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Avoid These 6 Major Mistakes People Make When Hiring a Mover

Let’s get real: Moving is stressful. And when you’re busy finding a new place to live, selling your current home, and then packing up your entire life, selecting the crew who will move your stuff is likely last on your to-do list. That’s ironic, because you’ll be entrusting them with all your life’s possessions.

Even if you manage to hook up with The Most Amazing Moving Company Ever, we can’t promise bad stuff won’t happen. But you can prevent some unnecessary duress if you have the right team in place. The process starts by schooling yourself in what not to do. Read on for the top mistakes people make when hiring a mover.

1. Waiting too long

So you wait until the weekend before your move to make those calls to moving companies—after all, who cares? Well, if you procrastinate on your search, you won’t leave any time to do adequate research and get estimates. That means you might not get the best rate (spoiler: Moving’s expensive!), and worse—you could get scammed.

“There are times when last-minute booking can’t be avoided, but frequently it’s just a task that’s put off too long,” says Steve Weitekamp, president of the California Moving & Storage Association. “Delaying selecting a mover can reduce your options—and unfortunately, unlicensed and unethical operators rely on this aspect of human nature to take advantage of consumers.”

Take the time to get three in-home written estimates, Weitekamp recommends—and, time permitting, visit the moving company in advance of making your final decision.

2. Being a total cheapskate

No, you don’t want to pay more than you have to for a move. But beware of being too budget-conscious.

“The largest mistake you can make is going with the cheapest estimate,” says Dave Garrett, owner and managing partner of You Move Me. “The cheapest bid typically means that the company uses casual, inexperienced laborers who don’t care a whole lot about your things.”

Conversely, Garrett says, higher-end estimates almost always assure trained, professional, and experienced crews who will show up, smiles on their faces, and move your stuff safely and efficiently.

In other words: “If there is a hiccup, they will figure it out,” he says. “They’re not leaving your stuff on the front lawn.”

Weitekamp agrees: “Disreputable movers often lure customers with lowball prices and then hit them with unreasonable charges or, in extreme cases, even hold their belongings for ransom.” Yikes.

3. Not asking the right questions beforehand

“A professional mover will be happy to answer any questions you may have, so if they seem uncertain or won’t give you straight answers, that’s probably a mover to avoid,” says Michael Keaton, senior director of communications for the American Moving & Storage Association. “Ask them about the moving process so you understand what they will be doing and when they will be doing it, from start to finish.”

Weitekamp recommends asking the following questions before selecting a moving company:

  • Are you licensed and insured?
  • Are you a certified professional mover who meets the standards of the American Moving & Storage Association?
  • Are you a member of your state’s moving association?
  • What price are you willing to put in writing as a “not to exceed” threshold price?
  • What are the dates you can commit to for pickup and delivery for my move?
  • Can you give me some references of people you have recently moved?
  • How are your crews selected?
  • What actions do you take to ensure that the people who come into my home are skilled, professional, and safe?

4. Falling for fakes

The internet is awesome. right? Whether you’re looking for comprehensive info on the best mortgage rates, or you simply must know immediately why your dog’s paws smell like corn chips, the web is there for you.

And it’s there for you to find your next mover, too. But we shouldn’t have to tell you that online info can lead you astray. Double check your info by getting moving company referrals from an industry trade association or use a site that verifies and vets moving companies.

Another word of caution: Beware of blindly trusting that the company you’re hiring is who it says it is: “Some disreputable movers try to lure customers in by using names that are similar to reputable companies,” Weitekamp says. “Check the reputable company’s website to make sure the local agent is affiliated with the brand name it is claiming.”

Max Lowy, president of New Jersey–based Lowy’s Moving Service, also warns consumers to carefully consider low estimates from a company that hasn’t been in business long—even if its Yelp profile seems solid.

“Responsible moving companies will provide in-home estimates and explain why the pricing is the way it is,” Lowy says.

According to the American Moving & Storage Association, the lack of a physical, local address is a telltale sign of a fake mover. Here are other red flags:

  • No federal motor carrier number, which shows the mover is registered with the federal government for a state-to-state move
  • Movers who refuses to visit your home to provide a written estimate for an interstate move
  • Companies that use unmarked, generic trucks
  • Movers who seem uncertain or unresponsive, especially when asked about their claims process if something gets damaged or lost

5. Agreeing to pay a deposit or pay in cash

If you’re moving across town, this one’s a huge red flag.

“Typically you should not be required to pay a deposit to have your items moved,” Weitekamp says. “Most companies request payment at the time of delivery.”

If you’re moving out of state, your moving company could request a deposit. But make sure it’s reasonable.

“A reasonable down payment should be in the hundreds of dollars toward your state-to-state move, rarely exceeding 20%,” Keaton says.

Similarly, avoid movers that demand cash instead of allowing payment by credit card.

