The Party Never Has to End in These 10 Mardi Gras-Ready Homes

Some Creole architectural delights for your viewing pleasure

It’s almost time for the biggest party of the year: Mardi Gras.

So grab some beads and a hurricane cocktail and settle back with these elegant French colonial homes for a sale — a vestige of the French settlers who once populated the Big Easy.

French Quarter

1005 Governor Nicholls St, New Orleans, LA
For sale: $849,000

Like many French colonial homes in semi-tropical areas, this mini-estate features an enchanting garden oasis to complement its tall windows and tastefully understated storm shutters.

Check out more homes on the market in the French Quarter.

Frisco, TX

12387 Shoal Forest Ln, Frisco, TX
For sale: $1 million

This French colonial boasts hinged shutters, a parlor with built-in bookshelves, and balconies adored with ornate ironwork. The master suite is a haven for pampering, with a coffee bar, two walk-in closets and a claw-foot tub alongside an oversized shower.

See more listings in Frisco.

Madisonville, LA

138 Deloaks Rd, Madisonville, LA
For sale: $2.275 million

French colonial homes built on acreage are often called plantation homes — and they have the luxury of wide porches for sipping lemonade and taking in the breeze. This home along the Tchefuncte River boasts five fireplaces for chilly evenings.

View more listings in the Madisonville area.

Vero Beach, FL

9230 E Marsh Island Dr, Vero Beach, FL
For sale: $2.2 million

Located on an island in South Florida, this home was built in 2005 but has the narrow windows and shutters, wide front balcony and French doors of a traditional French colonial home.

See more listings in Vero Beach.

New Orleans, LA

910 Orleans Ave, New Orleans, LA
For sale: $1.875 million

This Creole townhouse, which mixes French and Caribbean architectural elements, brings the elegance of a slate roof and copper gutters to a French Quarter home that dates to 1830.

See more homes for sale in New Orleans.

Charleston, SC

17 Thomas St, Charleston, SC
For sale: $1.459 million

Balconies figure prominently in French colonial architecture, although the most ornate railings were added during the subsequent Victorian era by people who found colonial design dull.

See more homes for sale in Charleston.

Houston, TX

5636 Longmont Dr, Houston, TX
For sale: $3.8 million

The French colonial style takes on a country manor look with larger houses, like this 8,715-square-foot mansion that’s Texas Big.

See more homes for sale in Houston.

Shreveport, LA

2025 Fairwoods Dr, Shreveport, LA
For sale: $349,900

Modern homes like this one sometimes mimic the French colonial style, with steep roofs and tall windows. This one is billed as a cottage, but it measures more than 2,000 square feet.

Check out more listings in Shreveport.

Los Angeles, CA

1286 Sunset Plaza Dr, Los Angeles, CA
For sale: $5.149 million

Word had reached Los Angeles as far back as 1936, when this home was built, that French colonials had it all over elegance. A backyard pool, plus immense closets and a giant wine cooler bring a California sensibility to the mansion.

See more homes for sale in Los Angeles.

Houston, TX

904 E 26th St, Houston, TX
For sale: $659,000

Here’s a modern home outside Louisiana that makes the New Orleans Garden District look seem easy. Tall windows, a front porch and an ornate balcony: You almost expect to see beads flying through the air.

View more homes for sale in Houston.

Posted by Melissa Allison on Zillow

What’s Worth Renovating in the Vacation Home You’re Going to Rent Out?

OceanFishing/iStock

So you’ve been lucky enough to buy a vacation home. Congrats. It’s like a sweet gift to yourself, albeit one you have to keep paying for monthly. But then again, it’s a gift that could finance itself. All you need is some paying guests!

Reality check: You might need to do some work on the place first. So just how much should you invest in renovating your vacation home to get it ready for outsiders?

Check out these tips on how to turn your cozy getaway into one classy cash cow. (And if you’d like the chance to win a waterfront retreat in Florida that’s already been fabulously remodeled, use this link for a bonus entry to the HGTV Dream Home sweepstakes!)

Think like a guest

At the outset of a renovation, you always want to consider the cost versus value of various projects. It’s all about the return on investment! But what projects should be your focus? To figure that out, think like a guest.

