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Filed under: News, Celebrity Homes, Lifestyle Courtesy of The Agency via ZillowDaryl Hannah's Malibu compound has a standalone master suite with a Japanese-style soaking tub and a fireplace. APDaryl Hannah By Emily Heffter Environmentalist-actress Daryl Hannah is selling her sustainable Malibu compound, a hippie hideaway suited for relaxation after an anti-fracking rally. The "Splash" and "Steel Magnolias" star has been in the news recently because of a reported romance with Neil Young. But that life change isn't likely the reason she's selling her Malibu, California, property. She listed it in 2012 for $4.995 million. Now The Agency holds the $4.25 million pocket listing for the gated 17-acre organic oasis. The property has three buildings: a house with an art studio; a standalone master suite with a Japanese-style soaking tub and a fireplace; and a guesthouse with a loft and views of the ocean. It's not your typical sleek oceanside celebrity retreat, but the home has its own brand of luxury charm, with a historic stone cottage, several gardens and beautiful stained glass. Photos courtesy of The Agency. Read | Permalink | Email this | Comments
Filed under: Design, News, House of the DayBy Mitchell Parker While undergoing radiation treatment for breast cancer, interior designer Sarah Stacey's mother-in-law made a decision to edit down her life and get more enjoyment out of her home. "She had been living with boxes for years after downsizing and realized she wasn't going to live forever, so she wanted to surround herself with the things she loved," Stacey says. After recovering from successful treatments, she approached her daughter-in-law for help revamping her living space, which was piled high with boxes and cookbooks. Stacey's space planning proved the most beneficial, creating a bright and open layout filled with her mother-in-law's original midcentury furnishings. Midcentury Living Room by Austin Interior Designers & Decorators Sarah Stacey Interior Design After Stacey's mother-in-law downsized from a 3,000-square-foot home in Houston to her new 1,300-square-foot home in Austin, the living room had been filled with stacks of possessions that made it hard to use the space. Stacey helped clear out the room and edit her mother-in-law's stuff to create a open and airy space filled only with the pieces that mattered. "My mother-in-law has incredible taste," Stacey says. Modern Living Room by Austin Interior Designers & Decorators Sarah Stacey Interior Design A previous homeowner had done some sloppy DIY projects. The wood wall, for example, had exposed seams between the pieces of plywood that Stacey had to cover with boards. The Thayer Coggin sectional was the first thing her mother-in-law bought. It cost $16,000 but was something she had always wanted, and she thought she'd be able to pass it down to her grandchildren as an heirloom piece. Stacey found the original Milo Baughman coffee table at a thrift store for $60. "Those are going for $2,800 online," she says. Stacey used one of her mother-in-law's large Persian rugs to anchor the room and soften the raw concrete floors. She selected the pillows to add more of a feminine edge and help break up the all-white sectional. Art: Elisa Gomez; pillows: West Elm and H&M An Eames lounge chair and ottoman, which the homeowner had owned since the 1960s, creates a reading nook near the floor-to-ceiling windows. Cookbooks fill teak shelves that the homeowner also bought in the 1960s. The lighting was added by a previous homeowner. Stacey would have changed it, but the ceiling is what's called a closed envelope and couldn't be opened up. Modern Living Room by Austin Interior Designers & Decorators Sarah Stacey Interior Design Stacey created a half wall so the piano wouldn't have to sit against an exterior wall, where moisture and temperature changes might have caused tuning problems. "It's more applicable to older homes, but just to be safe," she says. Modern Living Room by Austin Interior Designers & Decorators Sarah Stacey Interior Design Stacey designed this white oak media cabinet, which helps balance the wood wall opposite. Cabinet: Honea Woodworks Midcentury Dining Room by Austin Interior Designers & Decorators Sarah Stacey Interior Design The living room opens to this dining room. Originally, Stacey's mother-in-law wanted the reading nook in the dining space and the dining table near the window by the Eames lounge chair. "It would have looked totally different. She benefited the most from space planning, I think," Stacey says. Cats had torn up the dining chairs, so Stacey had them re-corded and had the table refinished. "She had some great pieces that I was able to work with," she says. "I just had to finish things off and bring everything together." See more Rooms of the Day Permalink | Email this | Comments
Filed under: News, Lifestyle Jae C. Hong/The Associated PressPeople exercise on the beach in Santa Monica, California, which won a $1 million civic improvement grant that it's planning to use to help residents feel better about themselves. By John Rogers SANTA MONICA, Calif. -- As Eileen Brown and her dog stand on a bluff at Santa Monica's Palisades Park and survey endless miles of sparkling blue ocean, clear skies and shimmering sandy beaches, she ponders how life could possibly get any better in this corner of paradise. "Really, it seems just about perfect," the Los Angeles woman concludes. There's a picturesque pier off in the distance with an old-fashioned merry-go-round that stands nearly side-by-side with the world's first solar-powered Ferris wheel. The sun is shining brightly, the temperature is a pleasant 79 degrees and a light sea breeze makes everything feel just right. But there's also loads of traffic and a high cost of living, two things that recently prompted the real estate blog Movoto to rate Santa Monica No. 2 on its Top 10 list of America's Most Stressed-Out Suburbs. To do something about that, the city of 92,000 applied last year for a Bloomberg Philanthropies Mayors Challenge grant, proposing that it create a "Wellbeing Project" to determine just how much people in this picture-postcard town really like living here. Santa Monica beat out 300 other U.S. cities in securing $1 million. This week, officials will begin asking residents how involved they are in community activities, if they know who to turn to in times of crisis, if they know their neighbors, how healthy they are, how lonely they might be and how good an education they believe their kids are receiving. Then they'll examine what changes are needed to make life better. "It's really about trying to get a much clearer understanding of who the people of Santa Monica are, what they are doing and what we can do on a local government level to help ensure people are thriving," said Julie Rusk, assistant director of community and cultural services. Some of the other four cities that won grants are going the more traditional route. Houston, for example, plans on building a better trash-collection system. Rusk says Santa Monica came up with The Wellbeing Project after the launch of its Cradle to Career Initiative in 2011. That effort, to learn how students felt about themselves, began after a tragic period that included a teenager committing suicide by throwing himself off a high-rise hotel. "What we found out was only a third of kindergarteners were really ready socially, emotionally, physically, cognitively, for kindergarten," Rusk said. In a community where more than three quarters of adults have college degrees, that was a stunning discovery. About that same time, the city learned its efforts to promote health and fitness might have gotten out of hand when residents complained that commercial trainers had turned Palisades Park into an open-air gymnasium, making it difficult to do anything else there. After months of debate, the city restricted who could use parks for commercial purposes. And on a recent weekday, there wasn't a weight machine or yoga mat in sight at Palisades Park. Instead, it was filled with people having picnics, jugglers, skateboarders, strollers, dog walkers, musicians and someone operating a bubble-making machine. If The Wellbeing Project works as they hope, city officials could tweak other public services. Brown, who loads her dog into the car a couple times a month and travels to the park to unwind, couldn't see too many things to improve. The site of numerous homeless people sprawled out in the shadow of beach-front condominiums did trouble her, however. Brown said she avoids the city's notoriously traffic-choked freeway by taking surface streets from downtown L.A. The locals cite the traffic jams, the homelessness and the cost of living as problems that make Santa Monica not quite as pleasant as outsiders think. "We're choking on gridlock from overdevelopment," says 30-year resident Tricia Crane, who complained of watching the city transform from a quiet beach town of cottage-style homes and modest two-story apartments to one of high-rise condos and apartments with high mortgages and rents. The median price of a home is $992,000. Soon, says street musician Charles Baker Jr., paradise could become the province of just the rich. "The way it's going, nobody is going to be able to afford to live here anymore," he said as he sat in the park with his keyboard. Permalink | Email this | Comments
Filed under: News, Buying, Home Equity ShutterstockParents hoping to both land a good home deal and give their kids a high-quality education have several costs to weigh. By Rebecca McClay Whether or not you have kids, living in a good school district can be a big deal. It's not only about better teachers, better books, and better test scores. It's also about preserving home values and ensuring faster resale rates. The quality of school districts should play a critical role in your home-buying decision -- although there are pros and cons to buying in top-notch school regions. Parents hoping to both land a good home deal and give their kids a high-quality education have several costs to weigh. Pricier homes in a strong public school district may actually be better bargains than Just because a neighborhood has a poorly ranked public school district doesn't mean that the overall quality of education there is poor. affordable homes in private-school heavy districts. Seeking good public schools: Of course, many buyers already name school districts among the key factors in their homebuying decision. Among adults who live with children, nearly two thirds (63 percent) said a neighborhood's school district would be among the most important considerations (aside from the home's price) when searching for a home. The age of the schools, the condition of their facilities, the student-to teacher ratios and, of course, standardized test scores all contribute to whether a school district is considered high quality or not. Finding private alternatives: But just because a neighborhood has a poorly ranked public school district doesn't mean that the overall quality of education there is poor. Private schools also play a crucial role in their neighborhoods. While in general, the wealthier, more educated, and more Catholic Metro areas have a higher private school enrollment, there is another catalyst behind heavy private enrollment trends -- poor public school quality. In areas with lower-quality public schools, parents are more willing to pay for private schooling in the name of a good education. In fact, private school enrollment is roughly four times higher in the lowest GreatSchools ratings districts than in those with the highest ratings, where just 4 percent of kids go to private school. Parents looking for homes in lower-rated districts but who still want quality education may need to factor in the cost of a private education, which runs well into the thousands per year. Tuition rates vary widely with top-tier prep schools averaging about $40,000 a year for fees while Catholic schools average about $7,000 per year. But the average tuition cost is $10,940, which is the same as $912 per month in mortgage payments, according to a Trulia analysis. In other words, a homeowner with a $1,326 mortgage payment on a $300,000 house who is also paying the average $912-per-month average tuition could effectively similarly afford a $520,000 house with public school education in a better quality school district. Because home prices and school tuitions vary so widely, buyers will have to calculate these differences on their own. Considering the future: Even for buyers without children, investing in a home in a good quality school district can also pay off with consistently higher resale values. Homes there tend to sell faster than homes in lower quality school districts. And during tougher economic times that trigger declines in home values, homes in better school districts usually hold their value more than homes in lower quality school districts. In other words, their home prices are more stable and can better weather another housing market crash. On the downside, these homes in better school districts tend to be more expensive. Buyers here will be paying higher property taxes, and much of that money will be allotted right back the schools. For childless buyers, that's no tax bargain. But in general, buying in a good school district does matter and, with more stability in home prices and more savings from costly private school education, it usually works in favor of the buyer. Rebecca McClay is a long-time business journalist who has written extensively on personal finance and real estate issues for a number of national publications, including MarketWatch, the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg. She has a master's degree in business journalism from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Permalink | Email this | Comments