6. Not doing proper legwork when you move out of state

If you’re moving out of state, make sure to check this government database to find out if the mover you selected is actually licensed for interstate moves by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

Request a copy of “Your Rights and Responsibilities When You Move,” a brochure created by the Federal Highway Administration that outlines consumers’ rights. Federal law requires movers to provide this to consumers before moving their belongings over state lines.

The takeaway? Get several estimates, do your research, and remember that so often in life, you get what you pay for.

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6 Surprising Revelations You’ll Have Purging Your Stuff Before You Move

(Originally written by Adriana Velez on Realtor.com)

I moved in with my boyfriend this past summer. Before you imagine some cute recent college grad in her first adult relationship, no. I’m a divorced mom who had lived in the same Brooklyn apartment for nearly 20 years. And you can imagine what that means: I had some baggage. Literally!

I’m talking tons of stuff I had accumulated over the years, somehow crammed into my tiny space. And since my beau and I were merging assets into one apartment with minimal storage, that meant I’d have to let go of a lot of my possessions if I had any hope of making this cohabitation situation work.

All told, by the time I moved, I got rid of 50 garbage bags’ worth of stuff (some of it given away, much of it trashed). And then, once I moved in, I threw out 15 or so more bags of junk.

Who knew so much junk could fit into a 550-square-foot apartment? By letting go of it, I learned a whole lot about myself. Here are a few surprises I encountered that could be in store for anyone embarking on a pre-move purge.

Realization No. 1: You have way more stuff than you realize

Here are a few doozies that surprised me:

  • Copper polish for the zero copper objects in my apartment
  • A 10-year-old Egyptian spice I was waiting for inspiration to use
  • Attachments for a vacuum cleaner I no longer owned
  • A neti pot I was too chicken to use
  • Cans of leftover paint so old the paint had hardened
  • Fluorescent tape from the time my son had a “Tron”-themed birthday party and we put it on our black clothes to look like characters from the movie
Ooh, so Tron!
Ooh, so Tron!Neuralcluster.net

Before this point, I always prided myself on being vigilant against collecting stuff. I had no freaking idea.

Realization No. 2: Very little stuff you have is worth moving

Moving actually offers the perfect motivation to get rid of things by prioritizing what really matters. Take, for instance, my vast collection of cookie cutters. I had to face the fact that I actually despise baking cookies. I don’t even like eating them. I had all those cookie cutters only because I thought they were something a good parent keeps around. But guess what? I never used them, and my kid seems to be OK.

When you put something in a cardboard moving box, you’re saying, I value this thing enough to take it with me to a new place. And as it turns out, not a lot of stuff is worth the haul.

Realization No. 3: Purging is like therapy

Looking at some of the discards made me want to call a therapist. Like the ambitious knitting project I never finished, like so many other big projects. And the expired medicine for my ex-husband’s digestive ailments, which he didn’t bother to take with him—apparently it was our marriage that was making him sick. Actually, throwing out these items was therapy in itself.

Realization No. 4: You can focus on what you love

Look, I’m not anti-stuff. I’m just anti-crap-you-don’t-really-care-about. Find the objects that spark joy (yes, I’m paraphrasing Marie Kondo because she’s right), and trash the rest so it doesn’t get in the way of the joyful stuff.

For instance, I got rid of all my barware except for three Waterford crystal goblets. All those mismatched wine glasses, chipped martini glasses, cordial glasses, and brandy snifters for the brandy I never remember to buy? Gone. And now I can feel so very fancy drinking out of my fine crystal that’s within easy reach.

Realization No. 5: You can always replace things later—or not

I know it seems wasteful to trash something, only to eventually buy it again. But it’s surprising how many tossed things I haven’t replaced, months later. As a writer, of course I collected books. But how many of those books did I love so very much that: a) I knew I’d read them again and b) I knew I’d need to read them so urgently that I couldn’t even wait to check them out of the library? Or buy a new copy? Wow, not very many at all.

Realization No. 6: You will toss family heirlooms by mistake

OK, there is a risk that you will throw out something you can’t replace, like the Holly Hobbie Christmas stocking my mother sewed for me when I was a child. I’m also still missing my Social Security card. This will almost definitely happen no matter how careful you are.

But if that risk is keeping you from cleaning out your closets, just remember: Life will go on. Yeah, you’ll miss the thing. But you’ll find other ways to be happy.

So go on, enjoy throwing away your life. Make “toss it” the default whenever you’re stuck. Enjoy the reckless thrill of letting go and starting over—and don’t be surprised when it all starts building up again.

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7 Unexpected (but Worthwhile) Headaches of Becoming a Homeowner

There’s a reason they call homeownership the American dream. We save and save just for the hope of one day having a place to really, truly call our own—a space to decorate how we want, to grow our family, and to create memories.

But for all its upsides, homeownership comes with its fair share of headaches. Sure, you’re probably aware that taking care of your yard and making those mortgage payments just comes with the territory. But there are a few other unexpected occurrences and oddities that can crop up.

We don’t want to deter you from the American dream; we just want to keep it an American reality. So brace for these bumps in the road when signing on the dotted line.

