Hanging light bulbs

24 Green Upgrade Ideas For Your House

Implementing some “green” upgrades in a home you own is almost always a great investment — first, because it can often save you money as the homeowner, and second, because more and more buyers are looking for homes that are energy-efficient and have other environmentally friendly attributes.

But with so many options available to homeowners today, it can be tough to know where to start greenifying your own house. Consider some of these suggestions; you’ll be sure to find one that will work for your budget and your lifestyle, and make your house look that much more appealing to any potential future buyers.

Start recycling if you don’t already

This is one of the simplest ways you can make your entire household more environmentally friendly, and although it doesn’t involve a direct upgrade to your house, you’ll be able to state with confidence that recycling is available (and how often it runs) for any future buyers who might be interested in the property.

Call up your waste management company and ask them if they offer recycling pickup. This is usually available for an additional fee — and sometimes if recycling isn’t something they currently offer on your street, you might be able to wheedle them into it. If their cutoff point is right down the road and you can find a few other homeowners on your street who would pay for recycling, it’s possible that you might be able to convince a manager at your waste management company that they should expand their coverage area to accommodate you. Then, find a place in your house to store your recycling items, such as a plastic bin next to your trash can, and encourage other members of your household to use it.

Get an energy audit

Many utility companies will offer you a free energy audit; all you have to do is ask. If you’re interested in making minor to major improvements in your home’s efficiency, an energy audit can really help you pinpoint what upgrades will make the biggest difference in your expenditures every month. It can also help you understand what’s already working well for your house so that you can augment those efforts, and it’s a useful report to offer future buyers who might be curious about your house’s energy efficiency.

Make the sun work for you

As far as sources of heat and light go, you really can’t beat Earth’s own sun, so it makes sense to work with it when it comes to energy efficiency. Practically speaking, this means shading or protection from the sun when you want your house to be cooler, and encouraging it to shine when you want it to be warmer or to capture more light.

Make sure you have good blinds installed in windows that get a lot of direct sunlight in the summertime, and then use those blinds to prevent the sun from warming your house too much; by the same token, you’ll want to encourage sunlight when it’s cooler in the wintertime, so if you can install windows or open blinds where the sun shines in the wintertime, do it!

Use trees and shrubs to absorb sunlight where you don’t want it

In climates where you want a cooler house overall, it probably makes sense to facilitate as much shade as possible for your dwelling; one easy and environmentally friendly way to do this is to plant trees and shrubs so they cast shade over your house and absorb the sunlight. Plant life that is native to your area works best. Consult with a local nursery if you’re not sure what to use because they are perfectly equipped to answer your question and provide you with the best possible purchases.

Break out the caulk

It’s probably not a big surprise that when your house is losing a lot of warm air in the winter or cool air in the summer, leaks or drafts are the culprit, and there’s quite a bit you can do to prevent those by making sure that your caulking is up to the task. This is a quick and cheap fix you can manage on your own simply by investing in a caulk gun (if you don’t already have one) and recaulking the windows throughout your house.

Collect rainwater

Rainwater isn’t always safe for drinking, depending on the area where you live, but you can use it for tasks like watering your lawn, flowers, or vegetable garden — and the rain that falls from the sky, unlike water that’s obtained from a city line, is absolutely free. Buy yourself a rain barrel or two and place them outside where they can catch the precipitation from above, then use your collection to keep your lawn looking fresh and green without your water bill spiking or violating any water-day ordinances in your area.

Invest in a new roof

The best type of roof for your house will really depend on the climate there; in areas where it tends to be colder most of the year, then you might want to think about a roof that absorbs sunlight and heat instead of reflecting it. That said, in many warmer or moderate climates, a reflective roof can make a lot of sense. You might have learned in school that heat rises, and when you add the sun’s heat to the warmth that might be trapped in your attic, it’s no wonder that your house feels impossible to cool in warm months. A reflective roof can help mitigate part of that equation, and roof vents can also allow the heat to escape outside, making your house feel cool and fresher than ever.

Consider a solar water heater

One big energy expenditure in many homes involves heating up your water — so what if you could get the sun to do that job for you? Solar water heaters capture the sun’s heat to warm your water, and they can be a great solution in areas that get a lot of direct sunlight. For the best results, you’ll want to make sure that the heat-absorbing panels are placed to get the maximum amount of sunlight possible.

… Or go tankless

A tankless water heater only heats up the amount of water you’re currently using, which can be much more efficient than heaters that hold several dozen gallons and keep the water constantly hot throughout the day. Tankless water heaters are ideal for households where you aren’t running a lot of hot water at once; they can become overwhelmed if you want to run a shower, a bath, and the dishwasher all at once. But if that’s not something you’d ever do, then they can really make a difference in your home’s energy efficiency.

Think about eco-friendly countertop replacements

Granite is one of the most popular countertop options, but if you’re refinishing your counters, it’s probably good to know that granite isn’t necessarily the most eco-friendly of your choices. There are a ton of newer countertop materials that look just as swank as granite but are significantly more gentle on the environment, such as composites made of hemp or even paper. (We know, it sounds crazy, but these materials are just as durable as granite and can look absolutely amazing.) Recycled glass composites are another good countertop option, and if you simply must have a material like granite or quartz, you can always look into recycled options that come from someone else’s newly remodeled kitchen — especially if their kitchen or bathroom space was considerably bigger than yours, it shouldn’t be too difficult to cut everything to fit.

Consider green flooring options

Hardwood floors or plush carpeting are perennially popular, but they also aren’t the most environmentally friendly choices when you’re remodeling your floors. There are several materials that look just as polished as hardwood floors but are significantly greener, such as bamboo (which grows super quickly, unlike most hardwoods) or carpet made out of eco-friendly weave, or even laminate flooring.

Replace toilets, showerheads, and faucets

Older toilets, showerheads, and faucets tend to use more water than is really necessary to get the job done, so if it’s been a while since you updated your water-flow options, then it might be time to look at what’s available. This saves water, which is great for both your environmental footprint and your wallet if you’re paying for water by the gallon, and the modern fixtures you can buy are so efficient that you likely won’t notice a difference at all — even in the shower!

Consider a composite deck

Instead of using wood for your deck, think about buying a composite material instead — many of them last a lot longer than wood, too, so there are many benefits besides making your deck greener. You don’t need to repaint nearly as often, and repairs won’t be necessary for many years, so although they might come with a heftier price tag upfront, they can save you a lot of money in the long run in addition to helping the environment.

If you mulch, use recycled mulch

It might be best to talk to a gardener or the experts at your local nursery before you try this one, but if you’re a regular mulcher, then you might want to think about trying a recycled mulch — some of them are much hardier than the wood mulches you typically have to replace every year, such as mulch made from recycled tires. But make sure you consult with an expert first, because some recycled mulches aren’t suitable for certain plant types, so you’ll want to either move those little green guys or consider something else for your mulching needs.

