Golden Christmas decorations with large details and a beautiful matching presents

6 Christmas Tree Decorating Ideas For The Holiday Season

Golden Christmas decorations with large details and a beautiful matching presents

The holidays are typically marked with all sorts of festive decorations, but perhaps none is more prominent and attention-grabbing than a Christmas Tree. When it comes to decorating your tree, you don’t necessarily have to break out the same old decorations year after year.

To change things up this year, try any one of the following Christmas tree decorating ideas.

1. Spray Paint the Tree

You’ve probably seen cotton candy-blue or bubblegum-pink trees in storefront windows or mall corridors. If you think a brightly colored tree is something that would fare well in your home this holiday season, all you need is a can of spray paint to make it happen. Rather than searching far and wide for that perfectly-hued tree, it’s a lot easier to create your own with a simple can of spray paint from your local hardware store.

Paint the entire tree in full, or go a little more subdued by spraying just the tips of the branches. Just make sure to use a non-toxic paint (especially if you’ve got children or pets running around), and don’t start decorating until the paint has thoroughly dried.

2. Match the Theme of the Room

When choosing a color scheme for your tree, consider blending it in with the rest of the room that it’s in. If you’ve got steel blue and burnt orange throw pillows and accents in your living room, add these same colors to the tree. Likewise, if gold and silver tableware is scattered on your dining room table, these same metallics can be incorporated on your tree to create a sophisticated statement piece that could literally stick around in your space all year long.

3. Match the Gifts Beneath

You can shift gears with the matching strategy and make your tree’s decor follow the same color theme as the presents tucked underneath. If you’re doing all the gift-wrapping this year, consider using paper and all the trimmings in a specific color theme that can be extended to the tree itself. By using the same festive ribbons and bows on both the gifts and the tree itself, you can create a cohesive and uniform look throughout your space.

4. Light the Tree With Faux Candles

When Christmas trees started to become popular in the 1800s, people didn’t have the convenience of plug-in light strings. Instead, they placed lit candles on the trees to light them up. Of course, this is hazardous to do indoors, but you can mimic the look of the traditional tree by placing battery-operated candles all over it to capture the essence of Christmas past.

5. Group Small Ornaments Together

To add some visual interest to your Christmas tree, gather all those small ornaments of similar size, shape, and color and group them into clusters. Pin them deep inside the branches as well as on the tips to create some depth to the tree’s decor. These bundles of ornaments will look more grandiose compared to leaving them on their own.

6. Store Your Candy on the Tree

Christmas is definitely a time of presents and eggnog, but it’s also a time for festive candy. All those candy canes and candy corns that you collect over the holidays don’t have to be stored away or left on table tops. Instead, you can use them as decorations for your tree. Candy has a unique playful and fanciful effect on trees, and if that’s the look you’re going for, don’t hesitate to use them as part of your overall decorating theme.

The Bottom Line

There really aren’t any restrictions when it comes to how you choose to decorate your Christmas tree this year. Whether you’re looking for something more traditional, subdued, vibrant, unique, eclectic, or whimsical, the options are seemingly endless when you put your imagination and creativity into it. Try any one of the above Christmas tree decorating ideas to create something different this year.

Roofer cleaning a rain gutter with an orange glove on

6 Signs Your Home Has a Drainage Problem

Roofer cleaning a rain gutter with an orange glove on

It’s no secret that any water that’s pooled in any part of your home will cause nothing but problems. And if there are drainage issues in your home, you’ll likely experience these problems pretty quickly. That’s why it’s critical that any drainage issues be nipped in the bud before they turn into total catastrophe. Yet while some issues are obvious, other’s aren’t.

To save yourself the headache and the money trying to fix major problems that arise as a result of poor drainage in your home, keep an eye out for any one of the following 6 red flags.

1. Water Stains

One of the most telling signs that there’s an issue with the drainage in your home is water stains. Whether they’re on the walls, ceilings, or floors, any water stains are surface signs that something awry is lurking where you can’t see.

The location of the water stain will also be an indication of whether or not the problem is the result of surface water, or water moving underground, the latter of which is typically a much bigger problem. If the stain creates a line around the basement, it’s more likely the result of a moving water table. In this case, inquiring about basement waterproofing might be warranted after the issue has been rectified.