1. Changing lightbulbs is no joke

There are plenty of jokes about how many imbeciles it takes to change a lightbulb. But the true punchline is this: Sometimes it really does take more than one person.

We have crazy-high ceilings—one electrician told me he’d have to build a scaffolding and get a permit from the city to change a bulb. Thankfully, we found someone with a really tall ladder to do it (no permit required). Pro tip: Get long-lasting LED bulbs.

Even if lightbulbs aren’t the biggest challenge in your home, rest assured you’ll be saddled with some simple-sounding piddly annoyance that will cause you to bang your head against the nearest wall.

Be careful not to bang too hard—you own that wall now.

2. Pinterest is full of lies

Pinterest makes it look so easy to create beautiful works of art and decor on the cheap. But when you actually try that textured painting/fireplace remodeling job/cabinetry update, you end up with a huge Pinterest #FAIL.

I once tried to transform a huge bulletin board into a fun, fancy creation for my daughter’s bedroom wall; but I learned the hard way that washi tape is not as easy to use as it looks. The sticky, lopsided mess looked nothing like the Pinterest picture. And the aftereffect is that my house remains largely undecorated because, let’s be honest, hiring people to do this stuff for you is expensive.

3. Your lease is never up

The great thing about owning a home is that you never have to worry about rent increases or your landlord making you move out when the lease is up. The not-so-great thing about owning a home? Your lease is never up.

Renting provides flexibility. Move for your dream job in Morocco? Why not? The perfect house in your now-trendy hometown is finally on the market? Go ahead! Even if you’re in the middle of your lease, it usually won’t bankrupt you to break it.

Sure, as a homeowner, you can make these kinds of moves on a whim—but it could cost you big-time. Don’t count on being able to sell your home in a hurry. At the very least, don’t expect to sell without being prepared to take a loss.

4. You’re in for the long haul, and so are your neighbors

Maybe their dog repeatedly uses your front lawn as a toilet. Or perhaps you’re discovering that those neighbors who were so friendly when you moved in love to have loud parties every weekend. But just like you made a commitment to settle down, so did your neighbors. You can’t just knock on the ceiling with a broom and then hope you don’t see them in the elevator until one of you moves out. Chances are good that you’ll be forced to encounter them on multiple occasions, and sometimes that means learning new methods of conflict resolution. (I personally hold my breath with every moving truck that passes my house.)

5. You’re the landlord now

In case it hasn’t hit you yet: When trouble arises, you’re on the hook, so now’s the time for a swift education on potential home maintenance problems.

I can’t tell you how many vacations we’ve returned from, totally relaxed, only to realize the air conditioner had quit working, the water upstairs was leaking through the ceiling, or somehow the dishwasher had pooped out even though no one was using it.

Unfathomably these things always seem to happen just in time to kill our vacation buzz; it makes me nostalgic for my carefree days as a renter, when someone else would sort things out and pick up the bill.

6. You’ll spend your free time (and your money) at home improvement stores

Remember those after-work happy hours and naps on the weekends? Yeah, well, those activities will now be replaced with trips to the home improvement store. (Note to home improvement stores: Offering cocktails would be nice.)

From replacing air filters to stocking up on weed killer, drain cleaner, and specialty lightbulbs, it sometimes feels like my husband and I spend more time in our local Home Depot than we do in our home.

Before we became homeowners, we had no idea just how many things need replacing just to keep everything working. Case in point: Air filters. Do you have any idea how often you have to replace those things to keep your heater and air conditioner running well? It varies, but most manufacturers say every 30 to 60 days. That’s a lot of air filters.

7. The bills never end

Speaking of things you need to keep your house running, you need money—lots of it. When you’re renting, your only bills are typically cable, electricity, telephone/internet, and water. When you own a home, the bills just keep coming. Currently, in addition to the aforementioned bills, we pay for utilities (water, trash, sewer, and other city services), lawn service, lawn pest service (which somehow isn’t part of regular lawn service), an inside pest service, propane, pool service (a must when you live in Florida), homeowners association fees, and a few others I’m forgetting.

The point is this: When you’re calculating what you can afford, there is much more to consider than just the cost of the mortgage. Before you buy, make a realistic budget that leaves a cushion for emergencies. That way homeownership can continue being the dream—instead of inducing nightmares.

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How to Make a Backup Offer on a Sale-Pending Home

If you think a home marked “sale pending” is off-limits, think again. Yes, this label means that the buyer and seller have negotiated an accepted purchase contract, but things happen—and sales can fall through. For that reason, there’s no harm in making a backup offer.

“If a buyer is in love with a particular home that happens to be pending, why not give it a shot?” asks John Lazenby, president of the Orlando Regional Realtor® Association.

So don’t let go of that dream house just yet. Here’s what you need to know on making a backup offer If the original deal falls through and you’re next in line—you could end up nabbing the home you were pining for all along. Sweet!

Why would a pending home sale fall through?

Even after all the work that a buyer and seller went through to create the contract, sales can still fall through.