Check your products or materials against a good source

There are almost too many materials to list that are great alternatives to traditional options, and it can be difficult for someone remodeling a home or upgrading an appliance to keep track. Luckily, there are several organizations that certify materials and products as environmentally friendly, so when you’re doing your research, check your options against lists or certifications provided by The Greenguard Environmental Institute (www.greenguard.com), the Forest Stewardship Council (www.fscus.org) or Cradle to Cradle (www.mbdc.com/cdc) if going green is a priority for you.

Reuse or recycle materials from a remodel

If you have remodeled your home recently, you probably have a ton of leftover materials that you could be putting to good use — but how? The internet has a ton of ideas for you, but to name just a handful, you can use old flooring or countertop materials to build yourself a new shed in the yard; recycled bricks can make a lovely pathway from your driveway to your front door; and sometimes recycled wood can be turned into a hefty fence. Google has lots more ideas where those came from, too!

Energy Star appliances are the best choice for new appliances

When it’s time to upgrade your appliances, whether that’s a fridge or a washer and dryer, look for products that are certified by Energy Star. Many outlets also post information about how much an appliance costs each year to run and how much water it uses, so you can take those details and use them in your own shopping to ensure you’re getting a good deal. Remember, some of these items might be more expensive upfront, but if you’ll be saving a significant amount of money over time, an appliance could be well worth dropping a few hundred extra dollars on today.

Buy a water filter

Drinking water is really good for your body, but buying a case of bottled water every time you go to the store is not so great for the environment. Between the plastic it takes to make the bottles and the energy that goes into manufacturing and shipping, you’re a lot better off getting yourself a decent refillable, washable bottle and using that instead. A water filter can help you get this done with little to no hassle, allowing you to refill your bottle whenever you’re thirsty or before you leave the house. Plus, it’ll save you money long-term — what’s not to love?

Go native in the garden

Seeding your garden with native plant and grass species is a fantastic way to be greener, and it’s extra appealing to potential future buyers, especially because native species are usually much lower-maintenance than imported species, giving you both beauty and efficiency in one step. If you’re not sure whether your garden is native-friendly, talk to a landscaper or stop by your local nursery and get a consultation; you’re bound to find several species that you absolutely love and that require less water and care than you’re currently investing in your garden.

Replace exterior doors or windows

If caulking didn’t solve your draft problem, one of the best ways to eliminate drafts and keep the climate-controlled air inside your home is to replace exterior doors and windows. This can get expensive pretty quickly, so you may want to try caulking first — but the good news is that once you replace those doors and windows, you’ll be set for years (possibly decades) to come in terms of a sealed-up house that keeps the cold and warm air exactly where it should be.

Add skylights

One of the biggest expenditures of energy in most homes is lighting the rooms, believe it or not, and one excellent way to get more light into your house is to add a skylight. This way the sun is doing the work instead of your electrical system, so if there are ceilings where you might be able to add a skylight and get the room a bit brighter as a result, you should definitely consider it.

Get a programmable thermostat

Even if you don’t use something as fancy as a smart home thermostat, there are lots of options these days that will let you program the heat and cooling appliances in your home for optimal use. When you’re at work during the day, you can adjust the temperature accordingly, then make sure it’s nice and warm (or cool) by the time you arrive back home to enjoy your space. You can also set a programmable thermostat to adjust its temperatures overnight, when most people don’t mind if the house gets a little cooler than normal in the wintertime, and like many other items on this list, a programmable thermostat will save you money over time.

Replace your light bulbs

Compact fluorescent or LED light bulbs use considerably less energy to emit the same amount of light (or more) as a traditional light bulb, so if you haven’t already swapped out the bulbs in your home for a more advanced version, consider this a nudge in the right direction. The more modern bulbs also last longer, so even though they might seem expensive, when you consider that you won’t have to replace them for years (as opposed to months), the price is an absolute steal — plus, as noted above, light is a big energy-suck in most homes, so you’ll also save money on your utility bills every month.

Update your insulation

Depending on when your home was built, you may not have the latest and greatest insulation materials. This can be a much easier fix than you think, and it makes a huge difference when it comes to keeping your home at the temperature you like best without making your heating or cooling appliances work overtime. An energy audit can help you determine whether it’s time to upgrade your insulation, but if you already know it’s been a couple of decades since you gave the insulation any TLC, you might not need an auditor to prompt you to make this change.

There are plenty of energy-efficient ways you can upgrade your house without blowing the bank, and the best news is that most of them save you money over time, too. When you’re ready to make some investments in the future of your home, consider one or several of these green updates — you’ll be glad you did when your utility bills come in or when you’re getting ready to sell and can tout your house as environmentally friendly on top of its other many charms.

Couple getting keys to home

How Low Can You Go: Making An Offer

Paying less than the listing price for a house might seem like a pipe dream in some markets, but for savvy buyers who know what they’re doing, it’s a very real possibility. That said, making an offer that’s lower than the listing price can also be a dangerous game to play if you don’t know the rules: You could offend a seller, permanently blacklisting you from a home you love, among other potential penalties that plague low-bidding buyers.

How low can you really go when making an offer? Of course, the answer to that question is “it depends” — on the market, the listing price, the home in question, the seller’s motivation, and how the property you’re bidding on measures up to others in the area. There’s no hard-and-fast rule about how low an offer can be before a seller accepts it, but there are some generally accepted guidelines for making an offer below the listing price that you should be familiar with before you try it yourself.

Dos

Pay attention to days on market

If a house has only been on the market for a week or two, then a seller is pretty unlikely to seriously consider your lowball offer. A seller will typically only lower the asking price of a house after the property has been listed for at least four weeks, so expecting them to meet your lower offer when the house has been listed for less than ten days is unrealistic at best.

When you’re shopping for a home, make sure you’re paying attention to how long it’s been on the market, measured as days on market. A seller with a house that’s been listed for three or four months will likely be a lot more receptive to your under-asking-price offer, and it’s possible you might get some other concessions out of the deal, too. In markets where homes are flying off the shelves (so to speak), an under-asking-price offer might not be at all realistic; you may need to wait for the market to settle down before you try it.

Try to figure out the seller’s reason for selling — and enable it

Most people don’t decide to sell their home on a whim. There’s almost always an underlying reason why they need to sell and move. Maybe they’re downsizing; maybe the primary earner in the household lost their job; maybe they found their dream home but need to sell their current home before they can close on it. Whatever the case, they have an incentive to move, and if you know what it is, you can tailor your offer to sweeten the deal even if you’re not planning on paying the full listing price.

How can you figure out the seller’s reason for selling? One of the best ways is to enlist the help of your real estate agent. Agents who have been working in the same area for a long time typically know the other agents, which means your agent may already have a relationship with the seller’s agent. Ask your agent to call the listing agent and talk to them about the home. You might be surprised by what agents are willing to reveal to each other, and it could really help you with writing a winning offer.

