13 Ways to Boost Curb Appeal For Less Than $100

Your home’s curb appeal plays a key role in its perceived value. Whether you just want to improve the look of your home to appease your tastes or are looking to attract more buyers as a seller, it all starts with amazing curb appeal.

But boosting the look of your home’s exterior doesn’t have to put a huge dent in your bank account. There are plenty of little projects you can take on to improve your curb appeal for less than $100, including the following.

1. Buy a New Doormat

That “Welcome” doormat at the foot of your front door might not be so welcoming anymore if it’s all ratty and has seen better days. A quick and cheap way to make a change to your home’s entrance is to replace the mat with something new. There are tons available out there for far less than $100, though you can always splurge if your pocketbook allows for it.

2. Add Bark Mulch

It’s amazing what a difference a little bark mulch can make in the look and feel of an outdoor garden. New mulch can instantly spruce up your flower beds and shrubs. Not only does it significantly improve the aesthetics of your outdoor landscaping, but it can also prevent your garden from becoming overwhelmed by weeds. Replacing your mulch is a cheap endeavor and can do wonders for the greenery in your yard.

3. Cut the Grass and Trim the Hedges

This might sound obvious, but it’s worth mentioning. You could spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars on a professionally-designed landscaping job, but it will be all for naught if you don’t keep up with the lawn mowing and hedge trimming. Overgrown grass and hedges will take away from the appeal of your home’s exterior. Sure, this will require regular maintenance on your part, but the good news is that it won’t cost you a cent.

4. Update Your Front Door

If your front door is scaring people away from knocking, it might be time for a change. While completely replacing the door would be ideal, you might find it hard to find something for less than $100. Instead, all you might need to do is reface the front door with a little paint. Just be sure to sand it down if necessary before painting in order to ensure a smooth and seamless look when you’re done.

5. Replace the Door Knob and Lock

While you’re refacing the front door, consider changing the knob or lock. This hardware can easily become worn over time, so sometimes replacing them can make the door – and your home – look more up-to-date.

6. Add Planters Beside Your Front Door

Flanking your front door with a couple of planters can give your entrance an instant update with a splash of color without breaking the bank.

7. Plant Some Flowers

If your landscaping is lacking in color, consider planting a few flowers throughout your front lawn. Just be sure to come up with a simple design first so the final look is cohesive.

8. Install a New Porch Light

If your porch doesn’t have a light, now’s the time to get one. A little light at the front entrance is not only functional, but it adds to the aesthetics of your home overall.

If you have a porch light but it’s showing major signs of wear and tear, swap it for a new model. While there are plenty of expensive and extravagant models out there, you can also find more affordable options that will do just as good a job at improving the curb appeal of your home.

9. Replace Your House Numbers

You might not even think about your house numbers, but they’re just another piece of the puzzle to the overall look of your home’s exterior. You can either repaint the numbers you already have or replace them altogether with something a little more modern.

10. Reface Your Mailbox

Your home’s mailbox is not purely functional, but it’s also a decorative element of your home’s curb appeal. If you can’t find a replacement for less than $100, you can always repaint it to give it a fresh new look at a fraction of the price.

11. Clean Your Windows

It doesn’t take long for your home’s windows to get covered in dirt, dust, debris, and dead bugs. Give your windows a thorough wash to get them gleaming and shining. Not only will this help the way your home looks on the outside, it will also allow a lot more natural light in from the inside too.

12. Paint Your Window Shutters

If your windows are surrounded by shutters, consider giving them a new paint job. It’s a cheap and quick way to update the look of your home’s exterior.

13. Clear Out Your Front Deck

All those shoes, stacked-up patio furniture, and debris that may have piled up in the corner need to be cleaned out. Keep only what you need to create a comfortable and stylish outdoor space in order to improve your home’s curb appeal.

The Bottom Line

Curb appeal speaks volumes, especially when you’re trying to sell for top dollar in a reasonable amount of time. But you don’t have to spend the big bucks to improve your home’s curb appeal. Try any one of these projects to give your home’s exterior a boost without making a hole in your pocket.