“The contract often contains contingencies that can kill a transaction if they’re not met,” says Lazenby. Common examples are contingencies related to the following:

  • Inspections: A sagging foundation, leaking roof, or other big-ticket repair items could kill the deal.
  • Appraisal: If a home is appraised under the sale price, the financing can fall through if the buyer isn’t able to make up the difference.
  • Buyer’s loan approval: If a potential buyer is only pre-qualified, rather than pre-approved, the financing might not materialize.

Another common reason is a bit simpler: buyer’s remorse. Maybe an expected promotion didn’t come through or the buyer decided she didn’t like the open-plan kitchen after all. Truth be told, there are a million reasons buyers get cold feet and change their minds.

Reasons to make a backup offer

Some potential buyers are in a better position than others to wait it out. If you relate to one of these conditions, making a backup offer is a good idea:

  • You’re not under a time constraint—such as the desire to be settled before the start of the school year. “If a buyer is in a hurry, it might not be feasible to wait a month or longer to see if the initial contract falls through,” Lazenby points out.
  • Inventory is particularly tight, and there’s nothing else in your price range that’s tempting. Sometimes it’s best to wait and see on the house you love, rather than jump on something else that isn’t quite right.
  • The listing agent is able to give you some intel about the house that leads you to believe the other buyers might get cold feet or that there are contingencies.
  • It’s a short-sale transaction, which Lazenby says is much more likely to collapse than a regular transaction. Often the bank, or whoever holds the mortgage, will find the price too low and will demand the seller put it back on the market to achieve a fair price.

How to make a winning backup offer

If you and your agent decide to put together a backup offer, here are a few touches that can help turn the tables in your favor:

  • Money talks. Present a clean offer, complete with mortgage pre-approval and proof of funds. If you are able to, offer over asking price.
  • Be flexible. Are you willing to give them extra time to enjoy the holidays in their home, or forgo minor repairs that others might insist on? Some sellers might appreciate benefits other than cold, hard cash.
  • Write a letter. You never know when a personal touch might resonate with the sellers. Tell them how much you’re looking forward to raising a family in their family home or entertaining in their amazing dining room.
  • Stay visible. You want the sellers’ agent to know you’re ready to move when they are. Have your agent be in frequent touch to ensure you are on their radar should anything change.

The bottom line: Never say never when a sale is pending. With a little determination and luck, that house could be yours.

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What Are Property Disclosure Statements? Info Buyers Need to Know

No matter how great a home looks at first glance, a host of problems could be hiding right under that fresh coat of paint—which is why buyers will want to scrutinize certain paperwork they’ll receive called property disclosure statements.

Property disclosure statements essentially outline any flaws that the home sellers (and their real estate agents) are aware of that could negatively affect the home’s value. These statements are required by law in most areas of the country so buyers can know a property’s good and  bad points before they close the deal. Here’s what all buyers need to know about real estate disclosures.

When do buyers receive property disclosure statements?

While it varies by area, most buyers will receive property disclosure statements after their offer has been accepted, says Atlanta Realtor® Bill Golden. That way, buyers can review this paperwork at about the same time that they typically hire a home inspector to check the property for any defects. In fact, disclosure statements can help point your inspector toward areas of a home you’d like to home in on, so try to read your disclosure statements before scheduling the inspection.

In certain areas, sellers might even hand buyers disclosure statements before an offer is made. But no matter what, it should be early enough to give buyers time to do their due diligence and spot problems that could make them reconsider whether this home is right for them.

What types of flaws must be disclosed?

Sellers are required to complete a variety of disclosure documents, which are often in the form of a government-issued checklist where they mark whether their home has (or once had) a variety of problems such as the following:

  • Windows that don’t close or doors that stick
  • Faulty foundation or leaky roof
  • Problems with appliances or home systems like the HVAC
  • Repairs made on any of the above as well as insurance claims
  • Renovations completed without a permit
  • Pest or mold infestations
  • Environmental hazards in the area (e.g., floods and wildfires)

The federal government requires certain disclosures anywhere in the U.S., like the existence of lead-based paint, asbestos, or other clear health and safety risks. However, states and counties also have their own particular laws on which issues must be disclosed. For instance, some states require sellers to disclose nearby sexual offenders, while others do not. Some require a death on the property to be disclosed, especially if it was a murder, while others leave you to do that kind of sleuthing yourself.

If buyers (and their real estate agent) read a disclosure document and see nothing to worry about, they sign off on it before moving one step closer to sealing the deal. If, on the other hand, buyers spot something worrisome, it’s in their interests to delve further.

What to do if a disclosure reveals something bad

If you spot something on a disclosure statement that you don’t understand or that raises concerns, have your real estate agent bring it up with the sellers (or their listing agent). In some cases, they might have an explanation that puts you at ease (i.e., “we had bedbugs back in 2012 but hired an exterminator and have been free and clear ever since”). Or, if the issue makes you seriously question whether you want to move forward, this could be an opportunity to renegotiate the sales price to compensate for the added risk you’re taking on buying this home.