Make sure your offer is clean and strong in other ways

Speaking of writing an offer: When you’re offering a seller less than they’re asking for a home, the offer needs to be absolutely pristine and even enticing in other ways. (This is one of many reasons why it’s advisable to use a real estate agent, even if you’re trying to save money — if you’ve never written a successful offer on a home all by yourself, you might not even know where to start.)

The offer should include everything required by your state and municipality, and you can also talk to your agent about ways you can sweeten the deal that don’t involve the listing price. This might include giving the seller full control over the closing timeline, agreeing to pay for any necessary repairs that emerge during the inspection, or any number of other tactics that might make the offer more appealing to the seller in question. And if you know the seller’s motivation for moving out, you can make sure that the offer includes plenty of incentives that speak to their specific motivation.

Consider concessions (or asks) other than price

Negotiating any deal is a dance between two parties with give-and-take on multiple levels, even though people often make the mistake of thinking that it’s all about money — especially with a home sale. It’s not! Maybe you can give your seller the option to stay in the home for an extended period of time so they have plenty of breathing room for packing up and moving, which is almost always stressful. You could also offer to let them stay in the home rent-free for a time after closing if you detect that financial stress is one reason for moving. (If you do this, make sure you’re outlining the timeline strictly so they don’t take advantage of you — but it can still be a nice, appealing way to help sellers move on.)

If the house isn’t in pristine condition, then you can probably assume there are issues the inspector might find that need to be addressed before the deal can close. And if you can accommodate those in your budget, it’s often smart to offer to pay for any repairs yourself. After all, the seller’s motivation will be to get the fixes done cheaply and quickly, whereas yours is to get a top-quality end result, so it might make more sense to offer to take care of it yourself if you can.

Offer earnest money

Earnest money is pretty much exactly what the name implies: It’s a deposit of funds that shows you are in earnest about buying the house. This can come out of your down payment, but it’s delivered early to the seller as a good-faith gesture that you really do want the property and you’re willing to make some sacrifices to get it. Again, the seller’s motivation is going to be key: If you know that they’re in a financial position that means they need to move out sooner rather than later, earnest money can help them be more comfortable that they can make the move by helping them finance it before the closing happens. Some sellers ask for earnest money upfront, but if they haven’t, offering it can be a way to make the deal more appealing even if you’re not going to pay full asking price for the home.

Eliminate any contingencies possible

Depending on whether you’re getting a mortgage loan and the parameters of that loan, this may not be a realistic possibility — but if it is, then eliminating contingencies can help sellers decide that your lower-than-asking-price offer is still the best they’ve gotten. Some loans are contingent on things like an appraiser agreeing that the home is worth what you’re paying for it, which might not be an issue if you’re offering below asking price, but it can still give sellers confidence that the sale won’t be held up by a problem like that.

Other contingencies involve the state of the house, which is usually assessed during a home inspection. If the inspector finds that the house is not up to code in some way, or that an important component needs to be repaired before it’s in tip-top condition, then telling the seller that you’ll still move forward with the deal (or pay for those repairs yourself) can be a good way to get in their good graces and encourage them to agree to your offer.

Be able to explain why your lower offer is still fair

We’ve all seen homes that were overpriced in our markets, and if you’re making an offer on a house that you know is priced higher than it’s really worth, you need to be ready to defend your lower offer and explain why it’s still a fair price for what you’ll get. This needs to be researched beyond the comps (comparable recently sold listings) in the area; most sellers and listing agents have already looked at the comps and know what they are, so presenting a list of comps probably isn’t going to get you very far.

Instead, you need to dig a little bit deeper to explain exactly why those comps aren’t true apples-to-apples comparisons. Maybe many of the recently sold homes have a spectacular view of a natural feature, whereas the home you’re bidding on is blocked by other properties or development. Perhaps most of the recently sold homes in the neighborhood had fully remodeled kitchens and bathrooms, while the home you’re hoping to buy hasn’t been touched since it was built in the 1980s. If you can explain reasonably and clearly why you’re offering less than asking price — and do it in a way that’s fair and doesn’t insult the sellers or their agent’s intelligence — then you’ll have a decent shot at getting your lower offer accepted.

Use repairs for leverage

This has already been mentioned several times before, but it truly is worth repeating. Selling a house is a time-consuming and often nerve-wracking experience, between cleaning, vacating the home for showings, negotiating offers, and wondering whether it’s ever actually going to sell. Some buyers want the sellers to fix every last little thing in the weeks between going under contract and getting to the closing table, and when you add that to packing up and moving a house, it can really feel overwhelming to a seller who just wants it to be over with.

That’s one reason to offer to pay for any necessary repairs yourself, but another is that if this is a house you plan on owning for any span of time — especially if you’re going to live there yourself — then you want to make sure that the repairs are top-of-the-line. On the flip side, a seller will be more incentivized to find the fastest, cheapest repair option possible, just to get it out of the way and be able to say they did it. You might end up spending more money than they would, but it’ll be your asset at the end of the day, so it’s probably worth it to just go ahead and tackle the repairs yourself.

Wait, then try again

It is not unheard-of for a seller to circle back with a buyer whose offer they’ve already rejected to ask if they’re interested in making another offer, so don’t discount this tactic — because sometimes it works, and works very well. Perhaps the seller had several other offers on the table that have all fallen through, or maybe they were under contract and the buyer walked away for some reason. Or it’s possible that the seller expected more, better offers to come flooding in after they received yours … and then they discovered that this expectation wasn’t exactly aligned with reality.

Whatever the case, keep an eye on homes where you’ve already made an offer that’s been rejected to see what happens. If they go under contract and sell, oh well — but if they don’t, it’s quite possible that after 30 or 60 days of no offers, a seller might leap at the chance to take yours if you re-issue it (maybe with a few tweaks that make it an even better deal for you) after waiting them out.

Understand current market conditions

There are some circumstances under which a lowball offer is just never going to work. Think about some of the hottest markets in the country as an example: When a buyer is willing to pay seven figures for a teardown property in the San Francisco Bay Area just to have a lot to build on, then your lower-than-asking-price offer is definitely not going to get any interest from sellers. But there are many other markets and circumstances in the country where a seller could be receptive to your offer — depending on the timing, how it’s phrased, and any concessions you might be willing to bake in.

Pay close attention to the real estate market in the area where you want to make an offer. If you see that the average days on market is getting longer and longer, that’s a sign that the market is shifting to more of a buyer’s market, which can work to your advantage. Shopping for a home in the fall and winter can also be advantageous when you don’t want to pay the full asking price; most buyers are most active in the spring and summertime, when there’s also a lot more inventory to pick and choose from; sellers in the “off” months might be feeling anxious, panicked, or even a little desperate to get an offer, any offer, so they can move on with their lives.

Be respectful

Some sellers are going to be more receptive to an under-listing-price offer than others — but no seller wants to feel disrespected during the process. You can’t always control whether you’re submitting an offer to an oversensitive seller who thinks any offer that doesn’t contain the full asking price is an offense, but you can definitely manage how you phrase your reasoning for the lower-than-asking offer to minimize the potential that the seller is going to feel belittled or hurt.

