of take-out or soup heated up on a hot plate is enough to make you twitch just thinking about it.

Do the math

Would-be investors who are hoping to make a profit from their fixer-upper already know that it’s critical to get the math right — if you spend too much on the house itself, or on any of the repairs, then your profit will evaporate, and you never know what’s going to happen to the real estate market months down the road. Getting those repairs done quickly will be important, but you can almost guarantee that your planned schedule and budget for fixing up the house are both going to get derailed by at least a little bit before all is said and done (more on that later).

If you want to live in the house, then your timeline for getting everything done is more flexible, but you still need to be very clear about how much money you’re able to spend on the house, and what the major repairs will entail in terms of financing. You don’t want to run out of money mid-renovation and find yourself living among plastic sheeting and torn-up floors indefinitely, with no end in sight.

Take a good, unblinking look at your financial situation and figure out what you could potentially pay for a fixer-upper and how you’re going to handle the expenses of the actual fixing-up that you’ll have to do. There are a number of mortgage loans available that factor in renovation and repair costs for fixer-uppers; your mortgage broker should be a good source of information for which of those loans is best for you (if any), and a financial planner can help you figure out a good budget and timeline that will work for your household. (But before you set either that budget or timeline in stone, talk to a contractor to figure out if it’s realistic — if not, go back to the drawing board!)

Be willing to pitch in … and honest about your abilities

Fixing up a house is cheaper if the homeowner is willing to help with at least some of the repairs, so ask yourself how much you might be able to help — and don’t overestimate your ability to get the work done. If you aren’t a contractor yourself and don’t have experience with repairs or renovations beyond a little painting and maybe changing a light bulb here and there, then it’s absolutely unrealistic to expect that you can tackle major structural issues, plumbing problems, or electrical nightmares.

There probably is quite a bit you can do yourself, though, from replacing light fixtures to painting or wallpapering rooms, or even refinishing wood floors yourself. YouTube can be a wonderful resource for figuring out how to do these things, so watch some videos and get a sense for what you might be willing and able to tackle yourself, and what’s probably beyond your scope. When in doubt, opt to hire a professional — it’s probably going to cost more in the long run if you try and fail to fix something yourself, and only then decide to bring in the pros. You’ll be much better off if you can be honest with yourself about what you can and can’t do and err on the side of “this looks beyond my current abilities” after you’ve watched a few videos and educated yourself about the process.

Location is key

You can change a lot of things about a house, but one thing that is downright impossible to adjust is where it’s located; you can’t pick it up and move it to a different lot without spending a lot more money than you’re probably willing to invest. Homes near a landfill, in a crime-ridden neighborhood, or located in poorly performing school districts are likely not going to be a great investment unless something well beyond your control happens to change the surroundings completely, so prioritize location when you start shopping for your fixer-upper. By the same token, waterfront homes, homes near national forest or parks, and homes in proximity to other desirable landmarks or features might be perfect choices even if you think the repairs are going to be extensive.

That said, unless you’re willing to tear a house down and rebuild another one in its place, don’t go overboard just because you love the location or the lot — some things, like extensive mold problems, are so expensive to fix that if you don’t want to deal with a tear-down, you should skip it even if you love the location.

Popular is better when it comes to bed/bath count

Some of the more difficult home renovations include adding a bedroom or a bathroom (more on those later), so if most of the homes in the area have three bedrooms and the fixer-upper you’re eyeing only has two, it might not be worth your time to try to flip that house, and if you buy it with plans to live there, be aware that its resale value is likely going to be below neighborhood averages. On the other hand, if the fixer-upper has four bedrooms and the neighborhood standard is three, then it might be worth it to buy that house just because an additional bedroom will make it an upgrade compared to the rest of the area once you’re finished fixing it up.

If you’re not sure what’s common in the area where you’re looking, a real estate agent, a general contractor, or even your county records office can be good resources for determining what’s popular and what’s an outlier.

Looking past cosmetic problems

There are two main types of fixer-uppers that you’ll see on the market. One is an ugly house — and ugly can be fixed! — but the other should be strenuously avoided if at all possible: The tear-down. Unless you’re a contractor with years of experience and lots of confidence in your abilities, a house that requires a significant amount of work is going to cause you more headaches than it’s worth, especially if it’s your first time buying a fixer-upper.

That said, if you can look beyond the obvious cosmetic issues to see the potential in a home, then you can often find a great deal that can be relatively easily transformed into a dream property. Old or outdated carpeting, shabby cabinets, peeling paint, ugly light fixtures, and other items like that are usually easy fixes, although they can be real deterrents to buyers who are looking for a move-in-ready home.

Evaluate the layout

Another thing you’ll want to consider as you shop fixer-uppers is the layout. An intuitive layout that flows from room to room and is easy to navigate might be a good house for you to make an offer on, assuming there are no major issues that will be prohibitively expensive. Do the windows capture plenty of natural sunlight? Are the kitchen close to the dining room and the living room? How are the bedrooms placed in relation to each other and in relation to the bathrooms? Knocking down walls and significantly changing the home’s layout is usually beyond the abilities of most fixer-upper buyers, so finding a house with a layout you can work with and don’t assume you can fix layout issues easily unless you’ve talked to a contractor you trust who can shore up your assumption.

Fixing up the fixer-upper: Easy or difficult?