2. Spewing Gutters

If you notice that your gutters are running like a raging river, there’s probably something obstructing the free flow along the gutters. Even if you don’t actually see the water gushing out of the gutters, you can still tell this is happening if the grass or dirt at the opening of the gutters seems like it’s been dug out by powerful flows of water, or if you notice mud splatter marks on the exterior walls near the gutters. If this problem persists, you could be dealing with rotted exterior siding or even structural damage.

3. Downspouts That Dump Too Much Water Near the Foundation

The basement of your home can become flooded with water if your downspouts are dumping hoards of rainwater too close to the foundation. As such, the water will make its way into the basement and wreak havoc on the basement walls, floors, and any items you have in the water’s way.

If the downspouts are too short, they can literally dump gallons of water around the foundation walls of your home. As the water is soaked in by the soil, it puts pressure on the walls, and eventually causes them to crack. Adding gutter extensions that help carry the water a minimum of 5 feet away from your foundation walls can really help.

4. Mold in the Attic

The presence of mold in your attic is a sure sign that there’s a drainage problem with your home. It may sound odd that drainage issues can actually show signs of trouble way up in that part of the house, but moisture from the water in the basement can rise up through your home. The bathroom fans and vents will then blow hot, damp air right into the attic space, which can cause mold and mildew when it condenses on the colder side of the roof. Failure to deal with this issue early on can lead to rotted roof sheathing and shingles, which would then need to be replaced.

5. Crusting on Basement Walls

Any flaking or crusting on your basement walls could very well be a sign that your home’s drainage is inadequate. This crusting is caused by the mineral deposit residue that is left behind after water has evaporated and condenses. This might not necessarily be a huge problem if these deposits go no deeper than half an inch. Any more than that, however, could spell real trouble that may involve a compromised foundational structure.

6. Cracks on the Foundation Wall

It’s normal for foundation walls to experience cracks over the years as the house settles after being built. However, any cracks that are very wide – over 1/8 of an inch – or that are uneven might need a closer look into what could be causing them. It might very well be a drainage problem behind these cracks. If that’s the case, you’ll need to find out what exactly is behind the inadequate drainage and fix it.

The Bottom Line

If you notice any one of the above signs, you should deal with them immediately. A qualified plumber or structural engineer will be able to suggest the best course of action to fix the problem before it gets any worse. Identifying drainage problems when they’re not as serious and are easier to rectify can save you a lot of hassle and thousands of dollars over the long haul.

Real estate agent showing a couple around new home

Private Showings Vs. Open Houses: Which Wins?

Real estate agent showing a couple around new home

Looking for a new home? Before you sign on the dotted line, you’re going to want to have a chance or two to scope out a few homes in detail first. That means you’ll either want to schedule a private showing, or visit an open house. But which route should you take to find out if that home is right for you?

Let’s dig deeper to find out which of the two is a better approach for you when you’re ready to buy a house.

The Open House

If you’re not ready to buy just yet, and aren’t sure about exactly which neighborhood you want, open houses can be great.

Open houses can be an effective way to chat up the listing agent and find out important information about the home, and even the sellers. You might be able to find out why the sellers are moving in the first place – whether it’s a job relocation, divorce, or other reason. If you discover that the seller is highly motivated, you may have more negotiating power when it comes to wheeling and dealing on an offer.

Open houses can give you access to a lot more pertinent information than you might think. Besides getting to stroll around every room of a home and scoping out all the details, you can also get a sense of the competition that you might be facing and get a grasp of prices in the area.

Assessing the type of traffic might be tough to figure out, however. If there are tons of people venturing in and out of the house you happen to be in too, it could mean that there is some serious interest in that particular property, and that you may need to think about whether or not you should be putting in an offer before someone else does. On the other hand, the traffic could be just a bunch if nosy neighbors or people who enjoy spending their Sundays having a gander at how others live.

The Private Showing

When it comes to really getting a sense of what a home is like, you’ll ideally want to have a private showing scheduled. That way, you can take your time looking about without having to be distracted and interrupted by hoards of traffic.

It’ll also give you a chance to speak frankly about the property with your agent, come up with a strategy for submitting an offer, and ask all the pertinent questions about the place that you might be apprehensive about asking with others within earshot of your conversation.

Scheduling a showing also allows you to see the exact house you want, when you want (for the most part). There’s no need for the home buying process to be a gamble – instead, you can schedule a showing for a particular home you are interested in, during a time frame that’s more convenient for you.

Private showing allow you the freedom to really explore a home, which you usually can’t do during an open house. It would be sort of awkward to crawl into attic spaces or turn on faucets and flush toilets with a bunch of strangers around. With private showings, you can eliminate this concern.

