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How to Sell a Home ‘As Is’: A No-Fuss Guide to Unloading a Lemon

 | Dec 21, 2016

Selling a home can be hard work—you have to repaint it, trim your lawn to bump up your curb appeal, maybe replace the cabinets in your embarrassingly outdated kitchen, and more. But if you’re moaning, “There’s got to be an easier way,” you’re in luck, because there is: You can learn the steps on how to sell a home “as is.”

So what is an “as is” home exactly? It’s when, rather than pouring tons of time and money into sprucing up their home, sellers do nothing at all and just put it out there, warts and all, and hope someone takes pity (or smells a bargain) and bites.

There are many reasons sellers may choose this route: Maybe they inherited an old house and want to unload it fast, or perhaps their own house needs repairs but they can’t stand the idea of living in a construction zone. Or maybe they’re just lazy.

Step 1: How to list a home ‘as is’

When listing your home, you should make it clear in the description that it’s for sale “as is.” This not only serves as a beacon for bargain hunters, but also weeds out buyers who don’t want the bother of a fixer-upper from wasting your time. Since “as is” homes put the onus on buyers to spend a lot more time and money bringing it up to snuff, your price should reflect that. For instance, if your roof is about to go and would cost $20,000 to replace and your kitchen is sorely outdated and overdue for a $30,000 update, you should knock $50,000 off what your usual asking price might be for a home of your size in that neighborhood.

Step 2: What to disclose in an ‘as is’ home

Selling a house “as is” does not relieve you from disclosing known defects once you have an offer; in fact, you are legally required to do so. The term “known” is key in this instance. If you inherited a property, you may not know about the general state of the home and, therefore, you could be exempt from providing a property disclosure. But if you intentionally withhold known information about issues, the buyer has legal recourse down the line should any problems crop up.

But don’t worry—this doesn’t mean you have to point out every crack in the wall or drafty window. The flaws have to be much bigger than that, like lead paint, sinkholes, or flooding, says Atlanta-based Realtor Bill Golden with Re/Max Metro Atlanta Cityside.

Required disclosures also vary by state, so be sure to ask your Realtor what you’re required to disclose in your area. In certain states, for instance, you’ll have to reveal whether anyone’s died in the house; in other areas, this is not necessary.

Step 3: Will buyers inspect an ‘as is’ home?

While selling “as is” means the seller won’t be responsible for fixing anything, the buyer may still want to do some due diligence by conducting a home inspection to see what shape the place is in. If the inspection uncovers something bad, the buyer can walk away from the deal with deposit in hand. Worse yet? If a buyer walks away from the property due to issues found during the inspection, in most states you are legally required to share that information with future buyers, says Aram Shah, a Realtor with Florida Capital Realty in Doral.

Also  keep in mind that while “as is” is helpful in stating your intentions, that doesn’t mean the buyer won’t ask you for repairs or compensation after an inspection. Whether you agree may depend on how eager you are to unload this home.

Step 4: How lenders handle ‘as is’ homes

If the buyer is getting a mortgage, his lender may require that another contingency is included in the contract called a home appraisal. That’s to ensure the money it’s loaning out isn’t going toward a lemon. In fact, lenders will dole out only the amount of money they deem the house is worth—so if the appraiser says it’s worth less than what the buyer is paying, that could be bad news. That means the buyer may have to cover the difference, or that the lender will demand that you make repairs. If you refuse, yet again, the buyer can walk away from the deal.

How to pave the way to a smooth sale

While home inspections and appraisals can derail the sale of an “as is” home, there are things you can do to keep things on track.

For one, if you aren’t familiar with the home’s flaws and what is in need of renovating/repairs, you can ask your Realtor for his take or even hire a home inspector to ward off surprises down the line.

For another, set a tight time limit on any contingencies. Typically this contingency period will last anywhere from 10 to 45 days; the shorter that time period, the less time buyers have to inspect and appraise a home and back out.

Margaret Heidenry is a writer living in Brooklyn, NY. Her work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Vanity Fair, and Boston Magazine.

4 Ways to Deal If Your Appraisal Comes in Low

 | Dec 16, 2015

Either you feel as though you got the raw end of a deal by paying more than the property’s worth or, if you don’t have extra cash to hand over, the deal can crumble into dust. (Your lender’s not going to fork over money for a higher loan amount if the appraisal came in lower than expected, so you’ll have to make up that difference yourself.)

“In a rising market, low valuations are pretty common because appraisals are based upon sales that closed when prices were lower,” says Diane Saatchi, a senior broker with Saunders & Associates in Bridgehampton, NY. “The reverse is so in a declining market.”

In other words: Appraisals can’t keep up with how quickly homes are selling in a hot market, so you’re bound to see lower-than-expected values placed on homes.So, what do you do if this happens to you? You have four options:

1. Appeal the appraisal

Sometimes called a “rebuttal of value,” the appraisal appeal takes some work. In fact, it’s a total team effort.

