Now that Thanksgiving is over, it’s time to focus on the few short weeks left to find holiday gifts for everyone on your list. Choosing the perfect present can be daunting, so the editors at HGTV put together multiple guides for nearly every interest. There’s even a guide for those who, no matter how hard they try, always give bad gifts.
As the editors carefully curated their items, a few stood out as particularly noteworthy and they’ve shared those below. So, make a list, check it twice and win the holidays by picking up these fantastic gifts.
I love these tea towels for an inexpensive stocking stuffer or addition to a gift basket. They are totally adorable as is, but you can actually go in and pick the dog that is most like that owned by the gift recipient and then write their real dog’s name in. And for only $9, I want one for everyone I know.
After seeing Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, I can safely say that I’d like a niffler for Christmas. However, since they’re currently banned by the Magical Congress of the United States, I’ll have to settle for the Funko POP! version ($9.95) instead. With a pouch full of gold, these mischievous creatures are the cutest way to spruce up your desk and show your love for the Harry Potter franchise.
If you’ve never checked out the Unicef Market, welcome to your one-stop holiday shopping site. Browse more than 8,000 beautiful, handmade items from around the world. Linens, knickknacks, jewelry. There’s something for everyone on your list.
I personally love the quippy magnetic coffee mug (19.95). Before coffee, my mood can be a bit mercurial, so I could use the magnetic letters on this mug to give my co-workers a hint to what they can expect from me on a given morning. Maybe a message like, “It’s a good day for a good day” on the happier morning and a simple, “Go away” on the more, um, challenging ones.
I’m a terrible gift giver. Like, the worst of the worst. Last year, I gave my fiancé a really expensive name-brand watch because the one he wore regularly was looking a little worse for wear. When he unwrapped it, he was confused and disappointed because, in his mind, he already had a perfectly good watch. Turns out I’m an ‘all about me’ gift giver. Instead of choosing gifts my loved ones actually want, I buy items that I (key word here) think they need. Lesson learned.
For the person on your list who has everything, an experiential gift is a great alternative to a traditional gift. Tinggly is my favorite option for its flexibility: The company scours the globe for inspiring, high-quality experiences, from rock climbing in Ireland to a traditional tapas meal in Spain to hot air balloon ride over Napa Valley. You pay a flat fee (starting at $79), and your gift recipient has two years to choose their dream adventure. It’s the perfect present for the world traveler in your life.
After my BFF’s Harry Potter-themed bachelorette party this summer, my love for the wizarding world was reinvigorated. Now I want ALL THE HARRY POTTER THINGS. Luckily, my friends are the same. So, if I bought one of them this “Lumos” cuff (starting at $20), they would know immediately how and when to use this charm.
My favorite gift? The gift for the new grad, a home bar set ($59.95). It’s got absolutely everything you need to make the perfect drink right in the comfort of your own home. Plus, the mixing glass has recipes in case you need some classic cocktails to kick-start your mixology career.
I have three dogs so it should come as no surprise when I tell you that nearly every room of my house has a bone or some plush toy hidden in a seat cushion or laying on the floor. The dog toy bin from Harry Barker ($18) solves that problem. Not only is it a great place to store all of your dog’s toys, but it’s stylish and made from recycled plastics too.
This gift ideas combines two of my favorite things of the season: ugly holiday sweaters and the NFL (starting at $49.99). They have a collection for men, women and children, so you can get one for every family member.
Your loan term might be fixed, but it doesn’t have to dictate when you’ll be mortgage-free. Find out how to speed up the process.
A lot can happen in 30 years. Kids become adults, jobs change, and life goals are accomplished and reset. Change during such a lengthy period is inevitable. But if you’re a homeowner, there’s one thing that won’t change: Your obligation to make a monthly mortgage payment.
The good news? A loan term doesn’t have to dictate when you free yourself from this financial commitment. There are a few tried-and-true ways to cut the ties early while lowering the total amount paid in the process. Follow these recommendations, including the No. 1 tip to pay off your mortgage early on your home, whether it’s in Seattle, WA, or Boston, MA.
5. Refinance into a 15-year mortgage
Cutting your loan term in half is a big financial step, but the benefits are substantial. Not only will you shorten the payoff time, but you’ll also be rewarded with a lower rate and pay significantly less in interest over the life of the loan.
