How to Sell Your Home to Family Without Making it Complicated

If you’re planning on selling your home, you might have a relative who might be showing interest in buying it off of you.

That could potentially make things a lot easier for you, considering the fact that there’s no need to market your property, and you can close the deal quickly.

Or, it could turn into an ugly mess that can leave you both on awkward terms with one another.

You want to make sure you get what your home is worth in the current market, but you also don’t want to compromise the relationship with the relative you’re selling to. When it comes to money, anything can happen.

Keep the following tips in mind when selling your house to a relative or close friend so you can keep the relationship intact while getting the most out of the sale.

Be Up Front About Your Relationship

If you or your relative don’t want to land in any hot water with the government, you’d be well-advised to disclose the nature of the relationship between the two of you with your lender. Anyone who fills out an application for mortgage insurance with the Federal Housing Authority will typically be asked to submit an Identity of Interest Certification form if there’s a relationship between the buyer and seller.

It’s not exactly common to have a mortgage denied as a result of family ties, but failure to reveal this information can point to mortgage fraud, which will lead to a denied loan application.

Make Sure Both Sides Are Getting a Good Deal

Your relative might confront you about taking your home off your hands with the intention of getting a hefty discount. And perhaps you might want to help them out in that way.

On the other hand, you might want to get the most out of the deal as possible. But if your relative can get a much better deal on the house down the block, there’s no sense in wheeling and dealing with you.

Either way, dealing with price points on a real estate sale between two parties who are close to each other can lead to major tension.

The best solution to this potentially sticky situation is to have a mutually agreed-upon appraiser come in and evaluate the home for both of you and provide an unbiased opinion of what the home is presently worth under today’s market conditions. That way no one is low-balling anybody, and only the fair price is being worked with.

If you do decide to offer a discount, make sure you’ve got an experienced real estate agent in your corner to help ensure that both parties benefit from the transaction.

Make Sure They Can Afford the House

Even after you and your relative agree on a price for the home, you still have to make sure they’ve got the finances to back up the purchase. It would be pretty awkward if you both go so far as to have a legal contract drafted up to complete the real estate transaction, only to find out shortly after that they can’t get approved for a mortgage.

Never assume that they’ll be able to find a lender who is willing to loan out the funds needed to finance a big purchase like this. Regardless of whether they’re buying off of someone they know, or a complete stranger, they’ll need to get approved for a mortgage.

If you fail to inquire about whether or not your relative is good for the cash before agreeing to sell to them, you could wind up back in square one if they fail to qualify for a loan.

Act as if you’re selling to any other buyer, and not just a relative, and ask for a pre-approval letter from their lender before you start negotiating on a price.

Get a Home Inspection

Even if the person buying from you has spent a ton of time in your home, that doesn’t necessarily mean they know all the nitty gritty about it, including any potential problems that may be lurking.

Maybe you aren’t even aware of some of the possible issues that might be hiding in your home. If any problems pop up after they’ve bought and moved into the home, it can cause some tension in the relationship.

To prevent that from happening, make sure you have your home inspected by a professional home inspector that you both agree to hire. That way any issues will be uncovered and laid out before the buyer. Not only will this help them make a more informed decision, it’ll also keep things kosher between the two of you.

Deal With Special Tax Issues

If you decide to arrange a seller take-back mortgage with the buyer, make sure you dot your “i’s” and cross your “t’s” with the IRS. That’s because they’ll calculate “imputed interest” when seller-backed mortgages for relatives are involved.

Even if no interest was charged on the mortgage, the IRS will consider interest to have been paid for tax reasons. They calculate imputed interest as a means of collecting tax revenues on mortgages that aren’t attached to any interest, or if the interest rate is extremely low.

Simply put, you could be subject to mortgage interest revenue if you carry a no-interest mortgage for your relatives, and they in turn could owe money in the form of capital gains taxes if the house is flipped for a quick profit.

While plans to sell to a family member have worked for many Americans, they’ve also turned out to be relationship killers for others. To make sure you’re part of the former group, make sure you seek the advice of a real estate agent and mortgage broker to protect both you and the buyer to avoid any problems in the near future.

Boost the Value of Your Property With These 10 Simple Home Improvement Tips

Want to boost the overall value of your home? It’s a lot easier than you might imagine. In fact, a few key updates and changes can really hike up your home’s value with minimal work and investment up front. Consider the following tasks to help increase the value of your property and build instant equity.

1. Clean Up the Landscaping

Talk to any real estate agent or home stager and they’ll tell you the same thing: curb appeal speaks volumes. And the first thing home buyers will see when they pull up to your home is its landscaping. A yard full of weeds, overgrown grass, and unkempt bushes aren’t going to cut it in the property value department.

Homeowners tend to focus more on their interiors when trying to make a good impression, whether or not they plan on selling. But what about the exterior? Landscaping is one of the top three investments that boost the highest returns. Even $500 spent in outside yard work can rake in $2,000 in property value when everything is said and done, so it’s worth the upfront cost.

2. Change Your Front Door

After homebuyers have made it past your landscaping, they’ll be greeted by your front door before they step foot across the threshold. But how exactly will they be greeted? Never underestimate the power of a front door when it comes to impressions and property value.