“The homeowner, loan officer, and often the real estate agent work together to find better comparable market data to justify a higher valuation,” says Casey Fleming, a mortgage adviser and author of “The Loan Guide: How to Get the Best Possible Mortgage.” 

That means everyone puts on their best Sherlock Holmes garb and gets to work looking for anything that helps the claim for higher valuation. Perhaps the appraiser overlooked some comps (homes similar in style, location, and square footage sold within the past few years).

“It’s not uncommon to discover, for instance, that the appraiser used a comparable sale that looks like it’s in great condition, when in fact the home was trashed when purchased and has already been rehabilitated,” Fleming says.

The loan officer writes an appeal using the new comparables and then sends it to the appraiser. There might be some negotiating back and forth until all parties come to a compromise with a new valuation.

Spoiler: It’s a hard battle to fight.

“My record on this one is 0 for 9 so far,” Fleming says. “But I know many appraisers personally who have adjusted their values.” So keep the hope alive!

2. Order a second appraisal

“Most often, if the appraised value is not as high as the agreed (contract) price, the seller’s agent will ask to see the comps and get a second or third appraisal,” Saatchi says.

But it will likely cost you–you’re not only paying for the first appraisal (in your closing costs), but you’ll pony up for any additional appraisals as well. They can range between a few hundred dollars and $1,000 depending on the area. Occasionally, real estate agents or sellers will foot the bill if they really want to keep the sale.

3. Negotiate with the seller

If you’re lucky, you and the seller will both budge a little.

“You might go back to the sellers and ask them to reduce the price or split the difference,” says Peter Grabel, managing director of Luxury Mortgage in Stamford, CT. “The seller is under no obligation to do so, but they may prefer to do this rather than take a chance of losing you as a buyer, and starting over again. It is likely that another buyer will have the same issue, so the seller might be better off renegotiating with you unless they have other offers.”

Sellers might be more willing to cooperate, especially if the Federal Housing Administration is involved. Lenders often require the use of their own FHA-approved appraiser, and these appraisals are “locked in” for six months.

“The seller could be forced to take a poor appraisal or wait it out for a buyer with a different loan,” explains Joshua Jarvis of Jarvis Team Real Estate in Duluth, GA.

Jeff Knox, broker and owner of Dallas-area real estate firm Knox & Associates, says this is the most common outcome in his area.

“Of all possible outcomes, this is what happens most frequently,” he says. “While the seller will usually be upset about the low appraisal value, most reasonable sellers eventually come to terms with the fact that any other appraisal values by potential future buyers will most likely come in at about the same value.”

4. Walk away

No one wants to let a property slip through their fingers, especially if it feels like their dream home. But beware of ignoring a low appraisal—you could end up losing thousands whenever you decide to sell.

If you have an appraisal contingency in your contract, you can walk away, get your deposit back, and hope for better luck the next time around.

8 Earnest-Money Deposit Mistakes Home Buyers Live to Regret

 | Feb 21, 2017

Once home buyers find a home they love, they declare their commitment to the seller with a sizable chunk of change known as an earnest-money deposit. Yes, it sounds so sincere and serious because it is—and if you get it wrong, you could lose thousands of dollars. To scare you straight, here are eight mistakes with earnest-money deposits that home buyers often make. To ensure you don’t end up as one of them, read on to avoid these snafus.

Mistake No. 1: Not understanding what an earnest-money deposit is

First, make sure you fully grasp what an earnest-money deposit (EMD) is—namely, proof that a buyer is committed to completing a sale by having skin in the game. The earnest money deposit is a negotiable amount between the buyer and seller, but usually about 1% to 2% of the purchase price (although it can shoot up to 10%). This money is generally held by the seller’s broker or a title company, to be used as a credit toward the down payment and closing costs.

Mistake No. 2: Offering too little … or not enough

In an aggressive seller’s market, many homes receive multiple offers from anxious buyers. For a buyer’s offer to stand out, Washington DC metro area Realtor® Robyn Porter tells her clients to include an EMD in their offer that will get a seller’s attention. On a $500,000 home, Porter suggests $20,000 to $25,000, or 4% to 5%, depending on the number of competing offers.

However, “I do caution buyers that the EMD is in jeopardy should they default on the contract, so they should be very serious about wanting the home,” says Porter. The bottom line for buyers: Weigh losing the earnest money against the possibility of losing the home.

Mistake No. 3: Removing contract contingencies

Big mistake buyers make with their earnest-money deposit is agreeing to remove contingencies that give them wiggle room they may legitimately need, says Jeremy Colonna of Matchpoint Funding. For instance, if buyers agree to remove a loan contingency and their loan falls through, they’ll lose their earnest money.

