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What You Need to Know About Buying a Home This Winter

by Julie Schmit

Planning on buying in the off-season? Arm yourself with strategies from the pros.

Rainy open houses and icy walkways make shopping for a home in winter less of a thrill than in the busy spring and summer months. But there are some distinct advantages (as well as some downsides) to shopping in the off season. If you’re thinking of buying a home in the next few months, you’re probably wondering what to expect from this year’s winter real estate market. One thing is for sure: Taking your high-season strategies into a low-season game will not serve you well. Here’s what you need to know to adjust your thinking to this winter’s realities.

7 Essential Truths About the Winter Real Estate Market

 

1. It’s slim pickings out there.

There are fewer homes on the market in winter than at other times of the year. And in cities where winter means lots of snow and ice, the decrease is even more dramatic. In Denver, for instance, there are only about one-third as many homes for sale in winter as in spring or summer, says Denver real estate agent Jani Bielenberg of Bielenberg & Associates.

And this year, the inventory crunch is even worse. Home inventory is now at a post-recession low, down 9.1 percent nationally in the third quarter compared to a year ago, according to Trulia’s research. And this winter isn’t shaping up to break the trend, so buyers in many markets should be prepared for slimmer pickings. If you’re committed to buying this winter, it may be time to widen your idea of what your dream home looks like or which block it’s on.

2. But starter home buyers have a bit more to choose from.

For first-time buyers, though, the outlook in winter is sunnier. The inventory of less-expensive starter homes actually increases by about 7 percent in the last three months of the year compared to the spring, Trulia research shows. And the bump is widespread: 70 of the largest 100 metros see peak annual starter home inventory in the fourth quarter. That influx of homes for sale leads to listing prices that are about 4.8 percent lower in the first quarter of the year than in summer.

All of this can make winter a great time to shop for a starter home. But even with the seasonal bump, choices will be limited this year, when inventories are unusually low across all home types and the number of starter homes for sale is about 20 percent lower than at the same time last year.

“The takeaway here,” explains Ralph McLaughlin, Trulia’s head economist, “is that even though starter home inventory is now at the lowest count since we first started keeping track in 2012, starter home buyers should be able to find consolation at the end of the year.”

3. Open houses and bidding wars chill out for the season.

The upside of shopping in winter is that many would-be buyers call it quits till spring. That means less competition, a welcome reprieve for those disheartened by packed open houses and seemingly unwinnable bidding wars.

In Sacramento, for example, open houses this summer attracted 50 to 100 shoppers, and solid listings often received up to 10 offers, says agent Elizabeth Weintraub with Lyon Real Estate in Sacramento. In winter, that’ll drop to more like a dozen open-house shoppers and maybe two or three offers, maybe just one. There may even be time to visit a house more than once before making an offer, she says, which definitely wasn’t often the case this past summer.

To hit the market at its absolute slowest, aim for the weeks right around Christmas, when buyers more or less evaporate.

4. Sellers are ready to make a deal.

Many realtors advise their clients to wait until the spring and summer rush to sell. So homes that are on the market in winter often have motivated owners who cannot wait that long. These homes, especially those that failed to sell in the fall and are still on the market, may be ripe for a lowball offer.

“There is opportunity,” says Denver agent Bielenberg. Especially if you’re up for some renovation. Realtors sometimes encourage homeowners who haven’t updated homes in a while to put them on the market in winter, when they face less competition from snazzier homes. So, if you can look past oak cabinets, white tile counters, and worn carpets, you may find a home with good bones, fewer bidders, and a tempting price.

5. FHA buyers have a better shot at a winning bid.

With fewer shoppers in the market, prospects brighten for buyers with an FHA loan. These loans, backed by the Federal Housing Authority, have looser requirements than conventional loans, making them less appealing to home sellers who are getting all-cash offers or conventional loan buyers with big down payments. But with fewer winter bidders, home sellers often become more amenable to FHA buyers.

6. Home inspections may not tick every box.

In winter, home inspections may be more notable for what they don’t include than what they do. The air conditioning cannot be tested in cold weather, and snow may cover the roof. Also, are those trees just dormant or are they actually dead? Be aware of the gaps in the inspection and pay close attention to the age and type of the roof and air conditioner. If you’re concerned about the trees, an arborist can assess their health in any season of the year.

7. Interest rates are still stable, but some predict they’ll rise.

Interest rates shift more with economic conditions and policy decisions than with the seasons. And rates have been so stable, hovering around 4 percent all year, that “hardly anybody ever mentions them anymore,” says Lori Hicks, an agent with Hicks Elite Realty Professionals in Columbus, Ohio.

But don’t get too complacent. The Federal Reserve recently hinted at future increases, and the Mortgage Bankers Association has predicted that the Fed will raise rates in December and three times in 2018, though they also predict that 30-year-mortgage rates will remain below 5 percent throughout the year. It’s wise to watch this closely. If rates rise while you’re house-hunting, it can make a real difference in what you can afford.

