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If your walls could talk, they would definitely have interesting stories to tell. But could they also tell you what projects you've been neglecting around the house? Sure, you can just live with the things you hate about your home until it comes time to sell. Or, you can fix it up this year and actually enjoy the improvements yourself! We've teamed up with Utah realtor Laurie Stauffer (@MsLKS) to identify the top New Years Resolutions your house wants you to make this year as well as a panel of productivity experts to share their best motivational tips for making changes happen. Goals your house wants you to set Make an extra mortgage payment Weight loss is one of the top goals for Americans in 2020 and weight loss can be a great paradigm in which to view your mortgage. “To take some of the weight off of homeownership, make one extra mortgage payment this year — and every year,” Stauffer advises. Consider this: If you can pay half of your mortgage payment every two weeks, rather than paying monthly, that results in 26 half-payments — which equals 13 full monthly payments each year. That extra payment can knock eight years off a 30-year mortgage, depending on the loan's interest rate, saving you tens of thousands of dollars over the life of the mortgage. Stauffer explains that it may not sound like a lot up front, but any direct principal payment is basically putting equity directly into your pocket. It’s a big return on a small investment. To switch to biweekly mortgage payments, first make sure your loan doesn’t have a penalty for prepaying your mortgage. If it doesn’t, switching your payment schedule may be as simple as asking your lender or loan servicer to alter your current payment plan accordingly. If there’s not a biweekly payment option, you can make an extra mortgage payment each year by dividing your monthly mortgage payment by 12 and adding that additional amount to each of your monthly payments to amount to an additional full payment by the end of the year. Or, you can make one lump sum mortgage payment, perhaps with a tax return or bonus. Check easy-to-do tasks off your list Stauffer recommends prioritizing simple, safety-enhancing maintenance tasks such as replacing smoke detector batteries and purchasing separate C02 detectors. “So many smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors are conveniently combined into one device,” Stauffer explains, “but the problem is, smoke rises, and C02 falls.” For optimal safety, place your C02 detectors no higher than bed level. Here are a few other simple tasks you can complete in less than an hour: Change air filters Install weatherstripping on doors and windows Apply WD-40 to squeaky hinges Update cabinet and drawer hardware Paint or update outlet and switch plate covers Shampoo carpet in one or more rooms Wipe down cabinets and appliances Vacuum and wash baseboards Service your HVAC system Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) is one of the most expensive home systems to replace, so it’s imperative to have it checked and serviced regularly. Stauffer advises ensuring it’s working at full efficiency to get the best performance and to get the most out of it for years to come. In addition to changing filters monthly, make sure your air conditioner compressor is sitting level to avoid wear and tear. Schedule a time to have a professional clean, service, and test your system annually. This will run you anywhere from $59–$150, depending on your area, a small price to pay versus replacing components or even your whole system. Plus, your annual check-up may even be free with a certain provider, depending on the purchase agreement of the homeowner who bought the system. Make simple DIY upgrades to rooms In the kitchen, consider organizing your pantry, which may include installing a new shelving system. This will minimize clutter, making space for the foods you actually want to eat and cook with. You might also update light fixtures and install a backsplash. In the bathroom, you can frame your bathroom mirror and update the lighting. In a bedroom, consider accenting one wall with fresh paint or wallpaper. Do a closet renovation by installing new lighting, double rods, and new shelving. Turn your hallway into a mudroom or add storage to your entryway by utilizing hooks, installed shelves, or a furniture organization system. Give your home exterior and yard some attention Curb appeal is king when you’re selling a home. But why should you wait until you need to sell to spruce it up? There are several things you can do this year to improve the aesthetics, function, and longevity of your home exterior and yard. First, check the direction of your downspouts and water drainage. Rain gutters and downspouts do a fine job in their own respect, but often we don't consider the water once it's off the roof. “It is best to divert the water away from the house with gutter extensions, pushing it out to five feet away from the