At the end of the day, whether or not an open house or private viewing is better than the other depends on how serious you are about buying. If you’re half-hearted about purchasing, then start off with an open house or two. But of you’ve already scoped out a bunch of listings and have gained a focused sense of what you want, and you’re ready to make the move, private showings are absolutely the way to go.

Real estate agent with couple shaking hands closing a deal and signing a contract

5 Ways Real Estate Agents Save You Money When Selling Your Home

Real estate agent with couple shaking hands closing a deal and signing a contract

It’s understandable – after finally selling your home, it can be tough to fork over the commission fee to a real estate agent. But before you fall into the FSBO trap, consider one very important thing: real estate agents can actually save you money.

While a commission is due at the end of the deal, the cost will pale in comparison to how much you can save through the process. Here are just a handful of ways how agents can save you cash when selling your home.

1. They’ll Price Your Home Right

Who wouldn’t want to list their home for millions of dollars, regardless of what it’s actually worth? Everyone wants to get as much money as possible for their property, but buyers aren’t dumb – they’re probably working with their own agents who are telling them what they should and shouldn’t offer on a property. There’s this little thing called ‘comparables’, and agents use them to gauge what homes are worth in a specific area. And while buyers’ agents are using these comps, so are sellers’ agents.

Here’s the rub – price your home too high, and you’ll send buyers running in the opposite direction. That leaves your home sitting on the market for weeks and even months without a bite. And the longer your home remains unsold, the more it costs you in the long run.

The other end of the spectrum is just as ugly – price your home too low, and you’re basically leaving a ton of cash on the table. The goal here is to make as much money as possible, which means you need to find that sweet spot as far as a listing price is concerned. With an experienced real estate agent on your side, you’ll have the expertise and tools necessary to price your home perfectly to get you the most money come sale time.

2. They Give You Awesome Staging Tips

The look of your home can be totally transformed with a few key pointers from your real estate agent. If you’ve had the same set-up and decor for years, that doesn’t necessarily mean that your home shows well to sellers. A seasoned agent will come in to your home and objectively gauge the space, then (nicely) tell you what’s working, and what’s not.

He or she will make suggestions about what you should get rid of and what you can keep, as well as how your present furniture should be arranged to maximize flow and functionality. Rearranging furniture to its optimal visual appeal will make your home more attractive to buyers.

Real estate agents can even bring in a professional home stager to make major changes to the space. These pros bring in their own furniture and accessories, and can make your home look like something that jumped out of a magazine. It’s a fact that homes that are well staged sell faster, and for more money compared to homes that are left as is. So it’s totally worth it to listen to staging tips from your real estate agent or stager if you want more money in your pocket at the end of the day.

3. They’ve Got Ties With Other Pros in the Industry

The savviest agents are the ones that have an arsenal of experts on the back burner to help you in all sorts of ways along the home selling journey.

Need a few repairs to your home before you put it up on the market? An agent can set you up with a contractor. Apprehensive about the mortgage process? Your agent can put you in touch with a trusted mortgage specialist. And what about all the legal stuff that comes along with selling a property and transferring title? Agents have a lawyer they can recommend to you.

Trying to find professionals such as these that are both experienced and trusted can be a full-time job. Luckily, that’s a hefty chore that you can strike off your list when you work with a competent real estate agent. Forget about throwing money in incapable hands – the experts you work with will come highly recommended, and maybe even with a discount.

4. They’ll Negotiate More Money on the Sale Price

The art of negotiation comes in really handy at the home selling table. Real estate agents are masters of this skill, and will pull all the stops to help you get the highest dollar for your home. The more money you make on your home, the more money goes into their pocket, so you can be sure that they’ll do their darnedest to squeeze every dollar out of the deal possible.

Whether the strategy is to sightly under-price the home to stimulate a bidding war, or to focus on super-motivated buyers that put up a sizeable deposit and offer a quick closing, agents are there to help put the most money in your pocket. And when it comes to deciding whether or not to accept an offer, counter it, negotiate the closing date, or change the contingencies, your agent is there to navigate these negotiations to get you the best deal.

5. They Save You Time

You’ve heard the saying before – time is money. Well, this phrase doesn’t ring any more true than during the selling process. Those who are inexperienced with the ins and outs of selling a property have no clue about how incredibly tedious and time-consuming it can be. It’s certainly not as simple as slapping up a For Sale sign, throw up a few photos online, allow the heards of buyers to flock, then accept the first offer that comes in.