INFOGRAPHIC: Your Home Inspection Checklist

10 Things You Shouldn’t Forget to Clean When Spring Cleaning

It’s that time of year. Many homeowners dread spring cleaning, but it’s a necessary task when you consider how many things typically get overlooked as part of every-day cleaning. You might vacuum, wash dishes, and do laundry regularly, but there are plenty of other tasks that probably don’t get done.

Here are few things that you should include in your spring cleaning checklist.

1. Ceiling Fans

You might not be able to see it, but there is probably a thick layer of dust on top of the blades of your ceiling fans. Now, imagine turning them on and allowing all that collected dust to make its way into the air that you breathe in.

For this reason, it’s essential that your ceiling fans are a part of your spring cleaning session. You can use a vacuum cleaner with an extended nozzle, a duster, or even a damp cloth to get rid of all that piled-up dust.

2. Underneath Large Appliances

You might vacuum your floors on a regular basis, but over time, a lot of dust and debris can make their way underneath your large appliances. Be sure to pull out the refrigerator, oven, washer, and dryer and clean the areas that have been covered by these appliances throughout the year.

3. Utensil Drawers

Once a year, you may want to pull out your utensil drawers, take everything out, and clean the inside of them thoroughly, including the back, sides, and corners. Make sure you let them dry completely before you replace all of your utensils.

4. Coffee Makers

Not only should the actual coffee pot be cleaned out, but so should the filter. Be sure to take your coffee machine apart every so often to give it a good cleaning in warm water mixed with white vinegar.

5. Oven

It’s easy for your oven to collect a layer of hard-to-remove grime at the base or along the sides of the interior. All that grease spilling over from your casseroles or the dripped cheese from those oven-baked pizzas can build up a layer of stubborn, caked-on grease that will need to be removed.

If you’ve got a self-cleaning oven, your job just got that much easier. But if you don’t, you’ll need a few hours to allow oven-cleaning products to lift all that built-up grime, or else you’ll be using a lot of elbow grease to scrape it off that hard way.

6. Pillows

When was the last time you tossed your pillows into the washing machine? Pillow cases can only do so much to protect the pillows underneath, which are susceptible to being infested with skin oils, dead skin cells, dust, and even spiders, to name a few.

In fact, you shouldn’t even wait until spring cleaning time to wash your pillows. Instead, they should probably be washed once every month or two.

7. Window Screens

Window screens are not only meant to help keep critters out as you allow fresh air indoors, they’re also meant to help trap dust and debris. After a while, window screens can become inundated with particles that can limit their effectiveness. Not only that, window screens that are filled with dirt just look disgusting.

You may be able to wash out all that dirt by simply spraying them with a hose. For more stubborn debris, you will have to remove the screens from their frames and soak them in warm, soapy water before spraying them down and replacing them.

8. Drapery

It’s easy for all your window treatments to absorb odors in the home. Not only that, they can also get dusty and dirty over time. In addition to being unsightly, this can also be a potential health issue for anyone in the home with allergies or asthma.

Depending on the fabric and size of your drapes, you may be able to toss them into the washer. Otherwise, you may want to have them dry cleaned to make sure any delicate materials are handled with care.

9. Shower Curtains

Shower curtains get wet on a daily basis, and unless you thoroughly dry them after every shower, they’ll typically stay wet for hours. This is the ideal breeding ground for mold and mildew. Again, this is an item that should be cleaned much more frequently than once a year at spring cleaning time.

You can clean them by adding them to the washing machine along with your towels. Just make sure to let them drip dry rather than putting them in the dryer.

10. Telephones

More and more homeowners are opting to ditch their home lines in favor of their cell phones. A land line is just another added expense that many homeowners no longer require when they’ve got their cell phones to communicate with the outside world. But if you’re one of the minority homeowners who still has a traditional telephone hooked up to a land line, you may want to give those receivers a good cleaning.

So many hands and mouths make contact with telephone receivers, so imagine how much illness-causing bacteria or viruses may be on these things! Don’t forget to disinfect all the phones in your home, and while you’re at it, clean your smartphones too.

Final Thoughts

Spring cleaning might not be fun, but it’s got to be done. And to make the most of this labor-intensive job, make sure you’ve got everything covered so you can enjoy a thoroughly clean home throughout the remaining months of the year.

8 Signs of a Pest Problem in a Home

As a buyer, you’ll want to scope out a home in great detail before you agree to put in an offer. In addition to making sure the layout and finishes tickle your fancy, you will also want to be sure that the actual structure and all of its components are sturdy and in good working order.