Filed under: News, Lifestyle, Inside Look Magnus Bråth/FlickrIf your dog's breed is blacklisted, an insurance company can refuse to write you a homeowner's policy. Your dog may be your best friend, but that adorable pit bull, Rottweiler, even a fox-faced Schipperke may be on an insurance company's blacklist of "dangerous dogs." If a breed is blacklisted, your insurance company may either refuse to write you a homeowner's policy, or write a policy that excludes any claims related to your dog. Is Fluffy on the list? Hard to know, because the list is a moving target that changes with the region, underwriter, and a particular insurance company's claim history. "If a company hasn't paid off claims on a particular breed in a while, that type of dog may be knocked off the list," says Loretta Worters of the Insurance Information Institute in New York City. "If other "When it comes to dog bites, the lawsuits go through the roof. breeds experience more problems, they'll put them on the list." Even the nightly news can propel a breed onto the bad dog list. In 2001, the media widely covered the lurid death of a San Francisco woman mauled by two Presa Canarios, thick-necked but usually docile dogs originally bred in the Canary Islands as farm helpers. "Although the Presa Canario remains a quite rare breed in North America, it now seems to appear on every prohibited dog breed list issued by the insurance companies," says dog expert Stanley Coren in Psychology Today. Insurance underwriters aren't dog haters (necessarily), but they are number crunchers and risk evaluators who recognize that dog bites accounted for a third of all insurance liability claims in 2013, amounting to $483 million in payouts -- with an average $30,000 per claim. "We'll sue each over anything," says Mark Carrasquillo, a New York City insurance broker for the past 25 years. "And when it comes to dog bites, the lawsuits go through the roof. It could be just a little nip on the ankle by a Chihuahua." Most dangerous dog lists are based on a 2002 study by the U.S. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control that looked at deaths resulting from dog bites over a 19-year period. Pit bulls and Rottweilers topped the list and accounted for half the 238 deaths where breeds were known, followed by German Shepherds and Huskies. Some surprising killers were Great Danes, known as gentle giants, and St. Bernards, who have rescued Alpine skiers for centuries. Carrasquillo says that he's seen Chow Chows and Shar Peis on dog blacklists. In fact, Carrasquillo said that he feared that he would be blackballed from getting an umbrella liability insurance policy because he owns a pit bull-mix named Max. So, on the application, he described Max as a "chocolate lab mix," and was granted the policy. "It was probably an accommodation for me because I'm a broker," he says. Permalink | Email this | Comments
Filed under: News, Buying, InvestingBy Emily Heffter At more than twice the national median home value, $400,000 will get you a mansion some places and quite the fixer-upper in others. Most places, it's enough to get you a family home. But whether your family home has a Jacuzzi tub will be determined by the home's location. Here's a look at homes around the country listed for about $400,000. Read | Permalink | Email this | Comments
Filed under: News U.S. General Services AdministrationThe housing development in Ajo, Arizona, that was built by Customs and Border Protection for its agents. By Astrid Galvin TUCSON, Ariz. -- The federal government wasted millions of dollars in building a housing project for Border Patrol agents in Arizona near the Mexican border, spending nearly $700,000 per house in a small town where the average home costs less than $90,000, a watchdog report found. The analysis by the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general found that U.S. Customs and Border Protection overspent by about $4.6 million on new houses and mobile homes in the small town of Ajo southwest of Phoenix. The agency has spent about $17 million for land, 21 two- and three-bedroom houses and 20 mobile homes. Construction was completed in December 2012. Customs and Border Protection paid about $680,000 per house and about $118,000 per mobile home, according to the report. The average home cost in Ajo is $86,500. The agency realized there was a need for more housing around 2008, when the Border Patrol doubled in size. There are currently about 21,000 border agents, roughly 5,000 of whom are in Arizona. In fiscal year 2004, there were about 10,800 agents, with about 2,400 in Arizona. Building in Ajo became a priority because of its proximity to two Border Patrol stations and because nearby towns lacked sufficient public services for agents and their families. [The text of this article continues below the slideshow.] "CBP did not effectively plan and manage employee housing in Ajo, Arizona, and made decisions that resulted in additional costs to the federal government," the report states. A statement from Customs and Border Protection says that while the agency agrees with recommendations made in the report, it disputes the way the inspector general calculated the cost of each house and mobile home, calling the method "comparing apples to oranges." "CBP relies on the private housing market to provide housing for its employees, except in a few extreme locations such as Ajo," the agency said in a statement released by spokesman Jim Burns. "In Ajo, CBP built urgently needed housing for employees in accordance with the approved CBP design standards and the U.S. government guidance to be used by executive agencies concerning construction of federally owned housing for civilians." He added that the agency remains committed to providing quality, cost-effective housing to frontline border security personnel and their families. The report says Customs and Border Protection did not "adequately justify" hiring the U.S. General Services Administration, a government agency, to manage the housing project, and that it overpaid the agency by about $3 million in unspent funds. CBP also increased funding for the project seven times without providing reasons for the increases or explaining how the money was spent. The government plans to build more houses in Lukeville, which is near Ajo. AOL Real Estate contributed to this report. Permalink | Email this | Comments
Filed under: News, Buying Andrew Burton/Getty ImagesA woman walks past the construction site at 42 Crosby Street, where 10 parking spaces are priced at $1 million each. By Christin DiGangi It's common knowledge New York City is home to some of the priciest real estate in the country, but still, paying $1 million for a parking space is a little excessive. A luxury building under construction in the trendy SoHo neighborhood will offer the pricey parking spots on a first-come, first-served basis, and they cost more per square foot than the apartments above. Owning a car is often extremely expensive if you live in one of the biggest cities in the country -- there are all sorts of fees, insurance rates are generally higher, and, oh yeah, you need to find somewhere to put it. In densely populated areas, that's no easy task. If you want a guaranteed spot, you'll pay a It almost certainly costs more than any car that would sit in it.... premium. For cost reasons alone, many city dwellers choose to ditch their personal vehicles for public transportation or bicycles. For the likely tenants of this new building in SoHo, a $1 million slab of concrete is probably a small price to pay for easy access to a vehicle: The three-bedroom units will cost between $8.7 million and $10.45 million, and the duplex penthouse is $25 million (though that's nothing compared to this palace in Florida, the most expensive U.S. property on the market right now). If you think of it in terms of monthly expenses (which is how most people deal with buying property) adding $1 million to the price of these units adds just a few thousand dollars to the cost. These parking spaces aren't the equivalent to a typical home's garage, which the owner would pay for as part of a mortgage. The buyer won't own the parking space in the same way she would own the apartment -- they are being sold as 99-year licenses, allowing the owner to use the spot as long as he or she is a resident of the building. If she moves, she must sell the spot. Even for New York, where parking spaces like these sell for $136,052, according to the Times, $1 million is an eye-popping figure for such an amenity. It almost certainly costs more than any car that would sit in it, because people don't generally drive excessively luxurious sports cars in Manhattan traffic. This building stands out among other luxury properties because there are as many private spaces as residences, which the developer was able to accomplish by getting a special permit - the city usually limits parking spaces in new buildings to 35% of the units. Permalink | Email this | Comments
Filed under: Design, News, Celebrity Homes ZillowWhen it last changed hands in 2013, the home still had the same kitchen layout as depicted on television. By Emily Heffter Rehabbed from top to bottom, this house will always be remembered as the home of Ozzie and Harriet, America's first real television family between 1952 and 1966. It also served as Ari Gold's home on "Entourage." When the Los Angeles home last changed hands in 2013 for $3.025 million, the house still had the same kitchen layout as it did on television, and Ozzie's wood-paneled "pub room" stood frozen in time. Owners since Ozzie's death say they would sometimes find a kitchen drawer open beside the sink, presumably because his ghost wanted a bowl of ice cream in the middle of the night. The developer who bought the house has redone it, bringing the 1916 Hollywood Hills home into the modern age. Selling agent Eric Lowry of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage-Sunset Strip says the home is not even haunted anymore. He has listed it for just under $5 million. "Everything about the house is perfect," he said. "The house looks like an East Hampton, very light and airy beach house." The remodel of the five-bedroom, seven-bath, 5,283-square-foot home replaced linoleum with hardwood floors and windows with French doors to the backyard. The pub room off the kitchen has been replaced with a more modern family sitting area. The new kitchen is all marble with Viking appliances. The remodel did preserve some of the history: The front of the house has been re-sided, but looks the same, with the iconic red door. And two doors with son Ricky's name etched in them were framed and hung in the hallway. "You won't shed the history, because the house is exactly that," Lowry said. "That was their home." Read | Permalink | Email this | Comments
Filed under: News, Buying, Lifestyle ShutterstockMost teens surveyed said that to own a home they would give up social media and do double homework for a year. Can't wait to tweet this: Generation Z, those teens between ages 13 and 17, would give up social media for a year -- and even take Mom or Dad to the prom -- if those teenage sacrifices meant they could someday own a home. Who would have thunk it? Homeownership has been dropping since the beginning of the Great Recession, down from 69 percent before the bust to 65 percent now. But 82 percent of Generation Z participants -- 4 out of 5 surveyed by Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate -- think owning a home is the most important factor in Gen Z's view of the American Dream is vastly different from what their slightly older peers believe. achieving the American Dream. "Today's teens are fiscally literate and realistic when it comes to their future," says Sherry Chris, president and CEO of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate. "It's quite profound that a generation that has never known a world without social media is willing to give up such a staple in their modern lives to achieve their dream home." Homeownership is so important to this group of kids (who can't even vote), that they're willing to sacrifice the very things that, adults think, they live for. The survey of 1,000 teens conducted in July found that Gen Z also values graduating from college (78 percent), marrying (71 percent), and having children (68 percent). Nearly all the teens surveyed -- 98 percent -- believe they will someday own a home and would be willing to make the following sacrifices now if it led to homeownership later. 53 percent would give up social media for a year and do double homework every night. 42 percent would attend school seven days a week. 39 percent would take their mom or dad to the prom. Gen Z's view of the American Dream is vastly different from what their slightly older peers believe. A recent Credit.com survey found that being debt-free was the top financial goal for young adults 18 to 24, and that owning a home fell at the bottom of their priority list. Homeownership for Millennials -- people reaching adulthood before 2000 -- has fallen to historic lows: 36.2 percent in the first quarter of 2014, down from 36.8 percent in 2013, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Permalink | Email this | Comments
