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‘I Want to Buy a House’: A Guide to Taking the Real Estate Plunge

Maybe you’re renting in an overpriced neighborhood and are sick of writing a huge rent check. Maybe you’re living in a yurt and miss having normal walls. Wherever you wake up, the same thought runs through your head every morning: “I want to buy a house!” But perhaps that want hasn’t yet translated into how to actually go about buying a house. That’s where this handy checklist on preparing to buy a home comes in.

Step No. 1: Boost your credit score

What do these three numbers have to do with buying a home? Well, pretty much everything. Your credit or FICO score—which reflects how dependable you are at paying bills—directly affects the interest rate on your mortgage and the amount of your monthly payments.

Most lenders require a minimum score of 620 for a mortgage (the U.S. average is 687), so you’ll want to do everything to lift your number before applying for a mortgage. The things that drag down the score include carrying an excess of debt, missing bill payments, or applying for too much credit. So can plain old mistakes.

“If you find out there are items on your credit history that you think are incorrect, immediately start working with someone to mitigate these issues and contact all three of the largest credit-reporting agencies directly,” says Joshua Arcus, president of Siderow Residential Group. These agencies are Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.

Step No. 2: Save, save, save

A home is almost certainly the biggest purchase you’ll ever make, and it’s a good idea to have a decent financial cushion for everything from a down payment to closing costs.

“Save money any way you can and, whatever you do, don’t buy things you can’t afford,” says Los Angeles Realtor® Jacqueline Gunn. And put off any big purchases or anything with a recurring payment—like that sexy new sports car—until after you buy a house.

“You need to show your expenses are low to afford more home,” she says.

Step No. 3: Figure out your budget

Think carefully about your entire budget—from student loans to groceries to your monthly Netflix subscription—when considering buying a home.

“It’s not only a mortgage payment you’ll be responsible for; it’s also homeowners insurance, repairs, and upkeep as well as real estate taxes,” says Naomi Hattaway of 8th & Home Real Estate. Add up every last expense to determine what maximum monthly output you can swing without stress.

Step No. 4: Find a good lender

You need to know exactly how much purchasing power you have to determine the top home price you can afford. To figure that out, you’ll need to find a mortgage broker. Take the time to interview three or four lenders. Talk to both local banks and credit unions, as well as national financial institutions.

“The interest rate shouldn’t be the only criteria when it comes to choosing a mortgage provider,” says Jill Frank, a Realtor at Coldwell Banker Success. “Ask about fees, other services that are included, and ongoing customer service.”

Choose a lender that makes you feel comfortable, answers your questions, and takes time to educate you on the process of getting financially ready to purchase a home. This may include paying off debt, establishing a work history, and gathering documents.

Step No. 5: Get pre-approved

After you choose a lender, make sure you get pre-approved, not just pre-qualified—that’s a big difference that could mean an offer being accepted or not.

“Being pre-qualified means you’ve only discussed your finances with a broker,” says Gunn. “No one has actually reviewed your financials.”

Pre-approval means your mortgage broker knows concretely you can afford a home based on the financials you’ve provided.

Step No. 6: Scout neighborhoods

Look at properties in great resale areas with good schools, parks, and transportation. Make sure to also drive around the areas in the evenings and weekends to get a complete picture of what the neighborhood is like. Once you’ve identified an area where you’d like to buy, get to know the local real estate market. Search online for homes in the area to see if the asking prices are within your price range.

Step No. 7: Work with a great Realtor

The next step is to find a licensed Realtor. Ask friends and relatives to recommend people they have worked with previously, or research agents online. Meet with a few until you find someone who really understands what you’re looking for. The real estate professional you pick should understand what homes will fit with your budget, lifestyle, and priorities.

Step No. 8: Start looking at homes

If you’ve made it through Steps 1 through 7, congrats! Now it’s time to let the fun begin by actually getting out and looking at potential homes. In addition to looking online, go to as many open houses as possible.