The 9-to-5er's Guide to Keeping Your House Clean

by Steve Asbell

When it comes to cleaning your house, it's all about dividing and conquering.

If cleaning the house seems like one big chore, you’re probably doing it wrong. Before you put off cleaning for yet another month, here are some ways to make housework a comfortable and even enjoyable part of your daily routine.

Start small

If you begin and end each day with a little picking up, you’ll never get swamped with housework again. Keeping a clean house begins with good habits like making your bed every morning and cleaning the dishes while you cook. Nobody wants to navigate through a minefield of yesterday’s mess to make coffee, so never allow yourself to fall asleep with dirty dishes or a disheveled living room.

Before you leave for work in the morning, take one to two minutes to tidy up. That way, you can look forward to returning to a clean and stress-free house.

Enjoy yourself

Even the most reviled of household chores can be enjoyable if you have some headphones or a portable speaker. Truth be told, cleaning the house is a hidden source of me time that you’ll eventually learn to love.

For example, if you think vacuuming kind of sucks, listen to an energetic playlist of your favorite songs and sway to the music like nobody’s watching. If you haven’t had much time to read lately, listen to audiobooks and podcasts while you do the dishes. If you’re a parent and miss watching movies and shows without singing princesses, prop up your phone or tablet and use some wireless headphones to do a little binge-watching. Yay for chores!

Simplify your chore list

Rather than making a never-ending list of unattainable projects, break it up into manageable, bite-sized pieces.

Get a blank sheet of paper and make four columns: Daily, Weekly, Monthly and Yearly. Everyday chores like making the bed, picking up the house and doing the dishes can go in the Daily column. Chores like vacuuming and dusting can go in either the Weekly or Monthly column, depending on what’s realistic for your lifestyle. Reserve the Yearly column for big projects like cleaning the oven, shampooing the carpet and wiping down the fan blades.

Even if you fall behind on your chore list, seeing it all laid out on one page will reduce your anxiety and make procrastination a thing of the past.

Stock your cleaning caddy

Instead of using one caddy to store all your cleaning supplies, only fill it with what you’ll use on a weekly basis: spray bottles of all-purpose cleaner and window cleaner, paper towels, a rag, dusting cloth, scrub brush, heavy-duty sponge and an old toothbrush for hard-to-reach places.

To ensure that you’ll actually use the caddy, keep it in your bathroom so it’s easily accessible. Store specialty kitchen cleaning products (stainless steel and cooktop cleaners) in the kitchen, and keep big bottles of bleach, vinegar and floor cleaner in the garage. And of course, keep any cleaning products out of the reach of young children.

Multitask

Even though your sink is caked with toothpaste, soap scum and beard stubble, you still haven’t found the time to clean your bathroom lately. Well, fellow procrastinators, here’s a little secret: You can wipe the sink while you get ready in the morning! Keep a roll of paper towels underneath the sink so you can wipe the countertop and basin whenever you brush your teeth.

To keep the shower clean, fill a hollow dish scrubber with a mixture of half dish soap and half vinegar, keep it in the shower and scrub the tiles a little every time you shower.

To spot clean the kitchen floor and put off mopping another week, save any damp paper towels whenever you clean the kitchen counters. Before throwing them out, use them to clean up messes on the floor.

Aim for finished, not perfect

Nobody’s going to go over your cleaning job with a fine-tooth comb, so don’t bother sweating the small stuff. The goal is to make cleaning an attainable habit that fits in nicely with your busy lifestyle; worrying about not doing a good enough job will only make you procrastinate more.

Another problem is biting off more than you can chew. If mopping the whole house at once seems too daunting a task for one afternoon, settle for the kitchen floor for now. You can always move on to another room if you feel the urge.

5 Signs You Need to Upgrade Your Kitchen

by Luke Caldwell

Brighten it, expand it, organize it — whatever it needs, your kitchen is an update away from ideal.

Your kitchen is likely the most loved room in your home — and the wear and tear proves it. It’s the hangout for hungry teenagers, the conversation station during the holidays and the catch-up room after a busy workday.

A functional and appealing kitchen is important not only for your family but for your guests, too. After all, a delicious meal is only so appealing in a messy and cluttered kitchen.

Here are five signs that your kitchen may need an upgrade.

1. Outdated appliances

Perhaps they were there when you moved in, or maybe they came with you decades ago when you bought the home. Either way, outdated appliances are usually less attractive and drain more energy than newer models on the market.

Consider their safety, too. If you have to press a secret combination of buttons and chant a spell to light your range, it’s time to upgrade to newer, safer appliances.

When you do upgrade, consult a professional electrician to make sure everything is wired properly and up to code.

2. Damage and wear

Nobody expects your kitchen to stay in like-new condition forever, but damage beyond normal wear and tear needs addressing.