Talk to your agent about whether your offer price is truly a fair one given the current market and the condition of the home, and ask for their advice in writing an offer or counter-offer that articulates your points without disrespecting the seller. Nobody wants to work with someone they think is a jerk, and no matter how unwarranted that opinion might be, it’s best to err on the side of caution and be unfailingly polite and gracious through the process.

Don’ts

Submit an offer without doing your homework

You might think there’s no harm in just throwing an offer at the wall (so to speak) to see if it sticks, but a seller will definitely know if you’re simply ballparking a number instead of doing research to determine what you want to pay. Too many buyers who submit under-asking-price offers do it just to test the waters, but depending on the seller, a too-low price can be seen as insulting in and of itself — especially if the market is proving you wrong. Plus, it makes you look at least a little bit clueless and detached from reality, which aren’t qualities that most sellers appreciate in a buyer. Make sure you have thoughtful, well-researched reasons behind your offer price so that you can back it up with facts, and don’t succumb to the temptation to “just try it and see what happens” when the “it” you’re trying is an under-asking-price offer.

Tell the seller “but this is the most I can afford.”

It might be absolutely true that the seller’s asking price is above the amount that you’re pre-approved to buy from your mortgage loan company … but here’s a hard truth: Sellers really don’t care whether you, personally, can afford to buy their listed home. They might be dealing with their own financial difficulties, and there may be a certain amount of money that they must recoup to be made whole themselves. And do you care deeply about their monetary situation? Probably not, is another honest truth.

So instead of trying to guilt-trip a seller by explaining to them that their home is out of your reach, use the offer to play on their needs instead of yours — or find a different house to buy.

Think that paying cash entitles you to go too low

There are a lot of advantages to a cash offer that an offer financed by a mortgage loan isn’t able to accommodate, including eliminating some steps in the closing process (such as an appraisal or even an inspection), saving everyone time. But apart from saving time, what’s the advantage of a cash offer to a seller, who’s going to be getting a big, fat check from someone at closing whether it’s a cash-based or loan-based offer?

Some sellers might be willing to shave a little bit off their asking price for the cash convenience, but an equal number won’t care a bean that you’re offering cash if you’re also expecting to pay significantly less for the convenience. If timing or the home’s condition is a big factor for the seller, then you might be able to offer considerably lower than asking if you can pay cash, but if their reason for selling is primarily financial, then most sellers are going to tell you to take your cash offer somewhere else.

Walk away if the seller counters your offer with a higher one

Negotiating a home sale is very often a back-and-forth process, so if the seller doesn’t immediately accept your offer and instead counters with a higher one, don’t take that as a sign that it wasn’t meant to be. This is just another step in the dance, and an invitation for you to sweeten the deal.

If that’s not something you can do, then by all means, take your ball … er, offer … to a different playing field. But if you have some wiggle room either in price or other concessions you might be able to make, take the counter-offer at face value — as the next step in the negotiation process, not a deal-breaker — and either accept their counter-offer, or counter their counter with something that you think is fair to everybody.

Ignore your agent’s advice

Real estate agents have seen it all, including unreasonable behavior from both buyers and sellers. And they are experts at negotiation; it’s part of their livelihood, after all! So if your agent tells you, “This offer is really far too low and is most likely going to upset the seller,” don’t assume that they’re just trying to protect a higher commission. Getting you into a home you love is their top priority, and if what you’re planning to offer will sabotage that, it’s their responsibility to let you know. Don’t ignore them when they try to warn you that you’re about to burn a bridge with a seller.

Neglect to research how attached the seller is to the house

A seller who’s offloading a second home that was a vacation rental for years is going to have fewer problems with a lower-than-asking-price offer than a seller who’s been living in the house for decades and is leaving only under duress. If you don’t do a little bit of digging to find out how long the seller has owned or occupied the home, whether they raised kids or celebrated other life milestones there, and other factors that will definitely influence how attached the seller is to the house, then you’re shooting yourself unnecessarily in the foot. People always think their childhood home should be valued higher than it really is, and that might not seem fair to you — but what if you can communicate to the seller somehow that you have kids and plan to raise them in the house, too? That might be enough incentive for the seller to consider your offer, even if it’s not at full asking price.

Any home sale is a negotiation, and price is only one of many factors open for discussion. If you really don’t want to pay full price for a home, there are definitely ways around it, but make sure you follow the rules of the game so that your offer has the best possible chance of being considered, even if it’s not immediately accepted. You never know — time might be on your side!

Home Kitchen

23 Common Staging Mistakes that Sellers Make

Staging a home isn’t an exact science — it’s more of an art, one that covers several rooms and flows throughout a home. If you’re thinking that it doesn’t sound easy, well, it isn’t; there’s a reason why stagers can command serious dollar amounts for the work they do.

Still, staging is something that most sellers might want to tackle themselves. If you do, make sure you’re not falling prey to one of the common staging mistakes that inexperienced sellers make when it comes to staging. The goal is to create a warm, welcoming space that will resonate with buyers and encourage them to picture themselves living inside your home, not to show off your personal home decorating taste, but you can go a long way toward showcasing your house for potential buyers if you avoid the following pitfalls.

Neglecting to stage at all

The biggest mistake that most sellers make is deciding that they don’t need to stage their home at all — the market should do the work for you, right? Well, maybe, but unless you’re in a very strong seller’s market where it really doesn’t matter what your home looks like (hint: these are rare), then you should probably consider at least some light staging before you list your house.

Many sellers don’t want to stage because they think their house is perfectly fine as it is, and that may be true if you’re having friends over for dinner or throwing a kids’ birthday party. But the whole point of staging is to give your house a very specific ambiance. You want it to feel like home … but not especially like your home. It shouldn’t feel quite as generic as a hotel room, but it should be depersonalized and decluttered enough that buyers feel both comfortable and inspired — ideally, inspired enough to make a good offer.

Keeping all your furniture and things in the home

You live in your house every day, and you know that every item you have — whether it’s a piece of furniture or a stack of books — is perfectly functional. And that’s fine; nobody expects you to have a listing-perfect house that you also live in every day. But the truth is that most of our homes contain too much to look beautifully staged, between kids’ toys and garages full of tools and equipment and kitchens with appliances stacked shoulder-high on the countertops.

Before you get to the fun part of staging, the first step is always to remove, remove, remove whatever you can. That might mean end tables and a chair or two in the living room, a dresser or chest in the bedroom, family photos or unusual wall art, and all kinds of odds and ends that call your surfaces “home.”

Using too little furniture

It’s common knowledge that too much furniture is not appropriate for a staged home. In most cases, you want to remove one or two pieces of furniture from each room. Too much furniture will make your rooms look smaller and often provide barriers for buyers who want to walk through each room easily. But another big mistake that sellers make is removing too much furniture, or using too few pieces for each room. A nearly empty room will look a little bit strange to buyers, so getting that “just right” balance when it comes to furniture and spacing is really important for any staging seller.