“When you see something you like, ask your agent to help you find comparable houses in the area to help determine if the home is priced appropriately,” says Gunn.


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6 Costly Mistakes First-Time House Flippers Make

When you’re flipping a house, time is money. And you don’t have time to make a lot of rookie mistakes.

That’s what Steve Cederquist learned when he first began renovating and flipping properties in 1994.

“I bought a house with a bad foundation and lost $30,000 on the deal,” says Cederquist, a general contractor who’s now a veteran house flipper and president of Cornerstone Property Services in Huntington Beach, CA. “I didn’t think I’d have to do much to a 1,200-square-foot house. But it cost me a ton of money.”

No house flipper is born wise. So we talked to several pros who outlined mistakes newbie flippers often make. Avoid these pitfalls to ensure your profits come out on top.

Mistake No. 1: Not getting a home inspection

This one’s a biggie. Even if you plan on making major changes to the house, you still need an inspection. Of course, if you’re going to tear down the whole thing, there’s no need for one. But house flipping usually involves making cosmetic changes—maybe opening a wall or remodeling a bathroom. It’s a makeover—not a complete rebuild. So you need to get it checked out before you buy.

“Never buy as is,” Cederquist says. “I can’t tell you the number of times people lose everything because they don’t do the safest thing: getting a home inspection.”

Inspections can turn up all kinds of problems. Some issues, like cabinet doors that don’t close properly, you won’t care about if you’re planning to rip and replace the kitchen anyway. Others, such as a cracked foundation, can cost you dearly.

At the very least, an inspection can identify problems you can use to bargain down the price. Every dollar counts toward your bottom line; whatever money you save on the purchase price will help you turn a profit when you flip.

Mistake No. 2: Overestimating your renovation skills

Every dollar saved on labor is a dollar you earn when you flip a house. But all too often flippers think they’re better plumbers, drywall hangers, and carpenters than they really are.

“This ends up being a major drain of time and resources, because you must redo work and spend twice the amount of money fixing it,” says Allen Shayanfekr, co-founder and CEO of Sharestates, an online crowdfunding platform for real estate financing.

There’s a simple answer to your DIY delusions of grandeur, Shayanfekr says: “Consult an expert prior to undertaking any major project.”

And make sure to ask for an estimate in writing. That way you’ll know what you’ll have to spend to make the house attractive to buyers.

Mistake No. 3: Underestimating total costs

Inexperienced flippers often add the purchase price to renovation costs and figure the sum is their break-even point. If only.

But the true cost of your flipping adventure involves much more. Think: state and federal taxes on profits, real estate commissions, title searches, transfer taxes, inspection and appraisal costs, and a bunch of other fees that show up at closing when you buy, and again when you sell your property.

Do yourself a favor and thoroughly research the total cost of your project (don’t forget permit fees, which can be substantial) and then add a cushion—10% to 15% is customary.

“Be prepared to pay over your expected fees when coming to the closing table,” Shayanfekr says. “Better safe than sorry.”

Mistake No. 4: Being a jerk

Even if you’re determined to do this on your own—you’re a whiz at mitering crown molding, after all—successful flipping requires some level of interaction with others. You’ll need to build a trusted team of craftsmen, suppliers, lenders, and real estate professionals that you can call on time after time.

Not only do you need to find people you can depend on to get the job done quickly and on budget, but your teammates must also be able to trust you to treat them with respect, pay on time, and not make their lives a living hell by changing your mind repeatedly.

“People want to do business with others they like and trust,” says Cody Sperber, who has flipped more than 1,000 properties in 15 years and has started a mentoring program called Clever Investor, based in Tempe, AZ. “So many deals have materialized because I listened and was empathetic. Not because I was shrewd and smart.”

Mistake No. 5: Jumping the gun

Some flippers put a “For Sale” sign on the property before completing renovations, hoping a buyer will be able to envision how gorgeous the house ultimately will be.