The key here is determining whether you can shoulder the larger monthly cost that comes with a 15-year mortgage. Pamela Capalad, CFP and founder of Brunch and Budget, explains, “The downside is, you’ve locked in a much higher monthly payment. Make sure you have the cash flow to afford this new monthly payment on a regular basis.”
Not completely confident in your ability to commit to a higher monthly payment? Fake a 15-year mortgage by challenging yourself to make the payments you would be making if you had locked into a 15-year mortgage. Then, if financial circumstances change, you still have the flexibility to return to a lower monthly payment.
4. Refinance into a lower rate but keep payments the same
The benefits of refinancing your loan but sticking to the same payments are twofold: You will pay less in interest over the life of the loan and create a shorter path to mortgage freedom. Plus, it’s not as drastic as jumping from a 30-year mortgage to a 15-year mortgage.
However, it’s important to do a bit of research before you refinance. Closing costs for refinancing are generally lower than if you were to purchase a new home, but they’re still an added expense. Your new interest rate should be low enough to negate the cost of refinancing, or you should be planning on staying put long enough to reap the benefits of a smaller rate. (Use the Trulia refinance calculator to see if this is a good choice for you.)
3. Get rid of private mortgage insurance (PMI)
If you financed more than 80% of your conventional mortgage, chances are, you are paying private mortgage insurance to protect the lender in case of default. Redirecting this amount — usually 0.05%–1% of the loan amount annually — to the principal on your mortgage can have a big impact over time.
You can request to get rid of PMI once you reach an 80% loan-to-value ratio, but the lender is required to remove it after you’ve reached a 78% loan-to-value ratio. You can speed up the process by increasing your equity through home upgrades, or, if the home has already increased in value for other reasons, you can opt to refinance. Some lenders may even allow you to get an appraisal to show the new value and your increased equity — without paying for a refinance.
2. Put those windfalls to work
Maybe your monthly budget doesn’t have wiggle room and paying the costs to refinance isn’t in the cards. There’s another option.
Tax returns, bonus checks, and inheritance payments present the opportunity to pay off a chunk of your mortgage without feeling the pain in your monthly budget. This could mean thousands of additional dollars chipping away at this massive financial responsibility each year. Sometimes your money could be better spent elsewhere — like paying off high-interest debt — but if wiping out your mortgage early is a priority, this is a great place to start.
1. Make extra or higher principal payments
Jennifer Harper, CFP and director of Bridge Financial Planning, says one small change can make a world of difference. “Even small [additional] principal payments add up over time! On a $150,000 loan for 30 years at 3.75%, with no additional payments, more than $100,000 will be paid in interest over the course of the loan. By adding just $100 per month in principal payments, the total interest paid is reduced by nearly $25,000 and the loan will be paid off more than six years sooner!”
Another way to do this is by making biweekly mortgage payments. Instead of making 12 monthly payments, this equals out to 26 half-payments — or 13 full payments — per year. But beware, explains Harper, not all loan servicers make it easy to apply these extra payments to the principal. Make sure to speak to yours and ensure they aren’t simply holding on to the extra money and applying it toward the interest.
The bottom line: Choose what works for you
Which method should you choose to pay down your mortgage faster? That depends, explains Pamela Capalad.
“Choose the option that resonates the most with you based on your current financial situation and any possible changes you foresee. If you have a steady job or career that you feel confident will last in the long term, it might make sense to refinance to a shorter term. If your income is a bit less consistent, you may want the flexibility of making additional payments when you can.”
When the weather turns chilly, your house needs to button up, too. And the way to do that is to learn how to winterize your house. No, not once the snow starts falling, but now. Trust us, you’ll want to nip any issues in the bud before the temperature drops too much.
Here’s a handy list of things to check on your house to keep it cozy, save on energy bills, and prevent a nightmare’s worth of damage you’ll have to tackle come spring (or even worse, in the dead of winter).
Conduct a pre-winter inspection
First, size up how prepared your house is for winter by taking a walk around its perimeter and eyeballing these features, says Bob Hanbury, a Newington, CT, builder for 40 years and a board member of the National Association of Home Builders:
Check the ground to make sure it slopes away from your house, which helps prevent melting ice and snow from seeping into your home.