Hiding stuff instead of eliminating it

Most sellers also know that clutter is anathema in staging; you need to clear off your surfaces and provide clean lines for the buyers who will be walking through your house. That said, don’t transfer that clutter into drawers, closets, or other spaces where buyers might be taking a peek at the space — if a buyer can open it, then it isn’t a safe space for stashing your extra things. Either hold a garage sale and get rid of some of your items, or rent a storage unit and park extra boxes of books, clothes, and other things that you might want to keep but definitely don’t want in your home while you’re staging it.

Ignoring critical improvements

Ever heard the phrase “wallpaper over the cracks”? This is something that a lot of inexperienced stagers do when they’re trying to sell a home, but it’s just as important to pay attention to the big issues with your home as it is to tweak the finishing details and touches on your staging work. Maybe this means replacing the roof, sanding and staining the deck, addressing your problem water heater — whatever it is, these usually non-cosmetic changes aren’t very sexy, but they will help make your house feel safer and more secure, which is an integral part of staging.

Not upgrading the paint

When you’ve removed a significant amount of decoration from your walls, you may notice that the paint could use a little sprucing up. Instead of hiding that with more art (which, let’s face it, is a very normal impulse), do yourself a favor and upgrade the interior paint wherever you can. And while you’re at it, think about the exterior, too — are your fences flaking and chipping? Does the front of your house look a little bit shabby once you get close enough to see it? If you notice it, it’s guaranteed that buyers will, so help your house put its best foot forward and give it a new coat or three of quality paint.

Faking everything

Yes, fake flowers and houseplants are easier to keep “alive,” and a bowl of fake fruit in the kitchen is practically a staging must-have in some areas, but if everything you put in your house while you’re staging it is fake, it could put off buyers — and they might not even be able to articulate why your house didn’t feel quite right to them. It’s absolutely fine to make your life easier by faking some of your new decor, but maybe think about buying some hardy apples for that bowl on your kitchen counter (and replacing them when they start to wrinkle) instead of the fake fruit.

Keeping too many personal items

We agree that the photo of your children with their first puppy couldn’t possibly be more adorable. But is it going to help you sell your house? Unfortunately, the answer to that question is very likely “no,” and it’s not a referendum on how cute your kids or their pup happen to be; it’s just a function of how most buyers tend to feel about personal items in a house. The same goes for religious iconography, clear evidence of a favorite hobby, and many other bits and pieces that together add up to a house that’s clearly yours … and nobody else’s. If you’re not sure whether something counts as “too personal,” ask a real estate agent for advice; they are very used to seeing perfectly staged homes and can help you tweak yours until it’s there.

Ignoring the home’s scale

A tiny bedroom just isn’t going to accommodate a king-sized bed very well; likewise, a delicate loveseat will probably look a little bit ridiculous in a grand, vaulted living room. You don’t have to fit your home’s scale exactly, but trying to squeeze too-big or too-small items into a floor plan that doesn’t really accommodate them by scale is going to look a bit silly at best, so try your hardest to avoid that end result — even if you absolutely love the piece of furniture or artwork in question.

Going with one aesthetic everywhere

Maybe your mid-century modern home really lends itself to that era’s look, and that’s perfectly fine for main areas like the kitchen, dining room, and living room — but nobody is going to believe that your children’s room is a museum showpiece. And some decorating styles are absolutely overwhelming (Victorian, anybody?) so buyers who walk through room after room of that same aesthetic might think it looks lovely … for someone else. Although your staged home should have a sense of “flow” to it, this can be better achieved with a standard color palette and some well-chosen accent pieces instead of going all-out for one particular decorative style.

Minimal or modern decor

Clean, minimalist lines are all the rage in many areas, and it’s a look that has broad appeal — so why not go all out and deck your halls, and everywhere else, with glass and chrome? Because even though buyers might enjoy looking at an exceptionally minimalist or modern home, those decorative styles aren’t the most, well, homelike. The whole idea of staging is to create an atmosphere that whispers “you’re home!” to buyers when they walk through the door, and although many of them might admire and even aspire to the modern or minimalist look, if they have kids or pets, decking your entire house like this will make them feel like they don’t quite fit in there.

Closing doors

Leaving all the doors open in your house can feel pretty strange, but when they’re walking through your house, buyers are going to open every door, anyway. Closing the doors to bedrooms, bathrooms, and even closets can be counterproductive and give buyers a feeling that you’re hiding something even if that’s patently not the case. Of course, don’t go opening all of your kitchen cabinets and utility closets — but leaving bedroom doors wide open and bathroom and closet doors slightly ajar can help buyers feel welcome in an understated way.

Narrow, neutral color palettes

With all the emphasis on creating an atmosphere where a buyer feels at home, it’s very easy for amateur stagers to decide that the best way to build that atmosphere is to be as neutral as possible — but this can actually be a big mistake. In a living room where everything is beige or gray, nothing really stands out, and that can make the whole room look boring. Instead, consider a complimentary color palette that includes neutrals (but doesn’t rely solely on them), and also use pillows, accent walls, blankets, and other items that pop with color to bring brightness and life into your rooms.

Old flooring

Tired carpeting and peeling linoleum aren’t a good look in any home, and especially one that’s being staged for sale, where everything else is so on point (you did remember to paint the walls, right?). A hardwood floor might just need a polish and wax, and maybe cleaning the grout on your tiles (or replacing it with new grout) is enough to give your flooring a lift, but if the flooring really does need to be replaced, then don’t neglect it. You don’t need to go with the top-of-the-line option, but some new carpet can go a long way toward enticing a buyer into making an offer.

Too much fine art or collectibles

Even if your house is a showpiece worthy of a museum, a lot of fine art or clearly expensive collectibles don’t usually make buyers feel comfortable at home — instead, they’re a lot more likely to feel like they’re in an actual museum. If your own personal aesthetic includes a lot of these high-end items, consider storing them in a climate-controlled, secured location where they’ll be safe, and replacing them with something a little less elevated. It might seem counterintuitive, and a luxury real estate agent might even tell you that some of your pieces are perfect for staging (listen to them if that’s their advice), but in general, you don’t want to intimidate your buyers, which fine art or expensive collectibles can certainly do.

Cluttering surfaces

Let’s face it: Most of our coffee tables have stacks of reading material on them; dining rooms are full of homework or paperwork; kitchen counters are full of jars and appliances; office desks might not even have a visible surface at all. To give your home the best chance of hooking a buyer, be ruthless about clearing the surfaces everywhere, then adding just one or two items back (a vase of flowers and a tablecloth on the dining room table, perhaps) to provide some relief for the eyes.