foundation,” Stauffer advises. “There is no greater enemy to a house than water.” While you’re taking inventory of your gutter situation, take a close look at your roof and make a habit of checking it periodically, especially after a big windstorm. In the spring or during mild weather, go up on your roof and do a walk around inspection. Look specifically for curling or missing shingles, soft spots, or any flashing that may have pulled away. These are very minor things that should be taken care of immediately, so they do not turn into the monster that roof replacement can be. Stauffer explains that she sees most roof replacements starting around $8,000 but has seen them cost homeowners up to $20,000. Properly maintained, an asphalt shingle roof should last you around 30 years and a metal roof can go much longer than that when installed correctly. Here are a few other outdoor projects you may want to tackle this year: Paint your front door a color that you love Power wash your walkway Build a raised garden or flower bed Add or update outdoor lighting Wash window exteriors Plant sod Service your automatic garage door Build a shed or shop (in accordance with property lines and local building codes) How to get and stay motivated to complete your projects 1. Batch small projects Focusing on non-urgent tasks such as simple home improvement projects should not be part of your daily planning cycle. Instead, schedule a day to handle these all at once. As my executive coach Stever Robbins once told me, these projects, while often low priority in the grand scheme of things, create psychological drag. Being reminded of these unfinished projects and tasks, whether that's seeing the burned-out bulb when you head down to the basement or the unmended pair of pants in your laundry room, pull you out of your flow and introduce little bits of stress in your day that build up over time. Scheduling a day to take care of all these often smaller projects helps remove the psychological drag and makes you more effective overall, even if the individual tasks and projects don't have a huge impact. ― Trevor Lohrbeer, founder of time management app Day Optimizer 2. “Eat the frog” This is a paraphrase of a quote attributed to Mark Twain, ‘If you eat a live frog every morning, nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day,’ which was then made famous by Brian Tracy’s book Eat That Frog. The tip is to do the hardest thing right away. It makes the rest of the day go more smoothly and eliminates all of the wasted anxiety and stress we create when we procrastinate and worry about all that we have to do. . . even when we’re not doing it. ― Sharon Danzger, productivity consultant and founder of Control Chaos 3. Reward yourself When there is a project you have been avoiding, create an incentive for doing it using an ‘if/then’ statement. For example: If I vacuum the house, then I get to watch a show on Netflix ― Danzger 4. Start small We often put off things that seem difficult, big, or overwhelming. The hardest part is getting started. So, rather than tackling the entire project, start with something small and manageable. For example, instead of committing to organizing your entire house, decide to start by cleaning out one drawer. ― Danzger 5. Set a timer When I have items to finish around the house that I don't really want to do, or the project is dragging on longer than I thought, I create one-hour periods where I work fast and furious on it, then I come back a different day and do another hour. Quickly, that project gets done by breaking it into smaller pieces. ― Camille Finan, licensed contractor and host of Remodel Your Life podcast 6. Display a picture If I'm remodeling something in my own house but not sure how to start or get find motivation, I will rip out a magazine page and tape it to the wall or area that needs to be fixed. Seeing the finished version often will propel me to find the motivation and do the work ― Finan 7. Banish perfectionism If you’ve been putting off renovating your kitchen or writing that book because you’re worried that you’re unprepared to do it exactly right, try to let go of that fear. Wanting to do a task perfectly can hold you back from accomplishing the task at all. ―Mitch Chailland, president of Canal HR 8. Visualize the future Visualize how you will feel when the task is complete. Some tasks are simply not enjoyable. But imagine how you’ll feel once you’ve finished the task. Visualize the specific positive benefits that this finished task will provide in the long-term. This tactic can increase your positive feelings towards even the dullest or longest of tasks. ― Chailland 9. Write it down In our experience and research, most people procrastinate doing their home projects because they keep that list in their head. You walk by that bathroom that needs a remodel or the appliances that need fixing and you say to yourself “I really need to tackle that project.” But two minutes later your brain is off to more immediate