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How to Declutter Before Moving: Have You Tossed Out the Right Stuff?

How to Declutter Before Moving: Have You Tossed Out the Right Stuff?

If you’re about to move to a new home, there is one thing you absolutely must do: Declutter before moving. Really, this is your big chance! There is no better excuse than an upcoming move to unload dead weight.

Think about it: For one, moving costs money—an average of $1,170 for an in-state move or a whopping $5,630 for out-of-state—so every box you pack adds up. Plus, you want your new place to look awesome, right? Cramming nooks, crannies, and closets with junk just isn’t pretty.

All of this is our long-winded way to say it’s high time you started chipping away at your possessions. For help on that front, check out these guidelines on how to declutter before moving.

Step No. 1: Start throwing things out early

Try to start purging at least a month before you move, says Ross Sapir, CEO of Roadway Moving in New York City, which moves up to 6,000 customers each year. The reason: This gives you time to, say, sell items online or drive them to a consignment shop. Plus, advance decluttering “spreads out the (task) to make it feel like it’s less work than it actually is,” Spair says.

Try to tackle one room, or one closet (or one drawer) a day—it’s less overwhelming—and never handle an item twice. Designate “toss,” “donate,” and “sell” boxes, and when you decide an item’s fate, toss it into the correct box. Done, done, and done.

Step No. 2: Gather the right packing materials

Gather organizational tools like packing tape, black markers, and labels in a tote; that way, you don’t have to rummage through drawers whenever the decluttering bug bites. After all, you’re going to need to get this stuff for moving day anyway, so there’s no harm in kicking things off early.

Another huge help? Clear plastic bins are your friends—and great homes for small items like batteries or office supplies. You can see what’s inside, and they’re easily stackable to save space.

Step No. 3: Consider the size of your new home

Before decluttering, think about your new home and how much space it contains. That will help you decide whether to move that extra set of pots and pans, or donate them. But even if you’re moving into a home with equal or more space, that doesn’t mean you should use this as an excuse to keep everything you own. Clutter and extraneous crap is clutter and extraneous crap!

Step No. 4: Target these top things to toss

Here are some common items you can almost certainly do without. Be merciless, and get them out of your life!

  1. Still boxed: These items never made it out of the boxes: gifts, Groupon deals that seemed like a good idea at the time, bulk purchases of all those giant jars of capers you won’t live long enough to eat. Surely, someone will appreciate these goods that fell by the wayside. You might even be able to raise some cash by selling this clutter online. But get rid of it.
  2. Not used: Tastes and waistlines change. (Especially waistlines.) If you haven’t worn or used something in a year, you probably never will again. If it’s in good shape, donate it charity. If it’s stained or hopelessly out of date, toss it.
  3. Expired: Food way past its sell-by date and expired or unwanted medication shouldn’t live with you in your new place. Some pharmacies will take back unused medication, and cleaned plastic pill bottles are recyclable. Bag up your pills and take them to your local pharmacy for safe disposal. Don’t pour or flush medicine down the drain, which can contaminate drinking water with chemicals, according to Earth911.
  4. Past paperwork: We all have boxes of documents, clippings, and recipes that we never read—they don’t need to be schlepped to a new house. If you file your tax returns online and report everything you should, the IRS says to keep returns and documentation for three years after you file. You can toss ATM and bank deposit receipts after a year. Keep “forever” documents (e.g., your birth and marriage certificates) in a separate box so you don’t mistakenly pitch them with your Dave & Busters receipts.
  5. Books and magazines are heavy and bulky to move. If you’ve read them, and don’t think you’ll ever read them again, donate them to a local library. Many senior residences maintain libraries and would love a fresh supply of reading material.
  6. Extras: Jettison extra towels, extra teacups, extra anything. If it hasn’t come in handy in the past year, it won’t come in handy in the future.
Article by: Lisa Gordon
Article found: https://goo.gl/Zxd3Iv

 

How to Move With Kids Without Losing Your Mind

How to Move With Kids Without Losing Your Mind

 

There’s no doubt that moving can be a life-draining experience under the best of circumstances. Add in kids—and it most certainly does not qualify as “the best of circumstances.” In fact, complete chaos can ensue. But don’t despair: Here are some tips to minimize the insanity of relocation with little tykes in tow.

Give them an early heads up

Kids are insightful little critters, and even the really young ones have likely gathered that something is up. Rather than letting them fret, give them the low-down on the plan as soon as you know you are moving.