Within the first six seconds of entering a home, people will already have formed an impression. And the front door has a lot to do with it. A door that has peeling paint or rusted hinges can make the overall home look dingy. But the opposite is also true: a new, well-maintained, freshly painted door can make the home seem more inviting, and thereby add a little extra in its value.

3. Create More Space

Back in the day, it was customary to have a bunch of different, smaller rooms. But these days, sophisticated homebuyers – especially within the millennial age group – are looking for more space to use. That doesn’t necessarily mean they need more square footage; instead, what they’re essentially seeking is an open concept and optimal flow and functionality.

If your home is cornered off by a myriad of walls, consider knocking some of them down. Even if they’re load-bearing, you can still remove them and leave a decorative column post to retain support. Right now buyers want a wide open space, and kicking down a couple of walls can be an easy and affordable way to create it, and thereby add more value to your home.

4. Enhance the Lighting

Looking for a cheap and easy way to boost your ROI? Consider updating your home’s lighting, which will noticeably elevate your property’s appeal.

Anything from dimmer switches, to pot lights, to pendant lamps can make a massive difference in the look and feel of a home’s interior. Lighting of various types creates a sense of space and air, and also allows you to create a specific mood.

5. Make Minor Repairs

You’d be surprised at how much of a difference a few minor issues can make in the look and feel of a home. From leaky faucets, to chipped floor tiles, to scuff marks on the walls, these little flaws can make an otherwise nice home look tired. Before you even start thinking about more major upgrades like a kitchen renovation, address the more basic things first.

These little fixes can really go a long way towards property value. Even spending a few hundred bucks fixing small things around the house can increase the value of your property by a few thousand dollars.

6. Upgrade Your Flooring

One of the first things people see when they walk into a home is the flooring. What are they stepping on? Creaking hardwood? Uneven tiles? Dated carpeting? About 94% of professional real estate agents recommend investing a little money on floors when it comes to boosting property value. And you don’t have to blow the budget, either.

Depending on what you install, you can recoup twice as much in value compared to what you spend. If you are planning on installing a completely new floor, consider hardwood. It’s what the majority of homebuyers want, and have even come to expect when they’re on the prowl for a new home.

7. Up the Energy-Efficiency Factor

If the HVAC system in your home is aging terribly, and your utility bills are through the roof, it’s about high time you swap that system for an energy-efficient one. Sure, it might cost you a pretty penny up front, but the amount of money that it can save you in heating and cooling bills will all be worth it.

In fact, you can save as much as 40%. Recent studies have shown that energy savings add 20 times the yearly savings to the overall value of your home. Energy-saving systems and appliances make your home more desirable.

8. Tune Up the Bathroom

Just about every real estate broker says that sprucing up the bathroom is a sure-fire way to add some value to your property. But you need to be careful in how you upgrade it. Spending way too much money on unnecessary finishes and features could land you more in the hole than before you started.

Focus on the kinds of upgrades that the neighborhood calls for. Stick to the upgrades that are economical, easy, and fast. Simple things like adding a glass shower door or replacing an old pedestal sink for a more decorative vanity can go a long way in spiffing up the bathroom, and the overall impression of your home. Do it right, and you can expect a 62% ROI on a bathroom update.

9. Give Your Kitchen a Facelift

In much the same way as a buffed up bathroom can add value to a home, so too can the kitchen. In fact, this central space is probably the most important room in the home, so it only makes sense to give it the attention it deserves. Done properly, you can recoup anywhere from 75% up to as much as 100% on a kitchen remodel.

Just like with a bathroom remodel job, it’s important to keep your expenditures in check when it comes to the kitchen. For example, if the average home value in your neighborhood is $300,000 and you put in $70,000 into your kitchen remodel job, you’re essentially out-pricing your home. If your kitchen doesn’t warrant a total gut job, focus on smaller things that bring the most ROI, such as new countertops, appliances, cabinet doors, light fixtures, and handed and knobs.

10. Paint

Talk about maxing out your return on investment. The number one way to add value to your home with the least amount of money required is though a simple paint job. In fact, you can get back as much as 168% ROI with a simple paint job. Before you even think of listing your home for sale, look around and make a judgment call about whether or not the place could use a fresh coat of paint.

Any peeling, scuff marks or discoloration will warrant a new coat of paint. And if your walls are painted fuchsia pink or lime green, you might want to change it to something more neutral to attract more buyers, and thereby increase the value of your home.

Even if you have no intentions of moving any time in the near future, updating your home in various ways can do wonders to the value of your property. But before you take the hammer to nail, make sure you get some sound advice from a real estate agent or appraiser to find out exactly what features your neighborhood calls for, and the recommended amount that should be spent on each project to maximize the amount you can get back.

The Danger of Over-Leveraging in Real Estate Investments

Leveraging is one of the biggest advantages that real estate investors have at their disposal.

In fact, real estate investing is designed with leveraging in mind. It helps first-time investors get started in real estate investing when there’s little money from the get-go, and is a keen way to multiply initial investment capital to help build long-term wealth.

When leverage works the way it should, it can significantly boost returns, and help you gain equity a lot faster so that you can turn around and continue investing in other properties. It can afford you with appreciation on 100% of the property’s value while others pay it off so you can accumulate wealth much faster.