That’s a big mistake, says Bill Golden, an Atlanta-area real estate agent.

“Many people think they can get a jump on things by getting folks interested before it’s done, causing multiple issues,” Golden says. “Many people don’t have vision and can’t really see how things will look once they’re done. Also, missing molding, trim, and other details that may seem minor to you can reflect poorly on what the buyer perceives the quality of the renovation to be.”

Don’t list the project until it’s move-in ready. It will save time in the long run, because potential buyers won’t nag you about missing finishes you already plan to include.

Mistake No. 6: Designing a flip like you’re going to live there

Flipper rule of thumb: Never fall in love with a property.

Unlike your own home—where you’ll raise a family, build memories, and make modifications that suit your needs—flips are short-term projects that must appeal to the widest possible market.

When you design your flip, take yourself out of it. You may love aubergine, but stick to whites and neutrals when you pick paint colors. Research design trends, walk through open houses of new construction, and survey real estate agents to find out what’s selling and what’s not. If you don’t create an attractive yet blank canvas, your flip may languish on the market—costing you money with each painful, passing day.

“Don’t get attached to the house, because you’re not going to live there,” Cederquist says. “Keep it generic, what’s popular. Then stick to a design and budget.”


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What Is a HUD Home? A Bargain With One Huge Catch

If you’re hoping to score a deal while house hunting (and who isn’t?), one bargain basement option well worth exploring is a HUD home. So what is a HUD home? Simply put, it’s a place owned by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, but there’s some backstory here, so allow us to explain.

Long before a home becomes the property of HUD, it typically was owned by a regular homeowner who’d made this purchase with an FHA loan. FHA loans are easier to qualify for than a conventional loan because they require a low down payment (as little as 3.5%). However, if the owner ends up unable to pay his monthly mortgage, he ends up in foreclosure, which means the home goes to HUD, which then must figure out how to unload this home and make back its money. That’s where you come in!

The process of buying a HUD home varies from a conventional sale in a couple of ways, so here’s what you’ll want to know before you buy.

Benefits of a HUD home

The government doesn’t want to own these foreclosed homes any longer than it needs to, so HUD homes are priced to move, often below market value. Plus, HUD offers special incentives to buyers in certain markets to sweeten the deal.

For example, the HUD “Good Neighbor” program offers HUD homes in revitalizing areas at a 50% discount to community workers (e.g., teachers, police officers, firefighters, and EMS personnel) who plan to live in the property for at least 36 months.

Other perks: Low down-payment requirements or sales allowances you can use to pay closing costs or make repairs. So be sure to inquire about the possibilities; it could be an even better bargain than how it first seems. Another bonus for home buyers is that HUD gives preference to owner-occupants who intend to live in the home for at least one year, so odds are good you’ll beat out investors to boot!

How to buy a HUD home

HUD homes aren’t listed on conventional real estate websites, and can instead be found at, where you can shop for homes by state or ZIP code. You never know what you might find, in what location and at what price.

Listings typically contain photos, an asking price, and—here’s where things get different—a deadline by which you should submit your offer. HUD homes are sold through an auction process; once the deadline is past and bids are in, HUD reviews its options. If none of the bids is deemed acceptable (usually because it’s too low), HUD extends the auction deadline and/or lowers the asking pricing until a match is made.

All offers are considered, but in almost every case, the highest acceptable bid wins, says Mark Abdel, a real estate professional with Re/Max Advantage Plus in Minneapolis–St. Paul. Which begs the question: How much should you offer? Well, that all depends on how hot the local market is and the condition of the home (more on that next).

Risks of HUD homes

HUD homes are sold as is—meaning what you see is what you get. If the leaky roof or electrical needs repairs, it’s all on you to cover the costs. That’s why it’s critical to get a home inspection before you put your bid in.

“A quality home inspection will alert you to what types of repairs or improvements need to be made, which you should factor into your bid accordingly,” advises Abdel.