“Set up a special dinner night with pizza or their favorite food and inform your kids of the move,” recommends Brad Pauly of Pauly Presley Realty in Austin, TX.

Explaining details—that mom has a new job, that the house will have a room just for them, and that the new town has a great park—will help to allay their concerns. Reassure them that all their familiar items will go with them, and that they will have ample time to say goodbye to friends.

Let them decorate the boxes

If you have younger kids, consider doing the majority of packing while they are with a baby sitter or friend, or at night. Not only are they likely more interested in unpacking boxes, but they also might be upset seeing their things go away, even if it’s only temporarily.

Older kids can help fill boxes, and then let them unleash their creativity with stickers and markers.

“Allowing them to personalize their box of belongings keeps them busy and also makes it easier for you to identify what goes to their room when you arrive at the new house,” Pauly says. Kids will want to set up their new digs as soon as they can.

Keep kid ‘essentials’ on hand

Set aside one box of items you will need ASAP, and take it with you in your own car rather than placing it on the moving truck. Let your children choose the “essentials” in their life and place them in this box. For them, it might be a certain teddy bear or toy. No judgments!

This box is all about what your kid will want on hand. That way if the moving truck ends up late or boxes get lost, your kids know they’ve got the things they love most within reach, which curbs the odds of a first-night-in-new-house meltdown.

Keep important family paperwork around, too

Also keep in your own car a box of any important school-related documents (e.g., birth certificates, medical records, and transcripts) to ensure your kids are prepared for their new school.

“It’s easy to misplace papers when moving, so making sure important documents are ready to go will make the move less stressful on the other end,” Pauly says.

Purge while packing—with consent

Kids are hoarders by nature, and that can spell trouble when you realize you are paying to move the bottle cap collection or stuffed animal menagerie.

“This is a great time to go through their belongings and donate items that have been outgrown or overplayed,” says mom and Realtor® Susan Chace of Avenue Properties in Seattle. Talk about the fresh start they will have setting up a room sans clutter, and underscore that the donations can help someone else.

However, you want to make sure they have bought into the whole “letting go” thing; if they’re overly upset, it might be wise to table the purge.

“While you might be tempted to get rid of that broken toy or that shirt that no longer fits, you should keep it unless you’re certain your kid is OK parting with it,” Pauly warns. “Young kids tend to be attached to all their things, and ensuring they see their familiar belongings in their new home will provide comfort.”

Say farewell properly

Closure is tough for everyone, but especially for kids, who may be incredibly anxious about whether they’ll find a new BFF or if their new teacher will be as kind as Ms. Jacki.

“Have kids take photos of their room, yard, school, friends, and anything else that’s important to them so they can create a memory book of this chapter in their lives,” suggests Chace. You also might want to throw a going-away party to allow for proper goodbyes.

Enjoy the journey

If you’re moving out of the region (road trip!), make the drive part of the excitement. Show them the route you’ll be taking, and highlight areas of interest you’ll see along the way. Try to plan a few fun stops along the way. And don’t forget the souvenirs.

“If you’re traveling across many states, collect a magnet from each place you visit and display them on your new refrigerator,” says Chace.

Stick to routines

Make sure to stick to your schedule throughout the moving process, including naps and rituals like family meals or family game night, says Pauly: “Maintaining familiar routines as much as you can is reassuring.”

Finally, remind them that the most familiar thing they are bringing is still with them: their family. Cheesy we know, but deep down, your kids really do care.

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Article found: https://goo.gl/GocUjB

How to Install Fire Sprinklers: The Fastest Way to Put Out a Fire

How to Install Fire Sprinklers: The Fastest Way to Put Out a Fire

What puts out a fire? If you said firefighters, you aren’t exactly wrong, but it could take a while for your rescuers to arrive—which may explain why house fires kill more than 2,500 people each year and damage $7 billion in property. There’s actually a far more effective way to put out fires, and it involves learning how to properly install fire sprinklers.

Never heard of home fire sprinklers? That’s understandable, considering only 5% of residences have them installed. But here’s why you should consider them: Home sprinklers can control and extinguish a fire far faster than it would take for the fire brigade to show up at your door. In fact, according to the National Fire Protection Association, the risk of dying in a house fire decreases by 80% in homes where sprinklers are installed.