But over-leveraging is dangerous, and can put your entire financial profile at risk.

While debt can significantly multiply your reward, it can also just as easily multiply your risk.

Owing too much in a specific property compared to what it’s actually worth and the income it’s generating can put you in a negative leverage and equity position.

Negative leverage occurs when the return portion of the investment property is less than the interest rate on the loan.

Of course, it’s expected that real estate values will fluctuate over time. But if you’re teetering on the edge of profit versus loss based on the amount of leverage you’re holding, it could spell disaster. Any significant change in the value of your property at any given time can have a major impact on your investment.

When values drop or when interest rates increase on your debt, your equity will inevitably decline. Depending on how much you owe versus what you own, you could wind up with no equity – or negative equity.

If you invest in commercial real estate, your loan will generally last between 3 to 5 years. That means you haven’t got much time to play with when it comes to paying down the principal portion unless any returns are put back into the loan. With limited equity on the property, lenders will likely refinance the loan at a higher interest rate, making it even more expensive to hold the investment property.

And let’s not forget about all the other expenses that could pop up unexpectedly, including vacancies, repairs, and other factors that could affect your profits.

Over-leveraging to invest in a property that has no immediate returns or exit is quite frankly a bad idea. If the property is not yet rented, or there’s no immediate buyer lined up, over-leveraging is simply like walking the plank, especially if you’ve got no reserves to cover you.

Let’s say you’ve purchased a property for $500,000 with a $25,000 downpayment. If the value of the property declines by 30%, it’s now worth just $350,000, but you’re still stuck paying interest and principal on the full $475,000 loan. And if the amount that you collect in rent drops too, you could be at great risk of defaulting on the property.

If you were using the cash flow from that investment property to pay off your loan on other investment properties, you could wind up with a whole investment portfolio in foreclosure just because of one bad, over-leveraged loan and a lack of reserve capital to back you up.

How Much Leverage Should You Use?

Before you agree to a loan to make a purchase on an investment property, you’ll need to decide what would be a safe area to stay in when it comes to using leverage to boost returns and avoid being upside down on your loan. Here are a few considerations to keep in mind.

Don’t bet on steep rises in appreciation. Lots of real estate investors have lost a ton of capital because they assumed that recent history would repeat itself. Even if property values in the area have been appreciating at a 15% rate over the past few years, for example, it doesn’t mean this trend will continue into the near future. Betting on this is risky business, and can lead you to buy at higher prices and borrow more than what the property may realistically bring in for you.

Put in a hefty downpayment. The higher the down payment you put forth, the less your outstanding principal will be. Sure, you can put as little as 3% down on a real estate loan, but this leveraging will likely run you into trouble if the income that your investment property generates is close to the interest rate you’re paying on your loan. If the market happens to soften at some point, or you experience a higher vacancy rate than you anticipated, you could find it impossible to carry the loan for the property.

Meticulously – and realistically – calculate your cash flow. One of the biggest mistakes you can make when it comes to real estate investing is overestimating your cash flow and being naive about the financial fallbacks that could realistically creep up and affect your returns. Make sure you’ve accounted for every dollar and every possibility when calculating your cash flow. If the margin between rental income and mortgage costs and expenses is slim, you’re putting yourself at risk.

Keep your long-term investment goals clear. Understanding where you’d like to be in 5, 10 or even 20 years will help you decide how much you should leverage to buy a property. Not only should you be looking at the real returns of a property, you should also think about whether you’ll be using those returns to put back in the property to pay down the principal, or turn around and purchase another property.

The Bottom Line

Levering is obviously a necessity when it comes to investing in real estate and reaping the most rewards for the initial dollars invested. In fact, it’s leveraging that allows massive profits from real estate investments to be made.

But using it prudently and avoiding huge loan ratios that your current financial situation cannot support is critical. While leverage is a tool that can help you realize significant returns, it’s got to be used with a good dose of skill and expertise in order for you to avoid losing your shirt.

What to Consider When Deciding Between New Home Construction and Resale

If you’re in the market to buy a home, you’ve got choices.

Aside from the actual type of property – condo, townhouse, detached, etc – you need to decide whether to take the resale or new construction path to home ownership.

But the decision can be a tough one, considering the pros and cons that come with each. And not only is this a financial debate, it’s also about different lifestyles.

Here are some key considerations about both buying resale and new home construction to think about before you make your final decision.

Level of Customization

If you buy resale, you’ll likely be looking at quite a few properties before you find one that matches your tastes and needs exactly. Buying an existing home usually means you’ll need to be willing and ready to make some sacrifices, unless your bank account allows for some serious tweaking.

Whether it’s the choppy floor plan or the lack of a master ensuite, the downside to buying resale is that you probably won’t be able to tick off every single one of your desires, unless you’re prepared to dump a lot of money in future renovations.

If you choose to buy resale, determine what your wants and needs are in a potential property before you start looking. For example, if you absolutely must have a double attached garage and a main-floor laundry room, be prepared to sacrifice other things to get them in case you just can’t find a house that meets all your criteria.

Of course, you just might find your dream home that fits within your allotted price range. But it’s always better to be prepared for the unknown.

One of the biggest advantages to buying a new home, on the other hand, is the opportunity to customize the home to precisely match your wants and needs. Whether you want an open floor plan, a combined living and dining room, a walk-in closet, or a walk-up to the backyard from the basement, you can design the plans accordingly before the home is built.