Look for gnawing marks on vents and trim, which signal that critters are trying to make their winter home in your attic. If you see teeth marks, patch holes to discourage unwelcome visitors. The animal type, that is.
Cut back tree branches overhanging the roof, which could cause damage during storms.
How to prevent ice dams
Ice dams, however lovely they may sound, are ice mounds around the edge of your roof created when melting snow can’t drip into gutters, through downspouts, and away from your house. Ice dams are not your friends.
If any of those exits are blocked with leaves or ice, then water stays on your roof and continually melts and freezes, causing dams that push water under eaves and into your home.
Adequate and properly installed insulation helps prevent ice damming; so does making sure gutters and downspouts are in good shape and unblocked by leaves, bird nests, and other debris.
If ice damming has been a past problem, you can increase your odds of a drip-free winter by laying heating cables along the edge of your roof, in gutters, and down spouts, which will keep ice from forming. Cables typically cost $200 to $400, depending on the size of your house.
How to protect pipes in winter
Mother Nature laughs at the calendar (true) and can create a hard frost weeks before or after you expect. So it’s a good idea to protect outside garden hoses by detaching them and turning off the water to outside spigots by Thanksgiving.
After you shut off water valves, open spigots to let water drip out and prevent freezing, which can burst pipes.
And while you’re disconnecting garden hoses, hold them waist-high as you’re coiling them. That will let water drip out, keeping your basement dry if you store hoses there in the winter, or prevent cracks from frozen water if you store hoses in an unheated garage.
How to save on energy bills this winter
Another essential aspect of winterizing is making sure your home keeps heat in and cold out! Here are some ways to make that happen:
Clean or replace filters: Before temperatures drop, make sure your furnace is blowing hot air. Clean or replace filters, “the most important piece of preventive maintenance you can do for your furnace,” says Mike Clear, vice president of operations at American Home Shield, the country’s largest provider of home warranties based in Memphis, TN. Also vacuum burners to remove dust and debris, and be sure drapes and furniture don’t block floor vents. It’s also a good idea to hire an HVAC professional to oil the furnace blower motor annually.
Seal leaks: Sometimes stopping hot air from escaping your home is as easy as stuffing a draft snake (a tubelike cushion) under doors. You can make your own by filling a knee sock with dried beans or popcorn kernels. Other ways to stop air leaks are to replace weatherstripping around windows, replace door and window screens with storm doors or windows, or replace old door sweeps on exterior doors.
Cover water heaters: If your water heater is located in a garage, attic, or other unfinished space, cover it with an insulated water heater blanket that will help prevent heat loss.
Maintain fireplaces: If your wood-burning fireplace is just decorative, plug and seal the chimney flue to make sure heated air doesn’t, literally, go up the chimney. If you still burn wood, close the flue when you’re not making a fire.
Ready for a revamped bathroom space, but nervous about taking on a big renovation project? These easy updates can give you a whole new look on any budget.
The bathroom is probably the best room in the house for a mini-makeover. When you realize how dramatically, quickly and inexpensively you can completely update the space without an actual renovation, you’ll wonder why you’ve waited so long.
Before you dive in, take a minute to consider what you’re going for in terms of style. Your bathroom should be a peaceful, relaxing space. Are you more soothed by rich, dramatic tones and style, or are you going for a more simple and serene spa-like space? Once you know what you want, take a look at these simple tips for getting the bathroom upgrade you’ve been dreaming of.
This is obviously the place to start, since doing it yourself results in such fast and dramatic change. For the simple and serene look, choose soft and soothing tones to give you a greater sense of space and light. If you’re looking for a rich, dark hideaway, choose warm saturated tones to strike the right mood.
Now choose drawer pulls that keep the style makeover moving forward. They’re available in all styles and at all price points, and this is another big change you can make on your own. Typically, a nickel or stainless finish goes best with the spa look, while oil-rubbed bronze tones will add the richness you’re looking for in a sophisticated atmosphere.
Because our bathrooms are also spaces that our guests may see, keeping them clutter free is essential. Organization is also important for keeping stress on the other side of the bathroom door.
A quick and functional fix here are simple storage cubbies. Stash toiletries, makeup and other beauty and grooming equipment in small caddies that you can pop out and put away easily.