“Home fire sprinklers are one of the best ways to protect you and your family in the event of a blaze,” says Lorraine Carli, vice president of outreach and advocacy for the NFPA. But “people don’t know about them. As more folks are educated about the life-saving value, we are seeing more homes including them.”

If you think you’d like your home to be one of them, read on for what you need to know.

How much do fire sprinklers cost?

The best and cheapest time to install a fire sprinkler system is when you’re building a new home or doing a major renovation. That’s when walls and ceilings are still open, and it’s easy to add the water supply and install the sprinklers. According to CostHelper, installing fire sprinklers then costs $1.61 per square foot, or $3,542 for a 2,200-square-foot home.

Installation becomes dicey and pricey when you retrofit an entire house with sprinklers. That’s when you’ll have to cut holes in walls and ceilings, run pipes, then patch and paint the walls again, which ranges from $2,000 to $16,000 depending on the size of your house and if/how long a community has had sprinkler ordinances in place. The longer a community requires sprinklers, the more competition grows and lowers prices.

How home sprinkler systems work

Fire sprinklers really are low-tech: They start with pipes filled with water and pressure, similar to your other plumbing pipes, which run behind walls and in ceilings. If your current plumbing has enough pressure—at least 100 PSI—installers can tap into it; if not, you’ll have to spring for a pump and a 300-gallon holding tank that can feed a sprinkler system for about 10 minutes.

Every few feet, the sprinkler pipes have connectors that let out water. Each has a heat-sensitive trigger, most often a glass tube filled with liquid or solder link. During a fire, the air heats, and once the temperature reaches 155 degrees Fahrenheit, the trigger glass shatters or the solder melts, releasing water that sprays out the fire.

In the movies, a whole house of sprinklers explodes water at once. But in reality, each sprinkler is activated individually. The Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition says that 90% of fires are stopped by a single sprinkler.

How to retrofit a home for fire sprinklers

Retrofitting a house with a fire sprinkler is not a weekend DIY project for an amateur. You’ll need an experienced sprinkler company to do the work.

  1. Work with the sprinkler contractor to form a plan of where you want the devices and how you’ll get the water to them. Part of this process is figuring out how to install the necessary sprinklers with the least amount of disruption to walls, studs, and floor joists. Contractors will take advantage of closets, where they can run a pipe outside the wall, or ceiling molding that can hide the pipes running behind them. At the end of the planning process, you’ll have a set of blueprints that show where each pipe will live in your home.
  2. Contractors start opening walls and drilling through studs and joists to accommodate pipes they’ll install up and across walls.
  3. When the pipes and connectors are installed, the contractor will repair wall holes, then install the sprinkler head, usually covered with a cap that easily blows away in case of fire.

Sprinkler maintenance

Take care not to displace sprinklers when you’re dusting, and if you paint, cover them with a cup so you don’t splatter them. If you install sprinklers in a basement with low ceilings, it’s a good idea to cover each sprinkler with an open cage to protect them from unwitting blows—these things are not indestructible. And, it’s always smart to eyeball sprinklers to make sure they haven’t been covered by furniture.

Periodically verify that water shut-off valves remain open and the storage tank, if you’re using one, is full. And, annually perform a flow test through the clearly labeled flow-test value, which discharges to the outside.

To test it, slowly open the valve. You’re looking for pressurized water to run out, which shows that your tank and pump are working. If your sprinkler system is connected to your alarm system, the test will trigger the alarm. It’s a good idea to warn your alarm company you are running the test, so it doesn’t dispatch fire fighters on a false call.

Article found: https://goo.gl/3u5g9O
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‘We Made Every Mistake’: Chip and Joanna Gaines Bare Their Pre-‘Fixer Upper’ Past

‘We Made Every Mistake’: Chip and Joanna Gaines Bare Their Pre-‘Fixer Upper’ Past

Chip and Joanna Gaines may be pretty darned cute, but they’re far from perfect—and the latest episode of “Fixer Upper” offers proof. The couple boldly take a trip back in time to a home they lived in more than 10 years ago, giving viewers a jaw-dropping peek inside.

We’re not going to lie—it’s a little horrifying. Among their renovation slip-ups? They painted over wallpaper, left the popcorn ceilings intact, spent most of their bathroom renovation budget on double shower heads, and more.

“We made every mistake in the book,” Joanna admits.