There’s a lot more to it than that, and it can really suck the time out of your schedule. Who has time to take care of all the back-end stuff that comes along with successfully selling a home? Instead, leave it to a real estate agent to take care of all of that – after all, this is their full-time job, and they’re good at it.

Do yourself a favor – avoid the temptation to go the FSBO route in an effort to “save” some money. If you really want to save yourself some cash, work with an agent. Besides saving you money, real state agents will also save you a ton of hassle and headaches. That alone is well worth enlisting their services.

A young father having fun with his daughter while pushing her in a moving box

Clever Moving Tips to Cut Down on Time and Hassle

A young father having fun with his daughter while pushing her in a moving box

Just the mere thought of having to pack the entire house and move it all to a new destination can seem like a daunting task. And it can be if you don’t plan ahead and use simple yet effective strategies to ease the burden. Here are 8 savvy packing and moving tips to make the haul a cinch.

Throw Junk Out – Don’t Pack it

Keep this golden rule in mind before you pack certain items: if you haven’t used it over the past year, you most likely never will. If that’s the case, there’s no sense in packing these never-used items and moving them into your new home, only for them to just take up precious space for nothing.

Most likely, the home you’re moving out of has accumulated quite a bit of ‘stuff’ since you’ve lived there – odds are, a lot of it doesn’t have to be dragged along with you. Instead, create a pile for donation, and a pile for the trash. Getting rid of unused things will drastically cut down on the time and effort needed to pack and move all of your belongings on moving day.

Wrap Your Delicates in Clothing or Towels Instead of Bubble Wrap

Any fragile items – such as glassware, dishes, porcelain figurines, etc – will obviously need extra care and padding when storing them for the big move. But rather than using bubble wrap for this purpose, consider using clothing instead.

First of all, bubble wrap can get pretty expensive, especially with the hoards that you’ll be needing. Secondly, your clothing and linens need to be packed anyway – why take up extra space with bubble wrap when your clothes can serve a purpose?

Use Bags Instead of Boxes

How much space do boxes take up in a moving truck? A lot. How expensive are they? Very. Consider using durable bags instead of boxes when possible.

Not everything in your home is square-shaped and fits perfectly inside a box. Rather than counting on boxes for all of your belongings, throw some bags into the mix. And if you’ve got any suitcases, use these to pack large and bulky items, like your comforters, pillows, and sweaters, which tend to take up a lot of space.

Use Clear Bins For Essential Items

Think about all the items that you’ll need the first day and night that you’ll be in your new home. Things like your toothbrush, shampoo, phone charger, laptop, and other items will be needed within hours of moving. Skip the frustration of looking through every box by storing these must-haves in a clear plastic bin to help you find things a lot easier and faster.

Take Photos

You’d be amazed at how quickly you’ll forget how certain shelves were arranged, such as your glasses and dishes. Your shelves may be stacked and organized so perfectly in your old home, but this arrangement will be tough to copy after you’ve taken everything down and stuffed them into moving boxes.

The same can be said for your electronics – taking photos of the cords on the back of your TV and other gadgets will make it a lot easier to remember where they all belong. This will save you both time and hassle.

Don’t Leave Important Documents With the Mover

Crucial papers, like your passports, birth certificates, bank statements, purchase agreements, or any other paperwork with sensitive information on it should be kept with you, and not the movers. These are the last things that you want to go missing during the move.

Leave the Garage Empty

You’ll probably be tempted to fill the garage or attic at your new place with all your boxes that you moved from your old house. Do yourself a favor, and resist this temptation. While your intention may be to deal with them ‘at some point’ in the near future, this usually tends to turn into ‘never.’

Just like we said earlier – if you can go months – or longer – without using certain things, it’s safe to say they can be discarded. If not, you’ll be parking your vehicle on the driveway.

Color Coordinate Your Boxes/Rooms

Labeling boxes is a classic moving trick, and it’s an absolute must. But you can make things even easier on yourself by color coordinating the boxes for each room in the house.

For instance, assign blue for the master bedroom and orange for the kitchen, and so on.

Use colored stickers on each box near the number you’ve designated for each. Once you get to your new home, place a matching sticker on each room’s door. That way the movers will know exactly where each box goes when they finally get there.

Moving isn’t exactly glamorous, nor is it simple. But you can definitely take steps to make it as stress-free and easy as possible so you can spend more time enjoying your new digs.