Not only that, but you also have the ability to choose the finishes, such as crown molding, granite countertops, or hardwood flooring. With a new build, you have control over how your home will look when it’s done, which isn’t always the case with a resale.

Efficiency

New homes are much more energy efficient compared to properties built decades ago. From the insulation, to the HVAC systems, to the windows and doors, there’s no question that new home construction will offer you a much higher degree of energy efficiency.

You’d be amazed at the cost savings that come along with an energy efficient property. In fact, new homes that cut the amount of energy used to operate it typically come with an average of 20% savings in utility bills, which translates to an average of $400 on annual savings.

A house that was built in 1950 will certainly cost more to operate than a new home that is built to today’s more modern standards. Of course, you can always update the home to bring it up to par, but you’ll need to be prepared to pay the bill to pay for such an endeavor.

Upfront Costs

Unless you buy a resale home that needs a ton of work (and, therefore, money), the upfront costs of a newly built home can be a lot higher.

Not only are you paying for the home itself, you’ve also got to flip the bill for things like window blinds, french doors, a fence, landscaping, and other items that the builder won’t be putting in for you.

In addition, you’ll need to pay a deposit to the builder to hold the desired location of the new home. While this price can vary, you can expect it to run around 10% of the cost of your newly constructed home. And the longer it takes for the home to be fully built, the longer that money will be sitting with the builder, rather than somewhere else where it could have been collecting interest.

Make sure all these upfront costs are discussed with the builder and accounted for before you move forward with new construction.

Sellers of resale homes don’t typically take the window treatments with them, nor will they be ripping out the fence or french doors, either. All these little extras that you might not have thought about before can really add up in a lot of savings when you buy a resale compared to a new home build.

Speed of Closing and Possession

When you buy a resale property, you can generally expect to get the keys to the place anywhere between 30 to 90 days after an offer is accepted. That’s a lot less time than the average new come construction closing date, which can be weeks or months – or longer – after the initial deposit is put down.

And if there are any delays throughout the process – which there almost always are – you can expect that initial closing date to be pushed out even further.

If you don’t have much time to play with, then a resale makes much more sense.

Established Neighborhood Versus Bare Bones

One of the best perks about buying an existing property is that you’re buying into an established neighborhood. The trees are mature, the schools are built, the area amenities are settled, and internet connections are secured.

Newly constructed homes, on the other hand, typically don’t have these features. Instead, it could take years before any of these amenities are available. In the meantime, you’ll have to put up with a lot of dust, plenty of noise, broken cell reception, and nothing green to look at outside for a while.

Cookie Cutter Versus Character and Charm

New-build homes typically offer clean lines and modern designs, but they often lack the charm that’s more typical with existing homes. Inside resale homes, you can often find lovely architectural details, like built-in shelving units, leaded glass, and vaulted ceilings, which offer a unique feeling to each property.

New homes in subdivisions often have that ‘cookie cutter’ feeling, where every house on the block seems to be just about the same. While you can always add that classic charm and character to a new home, it’ll come with a price tag.

The Bottom Line

Not every buyer necessarily wants the same things in a home or neighborhood. You’re definitely going to have a bunch of questions throughout the home buying process, so make sure you answer them before you take the plunge. To make sure the decision you make is the right one one, be sure that you’ve got excellent representation, regardless of whether you choose to go the resale or new construction route.

Building a Deck? Consider These Things First

Extending your living space to the outdoors is a great way to infuse an added dimension to your home and allow you to enjoy it to the fullest. In fact, outdoor living is really getting popular these days, with more and more homeowners adding decks to their homes as a means of enjoying Mother Nature.

But before you start drafting up those blueprints for your deck building projects, make sure you consider these factors first.

Purpose

The average homeowner builds a deck to perform a few different functions, like cooking, eating, entertaining, and so on. But the options are seemingly limitless.

Figure out exactly what you want your new deck to do before you even start drafting up your building plans. Doing so will not only help ensure that the final product is exactly what you’re looking for, it will also help you stay within budget, and eliminate any potential safety hazards.

Privacy

Think about the amount of privacy that you want as well. You don’t want to be on display every time you have dinner on your deck. Consider adding a pergola, latticework, bushes, or anything else that will add a level of privacy to your deck.

Access

How do you plan on getting onto the deck from your home as well as from your backyard? If you’ve already got a door that leads directly to your deck, that’s a huge load off your back. If not, you’re going to have to add an opening from your home which will involve knocking out a part of the exterior wall.

If you’re planning on eating meals out there (which most likely is going to be the case), then ideally you’ll want the opening access as close to the kitchen as possible. It would be pretty inconvenient to have to walk around the house or climb a ton of stairs with platters of food in your hand.

Design, Shape & Size

Aside from how you want it to function, you also want to make sure the deck is visually appealing to you. Consider the architecture of your home so that it at least goes with its style. The size of your deck will depend on the size of your property, as well as what you want it to do for you. Its shape will be dictated by your home’s design.

For example, building a curved deck onto a linear house might be like forcing a square peg into a round hole. Instead, follow the lines and proportions of your home so it’s a seamless extension from the indoors to out. Get yourself some help from a deck building pro to get some pointers about deck style, materials, and more.