Filed under: Home Improvement, How To ShutterstockAlong with dishes, there are many other super-dirty things that your dishwasher will clean and shine. Your dishwasher can do so much more than wash dishes. This super-hot washing machine can clean, sanitize and deodorize anything that won't melt in high -- typically 130-170 degrees -- temperatures. If you're not sure if a dirty item likes it hot, place it on the top rack, start the dishwasher, and check mid-cycle. Of course, let the steam clear before sticking your face in the cavity to check. Here are 25 super-dirty things that your dishwasher will clean and shine. Shoes: If you can wear the shoes in rain - rubber boots, flip-flops, pool shoes -- you can pop them into the dishwasher for a good scrubbing. Make sure to remove liners and orthopedic inserts. Baseball Hats: Hats keep their shape when you place them on the top rack for cleaning and deodorizing. Put a small cup of white vinegar on the bottom rack for extra deodorizing power. Hairbrushes and Combs: Remove hair and place plastic combs and brushes in the cutlery tray and wash. Don't put products with wood handles in the dishwasher: Wood doesn't like hot water scrubbings. Toys: Metal and plastic toys will sparkle after going through a dishwasher cycle. Place in the cutlery tray or a mesh bag, first. Vent Covers and Grilles: When they become filthy with dust and grime, place metal covers and grilles on the bottom rack of the dishwasher. Grooves will shine. Cup Holders: When they become encrusted with spilled coffee and soda, pop cup holders into the dishwasher for a thorough cleaning. Computer Keyboards: Proceed at your own risk, because placing computer keyboards in the dishwasher sounds risky to us. But some tech geeks swear it works. Test with an old keyboard you can do without. Kitchen Brushes: After slopping sauce on ribs, clean and sanitize basting brushes in the dishwasher. Scrub Brushes: Let your dishwasher scrub your scrub and bottle brushes. Hub Caps: To make them really shine, place in dishwasher along with a cup of white vinegar. If you want to clean lug nuts, too, place them in a mesh bag first. Window Screens: Clean screens will let more sun shine through to warm your home in winter and cut energy costs. If they fit, pop them in the dishwasher. Light Fixture Covers; Place glass and plastic fixture covers in the dishwasher on the gentle cycle. Dead bugs, grime and dust will disappear. Switch Plates and Outlet Covers: Dust typically covers the backsides of switch plates and outlet covers, which doesn't help allergy sufferers. Unscrew and place plates and covers in the dishwasher, which will clean and sanitize them. Stove Knobs: Pop off and place in dishwasher, which quickly will remove grease and grime. Potatoes and Root Vegetables: When you harvest potatoes, beets and turnips from your garden, place them in the top rack and run through a short dishwasher cycle without soap. To cook same veggies, wrap tightly in aluminum foil, and wash again. Refrigerator Shelves and Drawers: Save time cleaning the fridge by placing glass and plastic shelves and drawers in the dishwasher. Say goodbye to sticky messes. Cabinet Hardware: Your spring cleaning should include thoroughly cleaning cabinet pulls and knobs. If you're dirt obsessed, place them in a mesh bag or in the cutlery tray, and send through the wash cycle. Soap and Toothbrush Holders: Gather all holders, and let your dishwasher scrub off caked on toothpaste and dish detergent. Faux Flowers: They look even more faux when covered with dust. Place plastic flowers on the dishwasher's top rack, and press the short cycle button. Plastic Broom Heads and Brushes: Remove clumps of hair and dust that could clog the drain, then run through the dishwasher. Desk Accessories: Pen and pencil cups, sticky note holders, and in-out trays get dirty and dusty. Clean plastic accessories in the dishwasher. Makeup Brushes: Regularly sanitize these brushes that touch your eyes and face. Place them in the cutlery tray, and let the dishwasher blast away dried makeup and dust. Trash Can Lids: If they fit, place those gross-smelling lids in the dishwasher. They'll look and smell better after going through a complete cycle. Garden Tools: Garden tools can spread fungal infections from plant to plant. To sanitize, clean weeders, shears and trowels in the dishwasher. Rinse off soil, first. Sporting Equipment: Place plastic shin guards, balls and helmets in the dishwasher for cleaning, sanitizing and deodorizing. Permalink | Email this | Comments
Filed under: Design, Home Improvement, How ToBy Vanessa Brunner Vibrant reds, bold oranges and electric greens all have their place in the kitchen today -- it's just a matter of finding the right tone and using it correctly. Are you ready to get cooking with color? Take a look at some of Houzz's best kitchen color guides, complete with suggested paint picks and color palettes, and start sampling some fresh new hues on your kitchen cabinets, island and backsplash. Red Eclectic Kitchen by Briarcliff Manor Kitchen & Bath Designers Amazing Spaces Stimulating shades of red have are purported to up the appetite, which makes it a great kitchen color for families who love to cook (and eat). But should you use a warm red or a cool red? And how much? Get plenty of paint samples before choosing a final tone -- and be aware that red requires at least two coats for full coverage. Paint picks: When to Use Red in the Kitchen Orange Like red, orange grabs the attention right away and is best used on great features that should be exaggerated. Be careful when playing with light tones, though -- sometimes orange can feel like a pastel, so look for oranges with yellow or brown in them if you want something that isn't too vibrant. Paint picks: When to Use Orange in the Kitchen Green Contemporary Kitchen by San Francisco Kitchen & Bath Designers Barbra Bright Design Green can be a tricky color to work with -- while the right shades feel refreshing and playful, the wrong shades can look almost sickly. This guide has some great advice to get you started: Go for a hue that reminds you of your favorite green food. Paint picks: When to Use Green in the Kitchen Blue This calming color can make even the most chaotic space feel relaxing. But be careful when using it in the kitchen, since blue may be an appetite suppressant. Instead of going overboard with this watery hue, try using it in small doses -- on islands, cabinetry or backsplashes. Paint picks: When to Use Blue in the Kitchen Black Transitional Kitchen by San Francisco General Contractors Design Line Construction, Inc. There's a good reason black is always in style -- it goes with everything. Neutral and colorful kitchens can both make use of this dramatic and dark color. But be careful -- black absorbs a lot of light, so it might not be the best bet for a kitchen that doesn't get much sunshine. Paint picks: When to Use Black in the Kitchen Cabinet Colors If a new wall color just isn't giving your kitchen the update you want, painting your cabinetry can be an affordable way to amp up your kitchen's style. But it's not just a matter of slapping on some paint -- painting cabinets can be a lot of work, so be careful to choose a palette that you know you'll love. Paint picks: 8 Great Kitchen Cabinet Color Palettes Cabinet Stains Beach Style Kitchen by Milford Interior Designers & Decorators Shelter Interiors llc Torn between painting your wood cabinets or leaving them in their unadorned beauty? Luckily, there is a compromise. Staining your cabinets can add subtle color to your kitchen but still retain the texture and original wood grain. Color picks: Stain Colors for Kitchen Cabinets Color Combinations Contemporary Kitchen by Dallas Architects & Building Designers Domiteaux + Baggett Architects, PLLC The good news: You've finally decided what color you want for your kitchen. The bad news: This is only the beginning. Take the time to choose accent colors, materials and the proper paint applications to create the perfect palette for your chosen hue. Paint picks: 8 Great Kitchen Color Schemes Miss your favorite hue? Get designer kitchen palette suggestions for every color Permalink | Email this | Comments
Filed under: News, How To, Renting ShutterstockThe Professional Tenant can leave the landlord with a worthless judgment for thousands in unpaid rent -- and a trashed apartment. I am an attorney who has practiced in landlord tenant law for over 15 years in Massachusetts, one, if not the most, tenant-friendly states in the country. I've seen the good, bad and the ugly when it comes to tenant shenanigans. I've written all about it on my Massachusetts Real Estate Law Blog. Most tenants are problem-free, yet there is a certain type who make even an experienced landlord cringe with fear: The Professional Tenant. Let me give you the profile of what I mean by a typical Professional Tenant. (This is a generalization based on my professional experience.) They have history of litigation, evictions and/or delinquency with prior landlords. They have a surprising (and dangerous) knowledge of local landlord-tenant law. They often have a background in real estate, engineering, contracting or law. They have marginal to poor credit, with a prior history of collections, judgments or bankruptcies. They have gaps in rental history. They have non-existent or incomplete prior landlord references. Now the above may sound simply like a poor rental applicant, and maybe that's true. But the Professional Tenant will make a landlord's life miserable and cost them thousands in lost rent and legal fees. Here's what a Professional Tenant will do to a landlord. The Professional Tenant's Scheme Shortly after moving in, the Professional Tenant will start to complain about small issues with the rental property. Some will complain to the local board of health to have the landlord cited for Professional rental screening techniques, experience and common sense instincts will help a landlord avoid a Professional Tenant. code violations. Often the tenant has caused these very code violations -- bathroom mold is a common situation. (Most state Sanitary Codes can trip up even the most conscientious landlord.) Based on the code violations, the Professional Tenant will stop paying rent, claiming that they are "withholding rent" due to bad property conditions. Under Massachusetts law, for example, a tenant can legally withhold rent for even the most innocuous code violations and there is no rent escrow requirement. The Professional Tenant will also assert that the landlord violated the local last-month-rent and security-deposit law, and ask for their deposit back, trying to set up the landlord for a hefty legal claim. In Massachusetts, tenants can win triple damages for deposit law violations. In the meantime, months may pass before the landlord will realize that they are being set up. The landlord will have repaired the minor code issues, only to have the tenant call the board of health again and again. The landlord is forced to start eviction proceedings, only to be met with a slew of counterclaims and defenses from the Professional Tenant. The Professional Tenant will then send the landlord a myriad of document requests and interrogatories which will often delay the eviction hearing. Months and thousands of dollars in attorneys' fees later, the landlord finally gets his day in court. And the Professional Tenant doesn't show up, leaving the landlord with a worthless judgment for thousands in unpaid rent -- and a trashed apartment. How Can Landlords Avoid the Professional Tenant? Professional rental screening techniques, experience and common sense instincts will help a landlord avoid a Professional Tenant. My advice to landlords is to make screening the most important thing you do as a landlord, and do the following: Invest in good credit history checks. Follow up with landlord references for all applicants. Call the past landlords and talk to them! Check and verify employment information. Check prior bankruptcies and court dockets. Personally interview all tenants and size them up! If someone seems fishy, they probably are. Trust your instincts! Do you have your own story about dealing with a Professional Tenant? If you do, please share them in the comments! Permalink | Email this | Comments
Filed under: News, Home Improvement, How ToWeeds are the worst. They compete with my flowers and shrubs for nutrients, water and sunlight. And since weeds are native and superbly adapted to my little slice of heaven, they usually win the war with my exotic perennials, which were propagated God-knows-where. I could spray the intruders with herbicides, and continue to pollute the watershed and kill the honeybees, vital pollinators whose populations are shrinking. Or I can get rid of weeds naturally, using my brawn and brain to defeat these plants, whose only real crime is growing where I don't want them: Permalink | Email this | Comments