That’s not to say that HUD homes always sit in disrepair. Each one, once HUD takes it over, is assigned a “field service manager” who keeps a watchful eye on the home to make sure it’s secure and provides maintenance while the home is unoccupied. The field service manager may even oversee cosmetic enhancements or repairs, depending on the home’s condition, before the bidding process begins. Some HUD homes are even move-in ready, so never presume you’ll end up with a clunker; you could luck out!

Where to get HUD home loans

All financing options are available for HUD homes, including FHAVA, and conventional financing. If you’re buying a HUD home that needs repairs, check out a FHA 203k loan, which can allow you to include the renovation costs in the loan. Your real estate agent can help you determine what programs you might be eligible for.

Also: In order to represent you in your bid for a HUD home, your real estate agent must be officially registered with HUD. Many are, so ask your Realtor® or else you can specifically search for HUD-registered agents at



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When you’re selling your home and your house is on the market, it’s almost inevitable that strangers will enter your house. Even if you don’t host an open house or showing, there may be strangers coming in and out to appraise your home, do renovations, clean the house or perform other necessary jobs related to the sale of your house.

Although the vast majority of these folks will be well-intentioned potential buyers, you have no way of knowing for sure who is and is not targeting homes for sale for all the wrong reasons. The good news is, you can take precautions in order to keep your home and family safe. Here are a few things you can do to protect your home and family:

De-personalize your home

Remove all family photos, diplomas, kid’s drawings and other display items that may inadvertently give away personally identifiable information. For example, while a school photo may seem innocuous, it could give away information like what school your child goes to, what sports they play, or what grade they’re in – all of which can be used by a stranger to potentially track down and approach your child.

Check all of the walls, shelves and display areas of your home to be sure you’ve cleared the house of all such items to help keep your family life private.

According to home staging expert Darlene Parris, depersonalizing your home also allows buyers to “picture themselves making their new home out of your home for sale,” so you’ll be helping to make your home more presentable to potential buyers too.

Speaking of photos, taking pictures of each room before and after showings is also recommended. This should help you quickly identify any out of place or missing items, especially for children’s rooms, since kids may be less likely to notice if things have gone missing. If necessary, they can also be used as evidence for a police report or insurance claim.

Protect your confidential information

Things like prescription medications, checks, or bills and letters that contain confidential information should be locked away or removed from your home completely. Don’t forget to check your trash as well, especially if you don’t shred your bills or take special precautions when it comes to sensitive data.

And be vigilant; monitor all of your accounts for fraudulent activity and consider placing a fraud alert on your credit report. In the United States, this can be done by contacting one of the three major credit bureaus and is free of charge.

“An initial fraud alert can make it harder for an identity thief to open more accounts in your name. When you have an alert on your report, a business must verify your identity before it issues credit,” according to the Federal Trade Commission.

In Canada, report fraud to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Center by calling them toll-free at 1-888-495-8501 or by using their online reporting system.

Secure your devices and other valuables

Computer security expert Avi Rubin warns that “anything that has software in it is going to be vulnerable” and can be compromised, so tablets, phones, memory drives with personal data or any electronic devices that are connected to your email and social accounts should be removed from the house completely.

Your smart TV or refrigerator could also make you vulnerable to more tech-savvy criminals.

“Attacks such as those launched by smart TVs and fridges do not at this point threaten people’s lives. However, they do compromise people’s privacy insofar as they reveal information about victims that they might not otherwise want disclosed,” says security journalist David Bisson.

Upgrade the password and login information for all of your devices, and consider installing locator apps on all of them as well.

Other valuables like family heirlooms, jewelry and fur coats should also be locked away in a safe, safety deposit box or other secure location.

Talk to your agent

Ask your real estate agent to walk you through what they do during an open house and go over the details of the safety procedures that they follow. Check to see if they keep a visitor’s log, whether they use a lockbox to store your house key and how often they change the code, etc. Suggest enhancements if you’re unhappy with any of their policies.