Interior designer working on hand drawing sketches on plan blueprints

The Dangers of Over-Improving Your Home

Interior designer working on hand drawing sketches on plan blueprints

Is there such thing as having a home that’s too good for its surrounding neighborhood?

Sure, most homeowners want their home to be up-to-date and attractive, and often that means making some changes and improvements to it. But while many projects can have positive effects on the functionality of a home, its visual esthetics, and the overall value of the property, others, on the other hand, are just over-the-top, and can actually have a negative impact on how prospective buyers see your home.

Putting too much money into upgrades that go way beyond what the actual area calls for can easily translate into lost money. 

Before you make any major improvements to your home, make sure your surrounding neighborhood calls for such features. Be smart about how your renovation budget is spent, and the exact types of improvements you plan to make. The value of your home won’t necessarily reflect the amount of work and money you put into expensive and excessive projects.

If you’re planning on staying in your home for the long-haul and are looking to make improvements that suit your needs and will provide you with years of enjoyment, go for it. However, if you’re planning to move over the next three to five years, you might want to think twice about those extravagant updates and additions.

What Does Your Neighborhood Call For?

Before you dump a lot of your hard-earned dollar on a specific project, take a look at the best house on the block. You likely won’t recoup that money by improving at or beyond that level. The odds of your home’s value appreciating to the point that you’ll get back just as much of that investment money are pretty low.

For instance, you will probably have a tough time finding a buyer who will pay the price you want to recoup the money you spent adding a huge pool, outdoor spa, or sunroom to your home if the homes on the street don’t have these types of amenities. Buyer agents aren’t going to encourage their clients to buy the best house in the neighborhood, or a property that sticks out like a sore thumb. Not only that, buyers will be a little intimidated by a home that is clearly the priciest in the area.

Buying the most expensive home on the block will give buyers little wiggle room to add equity to their home, which would become a problem if and when they decide to sell at some point in the future.

If homes in the neighborhood are selling in the $500,000 to $600,000 range, you’ll be hard-pressed to get $750,000 for your home just because you spent an extra $150,000 adding extra-fine features and finishes to it. Don’t expect to recoup that money upon the sale of your home. An over-improved home might impress buyers, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be willing to shell out the big bucks for it.

Overdoing Certain Spaces in the Home

Certain rooms in a home hold a lot of importance when it comes to its overall value, especially kitchens and bathrooms. Renovating and updating these spaces can boost property values, make them more attractive to potential buyers, and command more money come sale time. However, the increase in sale price will hit a cap.

While it’s important to ensure these important rooms are up-to-par, it’s also possible to over-improve them. A $500,000 home warrants a kitchen that reflects this value, just as a million dollar home deserves a kitchen that matches its value. A room that’s completely out of place in a home based on its value won’t do much at resale.

Be Careful With Additions

More square footage in a home tends to increase property value, but how you go about adding such space to your home is an important consideration. Reconfiguring the layout and space that you already have to make it more functional can increase the value. For instance, converting a 2-bedroom home into a 3-bedroom home by moving some walls can add value if the neighborhood calls for 3-bedroom homes. However, if you start making large additions to your home that sacrifice a lot of your yard space, this can have the opposite effect.

While the size of a house is a big factor for buyers, so is the useable size of the yard. It’s not such a good thing when the physical structure takes up far too much space, especially if it’s way off scale compared to other homes on the street.

The Bottom Line

Renovating and upgrading your home is a fantastic idea, especially if it’s starting to get dated and just isn’t working for you and your family. However, before you start taking hammer to nail, make sure you’ve given your project a lot of thought. Even though you have a vision in mind that you know will bring you enjoyment, make sure you’re realistic about the kind of return on investment you’ll get, and whether such improvements are just too much for the neighborhood you are in.

A woman checks the fire extinguisher expiration date at home

Emergency Tips Every Homeowner Needs to Know About

A woman checks the fire extinguisher expiration date at home

Owning and maintaining a home doesn’t come with an instruction manual, though it would be great if it did. After you’ve found the home you love and moved in, the real fun starts.

But sometimes the fun can be rudely interrupted by certain scenarios that can put the home – and even you and your family – at risk.

Here are a few things all homeowners should know about in order to avert an emergency in the house.

Know Where the Shut-Off Valve is

Whether the toilet is overflowing, or the pipes are frozen, the water supply to the house needs to be shut off immediately. You should probably shut the water off completely if you’re going on vacation for more than a couple of days.