issues around work, family, travel, etc. and those projects get quickly forgotten. The practice of writing those projects down in either a list or a digital organizing app helps many people stay motivated to do those projects, especially if once you document the project, you get reminders to yourself that you really need to tackle it. We have observed this behavior with our users who use HomeZada’s projects and tasks features to document everything they want to do in their home. ―John Bodrozic, cofounder of digital home management system HomeZada 10. Hire out If you find that you can’t harness the motivation to do a project yourself, it may be time to make a call and hire out the task to someone else. Licensed general contractor Shannon Battle of All American Construction & Restoration suggests DIYers first outline the project phases and create a schedule for completion — then don’t take on another project until finishing the one they’ve already started. But her top tip for homeowners lacking motivation? “Stop watching YouTube and seek professional help, paying skilled people to do it the right way.” However you approach house projects, don’t neglect your home as you set your resolutions for the coming year. Your home will thank you and you will thank yourself for the renewed pride of ownership.
Feelings of peace, joy, and love are in especially high demand this time of year. And whether or not you're "feeling it" may have to do with your home environment. According to happiness expert Gretchen Rubin, this concept is one of the great secrets of adulthood: "Outer order contributes to inner calm."Click to tweet No matter the size or location of your home or whether you rent or own, there are steps you can take to create space for the feelings of peaceful contentment you crave. Implement one or more that resonates with you and you'll be on your way to minimizing stress and maximizing calm. Declutter to make room for holiday magic Take the first step and momentum will follow. Once you can conquer an area that impacts your daily life, you will feel more motivated to continue. Begin with what you can see. Usually, this means desktops, dressers, and tables. Once those areas are decluttered, you can move into other spaces. Keep a focused mind on the (attainable) goals. Know and remind yourself that this endeavor is something that you are doing for yourself and that you’re worth this effort. ―Adina Mahalli, mental health consultant and family care specialist with Maple Holistics Create a positive association. I like to pair cleaning or decluttering with something I enjoy, whether it be a favorite Christmas movie playing in the background or grabbing a seasonal Starbucks latte before beginning the process to keep me motivated. ―Mary Cornetta, founder and co-owner of organizing company Sort & Sweet Inc. Make it a game. A fun way to tidy up with kids is to set a time and play Beat the Clock. Tell everyone they have two minutes (or 10 minutes, 30 minutes, etc.) to put things in their proper place in the home. If the game isn’t motivation enough, say there is a special treat in store when the job is complete, such as a family movie night or a special snack. ―Eileen Roth, organizing expert and author of Organizing For Dummies Invest in a guided system. As we move into a new year with new goals, a Decluttering Binder would be a wonderful gift for any mom who wants to learn how a little bit of decluttering every day can add up to big results. Packed with 46 pages of decluttering tasks, tips and tricks, age-appropriate tasks for little ones, and tips to keep the experience positive, it’s a perfect solution to keeping your home tidy and company ready without the hustle and stress of all-day cleaning. ―Jen Slezia, owner and creator of Journals to Freedom Printables Clear a closet. Closets are an area that people often forget about. More often than not, you find tons of useless things in your closet that you are never going to use. So leave behind the mentality of “I’m going to use it in the future.” You probably won't. So free your closet and get the extra space to keep the clutter to a minimum. ―Abe Navas, general manager of Dallas-based house cleaning service Emily’s Maids Give everything a home. The holidays bring with them stuff that only hangs around for a couple of weeks or months, but that doesn't mean the same rule doesn't apply. Extra coats and shoes from visitors and winter gear need a place to live. Hang a few sturdy removable hooks for extra coats and clear a spot on the floor for an old towel to use as a shoe spot. Purge your pantry. The holidays are famous for food, and that means extra ingredients in our pantry, freezer, and fridge. Pre-purge the two-years-old dressing, unopened impulse-buy muffin mix, and tragic freezer-burnt burger patties now. This is a great time of year to get rid of non-expired shelf-stable items too, as there are a lot of food drives going on. You'll be amazed at how easily you'll breathe opening your cupboards in