“As an industry, we collectively work very hard to promote safety awareness among our members,” says Chris Polychron, president of the National Association of Realtors.

Real estate agents are particularly knowledgeable when it comes to safety and will have your best interests at heart as well, so an honest conversation voicing any concerns will be beneficial to both parties.

In case of emergency

If there is an incident at your home, or you suspect theft or vandalism, call the police immediately. The police should also be able to work together with your real estate agent, using visitor logs and other information gathered during showings.

You can also go online to create an emergency or safety profile to help expedite the information gathering process when you dial 9-1-1. Tools like Smart911 allow you to create profiles with information about your home and family that may be valuable to first responders.

“Even the simplest of details can help our officers during an emergency,” says Sgt. Brent Kock of West Des Moines Police. “From knowing the access points to the home, whether there is a pet we need to be aware of when approaching or entering the home, or just knowing the name of the person in distress can enhance the safety of our citizens and our officers.”

Check with your city or local police department to verify which tools or apps are available in your area. For example, in Toronto the police have an app that allows users to file damage to property reports, amongst other things. Edmonton and Ferguson also have similar apps.

Taking practical steps to eliminate any opportunities for wrongdoing is the best place to start. Work with your real estate agent to establish an action plan, and maintain an open channel of communication so you can alter the plan as needed.


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According to child psychologists, children can experience moving as a type of loss. “A child loses friends, a home, and her early childhood program, the losses often resulting in feelings of sadness and anxiety or even anger,” says professor Marian Marion, Ph.D.

Equipping children with coping skills and teaching them how to manage the stress of moving could help ease their sadness and anxiety, particularly if these lessons are delivered in a relatable form, like a children’s story.

Here are eight children’s books to help your child adjust to moving. Click on each book cover to learn more about each story.

Moving to a new home is one of the most stress-inducing experiences that a family can face, but turning it into an adventure can help ease some of the tension. What are some strategies that you have used to help adjust to a new home?


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Remodeling 101: Understanding the Kitchen Work Triangle

When you’re about to embark on a kitchen remodel, it helps to understand the inner workings of the space, particularly “the kitchen work triangle.” The kitchen triangle is the space between the sink, the range and the refrigerator. By knowing the tips and tricks designers use to enhance the functionality of the kitchen triangle, you can create your ideal kitchen without limiting its visual allure or practicality.

Here are five key concepts to consider when planning your space and keeping the kitchen work triangle top of mind.

1. Lighting

First and foremost, lighting is key to the function and safety of every space in your home, especially in the kitchen. When preparing food, cleaning the floors or finding your way to the fridge for a midnight snack, kitchen lighting is essential to keeping you and your family safe and making sure you’re able to use every square inch of your space.

Lighting can be hidden under cabinets, recessed on the ceiling or come from a fixture that’s a genuine work of art. Make sure lighting above the stove can be easily cleaned and withstand warm temperatures. Your refrigerator should have ample light when opened, but also near the top so that you can see when you’re reaching for the handle at night. Making sure there is light directly above the sink is a great way to ensure safety and visibility when cleaning the dishes or preparing a family meal.

2. Traffic patterns

Starting with a good floor plan ensures that logical pathways between entrances and exits are kept clear. This is especially important in the kitchen, where walkways are generally narrower. Avoid a cramped kitchen by opting for an open concept. It’s the perfect way to make sure the kitchen is an enjoyable space for everyone, from dining and cleaning to cooking to entertaining.

Appropriate space for the kitchen work triangle should be taken into consideration when establishing the floor plan and the space between all of the appliances. Not only does this make the space more usable, but it also becomes more visually appealing.

3. Work surfaces

A well-designed interior should provide adequate work space. In the kitchen, work surfaces nearest to the kitchen triangle are key aspects of the kitchen, as they are often used for food preparation. Some work surfaces are more obvious than others (like countertops and tables) and others may be subtler (like fold-down spaces or tables with extendable leaves). Durable and low-maintenance surfaces make for easy cleanup after family dinners and can prevent more remodeling in the future, if you accidentally set a too-hot pan on the counter or cause any major damage.