Filed under: Advice, Buying, How To ShutterstockThere are ways for homebuyers to determine if they're about to purchase a disaster. By Geoff Williams Karen Carlson and her husband bought their house last year and encountered problems almost from the start. "Within the first four months, we had to call the plumber five times," says Carlson, who works in public relations in Orange County, California. When the washing machine or dishwasher ran, so did the downstairs toilet. It overran, in fact. "At first, we didn't connect the appliances with the toilet," Carlson says. She and her husband thought flushing the toilet upstairs might be causing the downstairs toilet to go berserk. It wasn't uncommon for filthy water to bubble over the seat, fill up the floor, enter the garage and run down the driveway. "There's no way someone could have lived here for so long without knowing there was a problem." The three-bedroom, two-bathroom house shouldn't have had water issues, considering it sold for $630,000. "By Los Angeles and Orange County standards, that's a pretty cheap home, but for us, it was a major deal," Carlson says. It took a while to determine the problem, but the plumber eventually discovered the pipes were jammed with dirt and roots. "There's no way someone could have lived here for so long without knowing there was a problem," Carlson says. [Read: Can You Afford to Buy a Fixer-Upper Home?] So what should you do if you buy a house that doesn't live up to your expectations? Your options are limited, unfortunately. Litigation. You could hire a lawyer and go after the sellers or builder who sold you the property. In fact, that's about the only practical solution if you want to get your money back. But it depends on the laws in your state, says Julie Forrester, professor of law at Southern Methodist University's Dedman School of Law in Dallas. "Some states still follow the traditional rule of let the buyer beware," she says. Fortunately, "many states impose a duty on a homeowner or seller to disclose a known hidden material defect. Many states also require a seller to complete a mandated disclosure form," Forrester adds. That paperwork can protect you if you decide to go to court, but for many homeowners, going to court isn't realistic. In fact, Carlson says she has the paperwork that would let her retain a lawyer, but she doesn't plan to because the couple already spent so much on home repairs. Prevention. The best way to avoid finding yourself in this situation is to make sure you don't buy a bad home in the first place. That may not help -- it didn't help Carlson, who got a home inspection. Only minor problems were found, which the home seller agreed to fix (and didn't). But you'd be a fool not to get a proper home inspection before closing. It's the best defense you have from buying a problem house. Rhonda Duffy, who owns Duffy Realty in Atlanta, suggests asking your insurance company for a Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange report -- known as a CLUE report -- on the house you're considering. The report, which you can also get at LexisNexis.com, contains a seven-year history of claims on the home. So if there have been a lot of problems with the property that were reported to an insurance company, they should be in the report and can help you determine if you're about to buy a disaster. [Read: What Home Inspectors Don't Notice.] Be cautious if you are about to buy a home that's been flipped. "Experienced flippers looking to maximize profits at the expense of the buyer will learn how to hide problems from the inspector rather than correct the problems," says Bill Loden, president of the American Society of Home Inspectors. For instance, he says, "an air conditioner that has coolant leaks can be charged just before the inspection and may work fine for a couple of weeks." Later, not so much. Keep in mind that there are limits to what home inspectors can uncover. They can't "open up walls and aren't able to perform technically exhaustive procedures on the mechanical systems in a home," Loden says. But there is a lot they can do, says Joan Arkins, an Atlanta Realtor. "I always suggest my clients use an inspector with an infrared camera. I've watched several times as they discovered plumbing leaks in ceilings that would never have been detected without it," she says. An expensive problem. You certainly want to do everything you can to mitigate possible problems. If you suspect something might be amiss, Duffy recommends talking to the neighbors. That may not be such a bad idea, considering Carlson's flooding spilled down her driveway, and one neighbor, upon seeing it, cracked to her: "Let me guess -- you flushed the toilet while you were running the washing machine?" All told, Carlson and her husband spent $3,000 to get their pipes fixed. They may have to cough up another $7,000 to get the entire pipe system replaced if there are more problems down the road. [See: 8 Home Remodeling Projects That Are Worth the Cost.] There were other issues with Carlson's home. The former owners didn't replace the downstairs sliding glass door, as was required in the purchase contract, so that was another $1,000 Carlson's family had to spend. There were also open junction boxes containing electrical wires "that were supposed to be fixed -- a shock hazard for our toddler," Carlson says. Carlson was, of course, fortunate. At least she likes her home, and her problems are probably fixed. But owning, as Carlson put it, "the ultimate lemon house" can make owning a car that turns out to be a lemon seem not so bad. With a car, you have a mobile problem that you can usually return to a dealer, which may replace it, knowing that there are lemon laws and aiming to avoid bad publicity. And if you can't return a vehicle you never should have bought, at least you can try and solve the problem in the comfort of your own home. But if you buy a troubled home, what are you going to do -- live in your car? Permalink | Email this | Comments
Filed under: News, Home Improvement, How To ShutterstockIf the item you want to donate doesn't fit in your car, Habitat for Humanity ReStores will pick it up for free! The following post is by BrightNest: So you're ready for a new couch. What do you do with the old one? Instead of leaving it curbside with a handwritten "Free" sign or tossing it in a dumpster, give Habitat for Humanity's ReStore a call. Habitat for Humanity ReStores are nonprofit home improvement stores and donation centers that sell gently used furniture, decor, building materials and appliances at a fraction of the price. All of the proceeds are used to build homes by Habitat for Humanity. You can drop off just about anything home related, from hammers to lamps and even still-working refrigerators. And, if the item you want to donate doesn't fit in your car, ReStores will pick it up for free! To find a ReStore in your area, visit Habitat.org. Appliances: All appliances must be in 100 percent working order, clean, and have all knobs present to be suitable for pickup. Appliances should be 15 years old or less. However, nonworking appliances can be dropped off at a ReStore for recycling. Building Materials: Unused and leftover building materials can be donated. This can include insulation, lumber, plywood, roofing and sheetrock. Cabinetry: Full kitchen cabinet sets are preferred, and the cabinets must be whole. ReStore cannot take individual cabinet components (such as cabinet doors). Please do not disassemble cabinetry. Furniture: All furniture must be free of stains, rips, pet fur and other significant blemishes. ReStore will accept children's furniture such as small tables or chairs, but not cribs. They also cannot accept office furniture or incomplete bedframes. Flooring: Flooring is accepted, including carpet, granite, hardwood, laminate, marble, tile and vinyl. The minimum donation of flooring materials is typically 100 feet squared. Hardware: Hardware is accepted! These items include doorknobs, hinges, bolts, screws and nails. Please make sure these items are boxed or are in a container (if applicable) prior to the donation. Heating & Cooling: Heating and cooling items like AC units, furnaces and swamp coolers are accepted, but they must be in working order. Plumbing & Fixtures: ReStore will accept all copper, PVC & ABS fittings, as well as bathtubs, heaters, sinks and toilets. All materials must be clean and free of mildew and mold. Note that your local Restore may have more detailed guidelines. We recommend giving your local branch a call if you're unsure about an item. Don't miss these articles: 7 Things New Homeowners Don't Know They Need To Do | A Tip A Day: 7 Easy Cleaning Tasks Worth Trying BrightNest Permalink | Email this | Comments
Filed under: News, Advice, Buying, How To ShutterstockAccording to research, 14 percent of Millennials have moved back in with their parents. By Michael Corbett Moving out of your parent's house. Leaving the nest. For most of us, it was a rite of passage. We went to college, and then proudly headed out into the world to make our own way, while our parents turned our old room into another guest bedroom. However, for a significant percentage of young adults, that rite of passage is now all about returning to the roost, rather than flying solo. According to Gallup research, 14 percent of Millennials, the age group of 24-34 year-olds, have moved back in with their parents. The homeownership rate for those under age 35 was 36.2 percent in the first quarter of 2014, down from a historical high of 43.1 percent at the end of 2005, according to Census data. According to numerous economic reports on If you can sense that your boomerang kid is riding out his or her free meal ticket under your roof as long as they can, help them visualize when that ride will end Millennials, this is attributed to a weak job market, high cost of living, significant college debt, and other factors. These kids, as well as any adult children who have decided to move back in with mom and pop are lovingly referred to as "boomerang kids." Clearly the analogy is obvious. For Mom and Dad, who would love to have the "kids across the hall" become the 'kids across town,' here are seven pointers you might want to consider: Start Charging Rent: Cut off the free ride. Yes, it sounds harsh, but you may be doing both you and your kid a favor. Managing money and a monthly budget is something that is not learned in school, and it is certainly not learned hanging out in your parent's converted attic for free. Give your boomerang kids a real estate reality check. If the free ride comes to a screeching halt and they are paying rent, they will probably want to do it in their own apartment, closer to (or with) their friends, near downtown or a closer drive to their office. Charge rent and enforce it. Once they start getting that first-of-the-month monetary wake up call, it might shock their system enough to have them consider alternative arrangements. If they're going to have a landlord no matter what, they're likely to consider a new, more independent situation. Collect Monthly Payments: Here's another way to give them a foot out the door -- but still a leg up. Start charging them monthly payments now. Let them know that they will have to come up with the monthly equivalent to local rents each month for the next six months. At the end of the six months, you will give them back all the money when they move out. That does three things: You teach them budgeting skills, you incentivize them to move, and you give them a financial helping hand on move-out day. Be z Strict Landlord: No parties, no loud music, no guests after 10 p.m. Keep the house rules strict. At some point, your kid is going to want to have a little independence, and some fun too. Living with a strict landlord may just be the incentive he or she needs to find a place of their own. Set a Deadline ... and Stick to It: If you can sense that your boomerang kid is riding out his or her free meal ticket under your roof as long as they can, help them visualize when that ride will end. Create a deadline for them to move out and stick to it, no matter what. It's likely you never intended to have kids under your roof for more than two decades, so your children need to respect that...and they need to get on with their own lives. Even in a world where Millennials are underemployed compared to their Gen X, Y and Baby Boomer counterparts, there are still plenty of ways for them to make a living that enables them to live with a roommate or two or three...elsewhere. Help Them Get Organized and Overcome the Mental Hurdle: After all the financial aspects are considered, one of the biggest hurdles to making a big move is mental: it just feels overwhelming. So many things to do, buy and organize before it can actually happen. Your child may just need the expertise of someone who's moved multiple times in their lives to talk them down off the "I'm too overwhelmed and can't do this" ledge. Map out all the necessities and then make a list of the "nice to haves down the road" so they can see what's an immediate need, and what can be done over the coming weeks and months. Gift or Loan Them the Down Payment: Trulia's latest survey showed that 50 percent of Millennials surveyed plan go to their parents for help with the hefty down payment that's required to purchase a home in today's housing market. If you want your adult child up and out of your basement, consider giving them the financial head start now they need to form their own household and be independent. Buy a Multi-Unit Investment Property: I am a huge proponent of purchasing multi-unit properties like a duplex, triplex or fourplex, because they are great investments. In the case of your "failure to launch" Millennial, slot them into one of the units of your new property and rent out the other unit(s). The rental income is likely to cover much of the costs of ownership, and you'll have a built-in property manager in the building to keep an eye on things. Plus, your boomerang kid is learning valuable management skills at the same time. It can be an investment property for you, and solve the "son or daughter is still in my basement" problem, all at the same time. ALL: If you had an adult child living at home, what tactics worked to get them out of the nest? ALL: You can get more information on my books here, follow me on Twitter@1MichaelCorbett and like me on Facebook. Michael Corbett is Trulia's real estate and lifestyle expert. He hosts NBC's EXTRA's Mansions and Millionaires. In additional to his regular segments on ABC's The View and Fox News, he is a national best selling author with three critically acclaimed real estate books: Find It, Fix It, FLIP IT!; Ready, Set, SOLD! and Before You BUY! Permalink | Email this | Comments