Too many toys or books

If you have kids — or are the world’s biggest bookworm — then you already know what “too many” looks like, and buyers can find it off-putting if they aren’t deep in a similar lifestyle. The clutter rule especially applies to toys and books, so when you think you’re finished streamlining your things … do it again, and again, and even once more until you’re really at a minimum with all the accoutrements. You don’t have to give them up entirely; they can go into storage until your sale is complete. But you do have to make sure they’re not cluttering up your possibility of a high offer from every single buyer who walks through your house.

Not investing in carpets or rugs

Like any other expanse of space, your floors can usually stand for a little visual break, so if you don’t already have runners in the hallway or a rug underneath your coffee table, ask your real estate agent for advice in terms of what to use. A creatively placed rug can really tie a room together, and the right number of rugs throughout the home can tie your whole house together, so make sure you’re paying attention to the floorspace and treating it with treatments before you open your doors to buyers.

Ignoring curb appeal

Depending on the time of year that you list your home, your buyers might not be spending all that much time outside — but you still need to pay close attention to how your home looks on the outside so that you can ensure you’re giving it the very best first impression possible. At the very least, de-cobweb and sweep your front porch, add some flowers (in season), and freshen up your outdoor furniture. If possible, add more plants; always keep your lawn neatly mowed and weeded in the spring and summertime; shovel your walkway and keep your driveway snow-free in the wintertime. (And if you didn’t follow the advice above about painting the exterior of your home and any flaking fences, take it now!)

Neglecting to add plants

Plants aren’t only for the great outdoors. A well-placed houseplant can make any room feel vibrant and alive, and when you place them strategically throughout the house, the overall effect is welcoming and fresh — after all, if a plant is thriving in your house, then buyers and their families should also thrive there, right? You don’t necessarily need a plant in every room, but if there are spaces that feel a little empty after all the furniture-purging and item-stashing, consider filling those spaces with a cute plant in a pot.

Focusing only on sight

Although humans rely on our sight more than any other sense, there are many other ways you can help buyers feel at home when they walk through the door, so don’t neglect them. One tried-and-true method that many real estate agents use during an open house is baking cookies and leaving them out for visitors to taste — the aroma is unmistakably homelike. A scented candle here or there can give a similar effect, but don’t go overboard with the artificial scents. Similarly, opening your windows to capture the sounds of nature or a nearby body of water can be lucrative in terms of generating offers, or simply playing music softly throughout the house. And if there are any odors or sounds that make your home seem less attractive, do your best to eliminate or mask them before buyers start walking through.

Blocking views or architectural elements

Buyers might not need to see all of the crown molding throughout the house, but placing a table or couch (or television) in front of an interesting architectural feature — or, even worse, a window with a gorgeous view — is one mistake that you really don’t want to make when you’re selling. Let your house sell itself by highlighting its best features, whether that’s a view or a design element, and do your best to keep your staging materials away from those features so that buyers can absorb them and appreciate them.

Over-staging

When it comes to staging, there is definitely a possibility that you’ll go overboard — too much of a good thing, in other words. You want your house to look more like an inviting Airbnb than a hotel room, so if you think you’ve started to veer too far into “neutral” territory, spice things up with an interesting flower arrangement, an eye-catching piece of art, or something else that’s not super-personalized but still has a spark of personality to it. It’s a fine balancing act, but once you achieve it, your listing photos will look amazing, and you’ll have more offers than you know what to do with in no time flat.

Home Improvement tools

11 Home Improvements That Can Boost Your Property’s Value

Upgrading or improving your home can be one of the most rewarding activities you could undertake — and that includes monetarily, because depending on the improvement, you can boost your home’s value and recoup some of your investment when the time comes to sell. However, it’s important to remember that upgrading your house isn’t exactly a dollar-for-dollar investment; you probably aren’t going to make all of your money back that you sunk into the improvement, so pumping $5,000 into your kitchen and then expecting to just tack on an additional $5,000 to your listing price when you sell it is very likely unrealistic.

Which home improvements result in the highest return when it comes time to sell? There are several that are likely to generate at least a small increase in your home’s value — but before you decide what to do, think about how long you’re likely to stay in the house and which upgrades you’ll get the most enjoyment from before you start renovating. That way you won’t be expecting a 1:1 (or higher) return, and if you’re focused on improving your own lifestyle and maybe making some memories with your household, you’ll be picking the wisest upgrades and increasing your home’s future listing price at the same time.

Kitchen rules

It’s still very true that the kitchen is the heart of the home, and for that reason, kitchen upgrades tend to be some of the best improvements you can make in terms of increasing your home’s value. Plus, depending on what you’re doing in the kitchen, the upgrades tend to be much more flexible or forgiving in terms of your overall budget than other rooms in the house — you can pretty easily sink thousands of dollars into a kitchen, of course, but it might be pleasantly surprising to discover just how much you can get for a few hundred dollars.

On the cheaper side, one way you can brighten up your kitchen is to replace the cabinet doors and paint the cabinets. There are really no rules as to what you should do, except one big one: Following trends usually dates your kitchen pretty quickly (remember the “tuxedo” cabinet craze a few years back?), so try to go with something classic. Plain dark or light wood tends to work well when you’re updating cabinet doors, or pick a color that meshes with the rest of your decor for the paint. Adding a backsplash instead of plain paint can also be an easy way to upgrade your kitchen on the cheap side.

And then there are the more expensive upgrades, like replacing your formica or laminate countertop with tile or even granite or quartz. This will require more of a monetary investment, but it can elevate your kitchen’s look (and the price of your home), so it’s worth considering if you’re sick of your kitchen counters and want something different. Talk to your contractor or even call up your real estate agent to ask what they think about your options — it might be tempting to go with another trendy material, like concrete, and these people can tell you if the trend will have staying power or if you should just stay away.

Appliance upgrades are also definitely not on the cheap side, especially if you’re going to upgrade everything in the kitchen from the range to the dishwasher to the fridge. But if your appliances are looking tired and you’ll get a little use out of the new ones before you decide to sell, it can be well worth the investment. Pick something you like, of course; even though stainless steel appliances aren’t exactly new, they’re new enough that they can give your entire kitchen an “updated” look with mid-range appliances, which can do quite a bit for the sales price of your home.

Bathrooms matter

Although most of us don’t spend quite as much time in the bathroom as we do the kitchen, it can still pay off to drop some home-improvement dollars on your bathrooms to update them, especially if it’s been a while and they’re looking tired. Replacing cabinets and countertops is sometimes a good idea in the bathroom, too, or updating the mirror (especially with a bigger option) to brighten up the room.

If your house doesn’t have any bathtubs, adding a tub is often a big winner in terms of home improvement — especially if you have a fancy tankless water heater or another option that will ensure plenty of hot water for the baths. Jacuzzis have more or less fallen out of fashion, but long, deep tubs where even a tall homeowner can stretch out and relax are always a good investment.

Re-tiling the shower (or upgrading to tile from a fiberglass version) can also make your bathroom look much better, and installing a new showerhead (or even two if your shower can accommodate them) is a worthy improvement that both you and a future buyer can both appreciate.

