14 mistakes that will kill your home’s value

Your home is your castle, and you can do what you want with it. Right? Sure. But if you want a good return on the dough — and sweat equity — you pour into Home Sweet Home, you should make sure those changes are smart ones.

© Steven Errico/Getty Images

© Steven Errico/Getty Images

Too often, that’s not the case. Real-estate agents and appraisers say they regularly see homeowners make changes that don’t increase the value of the home by much, if at all. Some renovations or alterations can even drag down the value of a home. Then, of course, there is all the damage that a lack of upkeep and upgrades can do.

Check out these 14 home-improvement blunders and our tips from the experts on how to steer clear of them.

1. Going overboard for the area

© Oote Boe/Getty Images

© Oote Boe/Getty Images

The common mistake: A common mistake homeowners make is improving a home too much for the neighborhood, turning the home into a pricey outlier. How much is too much? That depends. “If you’re in a really nice neighborhood, it would be hard to over improve something,” says Jay Josephs, a certified appraiser for 23 years and the president of the Josephs Appraisal Group in Phoenix. But if you, say, install a $20,000 pool behind a $60,000 house, “you might get $5,000 to $8,000 return,” Josephs says.

What you should do: “Pay real close attention to the common denominator in a neighborhood,” says Sandra Nickel, the owner of Sandra Nickel Hat Team, a real-estate agency based in Montgomery, Ala. Talk to a trusted real-estate agent or an appraiser, and ask for an appraisal without improvements and another with them. If it doesn’t pay off, “it’s not a good value,” Nickel says.

2. Inconsistency

© Peter Glass/Getty Images

© Peter Glass/Getty Images

The common mistake: Homeowners goof by upgrading inconsistently, which hurts value, says Josephs, who is also a partner at Value Trend Solutions. “I have seen completely remodeled kitchens where people have spent $40,000 or $50,000 on a kitchen, and the rest of the house is untouched — there are vinyl floors, blue shag carpeting,” he says.

What you should do: “The best way to get the greatest return on your home is to cure the deficiencies. Find out what’s the baseline in your particular neighborhood — and anything you can do to bring your home up to that baseline … is probably an investment worth doing,” Josephs says. “One of the things I like to say is, ‘Stone floors and vinyl floors should never be touching.'”

3. Closing off the porch

© Lise Dumont/Alamy

© Lise Dumont/Alamy

The common mistake: Some folks see a front porch as an opportunity for another four-season room. That’s a no-no, Nickel says. “Obviously, the people who want to live in that neighborhood value being able to interact with their neighborhood,” she says. High fences and enclosed porches prohibit that, she says. “Do not wall yourself from the community, if community is one of the assets of your neighborhood.”

What you should do: If you want to create a comfortable, usable space, make the front porch a screened porch, Nickel says. If you have a larger full porch, perhaps enclose half of the porch. But be sure to keep most of the porch open to the outside world. You — and prospective buyers — will be happy you did.

4. Too much “you” in your home

© Lise Dumont/Alamy

© Lise Dumont/Alamy

The common mistake: Debi Fortin, a managing broker with Windermere Real Estate-Greenwood in Seattle, knows a homeowner who’s tidy and doesn’t cook. So when the woman remodeled her kitchen, she went spare. She removed cabinets, put the refrigerator in the garage and added two little dorm-sized fridges in small niches. It’s gorgeous — and nearly useless to everyone but the original homeowner. A remodel to such her personal taste decreased the home’s value, Fortin says, because everyone expects a working kitchen.

What you should do: It’s fine to add a personal touch to your remodel, but remember that you likely won’t live in your home forever. Remember that your changes need to speak to a future homeowner. Or be prepared to eat your additional investment — and possibly more.

5. Screwing up the floor plan

© Image Source/Getty Images

© Image Source/Getty Images

The common mistake: Too many people aren’t careful when they add square footage to a home, agents and appraisers say. “Adding a bedroom where you’ve got to walk through the laundry room to get there — most appraisers would call that ‘functional obsolescence,'” Josephs says. Another example: adding a bedroom on the east side of the house when the bathrooms are on the west side of the house. “Those are additions that are probably not going to bring you a return on the investment that you’re going to be satisfied with.”

What you should do: “Keep in mind the functional integrity of the floor plan,” Josephs says. Better yet, hire an architect who is trained to think about the design and flow of spaces.

6. Keeping the above-ground pool

© Image Broker/Rex Features

© Image Broker/Rex Features

The common mistake: Above-ground pools are pretty much a disaster, says Rodney Lee Camren, a real-estate agent with Keller Williams Realty Atlanta Intown. Often, part of the ground has to be excavated to sit them on even ground; they can be hard to enter and exit; and owners often don’t clean them well or cover them, making them eyesores and havens for mosquitoes, he says. Most would-be homebuyers view them “as cheap and usually more of a nuisance than anything,” he says. “They’re bad. And they’re tacky.”

What you should do: If you already have a pool, by all means enjoy it. But get rid of it and rehab the yard completely before you sell.

7. Tacking big projects yourself

© Steven Errico/Getty Images

© Steven Errico/Getty Images

The common mistake: You want to feel useful and you also want to save money. So you tackle those big projects around the house. But in all likelihood you’re not nearly as good at those DIY projects as you think you are, and it shows, Camren says. “Too many times a homeowner will go in and say, ‘Hey, I can do this.’ Really, you can’t,” he says. “When you go to sell your home, a buyer is going to spot sloppy tile.”