“Never give up your right to cancel your purchase until you are 100% certain that you’re going to be able to close,” says Colonna.

Other contingencies—such as a home that’s uninsurable, inspection issues, a problematic title search, or if a house doesn’t appraise—also protect a buyer by allowing the penalty-free canceling of a contract.

“There may be other instances where the buyer can legally get their EMD back, but these contingencies are the most common,” says Joe M. Lopez, a Realtor in Texas.

Mistake No. 4: Ignoring contract timelines

In some cases, a seller writes in a timeliness clause that includes a hard date for closing.

“Ensuring that you as a buyer stay on the schedule dictated by a contract can assist with not losing your earnest-money deposit,” says Raena Casteel of Arizona’s Casteel Realty Group. This means carefully tracking how long you have to terminate the contract for valid reasons.

Mistake No. 5: Buying ‘as is’ and not knowing the risks

A buyer who purchases foreclosed properties should be cautious with an earnest money deposit, says Realtor Marsha Bowen Washington with Coldwell Banker in northern New Jersey. These properties are typically sold “as is,” so the sellers will stipulate that the earnest money deposit is nonrefundable. As a buyer, protect yourself by doing your due diligencebefore making an offer on such a property, because if you don’t, you’ll have to kiss your EMD goodbye if you decide to bail.

Mistake No. 6: Blindly voiding the contract

When a sale falls through, both a buyer and seller need to sign a document voiding the sales contract. If a seller won’t release all the earnest money that a buyer feels legally entitled to, that buyer can refuse to sign the document and essentially make the home unsellable by putting a blemish on the title. In other words: Buyers should never, ever sign this contract unless they’re sure they’ll get all the EMD they deserve.

Mistake No. 7: Impulsively purchasing a home that’s not a good fit

This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s easy to get swept away by a home’s cool features when you first see it. A buyer may put in an offer only to realize days later that the soaking tub may be fabulous, but the kitchen isn’t functional. So make sure that you’re 100% serious about buying a home before making an offer with an EMD.

“If you get cold feet and back out, it’s more likely that you won’t get your money back,” says Casteel.

Mistake No. 8: Not knowing when to let it go

“I had a buyer decide he no longer wanted a home about a week before closing,” says Porter. “He broke up with his fiancée and didn’t want to buy a property where they were going to start a life together. He was willing to lose his $10,000 EMD, and he did.”

Personal problems may be very serious to you, but they’re not a valid reason to cancel a home purchase. And if you’re bailing on a deal with no legal justification, fighting for that EMD is probably a waste of time. Just accept that it’s gone and move on.

For more smart financial news and advice, head over to MarketWatch.

Margaret Heidenry is a writer living in Brooklyn, NY. Her work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Vanity Fair, and Boston Magazine.

The Home-Buying Process in 10 Simple Steps

 | Mar 27, 2017

Step No. 1: Chose an agent

The first step in the home-buying process is to find an agent you feel comfortable working with on what will likely be the largest financial decision of your life. Ask friends and family members for referrals, and interview several real estate agents.

“Choose a Realtor who communicates, has your best interest at heart, and puts you first,” says Naomi Hattaway of Virginia’s 8th & Home, Real Estate + Relocation.

Step No. 2: Find a lender

Once you’ve chosen a real estate agent you trust to be your advocate, ask him or her to recommend lenders, either an organization or a person who will lend you money so you can buy your home.

A local Realtor® has experience working with mortgage brokers and title companies and can recommend lenders. Choosing someone to handle the financial part of the home-buying process can feel like a scary step, but choosing a lender that’s competitive on rates, communicative, and available is key.

“Often mortgage companies consider you a file, not a human,” says Hattaway. “And if they aren’t available on the weekends or evenings, trouble can ensue.”

Step No. 3: Clean up your credit

Now that you have a great lender, you can ask for guidance on any credit score issues you may be facing. Whether it’s a small or large problem, the lender can provide guidance to help repair your situation and make sure you’ll be approved for a loan.

Step No. 4: Apply for mortgage pre-approval

A lender will help you determine exactly what you can afford and, therefore, which houses you should be considering. To arrive at a purchase price, you’ll factor in expenses like homeowners insurance, association dues, and utilities to make sure you can comfortably make your mortgage payments. The lender will then identify the total amount of money it’s willing to lend you.

“Having a pre-approval letter in hand when you’re ready to purchase a home adds strength to your offer, which can be an important advantage in this competitive home-buying market,” says Jill Frank, a Realtor with Wisconsin’s Coldwell Banker Success.

Step No. 5: Create a home wish list

Once you know what your purchasing power is, talk with your real estate agent about your ideal home. Come up with a few “musts,” as well as “wants” you’d ultimately be willing to compromise on. Think bigger than just the color of the kitchen or the floor plan, advises Hattaway.