Materials

You’ve got a handful of options when it comes to materials to build the deck with. Typically, wood, composite boards, and even concrete are used to construct decks. While wood was the dominant choice among homeowners for a long time, composite boards are becoming increasingly popular.

Wood requires a lot of upkeep and maintenance, while composite is easy to care for and won’t look ancient within a couple of years from wear and tear. Composite boards are made of a mixture of plastic and wood fibers. While they’re a bit more expensive than wood, they more than make up for this up-front cost without the need to re-stain it and pay for upkeep. In fact, the cost over time can amount to less than real wood.

Local Regulations

Every municipality has its own governing rules when it comes to home renovations, and that includes buying a deck. Before you make those elaborate plans of yours, be sure to check with the local government office’s department that deals strictly with building permits.

Construct your deck too close to the neighbor’s yard, or hoist it up too high, and you’re asking for trouble. There are a bunch of rules that you might not be aware of that could sabotage your plans, so be sure to find out what the specifications are to building a deck in your neighborhood first rather than having to modify it or pay pesky fines after the fact.

Shade

Keep things like shade from sun and rain into consideration. If it’s way too sunny or raining out, you’ll be less inclined to hang out on your new deck without some sort of shade or protection from the elements. You’ve got a lot of options here, including retractable canopies, to large umbrellas, to pergolas, and more.

You can even construct a more permanent roof fully equipped with a ceiling fan, recessed lighting, and so forth. The project can literally be as complex and sophisticated as building a little house.

Your Budget

Obviously, whatever deck you build will have to fit nicely within your budget. You won’t be able to enjoy it if you’ve got to work overtime for months just to pay it off. On average, a composite deck that’s around 500 square feet can cost somewhere around the $25,000 mark.

A deck with a variety of elevations will also jack the price up because of the more intricate plans and work involved. Where you live will also play a role in the cost of your deck. For instance, the same-sized deck in the Mid-West would probably cost about one-third of the price compared to San Francisco.

Don’t let these figures scare you off: deck additions are excellent investments that can increase the value of your property. In fact, you can expect to recoup an average of 70 to 80 percent of the value of the deck when you sell your home, so it’s definitely a home improvement job that you should seriously consider.

Understand a Few Things Before Buying an HOA Home

If you want to live in a community where your property is taken care of without you having to lift a finger, or where you have a variety of amenities to use at your disposal, then a homeowners’ association (HOA) might be perfect for you.

But before you jump in with both feet, there are a few things about HOAs that you should be aware of.

After all, buying a home is a huge investment – most likely the biggest one you’ll ever make. And as such, you want to be sure the choice you make is the right one for you.

Buying an HOA is Like Buying a Lifestyle

When it comes to an HOA, a certain amount of conformity is involved. If you’re not too keen on keeping in line with the standards of a particular HOA, it could be a nightmare for you if you actually buy into it.

There’s a certain price tag that comes along with the scrupulously manicured lawns, the well-maintained exteriors, and the consistently paved roadways. Every HOA has their own set of conformity rules that homeowners need to abide by in order to maintain this level of care among the properties and the common areas.

Before you scoff at these rules, you should understand the reasoning behind them: they help keep property values up over the long haul. In fact, the main goal of an HOA is to protect the investments of homeowners within the community and ensure that property values are maintained and increased over time, rather than allowing the area to go down the tubes like many American neighborhoods have.

So, if you’re OK with keeping your garage door color the same as your neighbors, or putting a limit on the number of lawn chairs you plop on your front lawn, then an HOA just might work for you.

HOA Fees Encompass Different Things in Different Complexes

It’s common knowledge that living in an HOA involves paying fees on a monthly basis. These fees go towards a bunch of different things, namely the maintenance and upkeep of common elements of the community. This can include anything from cutting the grass to cleaning the pool.

You’re basically paying someone else to maintain your property so you don’t have to. It’s a pretty good deal: you don’t have to physically maintain the property yourself, and the community as a whole is always in pristine condition.

But the HOA fees in one complex might not necessarily cover the same things in another one. Not only that, but the fees themselves might vary drastically from one complex to another. The average HOA fees usually range between $200 to $400 per month, but the more well-to-do the building is, and the more amenities it’s got, the higher you can expect the HOA fees to be.

In general, these fees cover services like water, sewage, garbage removal, lawn maintenance, repairs to the outside of condo buildings, and the care of common area amenities. Make sure you find out precisely what the monthly HOA fee is, and what exactly is covered under these dues.

Ask questions. How are increases in HOA fees determined? How often do they occur? How many times have they already been increased in the past? Is cable included?

Compare these fees to the average dues in surrounding neighborhoods. Are they at par? Or are they a lot higher? It’s worth noting that you’ll be paying for the complex’s amenities even if you don’t use them. If you’re not going to use the swimming pool or the on-site tennis court, ask yourself if you’re OK with financially contributing towards their upkeep. If not, it just might make sense to choose an HOA that doesn’t have such amenities, which will be reflected in their lower fees.