As mentioned, there are some repairs or upgrades that will be easy for you to tackle on your own, and some that are going to require professional help — or that might simply be too expensive for you to include in your budget. How do you know which one is which? If you’re not sure what comprises an easy fix and what counts as difficult, talk to a contractor and get their opinion, but there are some general rules of thumb that you can use when you’re evaluating a fixer-upper for sale.

Easy fixes include patching and painting walls, or adding wallpaper to them; replacing carpet, laying tile, or refinishing wood floors; replacing light fixtures or fans; fixing or adding trim and baseboards to rooms; fixing broken window panes; replacing doors; replacing or refacing kitchen cabinets; adding a deck; and painting the exterior of the house — although there are more repairs and upgrades that you might feel confident tackling yourself, depending on your experience and ability levels, so don’t consider this a comprehensive list.

Difficult fixes include adding a garage or another room to the house, especially if you’re not simply putting up a new interior wall but instead are adding square footage to the building; full bathroom and kitchen remodels; replacing or adding heating, cooling, or ventilation systems; fixing foundation problems; replacing plumbing, sewage, or electrical systems; replacing the windows in the house; and pouring concrete outside in driveways or to fix sidewalk or walkway cracks.

Figure out where you can add and conquer

The best time to tack on an additional task when fixing up a house is when you’re already working on the same room, wall, or area. For example, if you need to replace the insulation in one of your outdoor walls and also want to add a picture window, tackling both of those projects at the same time will save you money and time. Add shelves in your kitchen cabinets while you’re also refacing those cabinets. Replace the sink in the kitchen when you redo the countertops. Deciding where you can add projects here and there will help you get to the final desired result faster and will actually minimize the amount of time that the home is under construction.

Extra inspections are worth it

Before you reach the closing table on your fixer-upper, negotiate extra inspections with the seller so that you are absolutely clear on what you’re getting into and what will need to be done. One example is a pest inspection: Although your inspector will look for evidence of pests as part of the general home inspection, a pest inspection is more thorough and can help you determine how extensive (if present) the pest problem might be. Older or more deteriorated homes can also benefit from a sewer line inspection and a roof certification so that you can get a good sense of whether you’ll need to replace either of those high-dollar items before you acquire the home as your own.

Prepare for permits

If you want to dig a pool in your backyard, you don’t want to discover that the house you bought isn’t zoned for pools after it’s yours, and you definitely don’t want to discover that the addition or change you made to your house isn’t zoned in your area when you’re getting ready to sell the place; one way to avoid those circumstances is to spend some time researching appropriate permits in the city or county where the house is located. Figure out how much those permits cost and what’s involved or included so that when the time comes to actually make those repairs or upgrades, you’re fully ready — and certified and permitted — to do it.

Save money on fixtures …

When it comes to faucets and sinks, bathtubs, toilets, lights, fans, and other similar fixtures for your house, you’ll probably discover that there’s a range of prices available — and that price range might vary for the exact same product at a home warehouse chain if you look at a different location. Shopping around for fixtures to find the best deal can often save you money if you’re willing to do the legwork to figure out where you can get the brand you like best for the least amount of cash.

… But it usually pays to splurge on materials

You might be tempted to cut corners when it comes to materials for your house, such as insulation, wood trim, siding, or other materials you might need to complete the projects on your list. But if you can, it’s usually worth it to pay for the mid-range or more expensive versions of the materials you’re considering; they typically last longer and have fewer problems than the lower-range versions, and it’s pretty frustrating to have to repair something you renovated not that long ago just because you wanted to save money on materials.

Decide where you can (and can’t) compromise

You might need to make some decisions about what aspects of your dream home (or dream flip) should be sacrificed when push comes to shove, so it’s worth your time to determine upfront whether you absolutely have to have a certain feature or whether it’s negotiable. Maybe you really want a certain kind of kitchen countertop but are less sold on the oh-so-popular farmhouse sink, or vice versa — or maybe you really want a luxurious shower experience and are less concerned about the bath, or if you even want a bathtub in the property. If you’ll be sharing the home with other household members, get their input as well, and decide together what’s on your list of must-haves and what’s more of a nice-to-have, so you know what needs to go if you end up having to make a one-or-the-other decision at some point during the renovation process.

Find reliable, capable contractors

A good contractor — or a bad one — can make or break your home renovation experience. If you spend a lot of time researching just one aspect of your home renovation, it really pays to make sure that single aspect is the contractor who will be overseeing the work that needs to be done and that you can’t tackle yourself. Get referrals from people you trust, look at online reviews, check references, ask to see photos of past projects, and do whatever you can to ensure that the contractor who ends up being your go-to is good at what they do, shows up when they say they will, communicates well, and is transparent about the cost of their work. It will be the best decision you can possibly make around your fixer-upper.

Be prepared to go over budget and past schedule

Even the best contractor can’t predict all of the possibilities that could derail a home renovation or repair project, so it’s up to you to be realistic about both your budget and your schedule, especially for major endeavors like adding a garage or a full kitchen remodel. Understand that the work might cost more than projected and could take longer than estimated — plan on it, in fact — and then you won’t be unduly shocked if that ends up happening, and might wind up pleasantly surprised if everything goes according to plan.