4. Storage

With function in mind, a homeowner should make sure to include as many storage spaces as possible, when designing their kitchen. Storage near the sink could look like an extra rack for drying dishes or open-face cabinets to store glasses. When arranging storage near the range, make sure the material of the space is durable and heat resistant. This includes any tables with drawers and storage benches.

5. Streamline

A floor plan maximized for function can appear crowded. While it may make sense to use every inch of your kitchen for a specific function, extra storage space, or usability, doing too much can actually make the space look sloppy and unrefined, and sometimes even unsafe. Add decorative appeal with quality furnishings, flooring and a subtle wall color, while avoiding multiple accessories, extraneous storage containers and excessive wall decor, especially near the kitchen triangle.

With these five tips in mind, any homeowner can create a safe and enjoyable kitchen space with a work triangle that plays well both functionally and fashionably.

This guest post was written by Kerrie Kelly, an expert on design related to the kitchen work triangle and other kitchen design points for homeowners. Kerrie advises homeowners via her California interior design firm, Kerrie Kelly Design Lab. Kerrie also writes on decor topics online for The Home Depot.


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House hunting with teens: What to put on your “must-have” list

Working with families as a professional organizer, I’ve learned that needs are different for a family with teens. With little ones, you want a bedroom close by your own room and a big yard where they can run and play. With older kids, your shopping list becomes an interesting combination. You want and need space to be together and interact. And at the same time, your teen needs space to be alone and to grow.

Here are some different factors to consider if you’re house hunting with teens or soon-to-be teens.


Eating often becomes a 24-hour-a-day sport with teens in the house. It’s hard to keep teens filled up, and it’s not just the boys. Teen girls raid the refrigerator as well. Accompanied by several friends, they really can eat you out of house and home.

As your family ages, their consumption of food will increase. Unless you want to go to the store every other day, you need increased food storage. A second refrigerator becomes extremely useful. Not many houses will accommodate a second fridge in the kitchen, but as you house hunt, see if you can find a convenient location for an extra one. That might be in the laundry room, the garage, the basement or, as was the case with one house that I owned, the under-the-stairs closet. If a refrigerator figures centrally in your home, you can research many family-friendly styles online.

Keeping clean

The laundry cycle never seems to be complete. The more kids grow, the bigger the clothes and the fewer items that fit in a load. Couple this with increased sports and extracurricular activities, and there are mountains of laundry to do each week.

When house hunting, keep in mind your growing laundry needs. Having a highly functioning laundry room with space to sort, fold and hang becomes very important. A laundry room on the same floor as the bedrooms can really save steps and time.

Our space vs. their space

You’ll still want a place where the whole family can gather for movies and family time. But as your tweens turn to teens, you may find you both like a little separation. The gang may be over for video games or movies with plenty of giggles and yelling. You might want to read a book or binge-watch your favorite show. As everyone grows more independent with their own interests, having a second living space is a good idea. This way you can separate activities as needed, but come together for family time.

Different hours, different schedules

When you had a small baby or young child, you wanted to be able to hear them. You looked for a home with a nursery right next to your own room. Even with the child just across the hall, you’d break out the baby monitor and plug it in.

With tweens and teens, you may not want to hear them quite as much. Even if you swore to never yell “turn that music down!” it might happen. Especially on the weekends with no school the next day, energetic teens can stay up much later than their parents listening to music, watching movies and chatting endlessly on the phone. It’s all in good fun, but if your body clock is on more of a 10:00 PM bedtime schedule, you may wish you’d chosen a house with a split bedroom plan. As you house hunt, consider if having your bedroom somewhat separated from the teens might be a good idea.