There’s This Thing Called an ‘Assessment’

Not only do you have to pay HOA fees on a monthly basis, you’ll also be responsible for contributing to an extra ‘assessment’ if there’s not enough money in the HOA’s reserve funds to pay for major expenses, like replacing the building’s roof or repairing its foundation. If money in this reserve fund is a little short, the HOA could charge you an extra assessment to cover the added expenses, that can be pretty pricey.

Before you buy, inquire about any assessments that are in the works for the near future. If there are, you need to be prepared to dish out a little more than what the current HOA fees demand.

You Have a Say

If you don’t like some of the rules within your HOA community, then do something to change them.

The ideal HOA encourages residents to get involved and have a say in how the rules are implemented and what changes can and should be made. The HOA will advertise their meetings that residents are allowed to attend, so consider going to them when your schedule permits so you can voice your opinion and put in your two cents about what is working and what isn’t. You might even consider running for a seat on the board to fight for the changes that you and fellow residents want.

Learn about the process for making any changes to rules or adding new ones. If you think the rules are too restrictive, you might want to look elsewhere.

If you want to live in a community where your property is taken care of without you having to lift a finger, or where you have a variety of amenities to use at your disposal, then a homeowners’ association (HOA) might be perfect for you.

But before you jump in with both feet, there are a few things about HOAs that you should be aware of.

After all, buying a home is a huge investment – most likely the biggest one you’ll ever make. And as such, you want to be sure the choice you make is the right one for you.

Buying an HOA is Like Buying a Lifestyle

When it comes to an HOA, a certain amount of conformity is involved. If you’re not too keen on keeping in line with the standards of a particular HOA, it could be a nightmare for you if you actually buy into it.

There’s a certain price tag that comes along with the scrupulously manicured lawns, the well-maintained exteriors, and the consistently paved roadways. Every HOA has their own set of conformity rules that homeowners need to abide by in order to maintain this level of care among the properties and the common areas.

Before you scoff at these rules, you should understand the reasoning behind them: they help keep property values up over the long haul. In fact, the main goal of an HOA is to protect the investments of homeowners within the community and ensure that property values are maintained and increased over time, rather than allowing the area to go down the tubes like many American neighborhoods have.

So, if you’re OK with keeping your garage door color the same as your neighbors, or putting a limit on the number of lawn chairs you plop on your front lawn, then an HOA just might work for you.

HOA Fees Encompass Different Things in Different Complexes

It’s common knowledge that living in an HOA involves paying fees on a monthly basis. These fees go towards a bunch of different things, namely the maintenance and upkeep of common elements of the community. This can include anything from cutting the grass to cleaning the pool.

You’re basically paying someone else to maintain your property so you don’t have to. It’s a pretty good deal: you don’t have to physically maintain the property yourself, and the community as a whole is always in pristine condition.

But the HOA fees in one complex might not necessarily cover the same things in another one. Not only that, but the fees themselves might vary drastically from one complex to another. The average HOA fees usually range between $200 to $400 per month, but the more well-to-do the building is, and the more amenities it’s got, the higher you can expect the HOA fees to be.

In general, these fees cover services like water, sewage, garbage removal, lawn maintenance, repairs to the outside of condo buildings, and the care of common area amenities. Make sure you find out precisely what the monthly HOA fee is, and what exactly is covered under these dues.

Ask questions. How are increases in HOA fees determined? How often do they occur? How many times have they already been increased in the past? Is cable included?

Compare these fees to the average dues in surrounding neighborhoods. Are they at par? Or are they a lot higher? It’s worth noting that you’ll be paying for the complex’s amenities even if you don’t use them. If you’re not going to use the swimming pool or the on-site tennis court, ask yourself if you’re OK with financially contributing towards their upkeep. If not, it just might make sense to choose an HOA that doesn’t have such amenities, which will be reflected in their lower fees.

There’s This Thing Called an ‘Assessment’

Not only do you have to pay HOA fees on a monthly basis, you’ll also be responsible for contributing to an extra ‘assessment’ if there’s not enough money in the HOA’s reserve funds to pay for major expenses, like replacing the building’s roof or repairing its foundation. If money in this reserve fund is a little short, the HOA could charge you an extra assessment to cover the added expenses, that can be pretty pricey.

Before you buy, inquire about any assessments that are in the works for the near future. If there are, you need to be prepared to dish out a little more than what the current HOA fees demand.

You Have a Say

If you don’t like some of the rules within your HOA community, then do something to change them.

The ideal HOA encourages residents to get involved and have a say in how the rules are implemented and what changes can and should be made. The HOA will advertise their meetings that residents are allowed to attend, so consider going to them when your schedule permits so you can voice your opinion and put in your two cents about what is working and what isn’t. You might even consider running for a seat on the board to fight for the changes that you and fellow residents want.

Learn about the process for making any changes to rules or adding new ones. If you think the rules are too restrictive, you might want to look elsewhere.

The Bottom Line

There are definite perks too living in HOA community. You’ve got access to some great amenities, and you don’t have to worry about having to mow the lawn or trim the bushes. You also don’t have to worry about annoying neighbors who like to park their cars on their front lawns or let their weeds grow out of control – the HOA won’t allow that sort of thing.

But, like any other investment, a little due diligence is required on your part to make sure the one you’re making is right for you. Don’t buy into anything that you’ll regret shortly after moving in.