Brian Morris, who owns Logan’s Retreat on 4 acres in Hocking Hills, OH, determines which features to add, remove, and adjust by staying at vacation rentals nearby. That way he discovers his own likes—such as large bedrooms, covered hot tubs, and extra propane tanks for the gas grill—and deep-seated dislikes.

“Consider how your guests will use and enjoy the property, and do everything possible to make their stay convenient,” Morris says. “That way you can plan your layout and amenities accordingly.”

For instance, you might gravitate toward replacing the garage door, which recoups 91.5% of its cost if the home is sold within a year, according to a 2016 report by Remodeling magazine. However, if you’re also hoping to charge higher nightly rates, consider renovating the family room instead, which will return slightly less when you sell—67.9% of its cost—but will allow you to price your property higher on the rental market.

Maintain curb appeal

Aesthetics count, big time. “Curb appeal is still one of the most important factors,” says Cedric Viquerat, a Realtor® with Coldwell Banker in Lakewood Ranch, FL. You want your guests to fall in love with your place at first sight—that will color their subsequent impressions.

But you don’t need to spend a ton of cash on the exterior: “A fresh coat of paint is always a winner as an economical way of sprucing up the house,” Viquerat says. Still, if your siding is looking a little dodgy, consider a replacement—either engineered, vinyl, or fiber-cement, all of which recoup more than 73% of their cost.

If you feel like spending a bit more, consider installing manufactured stone veneer. At an average cost of $7,519, it’s pricier than siding—but recoups a staggering 92.9% of its cost ($6,988). And it lasts.

Replace, don’t remodel

If you’re unsure whether you plan to keep your vacation home in the family or rent it out, but you still want to spruce it up, skip the elaborate remodel and focus on simple substitutions. Replacements recoup an average of 61.5% of your investment, whereas remodels return just 57.3%, with the highest returns coming from swapping in new windows and doors.

Focus on the bedrooms and bathrooms

If hosting guests is the plan, Heather Bayer—the creator of Cottage Blogger, a resource for vacation home owners—recommends prioritizing bathrooms and bedrooms.

“That’s a major draw for people to convert from being a looker on a website to a booker,” Bayer says. “Bedrooms on vacation are critical. After all, people are there to relax.”

Unfortunately, neither kitchens nor bathrooms recoup much of their value—a midrange bathroom remodel costs $17,908 on average, but it returns only $11,769 (65.7%). But these can have a big impact on the bottom line of your vacation rental business, so as long as you don’t plan on selling soon, they can be an excellent investment.

Pay attention to the small things

Guests cared less about the details 10 years ago. That was before the explosion of rental options from sites such as VRBO, Airbnb, or HomeAway that would-be renters can scrutinize online before committing. So meticulousness is a big selling point.

“There’s so much choice now,” says Bayer. “So people are very quick to turn something down flat if it doesn’t look great on a photograph or a listing.”

Owning a vacation home requires an eye for the small things such as baseboard scuffs, small window cracks, and torn carpeting. Get ahead of the game by scoping out these areas beforehand to determine which small changes have the biggest impact—like switching carpeting for easy-to-maintain (not to mention classy and nonallergenic) hardwood flooring, which will increase your resale value and please potential guests.

Posted by Jamie Wiebe on realtor.com

6 Things You Can Do Every Day to Keep Your Home Clean and Organized

Juggling two kids, family and career is no easy task. And I totally understand that you don’t want to spend your free weekend scrubbing the kitchen floors or putting away laundry. But here are six easy things you can try and do every day to keep your house in order.

Of course, some days may be worse than the others and you may not be able to complete everything on the list. But keep trying, adapt the suggestions to make them work for you, and it won’t be much longer before you are the proud owner of a clean and organized home.

Do the one thing that makes you feel better

For me, it’s making my bed. A made bed instantly makes the room appear much neater and gives me an instant morale boost before I start the day. I find that I am also less tempted to pile more clutter on a made bed. And the best part about it, it hardly takes a couple of minutes out of your day!

Take off your shoes at the door

Take your shoes off at the entrance to the door to cut down on the dirt and debris you track in daily. Your floors will look cleaner and you’ll have to spend less time cleaning them.