Filed under: Design, News, How To By Mariana Pickering If you live in a hot climate, your air conditioner is probably your favorite major appliance. However, it can quickly become a major party crasher in the middle of your backyard summer barbecue. That same hulking, boxy piece of machinery that cools your house can be an eyesore in your garden. But don't sweat it. There are plenty of ways you can hide, mask, conceal and block your air conditioning unit so you won't even know it's there. Here's how to keep your cool. Modern Spaces by Montreal Landscape Architects & Landscape Designers Sasha Newman First keep in mind how your air conditioner works and what keeps it happy and efficient. An A/C unit needs space to breathe. Because it works so hard to make the inside of your house cool, it needs to vent a bunch of generated heat. The reason that the metal casings of air conditioning units are perforated is to do just that. Keep this in mind when adding any sort of cover or obstruction near your machine. To be safe, check the manufacturer's recommended distances for any sort of enclosure. Traditional Exterior by Plainfield General Contractors DJK Custom Homes When designing your new house or retrofitting for a new system, remember that a happy air conditioner is one that doesn't have to work so hard. One way to ensure this is to use energy-efficient methods of home design that can reduce your reliance on air conditioning and keep as much cool air inside your home as possible. Another way to design an efficient system is to make sure that your unit has a cool, shady spot in which to work. Place it on the side of the house with the most protection from the sun, so that it doesn't heat up too much. This will keep it running more efficiently (which is great for the wallet) and can help avoid noises and malfunctioning associated with overheating. See how to design a home without an air conditioner Traditional Landscape by Belmont Landscape Architects & Landscape Designers vdhdesign Now on to the tips for minimizing visual impact. Fence It In One of the most common approaches is to simply hide the air conditioner from view. For ideas on fences and screens that could work for your garden, take cues from elements you already have in your garden to maintain an integrated look. You can also check out some of the great ideas on Houzz for fencing. See more on how to choose the right fence Build a Dedicated Structure Keeping space for ventilation in mind, consider creating a dedicated structure to offer shade to a machine that may not be located in the best spot. Depending on your garden needs, this could even be incorporated with a place to store the lawnmower, hose, pool care supplies or other stuff. In this example a structure built on to the side of the house disguises the unit while also providing a spot for garden tools. Traditional Garage And Shed by Royal Oak Architects & Building Designers Art | Harrison Interiors & Collection Contemporary Spaces by Brisbane Garden & Landscape Supplies Award Gates and Screens Another idea is to group your outdoor machinery into one accessible, well-ventilated structure. The example shown here is an enclosure for a pool pump, but it could easily be modified to fit the size needed for an air conditioner. Taking it a step further, you could even build a full-height equipment shed, capable of housing your unit, any pumps you have for your garden and whatever garden tools you need to store. See more on adding a backyard shed Contemporary Site And Landscape Plan by Winchester Landscape Architects & Landscape Designers Matthew Cunningham Landscape Design LLC Redesign Your Backyard If you're considering a garden makeover anyway (to prepare for all of the awesome summer barbecue parties you'll be having), this may be a good opportunity to design a system of utility spaces that are closed off from view. In this example a relatively small courtyard in Boston has been optimized for some garden storage solutions, as well as for a utility closet that houses the A/C unit, seen at the bottom left portion of the rendering. Here's the built structure from the previous rendering. From the main sitting area, you would never guess that to the left of the firewood stash is an access door to the air conditioner. With the storage cleverly disguised as part of the courtyard boundary wall, the rest of the exterior space is open and ready for guests. Contemporary Landscape by Winchester Landscape Architects & Landscape Designers Matthew Cunningham Landscape Design LLC Traditional Landscape by Montreal Landscape Architects & Landscape Designers Sasha Newman Add Structural and Vegetation Screens A custom cover or integrated patio furniture may be a little expensive for some; a plant screen is a good budget alternative. This simple trellis covers the air conditioner, leaving access to it from behind and adding a vertical element to the garden design. You could even integrate this with your veggie garden to allow climbing plants, like beans, to grow vertically. Some premade trellis systems, like this one, also have an access door from the front. Asian Landscape by Oak Park Design-Build Firms Great Lakes Landscape Design Guide the View and Distract Savvy landscape designers will tell you that the key to a beautiful garden, even one with a large air conditioner in the corner, is to direct the eye to a beautiful framed view. In this garden the unit on the right behind the low fence is hardly noticeable, because our eyes are drawn down the path, while the matching fences become backgrounds to lush vegetation. Your turn: How do you disguise your air conditioner? Tell us in the Comments. Coming next: What to do about that air conditioning unit indoors. See how to design a home without an air conditioner Permalink | Email this | Comments
Filed under: Design, News, How ToBy Becky Harris Creating a family room that could stand up to two young boys was "pretty easy" here, says interior designer Sophia Reay -- these clients are very down-to-earth, laid-back and fuss free. Bringing architectural interest and natural elements into the room was the bigger issue. "This is a subdivision home that didn't have much interior architectural value," Reay says. She remedied that by adding a fireplace, cabinets, windows, millwork, layers of texture and comfy seating. Here's how she turned a blank slate into a comfortable family gathering spot. Transitional Family Room by Salem Interior Designers & Decorators LemonTree & Co. Interiors Photos by Click Photography The clients' style is "traditional with a funky edge," says Reay, of LemonTree & Co. Interiors. They love midcentury modern pieces, and Reay wanted to create an organic feeling with the textures of nature. The house sits next to a large wooded area, and Reay brought in some of its feeling. "I don't think people can connect with a room without connecting the room to nature," she says. Transitional Family Room by Salem Interior Designers & Decorators LemonTree & Co. Interiors A fireplace, built-in cabinetry, baseboards, crown molding, leaded glass windows and a painted wood ceiling give the room the architectural details the owners were after. Reay extended the bulkhead all the way around the room; recessed lights in it illuminate the built-ins. Two new windows on either side of the fireplace bring in natural light; their placement and leaded glass preserve privacy. (There is another house close to that side of the house.) Woodwork: Van-Del Custom Millwork; wall paint: Revere Pewter HC-172, Benjamin Moore; sofa: Ikea, with legs from Etsy; Glass Waterfall Coffee Table: Buona Furniture Transitional Family Room by Salem Interior Designers & Decorators LemonTree & Co. Interiors The gas fireplace features a local Bruce Grey ledgerock surround and a long poured concrete hearth. Crisply cut hardwood logs aren't intended for the actual fire; they add a sculptural element and pattern that complement the stone. Reay flanked the fireplace with built-ins for media equipment, toys and the owners' books. One of the owners is very much into photography, so his albums are in there; the other loves to make books for each boy representing every year of his life. The cabinets have concrete countertops that match the hearth, and the hardware is oil-rubbed bronze. Cabinet hardware: Lee Valley; concrete work: Creative Concrete Designs Transitional Family Room by Salem Interior Designers & Decorators LemonTree & Co. Interiors Washable fabric on the cheery grass-green sofas stands up well to spills. Theglass coffee table keeps the view to the fireplace open, and those burlap laundry sacks underneath help keep the room tidy. Their built-in wiring makes them expandable, so the boys can collect their toys at the end of the day and carry them back to their rooms. Opting for a TV over the fireplace came with challenges. To keep a TV from taking over, Reay recommends that if it isn't concealed, it should not be larger than the fireplace box. "This is a tough challenge with some of my bachelor clients who love giant TVs," she says, laughing. The fireplace dictates the mantel, including how far a wood mantel needs to be from the firebox for safety, and how far it needs to stick out to protect the TV screen from the gas heat. "I hate wires, and I hate speakers," Reay says. The wires were framed in the stud cavities, and the sound system's three speakers blend into the walls and fireplace. Burlap laundry baskets: HomeSense; sofa: Ikea, with legs from Etsy; Glass Waterfall Coffee Table: Buona Furniture Transitional Spaces by Salem Interior Designers & Decorators LemonTree & Co. Interiors Transitional Family Room by Salem Interior Designers & Decorators LemonTree & Co. Interiors In addition to the room's clean lines and uncluttered feel, these leather reclining chairs nod to the couple's love of midcentury modern style. The chairs are very comfortable without being clunky, and the leather is easy to wipe up in case of spills. Reay has been helping the young family spruce up their home at a rate of about one room per year since 2009. See more of her work on this project. Chairs: Thayer Coggin Permalink | Email this | Comments
Filed under: Design, News, How ToYour house looks great, but how does it feel? If you think your home is falling victim to clutter and chaos, the Chinese practice of feng shui may be able to help! Feng shui incorporates age-old principles for maximizing positive vibes in the home. While some laws of feng shui call for more elaborate considerations, there are plenty of simple tweaks that you can try in just a few minutes! Permalink | Email this | Comments
Filed under: News, Financing, Credit AOLA single misstep can have have a huge impact on a previously excellent credit score. By Gerri Detweiler Sometimes paying your bill the wrong way -- or in this case, trusting that an ex-spouse will get it right -- can torpedo a good credit score, as one reader found out. Here's her story: I have been divorced for 6 years, and my ex-husband kept the house that we lived in. He has made all house payments on time in the last 6 years. When he got down to a small amount being owed ($188) on the small loan of our 80/20 split mortgage, he sent in a check for the final amount -- Not knowing there was a rule of making a final payment with a cashier's check in lieu of a personal check. The mortgage company eventually returned the check and advised him of the same, however by then the mortgage payment was late. This resulted in them reporting this on both of our credit [reports], dropping [my score] 150 points. The error has since been resolved and the total loan amount is paid in full, however they are refusing to remove this from my credit report. I understand the whole "my name is on the loan" reasoning, and I don't disagree with it, however this was an honest error on an otherwise spotless credit history on my part . . . . I have disputed it with the credit agencies, disputed it in writing with the mortgage company, but am looking for any advice to repair my credit score that has dropped from 780s to 600s? The drop in her score, from the "excellent" range to "poor/fair" territory, as a result of just one late bill, illustrates the impact that a single misstep can have on an excellent score. The good news here is that if she has other credit accounts, she won't have trouble adding positive information to her credit reports, and those will help dilute the impact of the negative mark. So will time. The further this recedes into the past, the less impact it will have. (Our reader can and should check her scores regularly to track her progress. Credit.com offers two credit scores every 30 days for free.) Her best bet at this point is to pay bills on time and to make sure her balances aren't higher than 20 percent to 25 percent of her credit limits. Though she is doing all the right things, it's frustrating that one slip-up would hurt her credit score that much. Unfortunately, the mortgage company is uninterested in helping and that doesn't leave her with many good options. Kristine Snyder, a public relations representative at Experian -- one of the three major credit bureaus -- said one option might be to include a statement in her credit report explaining what happened. But it won't help her credit scores, as statements aren't factored into them. Our reader may want to try to appeal to someone higher up at the mortgage company, going as far as an executive office if need be. "It certainly wouldn't be inaccurate for them to report the payment received on the date they received the personal check," says Steve Rhode, founder of GetOutOfDebt.org. Other than that, it's a case of knowing, with perfect hindsight, what she wished she'd done -- separated finances entirely at the time of divorce or wishing her former husband had paid with a cashier's check. But if a do-over is impossible, revisiting it won't help, so all she can do is start where she is now. But the good habits that helped her build a good credit score in the first place will help her rebound. Gerri Detweiler is Credit.com's Director of Consumer Education. She focuses on helping people understand their credit and debt, and writes about those issues, as well as financial legislation, budgeting, debt recovery and savings strategies. She is also the co-author of Debt Collection Answers: How to Use Debt Collection Laws to Protect Your Rights, and Reduce Stress: Real-Life Solutions for Solving Your Credit Crisis as well as host of TalkCreditRadio.com. Permalink | Email this | Comments