Water damage from a leaking fridge or dishwasher can cause mold on and underneath the flooring or peeling on the countertops, floors and walls, depending on the materials.

Cracked, peeling or chipped countertops and floors are prime spots for dangerous bacteria to reside — and hide from cleaning supplies. Even clean counters and floors with stains can cause your guests to think twice when they’re invited over a second time.

Upgrading to newer counters made from a durable material like granite is a good investment that can last practically a lifetime.

3. Not enough counter space

If your counters are covered with appliances, utensils and food, you need an upgrade. Ideally, your counters should always be clutter-free, and everything should have an easily accessible place.

Adding more counter space doesn’t have to mean tearing down walls and rehauling the layout. If your floor plan allows, installing an island is a great and relatively simple way to add counter space.

If it’s not the space but the clutter that’s the problem, larger cabinets or deeper drawers will increase storage so you can reclaim your counters.

4. You can’t find anything

Do you look forward to cooking or dread the time commitment? How much time is actually spent on food prep versus searching for the right utensils, appliances and dishware?

A disorganized kitchen makes it difficult to find anything, which can cause anxiety over cooking and render your kitchen useless. A fresh design and organization strategy is a worthy investment to get you eating in your own home again and enjoying the cooking process.

5. Your house won’t sell

Saving for your new home is often the priority when moving. But upgrading your current kitchen before you go is an investment that may very well pay for itself.

Home shoppers often gravitate first toward the kitchen. So, if you’ve been having trouble selling your home and the kitchen’s outdated — that could be the reason.

Buyers are usually more interested in move-in ready homes that require little or no remodeling. A more appealing, upgraded kitchen can be a motivating factor for buyers, hopefully resulting in less time on the market and a better selling price.

 

Make the necessary upgrades when the time comes, and your kitchen will reclaim its rightful place as the heart of the home.

8 Home Repairs That Are Not a Landlord’s Job

by Dahna M Chandler

Put that phone down—these fixes are on you, not your landlord.

Renting is the life … you’re not tied down, and there are no repairs to worry about, right? Well, sort of. While your landlord is expected to handle many fixes, there are others that are on you.

Your lease will often define exactly when and how you should make any repairs. When in doubt, pull out the paperwork. The general rule of thumb is that renters are responsible for repairing any damage that they cause themselves. So if you want to remain on peaceful terms with your landlord, don’t be that renter who calls for help changing a lightbulb.

 

8 Maintenance Issues Renters Are Responsible For

 

    1. Flea extermination—even if you pay a pet fee

    Your pet fee isn’t pet maintenance insurance. Your landlord is responsible for eliminating bugs like roaches and ants, but “not a problem you brought with you,” says Mindy Jensen, community manager and podcast coordinator at Bigger Pockets. Keep anti-flea products in your rental (and on your dog!) to take care of this problem.

    2. Carpet stains or floor scratches beyond normal wear and tear

    Your landlord expects to repair or replace floors every few years because of regular, everyday use. But if your definition of “everyday use” includes wearing cleats on the carpet and bowling in the kitchen, you should be prepared to fix the floors yourself. Don’t ask your landlord to clean stains from spills, your pets, bleach, or nail polish.

    3. Damage to walls or ceilings

    It’s one thing to request a paint job after you’ve lived in a place for several years. But landlords don’t have to repair holes you made or repaint to eliminate the cigarette smell after your roommate with a pack-a-day habit moves out. And for major repairs, you should both pay for the work and fess up. Tell your landlord what happened and explain that you’ll rectify the situation with professionals.

    4. Broken appliances you’ve misused

    If you tend to close the dishwasher with your foot, sooner or later it’s going to break. And your landlord won’t be keen to replace it. “Don’t expect the landlord to repair appliances you’ve misused,” Jensen says. Misuse also includes things like using the wrong type of detergent in a front-loading washer and putting chicken bones or peach pits into the garbage disposal.

    5. Locks or windows you broke when you’d lost your keys

    It’s true that the law requires your landlord to maintain security by replacing broken locks or windows. But if you’re the one who breaks ’em, you’ll be the one paying for ’em. “The landlord is not responsible for your losing or forgetting your keys,” says Jensen. So next time you get locked out, take the time to call a locksmith or building maintenance, or leave a spare key with a trusted friend or neighbor.

    6. Clogged drains

    Some clogs are unavoidable or caused by defective plumbing. But when you’ve used your bathtub as a haircut staging area or have gotten overzealous with the toilet paper, that clog’s yours to solve.

    To avoid trouble, never use your toilet to toss out kitty’s litter, paper towels, or dental floss. And if you live with kids or invite them over, keep the lid down—you never know what they’ll throw in there. Learn how to use a plunger and liquid drain cleaner, and keep both handy. Otherwise, be prepared to pay a pricey plumber’s bill.