Clean the kitchen every night

No one likes to wake up to a messy kitchen. So make sure you clean the kitchen and load the dishwasher as soon as you have made dinner. Even better – try to clean up as you go. Rinse the dishes and clean up the spills while your soup is still simmering on the stove. Clear the counters and wipe them down after you are done. If you have time, sweep the floor with a dry mop. Trust me, you’ll start your morning on a brighter note!

Sort the paperwork

Bills, mail, newspaper cuttings, schoolwork – you let it go for a few days, thinking you’ll file them in their proper place by weekend and before you know it, your desk and countertops start over flowing with paper. To avoid that, try to make a system and go through your mail and your kids’ schoolwork every day. Toss the flyers and junk mail as soon as they come in. Use separate folders or pockets for important bills and communication so that you can easily pull them out when you need them. Sort your children’s artwork and keep the special ones and recycle the rest.

Do a 10-min walk through the house

Before you turn in for the night, do a quick 10-min walk through the house to pick up stray toys, clothes or books that need to be put away. Though it would be easier if you returned things to their rightful places as soon as you are done with them, I know, better said than done, right?

Plan for tomorrow

Save precious time in the mornings by picking your clothes the previous night. Put out the breakfast dishes and decide what to pack for lunch. Take a quick look at the calendar and make a note of any important thing that you need to do the next day and go to bed knowing that you had a great day and will have an even better one tomorrow!

Posted by Kurt Jacobson on HomeZada

Warm Up to Cozy Spaces

Grab a soft sweater and a good book, then take your pick of these snuggly spots for whiling the winter days away.

Courtesy of Zillow Digs

It’s funny how after the holidays, living in a Winter Wonderland becomes a whole lot less wonderful. Whether you’re enduring thunderstorms, snow, or gusts of wind, snuggling up at home near a crackling fire or in your personal reading nook is the ideal way to wait out the weather.

No matter your interior style, there’s always room to add a few cozy touches. Here are some favorite ways to warm up your home design to face the wintry days ahead.

Fireplaces: Light up the night (or day)

There might be nothing in the world as comforting as a beautifully decorated fireplace. While it’s typical to have these fixtures in the living room or even the dining room, consider the charm of having one in your own bedroom.

The soothing crackling of a fire is the perfect way to wind down at the end of the day, and with so many styles to choose from, you’re sure to find one that fits your interior style.

Reading nooks: Bookworms’ paradise

Creating a little getaway within your own four walls is a fantastic way to warm up on a particularly cold day. A reading nook can inspire calm and creativity with a few simple furnishings and accessories.

Pair a fun patterned chair with an ottoman, and a unique side table to set your reading material on. Make sure you have sufficient lighting and a cozy throw blanket nearby for those days when you just want to curl up with a good book.

Courtesy of Zillow Digs.

Window seats: Room with a view

On your day off, there’s nothing quite like sipping a cup of coffee while enjoying a beautiful view. What better way to soak up your surroundings than with comfy window seating?

Traditionally found in older homes with Victorian style, window seating is versatile and complements most styles of design. If your home is modern, consider a bright white seating display with patterned pillows. If your look is more traditional, opt for textured seating in a timeless print.

Whatever your choice, you won’t regret spending time in this cozy spot.

Courtesy of Zillow Digs.

Area rugs: Keeping toes toasty

Hardwood floors are a luxury, but they can be painfully cold in the winter months. Help insulate your home with plush area rugs throughout the space for visual warmth and added coziness.

Rugs with texture like shag or a high pile offer extra comfort while walking around the house. Put one in each high-traffic area, as well as under your bed to ensure you wake up with warm feet.

Courtesy of Zillow Digs.

What are some of your favorite ways to add warmth to your home?

Posted by Kerrie Kelly on Zillow

Existing Home Sales Rebound in December

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) just released their latest Existing Home Sales Report on Friday. Sales of existing homes rose by the largest increase ever recorded as they rebounded 14.7% over November’s numbers and now stand at 7.7% higher than a year ago.

While this is great news for the housing market, let’s take a look at one of the main reasons why there was such a large increase in sales.

As we explained last month, the implementation of the “Know Before You Owe” (TRID) initiative delayed some closings, pushing a portion of November’s would-be transactions to close in December.

“December’s rebound in sales is reason for cautious optimism that the work to prepare for ‘Know Before You Owe’ is paying off,” says NAR PresidentTom Salomone.