Good grooming requires good light, but when you’re just looking to slip into the tub and relax, you want something softer. Start your lighting makeover with a simple dimmer switch.
Replacing the vanity lighting fixture is easier than you think, too. To keep the job a simple and quick one, simply choose vanity lighting that covers the same space the original fixture did. You can maximize your options, though, if you tackle the lighting when you do the painting.
To take it up one more notch, consider a dramatic piece of statement lighting such as a chandelier or pendant that adds a sense of style.
Shower, sink and tub faucets
Now we’re moving into the updates that really make the space feel new. Look for sink fixtures that offer a little more height over the bowl and length extending into the bowl for the most functional effect.
Then, upgrade to a new showerhead that makes your morning feel anything but routine. A handheld showerhead that ties into the shower arm and can extend from the wall via a hose is another indulgent and functional option.
Mirror and medicine cabinet
Most standard medicine cabinets are not much to look at, and there are now plenty of options that will your replace your current cabinet. A simple beveled mirror version with a plastic wipe-able interior can update a rusted metal version.
But another simple fix if you don’t want to replace the whole cabinet is to build a simple picture-style frame right over your basic wall mirror. Just choose the frame according to the style you’re going for, and make sure the surface is moisture resistant.
Even if you don’t have the most spacious bathroom, this is an amenity worthy of serious consideration. In case you think you just can’t spare the space, you’ll be glad to hear that they also come ready to plug-in or hard wire and hang on the wall.
The final touches
New towels and a fresh bathmat can change the appearance of your bath space with little effort. Pick a monochromatic color scheme to dry off in style, or go all white for the spa-like aesthetic.
For a little added detail, consider monogramming your towels with your initials or “His,” “Hers” and “Guest.” This added touch will make all your efforts well worth the time and consideration of your bathroom update.
Whether you are buying or selling a home, it can be quite an adventurous journey; you need an experienced Real Estate Professional to lead you to your ultimate goal. In this world of instant gratification and internet searches, many sellers think that they can For Sale by Owner or FSBO.
The 5 Reasons You NEED a Real Estate Professional in your corner haven’t changed, but rather have been strengthened, due to the projections of higher mortgage interest rates & home prices as the market continues to pick up steam.
1. What do you do with all this paperwork?
Each state has different regulations regarding the contracts required for a successful sale, and these regulations are constantly changing. A true Real Estate Professional is an expert in their market and can guide you through the stacks of paperwork necessary to make your dream a reality.
2. Ok, so you found your dream house, now what?
According to the Orlando Regional REALTOR Association, there are over 230 possible actions that need to take place during every successful real estate transaction. Don’t you want someone who has been there before, someone who knows what these actions are, to make sure that you acquire your dream?
3. Are you a good negotiator?
So maybe you’re not convinced that you need an agent to sell your home. However, after looking at the list of parties that you need to be prepared to negotiate with, you’ll realize the value in selecting a Real Estate Professional. From the buyer (who wants the best deal possible), to the home inspection companies, to the appraiser, there are at least 11 different people that you will have to be knowledgeable with and answer to, during the process.
4. What is the home you’re buying/selling really worth?
It is important for your home to be priced correctly from the start to attract the right buyers and shorten the time that it’s on the market. You need someone who is not emotionally connected to your home to give you the truth as to your home’s value. According to the National Association of REALTORS, “the typical FSBO home sold for $185,000 compared to $245,000 among agent-assisted home sales.”
Get the most out of your transaction by hiring a professional.
5. Do you know what’s really going on in the market?
There is so much information out there on the news and the internet about home sales, prices, and mortgage rates; how do you know what’s going on specifically in your area? Who do you turn to in order to competitively price your home correctly at the beginning of the selling process? How do you know what to offer on your dream home without paying too much, or offending the seller with a lowball offer?
Dave Ramsey, the financial guru, advises:
“When getting help with money, whether it’s insurance, real estate or investments, you should always look for someone with the heart of a teacher, not the heart of a salesman.”
Hiring an agent who has their finger on the pulse of the market will make your buying or selling experience an educated one. You need someone who is going to tell you the truth, not just what they think you want to hear.
You wouldn’t replace the engine in your car without a trusted mechanic. Why would you make one of the most important financial decisions of your life without hiring a Real Estate Professional?