Many buyers dream about fixing up a house, but it’s not a project for the faint of heart. You can be one of the buyers who actually do it if you’re willing and able to plan for all contingencies and do your research upfront, whether you want to fix and flip or renovate a house from a nightmare property into your dream home.
Question Mark

Should You Sell Or Rent Your House? 10 Questions To Ask Yourself

When moving out of a primary residence, most homeowners make the obvious decision to sell their current property. But is that really the best choice for you? The answer, of course, depends on many factors — your current financial and housing situation, the real estate and rental market where you live, and several others that can add up to help you make a decision about what to do.

If you know you’re going to be leaving a house that you own and currently live in, consider how renting it instead of selling it might benefit you — or whether it would be too much trouble and not lucrative enough to bother with as an option. To determine what choice is the best one for you and your current situation, ask yourself these questions and then move forward with whichever path is going to serve you better long-term.

Will you make a profit if you rent?

This is arguably the biggest, most important question to answer before you move on to other factors involved in your decision, and the variables that will influence your profit (or loss) can be complicated, so make sure you spend plenty of time figuring out what a realistic profit would look like and whether you can make it happen.

If you’re still paying a mortgage on your primary residence (and you probably are), then you’ll need to make sure you can cover your mortgage with the rent price you’d like to charge. You’ll also have to pay for insurance on the home — and this is likely going to be more expensive if you rent it out than straight homeowners’ insurance would be, so price insurance costs for a rental with your insurance agent. Property taxes and HOA fees will still need to be paid, too, so include those in the monthly expenses.

And then there are a number of other costs involved with renting a house that you’ll want to add to your balance sheet before you can know for sure whether this will be a profitable step to take or whether you’d be losing money every month. There will likely be repairs you have to make here and there to the property — that’s only to be expected. If you don’t want to deal with the ins and outs of being a landlord yourself (screening tenants, scheduling repairs, and so on), then you’ll want to hire a property manager, and that can cost up to 10% of the monthly rental income. It’s unlikely that your home will be occupied constantly, so consider the cost of vacancies, and you’ll also need to pay to market the house when it is vacant so you can attract new tenants. Finally, if you want to do any rental reference checks or credit checks on tenants, you’ll need to accommodate those costs into your calculations, too.

Once you’ve added up all the expenses and done some research on fair-market rental prices for your area, you can determine whether or not you’d be making a profit every month or year, or whether renting would cost you more money than it would make you.

Do you need the money from a sale sooner rather than later?

When you have debts that need to be paid or you can’t afford the mortgage on your home anymore, it probably makes more sense to sell the property instead of trying to rent it out. Take a look at your current financial situation to determine how critical those funds would be for your future; also consider the fact that ideally, renting your home will produce a profit every month that you can collect as long as you have tenants willing to pay the rent price.

If you’re really not sure whether it would be more financially viable to rent or sell your house, talk to a financial advisor about it. Maybe you can set up a payment plan for some of those debts and use the rental profit to pay them off over time, or maybe you could use the cash from a sale to make some smart investments and retire sooner. Nobody knows your financial situation as you do, so do some assessing of where you are and where you want to be, and then figure out whether renting or selling would get you closer to that goal.

Will you want to move back in eventually?

Another important factor to consider is whether you’d want to move back into your house eventually. If you’re moving out of the area, but there’s a chance you might want to return at some point, then keeping the house and renting it out will probably ultimately be cheaper for you long-term than selling your house and then trying to find something comparable a few months or years down the road.

Maybe you’re not sure if you want to move back or not — that’s fine! If it’s even a remote possibility, though, sometimes it’s nice to have a backup plan for housing, especially if you’re heading off to a new adventure and you aren’t sure how things are going to go. Obviously, you don’t want to plan to fail, but knowing that you have a safety net if you need one and can get back into your old digs without buying them back might be worth quite a bit when push comes to shove.

And if you’re upgrading or downsizing, then this lens looks slightly different. Maybe you’re not sure you’ll enjoy moving into a condo or a smaller home and there’s a strong possibility you might want your old space back. Or maybe you’re not certain that the upkeep and cleaning that a larger space requires is going to work out well for you. It’s even possible that you’re not certain your current household configuration is going to last all that long — if you have kids who are about to fly the nest in a few years, or (hopefully not!) you’re unclear that your relationship is going to go the distance, then keeping your home and renting it out might be a good decision long-term.

Can you improve or update the house right now?

Homes that sell the most quickly and for the highest prices in any market are always the nicest, most updated homes available for buyers. If your home doesn’t measure up to the neighbors in terms of the appliances and updates, and if you really don’t have the money or the interest in fixing or renovating your house so that it’s going to capture top dollar for you on the real estate market, then renting might be a good choice for you.

Tenants are typically a lot less selective than buyers when it comes to the brand of appliance used in the kitchen, the wear and tear on the carpeting in the bedroom, or the landscaping in the front or back yards. So if you know your house isn’t exactly the definition of move-in-ready — especially compared to other homes on the market in your area — consider renting it for the time being and wait until you can make those upgrades before you sell it.

Do you want to live a landlord life?