Lawrence Yun, NAR’s Chief Economist, had this to say about the surge in December sales:

“While the carryover of November’s delayed transactions into December contributed greatly to the sharp increase, the overall pace taken together indicates sales these last two months maintained the healthy level of activity seen in most of 2015. Additionally, the prospect of higher mortgage rates in coming months and warm November and December weather allowed more homes to close before the end of the year.”

The most important realization to come out of the report is the fact that inventory of existing homes for sale dropped dramatically from a 5.1-month supply in November to the lowest figure since January 2005, at a 3.9-month supply.

A normal market, where prices rise with inflation, is defined as having a 6-7-month supply of homes for sale. As you can see in the chart below, inventory levels in 2015 were at or below a 5.2-month supply for the entire year.

If inventory levels do not recover, this could be a challenge for sales moving forward as buyer demand remains strong and competition for the homes that are on the market continues to rise.

Bottom Line

If you are considering listing your home for sale in 2016, now is the time! With inventory levels at their lowest mark in over 10 years, listing your home for sale before the busy spring buying season will give you the most exposure to buyers and allow you to get the best price for your home.

Posted by The KCM Crew

Our Economist’s Top Tips for Selling a Home in 2016

DreamPictures/Getty Images

If you’re planning to sell your house this year, well, you’re in luck.

“The 2016 housing market is forecasted to be mainly a seller’s market, filled with increasing home prices, relatively low inventory, and fierce competition between buyers,” says Jonathan Smoke, chief economist for realtor.com®.

But you could still make missteps on the way to the bank. Yes, your house will likely sell, but when? Remember, time is money.

“For sellers, it’s about understanding the ins and outs of their local market so they can optimize the price of their home and close quickly,” Smoke says.

Smoke and his team analyzed market trends to distill their best advice for homeowners looking to sell in 2016. Follow these tips to get the most out of your home sale.

Price your home to the market

“What Realtors® tell me over and over again, and from the analysis that I’ve seen historically, the most important thing is getting the price right,” Smoke says.

In 2016, prices are expected to increase nationally 3% year over year. Local price changes are anticipated to be more dramatic, with markets such as Stockton, CA, and Las Vegas, NV, expected to increase by 10%. But that doesn’t mean those stats are true of your town, or your neighborhood.

“Making the error of going for a price that’s well above the market price is a recipe for being let down and potentially not selling the home at all,” he adds. A home that sits on the market eventually will turn off buyers, who will suspect that something is wrong with it.

Sellers who work with a local Realtor to optimize the price of their home based on its unique features and surrounding neighborhood are often able to receive the highest price for their market and sell more quickly.

List during peak season

Unlike buyers, who want to minimize competition, sellers benefit from demand. Prime home-buying season begins in April and reaches its peak in June, according to realtor.com analysis of home sales. Sellers who list their home during the prime spring and summer months benefit from a larger population of buyers and potential bidding wars, which often result in higher prices and faster closings.

Offer incentives

This one seems counterintuitive, given what we’ve said about a seller’s market, but hear us out. Last year—the best for U.S. home sales in nearly a decade—37% of all sellers offered incentives to attract buyers.

“The nature of this market is that you’re going to have more first-time buyers, who are more dependent on financing,” Smoke says. Getting a loan is one thing; coming up with a chunk of cash for closing costs, on top of the down payment, is another.

“If you’re a seller and you’re able to offer some money toward closing costs, you’re actually making it easier on that buyer, and they might be more willing to give you the full asking price,” Smoke explains. You could end up with a faster sale and more profit.

Best place to sell a home: California

This isn’t really actionable advice since if you don’t already own a home there you won’t be selling one, but FYI: California markets are accelerating past the already strong national averages and showing extremely favorable conditions for sellers.

Robust job growth, increasing prices, and limited inventory have sellers ready for big gains in the greater metro areas of Stockton, Bakersfield, Fresno, and San Jose. Once you’ve sold, though, you may not be able to afford to buy again in the area—we’d suggest looking in the Midwest or South.

Check out the full realtor.com 2016 housing forecast.

Posted by Cicely Wedgeworth on realtor.com

5 Mortgage Misconceptions Set Straight

Looking for a home loan? Make sure you’ve got the facts, then proceed with confidence.