But one more thing you’ll want to add to the list of things to check out when house hunting is a potential pest infestation. Aside from actually catching them in the act, how can you tell if there are pests lingering in a home?

The following are some telltale signs that a home is likely infested with pests.

1. Pest Droppings

One of the most obvious signs that there are pests lingering in a home are droppings. It certainly sounds nasty, and it is, but pest droppings are a telling sign that pests have settled in a home and made it their own.

You can tell what types of pests are in the home from these droppings. Some pest droppings are pretty obvious, such as those left behind by rats and mice. But smaller pest droppings might not be so obvious, so it’s important to learn what different pest droppings look like so you can tell who’s lurking.

It should be noted that these droppings must be handled with great care. Many droppings can potentially be carrying harmful bacteria, which is why they should only be removed with the appropriate gear. Once the droppings have been removed, the area needs to be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected.

2. Nests

Pests typically like to settle in houses simply because they’re warm and safe from the elements. Once they’ve found a place to stay, they will typically set up shop and even create nests for them to huddle in. If you find nests in a home, the odds are pretty high that there is some sort of pest family living there.

Nests not only mean that pests are present, it also means that they’re likely to multiply. Nests are typically found in quieter, darker spaces, so be sure to look in places such as behind appliances or holes in the wall or floor.

3. Holes

Certain types of pests like to gnaw at floors, walls, and furniture, so if you notice any mysterious holes in and around the home, there is probably a pest colony dwelling there. Rats, in particular, love to chew, so gnaw marks are a clear indication of a pest problem. They may also chew on electrical wiring, so be sure to scope these items out as well.

4. Track Marks

While pests typically like to hang out in areas of light traffic, they’ll typically come out to play when the coast is clear. That said, they’ll often leave track marks behind on their travels, leaving you plenty of evidence of a problem. And don’t just look on the floors for track marks, as they may also be left behind on walls.

5. Damaged Plants

Certain types of pests – particularly rats, mice, and raccoons – love to chew on plant leaves and grass blades. As such, they’ll leave behind a trail of damaged greenery. Mice may even chew the grass down to the soil, leaving behind a trail of missing grass.

6. Strange Noises

Mice, rats, cockroaches, and other pests are definitely quiet, which makes them tough to find. But they’re not completely hushed. They still make subtle noises when they’re in motion, especially at night when they tend to be more active. You just might be able to hear quiet little footsteps on floors, ceilings, and even behind walls. You might even be able to hear gnawing or scratching noises, so keep your ears open.

7. Odd Smells

Certain smells will be indicative of the presence of pests, and different types of pests will leave behind different smells. You may notice a pungent sweet odor that is indicative of ammonia, which means there are urine trails around the house. Any off-putting smells in a home should certainly be looked into.

8. Termite Damage

Termites leave behind very obvious signs that they are present in a home. In addition to the damage to flooring and furniture, they may leave more subtle signs of existence, such as sagging floors and hollow-sounding wood from all their chewing. Termites are highly destructive and can seriously compromise the structural integrity of a home, so you’ll definitely want to rule out their presence before buying a home.

The Bottom Line

If you’ve noticed even just one red flag, you will definitely want to have it checked out. If the seller has not already disclosed a known pest issue, you may want to insist on having a professional in pest control visit the home to verify whether or not a problem exists.

If there is a problem, you may want to insist that the seller rectify it before you take possession of the home. Of course, you could always walk away from the deal if the issue is too much for you to deal with, as long as you’ve inserted the appropriate contingency. Only when you know all the pertinent details about a property can you make an informed purchasing decision.

Can a Load-Bearing Wall Be Removed When Renovating?

Open concept floor plans have become incredibly popular among homeowners and buyers. As such, many homeowners have been opting to knock out existing walls in their homes in order to swap their traditional segmented layout for something more open and free-flowing.

You might want to knock down a wall in your home to open up the kitchen to the living room, or to combine two bedrooms into one larger space, for instance. But before taking a sledgehammer to a wall, it’s imperative to make sure that it’s not a load-bearing one.

There are certain walls in a home that are actually carrying a great deal of weight, so arbitrarily knocking one down can be disastrous if the necessary precautions aren’t taken to distinguish between a load-bearing wall versus a cosmetic partition.