Since then, of course, they’ve learned from those mistakes—and are showing off how far they’ve come by flipping a new place. They select a cute little Tudor-style cottage that Chip names the “Giraffe House,” because its startling stone exterior reminds him of the spots on a giraffe.

The three-bedroom, two-bath, 1,800-square-foot house was built in 1937, and is now priced at $79,900. Chip does an admirable job of bargaining and gets it for $65,000, and they estimate $85,000 in renovation costs. Naturally, nothing goes exactly as planned.

Here’s how it all pans out, and the lessons they learn this time around (because there’s always room for improvement, right?).

Lesson No. 1: Save the shiplap

Chip and Joanna suspect that there might be reusable shiplap underneath the sagging, popcorn-covered drywall on the ceiling, and they’re right! The living room shiplap has been eaten by termites, so they have to replace that with drywall, but the ceilings in the rest of the downstairs area can be sanded, stained, and reused.

Lesson No. 2: Don’t overlook cast-offs in the garage

What appeared to be a pile of wood in the garage turns out to be a stack of doors that had been used in the house over the years. After they refinish and replace the glass on a few of them, they’re able to use them on an indoor cabinet and at the front of the house. They even reclaim some of the doorknobs and use them as design elements.

Lesson No. 3: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it

There’s a large archway separating the living and dining rooms, which Chip and Joanna decide to leave in place. All they have to do is paint the walls and trim.

Lesson No. 4: Leave no stone unturned

This may be our favorite reclamation feature of the entire house: Once they remove the stone from the facade and from other parts of the property, they have a big pile of flat rocks. Instead of letting them “walk away,” as Joanna puts it, she uses them to line one master bathroom wall, to stunning effect.

Lesson No. 5: Put a new slant on things

Chip and Joanna find a dormer room with a sharply slanted ceiling off the master bedroom which the previous owners had been using for storage. Joanna makes a quaint office out of the space by adding built-in desks and a window seat.

Lesson No. 6: Make the most of what you have

Chip and Joanna have some chunky, reclaimed beams left over from other projects, so they use some inside the house to give it a vintage look to match the exterior of the house. They also use some wood flooring left over from their Magnolia bakery renovation in the small living room. These materials cost them nothing.

Lesson No. 7: Be willing to spend money where it’s necessary

The roof on the Giraffe House is a problem. Once Chip gets up there, he finds that it’s been patched and resurfaced three times, which is all the code allows. He has to completely replace the roof, which costs $12,000, but there is no other viable option. The silver lining? While he’s up there, he adds a dormer window, which looks great.

How’d it go?

Their total investment in the house comes to $150,475, and they’re going to list it for $189,900—which means a profit of $39,425, or more than 26% return on their investment. As Chip rightly points out, that’s a “pretty penny.”  Now, who said a giraffe can’t change its spots?

Article found: https://goo.gl/iXlVvo
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Tough Sell: 6 Bedroom Design Trends That Buyers Hate

Tough Sell: 6 Bedroom Design Trends That Buyers Hate

The bedroom is probably the most personal room in your house, and not just because it’s where all (or at least some) of the magic happens. After all, it’s where you snuggle up at the end of a long, cold day; where you retreat when you’re sick; where you stash the items that mean the most to you. Most likely, the decor scheme is also pretty close to your heart.

But when you’re selling your home, as you’ve no doubt heard, personal taste should go out the window. The same goes for distinctive, of-the-moment trends—yes, even if you’re quite sure that eggplant is the new black. Overdoing it with loads of wicker, mountains of pillows, or extra dark paint can send the wrong message about your home, and scare off potential buyers.

That’s because whatever’s hot will someday be … not. Reba Haas, a Realtor® with Re/Max Metro Eastside in Seattle has seen it all.

“Can we please get over the bright colors—pink, lime green—especially in kids’ bedrooms?” she begs. Reality check: Nobody likes these shades that much, and they scream “long weekend of painting” to buyers, unless they have similar tastes.

Here are seven more once-popular ideas that decorating experts wish they could banish from every bedroom:

1. All white, all the time

We know, home sellers are often told to stick to a neutral palette, and white is a neutral, but…

“It’s too sterile and harsh on the eyes—which is not the relaxing vibe you want in the bedroom,” says Jamie Novak, an organization and design guru and author of “Keep This Toss That.”

Jeffrey Weldler, marketing director and interior design expert at wall panel company Vant, also wants to soften the edges of this minimalist look, often associated with the Nordic countries.