the new year. ―Brittany Finkelstein, stress and workplace resilience coach Donate your stuff. A worthwhile activity you can enjoy with your child is to create a pile of things you can give to other kids that might not have as many nice things to wear or play with. Making room for new toys is practical but even better is the teaching opportunity of redirecting their attention from getting to giving — a task they can be proud of. ―Sherri Monte, co-owner of Seattle-based interior design and organizing firm Elegant Simplicity Sell your stuff. One great resource that helps you clear out old items from your home is Decluttr, which sells your electronics for you. This is an environmentally responsible option to consider when you’re done with old technology, DVDs, CDs, and other electronics. Once they give you an offer, you accept, and they provide the shipping box and paid label at no cost to you. Everything is done for you and you actually make money decluttering your home! ―Jeff Proctor, cofounder of DollarSprout Give and receive gifts mindfully Give experiences. Giving stuff just to give isn’t really productive for anyone. Think seriously about where the people you are giving to are at in their lives. Are they trying to cut down on stuff or do they already have a houseful of stuff? Are they trying to live a more minimalist life? Consider giving items that will help make a person’s life easier. Think about giving an experience rather than an item — movie, play or concert tickets, a date night, a fun kid day out like a trampoline park, a membership to a science or art center or possibly a gift card to a restaurant. The best memories are made doing things together rather than getting material items. ―Marty Basher of custom closet module company Modular Closets Give consumables. If I want to give something tangible — because almost everyone likes to open something! — I try to give consumable gifts like wine or candles versus ones that will live in their home forever (there is a limit to how many throw blankets someone can have). ―Mary Cornetta Consider regifting. I'm a big advocate of re-gifting. Not only is it better for the environment, but it also cuts down on costs for you and it encourages the recipient to do the same. For example, I will re-gift all the books I read and the puzzles that I did within the year. This helps me de-clutter and allows the next person receiving it to do the same. ―Lauren Cook, MMFT, therapist, and author Set a limit. We keep our gifts to three items per kid. If it was good enough for the wise men, it works for us, too. Generally, it's a toy, some clothing, and a book or game. Ideally, a few of the items can be enjoyed for hours at a time by more than one kid over the days off from school. Be very selective about the electronics you give your kids. You will have to charge, add batteries, troubleshoot, repair, and eventually recycle each item. If you do bring in a new electronic item, immediately label the cord descriptively with label tape or masking tape and collect accessories and instructions in a plastic zipper bag, also well-labeled. ―Darla DeMorrow, certified professional organizer® and owner of Philadelphia-based HeartWork Organizing Trap the wrap. If you celebrate part of the season with a big present unwrapping, add two things to the room: a trash bag and a recycling bag. Ribbons, bows, and paper can all go straight into the right place, as can any toy packaging that is immediately relegated to the heap upon receipt. ―Brittany Finkelstein Repurpose cards. Sift through the holiday cards you receive and reuse cute cards by cutting images from the front, attaching string, and using them as gift tags for next year. Throw the ones you don’t want to save in the recycling bin. ―The team at Molly Maid, a Neighborly company Display and store only the decor you love Select ornaments with purpose. Our tree is not large, live, or trendy, but it's very, very special. We have always bought ornaments on our summer travels and now our tree is made up entirely of these memory-based ornaments. It's a great way to remember special trips and places we have been to. ―Darla DeMorrow Limit what you store. Invest in good storage totes and make a promise to yourself that you’ll keep only what fits into the totes you have. This will help keep you from collecting more items each year without assessing what you have each time. ―Marty Basher Donate decorations. This is exactly the time of year when you can donate seasonal decor and know it will go to someone who will use it this season or next. Bring out all your holiday decorations and sort through them, looking for decorations that are in good shape but that you don’t absolutely love. Once the holidays are over, evaluate each decoration before storing it. Do you know someone else who would be thrilled to enjoy it next year? ―Jamie Novak, expert organizer and author of "Keep This Toss That" Pack and store decor safely. For Chanukah, make sure to remove wax from candle holders