What you should do: Unless you’re pretty gifted, “stop doing the [big] DIY projects,” he urges. “Hire a professional.”

A professional will also steer you away from making rookie mistakes such as putting tiles on countertops that really belong on the floor. (Camren has seen it.)

8. Overstuffing the remodel

© Greg Newton/age fotostock

© Greg Newton/age fotostock

The common mistake: Oftentimes when homeowners remodel a kitchen or a bathroom, they “put bigger items in there than there should be,” Camren says. For instance, homeowners will remodel with a giant piece of furniture that includes a built-in sink and cabinetry that overwhelms the bathroom, he says. The space ends up feeling cramped, and future homebuyers will pick up on that.

What you should do: “Really, all you need is a pedestal sink in the bathroom — slender, with no storage, and with good clean lines,” Camren says. Store most of your bathroom supplies in the linen closet, he recommends. The result will be a more airy, roomy space that you and prospective buyers — will like.

9. Getting too trendy

© Cavan Images/Getty Images

© Cavan Images/Getty Images

The common mistake: Everybody wants a fashionable home, but too trendy can be a trap.

“Something that’s real hot today that I think is going to be a problem in a few years? Those skinny tile backsplashes” in kitchens, Nickel says. “It’s gonna be like avocado appliances” were a few years ago, Nickel predicts. “Ten years ago, garden tubs and separate showers were all the rage,” she says. “Nobody wants a garden tub anymore; we figured out we don’t get in them.” Homeowners are ripping them out to put in a nice standing shower, she says.

What you should do: “Be very aware of what’s trendy, and avoid it at all costs,” Nickel says. Steer toward looks that are a bit more timeless, she says — so hip doesn’t become dated.

10. Converting the garage

© Elizabeth Whiting & Associates/Alamy

© Elizabeth Whiting & Associates/Alamy

The common mistake: “I see too many people converting their garages to a living area,” Josephs says. “The problem with that is that you’ve created ‘functional obsolescence’ because you’ve removed covered parking.” When you sell your home, would-be buyers will see that the rest of the neighborhood has parking, while you don’t. As a result, you’ll turn off perhaps 75% of your buyers, Josephs says.

What’s more, he says, though a homeowner might have spent $10,000 to convert a garage into a living room or a man cave, the appraiser might turn around and say “the additional $10,000 is lost because of the impact of not having covered parking.”

What you should do: Don’t turn the garage into a living space, Josephs says. If you really want another place to hang out, consider a well-thought-out addition to the home.

11. Being a permit bandit

© WIN-Initiative/Alamy

© WIN-Initiative/Alamy

The common mistake: “Too many people are adding square footage and not getting permitting from the local authorities,” Josephs says.

What’s wrong with sneaking in a little (or not-so-little) home-improvement project? Well, potentially lots of things: Appraisers and lenders may not include the value of an addition that was not permitted because they worry that insurers won’t give money in case of an incident, Josephs says. “Some appraisers might give you full value, and some appraisers might give you no value.”

“I have seen scenarios where the lender says, ‘Not only do we not want to give value for this unpermitted addition, we want you to reducethe valuation of the home to consider the cost to demolish the addition,” he says. “That’s a bad investment.”

What you should do: Don’t be penny wise and pound foolish. Endure the cost and hassle of necessary permits for any work you have done.

12. Holding on to brass doorknobs

© filo/Getty Images

© filo/Getty Images

The common mistake: “One thing I see a lot is that homes that were built in the 1990s still have brass hardware,” says real-estate agent Kim Baker with Russ Lyon/Sotheby’s International Realty in Scottsdale, Ariz. “It’s very noticeable, if you walk into a home that has been updated with counters, cabinets and yet they haven’t updated the hardware.”

What’s wrong with brass? “It’s dated; it looks old,” Baker says.

What you should do: “The No. 1 thing I tell people to do is change out your brass hardware,” Baker says. Try fixtures made of chrome, brushed nickel or oil-rubbed bronze instead, she suggests. If you can’t afford to redo your cabinets, “even changing out the brass will add value.”

13. Being colorfast

© Glow Decor/Getty Images

© Glow Decor/Getty Images

The common mistake: Color is a personal issue for homeowners. They paint their walls everything from deep blue to blood red. Trouble is, some homeowners are loath to return those walls to a neutral color when it’s time to sell the home. That’s a huge mistake, Baker says.

Right now Baker has two houses for sale, four doors apart. The houses have the same builder and nearly the same floor plan. But in one house, the homeowner has painted the doors and some of the walls black and refuses to change them. “The one that doesn’t have the black gets three times as many hits on the website,” she says.

What you should do: Enjoy your home in whatever hue you wish, but with the understanding that you’ll return it to innocuous colors before you plant that “For Sale” sign. “I just had someone paint a condo that they have used as an investment,” Baker says. She urged the owner to cover the shiny yellow paint in an eggshell hue. The result? “I got an offer for her the first day. And she probably got 10% to 15% more [for the condo] than if she had not done that.”