You’ll need to know exactly where the shut-off valve is in order for you to cut off the water supply. While it may typically be in the basement, it can also be located in an underground utility box or outside wall in warmer climates.

Once you’ve located it, make sure that it works properly. It should be turned clockwise to stop the water flow into the house. A good idea would be to test it two or three times after you first move into the home to make sure it actually works.

In the case of a burst pipe either under a sink or beside the toilet, you should first shut the valve off directly at these sites to minimize damage in those immediate areas.

Know How to Stop an Overflowing Toilet

Aside from this being pretty nasty, an overflowing toilet can cause serious water damage to the immediate surroundings and the structures below. Usually these scenarios happen when the bowl is slow to drain and clean water from the tank rushes in too fast.

If the bowl is filling up, don’t run away. Instead, immediately lift the top of the tank, grab the black rubber float, and pull it up. This will close the valve that allow the clean water in the bowl, which should ideally give you enough time to shut the water source off.

Label Your Circuit Breakers

You’ll definitely need to fiddle with the breakers on occasion. As such, it’ll be a lot more helpful if you know exactly which breakers work specific outlets, light fixtures, electronics, and appliances.

First of all, you need to know exactly where your breaker box is. Once you’ve found it (usually in some sort of utility space like the laundry room or storage room), label the breakers accordingly. You’re probably going to need some help in this department, so make sure you’ve got your partner or a pal to help identify what fixtures each breaker controls.

Start by turning them all off, then test each one at a time. Once you’ve got this info, write it down directly beside each switch. Be sure to identify where the main switch is too, which shuts off the power to the entire house.

Know How to Operate a Fire Extinguisher

Many times a house fire can be stopped right in its tracks with the use of a fire extinguisher. Just make sure your home is equipped with one.

To effectively operate this life-saving piece of equipment, it might help to write down clear, simple instructions on the actual canister. The first thing you need to do is pull the pin for it to be ready. After you aim the nozzle at the fire, squeeze the trigger and spray the agent from side to side to extinguish the fire.

Remember that the average fire extinguisher only consists of approximately 8 seconds of fire-squelching agent in it, so use this tool wisely.

Keep an Emergency Kit Handy in the Home

Certain emergencies may force you to remain in your home for a long time – perhaps even days. And many times the conditions aren’t exactly comfortable or safe. Perhaps your area has been caught in a massive snowstorm that has blocked you in and knocked the power out. Or perhaps your home is the victim of destruction from a hurricane or earthquake.

Whatever the situation is, you should be prepared for anything and everything, and that means having a disaster kit readily available. Consider adding the following items to this kit:

  • Water (about one gallon of water per person per day for a week)
  • Food (non-perishable)
  • Radio
  • Flashlight
  • Batteries
  • First-aid kit
  • Blankets
  • Whistle to signal for help
  • Cell phone with power banks for charging

If it’s within your budget, you may even consider buying a generator that will be able to power up some of the more necessary appliances, like light fixtures, a stove, or space heaters.

You can never be over-prepared for an emergency. Taking the time and effort to prepare your home before disaster strikes can save both the home itself, and your family.

Close up of a mans hand with a pencil calculating with a small home model

Using Price-Per-Square-Foot Analysis to Price a Home

Close up of a mans hand with a pencil calculating with a small home model

Listing your home at the right price is critical. Pricing too high or too low can keep your home on the market a lot longer than you’d like, and can even leave thousands of dollars on the table.

Comparing what other similar homes in the neighborhood recently sold for is the more popular way of coming up with an accurate listing price in residential real estate; however, there are other ways to measure value.

One way that some sellers and their agents price homes for the market is by using a price-per-square-foot analysis of a subject property to compare to. While this shouldn’t be the sole method of pricing a listing, it can help somewhat. While many in the industry discard this method, it can still help narrow down an accurate listing price. In fact, professional appraisers and commercial brokers still continue to use these calculations, so there’s still got to be some merit to it.

The key to using a price-per-square-foot analysis is to follow specific guidelines.

How the Price Per Square Foot is Calculated

A home’s price per square foot is determined by dividing the subject property’s price by its square footage. For instance, a 1,500 square-foot-home that’s priced at $300,000 would have a price-per-square-foot calculation of $200 ($300,000 ÷ 1,500 s.f.). Calculating the price of a home can be done by multiplying the price per square foot by the home’s square footage.