At worst, you can always back out of the deal without penalty—meaning you won’t have to forfeit your earnest money deposit. And if you happen to find a problem that should have been disclosed but wasn’t, that’s all the more reason to consider carefully whether you want to move forward. After all, if sellers covered one thing up, what else could they be hiding?

However, keep in mind that the sellers are required to reveal only all known problems. That’s key. Sellers aren’t typically held responsible for problems they aren’t aware of. And that’s just one more reason why buyers absolutely should get a home inspection to root out any potential problems themselves.

But all in all, smart sellers inform buyers of everything they need to know upfront. While property disclosures exist mainly to protect the buyer from getting a lemon, this paperwork protects the seller, too.

“If sellers disclose everything they know about the house, a buyer can’t come back to them later saying they weren’t told about an issue,” says Golden.

Property disclosure statements save everyone time, hassle, and expense by preventing deals from falling apart—and that benefits both buyers and sellers.

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How to Flip a House: 7 Signs You’ll Rake in Huge Profits

It seems like just about everyone these days fantasizes about how to flip a house. The reality? Doing it successfully largely hinges on picking the right place at the right time—which is why veteran flippers keep a mental checklist to help steer them toward homes that are primed to gush cash.

Curious about those signs that indicate all systems go? Let’s check out those qualities deemed by real estate investors as signs a house flip will pay off big-time.

Sign No. 1: It’s in a neighborhood where homes sell fast

One of the first clues that a house is flip-worthy is that it’s in an area where homes sell quickly, says Larry Friedman of SDF Capital in New York and Connecticut. After all, in this game time is money—every extra month you own the house means you’re on the hook for more mortgage payments and maintenance costs. Fast-moving markets generally mean these overheads won’t last long.

Realtor.com data show that, on a national level, homes remain on the market for 62 days on average. Yet in a blistering area like San Francisco, homes typically sell in 25 days; in slow markets like Albany, NY, it’ll take 81 days. So be sure to check how long it will take in your own neighborhood by checking research.realtor.com.

Sign No. 2: The house meets the 70% rule

For a flip to be worth your time, effort, and money, you should make between 10% to 30% return on your investment. To determine your potential return, see if the flip meets the 70% rule. Can the house be bought for 70% of what it will be worth once fixed up, minus any needed repairs, closing costs, and real estate agent fees?

For example, if you can buy a house for $110,000 and fix it up for $30,000, you’ll want to sell it for around $200,000 in order for it to be worth your while, says Mark Ferguson, a Realtor and creator of Investfourmore.com.

To find what a home will be worth fixed up, check the prices of similar houses in the neighborhood (more on that next).

Sign No. 3: You can price the house right

To get a ballpark figure for how much you can sell a house for once it’s fixed up, one safe rule of thumb is to check the median home price for that market. (You can find this information by entering a home’s address or ZIP code at Realtor.com/local). In Parma Heights, OH, the median sales price is $117,000, while at the other end of the range in Manhattan, NY, buyers expect to pay $1 million. Of course, this presumes your home is typical in terms of size and number of rooms.

Sign No. 4: The property has more than one bedroom

Don’t buy a one-bedroom house to flip, because most home buyers are looking for two bedrooms and more. Anything smaller will minimize the demand at resale. Another flip-worthy must is a functional floor plan. Translation: You shouldn’t have to go through a bedroom to get to the kitchen.

Sign No. 5: The needed repairs are mostly cosmetic

The physical condition of the home should be fair and correctable without draining your bank account—like a kitchen or bathroom renovation or installing new flooring. Repairs that should give you pause include foundation and structural issues. Tackling these two problems can destroy a reno budget with overages and stretch the time frame of the flip.

“The home needs to be in good shape to begin with, unless you are planning a very large gut and addition, which is unlikely in most flips,” says Realtor Misty Weaver at Keller Williams Realty, in Winchester, VA.

Sign No. 6: Understand what scares home buyers

Most home buyers touring an open house can deal with a lime-colored wall they need to repaint or one appliance that dates to the Reagan administration. What many buyers can’t handle, though, are intimidating and pricey projects like replacing an old furnace (which will cost around $4,000), putting on a new roof ($3,000 to $10,000), electrical upgrades ($1,500 and up), or plumbing issues ($1,000 to $10,000). Not only do these issues spook home buyers, they also could make the home hard to finance with lender money.

Last but not least, a home shouldn’t have any “crazy characteristics like a railroad in the backyard, a very busy road out front, or other problems that can’t be changed,” says Ferguson.

Sign No. 7: The neighborhood itself doesn’t need flipping

People don’t just live in a house, they live in the surrounding area, too. A potential flip should be in a good neighborhood with access to transportation and amenities like parks. Perhaps the biggest indicator of a flip-worthy home is the quality of the schools.

“A large segment of the market buys to be in a good school district,” says Susan Naftulin, owner and president of Rehab Financial Group, who makes loans to house flippers. Even if you don’t have kids, most buyers see good schools as a huge plus.