Nobody’s buying homes between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, right? (Or are they?)
Home sellers often suggest to their agents that they should take their listings off the market during the winter holidays. Surely nothing happens between now and the end of the year, they ask? It’s best to wait for the spring selling season, right?
Perhaps surprisingly, the answer is: not necessarily.
Conventional wisdom used to be that you shouldn’t even try to sell your home during the busy holiday season. Potential home buyers were attending parties, cooking holiday meals, buying presents, or vacationing this time of year. With all that going on, there just wasn’t time to ride around with a real estate agent to look at properties.
But with the Internet, smartphones, tablets and our always-on lifestyle, that conventional wisdom isn’t relevant anymore. The reality is, the home-buying season is now year-round.
Here’s why you should consider listing your home during the holidays — or even in January.
Today’s buyers check the listings 24×7
These days, serious buyers are always real estate aware — and the holidays are no exception. They may check out the latest listings in a mobile real estate app before bed or while waiting for the bus. You know the drill. We can’t pull ourselves away.
Our hectic lifestyles also play a role. Many serious buyers today work hard. They don’t shift into holiday mode until the last minute. Even during the holiday break, they’re still squeezing in work. There’s no such thing for them as “going off the grid.” So why not continue to monitor real estate listings, too?
The inventory — your competition — is lighter
Despite our always-on lifestyles, many sellers still believe buyers stop looking come mid-November. At the same time, sellers who’ve had their homes on the market for months often take them off now to give the listing “a rest.”
The net effect is that the inventory for good homes often tightens this time of year. There’s less competition for sellers, at a time when motivated buyers are out there looking — and no doubt wishing there were more properties to see.
If you’ve been considering selling, are motivated, are flexible on timing, and have a salable home, consider listing right after Thanksgiving. There’s still a window of several weeks to get buyers into your home before the end of the year.
And those buyers swiping right will be excited to see something new and awesome hit the market. Buyers will be motivated to see your home, regardless of what the calendar says.
Update a slow mover
If your property has been on the market for months, most buyers and their agents will assume it’s stale, overpriced or that something is “wrong” with it, no matter how light the competition is.
In that case, it’s time to take action, and the year-end holidays can be a great opportunity to shift course. Dramatically reducing the price or overcoming some major obstacle that’s been preventing the sale might be what’s needed to sell your home.
If you received lower offers early on but weren’t ready to accept them, or you keep hearing there are issues with how your property shows, this is a good time to show the market you’re listening and are serious about selling.
The motivated buyers, desperate for good inventory, will notice you and take a look. Strike while the iron is hot.
You might even get a sale closed before the end of the year. But before you make any big changes, talk it over with your real estate agent, as always.
Plan B: List in January
Admittedly, the thought of keeping the house clean, holding open houses and vacating to accommodate last-minute showings during the holidays is a dealbreaker for some would-be sellers.
If so, consider listing your property after New Year’s Day. Traditionally, not much inventory comes onto the market in early January. Many areas are seeing cold weather, bare trees, and dead landscaping. Many sellers wait until the spring — a more conventional time to sell.
While January inventory is typically still very tight, the number of buyers may be growing. Often, new buyers — with their fresh New Year’s resolutions to stop wasting money on rent and buy a home — are ready to jump into the market as soon as possible. Some buyers are motivated to search for a home in January because of year-end tax planning.
Whatever the buyers’ motivation, for sellers it means one thing: Demand for homes can increase at a time when inventory is traditionally low. And that means if you’re ready to sell, you’ll have an even more “captive” audience during the holidays, all the way through January.
When you buy a home, you will be showered with offers to buy insurance—and not just one type, but many types. Such awesome deals! So which ones do you really need?
There are a few that are downright essential, and others are nice but not necessary. Furthermore, others are total rip-offs to avoid at all costs.
To help you differentiate among them all, here’s a rundown of the types of insurance you’ll likely encounter on your home-buying journey and a reality check on whether you need them.
Do you need it? Absolutely!
Normally, this isn’t even a question because it’s almost always mandatory when you’re getting a mortgage. But if you’re paying all-cash, you have the option of skipping on title insurance. You shouldn’t.