If you don’t want to hire a property manager, it’s important to ask yourself whether you’d feel comfortable or would enjoy being a landlord. You might need to have some difficult conversations with any tenants who haven’t paid rent. You will almost certainly have to arrange for repairs to be made to the house, usually at the most inconvenient time possible — sewer mains and electrical systems tend to fail when it’s most expensive to fix them, like after 5 p.m., on weekends, or on holidays. Finding and screening tenants can be time-consuming. And tenants usually aren’t going to treat your property the same way you would if you lived there, so if the thought of your precious floors or countertops getting dinged or scratched (or worse) makes you shudder, realize it’s one of the possible downsides of being a landlord.

After thinking about it, if you decide you really don’t want to live a landlord life, then you’ll know that you either should sell your house or hire a property manager to handle it.

What’s the real estate market doing?

There’s no single indication that you should sell or rent depending on the real estate market’s current activity, but it can definitely help inform your decision. Maybe the market’s been on an upswing for several years and it’s looking likely that prices are going to drop in the future — in that case, it might make sense to sell now, while your house is at its peak value for the time being. But if you owe more on your mortgage than the house is worth, it might be wiser to play a long game and rent it out until the market catches up to your debt or vice versa. If prices look like they’re going to continue to rise in the future, then renting, for now, might be your best bet; you can plan on selling and making a bigger profit a few years down the road.

Talk to a real estate agent about where they see the market going, and if you can, try to make sure you’re getting opinions from someone who’s worked in real estate through several market cycles. Nobody can predict the future, but an experienced agent knows the warning signs of a seller’s market or a buyer’s market, and they can give you an educated opinion about what to expect for at least the next year, if not further.

How about the rental market?

Some rental markets are healthier than others, and if yours isn’t looking all that robust, then now might be a good time to sell instead of count on the rental market improving. On the other hand, if the rental market looks strong and there are indications that it’s only going to get stronger — low unemployment and plenty of job opportunities in your area, for example — then renting might be the best way to handle your departure from your house.

This is another area where an experienced real estate agent or a property manager can give you some insight into how you should approach your decision. Get some estimates on rent for your house and ask their opinions about whether it would be more likely to increase or decrease in the future so that you can weigh that along with other factors as you figure out what to do.

Can you afford capital gains tax if you sell later?

If you sell a home that you own but haven’t been living in for the past two years, then you’ll have to pay capital gains tax on any profit you make from the sale. This could wind up being a significant amount of money, and it can be a nasty surprise for homeowners who were hoping to pocket the entire profit. Think about whether or not your finances can handle the capital gains hit if you sell your house as a landlord or investor instead of as a resident.

Are you going to buy or rent another house to live in?

Spoiler alert: When you leave this house, you’re going to have to find somewhere else to live. If you’re planning on renting a house wherever you go, then it might make sense to in turn rent your house out to someone — but if you want to buy a house wherever you land, then it’s entirely possible you might need the proceeds from the sale of your current house to pay the down payment on your new abode. If you don’t have a down payment saved up separately from your home’s equity, you could end up paying mortgage insurance on one house while renting out another, and ultimately it might not make very much financial sense to rent your current house and buy a new one. Think about your plans after you leave your current house and what it would mean to sell or rent your current home before you move on.

Can you healthily absorb a financial hit or two?

Renting a house that you own includes lots of surprises, most of them not so pleasant. Can you afford to replace a water main if it breaks, handle a month or two of mortgage payments if the place is vacant, and replace the carpet and paint the walls in between tenants? Remember, most tenants aren’t going to be as careful with a house they’re renting as they would with a home that they own, so you should plan on doing at least some minor cosmetic repairs and upgrades after tenants leave to make sure the place is in decent condition for incoming renters.

Nobody can tell you whether selling or renting your current home makes more sense — it’s really going to depend on you and your current situation. Think through these questions before you arrive at a decision, and you’ll be able to make an educated choice about what to do that works well for you long-term.
Open bedroom door

18 Things Buyers Should Check During The Walk-Through

The final walk-through is an exciting time for buyers: The house is almost yours! It can be tempting to spend the time set aside for the walk-through mentally planning where you’ll place your furniture and hang your wall art — but there are some things you should make time to check before you leave the walk-through and get ready to close. Otherwise, you might find yourself unpleasantly surprised once the keys are handed over and the seller is no longer responsible for the property.

What should you expect from the final walk-through as the buyer? These items should all be addressed as you meander through the house before you sit at the closing table. (Bring a copy of your contract and your real estate agent to help you with the walk-through.)

The walk-through should happen at least the day before the closing is scheduled

Some sellers might ask you to schedule the final walk-through on the same day as closing — this can be problematic for a number of reasons, but the biggest one is this: What if you find something that needs to be addressed before you close? You’ll have to give the seller time to tie up any loose ends if you happen to discover them, so make sure you’re scheduling the final walk-through at least one day before your closing is supposed to happen; two days might be even better.

Sellers should have removed all their belongings

If you offered sellers extra time to move out as an incentive to go with your offer over another buyer’s, then this item might not apply, but you’d be surprised how many sellers wait until the very last minute to get their personal belongings out of the house. There are even some horror stories about final walk-throughs where sellers haven’t started to move out at all, expecting the buyer to help them or even to pay for the movers! Depending on the terms of your contract, this could be grounds to totally tank the sale … plus, in most areas, any possessions left in the house after closing become the buyer’s property.

Utilities should be operating

You aren’t going to be able to test the lights or the sinks if the electricity or the water has been shut off! Plus, turning off utilities in a vacant house can have some unpleasant side effects, and in many states, it’s a legal requirement that the seller keeps the utilities on until closing.