Simple Ways to Boost Privacy in Your Yard

Whether you’re playing with the kids, enjoying a family meal, or even just catching some rays, the last thing you want is to be put on display in your own backyard. The demand for outdoor living space among homeowners has grown over the years, making privacy that much more important. If your yard is exposed to the neighbors, you might want to come up with tasteful and functional ways to add a subtle barrier between your yard and others around you.

Keep these simple tactics in mind to create a secluded sanctuary in your backyard.

Plant Hedges

Lining your property with a row of hedges is an easy and clean way to add a divide between your lot and the next. Privacy planting like these can create privacy and drown out the chatter from next door.

To plant a new hedge, dig a trench about two feet wide and two feet deep, and allow about a foot between each shrub planted. Add enough soil to reach the branching trunk, and be sure to water frequently within the first year. Keep in mind that hedges require regular trimming in order to keep them neat and tidy.

Layer Your Greenery

If the space permits, try layering your greenery to create a wonderful display of plants, flowers, shrubs, ornamental grass, and trees while shielding your outdoor area from the neighbor. Start with the tallest greens in the back, then gradually step them down in height to create depth, visual appeal, and texture.

If the neighbors beside or behind you are perched up higher than your lot, or have a raised deck or terrace, plant tall-growing shady trees to block out the neighbors view into your yard.

Install a Fence

A fence is an obvious way to add privacy to your property, but it doesn’t have to be so cold and dull. You can dress it up with some paint, vines, shrubs, perennials, or hanging planters to make it more pleasing to the eye compared to a long line of plain wood.

Fences are perfect for year-round screening and for side yards where space is particularly limited. Just be sure to check with your local jurisdiction to see if a permit is needed, and what height restrictions you’ll have to adhere to.

Install Lattice or Ornamental Screens

If the thought of a fence is just too severe for your tastes, then lattice is the next best thing. It’s the perfect way to add seclusion without entirely shutting your property off.

Lattice is also an ideal way to add some of your favorite vines or climbing flowers for a decorative and tranquil space. You don’t have to ward off the entire yard with lattice, either. Instead, consider adding it only to specific areas where privacy is especially craved, such as in the corner or against the eating area.

Add a Retaining Wall

While a little more expensive and labor-intensive, adding a decorative stone retaining wall is a fantastic way to seclude your yard. If you don’t want to look at a complete wall of stone, you can erect a shorter retaining wall, then mount some decorative trees or shrubs along the top half to break up the monotony.

Keep in mind that locations with poor drainage will require deeper excavation to reach below the frost line, as well as piping installation to allow for adequate water drainage from the footing.

Build a Pergola

If you’ve got defined spaces in your yard, such as an outdoor kitchen or patio, you might want to focus your screening to these specific areas rather than your entire yard.

Pergolas work wonderfully in defined spaces like these, while offering shade from the sun. You can even take things a step further by installing an enclosure around the pergola to create a higher level of intimacy and privacy while enjoying a family meal or entertaining guests.

Plant Some Trees

Even just one single tree can be enough to block a view and offer you the privacy you desire. Choose a wide-growing tree, such as a dwarf maple or birch to both shield your yard while acting as a decorative focal point to your overall landscaping scheme.

You can also plant a row of columnar trees around the perimeter of the property or in specific areas if your yard is smaller in scale; they grow quite tall, but don’t take up too much horizontal space.

Add a Fountain

In addition to blocking the view into your yard, you’ll likely want to shield it from surrounding noise as well. Whether it’s the chatter of the neighbors, the loud play of neighborhood kids, or traffic from the street, a decorative fountain can work quite well at drawing out unwanted noise.

You can go as simple or as elaborate as you desire. The pleasant sound of trickling water can block out noise while creating a tranquil sanctuary right in your own backyard.

There are no hard-fast rules that dictate that you should use only one of the above strategies to boost privacy in your yard. You might even want to consider incorporating several tactics to increase solitude and create a secluded retreat for you and your family to enjoy.

Tips to Decorating an Odd-Shaped Living Room

An odd-shaped living room can be a decorating nightmare. Whether you’ve got harsh angles, recessed walls, or columns in the middle of the room, it can be tough to arrange furniture, decorate, and create a functional space.

But rather than seeing these weird features as obstacles, look at them as opportunities to get creative and decorate with some flamboyance.

Here are some ways to get around your irregular-shaped living room to create an awesome space that’s both functional and stylish.

Break the Room Down Into Segments

Living rooms with unorthodox layouts can be tackled by separating them into different segments, if the space permits. Then you can arrange specific furniture pieces and décor in these different areas to suit various tasks.

For example, one section could be reserved for a sofa and television, while another space can be dedicated to an office/study area. Or, you might choose to create a reading area with a chaise, small table and bookshelf.

If the room allows for different functions, then make use of this space accordingly so even the most bizarre spots can be functional without leaving them bare.

Arrange Around a Focal Point

Take the attention away from peculiar spots in the living room by creating a focal point. You can literally make this central point whatever you wish, whether it’s a large coffee table, fireplace, chandelier, wall art, or an area rug.

Once you’ve decided what you want your focal point to be, decorate around it. Just make sure that it’s placed in an easily visible spot. Going this route will draw attention to the center of the space, rather than showcase its unusual edges and corners.