For instance, do you want to be within walking distance of restaurants? Do you want space between you and your neighbors? Or is proximity to a good school the most important factor?

Step No. 6: Search the listings

Now comes the fun part: searching for homes that meet your parameters. When you begin touring homes that are on your short list, take along a notepad and jot down your thoughts as you approach each home. Can you imagine yourself living there?

“Peruse them and make note of what you like about each home,” says Hattaway.

Step No. 7: Make an offer

Your real estate agent will walk you through the steps required to make an offer on a home in your area.

“Your offer will likely include earnest money that will apply toward your down payment on the home and may include contingencies such as hiring a home inspector,” says Frank. Expect some negotiation, and discuss a competitive offer with your agent.

Step No. 8: Get final mortgage approval

Once your offer to purchase is accepted, you’ll work with your lender to get final approval for your home purchase by the date specified for the closing. The lender may require you to pay property taxes or homeowners insurance for the first year at the time of closing, so make sure you know what funds will be expected.

“Don’t make any major purchases like that big-screen TV or riding lawn mower until after closing, especially if you’d be using credit, as that can affect your mortgage qualification,” says Frank.

Step No. 9: Do your due diligence

The due diligence process usually includes getting a home inspection to make sure you haven’t missed any hidden problems on your walk-throughs. If issues are found, negotiate for the current owner to fix them or take the cost of repair off the closing costs.

Step No. 10: Attend the closing

Once all of the above steps are completed, you’ll be on your way to the closing table. This is when the deed to the home is transferred from the seller to the buyer. Every transaction varies, but plan to sign a ton of paperwork. An attorney or settlement agent will guide you through the process. Then you’ll officially be a homeowner and receive the keys to your new home. Congrats!

Margaret Heidenry is a writer living in Brooklyn, NY. Her work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Vanity Fair, and Boston Magazine.

First-Time Home Buyer Checklist: Have You Done Everything?

By  | Apr 4, 2017

Think you’re ready to buy your first home? Congrats! That’s a big step—and one where it’s wise to know for sure you’ve got all your ducks in a row first. To help you figure that out, here’s an all-in-one first-time home buyer checklist with everything you should make sure you have covered beforeyou set off on your hunt—or, if not, consider this a prime opportunity to get started.

Step No. 1: Find a real estate agent

Most rookie home buyers begin their house search online by browsing listings, says Linda Sanderfoot, a real estate agent at Coldwell Banker in Neenah, WI. She says that’s a mistake for a couple of reasons.

First, you might be looking at homes that are outside your price range—and “you don’t want to fall in love with a home that you can’t afford,” says Sanderfoot. More important: You’re embarking on this quest on your own when you should be letting a seasoned professional guide you through every step of the home-buying process. Bonus: It’s no cost to you as a buyer to use an agent, so you’re getting free advice by using a real estate agent—no strings attached.

You can research real estate agents in your area on websites like ours. Make sure to scrutinize agent reviews—paying close attention to years of experience, number of homes sold, and what neighborhoods the agent specializes in.

Sanderfoot recommends interviewing two to three agents before signing a representation agreement with one.

Step No. 2: Talk to a mortgage lender

Although some experts recommend buyers do this before finding a real estate agent, there’s a significant benefit to talking to an agent first: “You need to shop for a lender locally, and real estate agents know which local lenders are trustworthy and which aren’t,” Sanderfoot says.

Therefore, ask your agent for two to three lender recommendations. Talking to multiple lenders will enable you to fully assess your financing options with no obligation to pick until you’ve found one that’s right.

The goal is to get pre-approved for a home loan. To do that, you’ll need to provide the lender with a significant amount of paperwork, including bank statements, pay stubs, W-2 forms, 1099 forms, and tax returns. If the lender decides to offer you pre-approval, you’ll receive an estimate of what size loan you would qualify for and approximately what interest rate you’d get.

Pre-approval is typically good for 90 to 120 days; however, “it’s easy to renew it if the borrower’s financial picture doesn’t change,” says Richard Redmond, broker associate at ACM Investor Services, a private lender in Larkspur, CA, and author of “Mortgages: The Insider’s Guide.”

A good mortgage lender will also be able to help you determine which type of loan is right for you.

Step No. 3: Improve your credit, if needed

When you meet with a mortgage lender, the lender will pull your credit score. Although a perfect credit score is 850, all scores 760 and above are considered to be in the best credit score range—meaning you would qualify for the most competitive interest rates. (For comparison, a good credit score is from 700 to 759, a fair score is from 650 to 699, and a score of 300 to 649 is considered poor.) Your credit score is calculated based on a number of factors, including your debt payment history, debt-to-credit utilization, and length of credit history.

If you find that your credit score is subpar, you may be able to take steps to boost your score. Just keep in mind that you won’t improve a credit score overnight. Indeed, you may need to postpone your house search for a few months in order to mend your credit.