Trash or debris should not be present

It’s not uncommon for sellers to still be working on their own move and any last-minute repairs as you make the final walk-through, but if there are bags of trash that the seller doesn’t appear to be inclined to move, or even paint containers, then you might need to talk to the seller about finishing up. Maybe you want that paint for touch-ups, but perhaps you’re planning on painting over it and the seller is really just leaving you another thing to do (dispose of paint: check!) as you move in, so make sure the seller knows what you do and don’t want to be left behind.

The home should be clean

We all have at least slightly different standards around what it means to have a “clean” house, but if there’s mud all over the entryway or dirt or cobwebs in the corners, you’re definitely within your rights as a buyer to make sure that the seller takes care of it before you move in. You’ll probably want to do your own deep clean before you start moving your things in, but it’s not unreasonable to expect any major messes to get cleaned up before you take ownership of the house.

Negotiated repairs should be finished

After the inspection, you probably had a list of repairs that you wanted the seller to handle — whether that list was short or long, this is the best time you’ll have to make sure that any negotiated repairs actually got completed, and raise a red flag if you discover that they have not. Remember, it’s going to be your responsibility after closing, and you deserve to have the agreed-upon repairs made before that happens.

Lights and outlets should be in good working order

Test all of the lights and outlets to make sure that everything is working, because you probably don’t want to deal with an electrician as soon as you start moving in. Bring a phone charger with you so that you can check the outlets, and for good measure, open up the breaker box and make sure everything still looks kosher.

Water should run freely, with no under-sink leaks

Check the sinks, showers, and tubs throughout the house, and pay special attention to any indications that there are leaks, especially underneath the sinks. Just like with an electrician, you don’t want a plumber working on your new (to you) house as you’re trying to get settled.

Appliances should be working appropriately

The appliances that the seller is leaving for your use — such as the stove, oven, and in some cases, the refrigerator and washer and dryer — should all be operating and functional, with no leaks or issues.

Included items should be present

Speaking of appliances, if you agreed in the contract that the seller would leave the washer and dryer, make sure that those things are actually present when you do the walk-through. Can’t remember what was included in the contract? This is why it’s a good idea to bring a copy of the contract (and your agent) with you so that you can make sure everything that you agreed would stay with the house is still there.

Toilets should flush with no issues

In a worst-case scenario, you might discover that there’s an issue with the water main outside that emerges when you flush a toilet — but an issue might be something as minor as a leak when the tank refills or something similar. Make sure you’re not inheriting problems like these by flushing toilets and checking for any corresponding signs that all is not well with your plumbing.

Ceilings, walls, and floors should be free of stains, cracks, mold, and holes

After the seller has removed artwork from the walls, they should be patching any holes to give you a fresh start, but you’ll also want to look at the ceilings, walls, and floors for potential problems that might require a general contractor to fix — stains, cracks, or mold could be indications of leaks, for example. Take a close look at every room and ensure you’re not going to be dealing with a lingering issue.

The garbage disposal and fans should be operational

Turn on the garbage disposal and any ceiling or hood fans to make sure everything is working properly. Again, this isn’t something you want to be dealing with or fixing while you’re also trying to move into a new place.

Windows and doors should open and close

It might seem silly, but make sure that all of the windows and doors open and close smoothly so that you aren’t unpleasantly surprised when you try to open the windows to air out the house and discover they’re nailed shut. This is something your inspector has already checked, but it’s worth checking again before the deed is signed and the house is yours.

HVAC systems should be working

Homes with heating or air conditioning systems (or both) are wonderful modern conveniences … unless, of course, those systems aren’t operating properly. Make sure you test any systems while you’re there for the final walk-through so you can ensure everything is working as it should be when you move in.

Landscaping should be maintained

You will probably notice as soon as you arrive if the seller has let the grass grow for weeks without mowing it, or if they’ve decided to uproot a shrub or a small tree to take it with them — believe it or not, it happens! Do a quick walk around the property to note any landscaping problems and get them addressed before they become your problem entirely.

The home should be free of moving damage

Deep scratches in wooden floor or dings on the walls might be a side effect of moving a bunch of furniture and personal items out of the house — that’s fair enough, but if that’s the case, the seller should have repaired that cosmetic damage before the final walk-through. If you see evidence that the house you’re about to buy beat up in the move, you have every right to request fixes before you hit the closing table with the seller.

The doorbell should ring

Not every home has a doorbell, but if yours does, test it to make sure the thing rings! Like the other items on this list, you don’t want to discover that the doorbell is malfunctioning when your new furniture is supposed to arrive, for example, so do your due diligence and test it during the walk-through.

Lots of buyers get enamored with their new home during the final walk-through and want to spend some time basking in the place that’s about to be theirs — that’s totally normal. Just make sure you don’t neglect the basics in your final walk-through so that you can fully enjoy the house (problem-free!) when you start to move your things in and take possession of your property for the first time.
work desk

What’s Happening In The Real Estate Market: March 2019 Edition

There’s one question that real estate agents get asked all the time: “How’s the market?” It’s a difficult question to answer because the most accurate response depends on a variety of factors — whether you’re a buyer or a seller; what price point is most relevant to your particular case (the luxury market behaves very differently than the entry-level market); the state, metro area, neighborhood, and even the street where you’re looking to buy or sell; how quickly you want to close the transaction — you get the idea.