Filed under: News, Buying, Credit ShutterstockA proposed increase in mortgage insurance premiums on FHA loans could severely affect those with low credit scores. By Christine DiGangi Proposed changes to requirements for private mortgage insurance could increase mortgage costs for many homebuyers, particularly borrowers with relatively poor credit, according to a new report from the Urban Institute and Moody's Analytics. Borrowers are required to get private mortgage insurance, or PMI, when their down payment is less than 20 percent of the home's value, to protect the lender in the event the borrower defaults on the loan. Given the high number of defaults in the mortgage crisis, the mortgage insurance industry was strained, which is why there's a push to strengthen protections moving forward. What we're talking about here is money: The riskier the loan (those made to borrowers with poor credit), the more money the insurer needs to have on hand in order for government-sponsored entities Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae to back the loan. The plan proposed by Freddie and Fannie requiring mortgage insurers to hold more capital against the loan would translate into a 0.1 to 0.15 The proposed increase in mortgage insurance premiums would be so great for borrowers with a score lower than 680 that conventional loans would become the more costly option. percentage-point increase in mortgage insurance premiums for borrowers across the board. The lower the borrower's credit score, the more that premium will increase: Borrowers with a 700 credit score could see premiums jump 0.2 to 0.25 percentage points; those with a 650 score would see a 0.6 to 0.65 percentage-point increase. "While the increase in capital requirements is clearly warranted, there are certain features of the requirements as currently drafted that will increase mortgage insurance premiums unnecessarily, running counter to the aim of policymakers, including the FHFA (Federal Housing Finance Agency), to encourage greater use of private capital in housing finance," a portion of the report reads. Currently, FHA loans, while more accessible for borrowers with lower credit scores, carry fees (including PMI) that can make the loans more costly than conventional loans. However, according to the report, the proposed increase in mortgage insurance premiums would be so great for borrowers with a score lower than 680 that conventional loans would become the more costly option. Comments on the requirements draft are due today, Sept. 8. Homeowners often overlook the expense of PMI, which adds an average of $100 to a monthly mortgage payment. That can seriously affect a borrower's ability to afford the loan, which is why aspiring homeowners should familiarize themselves with the many expenses associated with buying a home. Buying a home you can't reasonably afford can seriously jeopardize your financial future, so it's worth your time to research home loans, make sure your credit is in good shape (you can check two of your credit scores and get a plan to help you improve them for free on Credit.com), and honestly determine how much you can reasonably expect to pay for a new home. Permalink | Email this | Comments
Filed under: Design, Home Improvement, Lifestyle, CreditYou may not realize that the indoor air you're breathing right now is laden with formaldehyde, benzene and other chemicals that could kill you. They're called Volatile Organic Compounds, or VOCs, which are emitted by carpet, air fresheners, paints, cosmetics, even newspapers. They can cause serious health problems, including asthma and cancer, and are responsible for more than 1.6 million deaths each year, according to a World Health Organization report. Luckily, common house plants absorb VOCs in indoor air -- some better than others. Both NASA and the University of Georgia have experimented with dozens of house plants to determine which is the best at scrubbing VOCs from the air you breathe. We've culled the lists to find the top eight that provide a breath of fresh air to your home: Permalink | Email this | Comments
Filed under: Buying, Financing, Credit-how-much-house-you-can-buy Shutterstock By Scott Sheldon Looking to get a large home loan? If you're in the market for a mortgage $417,000 or larger, your credit score, along with your equity, will play an important role in your ability to get approved. A mortgage is classified as either "conforming" or "jumbo," and the limit for conforming loans in most U.S. counties is $417,000. However, there is a category that falls between the two. If your loan exceeds this amount even by as little as $1, your loan is automatically considered to be what's called a This is why it's a good idea to do all you can to maximize your credit scores well ahead of applying for a mortgage. "conforming high balance" or "super conforming" loan. A conforming high balance mortgage is the maximum loan limit on a per-county basis that is still backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. For example, in San Francisco County the maximum conforming loan limit is $625,500. Any amount over this (for a single-family residence) makes the loan jumbo, and is subject to further lender examination. Here are the limits for the various loan types: Conforming loans: $417,000 or less (most widely popular and available with less restrictive lending requirements). Conforming high balance loans: More than $417,000, through the maximum conforming loan limit (usually set at $625,500), depending on where it's located; underwriting is still slightly less restrictive, but requires more equity. Jumbo loans: More than $625,500, with stronger lender examination focusing on ability to repay and income requirements. Note: Each county throughout the United States does have a separate conforming high balance loan limit, so if your desired loan amount exceeds $417,000 but is less than $625,500, you'll need at least 10 percent equity. Credit Scores & Loan Size: An individual with a 620 credit score, for example, is going to have a more challenging time seeking a bigger loan size, even at $417,000. It's not impossible to get a bigger loan, but you will have to jump through more hoops because lenders use credit scores to determine the future likelihood of a borrower defaulting, in addition to considering payment history as a whole. This is why it's a good idea to do all you can to maximize your credit scores well ahead of applying for a mortgage. It's also important to work with your mortgage professional on this so the steps you take to raise your credit scores are also in line with what a lender will want to see. To get an idea of where you stand, and where you'd like to be, start by pulling your credit reports (which you can get for free once a year through AnnualCreditReport.com) and checking your credit scores (which you can do for free every month through Credit.com) to identify any problem areas that you need to work on. With that in mind, here's a rough idea of what you'll need to present in terms of credit score and equity/down payment for the amount of loan you hope to get. Note: If you plan on taking out a jumbo mortgage, depending on the amount sought, you'll need at least a 680 score. If your middle credit score is in the 620 range ... Then you'll need at least 5 percent equity on a loan size up to $417,000. If your middle credit score is in the 620 range and you're looking for a loan larger than $417,000 ... Then you will need at least 10 percent equity up to the maximum loan limit in the county in which the property is located. If your middle credit score is 680 and you're looking for a mortgage up to $800,000 ... Then you'll need at least 25 percent equity in the property you're financing. If you want a mortgage from $800,000 through $1 million...Then you'll need at least 30 percent equity along with a 680 middle credit score. If your loan size exceeds $1 million-$2 million ... Then your middle credit score should be at least 700 with 30 percent equity. If your desired loan amount exceeds $2 million ... Then you'll need a 720 credit score with the same 30 percent equity requirement. As good rule of thumb, for every increase by $500,000 on a jumbo-sized mortgage you'll need 40 credit score points more as you move up the jumbo scale. The reason the credit score requirement rises in relationship to the maximum loan size is that traditionally the bigger size mortgage loans have taken larger losses in recent years and lenders, while currently to make them, only want financially strong borrowers who have a lower likelihood of payment default. Tips on Getting a Big Mortgage Focus on a putting in a large down payment and/or more home equity if refinancing. Work on your credit score. Paying down credit cards to 30 percent or less of your total available credit can increase your score dramatically in as little as 30 days. Pay off any and all consumer debts as much as possible as these liabilities, even though they may be small, erode your income. If self-employed, show maximum income -- no tax cheats, no shortcuts, show the full picture. Doing this may increase your tax liability (consult with a qualified tax professional first), but you'll qualify for more house. If you own rentals, avoid rental losses if possible, as they count as a liability against your income. Permalink | Email this | Comments
Filed under: News, Buying, Financing, Credit ShutterstockWhen it comes to getting a mortgage, the amount of student loan debt you have is only one of education's costs. By Scott Sheldon The cost of your education isn't just evident in your student loan debt. No, in fact, there is an ulterior cost lurking in the mix: the possibility of being ineligible for a mortgage. If you have a deferred student loan, it usually be will be counted against your income when you apply for the big-ticket debt. If you have a student loan, or multiple student loans, in deferment you'll need to take extra precautionary steps, working closely with your lender to ensure your chances of getting approved for a mortgage. Here are some of the obstacles a deferred student loan can impact your mortgage chances. Credit Reporting: Many student lenders report multiple credit accounts even if you have multiple loans through one lender to finance one education degree -- since loans are applied for and disbursed on an enrollment-period basis. So your credit report will show multiple student loans with the same creditor broken down into each loan's respective payments. This is typical, and it will also likely appear that way on a financial services credit report used by your lender in conjunction with a mortgage application. Why it's a concern: If your student loan payment appears to be more, based on how it's listed on the credit report, the lender has to go by the credit report figures when trying to qualify you for the home loan. In a case like this, it's essential to get a letter from the creditor stating what the total balance is along with each minimum payment. Deferred Loans: Depending on the type of student loan, you can be eligible for student loan deferment if you're enrolled in school at least half-time, or if you're having an economic hardship. In this case, the mortgage type you apply for is key. For conventional financing, you will need to provide a letter from the creditor identifying what the estimated monthly payments will be as the lender will use the estimated monthly payment in determining if you fit the requirements. Conversely, a government-insured loan type such as an FHA loan, is a bit more forgiving. If the student loan is deferred for 12 months or longer the lender does not need to account for the liability when qualifying you for the mortgage. The key here is it has to be a 12-month deferment on that the payment obligation associated with the student loan(s). Why it's a concern: A student loan could become very problematic if you try to qualify for the maximum loan size. Do your homework, erring on the side of caution by proactively obtaining an estimated payment letter from the creditor for any student loan account in deferment. Deferred, but Unable to Estimate Payments: Having difficulty in procuring an estimated payment letter from a creditor for the student loan? The lender will still have to account for the liability, so they will instead use a 5 percent payment factor. Why it's a concern: A 5 percent payment factor is 5 percent of the principle balance of the student loan, factored monthly! Ninety-nine percent of the time this payment is substantially higher than the minimum monthly payment the student loan obligation would otherwise be. This results in the borrower needing to show more income to qualify, or reducing the mortgage amount and purchase price. Why Deferred Student Loans Are the Wildcard: Student loans negatively affect your borrowing potential -- as they are liability, counted against your income when calculating your ability to make a potential house payment. When you apply for a mortgage, lenders qualify you by taking your monthly pretax income divided by your current payment liabilities and proposed housing payment. This is known in the lending world as a DTI (the debt-to-income ratio), sometimes also called a payment-to-income ratio. Reducing the Deferred Student Loan Burden: Looking for a mortgage? If you have a student loan, then take heed. Consider getting an additional co-signer for the mortgage (do so carefully, as that carries its risks) -- this can give you more income to offset the liability, and increases borrowing chances. Pay off the student loan entirely. This depends on what the minimum payment is and how much of that payment is affecting your qualifying numbers -- only your mortgage professional can answer this. Consolidate the student loans. If you haven't done so already, consolidating the student loans into one low minimum monthly payment encompassing all of the debt can also improve your chances of qualifying. Buy less house. This is easier said than done if you're already in contract to buy a home. It's best to handle this upfront when you're getting pre-approved to initiate the house hunt process. Put more money down. By borrowing less, the proposed monthly payment drops and can make the numbers work in your favor whether you're buying or remortgaging a home. Keeping your credit in good standing can also aid your cause, because it can result in lower interest rates, which translate into lower monthly payments. Before you search for a home, it's important to get your credit in good shape. Get your annual free credit reports to check for any problems that could be hurting your credit, and check your credit scores (which you can do for free on Credit.com) to see where you stand. It's also important to talk with your lender about your credit, and what moves you can make to get it in better home-buying condition. Depending on how much mortgage you are trying to qualify for, a deferred student loan may not adversely affect your qualifying chances, as long as your monthly debts (including the proposed mortgage payment) are not more than 40 percent of your income. Lenders may allow up to 45 percent of your income as the maximum debt ratio for both conventional and FHA mortgages types. By getting qualified with 40 percent or less in payment expenses, you're on the right track to successfully getting your new home loan. Permalink | Email this | Comments