Step No. 4: Determine where you want to live

To focus your house hunt, you’ll need to decide where you want to settle down. If you don’t have your heart set on a particular neighborhood, think about what areas are best suited for your commuting needs, school requirements, proximity to family and friends, and overall lifestyle.

“What do you do at night? What do you do on the weekend? Your habits can help you determine where you should live,” says Sanderfoot.

Need help digging up information? At realtor.com/local, you can enter a town, neighborhood, or ZIP code to find out more about the area, like the median home price and quality of public schools.

Step No. 5: Don’t damage your credit

When you’re in the process of buying a home, you need to walk the straight and narrow with your finances. Why? Because your loan doesn’t get fully approved until it goes through underwriting—which could take place just a few days before closing. To keep your credit score stable, you’ll want to avoid taking on new debt (e.g., getting an auto loan), opening new credit cards, neglecting student loan payments, or falling behind on credit card payments.

Daniel Bortz is a Realtor in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, DC. He has written for Money magazine, Entrepreneur magazine, CNNMoney, and more.

How to Buy a House: The 5 New Rules That Can Make or Break Your Offer

By  | Apr 26, 2017

The rules on how to buy a house have changed, folks—so if you’re serious about becoming a proud homeowner in the near future, you’ll want to read this first!

So what’s changed the most in the traditional home-buying process? For starters, prospective buyers should brace themselves for steep prices and stiff competition. Data on realtor.com® show that the nationwide median home price has pushed above $250,000 for the first time ever, 8% higher than a year ago. Plus, total inventory remains much lower than it was a year ago, falling well short of buyer demand. The result? Despite rising home prices, properties are “flying off the market,” says Linda Sanderfoot, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker in Neenah, WI.

Altogether, “it’s a hot seller’s market,” says Seth Lejeune, a real estate agent with Berkshire Hathaway in Collegeville, PA. While it’s good news for sellers, buyers will need to take some extra measures to compete with other house hunters.

To nail a perfect home in today’s housing market, follow these five new rules.

Rule No. 1: Prepare for a marathon house hunt

With today’s low housing inventory and strong buyer demand, it might take you three to six months to buy a house—and maybe even up to a year in some of the country’s tightest markets. Prepare accordingly.

You’re more likely to encounter a multiple-offer situation today than in years past, says Sanderfoot, vastly complicating many negotiations. So don’t presume you’ll be moving anytime soon. If you do have a fast-approaching deadline for moving, you’d better get started on your home search. Like, now. 

Rule No. 2: Secure financing before you start shopping

Gone are the days when you’d waltz into home showings without securing your financing first. If you need a mortgage to buy a home, you’ll want to get pre-approved for a home loan before you set foot in a home.

The reason: Without a lender’s pre-approval letter in hand, buyers will have a hard time getting sellers to take them seriously. Your offer, though sincere, could easily fall through for lack of funds. We told you it’s a competitive market, right?

To survey your mortgage options, meet with at least three lenders—which could be banks, credit unions, mortgage brokers, or any combination thereof (you can get recommendations from your real estate agent). You’ll want to get a good-faith estimate, which breaks down the mortgage’s terms, including the interest rate and fees, in order to make an apples-to-apples comparison for the best deal. Here’s more on how to shop for a mortgage.

Rule No. 3: Don’t lowball your offer

Bargain hunters, beware: If you’re making an offer on a home that’s priced to sell—meaning it’s listed at, or slightly above, fair market value—“you should present your best offer right out of the gate,” says Peggy Yee, supervising broker at Frankly Realtors in Vienna, VA.

In other words, you need to wrap your head around the idea that you’re more than likely going to be offering full list price. Although that can be tough for bargain hunters, “it’s the reality of many markets,” says Yee.

All that said, real estate markets vary by area, so look to your agent for advice on how much to offer. You can also check particular neighborhoods on realtor.com/local to get a base line for median home prices and more.

How long a house has been on the market can make a difference, too. If a home has been listed for more than 30 days, that might mean it’s overpriced—and that means you might have a little room to negotiate on price.

Rule No. 4: Curb the contingencies

When buyers make an offer, they can tack on contingencies—terms that must be satisfied before a deal goes through. For instance, you might require that the place pass a home inspection to ensure that it doesn’t need tons of repairs. If you’re getting a mortgage, your lender will require you to include an appraisal contingency where an appraiser makes sure the house is worth what you’re paying.

All in all, contingencies protect buyers, but sellers don’t always like them because they insert many “what ifs” into the deal, which might mean it falls through.

Since this is a seller’s market, buyers can stand out by attaching fewer contingencies to the deal. Not the biggies, of course, but ones that don’t really matter to you. For instance, you might want to consider letting go of a lead-based paint inspection since you can clean up this problem yourself. Or, many buyers may include a contingency that they have to sell their own home before the deal goes through; consider waiving that if you can.