If you want personalized, accurate information about the real estate market, then it’s wise to talk to an agent in person and get their take, but if you’re just looking for a general sense of where the housing market is headed, then you can take a look at some of the research and statistics provided at a national level by respected real estate institutions and organizations. They can give you an idea of where the market is headed — but keep in mind that delays in reporting and data collection usually mean that this information is at least slightly outdated; most of the March releases are summarizing February’s or January’s market activity. With that said, here’s a roundup of the numbers released in March 2019 around the current housing market.

National Association of Realtors: Existing-Home Sales

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) collects data on home sales every month, including single-family homes, townhomes, condos, and co-ops. In February 2019 (https://www.nar.realtor/newsroom/existing-home-sales-surge-11-8-percent-in-february), existing-home sales were significantly higher than home sales in January; they increased month-over-month by 11.8%. But compared to February 2018, sales were slightly down by 1.8%. The median price across all housing types was $249,500, an increase of 3.6% over February 2018’s median home price of $240,800. According to NAR, February 2019 was the 84th consecutive month that home prices increased year-over-year.

NAR reported that the total number of existing homes for sale was 1.63 million, an increase from January’s inventory of homes for sale (1.59 million) as well as an increase over February 2018 (1.58 million). And NAR also reported that homes were on the market for an average of 44 days in February 2019; in February 2018, homes were on the market an average of 37 days. Homes got the most listing views per property and sold the most quickly in Midland, Texas; Chico, California; Colorado Springs, Colorado; Spokane-Spokane Valley, Washington; and San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, California.

According to NAR, first-time buyers purchased 32% of homes sold in February 2019, and all-cash buyers purchased 23% of homes sold.

What’s it mean? It’s not surprising that more homes were sold in February than in January, as both buyers and sellers gear up for the spring market — typically the most active time of year for home sales. Even though price growth is slowing nationally, and even though there are more homes for sale available, the fact that home prices are still increasing year-over-year indicates that the housing market hasn’t fully reverted to a buyer’s market yet, at least at a national scale. But homes are taking longer to sell than they did at this time last year, another signal that a national buyer’s market could be on the horizon.

National Association of Realtors: Pending Home Sales

NAR’s Pending Home Sales Index measures contract signings — so it’s a forecast of home sales based on how many homes went under contract in February. For February 2019 (https://www.nar.realtor/newsroom/pending-home-sales-dip-1-0-percent-in-february), pending home sales were down 1.0% from January 2019 and 4.9% from February 2018. This is the fourteenth consecutive month in which pending home sales have decreased year-over-year.

What’s it mean? Because pending home sales were up 5% in January 2019, the overall drop is “not a significant concern,” according to NAR’s chief economist, Lawrence Yun. However, Yun also believes that a lack of inventory will lead to future decreases in pending home sales.

National Association of Realtors: Housing Affordability

The Housing Affordability Index provided by NAR is a measure of how much it costs to buy a house, given the most recent home price data, mortgage interest rates, and household income information available. NAR’s Housing Affordability Index for January 2019 (https://www.nar.realtor/sites/default/files/documents/hai-01-2019-housing-affordability-index-2019-03-08.pdf) showed improvements over previous months, even though median home prices have continued to rise year-over-year.

January 2019 showed a median home price of $249,400, up from $241,900 in January 2018. With mortgage interest rates at 4.76% and median family income at $77,902, the monthly payment for a mortgage premium and mortgage interest would be $1,042 and would comprise 16.1% of household income.

What’s it mean? Don’t forget that taxes and homeowners’ insurance are also part of a mortgage payment! Depending on home prices in your area and whether they are above or below the national median — and how household income in your area measures up against the national median — this is all relatively good news for affordability. NAR calculated that across 2018, mortgage premiums and interest comprised 17.1% of household income, so a decrease of 1% is a good thing for would-be buyers.

Mortgage Bankers Association: Weekly Applications Survey

Every week, the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) releases data on how many applications for a mortgage were received the previous week. The most recent data available (released on March 27, 2019, for the week of March 22, 2019: https://www.mba.org/2019-press-releases/march/mortgage-applications-increase-in-latest-mba-weekly-survey-x250985)) showed mortgage applications up 8.9% from the previous week.

What’s it mean? If you heard somewhere that mortgage rates had decreased in March, then this is one of the results — when rates fall, more people tend to apply for mortgages because they’ll be paying less over the lifetime of their mortgage loan.

Mortgage Bankers Association: Mortgage Credit Availability

The MBA also measures mortgage credit availability — in other words, how easy (or prohibitive) is it to get a mortgage loan? For February 2019 (https://www.mba.org/news-research-and-resources/research-and-economics/single-family-research/mortgage-credit-availability-index), MBA reported that the mortgage credit availability index was up by 0.6% over January 2019.

What’s it mean? When the mortgage credit availability index rises, it means that it’s easier to secure a mortgage loan; when it falls, it means that it’s more difficult to get a mortgage loan.

Mortgage Bankers Association: Builder Applications Survey

Another measure of housing market health involves how many buyers are seeking to purchase brand-new homes, which the MBA tracks in its Builder Applications Survey. For February 2019, mortgage applications for new homes were up 3% from February 2018.