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What Is an Energy Audit? Learn How Energy-Efficient Your Home Is

You’ve heard it before: Turning off the lights, closing the windows, and not taking 40-minute showers are all little ways to save energy in your home. But what if there was a way to determine which energy-saving solutions will pay off based on the configuration of your house? Say hello to the energy audit, a home assessment that can help you go green and lower your energy bills by potentially thousands of dollars. So what’s an energy audit, really? It tells you how energy-efficient your house is and offers home improvement recommendations to take your efficiency to the next level.

How a home energy audit can help buyers

While energy audit information is typically not included on home listings alongside the number of bedrooms and square footage, it can often be found in the multiple listing service, which has more specific details. Only licensed real estate agents can view the MLS, so you’ll want to ask your agent (or the seller’s) if an energy audit was performed. If not, you can request one during the home inspection.

The energy audit information will offer more insight into your home’s true energy potential than a review of past utility bills. That’s because the energy audit will tell you how the home is built, not how the home is used. Someone who perpetually cranks up the heat or leaves the lights on might have a high energy bill, even if the house itself is relatively energy-efficient.

“For owners and sellers, having an energy assessment done can be a powerful selling tool—or a wake-up call if it comes back low,” says Welmoed Sisson, a home inspector with Inspections by Bob in Boyds, MD.

The Home Energy Score

Home energy audits can be provided by various institutions (e.g., local utility companies) and go by different names. However, the one rating that is gaining the most traction is the Department of Energy’s Home Energy Score. It’s important to note that not all energy audits will give you an HES.

The HES measurements provide a standardized process for calculating a home’s efficiency, thus allowing two homes to be compared side by side, even if they are different ages or styles, or in different locations. All assessments take into account the local climate, too.

“The HES was developed to give buyers an easy measurement they can think of, like a car’s mpg rating,” says Sisson. “It’s a way to objectively compare a home’s energy use with others, knowing that the same standards were used to assess all the properties that have been scored.”

Other types of energy audits

The efficiency audits offered by other sources (e.g., utility companies) typically don’t involve specific measurements. Instead, they rely on visual inspections to see whether windows are double-glazed or if energy-efficient lightbulbs are in use, for example. The recommendations they offer are more general.

How much does an energy audit cost?

Depending on the size of the home, an energy audit can cost between $150 and $250, although some assessors may charge less if it’s included as part of a regular home inspection. Many home inspectors offer the service. If you want to get your home’s HES from someone who has been certified by the DOE, consult this database.

What the energy auditor looks for

An energy audit takes about one to two hours.

Using a tape measure, the assessor will measure the windows, floor space, and insulation. The assessor also records the type and age of heating or cooling appliances and water heaters, and notes the condition of the ductwork. These findings are then entered into a database to calculate the overall score for the home.

Homeowners will receive a report with a score on a 1-to-10 scale—with 10 representing a home among the top 10% in energy efficiency; 5 representing the performance of the average home; and 1 indicating a home that consumes more energy than 85% of U.S. homes.

The report also includes a set of recommendations tailored to the home, starting with the least expensive improvements that will yield the most return.

“Spoiler alert,” says Sisson. “It’s almost always ‘add more insulation.’”

The report offers an estimate of the savings you’ll enjoy after completing all the recommended improvements. For example, if you moved your home’s score from a 3 to a 7, you could save about $575 a year. On the recommendations page, the savings are broken out by improvement. While some pay off within a year or two, the DOE says that all recommended energy improvements will generally pay you back in 10 years or less. Score!

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U.S. Home-Price Growth Climbs at Fastest Rate in Nearly Three Years

U.S. house prices continued to show no signs of slowing, hitting their highest in nearly three years as demand remains hot, especially in the Pacific Northwest and Dallas.

The S&P/Case-Shiller 20-city index rose 5.9% in the three-month period ending in February compared to the same period a year ago, an acceleration from its 5.7% yearly increase in January. This is the highest rate since July 2014.

The 20-city index was up 0.4% for the month, or a 0.7% gain when seasonally adjusted.

Economists had forecast a 0.8% monthly gain and a 5.8% yearly gain for the 20-city index.

Metro Monthly change (%) 12-month change (%)
Atlanta 0.4 5.6
Boston 0.4 7.6
Charlotte 0.5 6.1
Chicago 0.2 6.2
Cleveland -0.3 4.5
Dallas 1.1 8.8
Denver 0.4 8.5
Detroit 0.3 6.2
Las Vegas 0.4 6.3
Los Angeles 0.4 5.1
Miami 0 6.7
Minneapolis 0.1 5.9
New York 0 3.2
Phoenix 0.4 5.3
Portland 0.8 9.7
San Diego 1 6.5
San Francisco 1.2 6.4
Seattle 1.9 12.2
Tampa -0.5 6.9
Washington 0.2 4.1

The national index, which just a few months ago regained the high last seen during the housing bubble of a decade ago, rose 5.8% for the year, a 32-month high.

The largest price increases are still in the Pacific Northwest, including Seattle and Portland. Dallas replaced Denver in the top three with an 8.8% increase.