Filed under: News, Buying, Investing, Credit Shutterstock"Think of it like you go to your all your family and friends and you ask, 'Can I have $10? Can I have $10?' " By Christine DiGangi By now, you've probably heard of the guy who crowdfunded a $10 potato salad "campaign" and ended up raising more than $55,000 (if not, now you know -- crazy, right?). That got us at Credit.com thinking: What other sorts of things can you crowdfund? The short answer: Pretty much anything (see: potato salad guy). Earlier this month, a conversation popped up online, started by a man who wanted to crowdfund his mortgage. He called himself "just a regular guy." He's 34 with three kids and a fiancee, and their only consumer debt is the mortgage. So why the crowdfunding campaign? To reach "financial freedom." Here's his appeal, according to a post on Get Rich Slowly: Some of you may say, 'I want to pay my mortgage too! Why the hell would I help this guy pay off his?' ... And I'm sure you'll ask, 'What's in it for me?' For starters, you get to be a part of a fund that helps a family achieve a life-long goal of having financial freedom. If this still doesn't answer the questions 'what's in it for me?' or 'what do I get for donating?' I answer with a question: 'Wouldn't it be great to be a part of something that helped one family at a time?' Think of that what you will, but if you're curious: Yes, you can crowdfund your mortgage. Is that the best use of your energy and others' resources? Maybe. Maybe not. Here are some things you should know if you want to go this route. Tax Liability: If you donate to someone raising money to buy their home, don't expect to get a tax deduction for charitable contributions. Donating to someone's crowdfunding campaign is essentially the same as giving your nephew $20 for his birthday -- it's a gift, not a donation to a nonprofit (unless you're dealing with a nonprofit trying to mortgage property, but that's not what we're talking about here). That's good news for the recipient, because gifts aren't considered income. "Think of it like you go to your all your family and friends and you ask, 'Can I have $10? Can I have $10?' " said Kim Wales, CEO of Wales Capital and a crowdfunding expert. "It's kind of the same thing -- you're not going to report that money; they're gifting that to you." If the mortgage is an effort to fund a business venture, from which the recipient eventually expects a profit, that's a different tax story: If you're trying to flip a house or build a business, any capital you raise could be taxed, said Jessie Seaman, a senior associate with the Tax Defense Network. It's all in how it's used. "A consumer receiving funds should consider the money as income if the funds are going to be used in an entrepreneurial capacity," Seaman wrote via email. So in the case of our father-of-three crowdfunding hopeful, contributions would be considered gifts. Is Crowdfunding the Choice for You?: Crowdfunding a mortgage isn't that off-the-wall. Struggling businesses have taken advantage of the platform to corral community support and keep doors open during times of financial hardship. Plenty of newlyweds ask for contributions toward a down payment via wedding registry sites like Honeyfund, and helping someone buy a home could be the best gift that person can imagine. At the same time, it may not be the best avenue toward homeownership. "I don't necessarily believe that someone should just wake up today and crowdfund -- it depends on what you're trying to do," Wales said. Crowdfunding sites require you to explain your campaign, compose an executive summary and detail the purpose of the proceeds. These sites do this to weed out people who are going to "waste their time and post garbage," Wales said. "They should make the public aware with what they actually do with the money and how it has benefited them. It's still work for the individual. Their integrity is on the line." Consider the potential purposes of crowdfunded money: help a business produce an influential product, possibly create jobs, inspire creativity, help someone own a home. None of these are bad options, but if you're the mostly debt-free family looking to clear your balance sheet, your plea may pale in comparison to the strategic business plan proposed by an entrepreneur. Then again, people may get excited about some really interesting potato salad. If you're raising money for your mortgage -- whether that's through a wedding registry, family donations or a crowdfunding site -- know that you can't just turn around the money instantly. "The money has to come from some kind of a viable source: bank statement, asset statement, some sort of place where the money originated from," said Scott Sheldon, a mortgage lender and contributor to Credit.com. He explained via email: "If you are trying to crowdfund [a] down payment, I imagine the down payment monies could be used 60 days after the money was in the bank account. If you take cold hard cash and deposit that money in a bank account, it has to sit there for 60 days in order for it to be considered seasoned, where the origin of the money will not be questioned or scrutinized." Despite the popularity of crowdfunding, getting an old-fashioned home loan is still your most likely route toward homeownership. In that case, you'll want to make sure your credit standing is in its best possible shape before applying for a mortgage, because good credit tends to qualify you for lower interest rates, which will save you money over the life of the loan. Here are more details on why you should check your credit before buying a home. (And to see where you stand, you can check two of your credit scores for free each month on Credit.com.) Permalink | Email this | Comments
Filed under: News, Buying, Financing, Credit ShutterstockMortgage lenders will consider the housing allowance that some active service members receive but not GI Bill benefits. By Chris Birk When you're hoping to lock down a home loan, the focus is on making sure you look like a safe bet for prospective lenders. Conversation tends to drift to the key pieces of the pre-approval puzzle, from credit score and stable income to acceptable debt levels and suitable assets. No one's arguing the wisdom there. But what often gets glossed over, if not entirely forgotten, are the things lenders won't or even can't factor into their decision. Some of those non-factors help protect homebuyers and maintain a level playing field. Others might push a home loan out of reach for certain borrowers. That's why it's important to consider some of the things lenders might not. 1. Race, Age & Family Status: The Fair Housing Act and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act both protect consumers from discrimination regarding real estate and credit transactions. Lenders and creditors are barred from discriminating against people based on their race, religion, family status A lackluster credit score could render your spouse's six-figure income untouchable, at least in terms of your purchasing power. and a host of other factors. Lenders also have to take steps to ensure policies don't disproportionately affect some groups more than others. For example, a lender with a policy of only making loans of $100,000 or more is especially likely to hurt lower-income borrowers. That harm is known as disparate impact, and it's a fair housing problem. You also can't be turned away from a 30-year mortgage because you're in your "golden years." Age discrimination is also against the law. 2. Non-Borrower Income: This may go without saying, but it's essential to have enough income to cover the new mortgage payment, maintain a healthy debt-to-income ratio and meet other asset-related requirements. Some buyers make enough money alone to handle the mortgage. But plenty of others need or want to count the income of a spouse or significant other to help cut down a debt load or to buy more house. The rub is you can't count that person's income unless they're actually co-obliged on the loan with you. Any co-borrower will need to meet the same credit and underwriting requirements that you will. That means a lackluster credit score could render your spouse's six-figure income untouchable, at least in terms of your purchasing power. 3. Some Income Types: In addition, not all forms of income are created equally -- or will be counted by lenders toward qualifying for a home loan. Temporary income can be a tough sell for lenders, who are looking for reliable streams that are likely to continue. Unemployment income isn't likely to factor into your mortgage qualification. Some lenders and loan types may consider it in a handful of cases. Seasonal employees who routinely rely on unemployment compensation during certain times each year may be able to count it, provided there's a solid history of receiving it and the compensation is likely to continue. Veterans are often dismayed to learn that mortgage lenders won't count the housing assistance they receive as part of their GI Bill benefits. It can be especially confusing because lenders can and do include the Basic Allowance for Housing that certain active service members receive. 4. Shopping Around: Having a lender pull your credit scores constitutes a "hard inquiry." You can lose a couple points from your score anytime a potential creditor conducts one of these. But when you're considering a significant purchase, like a home, the credit agencies give consumers greater leeway to safely shop around. Once a lender pulls your credit, you've typically got a two-week window to have others do so without taking a hit to your score. The nation's three major credit bureaus -- Equifax, Experian and TransUnion -- will only count that first hard inquiry against you. They'll chalk up the remainder to due diligence and comparative shopping during that two-week timeframe. Seeking loan pre-approval from multiple lenders isn't likely to significantly impact your credit score or your qualification chances. If you want to see how the mortgage-shopping and pre-approval process are affecting your credit, it can help to monitor your credit scores before you begin the process, so you know where you stand, and have something to compare any fluctuations to in the following months. You can check two of your credit scores for free every month on Credit.com. Permalink | Email this | Comments