What’s it mean? An increase in builder applications is typically a good thing — it’s an indication that more new homes are being sold, and more homes available for sale is helpful for every player in the real estate market.

US Census Bureau: New Residential Construction

The Census Bureau keeps tabs on how many homes are being built at a national level, which is helpful for tracking housing inventory (and inventory shortages). In February 2019 (https://www.census.gov/construction/nrc/pdf/newresconst.pdf), 1,296,000 building permits were issued, and 1,303,000 homes were completed. Permits were down 2.0% from February 2018, and completed homes were up 1.1% from February 2018.

What’s it mean? It’s good news that more homes were completed, but given the housing inventory shortages present in many markets across the country, the decrease in permits is not-so-good news.

Remember: Just like every home is different, every buyer and seller is different, and every metro area’s housing market is different. If you really want to know how the market is doing for your specific scenario, talk to a real estate agent you trust and get their assessment of whether you should be buying or selling right now.

19 Ideas To Upgrade Your Outdoor Space

Even though humans are a species that builds and maintains our own shelter (also known as “homes”), we can all appreciate the beauty that the natural outdoors has to offer — and indeed, there are entire industries dedicated to beautifying our own outdoor spaces so that we can reap maximum enjoyment out of them.

If you’re a new homeowner or you’ve just run out of ideas for how to make the outdoors feel like a part of your home, then use this list of ideas and implement a couple at a time. You definitely don’t need to tackle all of them, but every little effort you can make toward building a better backyard — or front yard — will make your outside time that much more enjoyable, and you’ll spend more time outside as a result.

Invest in plants

One of the quickest and cheapest ways to make your home’s outside spaces look immediately nicer is to add some curated plants to the environment. This could mean flowers, always popular in the spring and summertime especially, but it might also mean succulents, shrubs, or other greenery to help spruce up the atmosphere or even hide some unsightly areas or fixtures outside, such as an air conditioner.

The internet is always a good first stop when you’re looking for plants to add to your living space, but your local nursery is an equally good option. Make sure you tell them what kind of maintenance you’re willing to do and whether you want an annual (which won’t last into next year) or a perennial plant, then let them guide you toward local plants that will thrive in your climate.

Facilitate a bug-free environment

There’s nothing like enjoying yourself outside and then suddenly realizing you’re being eaten alive by mosquitoes or another pesky insect intent on making you itch and causing you pain. Depending on where you live, this might be a minimal or a huge problem, but there’s a lot you can do to minimize the chances that you’ll be bugged by the bugs. Zappers, candles, and other insect-mitigation tools and products can keep your outdoor lounging spaces relatively pest-free; if all else fails, make sure you’ve got plenty of bug spray on hand and use it whenever you need it (and offer it to your guests, too).

Furnish away

You can’t lounge easily outside if you don’t have comfortable furniture for lounging, and adding a rocking chair or a porch swing to your front porch, or an entire patio furniture set out back, are all popular ways to enhance your outdoor spaces, but you also have options like hammocks, deck chairs, and many other items that make spending time outdoors just that much more comfortable.

Add some pillows and blankets

Outdoor furniture isn’t always the most comfortable by itself, so many outdoor enthusiasts opt to supplement it with pillows and blankets that are made with weather-friendly materials but still soft and soothing enough to be inviting. Some companies make pillows and other accoutrements specifically for certain items of furniture, but you can also do quite a bit with some run-of-the-mill outdoor pillows and blankets that are all-purpose and fit just about anything.

Fire at will

When the sun goes down, so does the temperature in most climates, and it’s nice to have a little heat to huddle around while enjoying a meal or a drink. Depending on your setup, you might want to invest in a fire pit or even an outdoor table that’s got a fire feature in the middle — they come in an array of styles these days, to accommodate wood fires, gas fires, or even pellet fires. Find an option that suits your needs and read reviews for the products available before you splurge on something so you’ll be perfectly happy with your fire feature. Most of them can last for years and provide a real spark of something extra to your outdoor living space.

Water works

Some climates lend themselves to a full water feature outside, while others don’t — but even if you don’t really want a water feature, one way to make your outdoors area virtually maintenance-free is to install automatic watering capabilities so that you don’t have to water your lawn or your plants yourself. Automatic sprinkler systems are one option, but you can also implement an irrigation system for the flowers, shrubs, and other plants that serve as decoration around your house. And those don’t even necessarily have to be all that expensive; there are glass bulbs you can fill with water and stick in the soil that only need to be refilled about once a week and will keep your greenery green.

Leave a message

Not every neighborhood or household is the type to support pop-bys, but if yours is and you’re tired of missing people who wanted to say hello or drop something off, put a little message center by your front door. This can be a chalkboard or a dry-erase board — whatever suits your style — but make sure you include the chalk or markers so you can not only leave messages but also receive them from the folks who didn’t catch you at the door.

Paint the town (or just your front porch)

A fresh coat of paint can work wonders for a house, but if you don’t need (or want) to do your whole house, consider painting just the front porch and door area. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by how much it enhances the look of your house, and it’ll make your time spent on the front porch that much more enjoyable when you’re surrounded by fresh color (and no chipping or peeling).