14. Ignoring flaws

© Glow Decor/Getty Images

© Glow Decor/Getty Images

The common mistake: A lot of folks are like Goldilocks: They think their home is just right and without flaws. Baker recalls one client to whom she suggested they do a pre-inspection before putting it up for sale. The seller balked, offended at the idea that her home might hide problems. When an offer was brought to her, she had more than $40,000 worth of repairs, including hail damage and termites, Baker says. “She was out a lot of money.”

What you should do: “Disassociate yourself from your home,” Baker says. “If your home is more than 10 years old, get an inspection done even before you list it so that you’re not surprised by any problems and can deal with them.”

This article was originally published by Christopher Solomon on MSN Real Estate. To see the original article, click here

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Is 6 years too long for adult kids to live with parents?

Remember when women advised each other never to date a man who lived with his mother? How times have changed.

© Digital Vision/Getty Images

© Digital Vision/Getty Images

If you’re under 30 these days, you may have a hard time finding a man or woman who doesn’t live with mom or dad. A new survey commissioned by Coldwell Banker Real Estate found that young people 18 to 34 believe it’s OK to live with your parents for up to five years after college and that 20% of Americans believe it’s OK to live with parents as long as you want.

Whether this will fly may depend on your parents: Those 55 and older say it’s OK to live with parents for only up to three years, though parents are more tolerant than non-parents. And 13% of people don’t believe young adults should ever move back in with their parents. Plus, 57% believe having adult children at home prevents parents from moving on with their own lives.

The economy may be a reason to move home temporarily, but you can’t let the state of the economy get in the way of living your life,” psychotherapist Robi Ludwig, a consultant to Coldwell Banker, said in a news release. “The key to deciding if this living situation is right for parents, children and families is figuring out whether or not it will help the child develop and thrive.”

The survey respondents made a distinction between slackers – those who lived with their parents because they don’t want to grow up and take responsibility – and young adults living with their parents to achieve a goal, such as paying off student loans or saving for their own home. But 70% of those surveyed believe too many young adults are avoiding responsibility, and 65% believe too many are overstaying their welcome.

Of those polled, 92% believed adult children living with parents should do chores – those other 8% are reallyslackers – and 82% believed they should pay rent. The survey did not ask how many families were putting those beliefs into action.

Most experts suggest setting up rules, expectations and, in many cases, a timeline before the children move back in.

At Empowering Parents, Debbie Pincus wrote a two-part series about coping with adult children living at home, including those who drive parents crazy. Among her suggestions:

Be sure to set time limits and parameters on your adult child’s stay. These can be readdressed or changed around; there can be some flexibility, but be clear about the plan. And that plan might be, “You’ll stay until you get a job,” or “You’re going to stay until you get your first paycheck.” If your child is going to stay until he makes a certain amount of money, be clear and in agreement about that. 

Basically what you’re helping to do is create motivation. If there’s no guide and no set time limit, there’s no motivation. You might say, “What we expect is that after six months, you’re going to have your own place.” You’re not telling them what to do; you’re making clear what you’re going to live with.

What do you think about adult children living with parents? Under what circumstances would you let your children live with you, and under what circumstances would you move back in with your parents?

This article was originally published by Teresa Mears on MSN Real Estate. To see the original article, click here.

Wow Your Guests! 8 Creative Party Themes for Any Occasion

You can throw a party for any occasion, including birthdays, bridal showers or just because it’s Tuesday. Welcome guests to your home with these easy-to-create, engaging party themes that work for any occasion.

1. Bold Casino Party

Casino Night Dessert Table Designed by Kelly Lyden

A casino-themed party is an interactive way to celebrate any occasion. Bold, lively colors and sweets bring excitement to the dessert table. Kelly Lyden of The Party Dress covered the dessert table with a black-and-white cabana striped tablecloth for a dramatic effect. She added black round stickers to a white cube vase to resemble a die and filled it with a red carnation pomander ball that mirrors poker chips. Dress up cupcakes by gluing playing cards on toothpicks, and label bite-size dessert with poker-chip tags by WH Hostess.

Playful Dining

Casino Night Place Setting Designed by Kelly Lyden

Carry the bold, colorful theme through to the place setting. Kelly placed a crisp white napkin, tied with a whimsical polka-dot ribbon and a poker-chip tag by WH Hostess, atop standard white plates. Fill votive candles with green sprinkles to portray the traditional green color on game tables, and serve red champagne punch for an extra pop of color.

2. Breakfast at Tiffany’s Party

Breakfast at Tiffanys Tablescape by ALM Chandler

Set the right tone for any feminine soiree with a Breakfast at Tiffany’s theme. ALM Chandler of Her Royal Heinous and Aubrey Ache created the flamboyant centerpiece by cutting holes in standard gift boxes, placing a vase filled with clear glass pebbles in the middle and wrapping the boxes in blue wrapping paper to resemble Tiffany & Co. boxes. “My intent was to use the traditional Tiffany’s elements, but to add an exaggerated sparkle,” ALM says. Hydrangea-filled vases and martini glasses and black-and-white photos of Audrey Hepburn complete the feminine look. Add Breakfast at Tiffany’s movie quotes to Tiffany-blue gift bags to collaborate with the theme.