Title insurance “ensures both the lender and the owner’s financial interests in the home are protected against loss due to title defects, liens, or other matters,” says Liane Jamason, a Realtor® and owner of the Jamason Realty Group at Smith & Associates Real Estate in Tampa, FL.
It’s especially important to get title insurance in transactions like short sales and foreclosures, which often carry the high risk of some kind of tax lien being attached to the property. Title insurance is going to safeguard against your needing to pay for liens, and will ensure the title is clear so no one down the road could claim they own the property and file a lawsuit.
If for some reason you’re dead set against getting title insurance, Jamason suggests you should at least get a lawyer to “thoroughly check the property’s history to ensure there could be no future claims to title.”
Do you need it? You bet
Like title insurance, this is another one that’s not required if you own the house outright (you’ll need to have it with a mortgage), but this is necessary. Homeowners insurance covers you for a variety of things like fires and storms. You’ll want it even if you aren’t legally required to have it.
Eric Kossian, agency principal of InsurePro, a Washington state insurance agency, cites an example of a wealthy homeowner who had paid off his house and “figured since he had never had an insurance claim he would save himself the $700 a year in premium.” Then some kids near his home started a fire, which got out of control and burned down several houses—including his. It cost the homeowner about $450,000 in damages. Consider this a cautionary tale.
Extra moving insurance
Do you need it? Yes, if you’re smart.
Bare-bones, federally mandated moving coverage offers just 60 cents per pound of an item, and is known as “released value protection.” So if something breaks and that’s your only coverage, you won’t get back the full cost of the item, just what’s calculated under the coverage limits.
There’s also “full-value protection,” which can be purchased from the moving company, but you need to specify which items are worth more than $100 per pound. The moving company can opt to repair the item back to its original state, or give you the fair market value of the item—not necessarily what you paid for it. Plus, full-value protection excludes items over $5,000. Opt for this instead of released value protection. (Rates vary by moving company—it’ll be more than released value, but it’s worth it.)
If you’re moving some really valuable stuff, you can purchase extra insurance from a third-party insurance provider. This typically costs $100 per $10,000 of coverage.
Do you need it? It depends on where you live and how lucky you feel.
Flood insurance is a tricky one. Requirement for flood insurance can be mandatory for homes in flood-prone areas. Otherwise, it’s optional. The biggest problem with flood insurance is you don’t know you need it until it’s too late. Last year, flash floods in Texas and Oklahoma washed homes away. In 2012, Hurricane Sandy hit the Northeast and left thousands in low- or moderate-risk flood zones with water-damaged homes.
“If you are not in a designated flooding area, it is still a wise idea to get flood insurance, and typically it is very affordable if you are not in a low-lying area,” Jamason says.
So this one’s sort of a toss-up. If you have it, you may never need it. But it’s worse to really need it, and then not have it. A similar argument can be made for earthquake insurance.
Private mortgage insurance
Do you need it? Hopefully no.
For most loans, private mortgage insurance is mandatory if you don’t have a 20% down payment. But if you can put down at least that amount, it’s well worth doing to avoid PMI. The reason: Mortgage insurance benefits only the lender—it does nothing for you, so get rid of it as quickly and cheaply as possible. Some options to avoid PMI include piggyback loans, lender-paid PMI, and single-payment PMI.
Mortgage protection life insurance
Do you need it? Not really.
In case you die while you’re still paying off a mortgage (bummer, we know), this insurance is supposed to make sure your family is financially covered when it comes to paying your mortgage. But it’s basically pointless.
“I would say as a general rule that mortgage life insurance or mortgage protection insurance is unnecessary,” says David Reiss, a law professor specializing in real estate at Brooklyn Law School. Reiss says consumers “are generally better served by a cheap term insurance policy from a well-rated insurance company,” and “you will generally get more protection per premium dollar with a term life insurance policy.”
Do you need it? Usually not.
Umbrella insurance is basically insurance for your insurance. It vastly expands the amount of damages your insurance will cover. But it’s not necessarily worth it.
“One common rule of thumb is that an umbrella insurance policy should equal the net worth of the insured,” Reiss says. So for the average middle-class American homeowner, Reiss notes that an umbrella policy is generally “less relevant,” probably because your regular insurance covers enough. For the rich, or those who are “reasonably expecting” a rise in income, Reiss says it can be a good idea and worth researching further.