Of course, this calculation on its own is very simplistic. Many issues can be raised by this simple calculation alone, as these numbers are subject to error. For instance, how accurate is the actual square footage of the home? How was this actually calculated? Was it even measured to ANSI standards, or was it done using old-school measuring tape?

No matter what method was used to calculate the subject home’s square footage, it needs to be very accurate. Not only that, it needs to be consistent with the method used to measure other comparable homes in the area. If not, one of the variables in the price-per-square-foot calculation could very well be highly inaccurate. Only after very precise numbers are obtained can the price-per-square-foot analysis work.

Follow the 10% Rule

A price-per-square-foot comparison method needs to stick to the 10% rule in order to be accurate. Basically, this rule involves ensuring that the improvements to the subject home along with the square footage of the land it sits on are within a 10% range of those of the subject property that is being evaluated. For instance, for a 1,500-square-foot home on a 5,000-square-foot lot, comparable sales should be based on homes within the 1,350 to 1,650-square-foot range (1,500 +/- 10%), and lot sizes must be within the 4,500 to 5,500-square-foot range range (5,000 +/- 10%).

Tread Lightly With Improvements

A home that’s been renovated from top to bottom in high-end materials is often assumed to be worth a lot more per square foot than a home that is in dire need of some TLC. While this is true to some degree, improvements might not necessarily have as much of an effect on the price-per-square-foot, depending on the buyer.

For instance, a home with brand new porcelain tiles might not be worth much to a buyer who has intentions of ripping it all out and replacing it with wide-plank oak hardwood flooring. In many circumstances, improvements do – and should – play a role in establishing an accurate price based on a price-per-square-foot analysis, but exceptions to the rule should be accounted for.

Any upgrades that have added useable square footage to a home will typically increase the value of the home. For instance, if a 2-bedroom, 1-bathroom house is converted into a 3-bedroom, 2-bathroom home, such improvements will usually increase the property’s value.

The Bottom Line

The price-per-square-foot analysis can certainly be helpful in coming up with a listing price for your home, but it should definitely not be the only method used. The key to accurate pricing is to use a comparative analysis of similar properties in the area that have sold no further back than two or three months. Actual sale prices are factual, and already involve all of the variables that need to be considered when coming up with an accurate listing price, including size, location, finishes, condition, and so forth.

There’s also something to be said about an in-depth knowledge of the local market, knowing what buyers in the area are looking for, and understanding buyer and seller motivation. The price-per-square-foot analysis only works with a solid understanding of the housing market of the area in question. Experienced real estate agents will be able to pair their knowledge of the market with comparables and a price-per-square-foot analysis to come up with the right price that will garner the most attention from interested buyers.

Interior designer discussing renovation ideas with happy couple at a meeting

8 Essential Items Your Home Renovation Contract Should Include

Interior designer discussing renovation ideas with happy couple at a meeting

It would be nice to be able to trust your contractor’s word when you’re having work done on your home, but a written contract really is the only way to go. Having everything in writing can ensure that every party involved fully and clearly understands what is expected of them. It keeps the job running smoothly and ensures that everyone agrees on what should be done and when.

A written contract with all pertinent details will also protect you should you ever have to seek compensation for a job that was not done as promised. Be sure that your contract includes all of the following elements before you sign on the dotted line.

1. Detailed Description of the Job

Before any contract becomes binding, make sure that it lists in detail all of the specific tasks involved in the project, the materials that will be required, and the associated costs with each.

The contract should also specify that the contractor will apply for and obtain all of the required building permits to legally and safely carry out all the tasks, and that all debris from the demolition will be disposed of appropriately. In addition, make sure the contract specifies that all workers involved are covered by liability and workman’s compensation insurance.

2. How Payments Will Be Made

Obviously, the contract should include the total price for the work involved. But it should also detail exactly when increment payments should be made, how much each payment should be, and how you should be paying the contractor. Usually, an initial deposit is required, which should not be any more than 10% of the entire cost of the project.

Then, further installments will be paid after each milestone has been reached, such as after the drywall has been installed, after the flooring has been laid, and after the kitchen cabinets have gone up. The last portion of the final payment should only be provided after the job has been fully completed to your discretion.

3. Start and End Dates of the Project

You’ll both want to know when the job will be started and roughly when it will be completed in order for you to fit it into your schedules. The end date shouldn’t exactly be written in stone to allow for certain unexpected circumstances; however, it shouldn’t be so far off the original completion date, either. Be sure that these dates are written into the contract.