Only Cleveland and Tampa saw prices fall in the February period. Prices were flat in New York and Miami.

Separately, the Federal Housing Finance Agency also released home-price data for February, which is based on mortgages backed or guaranteed by FHFA-regulated Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. It showed a seasonally adjusted 0.8% rise for February and a 6.4% year-over-year improvement.

Over 12 months, the Mountain region — Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico — had the fastest growth of 9.5%.

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Steer Clear: 7 Living Room Design Looks That Buyers Hate

Home decor is all about reflecting your own personal style. It’s an opportunity to use your home as a blank canvas and paint a masterpiece that is decidedly you. And that style is never more apparent than in your living room—the spot where your guests gather and your personality is most on display.

We’ll never tell you to betray your decor desires in this room (or the rest of your home). But if you’ve gone nuts painting your living room in wild colors or spent thousands laying down Moroccan tile, bear in mind how potential buyers might perceive your choices.

Buyers need to picture themselves living and loving that space: throwing parties, entertaining guests, enjoying a lazy Saturday with a book. If your favorite living room design looks are dated or divisive, buyers might give your home a pass. So ditch these seven polarizing decor choices while you still can—before they sink your chance of a sale.

1. TV looming over the fireplace

Marion Residence

No matter which side you fall on in the great TV-over-the-fireplace debate, none of that matters when it comes time to sell. Find somewhere else for your flat-screen TV—at least temporarily.

“Today’s buyers are interested in beautiful, serene rooms with seating revolved around a focal point of beauty,” says Chicago interior designer and stager Kara O’Connor. A personality-free black box is neither serene nor beautiful.

Heads up: If you’ve already mounted your television on a wall or over the fireplace, you may have to remove the evidence after you take it down. No buyer wants to see unpatched holes in your walls.

2. Dead things

Obviously you’re not leaving dead mice lying around your living room (we hope!). Perhaps you should get rid of the enormous steer head hanging over your fireplace, too.

“We totally get it. Cowhides and taxidermy are super kitschy and trendy,” says Justin M. Riordan, a Portland designer with Spade and Archer Design Agency. “The combination of creepy and beautiful is all the rage. Unfortunately, for many, the creepy is far more powerful than the beautiful.”

Real or not, you don’t have to say goodbye to your animal skulls. Just tuck them away until the home is sold. Far away.

3. Blond wood

Fire Island Home

Don’t stain your hardwood just because you’re listing your home, but if you’re thinking about doing it anyway, O’Connor has some advice: Go dark.

“Dark, wide-plank floors are ‘in,’ and blond wood is ‘out,’” she says. “If the floors are dated, I encourage refinishing. The impact is huge.”

Alongside new baseboards and neutral paint, deep chocolate floors will give your home the modern edge that could attract on-the-fence buyers.

4. Saturated walls

Complementary Colours

Yes, your deep teal walls look rad alongside your dark wood credenza and velvet chaise. But all potential buyers see are dollar signs.

“More likely than not, your home’s next owner has some very distinct taste in furniture, which they recently spent quite a bit of money on,” Riordan says. “They are not going to buy new furniture to match your saturated wall colors.”

Many buyers do repaint before moving in, but painting over saturated tones requires more coats, more time, and, naturally, more money. And some buyers don’t want to deal with any of that.

To get the highest selling price—and the most interested buyers—paint the entire place in simple neutrals.

5. Outdated furniture

Is your vintage look intentional?
Is your vintage look intentional?

vicnt/iStock

Buyers bring their own furniture. But picturing their gorgeous modern furniture in your space can be daunting if everything you own is outdated and overwhelming.

“If the furniture distracts the buyer from the square footage, a focal point, or hardwood floors, then it should be carefully edited out,” says Jill Hosking-Cartland, an interior designer in Windham, NH.

Not only might they struggle to see themselves in your place, they might also worry about the quality of your home.

“Old furniture can leave a buyer with the impression that there is a lack of attention to routine maintenance and updating,” Hosking-Cartland says.

Work with your Realtor® to stage your property using updated, on-trend furniture.

6. Narrow baseboards

We're all 'bout that baseboard, 'bout that baseboard.
We’re all ’bout that baseboard, ’bout that baseboard.

Stockernumber2/iStock

New baseboards and crown molding can take a room from blah to bangin’ with an afternoon’s worth of work. But make sure the sizes and designs you choose look modern.

“Crisp, white baseboards that are a minimum of 5 inches high are preferable to the dated, 2- or 3-inch baseboards from the ’90s and early 2000s,” O’Connor says.

Teeny-tiny baseboards might not be a deal breaker, but they can make a room feel kind of off. Beware of going too big—though it is possible to overwhelm a room with your molding. Find the right size trim for your space before you embark on that weekend project.

7. Faux finishes

You might hate ordinary paint, but funking up your living space with a faux finish can be a sticking point. Even if your DIY job looks amazing, buyers see only another thing they need to change. Paint over your fake Venetian plaster, reclaimed wood, or “textured” walls before the first showing.