Filed under: News, Buying, Financing, Credit ShutterstockLenders blame higher closing costs on the expense of complying with new mortgage regulations. By Donna Fuscaldo It's not just home prices that are on the rise, closing costs have also been inching up recently. A new report by Bankrate.com shows mortgage closing costs increased 6 percent over the past year to an average of $2,539 on a $200,000 loan. Origination fees increased 9 percent to $1,877 and third-party fees increased 1 percent to $662. "Lenders say closing costs have increased because they have faced higher costs to comply with new mortgage regulations that went into effect earlier this year," says Polyana da Costa, senior mortgage reporter at Bankrate.com. "It takes longer to underwrite a loan these days and compliance "There will always be closing costs because the lender will always get paid." comes at a cost, so they say they are spending more on staffing and technology to make sure they comply with the rules." In the years leading up to the 2008 housing crash, getting a mortgage was pretty easy with some lenders slacking on documentation requirements and offering zero-down loans. Now, new regulations and tighter lending standards designed to protect consumers and lenders make the process much arduous -- and costlier to lenders. Closing costs vary by state. According to the Bankrate.com survey, which surveyed up to 10 lenders in all 50 states and Washington, D.C., in June, Texas has the highest closing costs coming in on average at $3,046 for a $200,000 loan. Alaska at $2,897, New York at $2,892, Hawaii at $2,808 and Wisconsin at $2,706 rounded out the top five. Closing costs are unavoidable, which is why experts caution to be leery of anyone promising no costs. "There will always be closing costs because the lender will always get paid," says Erin Lantz, vice president of mortgages at Zillow.com. "They just may come in the form of a higher rate, or an inflated price on a new home purchase if lending through the builder's preferred lender or a higher loan balance." While there's no escaping closing costs, there are ways to reduce them. According to da Costa at Bankrate.com, one of the best ways to save on closing costs is to shop around and to look beyond interest rates when comparing mortgages. She adds not to be afraid of negotiating the fees with lenders when doing comparisons. "There's usually not much you can do about third-party fees, but origination fees, which are the fees paid directly to the lender, are negotiable, especially when lenders are trying to compete for your business," she says. Da Costa recommends getting at least three estimates from lenders that details For those refinancing ... closing costs can be rolled into the loan balance. all fees to do a fair comparison. If an estimate seems too high, ask the lender why. In addition to negotiating the fees, experts say buyers can choose how to pay those costs. According to Lantz, borrowers can pay more at closing and get a lower interest rate or pay less at closing and get a higher interest rate. Lantz says buyers can also negotiate to have the seller to cover many of the closing costs. This is easier to accomplish in a buyers' market, but could be hard to achieve in some parts of the country. For those refinancing, Lantz says, closing costs can be rolled into the loan balance. Keep in mind that means paying interest on the closing costs as well as the loan amount. "You should be prepared to bring a little bit of money to the table, but you can avoid nearly all of them if you're willing to accept a higher rate in exchange for paying fewer costs up front," says Lantz. "If potential homebuyers are concerned that they will not be able to bring any money to the table, they may want to think further about if now is the right time to buy -- financially speaking." Permalink | Email this | Comments
Filed under: News, Buying, Financing, Credit ShutterstockNevada ranks high among the states where mortgage rates are the lowest. By Christine DiGangi A property with an affordable listing price is only part of finding a home within your budget, because if you can't access low mortgage rates, you may not be able to buy as much house as you hoped. Your mortgage rate heavily depends on you: your credit score, your ability to repay the loan, your track record with meeting debt obligations and the size of your down payment. At the same time, your mortgage rate is in some ways beyond your control, because unless you're looking to move to a place where financing is cheap, you're stuck with the trends in your state. Depending on where you live, that can be good or bad news. 10 States With the Lowest Average Mortgage Rates To find the most affordable mortgage rates across the U.S., GoBankingRates and RateWatch analyzed interest rates across the country and published their rankings earlier this month. More than half of the states on the low-rate list are located on the East Coast. Regional markets have an affect on rates, but the price of a home loan depends on the applicant. No matter where you live, if you have terrible credit and can't show you're capable of repaying the loan, you're likely to qualify for much higher mortgage rates than average, assuming you qualify at all. As far as geography goes, here are the 10 states with the lowest average mortgage rates: 10. New Hampshire -- 3.649%. 9. Minnesota -- 3.623%. 8. Hawaii -- 3.603%. 7. Mississippi -- 3.599%. 6. Massachusetts -- 3.597%. 5. Maryland -- 3.593%. 4. Pennsylvania -- 3.551%. 3. Nevada -- 3.459%. 2. Connecticut -- 3.413%. 1. Rhode Island -- 3.359%. The weighted averages were calculated from a database including 102,000 15- and 30-year fixed and five-year adjustable-rate mortgage products on July 3. On the opposite end, Nebraska had the highest average rate at 4.102 percent. The national average was about 3.747 percent, which is quite low, historically speaking. Fixed mortgage rates peaked at more than 18 percent in 1981, and pre-recession averages were in the 6 percent range. Local rates depend on a few things, like supply and demand, home prices and default risk in the area, but if affordability is your goal, you should focus on your credit. The best interest rates are available to those with the highest credit scores, and because your credit score is based on your credit history, you'll want to make sure your credit reports are in good shape. (Here's how to get your credit reports for free.) Credit scores are based on five main factors: payment history, debt use, average age of accounts, account mix and number of inquiries. Well in advance of house hunting, you should pull your credit reports to make sure they're accurate, and you should see how you fare in those five categories by reviewing your credit scores regularly. To see how your history affects your credit score, you can review two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com, with updates available every 30 days. Permalink | Email this | Comments
Filed under: News, Buying, Financing, Credit The Associated PressThe good news for prospective homebuyers is that Chase is swimming against the current in terms of credit requirements. By Chris Birk The nation's second-largest mortgage lender recently raised eyebrows after suggesting it might stop making FHA loans. JPMorgan Chase has already scaled back lending to lower-credit borrowers, citing the increased costs of foreclosure and regulatory action. But the firm's chief executive went a step further in a conference call last week, noting Chase is "struggling" with whether to abandon the government-backed program entirely. That comment may be more political posturing than a seismic shift in strategy, but it highlights the tension many lenders face between expanding access to credit and remaining financially competitive. For prospective homebuyers, the good news is that Chase is swimming against the current. Lenders as a whole have loosened their credit requirements in recent months. But borrowers can still run into hurdles depending on their lender and their own unique circumstances. That's why it's critical to fully understand your mortgage options while staying on top of your credit. Know Your Credit: Lenders continue to lower their credit benchmarks as the economy rebounds. The average credit score for all closed loans last month was 728, compared to 746 in June 2012, according to mortgage software firm Ellie Mae. That two-year drop has been more pronounced with FHA loans than conventional financing. FHA loans tend to have the most lenient credit standards. Here's a brief snapshot of the average FICO scores last month for the three major loan types: Conventional: 755 VA: 708 FHA: 683 But bear in mind two key facts. One is that these are averages. Two is that lenders set their own credit score requirements, which can vary depending on the company, your financial background and more. It's ideal to check your credit well in advance of applying for a loan -- six months, or even longer -- to work toward improving your credit score. (You can pull your credit reports for free once a year to check for problems that are lowering your score, and you can use a free service -- like Credit.com - to monitor your credit score for progress.) Bolstering your credit score can help you nab a great interest rate and boost your chances of loan approval. However, a score that's just above subprime (typically at least a 620) could still get you into a home loan. Some FHA lenders may even go as low as a 580 score. That's a big reason why it's so important to understand your lending options. Know Your Options: Borrowers seeking a conventional mortgage will typically need good to excellent credit and enough cash on hand to put down at least 5% of the purchase price. The FHA program can help buyers with more pockmarked credit. But you'll still need to muster a down payment of at least 3.5%. It's certainly not an easy task, but most borrowers will be better served financially if they can spend more time working on their credit and assets to qualify for conventional financing. FHA loans come with an expensive form of mortgage insurance that now lasts for the life of the loan. For some borrowers, that added expense is simply the cost of getting into a home now rather than years later. Veterans and current military members may be able to utilize the VA loan program, which comes with no down payment or mortgage insurance requirement. There's no formula or flowchart to determine which loan is right for you. A veteran with sterling credit and enough cash to put down at least 20% will absolutely want to compare conventional and VA financing. Talk with multiple lenders, and remember that credit and underwriting standards can and will vary. Just because one lender is ratcheting up requirements doesn't mean your path will be any tougher. In fact, in many ways, it's getting easier by the month to secure a mortgage. Permalink | Email this | Comments
Mortgage Rates Hold Steady; Volatility Ahead 15 Sep 2014 20:22:00
Mortgage rates managed to hold steady today, which matches the very best performance of any other day in September. In other words, rates have either been flat or higher every day for the past 11 days. As we discussed last week, this quick move to higher rates is based, to some unknown extent, on anxiety over the upcoming Fed Announcement. Market participants are concerned the Fed will change the verbiage of their official policy statement to indicate a potential rate hike earlier than expected. Bond markets respond to that concern with weakness and when bond markets are weaker, rates move higher. ...(read more)Forward this article via email: Send a copy of this story to someone you know that may want to read it.
Mortgage Rates Now Back to 4.25% on Average 12 Sep 2014 19:18:00
Mortgage rates have now endured an insulting 10 straight days without improving. While a few of those have resulted in 'unchanged' levels, most have sent rates higher. Today, in particular, has the grim distinction of moving the most prevalently-quoted conforming 30yr rate back to 4.25% for top tier borrowers. It had been 4.125% since early June. Some borrowers might still be quoted the same rate today vs yesterday, but with appreciably higher closing costs. Mortgage lenders and bond markets are defensively gearing up for next week's Fed Announcement. That's the leading theory behind the recent movement anyway. ...(read more)Forward this article via email: Send a copy of this story to someone you know that may want to read it.
Mortgage Rates Essentially Unchanged at 1-Month Highs 11 Sep 2014 19:00:00
Mortgage rates were essentially unchanged today. Most lenders were microscopically lower in terms of closing costs, though several went the other direction. On average, the movement barely registered, keeping rates at their highest levels since August 4th. This also keeps the most prevalently quoted conforming 30yr fixed rate in limbo between 4.125 and 4.25% for top tier borrowers. Mortgage-Backed-Securities (MBS) are the financial instruments that groups of similar loans become in order to be traded on Wall Street and they have the most direct effect on rates. MBS trade all day long whereas lenders will only put out new rate sheets once a day, and then "as needed" based on market changes. MBS, along with the broader bond market have been under fairly constant pressure so far in September, which explains the recent rise in rates. ...(read more)Forward this article via email: Send a copy of this story to someone you know that may want to read it.
Mortgage Rates Rise to 1-Month Highs 10 Sep 2014 19:37:00
Mortgage rates continued moving higher at a fairly quick pace today. Some borrowers may now start to see rate quotes moving up an eighth of a point. This is significant because most of the recent movement in the rate market has only affected the closing cost side of the equation. This can be thought of as a fine-tuning adjustment whereas actual changes in rate are a bigger deal. For instance, closing costs change daily, and sometimes multiple times during the day. The interest rate part of rate quotes generally hasn't changed since early June for most borrowers. That means 4.125% has been the most prevalently-quoted rate for top-tier borrowers during that time. During the weaker moments, 4.25% has occasionally been a close second, but today's weakness brings it to roughly equal footing with 4.125%. Any rise in rates tomorrow would tip the scales in its favor. ...(read more)Forward this article via email: Send a copy of this story to someone you know that may want to read it.
Mortgage Rates Near 1-Month Highs 09 Sep 2014 19:12:00
Mortgage rates finally delivered an unequivocal performance today. Unfortunately, it wasn't the kind we were hoping for. Rates moved higher at their fastest pace in weeks, reaching levels not seen since early August. To put that in context, however, many borrowers will STILL be looking at the same rate they were quoted yesterday, but with higher closing costs. 4.125% is still a widely available conforming 30yr fixed rate for flawless borrowers, but we're much closer to 4.25% being more prevalent after today's weakness. As we discussed yesterday, broader bond markets suggested the possibility of further weakness in the short term, and this is that weakness. While short term weakness could continue, the longer term trend of low, stable rates in 2014 remains intact for now. Keep in mind, this isn't a guarantee that we'll make it to new lows, or even that the current weakness won't continue--simply that the recent rise in rates hasn't been enough to conclude that the good times in 2014 are over. ...(read more)Forward this article via email: Send a copy of this story to someone you know that may want to read it.