Rule No. 5: Move fast

There’s no time to waste. In many cases, “a seller will list their house on a Friday, do a couple open houses over the weekend, and then review all offers on Monday,” says Yee. That could mean you have just a few days during which to view the property, confer with your agent, and submit an offer.

Given the time crunch, Lejeune says he asks buyers a simple question during his initial consultation. “I’ll ask, ‘If I show you the perfect house today, at a price that you can afford, are you ready to make a full-price offer right now?’ That question gives me a good barometer of how ready you are to buy a home.”

So if you’re serious about buying a house, you need to be ready to pounce.

Daniel Bortz is a Realtor in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, DC. He has written for Money magazine, Entrepreneur magazine, CNNMoney, and more.

Couples’ Home Decor Horror Stories (and How They Survived)

By  | Feb 10, 2017

Home decor is supposed to be fun, but when you add a significant other into the mix decorating your home can be downright traumatic. In fact, according to a recent study of 500 couples by Home Goods, 25% of Americans are more stressed out about picking home decor together than they are about doing their taxes. Death, taxes, and decor: the unholy trinity of life’s stressful certainties?

Home decor horror stories

Relax: Decorating a home with your life partner doesn’t have to be a killer. There are ways to mitigate the style-meshing madness without ending up in relationship counseling, or worse.

Here are some couples’ worst home decor horror stories, with survival tips that could help us all stay in love.

Kitchen cabinets work as dressers, right?

“When I moved in with my boyfriend—now my fiancé—he was living in a house he’d been gutting and renovating for a year. I went from a perfectly pristine apartment to unfurnished chaos; he was even using extra kitchen cabinets as dressers. After three months of this, I told him if we didn’t get some bedroom furnishings, I would slowly die. But when we finally went furniture shopping, suddenly he had an opinion on everything: He wanted wood, I wanted upholstery. Eventually, I took the initiative and narrowed the selections to three options that seemed to mesh both of our styles.” –Liz Kot, Long Beach, NY

How to survive: According to the Home Goods study, 93% of couples have disagreed on a home decor decision since moving in together, and nearly half of respondents go head to head on a regular basis. That is why it’s critical to find a middle ground.

“You can do the legwork and limit the options,” says interior decorator Jill Hosking-Cartland, founder of Hosking Interiors. “Or you can hire an interior designer or decorator who is trained to help you find something that will appeal to both your sensibilities. This process is easier when you have a neutral party whose sole goal is to see both parties happy.”

Many stores provide free in-house design help, including Pottery Barn, West Elm, Ethan Allen, and Room & Board.

Clashing over color

“My then boyfriend/now husband and I had been dating about a month when he painted the walls in his bedroom a dark brown color. It was awful!  So I just got up one day and grabbed some old paint cans that were his leftovers and mixed a pale neutral tan/beige color and painted straight over the dark umber that was there. He was shocked at first, but deep down I think he admired my ‘get it done’ approach.” –Julie Heller, New York, NY

How to survive: For 44% of couples, color is one of the top decor decisions where they don’t see eye to eye. If one of you likes things muted and the other goes for bold colors, one compromise is to use the latter as an “accent” wall so you both feel like you’ve won.

So many milk crates!

“When I moved in with my boyfriend, he was using milk crates to store his record collection. I desperately wanted to throw them out—the crates, not the records—but he wouldn’t let me. I lobbied hard for them to go in the basement, but then he would argue that they might get damaged. Finally, after much negotiating, we bought some new furniture to store the collection more attractively.” –Jo Smith, Los Angeles, CA

How to survive: To help your partner say goodbye to an eyesore/atrocity, it’s up to you to find alternatives—after all, it’s much easier to dump things if you have something new to take its place. Or if both of you have a couch and one must go, “try the practical approach,” says Hosking-Cartland. “For example, to determine which couch stays, discuss which one is more comfortable or has less wear.”

‘He never wanted to spend money’

“My first husband was tight-fisted with money, especially when it came to furnishing our home. It was a constant source of frustration because he wouldn’t let me buy anything unless we agreed to it—which meant we usually ended up without. So when he bought a patio furniture set without telling me, I was furious. But once I cooled off, I realized it was so nice, it worked great as an indoor dining set at a fraction of the usual price. So I dragged the set inside. Obviously, this didn’t go over well, but we did end up using that patio set indoors for quite a while until I convinced him to get a replacement.” –Kaye Chapman, New York, NY

How to survive: No doubt, finances are a top contention point for couples, and the Home Goods survey showed that more than one in three respondents have lied to their partner about the cost of a home decor purchase.

A better solution? Find ways to decorate on a budget by perusing thrift stores, outlets, Craigslist, or estate sales. The less you spend, the less financial strain it will place on your relationship (not to mention your bank account).