Shutterstock ID 219582628; PO: Cat Overman

Shutterstock ID 219582628; PO: Cat Overman

Getting a mortgage can be a breeze or a slog, depending on what you know about the process. To get organized and set your expectations properly, let’s debunk some common mortgage myths.

Your best credit scores are used in your loan approval

If you’re applying for a mortgage jointly with a co-borrower, logic suggests that your lender would use the highest credit score between both of you.

However, lenders take the middle of three credit scores (from Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian) for each borrower, then use the lowest score between both borrowers’ “middle scores.” So if you had a middle score of 780 and your co-borrower had a middle score of 660, most lenders would qualify and approve you using the 660 credit score.

Rates are tied to credit scores, so in this example, your rate would be based on the 660 credit score, which would push your rate up significantly — or potentially even make you ineligible for the loan.

There are exceptions to this lowest-case-credit-score rule. Most notably, if you have the higher credit score and are also the higher earner, some lenders will allow your higher credit score on the file — but this is mostly for jumbo loans above $417,000.

Ask your lender about exceptions if you have credit score disparity between co-borrowers, but know that these exceptions are rare.

The rate you’re quoted is the rate you’ll get

Unless you’re locking in a rate at the moment it’s quoted, that rate quote can change. Rates are tied to daily trading of mortgage bonds, so most lenders’ rates change throughout each day.

Refinancers can often lock a rate when it’s quoted — as long as you’ve given your lender enough information and documentation to determine if you qualify for the quoted rate.

Homebuyers will often be quoted a rate when you’re beginning your pre-approval process, but a rate lock runs with a borrower and a property. So until you’ve found a home to buy, you can’t lock your rate. And while you’re home shopping, rates will be changing daily, so you’ll need updated quotes from your lender throughout your home shopping process.

Rate quotes also come with an annual percentage rate (APR), which is a federally required disclosure that shows what your rate would be if all loan fees are incorporated into the rate.

This can make you think that APR is the rate you’ll get, but your loan payment will always be based on your locked rate, and the APR is just a disclosure to help you understand fees.

Fixed rate mortgages are always better than adjustable rate mortgages

Many borrowers became conservative in the recessionary years that followed the 2008 financial crisis, and strongly prefer 30-year fixed loans.

For good reason, too: The rate and payment on a 30-year fixed loan can never change. But the longer the rate is fixed for, the higher the rate. So before settling on a 30-year fixed, ask yourself this question: How long am I going to own this home (or keep the loan) for?

Suppose the answer is five years. If you got a 5-year adjustable rate mortgage (ARM) instead of a 30-year fixed, your rate would be about .875 percent lower. On a $200,000 loan, you’d save $146 per month in interest by taking the 5-year ARM. On a $600,000 loan, the monthly interest cost savings is $438.

To optimize your home financing, you want to peg the loan term as closely as you can to your expected time horizon in the home.

Real estate agents don’t care which lender you use

A federal law enacted in 1974 called the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) prohibits lenders and real estate agents from paying each other fees to refer customers to each other. So as a mortgage shopper, you’re always free to use any lender you choose.

But real estate agents who would represent you as a buyer do care which lender you use. They’ll often suggest that you use a local lender who’s experienced with nuances of your area, such as local taxation rules, settlement procedures, and appraisal methodologies. Each of these areas are part of the loan process, and can delay or kill deals if a non-local lender isn’t experienced enough to handle them.

Likewise, real estate agents representing sellers on homes you’re interested in will often prioritize purchase offers based on the quality of loan approvals. Local lenders who are known and respected by listing agents give your purchase offers more credibility.

Mortgage insurance is always required if you buy with less than 20 percent down

Mortgage insurance is a lender risk premium placed on many home loans when you’re putting less than 20 percent down. In short, it means your total monthly housing cost is higher. But you can buy a home with less than 20 percent down and avoid mortgage insurance.

The most common way to do this is with a combination first and second mortgage — often called a piggyback — where the first mortgage is capped at 80 percent of the home’s value, and the second mortgage is for the balance of what you want to finance.

Comparisons of mortgage insurance vs. piggyback loans that simplify the math can help you make decisions.

Posted by Julian Hebron on Zillow