3. Vintage Fisherman’s Party

Kara Allen Fisherman Outdoor Party Setting

This vintage fisherman-themed outdoor party by Kara Allen of Kara’s Party Ideas is perfect for the avid fisherman in your life or for any outdoor fall gathering. Kara covered a simple table with a burnt-orange tablecloth and topped it with fishing net to build the foundation for the rest of the table setting. Fill a vintage basket with fall foliage and various fishing gear, and accessorize the table with log stands and vintage wicker creels.

Catching Dinner

Kara Allen Fisherman Outdoor Party Setting

Place vintage plates on genuine log chargers surrounded by coir rope to add to the natural, outdoor feel. Kara dressed up plaid napkins with white napkin rings adorned with bait. Incorporate items you already have, such as fishing lures and reels to enhance the theme.

4. Coffee and Tea Tasting Bar

Coffee and Tea Tasting Bar by Victoria Hudgins

Throw a coffee and tea tasting party during the day or at night. Victoria Hudgins of A Subtle Revelry brought shades of lavender and lilac accented with white to the dessert table. She filled hanging glass bottles and white vases with purple flowers for a feminine touch. Chill the coffee and tea before guests arrive and serve the coffee with frozen milk cubes. “Frozen milk quickly becomes a treat when turned into milk ice cubes. They’re extra sweet with added sprinkles for flair,” she says. Serve a selection of muffins and scones and give specialized tea bags as party favors. Photography by Michael Chan

5. Cultural Gathering

Asian Table Setting by Chris Nease

Infuse cultural elements for your next gathering. Chris Nease of Celebrations at Home began by using a rich color scheme of deep red and gold emphasized by Asian accents, such as fans, a bamboo centerpiece and a Japanese teapot. “Exotic travel themes are popular for all types of celebrations. You may be inspired by the cuisine from a certain area, a trip you took there or simply love the unique cultural differences,” she says. Fill Chinese take-out boxes with fortune cookies to double as decor and party favors for guests.

6. French Toast Fondue Party

Hold a French toast fondue party for friends for an effortless yet memorable experience. “French toast fondue is very simple, and makes for a great activity where people can linger over the table chatting,” says Kelly. Fill the pot with oil and serve dishes of egg mixture, French bread cubes and dipping options such as sugar, brown sugar, strawberry jam and syrup.

Fondue Party Designed by Kelly Lyden

Simple and Sweet

Fondue Party Designed by Kelly Lyden

Kelly set the fondue brunch table with wicker charger plates and a wheat centerpiece set atop a bold yellow-and-white plaid tablecloth for a natural, healthy look. Tie gift tags by WH Hostess to miniature maple syrup bottles for a sweet way for guests to remember the brunch.

7. For the Fashionista in You

Boxed Luncheon Table Designed by Chris Nease

You don’t need an excuse to get together with the ladies. An outdoor fashionista-themed luncheon is versatile and whimsical. Chris filled decorative storage boxes from the craft store with light, easy-to-eat meals. She tied the storage boxes with lavender ribbon and a tag with a list of the contents inside. The storage boxes make a great party favor, along with the leopard-print bangle bracelet used as a napkin ring. Chris attached brown grosgrain ribbon handles to a paper bag to resemble a shopping bag, and filled it with a variety of flowers for a playful centerpiece.

8. Breakfast Burrito Party

Feather Breakfast Party Designed by Victoria Hudgins

Start the day off right with a party. Victoria kept this breakfast burrito party simple but enlivened the space with bold and colorful feathers, yarn and paper cups. “Incorporate bright colors, a simple design and a few quirky elements for a relaxed and pretty celebration,” she says.

How do you like your eggs?

Feather Breakfast Party Designed by Victoria Hudgins

Victoria used stark white plates and dressed them up with messages written in bold ink. She wrapped the burritos in several strands of colorful yarn for an extra punch of color. For a buffet layout, place each ingredient on a plate and label it with colorful writing. Allow guests to match up their favorite pairing of spices and ingredients for an engaging gathering that will be remembered forever.

This article was originally published by By Farima Alavi on hgtv.com. Photography by Jackie Wonders. See the original article here.

Create Your Own Bedroom Retreat

In today’s world it’s tough to get away from the constant demands for our attention. Whether it’s cell phones that never rest, drivers rushing to get somewhere or simply TVs urging you to buy now, you don’t have any place to just get away and unwind.  Even our own bedrooms, where we should be able to relax and get some rest, have often become multi-functional, becoming home offices or craft rooms in addition to being a place to sleep. However, it doesn’t always have to be that way. While there’s not much you can do to stop the din, you can at least get away from it for a while by turning your bedroom back into a place where you can relax and unwind – your own bedroom retreat.

From brightentheday.com

From brightentheday.com

Declutter. Move your computer, TV and other big electronics out of the room or at least hide them in a cabinet with a closing door or behind a movable screen. A bedroom retreat can’t double as a TV or family room and if that’s how you use your bedroom, it will never be a relaxing retreat.

Clear out stacks of books, magazines or the pile of clothes destined for the washing machine. If you can’t move them right out of the room, consider installing some wall shelves to give your books and magazines some order and get a laundry hamper to hide your clothes out of sight.