    7. A furnace that’s on the fritz because you didn’t change the filters

    A basic filter costs less than $10. Changing it out a few times a year is far cheaper and easier than insisting your landlord send over an HVAC pro to tune up or fix your system. If a pro comes over to fix a failed furnace or air conditioner and finds an ancient, clogged filter, they’re going to know right away what caused the problem. Avoid that disaster by doing routine removable filter maintenance yourself.

    8. Accidental water damage

    Landlords are definitely responsible for repairing flood damage after a major rain storm or a random pipe failure. But don’t expect the landlord to fix the water damage when you’ve left the bathtub running, used the wrong soap in the dishwasher, or repeatedly flushed the clogged toilet till it overflowed. When it comes to flooding, the culprit is typically pretty clear: If it wasn’t Mother Nature, it was probably you.

9 Signs It's Time to Update Your Bathroom

by Becca Milfeld

If a bad layout, poor lighting and leaky fixtures are getting in the way, it might be time for some changes.

A bathroom should be a place of comfort — the optimal environment for a relaxing soak or getting ready efficiently during a harried morning.

“You’re going to spend time in there every day,” says Sarah Hurd, part of the mother-daughter team behind Short Story Renovations, a Baltimore-area design, rehab and staging company. “You should not hate your bathroom.”

If a bad layout, poor lighting and leaky fixtures are getting in the way, it might be time for some changes.

Here are nine signs that your bathroom could use a little work.

1. Not photogenic

“It’s weird how you can see in a picture what you can’t see anymore with your own eyes,” says Angela Hurd of Short Story Renovations.

The fix: She and her daughter, Sarah, recommend that clients take a photograph of their bathroom to get a better sense of what they might not otherwise notice. People can become blind to the discord — from a mismatched color palette to accumulated junk on the vanity counter, she says.

2. Outdated colors

Funky hues can be one of the most noticeable signs that a bathroom is out of date.

The fix: White, gray and black palettes will lend an element of ageless beauty to any space, says Michael Merschat, an architect with high-end residential design-build firm Wentworth Inc. of Chevy Chase, MD.

People are coming back to “that white, timeless look, be it a very modern-style white or something with a little more traditional flare,” he says.

Crisp, neutral palettes can lend calm sophistication to any bathroom. Photo from Zillow listing.

3. Smells like a bathroom

“With some bathrooms, you walk in and they just have an old bathroom smell,” Sarah Hurd notes. It’s another indication that it’s time for a renovation.

The fix: Replacing a toilet’s wax seal, fixing a persistent, mold-causing sink leak, or adding better ventilation to a windowless bathroom can all be sure fixes for a fresher-smelling experience.

4. Bad layout

Awkward bathroom layout is another indication that it’s time for an update. Odd arrangements, such as a toilet directly next to the bathtub, are typical in bungalows and houses built in the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s, when plumbing was a new phenomenon.

The fix: Installing a separate water closet can be a winning move, Merschat says. “It gives a nice bit of refinement to the room when the toilet isn’t sitting out in the middle of the space.”

An outside-the-box arrangement can refine an otherwise predictable space. Photo from Zillow listing.

5. Leaks

When brown water stains appear on the ceiling below the bathroom, it’s definitely time to make repairs and update.

The fix: Take the opportunity to put in modern fixtures that conserve water and speak to your style, Merschat advises.

6. Poor lighting

“If you’re either blinded by the lights that are overhead, or it’s so dim you can barely see yourself in the mirror, that’s a problem,” says Sarah Hurd.

The fix: Better light fixtures and brighter light bulbs may be the first step on your path to a bathroom redo.

New light fixtures easily brighten and modernize the space. Photo from Zillow listing.

7. Stylistic relics

If you have wallpaper or popcorn ceilings still hanging around from decades past, your bathroom is due for an update.

The fix: Wallpaper is making a comeback, so think about using it in a new way. “We’ve actually redone powder rooms where we’ve put wallpaper on the ceiling to give it a different pop,” Merschat says.

8. Low on storage

Can’t store all the things you need in the bathroom? This calls for action.

The fix: Install a larger vanity, or add shelves above the toilet. You could even knock out a wall and steal a little space from another room to create a linen closet.

Install a new vanity with broadened storage options, like open shelving. Photo from Zillow listing.

9. Time to sell

If you’re not interested in fixing up your bathroom for yourself, do it for your home’s next tenants.

The fix: A fancy new washroom can add just the right panache to spur potential buyers to action. “Redoing a bathroom that’s just an eyesore within the house might make a huge difference,” Merschat says.

If you’re ready to renovate, start thinking about the look you want for your new bathroom. At Short Story Renovations, the Hurds use Pinterest to share ideas with their clients.

“[We] start a board that all of us can put stuff on,” Angela Hurd explains. “That way [our clients aren’t] in the dark about what we’re trying to do.” This practice helps everyone involved get a feel for one look and stick with it.