“Asking a buyer to adopt your specific design style is risky,” Hosking-Cartland says. “Most buyers see these polarizing design elements as work they will have to do and spend money on to make the home a reflection of their own personal style.”

 

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7 Important Things Home Sellers Often Forget to Do

When you’re selling your home there’s so much to do: find a Realtor®, do touch-ups, get that balky air conditioner fixed, look into staging… It’s no wonder that sometimes things fall between the cracks. Big things. (We’re not pointing fingers, promise!) Our arsenal of experts—aka real estate agents who have worked with many home sellers—identify the to-do’s that sellers typically overlook. We promise you, these tasks are well worth the time it will take to complete them (which isn’t very long at all).

Heed this sound advice, and there’s a good chance selling your house won’t be nearly as stressful as everyone tells you it is.

To-do No. 1: Google your address

Not all sellers scour the Internet to find out what’s being said about their property, but they should. Nearly all buyers—90%—search online during their hunt for a home, according to the National Association of Realtors. You should be aware of what your online listing looks like, since it will influence the kinds of concerns buyers will have, says Avery Boyce, a Realtor with Compass Real Estate in Washington, D.C.

“Is the site’s estimated value very different from your asking price? It might be because tax records have the wrong information about the number of bedrooms or bathrooms your house has, and this is easily fixed,” Boyce says. Consider this too: Google Maps’ street view of your property may not show improvements that you’ve made, so you’ll want to be sure to include those updates in your listing.

To-do No. 2: Account for improvements and issues

“If you’ve owned your home for a while, make a list of all the problems you’ve solved while you’ve lived there,” says Boyce. This could include chimney fires, water damage, or a flood in the basement. Whether you solved the problem or not, you should disclose this information to the buyer so you don’t wind up in a lawsuit after the sale. Disclosing “invisible improvements” that you’ve made, like re-grading or adding a French drain system, can also be a great source of comfort for buyers, adds Boyce.

“The same goes for sewer lines or tanks, radon remediation, or leaky skylights.”

To-do No. 3: Check your real estate agent’s references

An agent’s bad behavior or incompetence could cost you time, money, and peace of mind, so it’s well worth taking extra steps to find the best real estate agent for you. Ask friends for recommendations.

Check that the people you’re considering have a current real estate license—with no complaints filed against them. Meet with the agent and reach out to a few of their references directly.

“Real estate agents should be happy to provide a number of references for a new client to call,” says Marianne Leonard Cashman a Realtor with William Raveis Real Estate in Andover, MA. As far as talking to your friends about a real estate agent recommendation, here are some questions Cashman suggests asking:

  • Did you have confidence in your real estate agent?
  • Do you think he/she had good knowledge of the local market?
  • Did your agent communicate well and keep you informed during the entire transaction?
  • Do you think that he/she negotiated well on your behalf?
  • Did your agent have good vendors who could assist you?
  • Did your agent returned calls/emails in a timely fashion?
  • Would you recommend this person? Why? (Or why not?)

To-do No. 4: Insist on social media marketing

You staged your home beautifully, picked a competitive price, and listed the property, but there’s something else you’ll need to prepare before you’re fully ready to sell—a social media marketing plan. Video tours, floor plans, and photo galleries promoted on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are must-dos, advises Cashman.

“You want to make sure that your agent is using all avenues to attract the right buyer for your home,” she explains. “Make sure your home has a presence on your agent’s website, their agency’s website, and is promoted on various sites that will market the home and give information about open houses.”

To-do No. 5: Make sure the doorbell rings

Ah, attention to detail. It’s those little cosmetic repairs that could cost you your home sale. If buyers see that you can’t even be bothered to repair a busted doorbell, they’re automatically going to think about what else may need fixing and view the home negatively.

“First impressions make all the difference,” says Cashman. “A well-kept home, starting with the view from the curb, gives the perception that the seller has great pride in the home and has taken good care of it—which translates into less energy and costs for the buyer as they prepare to move in.”

To-do No. 6: Clean inside everything

Storage is a huge selling point for homes. So be warned: Buyers are going to poke around inside closets, drawers, cabinets, ovens, refrigerators, and even the dishwasher, whether they’re cleaned or not—so you’d better make sure they are clean.

“Spending the money on a service to deep-clean your home will come back to you at least 10 times in your sales price,” says Boyce. Even if you’ve swept up and scrubbed all surfaces to a shine, you’re not done until dust, crumbs, and creepy crawlies are cleaned out from within the small spaces too.

To-do No. 7: Clarify which items are not included

You don’t want a buyer to fall in love with your house because of the custom window treatments and then rescind their offer when they find out the curtains aren’t for sale.

“The law says that anything bolted to the wall or ceiling goes to the buyer unless specifically excluded in the contract,” says Boyce. “If you want to take your flat-screen TV, chandelier, or custom pot rack, be sure to label it as soon as the house goes on the market, so that buyers don’t bank on owning that item and wind up disappointed.”

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