Kimberly Dawn Neumann, who is based in New York City, is an author, performer, and fitness professional.

10 Things All Parents Have Cluttering Their Home: Let Them Go!

By  | Jan 29, 2018

As the mother of three boys, I’ve waged an endless battle against clutter on their behalf. Between the clothes they outgrow and the toys and games they play with for one hot second, their possessions build up fast—and yet they have trouble letting go. Full disclosure: I do, too.

Yet I’m here to say that it is possible to purge that playroom, kids’ closets, or toy bin. I know this because I’ve done it! To help set you on the same path, here are 10 things I was unnecessarily holding onto that I’ll bet many parents have stashed away somewhere. Here’s how I learned to unload this stuff, and how you can, too.

1. Your kids’ once-favorite toys

To determine which toys should stay or go, I kept these questions in mind from Jamie Novak, author of “Keep This Toss That: Unclutter Your Life to Save Time, Money, Space, and Sanity.”

  • Do I have more than one of these?
  • Do we still use it?
  • Would someone like it/use it more than we do?
  • Why am I holding onto this?

These questions truly helped as I wrestled with hanging onto the plastic toy garage my son received for his very first Christmas. (And guess what? He will start driving next month!) So, clearly, I was holding onto it for my own selfish sentimental reasons. Yet my emotions were a bit easier to set aside when I thought about how this item could be put to good use at a local preschool, which is where I ultimately donated it.

2. Costumes your kids have outgrown

Another toughie to toss? My kids’ matching chicken costumes for Halloween—just the feel of those soft white feathers brought me back to the days when I could dress them in cute matching costumes without a peep of a complaint from them, then we’d all go trick-or-treating as a family. After much wavering, I put them in my consignment shop pile so another brood of kid-chicks (or parents) might enjoy them.

3. Gifts

Next up: What to do with my youngest son’s MC Hammer pants, never worn, bestowed on us by a well-meaning but wildly misguided aunt? Those pants weren’t even in fashion when we received them. Still, the fact that they were a gift made them hard to abandon. I steeled myself by reasoning that donating these pants doesn’t mean that I love the lady who gave them to us any less. And, honestly, would she even notice, or care? Doubtful on both counts. Out they go.

4. Old art supplies

Finally an easier one: Trashing many of the items in our art supply bucket were no-brainers. Broken crayons, empty rolls of tape, used-up markers, I’m looking at you!

5. Your kids’ old artwork

The pictures my children made were a much tougher call. Fortunately, I found that I can curate my own online gallery thanks to apps that make it easy to store artwork. For example, Keepy enables you to snap pics of those masterpieces, then file them electronically so you can view them digitally (and print them out in poster size if you wish).

6. Books well below your kids’ current reading level

I have to say, I was a bit embarrassed that I’d hung onto so many baby-level board books while my kids were now reading literature such as “The Crucible.” What was I thinking?

I was thrilled to find that my local library was collecting books for an upcoming sale. I put together a huge box of everything from “Curious George” to Shakespeare and said, “fare thee well.”

But even if you don’t have a library that’s accepting donations, you have other options. Books for Africa accepts literary donations of all genres and ships them across the Atlantic to needy kids. Goodwill‘s resale stores are also happy to take books off your hands.

7. Old shoes

Footwear, too, seemed to be another area that was clogging up coveted real estate in one closet. Why was I holding onto sneakers that wouldn’t fit a toddler when my “boys” were wearing a men’s size 8?

I was thrilled to find Soles4Souls.org, which accepts donations throughout the U.S. so footwear can embark on a new journey.

8. Things you want to pass down to your grandkids

I have to admit, some toys were lingering with the hopes that I could one day pass them to my future grandkids. Yet, according to Novak, this never works out. “Parts are lost, they get musty, plastic gets brittle, and they can be a safety hazard,” she says.

Another problem is people don’t store potential heirlooms properly, making it a futile endeavor. So if you’re dying to see your copy of “The Velveteen Rabbit” go to your grandchildren one day, be sure to keep it in a safe place (in an enclosed container where moisture can’t creep in).

9. Old photos

Going through boxes of photos helped me find some fun ones I’d forgotten about. But it was far too easy to take a detour down memory lane—i.e., by taking photos of the photos and then posting them on Facebook. You can lose hours that way, trust me! The best tack? Pick a few photos, repurpose some frames, and then place the rest in a box. Deal with putting them in albums later, after you’ve tackled the bigger picture (in case you’ve forgotten, it’s how to declutter your kids’ stuff).

10. And everything else

There was more, of course, from Hot Wheels to cable-knit sweaters. So I scheduled a pick-up through DonationTown.org. With free pickup nationwide, this site accepts it all—clothing, furniture, toys, shoes, and general household items.

Best of all, making that pickup appointment (and knowing that someone would be coming to my home to collect my items at a set date and time) forced me to finish this job even when I wanted (desperately) to give up.