Do You Really Need to Rake?

by Steve Asbell

Your fall chore list might be lighter than you think. Check out these 8 steps for autumn yard cleanup.

Bad news: It’s time to get your act together and clean up your garden before winter makes the task more difficult. But the good news is, fall garden chores don’t have to be a pain. You might find you enjoy picking up branches or raking leaves in the brisk autumn air.

Whether you love or hate fall chores, here is a checklist of tasks and ways to make them easier.

Make a compost bin

Composting sounds like a lot of hard work, but it’s actually a perfect solution for lazy gardeners. Have a bunch of weeds, grass clippings and branches to get rid of? Don’t bother bagging it up and hauling it to the curb — just throw it in a pile and mix it up every month or so. Then surround the pile with landscape timbers or chicken wire to keep everything from blowing all over the place.

While you can make composting as complicated as you want, it doesn’t have to be.

 Rake leaves — or don’t

That’s right, raking the leaves isn’t always necessary. But before you proudly share this news with your significant other to try getting out of your chores, here’s the full story.

shutterstock_232950250

Leaves in the front lawn are not desirable, especially when they blow into neighboring lawns. Leaves in the garden, on the other hand, are totally desirable, and act as free mulch to protect roots and conserve moisture.

Another caveat: The soil around rose bushes and other plants that are sensitive to diseases like powdery mildew should be kept clean to prevent infection.

Collect fallen debris

We’ve all had a so-called ‘trash tree’ at some point. You know, the Bradford pear that drops branches at the drop of a hat — or the Osage orange that bombs unsuspecting passersby with rock-hard fruits.

If you’re one of the unfortunate souls with a messy tree, now is the time to collect all that debris for the year. Collect sticks and twigs, too, but once you’ve gathered them, leave them in the garden to serve as perches and homes for wildlife.

Mow the lawn

Cut the grass one last time, and mow it short to prevent diseases from spreading. Collect the grass clippings and add them to your compost pile.

Now is also a good time to complete your edging and string-trimming chores.

When you’re done mowing, winterize your mower and other outdoor power tools by draining the gasoline so it doesn’t become stale and gunk up your equipment for next year.shutterstock_203668357

Prune damaged branches

Fall is about using the anvil pruners rather than the hedge trimmers. Prune out any branches that are diseased, damaged or dead so they won’t succumb to winds or the weight of snow and ice.

If any arm-width branches meet those criteria, use a saw. If any large limbs or trees look as if they’ll break when loaded with ice, call a tree surgeon.

Look at it this way: If there’s anything that you think might fall to the ground on its own accord over the winter, remove it now.

Pull weeds

The last thing you want is a bunch of weeds spreading their seeds and taking over your garden in spring. Pull weeds on a pleasant day when it’s above freezing and the soil is a little moist so the weeds will come up more easily.

Since weeds have a tendency to shed their progeny all over the place, throw them on the compost pile or put them in trash bags.

Collect dead leaves

When cleaning and picking up indoors, you’d ideally leave things spotless. This is not the case in the garden, however, since seedpods, flowerheads and fruits add winter interest and provide food and shelter for wildlife.

Still, any dead leaves or other less-useful debris can be collected and composted.

Mulch beds

Mulching isn’t necessarily a cleanup task, but it is necessary nonetheless because it protects the plants’ roots over the winter and conserves moisture.

All of those raked leaves you saved will make an excellent mulch for your flowerbeds, or you can purchase the bagged stuff. Use a 1-  to 2-inch-deep layer of mulch, and resist the temptation to use landscaping fabric. Doing so might prevent weeds, but it will also prevent the soil around your plants from accessing rainfall or beneficial organisms.

Know Your Renters’ Rights? Your Landlord May Be Breaking the Law

by Laura Agadoni

The best way to protect yourself from an unscrupulous landlord is to know your rights.

From frustrating nonrefundable deposits to shady lease agreements, some landlords out there just won’t adhere to the letter of the law. But the line between legal and illegal is blurry due to landlord-tenant laws that differ from state to state. If you’re renting in Austin, TX, for example, state law doesn’t control how much landlords can charge for a security deposit. California tenant laws limit security deposits to two months’ rent for an unfurnished apartment. The best defense tenants have is knowing the local laws.

Remember: If you do encounter any of these warning signs, screening your landlord could give you peace of mind—or help you decide if you’d be better off looking for somewhere else to live.

Signs Your Landlord Could Be Breaking the Law

  1. 1. Your landlord won’t let you see a certificate of occupancy.

    Some rentals require property owners to have a certificate of occupancy (CO), but in certain circumstances—like when you’re renting a condo—you’re probably safe to assume your new home is covered by one. Likewise, if you’re renting an entire single-family house, the landlord typically won’t be required to apply for a CO. If you’re considering renting a basement, attic, or garage apartment, you should make sure it’s a legal dwelling before you sign a lease. If there’s only one exit or if the wiring is faulty, those are signs of a fire hazard. If the apartment appears as if it might not be up to code, that could mean it isn’t safe, or legal.