“Scandinavian styling is an amazing design concept as long as there’s some color included in the room, such as a rug, wall art, or curtains,” he explains. The bright pillows and cozy yet bold throw in the otherwise all-white bedroom above fit the bill nicely.

2. Your ‘reading corner’

Think that chair in the corner, paired with a leftover floor lamp banished from the living room, adds flair to your bedroom? Nope—in most cases it’s a waste of space that’s actually a way station for clutter, clothes, and the cat. And do you honestly sit there to read? Really?

“This spot is for dumping stuff that tends to pile up faster than you can clear it away,” Novak says. Need a spot to sit? Try a bench at the foot of the bed (one with concealed storage will help tame that clutter, too), or just plop on the bed when you need to put on socks or apply foot cream. Shake up the corner by setting that chair free.

3. Too many shelves, too much stuff

Sure, bookshelves make sense in the bedroom, but entire walls of them is overkill.

“Open shelving can give the room an airy, spacious look, but it often turns into an eyesore due to clutter,” says Novak. Leave just one or two shelves open and arranged (neatly!) with books and other objects—and then fill the rest with baskets and bins for your stuff. Plus, there’s a bonus here: less dusting.

4. Crazy pillow piles

You may think you’re creating an air of luxury with an excess of pillow, but one person’s fluffy extravagance is another’s pet peeve. Control the chaos on your bed by sticking to this golden rule: Don’t have more pillows than you actually use. For most people, this will be the pillow on which you sleep, plus a bolster and/or a square European pillow for reading in bed. Of course, if it’s just you in a giant king, double that for symmetry.

“Decorative pillows that span and cover the whole mattress are just too much,” says Anna Shiwlall, an interior designer at 27 Diamonds in Los Angeles.

“At least use a plain bedspread as a base for all those colors,” says Amber Dias, a Showhomes interior design consultant near Sacramento, CA. She suggests making sure there’s a common color, texture, or fabric tying the elements together.

5. Stark decor

A bed. And that’s it. Yup—minimalism can be taken to the extreme.

“The look should be decluttered and organized, not a space where most of the furnishings have been stripped away,” says Weldler. When it comes to furniture placement, pay attention to the size and scale of your pieces.

“If there’s too much in the room or the bed is too big, the room will feel claustrophobic,” Dias points out. But with too little furniture, you run the risk of making it look like your first apartment after college.

6. Drapes of yesteryear

Want to sleep in a dust bowl? Of course not. So get this sneezy look out of the bedroom by nixing thick curtains and other cascading fabric.

“Overly drapey drapes on windows and canopy beds require a lot of vacuuming to keep dust at bay—and you should be concerned about air quality since this is where you sleep,” explains Carol Marcotte, the designing expert at Form & Function in Raleigh, NC. Instead, opt for simple panels, Roman shades, or woven blinds with black-out panels. Your lungs will thank you.

Article found: https://goo.gl/nFB05S
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Not Edible, Still Delicious: 6 Grand Gingerbread Houses for Sale

Not Edible, Still Delicious: 6 Grand Gingerbread Houses for Sale

The design of a gingerbread house evokes memories of storybook tales like Hansel and Gretel—the sweet parts, not the stuff about ferocious wolves or child abuse. We thought it’d be cool to sprinkle a few crumbs on the path to acquiring one of these adorable homes.

While the homes we found aren’t edible, they are as adorable as the familiar holiday structures. You half expect fairies to flit through the tree line and the trim—a mix of scrolled brackets, braced arches, and cut frieze boards—so cute and colorful it almost seems like frosting.

Part of the Victorian design period, gingerbread houses—sometimes called “painted ladies,” for their rich pastel hues—were mostly built between 1837 and 1901. From a two-bedroom, bright-red cottage on Staten island, NY, to a five-bedroom rambling Massachusetts property that’s graced HGTV and magazines, here are some of the most gorgeous gingerbread homes on the market right now.

4402 S. Meridian Rd, Pittsford, MI

Price: $295,000
The icing: Set on a 9-acre lot, this brick three-bedroom beauty—built in 1864—is on the National Register of Historic Places. A hipped roof, arched doorways, and hooded windows are further accented by sconces, chandeliers, period-specific wallpaper, and tin ceilings. The kitchen features an original apron-front sink. You can spread out or easily host overnight guests, thanks to a carriage house above the two-car garage.