Color can provide a soothing feeling. A fresh coat of soft blue, green or gray – or perhaps an earth tone – can help make your bedroom retreat feel calmer and more relaxing. Some decorating experts suggest you can give it an even more relaxed feeling by not only painting the walls, but also doing the trim and ceiling in the same color. This sameness of color takes your mind off the colors in the room and allows you to relax.

Natural light is calming. Let natural light into the room by opening your blinds and shutters. If privacy is a concern, Venetian or vertical blinds can be adjusted to allow light into the room while still blocking the glances of prying eyes.

Don’t rely on an overhead lighting fixture. Installing a dimmer switch (rheostat) to control the light level is one way to tone it down, but even better is some attractive table lamps for your bedside tables that allow you to control the light levels in the room.

Upgrade your bed or your bed linens. Since mattresses don’t break – they just wear out – many of us are sleeping on mattresses well past their prime. A new mattress will make your bed more comfortable and ensure a good night’s rest. If a new mattress is not in your budget, some new bed linens (in a neutral or soft color) will help make your room more inviting.

A comfortable chair with a lamp close by makes a relaxing place to sit and enjoy a good book or simply sip a glass of wine.

Choose natural wood furniture and consider including some natural woven baskets and bed special features.

Everyone loves the sound of running water so a small water feature in your bedroom retreat will give you the feeling that you’re relaxing near a trickling stream in the forest. If a water feature isn’t practical, consider a recording of the sound of waves to at least give you the soothing sounds of water.

Plants are also a great part of a bedroom retreat. Not only do they look attractive, they also freshen the air in the room by removing carbon dioxide and replacing it with clean oxygen.

Finish your bedroom with a few items you enjoy, such as pictures of your family and close friends or a piece of art by a favorite artist. Just don’t overdo it, or your room could start to look cluttered.

Finally, after you’ve gone to the effort of creating your own retreat, keep it that way. Take a few minutes in the morning to tidy and make up the room, so when you return in the evening, your first thought will be relaxing, not tidying.

This article was originally published by Murray Anderson on realtor.com. To see the original article, click here. To see the photo source, click here

Can You Afford to Buy a House?

Although the thought of paying a mortgage is more enticing than paying rent, it’s important to understand all the costs involved in buying and owning a home as you determine whether you can afford to join the ranks of homeowners.

from HGTV.com

from HGTV.com

Potential buyers sometimes forget to factor in the down payment, homeowners insurance and the possibility of depreciation, as well as the costs associated with closing the transaction, moving, purchasing major appliances, and home, landscape and pool maintenance, not to mention furnishings and design accessories once you move in.

The days of calling up the landlord to fix your problems come to an abrupt halt when you’re a homeowner. You’ll be responsible for everything from malfunctioning appliances to leaky faucets to broken heating and air conditioning units and everything in between. And if you buy an older home, you’ll probably eventually encounter costly repairs, such as replacing the roof or windows.

To determine whether you can afford to buy a home, you should do the following:

1. Determine the property value of homes that interest you. The property value (what the home is worth) is determined by comparing the prices of homes recently sold of similar size in the same neighborhood. Your real estate agent will be able to provide this information to you.

2. Review different mortgage loan types and compare their required down payment amounts to the money you have available. Down payments, based on a percentage of the value of the property and determined by the type of mortgage you select, typically range from three to 20 percent of the property value. Don’t forget to factor in private mortgage insurance, a policy that allows mortgage lenders to recover part of their financial losses if a borrower fails to full re-pay a loan. Mortgage insurance makes it possible to buy a home with as little as 3 percent down. Usually, the lower the down payment, the higher the PMI, which typically will cost somewhere between $40 and $125 a month.

3. Get an estimate of your closing costs, including points (the dollar amount paid to a lender for obtaining a lower interest rate on a loan—one point is one percent of the loan amount), taxes, recording, inspections, prepaid loan interest, title insurance (a policy that insures a home buyer against errors in the title search; cost of the policy is usually a function of the value of the property, and is often borne by the purchaser and/or seller) and financing costs from your mortgage lender or a real estate professional. These will generally add up to between 2 and 7 percent of the property value. You’ll receive an estimate of these costs from your lender after you apply for a mortgage.

4. Add the down payment requirements and the closing costs together to determine the amount of money you’ll need right off the bat. But you’re not done yet.

5. Think about the actual move. Will you hire a moving company or rent a truck? Either way will cost you. The more stuff you have, the more it will cost.

6. Property taxes. Many lenders will require an impound account in which monthly payments for property tax (and often insurance) are paid together with the monthly mortgage payment. You can figure your average annual tax rate will be about 1.5 percent of the purchase price of your home.

7. Next, budget for maintenance and repairs. HouseMaster, a home inspection company with 300 franchises nationwide, said that based on a study that evaluated 2,000 inspection reports, the typical costs of major repairs are:

  • Roofing: $1,500 to $5,000
  • Electrical systems: $20 to $1,500
  • Plumbing systems: $300 to $5,000
  • Central cooling: $800 to $2,500
  • Central heating: $1,500 to $3,000
  • Insulation: $800 to $1,500
  • Structural systems: $3,000 to $1,500
  • Water seepage: $600 to $5,000

Once you crunch the numbers and find you come up a bit short, investigate ways to reduce or creatively fund your down payment—it can come from a variety of sources. Check with your realtor or lender to find out what’s available.