  2. 2. Your landlord asks if you were born in another country.

    According to the Fair Housing Act, landlords can’t legally ask about your national origin, whether you have children, if you have a girlfriend (or boyfriend), and many other questions that suggest ulterior motives. “Denying applications for discriminatory reasons, such as race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, or disability, is illegal,” says Shaolaine Loving, a Las Vegas, NV, landlord-tenant attorney.

    So if your landlord asks whether you’d like directions to the nearest synagogue, you don’t have to answer. In fact, if a landlord were to ask you an unsuitable question and then deny your application, you’d have the right to file a housing-discrimination complaint. While landlords do have the right to screen tenants, their decision to rent should be based solely on an applicant’s credit history, income, rental history, and a criminal background check. Some optional screening guidelines are permitted, such as no smokers or no pets. (Landlords must allow service animals, however, as long as the applicant can prove the animal’s service status.)

  3. 3. You’re expected to pay a non-refundable deposit.

    The term “non-refundable deposit” for a rental is a red flag. Why? A deposit is always refundable unless there are reasons not to refund it. For example, a pet deposit is refundable if there is no pet damage when the tenant moves out. What might not be refundable is a fee. Some landlords might charge a move-in, cleaning, or pet fee. In those cases, tenants should check the laws of their state to find out if local laws allow for fees in addition to the security deposit.

  4. 4. The security deposit is expensive.

    Most landlords charge a security deposit before a tenant moves in, and this is perfectly legal in all states. The security deposit is a way for a landlord to cover any destruction that might occur during the tenant’s stay. But landlords are often limited in how much of a security deposit they’re allowed to charge. Las Vegas landlord-tenant attorney Loving says it’s illegal to charge more than three months’ rent for a security deposit in Nevada, for example. Other states limit the amount that a landlord can charge to one month’s rent, and some states have no limits whatsoever. If your state doesn’t limit the amount a landlord can charge, shop around to determine what other landlords in the area are charging—before you hand over too much of your cash upfront.

  5. 5. The terms of the lease don’t sound right.

    You should try to understand everything in the lease. If there’s tricky language, get an explanation from your landlord. Even if the lease agreement looks like a standard template, reading through and double checking for illegal terms and conditions is important. “Any lease terms contrary to the law, like saying a tenant waives the right to sue or has to pay the landlord’s attorney fees in the event of any dispute [is wrongful],” says Loving.

  6. 6. Your landlord comes by unannounced.

    Beware of the landlord who says he will stop by often and unexpectedly to look at your rental. Under no circumstances (barring an emergency) can landlords use their keys to enter whenever they like. When you become a tenant, you have a right to privacy. Before you sign, scan your lease for a privacy policy and voice any concerns. Landlords can typically only enter the rental unit after they’ve given notice, which is usually 24 hours (except in the case of an emergency). Typical reasons include the following:

        • To make repairs.
        •  
        • To show the unit to prospective renters or buyers.
        •  
        • To make a routine inspection (commonly annually, semiannually, or quarterly).
  7. 7. Your landlord raises the rent in the middle of your lease.

    Raising the rent is not illegal … if it’s done at the right time. Unfortunately, an unscrupulous landlord might try to increase your lease in an unlawful way. If you have a signed lease, your landlord can’t raise the rent until your original lease expires. And if you live in a rent-controlled unit or are a Section 8 tenant, your landlord has further limitations on how much rent can be raised. Otherwise, landlords can raise the rent as much as they like.

  8. 8. Your landlord wants to sell (and wants you out immediately).

    Property owners can sell their own property at any time, even with renters in place. But they can’t simply kick out their tenants whenever they like, even if they’re selling the property. The landlord must give proper notice. Unless there’s an early-termination clause in your lease that allows your landlord to break that lease early, you have the right to live out the lease in the unit.

How to Brighten a Dark Home

by Steve Asbell

Dreading the end of Daylight Saving Time? Trick your way into a brighter space — even when the natural light prospects are dim.

Whether you live in a large home with a dark interior or a small apartment with only one window, follow these tips to bring in more sunshine — or at least make it look that way.

Paint it light and bright

Colors and values are nothing more than the light that reaches our eyes after bouncing off objects.

The amazing thing about white is that it reflects most of the light that hits its surface, creating the illusion of light. Case in point: that glowing ball in the sky we call the moon.

Paint colors that are saturated yet light in value create a similar effect, while lending their own distinctive personalities to a space.

Photo from Zillow listing.

Keep the contrast

A kitchen with white cabinets, countertops, walls and backsplashes is about as bright as it gets, yet the lack of variety can leave the overall effect a bit dull.