Replace your light fixtures

Light fixtures are one of those items that we don’t even notice after we’ve lived with them for a while; our eyes just pass right by them. So you might not even notice that your porch light or deck light could use replacing, but now that you’re thinking about it, ask yourself: Would I like this better if it looked like something else? This is a fairly cheap upgrade that you can make on your own and that can make the entire outside area look fresher and more modern (or vintage, depending on your choice).

Add some shade

Another reason why some people prefer to spend their leisure hours inside is they’re trying to avoid the sun, either for health reasons or because they simply don’t want it shining in their eyes while they’re trying to read. An easy way to encourage those homebodies to step outside is to provide them with some shade. Patio umbrellas are one easy and cheaper way to accomplish this, but there are also companies that can provide a retractable shade for your entire back deck or patio, giving you the option to welcome the sun when it’s cooler outside and shield it when it’s bright and hot as, well, itself.

Storage central

Do you have a place to store your lawn and garden tools, or even the games and toys you and your family like to break out when it’s time to go outside? A cluttered or messy outside area can be a deterrent to spending quality time together outside, so make sure you’re considering storage when you’re thinking about upgrades you could make to your outdoor space. This might mean adding a shed, investing in some benches with lift-up storage space underneath, or simply cleaning out your garage to make some space for the things you don’t want out in the open — then making a point to stash them when you’re finished.

Work in an outdoor kitchen (or bar)

As humans, food and drink will likely always be central to our idea of a good time, and one way you can facilitate more time spent outside is to add or update an outdoor kitchen or even an outdoor bar so that you don’t have to step inside at all to feed your soul (or your stomach). A lower-level outdoor kitchen might simply involve a table and chairs for dining, plus a grill for cooking, but some culinary aficionados might want to go all-out with a full stove and kitchen set for outside, complete with flatware and the plates and bowls you’ll need for serving.

Bars can be wet (include a faucet and sink) or dry, but giving yourself a space to store your drinks and some ice to keep them cold will make it that much easier to throw impromptu parties al fresco.

Plant an herb garden

Sometimes your outside upgrades can also have benefits for what you’re doing indoors, like cooking. Using fresh herbs instead of dried versions can perk up any dish, and planting an herb garden outside will make all your meals taste better. You can go all-out and set aside a section of a garden for herbs, but an assortment of pots on your porch with basil, mint, and other common herbs is just as effective and requires less maintenance, so pick an option that works best with your lifestyle and run with it.

Add some lawn beds

Gardening isn’t for everyone, but if it’s for you, adding garden beds to your lawn and using them to plant everything from flowers to vegetables to the aforementioned herbs can make your whole outdoor space sing. Your local hardware or home maintenance store can help get you started here, and talking to the experts at your local nursery is also helpful in terms of determining what you want to plant and how much space you’ll need. Garden beds typically need at least weekly care (like weeding) to stay in pristine condition, so they aren’t maintenance-free, but when you’re enjoying the fresh flowers or baby tomatoes you just pulled off a plant, it’ll all seem worth the work.

Roses and ivy

Climbing plants like roses and ivy can be woven into trellises, incorporated onto deck or balcony spaces, and any number of other spaces to help enhance the look of your house and provide a pop of color and vibrancy. They don’t do well in every climate (although you might be surprised by how prevalent wild roses are when you start to do some research), so talk to your local nursery experts about what to expect, but if you’ve always enjoyed the idea of climbing roses festooning your fence, do yourself a favor and research whether it’s a possibility.

Bathe and feed the birds

Bird-watching is a hobby for a reason — plenty of people get a lot of peace and satisfaction from watching their avian friends flit around a yard, identifying them, and taking care of them. You can make your outdoor space a bird haven by adding a birdbath for them to wash and a feeder or two for them to take sustenance. Depending on where you live, you might be able to attract hummingbirds or songbirds or other types of birds; the internet or a library book could give you a start figuring out what the birds like and how to best attract them in terms of feeders and food.

Fence the yard

The adage “good fences make good neighbors” might or might not be applicable to your own situation, but even if you don’t want to keep your neighbors out, a sweet little picket fence can delineate your yard and make your whole house look just a little bit nicer. If you do want privacy, a taller fence can help provide it — and who knows, maybe your neighbors will appreciate it, themselves.

Plant some trees

Whether you want fresh fruit in the fall or just a little bit more shade, sometimes trees are the answer to most (if not all) of your problems. Your climate will dictate what kind of trees will work best for your yard, and your home’s structure and other factors will dictate the best place to plant, so a consultation with the local nursery and a trustworthy landscaper is probably in order — and be aware that if you’re not planning on staying in your home long-term, you may not be able to reap the benefits of the trees you plant. But they can make your home look more attractive to future buyers, so whether you do want to stay for several years or you’re simply thinking ahead to the next owners, trees can be a wonderful investment.

Light it up

Fairy lights in the garden or solar lights lining the driveway can give your house a dreamy, magical look after hours. Adding a few lights here and there might make it more tempting for enjoying outside when the sun has gone down, so if you feel like it looks a little too dark and gloomy for your tastes, there’s an easy fix for that problem.

What you do to upgrade your outdoor spaces really depends on your personal preferences and how your household uses those spaces today — and how they’d like to use them moving forward. With a little bit of planning and some time and money investment, you can have an outdoor area that you never want to leave.

Skip to toolbar