Finish a basement 

Adding livable square footage is one of the easiest ways to boost your home’s value instantly — even if that basement is technically already part of your house, if it’s not finished, then it doesn’t count toward the gross living area (GLA), which is one important way that appraisers and agents calculate value. You might not be able to add a full bedroom (which requires an “egress” — either a second door or a window that should open to the outside), but if you can turn your basement into a home gym, a second living area, an office, or a movie theater space, then you’ll be able to claim all that square footage as GLA.

…Or add an attic bedroom

If your attic already has a window and is accessible via stairs or a ladder, then all you need to do to create an attic bedroom is to finish your attic and maybe add a closet in some states. This can also add GLA to your house, not to mention the perks of having an extra bedroom, whether that’s for your own household members or for a private bedroom rental on Airbnb. You might want to talk to a general contractor about how easy this upgrade will be to implement, but if they say it’s possible, then you’ll be able to claim an additional bedroom when the time comes to list your house — a big perk.

Think green

Many buyers are prioritizing environmentally friendly, low-cost homes that make the most of energy efficiency; if you’ve had an energy audit done on your house and have a list of recommendations, then this could be a good place to sink any extra money you might have to throw at a home improvement. Some common suggestions include replacing or upgrading the insulation, replacing windows and even external doors, and (depending on the area) potentially adding solar panels.

That said, solar panels can be a hit-or-miss home improvement in terms of investment. Some plans ask the homeowner to pay off the solar panels month by month over a matter of years, and if your panels aren’t fully paid off by the time you decide to sell the house, then some buyers might balk at the idea of continuing to sink their own money into what was essentially your improvement. That attitude might not make sense to you, but if it’s possible, buy your solar panels outright so you can include them as part and parcel of the house when the time comes to sell it.

Paint

Inside and out, there’s almost nothing that makes a house look instantly nicer and brighter than a fresh coat of paint. Choose a high-quality paint type and experiment with colors; there are all kinds of tech tools, including apps, that allow you to try out a new paint color and decide whether you like it before you dive in and invest in enough paint to capture all your rooms.

And speaking of outside, don’t forget about any porches, decks, or fences that might require a little paint face-lift. A fence with chipping, flaking paint can make a house look tired and unkempt, so when you’re painting, make sure you include any features on the perimeter of your house, too.

Smart-home add-ons

Not everyone has an Amazon Alexa or Google Home device, but for those that do, there are plenty of items you can add to your home to make it a little “smarter” and easier to control by voice. Whether it’s a smart thermostat you can control with an app, a smart lock for your door that’s programmable to allow pet-sitters or house guests to walk on in, a light system that allows you to create a specific ambiance in your living room or bedroom, or any number of other additions, some buyers will definitely appreciate the fact that your home appears to sport the latest and greatest in technology.

The great outdoors

Adding a deck or an outdoor kitchen to your home doesn’t exactly increase your GLA, but it can be a huge selling point for future buyers, especially if you live in an area where the climate is pleasant and people tend to spend a lot of time outside. Another popular outdoor upgrade is landscaping, which can definitely add a lot of curb appeal to your home — just make sure that any landscaping you add is relatively low-maintenance and is acclimated to the weather where you live. Many younger buyers prioritize yards that are easy to maintain over the landscaped, golf-course-like expanses of grass that were popular a couple of decades ago, so if you’re going to upgrade the outside of your house, make sure you’re keeping them (and your own tastes, of course) in mind before you sink the money into your front or back yards.

Replace the floors

Your floors might be in impeccable shape, but if the carpeting is looking a little sad, or you’ve got a linoleum floor in the kitchen that hasn’t changed since the house was built, it could be time for you to splurge on some updated flooring that brings your house into the new century. Even if you’ve got some relatively new laminate flooring, if it’s starting to show some wear and tear, then upgrading it with a hardier material might be well worth your time — it’ll make your home look nicer while you’re there and increase the resale value when you’re ready to move on.

Think accessible

Our household configurations are changing in the United States, slowly but surely. To make your house appealing to buyers of all ages (or buyers with family members of all ages), one upgrade you can make that often pays off is making your home more accessible. Can you create a master suite with a bathroom on the main floor to eliminate the need for stairs? Can you add rails to the bathroom in the shower, bathtub, and toilet to make them safer? Widen doorways and maybe replace carpeting with hardwood flooring or laminate?

Whatever you can do to make your house more accessible to those with mobility issues will likely go a long way toward finding buyers who are interested in it down the road — and might even be able to help you with a family situation in the here and now.

Create a home office

More and more companies have remote work as an option for employees or even a fully distributed workforce, and their employees need a quiet, inspirational place to work at home if that’s part of their life. Even if it’s not, a home office can be a welcome addition to most households, whether it contains students who have homework or a family member who needs a little bit of space to go over the bills and organize the household on occasion. Some homes might not even require a full office; you might be surprised with what you can do with a little “laptop nook” with plenty of plugins and a wall-hanging desk to maximize space.

There are so many options when it comes to home improvement possibilities that it might seem hard to choose. Just remember that any upgrade you make needs to serve two main purposes: It should suit your current lifestyle in addition to (hopefully) boosting the resale value of your home. A full dollar-to-dollar return on your home sale investment probably isn’t likely, but when you factor in the enjoyment that you and your family will get out of any improvements, you’ll find that most of them are well worth what you’ll spend — and then some.

House and clear sky

9 Tips For Assessing Your Home’s Value

As a homeowner, it’s perfectly natural to wonder how much your house is currently worth (and, not so incidentally, how much money you might make today if you were to sell it). Even though the internet has brought information about home values directly to our fingertips, not all of it is reliable — that’s one big reason why appraisers are still in business, charging hundreds of dollars for an accurate valuation. And the truth is that sometimes even appraisers get it wrong. Your house is worth whatever a buyer in your market is willing to pay for it, and that’s usually not evident until you put it on the market and start considering offers.

All that said, there are still ways you can assess your home’s value without actually putting it on the market. Here are nine things to consider when you’re trying to figure out how much your house is worth.

Look at your property tax bill

Your property tax bill isn’t an exact estimate of your home’s value, but it’s a good jumping-off point. Homes are assessed for property taxes at different times, depending on which state, county, or city you live in. In most states, homes are assessed for taxes every five to seven years; depending on how recently your own home was assessed, you may be able to use the assessment as a starting point for figuring out how much your house is worth.

That said, beware of considering an assessment the final word on your property’s value. Typically, an assessment is done by taking the assessment rate of your locale, looking at the appraised value of your house, and multiplying the assessment rate by your home’s appraised value. If the last time your house was appraised was when you bought it — and that was decades ago — then the assessment of your home could be significantly higher or lower than its actual fair-market value. (But you won’t know that unless you call in a professional appraiser and ask their opinion.)