The question is, can a load-bearing wall be torn down? If so, how would this be done?

Yes, load-bearing walls can be removed, but not without invasive measures. These types of walls are integral to the overall structure of a home. As such, removing them without the proper precautions can compromise the structural integrity of the home.

That said, it’s typically not recommended to remove these walls. If the necessary measures aren’t taken to replace them with something that will adequately support the weight of the home and distribute this weight to the ground, any components above the wall will not be properly supported.

This can lead to cracking and settling in the walls above or in ceilings and floors close to where the load-bearing wall was. It can even cause an upper-level floor to eventually cave in over time.

How to Identify a Load-Bearing Wall

Before a wall is slated to be removed, you’ll want to determine whether it’s a load-bearing wall or not. To do that, you’ll want to look at the lowest point of the home, such as the crawl space. If the space is unfinished, you’ll have an easier time located the beams that are holding up the weight of the structure and transferring it to the ground.

Finding these beams will give you a good idea of where the home’s weight is being supported. Any walls directly above these beams are likely load-bearing. These are typically located along the length of the home or near its center.

You can also check out the floor joists. If they are visible (again, in an unfinished space), pay attention to the direction they go in. Many times, load-bearing walls are placed perpendicular to floor joists. This is especially true if there’s a wall located right on top of another, though this isn’t always the case.

If the beams have been covered in drywall, it can be much more difficult to determine which walls are load-bearing. Unless you are a professional, this task is best left to the experts. An experienced contractor or engineer would be better qualified to identify which walls are carrying the weight of the structure versus those that are not.

Removing Load-Bearing Walls

Once a load-bearing wall has been identified and scheduled to be removed, the proper permits will have to be obtained first. Considering the importance of such a component of a home, it should come as no surprise that the local building permit office will want to know about any work that is being done to make sure it’s conducted safely and results in a structurally-sound home.

When a load-bearing wall is removed, it will need to be replaced with something else that will just as effectively carry the weight of the structure and distribute this weight to the ground. Usually, load-bearing walls that are removed are replaced with horizontal beams of adequate size on their own, or with one or more vertical posts upon which the horizontal beam rests.

While vertical posts (or columns) might not necessarily provide that completely open concept look, they can still offer more support and therefore much more strength to the horizontal beam.

The Bottom Line

While load-bearing walls may be able to be removed – either partially or completely – it’s usually best to leave them intact. If you do choose to have one removed from your home, be sure to employ the professionals in this realm. Removing a load-bearing wall is not an easy job, and can even be potentially dangerous if not done properly. That said, it can provide you with that highly-coveted open concept floor plan that you desire if done right.

INFOGRAPHIC: First-Time Homebuyer Stats

Could Asbestos Be Lurking in a Home You Plan to Buy?

Are you planning to buy an older home? If so, there are a lot of things you’ll want to know about the home, including whether or not there’s any asbestos present.

You might wonder if asbestos even exists anymore. Sure, it was used quite often in home construction decades ago, but is it still around today?

It’s rare for asbestos to be used in new home construction, so the odds of finding it in a home that was built after 1980 is pretty slim. But homes that were built before the 80s could potentially still have asbestos lurking within its walls and ceilings.

The Danger of Asbestos

Asbestos is basically a group of naturally-occurring minerals that have been used in all sorts of building materials and other types of products for decades.

The problem with asbestos is that if it’s inhaled over a certain amount of time, it can cause serious respiratory problems, including asbestosis, mesothelioma, and even lung cancer. That’s why it’s not typically used in home construction very much, though it hasn’t been entirely banned as some may falsely believe.

The thing about asbestos is that it’s actually harmless if it’s untouched. The issue arises when the material that contains asbestos is disturbed and particles from the material become airborne. At this point, the dust particles that are released into the air that contain asbestos can be breathed in, which is where the hazard lies.

If you plan to buy an older home and are considering doing some home improvement projects, you will want to know if asbestos is present or not before you start knocking down walls or ripping out ceiling material. Asbestos can be lurking anywhere in the home, so identifying its presence is important before any work is done.

Where is Asbestos Typically Found in a Home?