3 S. Maple St, Shelburne, MA

Price: $695,000
The icing: At the end of a winding drive is this five-bedroom home, which was built in 1868. It has a copper roof and three fireplaces. On the property is a pond with a small bridge, a cute playhouse, and an attached studio. Landscaping already in bloom means all the next owner has to do is maintain it. Bay windows in the living room and kitchen yield lots of natural light. To bring the property up to modern standards, windows have been replaced, a high-efficiency heating system was added, and the water is heated by solar energy

298 Lighthouse Ave, Staten Island, NY

Price: $758,000
The icing: Dating to 1899, this two-bedroom property is a slice of the country lifestyle just a short ferry ride from Manhattan. Perched on a hill, it was built by an artist who used fieldstone for the interior walls and fireplace. Spanning three levels, the nearly 1,500-square-foot home features a three-season room, a private terrace off the master bedroom, and amazing views of Raritan Bay.

205 Bristol Rd, Saint Louis, MO

Price: $599,900
The icing: The floors throughout this six-bedroom, 3,300-square-foot house have been refinished. Marking its 117th anniversary this year, the house features arched doorways, crown molding, four gardens, and two screened-in porches.

5334 Winona Ave, Saint Louis, MO

Price: $225,000
The icing: This three-bedroom brick home is loaded with design features like leaded-glass windows throughout and a vaulted ceiling in the living room. Updates include a kitchen island and a patio—ideal for those who like to entertain—as well as new fixtures and subway tile in one bath, and a new shower and fixtures in the other. A cozy entryway and sun porch make the place seem bigger than its 1,600 square feet.

2285 Route 16, Ossipee, NH

Price: $375,000
The icing: Locals call this the Gingerbread Farm for good reason: It has 16 acres of land and sits along Bearcamp River. Have a desire to open an antiques store? This would be the perfect spot, because while it evokes another era, it’s situated on a busy route. Built in 1887, the three-bedroom, 1.5-bath home has been kept in good condition, with historical charm in its bay windows (one has seats on three sides), wide front door, hardwood floors, and crown molding.

Article found: https://goo.gl/EJL3DA
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New Agent Spotlight: Introducing Jacob Johnson

New Agent Spotlight: Introducing Jacob Johnson

Home Coach is proud introduce our newest member, Jacob Johnson!

 

We are happy to introduce the newest member of the Home Coach family, Jacob Johnson (although he likes to go by Jake). He is 18 years old and a recent high school graduate.  He was born and raised in Raleigh and moved with his family on some land to northern Wake Forest about 3 years ago.  He has a sister in college at UNCW and a ten year old dog named Jesse. On top of that, his family has 21 chickens and 3 turkeys.  Before graduation he played competitive baseball for 12 years. His junior year of high school, he and his baseball team won the State Championship.  Jake now enjoys the occasional game of golf and learning to play guitar and the piano. Both of his parents are realtors and after graduation Jake decided to join the family business. “I am looking forward to working with Home Coach Realty and helping people buy and sell their homes,” said Jake. In fact, he is about to list his first one!

              

What Is the Standard Down Payment on a House?

What Is the Standard Down Payment on a House?

“Down payment”: It’s amazing that these two little words have such a profound influence on your homeownership process—and your life! Ask most people what is an acceptable down payment on a house, and nine times out 10 they’ll tell you it’s 20% of your home’s selling price. So you do the math, figure you’d have to put down $50,000 on a $250,000 house, and break out in hives when you realize that the chances of your getting out of that tiny one-bedroom apartment are slim.

Well chin up, buckaroo. That 20% figure is common, but it’s not set in stone. Sure, there are many reasons why you should make a 20% down payment on a house, but most banks will allow you to put down less—and yes, you can put down even more if you’re feeling flush.

Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of making a number of different down payments on a house.

When your down payment is 20%

It might sound like a huge chunk of change, but you’ll ultimately end up paying less if you make a 20% or higher down payment on a house. That’s because when you put 20% down, you won’t have to pay mortgage insurance, which can add several hundred dollars a month to your house payments.

“Mortgage insurance exists because the lender … assumes additional risk when a homeowner’s equity stake is small,” mortgage banker Craig Berry explains in The Mortgage Reports.

Both private lenders and the Federal Housing Administration have mortgage insurance plans. No matter which you chose, you’ll likely have to pay a one-time fee upfront and then another amount of money that will be tacked onto your monthly mortgage.