Liz Alterman is a writer who’s covered a variety of subjects, from personal finance issues for CNBC.com to career advice for The Muse.

The 3 Best Reasons to Buy a Home in 2018 (but You’d Better Hurry)

 | Jan 4, 2018
cherezoff/iStock; realtor.com

Figuring out when to plunge into the real estate market can be quite intimidating—especially when prices are high, choices are limited, and history urges restraint.

“We’ve seen two or three years of what could be considered unsustainable levels of price appreciation, as well as an inventory shortage that resulted in a record-low number of homes for sale across the country,” says Javier Vivas, director of economic research for realtor.com®. “When you factor those together, you have a market that has to either explode or see some relief.”

Comforting, right? Well, take heart: Experts agree that relief is indeed on the horizon.

New predictions for 2018 forecast more moderate gains in home prices and rising inventory levels, while low unemployment and record levels of consumer confidence mean more buyers are feeling good about their finances.

A lot depends on where you live (and how much you plan to finance), but these factors combined could mean 2018 will be your year to take the buying plunge.

1. Rates are going up

After years of record-low interest rates (hello, 3%!), the Fed is finally making some noticeable increases: The rate for a 30-year fixed mortgage broke the 4% mark last year. And with economic growth continuing to carry momentum, Vivas predicts we’ll see at least two to four more rate increases throughout 2018. Rates are anticipated to hit 5% by the end of the year.

“The big story there is that those increases will further constrict affordability,” Vivas says. “The more buyers wait, the more expensive it will get to buy—not just because of home prices, but because of inflationary pressure.”

In other words, if you want in on the American dream, now might be the time.

2. Prices are climbing, but not crazily fast

Home prices have soared over the past few years, pricing otherwise well-positioned buyers out of high-cost areas and leading some experts to cry “bubble”. But in 2018, price increases are expected to moderate.

Vivas forecasts a home price increase of 3.2% year over year, after finishing 2017 with a 5.5% year-over-year increase. Existing-home sale prices are predicted to increase 2.5% year over year.

Of course, it all depends on where you live. While red-hot markets such as San Francisco are predicted to finally lose some steam, sales numbers and home prices are poised to climb in Southern states such as Texas and Florida, where economic momentum continues chugging along and new construction is happening in the right price points.

So what does that mean? Basically, home prices will still increase, but not at the same pace as they have over the past few years.

3. Inventory levels will begin to increase

An inventory shortage has plagued the U.S. housing market since 2015, forcing some buyers to settle (a tiny house with linoleum floors for $1 million, anyone?) and keeping others out of the buying game entirely. But by fall 2018, the tides will begin to turn, with markets such as Boston; Detroit; and Nashville, TN, recovering first.

The majority of inventory growth will happen in the middle- to upper-tier price point, in the ranges of $350,000 and $750,000 and above $750,000, Vivas predicts.

New home construction is also expected to expand. But that will happen slowly, thanks to a constricted labor market, limitations on the number of lots and land that’s available, tight bank financing for building loans, and a run-up in building material prices, says National Association of Home Builders chief economist Robert Dietz.

“It’s been a slow climb back from the recession, and now we’re confronting all of these limiting factors and supply-side constraints,” Dietz says.

It’s particularly tough, he says, for builders to break ground at the entry level for first-time buyers, particularity in high-cost coastal markets such as California. That means it will take longer for those inventory levels to recover.

But there’s a bright spot: Builder confidence is at its highest level since 1999, according to the NAHB. And that means hope is on the horizon.

“As we head into 2019 and beyond, we expect to see the inventory increases take hold and provide relief for first-timers and drive sales growth,” Vivas says.

The wildcard: Taxes and politics

When the Republican tax plan was introduced, the proposed elimination of the mortgage interest deduction was all anyone could talk about: While the new limitations on the deduction will affect only 2.5% of all existing mortgages in the U.S., it will have a disproportionate effect on Western markets, where 20% to 30% of mortgages are above the new threshold, according to Vivas.

Across the board, experts agree that the new tax plan decreases incentives for homeownership and reduces the tax benefits of owning a home—particularly in highly taxed, expensive markets such as California, Illinois, New York, and New Jersey. But on the flip side, that means that if fewer folks are motivated to buy, then there’s less competition for those who want in the game. Plus, some taxpayers—including renters—will see a tax cut. That increase in buyers’ disposable income could spur demand from folks who are looking to build equity as a homeowner, rather than flushing away their savings in rent.

“Buying remains the more attractive option in the long term—that remains the American dream, and it’s true in many markets where renting has become really the shortsighted option,” Vivas says. “As people get more savings in their pocket, buying becomes the better option.”

Based in San Diego, Holly Amaya is a writer, lawyer, and communications strategist. She writes about real estate, legal, lifestyle, motherhood, and career issues.

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