No reservations needed

If you are lucky, your home will need a revolving door. Groups of teens will come in and go out, and it is a good thing: it means your children’s friends love to come to your home. The bonus is you see your own child more often, get to know their friends and form special friendships with them.

Wherever there are teens, there is bound to be food. No matter your family size, look for a home with space for extra seating at the kitchen table or around the kitchen island.

Plan a parking lot

One change families find as their kids grow into teens is a continual car shuffling. Your teen driver needs a place to park. If she chooses to park behind mom, inevitably mom is going to be the one who needs to get out of the driveway first. Or, if you are sharing a car, there will always be someone who needs to go somewhere and the car is gone. If you have a teen, you’ll most likely have multiple cars. In addition to your own child, there will be friends popping in and out, and some of them will have cars too.

As you house hunt, consider parking. Where will you put the extra cars? Check to see if there are any neighborhood restrictions on the number of vehicles allowed, or any no-parking signs posted that might become a problem down the road.

Even though your teens are just a few years from heading out the door and living on their own at college or an apartment, you still want a new house to feel like a home to them. Ask them if there are any particulars that are high on their interest list. Keep in mind that house hunting is a great time for a discussion on finances, budgeting and even future plans.

This guest post was written by professional organizational expert Lea Schneider. Lea provides families with advice on how good planning in the home can help boost the enjoyment level for everyone. Lea writes tips on homes and family life for The Home Depot.


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How to remove pet allergens from your new home

You’ve found the home of your dreams, the paperwork is signed and the keys are in hand. What do you do if your new home was once shared with a four-legged friend that you or one of your family members are allergic to? Read on for tips and ideas to help everyone in your household breathe a little easier.

Use a HEPA vacuum cleaner

While bacteria, dust mites and pet dander are most often found in furniture and beds that get moved out of the home before new owners arrive, carpeting is often a haven for allergens that even thorough cleaning can leave behind. Using a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter can bring relief by removing irritants from carpeting.

Install washable window treatments

Window shades and washable drapes are also a better choice for allergy sufferers, compared to long drapes and blinds that can collect dust and are more difficult to clean, according to WebMD.

Invest in new flooring

Bare floors are the best bet if you want to reduce pet allergens in your home. “Animal allergens are sticky. So you must remove the animal’s favorite furniture, remove wall-to-wall carpet and scrub the walls and woodwork,” reports the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Consider replacing old carpeting with hardwood floors or tile.

Get your air ducts professionally cleaned

Although there is no scientific evidence to support claims that air duct cleanings improve air quality, the system components of forced air systems can become contaminated with dust, pollen and other allergens. “It is surprising how much garbage you can find in your ducts,” says allergist and immunologist Julie McNairn, MD.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency you should consider a duct cleaning if your ducts are clogged with debris and contaminants, which are then released into your home. However, the EPA also notes that service providers could further contaminate your system if they don’t clean all of the components properly, so enlisting the help of qualified professionals is key. The EPA also suggests asking your service provider about any chemical treatments that they plan to use before they do so because these practices are not backed by data.

Food for thought

Moving into a new environment can trigger allergic reactions that you’ve never experienced before. For example, horse allergies affect nearly 4% of all people with allergies. Horse dander is often found hundreds of yards away from the source, which means you don’t necessarily have to own horse property yourself to be affected. Be sure to thoroughly research and explore potential neighborhoods and to ask about area allergens before closing the deal on your new house.

If you or a family member begin experiencing symptoms in a new city or environment, check in with your doctor for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan. “It is important to work with your doctor to learn what triggers your allergies and determine the best treatments for you to enjoy your life unencumbered by allergies,” says Dr. Cary Sennett, AAFA’s president and CEO.


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Selling your home? How to stage your bathroom

When selling your home, each room needs to be presented in its best light—even (or maybe especially) the bathroom. Bathroom remodels can be costly, but there are a few easy tricks you can do to turn a ho-hum bath into one that will have potential buyers anxious to move in.