You’ll also need to factor in the cost of homeowners insurance. In addition to the type of construction, age of the home, your credit history and past insurance history, new issues like litigating costly toxic mold cases are raising homeowners insurance rates.

In fact, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners reports that homeowners will spent an average of $822 on homeowners insurance in 2007, the last year data was available.

In your final analysis of whether you can afford to buy a home, you’ll want to weigh the costs with the financial benefits—a consistent mortgage payment (unlike rent, which can increase), the tax benefits (you can deduct, in most cases, mortgage interest, closing costs, and property taxes), and the all-important appreciation factor—the rate of increase in a home’s value.

And of course, you’ll want to weigh perhaps the biggest benefit of all—having a place to call your own.

This article was originally published by Michelle Dawson on realtor.com. To see the original article, click here. Copyright © by Realty Times.

Is Your Yard Making You Sick?

The bad news: Allergies strike year-round. In fact, the most common affliction – ragweed – ramps up in autumn. Outside mold and mosquito-borne illnesses persist to first frost, as well, while the risk from chemical toxins lingers indefinitely.

© Tom Merton/OJO Images/Getty Images

© Tom Merton/OJO Images/Getty Images

This is not intended as a scare tactic. Rather, consider it a helpful reminder that while spring, pollen and the “lusty month of May” get all the attention, your yard could be making you feel lousy now.

The good news: Late summer and into the fall is a great time to get to work nixing the problem, for both immediate relief and better air come spring.

Many people mistakenly attribute allergies to their pets. Please don’t get rid of the dog or cat just yet. At least see first whether your environment could be the cause of that foggy head and fatigue.

Shrubs Lining House

© Jupiterimages/Getty Images

© Jupiterimages/Getty Images

Take a look at houses in your neighborhood. How many have large shrubs lining the front or pressed up tight beneath the windows? Many, right?

For good reason. Shrubbery brings proportion and beauty. Under windows, it can heighten security, deterring peepers and burglars.

The problem is that shrubs grow. Then they grow some more.

The side of a home needs light and air to prevent the growth of mold. So, too, does the ground outside. A layer of needles or leaves trapped under a dense thicket of shrubs won’t get the light and air it needs to decompose. Mold will form to aid the process.

A good rule of thumb, experts say: Leave at least a 2-foot-wide path between the walls and any plants to ensure airflow and let in sunlight.

Consider also whether the shrubs themselves are making you sick. Yews, for instance, are highly allergenic and are often placed under windows.

Evergreen Trees on Southern and Eastern Sides

© Corbis

© Corbis

While trees provide welcome shade during summer, they can also block winter light.

“I continually see the flat-out dumb practice of planting tall evergreen trees and shrubs on the south side of a house,” writes Thomas Leo Ogren, author of “Allergy-Free Gardening.”

Conifers, which don’t lose their leaves, can effectively block out winter’s meager offering of light from the south and east. The effect goes beyond darkness and higher heating bills, contributing to damp areas inside and the growth of mold.

“Fresh air and light is the enemy of mold,” Ogren says.

Instead, plant evergreens on the northern side of the house; trim those on the southern and eastern sides.

Pesticide Use

© Huntstock/Getty Images

© Huntstock/Getty Images

The days of blanketing the ground with broad-spectrum chemical toxins, left to leach into wells and groundwater for years, are gone. But pesticides are far from being removed from shelves and lawn-care company vans, and the full effects of exposure remain unknown.

Studies have linked lawn pesticides to higher cancer risks and neurological disorders, and exposure is known to trigger an immediate allergic response in some people.

To conquer an infestation, ask experts how to create diversity in your landscape that will let nature take care of the problem. Ask companies to use organic compounds.

“Pesticides do not come without a risk, so you have to weigh that risk,” says Nancy Alderman, president of Environment and Human Health Inc., a nonprofit composed of doctors and public-health officials. “These are toxins. They are designed to kill living things.”

Toxic Mulch

© Stocksearch/Alamy

© Stocksearch/Alamy

It’s been nearly a decade since the federal government banned the use of chromated copper arsenate to treat wood. Mulch made of wood chips today should not leach this dangerous chemical into the soil. That pretty red mulch was once a prime source.

However, given the popularity of recycled and salvaged wood products, property owners shouldn’t assume their mulch has a clean history. Snoop out the history of any wood that went into creating that mulch.

Arsenic is a carcinogen, and in the garden it is particularly dangerous for pets and children. And remember, pets and children carry what’s outside into the house on their hands, feet and paws.

Too Much Mulch

© NoDerog/Getty Images

© NoDerog/Getty Images

Those carpets of wood chips are undoubtedly beautiful. They make a lovely contrast to flowers and plants, and make a nice border against the house.

But don’t forget their function: to retain moisture. Spread a layer too close to the house or in a shaded area of the yard and mold will form. You may not see it, but you may start to feel lousy.

“Mold is a very common allergy,” Ogren says.

The symptoms mirror those of other allergies and can vary from mild to severe. In people with asthma or other breathing difficulties, mold spores can make life miserable.

Keep mulch 3 inches under or away from house siding, and put it in sunny areas.

“If you have a constant moisture, over time it can cause rot,” says Michael Smith, owner of Stonebridge Horticultural Services in Michigan. “It’ll draw ants, termites; mold can happen.”