The natural properties of asbestos make it an ideal and affordable fire retardant. Because of that, it was added to all sorts of different building products, especially between the 1940s to the 1970s. Some of the more common building materials that asbestos can be added to include:

  • Insulation
  • Popcorn ceiling material
  • Ceiling Tiles
  • White tape on heat ducts
  • Cement siding
  • Glue under flooring

How Can You Tell if Asbestos Exists in a Home?

It’s impossible to know for sure whether or not asbestos is present in a home just by looking around. The only way to identify the existence of asbestos is by having the material in question tested.

Before you sign on the dotted line and take possession of a home you’re interested in buying, make sure to include a home inspection contingency. This will give you the chance to scope out the home in great detail to find out if there’s anything that warrants further attention. Although testing for asbestos isn’t typically part of the average home inspection, your inspector may be able to get tiny samples from the property that can then be tested appropriately.

If the home you want to buy was built before the 1980s and you plan on doing some upgrades, you’ll want to know if asbestos exists or not. As such, you may want to consider hiring an asbestos inspector to identify whether or not it’s there. At-home test kits are available, but this is not the type of material that you will want to handle on your own.

Ideally, the seller will disclose the presence of asbestos in the home before you buy it if it’s something that they are aware of. Unfortunately, many sellers are typically unaware of the presence of asbestos in their homes, especially if they’ve never done any improvements while living there.

The Bottom Line

Asbestos can be expensive to remove, so you will want to know if it exists in a home you are buying. It’s possible for asbestos to be found in just any area of a home. And the older the property is, the higher the risk of asbestos being found somewhere.

How to Find a Reputable Contractor For Your Home

Whether you’re looking to improve your living space to better suit your lifestyle or want to spruce up your home before putting it up on the market, sometimes a little professional help is needed. Unless you’re extremely handy and a licensed contractor yourself, many times it’s necessary to call in the pros when it’s time to tackle a home improvement job.

But the contractor you bring in plays a critical role in the end result as well as the journey to project completion. You’ve likely heard many horror stories – whether from acquaintances or even from television shows – about homeowners who’ve been left in the dust by less-than-honest contractors. Whether the contractor did a shoddy job or even disappeared with the money before finishing it, these homeowners are left picking up the pieces.

To make sure you’re not scammed by a shady contractor, you’d be well advised to take a few steps in the searching and interviewing process before you hire a particular contractor to get your job done.

Be Careful With Some Review Sites

One of the more common ways for people to find supposedly reputable contractors is to search online reviews. While many sites post legitimate reviews from actual clients, others tout contractors in exchange for money. Many contractors get listed just because they’re willing to pay a fee for the positive reviews.

If a review website you visit asks you to complete and submit a form and wait for a contractor to get in touch with you, that site might not necessarily be trustworthy. Instead, they may just refer you to a contractor who has paid them for such referrals. Be wary of sites like these.

Use Angie’s List or Yelp

Two of the more reliable and honest referral sites online include Angie’s List and Yelp. As far as Angie’s List is concerned, there are a few different ways you can search for a contractor. One search method that you should steer clear of is looking for promotions. Contractors pay to be promoted, so searching by promotion won’t necessarily point you to the more reputable contractors.

Instead, search by your location. There is an option to search locally, which will pull up a list of contractors within a certain radius of where you live. Each one of these contractors will have their own list of reviews that you can peruse to help you narrow down which one you feel is the best fit for you. Be sure to look at all reviews – both positive and negative – to give you a more comprehensive idea of what it will be like to work with a specific contractor.

Yelp is also a great option. This site provides reviews for several different services, including contractors. Keep in mind that anybody can post a review on Yelp. That’s why it’s important to understand who is posting the review and where they are coming from.

Click on the link of each complainer to read other reviews they’ve left to see if that person has a tendency to rant about any and every professional they’ll every dealt with. A long list of complaints probably means the reviews left by this particular reviewer shouldn’t be taken very seriously.

Get at Least Three Bids

Once you’ve found a few contractors that seem to be OK, request estimates from each one. Ideally, you should be comparing estimates from at least three different contractors to give you a better idea of what type of work and cost you can expect.

Look at each estimate in great detail, and make sure the comparisons are of equal weight. One contractor might charge half of what another contractor might charge, but the scope of work might also be limited. The more detailed the estimate, the better.