The only good thing about mortgage insurance is that it doesn’t last forever. When your loan-to-value ratio is 80% (or you have paid the equivalent of 20% of your home’s value), you can ask your lender to stop charging you for the insurance. Once the loan-to-value ratio reaches 78%, the lender is legally obligated to cancel it.

Another advantage of making a 20% down payment on a house is that that’s often the magic number at which point you’ll get a more favorable interest rate. So you can see the various advantages to saving up for that 20% down payment if it’s possible.

When your down payment is under 20%

If you are unable to make a 20% down payment, there are many lenders that will allow you to make a smaller down payment on a house. Among them is the FHA, which offers mortgages with as little as 3.5% down, if your annual income is under a certain amount that varies by market. There are even some lenders, like the U.S. Department of Agriculture, that allow you to put 0% down, but eligible homes are usually in rural areas, and your income must meet certain low requirements.

Although you can find decent terms when you put less than 20% down, remember that since you’ll be financing a greater amount, no matter how favorable the terms you negotiate, your payments will be higher and you’ll be paying more interest, so the home will ultimately be more expensive.

When your down payment is over 20%

People who inherit a windfall sometimes choose to put more than 20% down, so their payments will be lower and they can avoid mortgage insurance payments. But others, with very low credit ratings, are required by the lender to put more than 20% down. According to Robert Berger in U.S. News & World Report, if your credit score is under 620, you’ll probably have to put more than 20% down to get a conventional loan.

Down payment hope and help

There is a surprising amount of down payment and home loan assistance out there for those in need. It comes in the form of low-interest-rate loans, grants, and tax credits. According to Sean Moss of downpaymentresource.com, in some cities you can get as much as $100,000 in assistance for purchasing your first home.

Of course, most of these programs depend on factors like your income, a maximum home price, and even your profession. For example, government employees in the Washington, DC, area may be eligible for $10,000 in down payment assistance, and teachers in Los Angeles and Orange County, CA, can get up to $15,000 to help them with their home purchases. Ask your real estate agent about these types of programs that you are eligible for.

For most people, a home is the biggest financial commitment they’ll make, but don’t let that intimidate you. If you’re serious about owning your own place, there are lots of resources out there to help make this into a reality.

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Green Lawns Falling Out of Favor? You’ll Never Guess the Top Landscaping Trends

Green Lawns Falling Out of Favor? You’ll Never Guess the Top Landscaping Trends

Let’s face it: Today’s 24/7 pace can be brutal. Between the boss’s midnight text attacks, the kids’ taekwondo lessons, and the occasional evenings out with friends, there’s way too much to do and not enough time to get it all done. So watering the shrubs and mowing the lawn may not exactly be top priority.

It’s no wonder, then, that more homeowners are either downsizing or altogether eliminating their water-guzzling lawns, according to a Houzz report on the hottest landscaping trends. The home remodeling and design website surveyed 977 homeowners who finished an outdoor landscaping or renovation project within the past year.

Sure, water conservation efforts in the Western U.S. doubtless played a role in the diminishing American lawn. But so did changes in current tastes.

“Green lawns are falling out of favor, both in terms of curb appeal and a ‘nice-to-have’ feature in the front yard,” Nino Sitchinava, principal economist at Houzz, said to realtor.com®.

But that doesn’t mean that green spaces are being neglected: They’re being optimized. A big takeaway from the report was that homeowners, particularly new ones, are using landscaping, particularly garden beds and borders, shrubs, and perennials, to differentiate their front yards from their neighbors’. And to make their property more livable.

Homeowners “want to create a usable, multifunction space,” says Craig Jenkins-Sutton, president of Topiarius, a Chicago-based urban landscape design firm. “One where they drink their coffee, entertain their friends … [and] give the kids a place to play.”

Low maintenance reigns supreme

Many folks simply want to use landscaping to maximize their home’s value—particularly if they’re planning on putting the home on the market. But they don’t want to work too hard for it.

That’s why 28% of homeowners in the study reduced the size of their lawns. It cuts down on the amount of water, particularly in drought-prone climates, used to keep them green. And 14% of homeowners got rid of them all together. (Farewell, mowing!) They’re also opting for more easy-to-care-for plants that don’t need constant tending.

Meanwhile, 10% of survey participants expanded their green, grassy yards.