Right Plant, Wrong Place

© jcarroll-images/Getty Images

© jcarroll-images/Getty Images

Plants are tough. They may survive in less-than-ideal conditions, but they won’t thrive.

Ask them to grow in the wrong soil, climate, light or company, and they will inevitably weaken.

“And the bugs always prey on something that’s weak. Always,” Ogren says.

Nature then takes its course. The bugs secrete a sweet, sticky substance. Airborne mold spores stick to the substance and germinate. “Within days they start expanding wildly,” Ogren says. “So you can go from almost no mold on a bush to the whole bush is covered with mold in a week or two.”

Since a plant with mold can release billions of spores, those who are allergic are sure to feel the effects.

Instead of going it alone, consult an expert and plant what’s right for that exact spot. If the wrong plant or tree is already there, do what the best gardeners do and yank it.

Unmanaged Ponds

© Reggie Casagrande/Getty Images

© Reggie Casagrande/Getty Images

It’s tempting to integrate a pretty pond or rain garden into the landscape. But let plants hang over or rest on the water and you’re creating a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Same goes for any spots shallower than an inch.

Fish can manage the bugs, but you’ll need filtration and management. In other words, says David Barmon, owner of Fiddlehead LLC, in Portland, Ore., “They cost a lot of money to maintain.”

Ponds with stagnant water can also trap dead animals, creating a stink. More pernicious, however, is the threat that comes with mosquito larvae, which can carry West Nile virus. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that fewer than 1% of those infected with West Nile virus will develop symptoms, there is no medication or vaccine for the virus, and it can be fatal. As of July, 31 cases of West Nile had been reported in the United States this year, including three deaths.

Open Rain Barrels

© Rex Features

© Rex Features

See the previous slide about ponds. Any standing water – even seemingly small puddles on open tarps, in birdbaths or on plant holders – are breeding grounds for mosquito larvae. It’s easy to forget that catch basins tucked on the side of the house to capture rainwater pose the same risk.

Catch basins should be cleaned out and serviced, says Robert Schweitzer, a landscape architect in New York. To combat mosquitoes, some homeowners use goldfish, which eat mosquito larvae, or vegetable oil, which suffocates the larvae. Both can be placed directly in the catch basin. Garden centers also sell other natural products.

Just don’t forget to rescue the goldfish when it gets cold.

Compost Bins Near House

© Simon Wheeler/Getty Images

© Simon Wheeler/Getty Images

When a middle-aged man in England died in 2008 after inhaling dense clouds of compost dust, a German scientist told reporters: “Even just opening the lid of a bin containing organic waste can cause mold spores to be stirred up, which, if breathed in, can damage the lungs.”

An extreme case? Definitely. An overly cautious reaction? Probably not. Repeated exposure to mold spores heightens the risk of developing an allergy, experts say. Those with asthma or compromised immune systems are more susceptible.

When organic material decomposes, it becomes hot and moist, the ideal environment for fungi. Unprotected contact with compost can, most commonly, cause aspergillosis, the fungal infection that killed the British man;farmer’s lung, which resembles pneumonia;histoplasmosis, a lung infection; Legionnaire’s disease, a respiratory infection; paronychia, a painful tissue infection; or tetanus, a bacterial infection.

Keep compost bins at least partly uncovered, to allow air circulation, and wear a mask and gloves when turning. Don’t bring contaminated clothing into the house.

Trapped Leaves

© Rex Features

© Rex Features

Would you leave stinky cheese outside your front door? Probably not. Then why allow layers of wet leaves to collect under your porch?

Low porches in wooded areas can become traps for wind-blown leaves. Without airflow and sunlight, mold will step in to do nature’s job of decomposition.

For people who aren’t susceptible to mold spores, this may not pose a problem, and mold will break down the material with time. Many people, however, will develop an allergic response that only grows worse with exposure. Symptoms can range from itchy eyes and headache to foggy brain, extreme fatigue and a general feeling of malaise.

To prevent problems, rake leaves from under the deck come fall. It may involve getting on your hands and knees, but it will prevent billions of mold spores from making a home outside your door.

Overwatering

© Kris Hanke/Getty Images

© Kris Hanke/Getty Images

“I once read about one of the highest mold counts in the United States and it was in Arizona,” recalls Ogren, who spent a long career studying the source of pollen and mold that are making so many Americans sick.

How did a desert climate win the musty moisture battle? Automatic lawn sprinklers. People were overwatering their lawns. “It became a big factory for mold,” he says.  Try watering less often, but more deeply.

Those same automatic sprinklers also have a tendency to spray the side of buildings, generating mold there.

“One doctor thought she was coming down with [multiple sclerosis]. It wasn’t MS; it was mold poisoning,” he says. “God knows how many people are living in situations like that and feel just lousy.”

Overcrowding

© Thomas Leo Ogren

© Thomas Leo Ogren

Trying to identify the allergen-producing flora here? Don’t bother. While there may indeed be allergenic plants, the problem here is one that causes health issues well beyond spring. It’s overcrowding, which restricts airflow and leads to what horticulturalists call very unhappy plants.

“The trees are crowding each other, light and air movement is limited, and it’s a good candidate for mold-spore issues,” Ogren says.