An estimate of general tasks and materials listed might end up costing you a lot more at the end of the day if a myriad of additional costs are tacked on as the job progresses. Be sure that the estimate you are receiving lists as many tasks and materials as possible so that you can obtain a more accurate price of what you will be charged when all is said and done.

Make Sure Everything is in Writing

Everything you agree to should be detailed in writing in your contract, signed both by yourself and your contractor. Make sure that every detail of every step of the project is outlined, such as the start and finish date, payment schedule, proof of insurance, specific materials used, and an assurance of lien releases from your contractor in case he or she contractor doesn’t pay all associated third parties.

The contract should also stipulate what will happen if a change needs to be made at some point along the way. Any little change can make a big difference in the final price of the project, so be sure that an agreement is made on how such changes should be charged so there’s little room for any unpleasant surprises.

Ask Your Real Estate Agent

There are so many good reasons to have a real estate agent in your corner, and one of them is because of the network of professionals that they tend to have. Experienced real estate agents tend to know a lot of professionals in various aspects of the housing industry, including contractors.

Your agent has his or her own reputation to uphold, so you can be sure that a referral will not be made lightly. Your agent has every reason to make sure you have a positive experience, so the contractor referred will likely be a reputable one.

The Bottom Line

Finding the right contractor is a huge feat and is half the battle when it comes to making improvements to your home. The wrong contractor can wreak havoc on your home, and on your bank account. On the other hand, a sound contractor with a long track record of successful projects and satisfied clients can be a valuable asset. Make sure you do your homework and don’t cut any corners when it comes time to finding the right professional to take over your home improvement project.

How Long Does the Closing Process Take on a Home Sale?

Whether you’re on the buying or selling end of a real estate deal, you probably have a specific date in mind for when you’d like the deal to close. But generally speaking, closing shouldn’t be too quick nor too long. A closing date that’s too soon could make it very difficult for the buyer to secure financing in time, while an extended escrow time frame can increase carrying costs for the seller.

The question is, how long does it take to close on a real estate deal?

What Needs to Happen Before Closing?

Depending on your exact location, the average length of time between offer acceptance and final closing date will range. Not only that, but the number of professionals and the types of processes involved in closing can also vary. Such differences can play a role in how long buyers and sellers can expect escrow to take before closing.

That said, there are certain factors that must be met in order for closing to take place, including the following:

  • All terms of the purchase agreement are satisfied
  • Earnest money is deposited
  • Contingencies are fulfilled or waived
  • Final walk-through is conducted
  • The buyer’s funds from the lender are deposited appropriately
  • Lender’s appraisal is conducted and approved
  • Lender’s mortgage approval is signed
  • All mortgage documents are signed by the buyer
  • The deed is deposited by the seller

Only when all associated terms of the agreement have been fulfilled can closing take place. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for delays in escrow to happen. There are several different reasons why closing is either pushed out or fails to occur at all, such as the following:

  • Delays from the mortgage underwriter
  • Stringent mortgage guidelines
  • Appraisal comes in low
  • Missing documentation
  • Incomplete mortgage application
  • Buyer takes out additional credit
  • Buyer makes a change in employment or income
  • Errors are found on the buyer’s credit report
  • Liens are discovered on title
  • Loan commitment expired
  • Buyer is unsatisfied with the home inspection
  • Agreed-upon repairs are not made by the seller

This list is certainly not exhaustive. There are plenty of little nuances that can come into play that may cause a delay in closing. That’s why it’s so important for all parties involved – including the buyer and seller – to do what’s necessary to move the deal along and not make any moves that could throw a wrench in the deal.

How Long Does Closing Typically Take?

If all ducks are in a row and both buyer and seller have done their due diligence, there should be no reason for any delays in closing. That said, the factor that tends to be the most involved and time-consuming throughout escrow is the mortgage process. According to Fannie Mae, the average closing time for mortgages is about 45 days.

The Bottom Line

The exact amount of time that it takes to close on a real estate deal is influenced by so many different factors. Every entity involved in the transaction has their own set of responsibilities, and each plays a key role in how long it takes for escrow to close.

Some factors are certainly within your control, while others are not. All you can do is make sure that you’ve kept up your end of the deal and work with professionals who have a good track record of keeping up theirs as well.