To keep things interesting, introduce contrast. Choose accessories, cookware and decorations in your favorite color, or even decide on an entire palette.

Sneak in some style and personality with a colorful mosaic backsplash, or add drama to the scene with dark furniture, picture frames or patterns.

Photo from Zillow listing.

Strategically place mirrors

Mirrors cannot make a room look brighter on their own, though there is some truth to the mirror myth, since they’re excellent at reflecting natural light in rooms that already receive it.

Photo from Zillow listing.

Don’t expect to get the same effect in dim hallways and bathrooms, though, since it does no good to duplicate a dim view. So, go ahead — replace those huge panels of mirrored glass in your bathroom with more attractive framed mirrors. You won’t miss out after all.

Install new windows

Yes, installing an entire window or two is the nuclear option, but if your home is so dim that you’re forced to keep the lights on all day, then it could be taking a toll on your utility bills — or even your mental well-being!

This isn’t a decision to take lightly (no pun intended), so talk to a contractor to discuss options and pricing before you break out that sledgehammer. You might be better off installing a skylight or light tubes.

Photo from Zillow listing.

Eliminate glare

Sometimes the problem isn’t the amount of light, but rather the quality. Overhead lights can brighten up a room, but the effect is harsh as high-noon sunlight.

Instead, you want the diffuse, indirect light of early morning. Place lights near the walls, and place LED strips under cabinets to cover the wall in a soft glow. Be sure to include task lighting wherever it’s needed most, such as the home office or wherever you need to read and work.

Rethink window treatments

If your curtains cover up too much of the window, replace them with something less obstructive. Sheer and semisheer window treatments let in plenty of light, without sacrificing privacy during the day.

Photo from Zillow listing.

If you’re tired of pulling up the Venetian blinds or plantation shutters every day, replace them with blackout window treatments you can open all the way during the day and close at night.

Brighten the view outside

Maybe you’re too busy focusing on the indoors to see the forest for the trees. But all those trees and overgrown foundation shrubs can block natural light from reaching the house, so cut those bushes and trim those tree limbs. If necessary, call an arborist.

Also, use plants with variegated or silver leaves in your landscape to reflect light indoors, and consider renovating your patio and paving it with something brighter.

 

Replace doors

Doors present a great opportunity to let in more light, improve the view from inside and make the entry more welcoming.

Since your front door is a reflection of your home’s personality, as well as your own, pick a style that’s appropriate to the architecture. If you’re concerned about privacy, choose one with stained glass or small windows at the top. Even a small amount of natural light will make a huge difference.

Photo from Zillow listing.

Clean windows

It ought to be obvious, but when was the last time you cleaned all your home’s windows, both inside and out?

To avoid streaks on outdoor surfaces, don’t bother with the window cleaner and paper towels. Wash the windows with a sponge and mildly soapy water (dish soap will do), wipe dry with a squeegee, and finish them off with a soft chamois.

9 Updates Your Home Needs Every 10 Years

by See Jane Drill

Approaching your 10th home-iversary? Congrats! It's probably time for a little maintenance.

No matter how much you love and care for your home, things are bound to wear out and need fixing — especially when you hit the 10-year mark.

To keep your house in tiptop condition, consider making these updates every 10 years or so.

Get new carpet

The average medium-grade carpet has a life expectancy of approximately 10 years. Of course, that depends on several factors, including the number of people and pets.

Signs that you need to replace your carpet: rips, tears or stains, and odors that remain even after a good cleaning. And even without any of those, you carpet might just look old and worn out. An update wouldn’t hurt.

Replace hot water tank

water heater may not show many symptoms before it leaks or fails, so it’s important to know its age. If the manufacture date isn’t shown, then it may be embedded in the serial number on the tank.

A good rule of thumb: Any tank that’s been around for 10 years or more is a candidate for replacement.

Update ceiling fans

A midrange ceiling fan should last about 10 years, if it’s running frequently. A common sign that it might be time for a new one: the lightbulbs seem to burn out more quickly than usual.

And since a ceiling fan is about style as well as function, you may just want a more modern model.

Buy a new dishwasher

Like your water heater, consider replacing your dishwasher if it’s 10 years old. You’ll likely get a more energy-efficient model that’ll pay for itself over time.

Signs that you should replace your dishwasher sooner rather than later are an unresponsive control board, poorly cleaned dishes and cracks in the tub.

Replace garbage disposal

You’ll know you need a new garbage disposal when it doesn’t work as well as it used to. This is because the blades dull over time.

The average garbage disposal should last about 10-12 years with regular use, so if yours is around that age, consider replacing it.

Replace washer and dryer

The average lifespan of both appliances is about eight years. So, if your set is 10+ years old and running without any issues, consider yourself fortunate! That said, think about replacing them before you have any real problems or leaks.