Examine homes that have sold recently in your neighborhood

To pinpoint a home’s value, most professionals use “comps” — this is just a term for homes that are comparable to yours that have sold recently, preferably within the past three months, but possibly as long as six months ago, depending on how many homes are for sale in your area and how easy it is to find comparable homes. At least three comps should be identified and used to find your home’s value, but you can use as many comps as you like; five or six might generate a number that more accurately reflects your home’s fair-market value.

What makes a house comparable to yours? It really depends on what comps are available in your area. They should definitely be as close to your house physically as possible, and preferably should “look” a lot like your house in terms of the number of bedrooms, bathrooms, square footage, and total lot size. Preferably, the comps will also align in details like the number of parking spaces and even the material used to build the house.

To find some comps yourself, look up homes that have recently sold in your area or neighborhood. Try to be as honest as possible with yourself; you’re not going to get a reliable valuation if you’re only looking at luxury homes and your house is not also a luxury home, or if you’re only considering mid-level houses and yours is a starter home. The recently sold homes should be as, well, comparable to your house as possible for this to be a valuable exercise.

Consider inventory

In some markets where there just aren’t very many homes for sale, it might not even matter that much if your house is comparable to others that have recently sold. The San Francisco Bay Area is a good example of a market where there isn’t a lot of available inventory (a fancy term for “homes for sale”) and therefore even tear-down homes can capture seven-figure sales prices — buyers are just that desperate to get their foot on the housing ladder, and they’re willing to pay whatever it takes.

Those markets are few and far between, but it’s still a smart idea to look at how many homes are for sale in terms of total inventory and then use that information to determine how much your own house might be worth. In areas where there are a lot of homes for sale, you might not be able to capture a price at the very top of your price range — but in areas where there are very few homes for sale, it’s likely that you’ll be able to get a lot closer to top dollar for your own house.

Use an online tool

Although online tools for calculating your home’s value are everywhere, they aren’t always accurate. One reason is because many of them use the same process as a human would to assess value — namely, comps — and a robot or algorithm isn’t always as good at picking the best comparable homes as a human would be. (This is why valuation tools like Zillow’s Zestimate usually don’t capture the actual sales price of a house.) Another reason is that a robot or algorithm hasn’t actually seen your house; they haven’t walked through it to determine whether the flooring, finishes, appliances, and other details are above the market average or below market average, so it’s really not possible for them to give you a totally accurate value for your house. In fact, it’s a lot easier to get an accurate online valuation for a cookie-cutter house in a recent development with lots of current sales than it is for a one-of-a-kind property.

Nonetheless, if you want a quick answer, sometimes an online tool is the fastest way to get at least a ballpark range. There’s a very simple one at the Federal Housing Finance Administration, which looks at when you bought your house, how much you paid for it then, and then tells you what it’s likely to be worth today just based on the housing market:  https://www.fhfa.gov/DataTools/Tools/Pages/HPI-Calculator.aspx. Zillow, Trulia, and realtor.com all have home valuation tools, too, and your local real estate brokerage might even have one available for you to play with.

Determine price per square foot in your area

Another way to determine your home’s value is to look at the average price per square foot in your area, take your own home’s square footage, and do a little bit of math. But like many math problems — especially when it comes to home valuations — price per square foot can be tricky, so make sure you’re being smart when you use it to calculate your own home’s value.

When you’re considering the square footage of your home, the best way to think about it is the “gross living area” of the property, or GLA. Your unfinished basement isn’t really “living area,” and neither is your creepy and inaccessible attic, so don’t include those spaces in your calculation of square footage.

Additionally, bear in mind that the metric you find is most likely to be the average price per square foot in your market or neighborhood, and averages can skew high or low depending on the pool of properties that’s creating the average. An average price per square foot in a neighborhood like Beverly Hills is probably pretty high, but if you live in an older, run-down home in Beverly Hills, that average likely doesn’t apply very much to your house — it’s being pulled up by all the multi-million-dollar homes in the area. The same goes for the nicest house on the block: If that happens to be yours, then the average price per square foot is likely lower than what you’d be able to get for your house.

Consider the home’s age, the lot size, and the location

The house itself is just one part of the valuation equation, although it’s an important one. Even if your house has increased in value since you bought it, just like any other physical asset, homes degrade over time — you have to make major replacements, like furnaces and roofs, and depending on how long ago it was built, there might even be some serious plumbing or electrical work to do before it’s up to modern standards. (This is one reason why buying or selling historic homes can be so difficult.)

The land that the house sits upon is also critical when you’re trying to figure out how much the house is worth, both in terms of its exact location and also in terms of how much land there is. A big lot in a neighborhood with lots of small lots will probably boost the value significantly, and vice versa — a small lot in an area where the lots tend to run large might not do you any favors, unless it also has some unique aspects like a gorgeous view or access to a body of water.

Be realistic about how your home measures up

Everyone wants to believe that the house where they’ve been living, breathing, and making memories is one of the best homes in the neighborhood — and for you, that’s true. But is it true for a buyer who has no emotional attachments and has already looked at several other houses just like yours in the past few days, and maybe a few nicer, newer homes?

Remember that ultimately, your house is only worth what a buyer would pay to own it, and delusions about how special it is could undercut your home’s actual worth if you end up putting it on the market, overpricing it, then waiting and waiting for a buyer who’s willing to pay what your asking. That strategy inevitably leads to price cuts and longer-than-normal days on market, which make buyers nervous — they’re wondering “what’s wrong with it?” and not thinking “what a steal!” So it pays to be hyper-realistic about how your home measures up against the competition, even if the answer is “it’s not quite as nice as those other houses on the market.”

Order a BPO or a CMA

A BPO is a broker price opinion, and a CMA is a comparative market analysis; you can get either of these documents from a licensed real estate agent, who likely knows the market very well. After all, they list and sell houses every day, so they probably have a pretty good idea of what yours is worth.

You don’t necessarily have to sit through a sales pitch to get your hands on either a BPO or a CMA, but you will probably have to pay for a BPO. Many companies that deal in mortgages use BPOs to assess home value, including mortgage securitizers and whole loan investors, so they tend to be more reliable than a CMA. Some real estate agents will send CMAs to their past clients regularly, just to keep them up to speed with what’s happening in the market, and it’s usually free to request and access one if you’re curious.

Talk to a professional

A real estate agent or broker isn’t the only person who can assess your home’s value; you can also go straight to an appraiser and order an appraisal, but be aware that depending on the demand for the appraiser’s time, it could take several weeks and cost a few hundred dollars to get their professional opinion. So an agent or broker might be your best option if you want to save money and you’re not interested in selling your house immediately. In fact, developing an ongoing relationship with a reliable real estate agent or broker can be a real advantage to a homeowner; they can help you understand whether the deck you want to add is going to boost your home’s value (and by how much) or give you advice about where to spend your home improvement dollars if you’re planning on making some upgrades.

Valuing a house isn’t an exact science, but there’s a lot you can learn on your own if you choose to. Remember these tips and don’t be led astray by online tools or other potentially faulty valuation methods — ultimately, an expert in the real estate industry could be your best asset for determining your home’s value.

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