Use Rounded Furniture Pieces For Harsh Angles

Sometimes you wonder what was going through the minds of the architects and builders when they designed and built a home with rooms that feature corners and edges with no rhyme or reason. Whatever the case may be, it’s now up to you to work around it.

And when it comes to harsh corners and angles, one of the best ways to tackle this issue is to place furniture pieces with rounded edges to soften the area. Pieces with equally sharp edges will only accentuate the severity of the angled walls and corners. The opposite is true with round furniture; these pieces work to soften the angles and take the focus off of them.

Be Consistent With Repeated Elements

If you’re going to have elements in the space that will be repeated, such as molding or window treatments, make sure to keep them consistent throughout the room. This will help to take the attention off the irregular shape of the room and make it appear more conventional.

All the trim should be consistent, and every window covering should be the same. While this might not sound like a lot of fun, it can be really effective at normalizing the layout of the room.

Give Purpose to Tight Corners

What are you supposed to do with a corner that’s less than 90 degrees? Simple. Transform it into a space of its own by placing items such as reading chairs, potted plants, tall vases, or small accent tables. While you might not necessarily hang out in that corner much, adding elements such as these can breathe life into the corner and give it some purpose.

Create Balance With Free-Standing Shelves

Rooms that have strange layouts can often appear off kilter. Your job is to bring back a sense of balance in the room, which can effectively be done by placing a free-standing bookshelf wherever the space calls for it. By including a shelving unit that can be accessed from all sides, it can make the room appear more symmetrical.

Make Odd Walls or Columns a Feature

Lots of older homes tend to comes with a random column in the middle of the room, or an unexpected wall protruding from the perimeter. If you’re faced with one of these traits, use them to your advantage and make them features in the room.

You might want to paint the wall or column a different color than the rest of the walls in the space, or use it as an area where you hang all your collective art pieces. Turning it into a feature is a much better option than trying to camouflage it in some way, which can actually make it stand out even more.

An oddball living room definitely makes it more challenging to outfit, but you’re really only limited to your imagination when it comes to making it work. In fact, an unusually shaped room can even turn out to be the most memorable part of your home if it’s used properly.

Spring Cleaning Checklist: Don’t Forget To Clean These 6 Things

Most homeowners dread spring cleaning, but it’s a necessity when you think about how many things typically get overlooked as part of everyday cleaning. You might vacuum, wash dishes, and do laundry regularly, but there are plenty of other chores that get overlooked.

You should include the following items in your spring cleaning checklist.

1. Utensil Drawers

Pull out your utensil drawers, take everything out and thoroughly clean the insides, including the back, sides, and corners. Make sure to let them dry completely before you replace all of your utensils.

2. Coffee Makers

You should not only clean out your coffee pot, but also the filter. Take your coffee maker apart once in a while to give it a good cleaning in warm water mixed with white vinegar.

3. Ceiling Fans

The blades of your ceiling fans probably have a thick layer of dust on top of them. Imagine turning them on and allowing all that dust to enter the air you breathe. It is essential that you clean your ceiling fans as a part of your spring cleaning. You can use a vacuum cleaner with an extended nozzle, a duster, or even a damp cloth to remove all the piled-up dust.

4. Window Screens

Window screens are not just designed to keep critters out, they’re also intended to trap dust and debris. After a while, window screens can become clogged with particles, which can limit their effectiveness. Additionally, dirty window screens look disgusting. For 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.

5. Oven

There’s a good chance that your oven will collect a layer of hard-to-remove grime at the bottom or along the interior walls. Those casseroles dripping with grease or those oven-baked pizzas covered with melted cheese can leave behind a layer of caked-on grease that needs to be removed. Your job just got a whole lot easier if you have a self-cleaning oven. But if you don’t, it’s going to take a few hours for oven-cleaning products to lift all that grease. Otherwise, you’ll have to use a lot of elbow grease to scrape it off that way.

6. Under & Behind Large Appliances

Even if you regularly vacuum your floors, dust and debris can accumulate underneath your large appliances over time. Pull out the refrigerator, oven, washer, and dryer and clean the areas that have been covered by these appliances throughout the year.

While spring cleaning might not be fun, it’s a necessary task. Make sure you’ve covered everything so you can enjoy a clean home throughout the rest of the year.

Budget Projects With Big Value

Not all home improvement projects are created equal. Some renovations may cost a lot but not add significant value to your home. Here are some inexpensive home improvement projects that will not only increase your enjoyment of your home, but will also increase the home’s value.

HIGH QUALITY CEILING FANS

In a National Association of Home Builders survey, ceiling fans ranked No. 1 as the most-wanted decorative item. If your ceiling fans are outdated, replace them with something in the $400 range—it’ll make a big difference when it’s time to sell.

TREES

Mature trees can be worth as much as $10,000 toward the value of your home. Trees also protect your home from the elements and prevent erosion.

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

Buyers are increasingly interested in saving energy, so any efficiency update is worthwhile. Switching from a wood to gas fireplace is a great start.

OUTDOOR LIGHTING

Exterior lighting is great for highlighting the accents of your home, and you can typically expect a 50 percent return on investment.

MOLDING

You can finish a room with crown molding or railing for as little as $1.50 per foot if you take a DIY approach, and it’s extremely desirable among prospective buyers.