Repaint inside and outside

There’s no hard and fast rule about when to repaint your home. It depends on where you live, humidity and many other factors.

People often repaint certain areas, such as a heavily used living room, every three to five years. But if some areas of the home haven’t been repainted in 10 years or more, now’s definitely the time to do it.

Re-caulk showers, bathtubs and sinks

Few jobs offer as much bang for your buck as re-caulking. Whether you just haven’t gotten around to it yet or you’re moving into a 10-year-old home, go ahead and re-caulk the tub, shower and sinks. You can easily do this yourself, and it makes everything look so much brighter.

Re-glaze windows

Re-glazing old windows is easier and more cost-effective than replacing them. And generally speaking, re-glazing should be done about every 10 years or so.

But check your windows every year before the cold weather arrives to make sure you don’t have any leaks or cracks.

8 Home Repairs That Are Not a Landlord’s Job

by Dahna M Chandler

Put that phone down—these fixes are on you, not your landlord.

Renting is the life … you’re not tied down, and there are no repairs to worry about, right? Well, sort of. While your landlord is expected to handle many fixes, there are others that are on you.

Your lease will often define exactly when and how you should make any repairs. When in doubt, pull out the paperwork. The general rule of thumb is that renters are responsible for repairing any damage that they cause themselves. So if you want to remain on peaceful terms with your landlord, don’t be that renter who calls for help changing a lightbulb.

 

8 Maintenance Issues Renters Are Responsible For

 

    1. Flea extermination—even if you pay a pet fee

    Your pet fee isn’t pet maintenance insurance. Your landlord is responsible for eliminating bugs like roaches and ants, but “not a problem you brought with you,” says Mindy Jensen, community manager and podcast coordinator at Bigger Pockets. Keep anti-flea products in your rental (and on your dog!) to take care of this problem.

    2. Carpet stains or floor scratches beyond normal wear and tear

    Your landlord expects to repair or replace floors every few years because of regular, everyday use. But if your definition of “everyday use” includes wearing cleats on the carpet and bowling in the kitchen, you should be prepared to fix the floors yourself. Don’t ask your landlord to clean stains from spills, your pets, bleach, or nail polish.

    3. Damage to walls or ceilings

    It’s one thing to request a paint job after you’ve lived in a place for several years. But landlords don’t have to repair holes you made or repaint to eliminate the cigarette smell after your roommate with a pack-a-day habit moves out. And for major repairs, you should both pay for the work and fess up. Tell your landlord what happened and explain that you’ll rectify the situation with professionals.

    4. Broken appliances you’ve misused

    If you tend to close the dishwasher with your foot, sooner or later it’s going to break. And your landlord won’t be keen to replace it. “Don’t expect the landlord to repair appliances you’ve misused,” Jensen says. Misuse also includes things like using the wrong type of detergent in a front-loading washer and putting chicken bones or peach pits into the garbage disposal.

    5. Locks or windows you broke when you’d lost your keys

    It’s true that the law requires your landlord to maintain security by replacing broken locks or windows. But if you’re the one who breaks ’em, you’ll be the one paying for ’em. “The landlord is not responsible for your losing or forgetting your keys,” says Jensen. So next time you get locked out, take the time to call a locksmith or building maintenance, or leave a spare key with a trusted friend or neighbor.

    6. Clogged drains

    Some clogs are unavoidable or caused by defective plumbing. But when you’ve used your bathtub as a haircut staging area or have gotten overzealous with the toilet paper, that clog’s yours to solve.

    To avoid trouble, never use your toilet to toss out kitty’s litter, paper towels, or dental floss. And if you live with kids or invite them over, keep the lid down—you never know what they’ll throw in there. Learn how to use a plunger and liquid drain cleaner, and keep both handy. Otherwise, be prepared to pay a pricey plumber’s bill.

    7. A furnace that’s on the fritz because you didn’t change the filters

    A basic filter costs less than $10. Changing it out a few times a year is far cheaper and easier than insisting your landlord send over an HVAC pro to tune up or fix your system. If a pro comes over to fix a failed furnace or air conditioner and finds an ancient, clogged filter, they’re going to know right away what caused the problem. Avoid that disaster by doing routine removable filter maintenance yourself.

    8. Accidental water damage

    Landlords are definitely responsible for repairing flood damage after a major rain storm or a random pipe failure. But don’t expect the landlord to fix the water damage when you’ve left the bathtub running, used the wrong soap in the dishwasher, or repeatedly flushed the clogged toilet till it overflowed. When it comes to flooding, the culprit is typically pretty clear: If it wasn’t Mother Nature, it was probably you.

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Photo of The Courtney Orlando Group Real Estate
The Courtney Orlando Group
Keller Williams Towne Square Realty
222 Mount Airy Road
Basking Ridge NJ 07920
732.921.1825 (Direct)
908.766.0085 (Office)
Fax: Dillon: 732-803-2522