“People are busier than they were before,” says Chuck Bowen, editor of Lawn & Landscaping Magazine. “They don’t want to spend every waking second taking care of the landscape themselves.”

Other hot trends for the outdoors

But those who love their outdoor spaces are still backing up that ardor with plenty of cold, hard cash.

Folks aren’t just planting a few flowers in front of their houses and adding an herb garden out back. They’re building fancy outdoor kitchens, adding fire pits, and upgrading the lighting around their homes with LED bulbs that they control remotely.

The most popular new and upgraded outdoor structures were patios and terraces, at 39%; arbors, gazebos, pergolas, or trellises, at 26%; and decks, at 20%.

“Homeowners want to mix it up” with different types of structures, says landscape designer Leeann Lavin of Duchess Designs in Atlantic Highlands, NJ. They add “a sense of destination, mystery, nuance, and depth. … If you just have one big, empty lawn, it’s not interesting.”

And people are increasingly turning their yards into functional extensions of their homes. So when they’re creating outdoor kitchens, they aren’t going to settle for a little gray grill, says Jenkins-Sutton.

“Today’s customer is looking for a full outdoor kitchen,” he says of his clients asking for outdoor fridges, sinks, smokers, pizza ovens—and even kegerators.

That’s partly because the prices have come down on these appliances and equipment, says Lawn & Landscaping Magazine’s Bowen.

Homeowners’ top purchases for creating their own outdoor oases, according to the survey, were lounge furniture (the better to soak up those rays), at 36%; fire pits (for roasting marshmallows, of course), at 32%; and dining tables and chairs, at 28%.

“You have all the benefits of being outside without having to give up any of the conveniences you have inside your home,” Bowen says.

Why homeowners are bothering to fix up their yards anyway

The main reason homeowners are fixing up their properties is that they’re trying to create personal retreats in their backyards. And most of the outdoor investments are coming from recent home buyers—33%, who just can’t wait to, say, get rid of the previous owner’s creepy garden gnomes. That’s up from 25% of new homeowners last year.

And if they’re going to get the work done, they’re going to have it done right. Almost nine in 10 homeowners completed major renovations or completely rehauled their properties, according to the report.

“Having nice landscaping makes a house like a home,” Bowen says. Meanwhile, “if you drive by a house that’s vacant, you can tell by looking at the lack of landscaping.”

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America’s 20 Hottest Real Estate Markets in March 2017

America’s 20 Hottest Real Estate Markets in March 2017

College students may be flocking to Cancun, Mexico, or Panama City Beach, FL, but a look at preliminary realtor.com® data for March makes it clear that there’s no spring break anywhere on the horizon for the real estate market.

Instead, the buying season’s annual spring jump-start came about a month earlier than usual, with homes expected to hop off the market 22 days faster than last month, or 69 days. That’s eight days faster than last year. And that’s a lot.

“Calendars might say this is the first week of spring, but we’re already right in the thick of the most frenzied spring home-buying season on record,” said Javier Vivas, manager of economic research at realtor.com.

With the ranks of would-be newbie buyers adding to those who have been frustrated in their search so far, for-sale housing inventory in the U.S. has dropped to record low levels.

March continues the sharp double-digit decline observed since October. And although total inventory has increased over last month, it remains substantially lower than one year ago. While nearly 492,000 new listings will enter the market in March, the added inventory continues to fall short of buyer demand.

“While the story keeps revolving around low inventory, prices are now also taking center stage, reaching all-time highs and keeping waves of buyers at bay,” Vivas said.

The median list price has pushed above $250,000, where it has hovered since May 2016. The median list price, now $260,000, is 8% higher than it was one year ago.

The realtor.com economic data team analyzed our data for the country’s largest metropolitan markets to find those where buyers are clicking up a storm on our listings and where homes are speeding off the market like they’re late for a flight to the islands. These markets may seem like a tough nut to crack for buyers, but homes there are likely to be a good investment.

Maintaining its perch atop the ranking for the second month in a row is the San Francisco Bay Area city of Vallejo, followed by San Francisco itself. Mind you, when we talk about these metropolitan markets, they typically include other satellite cities—the San Francisco market encompasses Oakland and Hayward, and No. 3 Dallas includes Fort Worth and Arlington.

New to the top 20 in March were Santa Cruz, CA; Fort Wayne, IN; and Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor in Michigan

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