4. How Changes to the Project Will Be Dealt With

It’s common for home renovation projects to encounter unforeseen situations that can warrant some changes to the original plan. It’s important to anticipate such scenarios, and have a plan in place on how to deal with them.

It should be noted that no changes should take place until the contractor has received written approval from you. Only then should a “change order” take place, which outlines what changes need to be made and any associated costs. 

5. Lien Waivers

Various workers who come onto your property to do work – including plumbers, electricians, drywall tapers, painters, etc – can claim that any work they did on your home was never paid for, even if your contractor did indeed receive payment for the work.

Having a “lien waiver” written into your contract for every installment payment made can protect you from these individuals placing a lien on your property. Every invoice for every payment made should include a signed statement proving that any payments you made to your contractor were in fact used to pay off all the workers involved.   

6. Written Notice of Your Right to Cancel Without Penalty

You may have entered a contract with a contractor to have certain work done on your home, but what if you change your mind at the last minute? What if something comes up that derails your plans for a home renovation?

Luckily, you can back out of your contract without any penalty within three business days of signing it. Having an “escape clause” included in the contact means you can cancel the deal within three days without losing your deposit.

7. Warranty

Having a warranty for all the work done in your home will provide you with reimbursement should something go wrong with the workmanship. Usually, these warranties are for no less than one year. Make sure the name and address of the person or company who will honor the warranty are included in the contract, along with the exact date that the warranty starts and ends. 

8. Signatures

This may sound obvious, but make sure both you and the contractor sign the contract. It won’t be legally binding without these signatures. 

The Bottom Line

Your contract is a crucial element to any home renovation job. It makes sure that each party holds up their ends of the bargain, and protects all parties involved, especially you. Make sure your contract includes all of these elements in order to protect you from any shady behavior from your contractor, and provide you with some recourse should you be defrauded in any way.

Halloween decorated front door with various size and shape pumpkins and skeletons

Unique Fall Decorating Ideas That Won’t Cost a Fortune

Halloween decorated front door with various size and shape pumpkins and skeletons

Once the kids are back in school and the long summer days began to grow shorter and shorter, homeowners begin thinking about fall. First comes the change in leaves that completely alters the landscape, followed soon after by Halloween. The next month brings Thanksgiving, which often involves visiting relatives. All of this activity usually inspires homeowners to invest in décor specific to the season.

However, redoing your house for one season can be expensive. You can add a few things, then store them the same way you store your Christmas decorations, but new welcome mats, centerpieces, and knickknacks can be expensive. Here are a few ideas that can add an autumnal touch to your home without stretching your budget to its limit.

Use Pumpkins

As fall begins, you’ll see stacks of pumpkins on sale everywhere. They’re available at the grocery store and local farmer’s markets, as well as at pumpkin patches on farms in rural areas. Traditionally, homeowners carved pumpkins for decorations but over time, people have come up with a variety of other creative ways to decorate with them. You can use them for your centerpieces, mantel decorations, or set them up on your front porch.

Go Grocery Shopping

Sometimes great decorations start with a visit to the produce section of your grocery store. Certain items have become synonymous with fall, making them ideal for jazzing up your home for parties and weekend visitors. You can get creative with apples or dried corncobs at minimal cost and create a unique look. You can also use squash, gourds, and red onions to create stunning displays.

Buy Hay Bales

You can stop by a local hardware store or farm supply for a couple of hay bales to spice up your outdoor décor. If you have farms nearby, you may even find hay bales for sale at a fraction of the price of what you’d pay at a hardware store. Check sites like Craigslist to see if someone in your area is offering hay bales for sale. There are a variety of ways you can decorate with hay bales, including stacking them and accenting them with other decorations or giving them a fun Halloween theme.

Decorate with Candy

Halloween has become known as a holiday that revolves around candy. You can go with that theme and use candy corn to spice up your centerpieces and other decorations. If you have kids around the house, they’ll likely have fun helping you with your DIY project, then feel a sense of accomplishment when the decorations are complete. Just make sure you buy extra candy corn to make up for the pieces you’ll consume while working on the project.

Bottom Line

One of the best things about these options is that they’re perishable, which means when the season is over, you’ll have nothing to store. With a little creativity, you can spice up your décor on a budget, impressing your friends and neighbors with your inventiveness. Best of all, you’ll have fun thinking of new ways to use everyday objects in your fall-themed decorating.