I have a client who knows her bathroom needs freshening up, but doesn’t know how to do so without starting over. Since replacing the vanity wasn’t in her budget, I recommended a few low-cost solutions:

Give it a face lift with a coat of paint

After removing the old knobs, I cleaned the cabinet doors with a liquid sander and deglosser product. It helps new paint adhere to old finishes and is easier than sanding. Of course, if the finish was rough or chipped, then sandpaper would have been necessary.

I chose a two-in-one paint and primer with a stain blocker. Since she’s selling her home, we picked a shade of white that coordinates with the vinyl floor. White cabinetry is not only currently on trend, but it’s fresh, bright and appealing to buyers.

To make the vanity front look like one piece, I painted the wall section and trim at the bottom the same color. That way, the first impression is one long, white vanity.

painted wall and trim

Replace the door hardware

New door hardware is a fast and inexpensive update. Even if you don’t change the finish, swap out the old knobs for new ones. I found pearlized, octagonal pulls that almost replicate the paint color.

Declutter the room

Careful staging of a home helps sell it quickly. Pack away all the clutter, excess accessories and personal items, as you want the buyer to picture their furniture and furnishing in the rooms. Clearing things out also makes rooms and surfaces appear bigger. I packed up my client’s bathroom decor and purchased a few new bath accessories. Now the countertop looks huge!

bathroom after staging

As an interior designer, I always encourage my clients to redecorate and remodel while they are living in their home. You might as well enjoy the effort, money spent and the results. The best solution to a tired, old bathroom is to replace the vanity and countertop with something brand new. If that’s not possible, paint works wonders!


This guest post was written by Merri Cvetan, a Wisconsin interior designer who enjoys incorporating her crafting skills on decor projects. Merri writes on both design and crafting for Home Depot.


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How to navigate an open house with kids in tow

You’ve decided to take your kids along with you to an open house and want to make sure they’re engaged, feel included and don’t distract you from the task at hand. Here are some tips to help you achieve these goals:

Recruit a media crew

Have your kids take photos or videos for you during the tour. According to Common Sense Media, 75% of all children have access to mobile devices at home, so chances are your kids are well versed when it comes to handling your cellphone. Involving them in this way is also a great way to use media to teach teamwork and foster curiosity, particularly if you engage your kids by “co-viewing and co-playing and asking questions about what they think,” when you get home and do a 360 photo or video tour.

However, before capturing any media, be sure to get permission first since this may be privacy concern for some sellers. Also, if your kids are old enough to read they can help you quiz the seller or real estate agent, asking any questions that come up during the open house.

Use activity sheets

Create activity sheets with elements and amenities that you’re looking for in your new home and have your kids mark them off as you encounter them. This will help you to better distinguish between the houses that you tour, and also turn the task into a group activity that the whole family can participate in.

Turn it into a scavenger hunt

Have your kids keep an eye out for specific defects like scuffs so you can focus on the big picture during the walk-through. This way you won’t have to split your focus but you’ll still have a complete picture at the end of the day when you’re comparing notes. Plus the kids get to make a game out of it to keep things interesting.

Make it educational

“Kids are always learning by taking in all that they see and hear around them – often without parents realizing just how much their children are paying attention,” says Elizabeth Grace of Kids Development. So why not turn the open house into a learning opportunity?

You could focus on vocabulary for younger kids and use it to teach them about the different types of homes you encounter, or geography and the different neighborhoods in your city. And if your kids are a little older and able to process more complex information, use these visits to discuss real estate and finances. Adapt your lessons to their age and change them up as you go.

Establish ground rules

As a courtesy, call ahead to let the host know that you’ll be bringing kids along. And be sure to establish ground rules to ensure that your kids are respectful of private property, any pets on site, and other visitors. You may also need to talk to them about bathroom usage, since this will not be a regular home visit with access to restrooms.

Finally, be sure to get there early to give yourself plenty of time for the group tour, and monitor the time as you go to ensure that you honor the ending time of the event as well.


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