It’s not uncommon for once-ideal landscapes to get crowded over time. Get out the saw. A good thinning-out is warranted.

“I’ve never met a dwarf in my life,” says Stephen Woods, president of Smith Tree & Landscape Services, in Michigan. “In the plant world, they don’t stay dwarfs, they grow and they grow. That’s what they’re designed to do.”

Too Many Males

© Rex Features

© Rex Features

What a wonderful realization for suburban planners: If we plant male trees, our streets will be clean. Male trees are less “dirty,” in that they don’t shed berries. Now the composition of many urban, suburban and even rural towns is overwhelmingly male, a trend that has made its way into residential yard design as well.

But allergy sufferers and asthmatics, whose numbers are growing, are paying the price: It’s the male trees that shed the pollen. People and dogs track all this excess pollen into homes, where it continues to contaminate the air well after traditional allergy season. Too often, people blame their pets, who are merely carrying in allergens from outside.

For cleaner air, say experts, plant – or replant – the females.

Ragweed

© Corbis

© Corbis

The most pernicious allergen in this country thrives in fields, along roadways and in areas of the yard not yet dominated by healthy grass. It’s hardy, typically requiring a hefty pull of the root to extricate. It affects a whopping three out of four allergy sufferers and as much as 30% of the population. And it’s getting ready to release its pollen now, in late summer through to the first frost, in every state except Alaska.

Ragweed, bearer of hay fever – named for the fall “haying” season – brings the usual and often mind-numbing allergy symptoms. But fall can also be the best time to tackle the bugger, by gearing up a healthy lawn for next year. Pull the weeds, fertilize the soil and plant grass instead.

This article was originally published by Karen Aho on MSN Real Estate. To see the original article, click here

In Honor of Shark Week, We Have 7 Shark Tanks to Swim Through

Whether it is Discovery’s ode to the ocean’s fiercest predator, “Shark Week,” news of ABC’s upcoming “Shark Tank Week,” or SyFy’s insane shark/natural disaster mash-up “Sharknado,” it is quite clear that sharks have taken over the television, the Internet – our lives, basically. Blue sharks, mako sharks, tiger sharks, great white sharks – you name it, and we are immediately fascinated by and engrossed in it.

Realtor.com is no stranger to the shark madness currently sweeping across America with oceanic fervor. In a nod to everything sharks, we have chummed the waters and dived deep into the blue abyss to deliver seven of the finest shark-tank homes out there today.

1. Workout With a Porpoise in This Shark Gym

From Realtor.com

Price: $22.5 million
Excuse the awful sea-hog pun, but this $22.5 million modern masterpiece goes above and beyond in the workout facilities department with an epic shark-tank gym spread. Why crank up the heavy metal when you can get swoll in the presence of sharkness?

2. 10,000-Gallon Shark Tank in Marina Del Ray

From Realtor.com

Price: $5.725 million
Apparently, a home theater, a massive wine cellar and a glass-bottom rooftop pool and Jacuzzi were not enough to satisfy this home owner’s amenity cravings. No, this insanely amazing $5.725 million offering was not complete without its own 10,000-gallon shark tank – to which I say, money well spent.

3. Gilbert Arenas’ Shark-Tank Mansion

From Realtor.com

Price: $3.5 million
Of course Gilbert Arenas would have a mansion filled with shark tanks. The NBA veteran is well known for his, well, quirky personality, and so it came as little surprise to learn that his DC area mansion has not one but multiple shark tanks. There’s a shark tank in the entryway, a massive shark tank in his rec room — heck, even a shark tank in his swim-in grotto. When it comes to shark tanks, Agent Zero does not mess around.

4. Shark Vortex Tank in Fort Lauderdale

From Realtor.com

Price: $4.95 million
Those fixin’ to create a “Sharknado” of their very own will want to take a long look at this ultimate shark vortex in Fort Lauderdale. Besides its awesome saltwater tank, which is less aquarium and more shrine to the shark gods, the $4.95 million property known as Star Harbour goes hard in the sea department with 72 feet of waterfront, a pool house and a private dock.

5. Pool Shark Tank in Coto de Caza

From Realtor.com

Price: $10.75 million
This home may be a car enthusiast’s dream, but it has a billiards room befitting a shark lover. Give the term “pool shark” a literal spin, moving your cue under the bluish hue of your massive inlaid wall aquarium. If that is not enough, other perks of this $10.75 million compound include a posh theater room, a wine cellar and resort-like grounds.

6. I’ll Take “Shark-Tank Homes” for $100, Alex

From Realtor.com

Price: $3.995 million
Judging by the former Hollywood Hills home he had built for himself in 1984, Alex Trebek’s taste in decor borders on sterile. However, the “Jeopardy” host’s taste in shark tanks is clearly on point, as evidenced by the swank aquarium setup complete with a velvety shark-viewing parlor.

7. Hawaiian Penthouse Shark Tank

From Realtor.com

Price: $7.495 million
No unworldly Honolulu high-rise retreat would be complete without its very own dining room shark-tank display, and that’s exactly what you will find within the confines of this $7.495 million penthouse on the Big Pineapple. Other perks of the two-story suite include 360-degree views and a Fendi-designed 4,000-square-foot interior.

This article was originally published by Neil J. Leitereg on realtor.com. To see the original article, click here