before storing. For Christmas ornaments, store them in a thick box and make sure to wrap each one neatly with packing paper. To ensure no movement in the box, pack them tightly! Finally, clearly label all boxes for more efficient storage in the off-season and unpacking next holiday season. ―Lior Rachmany, CEO of NYC-based Dumbo Moving + Storage Simplify your to-do list Take shortcuts when you can. Although I love to bake, I just don't have the time in a week with three company holiday parties. For just $30 I picked up a beautiful Tiramisu from my corner French bakery. I support my favorite small business and get to bring something much fancier than I can whip up at home, saving me time in the bargain. ―Darla DeMorrow Drop the need to impress. The holidays are about family, friends, and gratitude, not about impressing people with your impeccable housekeeping, rushing to get through home projects during your time off, or proving to the world that you can do it all. Your house is not a reflection of your worth as a person. If there's a bit more laundry or a pile on a table because you were finishing a Christmas play costume, building a gingerbread house, or sitting down with a cup of hot cocoa to watch Elf for the third time, ask yourself if it was worth the joy. You have 365 days in a year to do laundry and declutter; enjoy the few weeks where twinkling lights and free cookies are the norm, and managing the mess is expected to take a back seat to merriment. ―Brittany Finkelstein Find your yeses. Moms everywhere run around like crazy trying to do a thousand things in order to make it all feel “special” for our families. But when we are overwhelmed, we end up feeling more like the Grinch than anything else. The holidays are a time of many, many event invitations: cookie exchanges, the neighborhood party, the office gift exchange...the list goes on and on. It’s not about saying no — it’s about identifying your yeses and prioritizing those over the things that don’t matter as much. Ask yourself: Who do I want to spend my holiday time with? What stories am I telling myself about what the holiday has to look like? ―Tonya Dalton, productivity expert and author of "The Joy of Missing Out" Schedule the fun. If you're solely focused on getting through your to-do list before you enjoy the season, you'll find yourself at the end of the season before you've had any fun. Add tasks to your daily to-do list like watching a movie, enjoying hot cocoa, or driving around to view the neighborhood lights. By adding the item to your to-do list, you'll feel like you're accomplishing something when you cross it off — and you are. ―Jamie Novak Focus on the present so you can enjoy it Refuse to multi-task. Be present no matter what you are doing whether that is cooking a meal, writing a holiday card, or visiting with a friend or loved one. Do one thing at a time and vow to stop rushing. When you wake up each morning, set an intention to be mindful and calm and to enjoy your day. Do not overcrowd your schedule. Say no to every request that is not a priority to the people and things on your list that matter most to you. ―Lynell Ross, founder and managing editor of wellness advocate website Zivadream Put people first. Look one another in the eyes. It is so often that we are focused on our phones or another screen. Look up and look around. ―Lauren Cook Find an activity that centers you. Five years ago, I was working 24/7 and looking for a way to unwind and decompress. Everyone was talking about meditation and Headspace, but it just didn't really work for me. Instead, I started doing jigsaw puzzles and fell in love with them. They became my nightly meditation and I made a habit of working on a puzzle for at least 20 minutes every night with tea. It calmed me, I slept better, and for at least those few minutes was fully present, focusing on just one thing, away from any screens. Puzzles are also a perfect family activity around the holidays to be connected and spend time together while doing something relaxing and healthy. ―Kaylin Marcotte, founder and CEO of female artist-focused puzzle company JIGGY Don’t neglect self-care. Particularly during the busy holiday season, stress can creep in if you are tired, overloaded, or overworked. Whether you pause for a quiet cup of tea, take a break for a 10-minute meditation, or de-stress in a warm shower, give yourself the gift of daily self-care. You’ll feel better, more relaxed, and ready to handle the holiday bustle with a smile. ―Dr. Carla Marie Manly, clinical psychologist and author Bonus tips for dog owners Simplify your play area. If you're like me, you've probably accumulated a variety of dog toys and gear over the years, and chances are your dog doesn't use it all! Try keeping only the toys your dogs actually enjoys. For example, some dogs go nuts for squeaky toys. Others go bananas for rope toys. Stick with your pup's favorites and toss out the others! To make more space in your living area, you may want to consider a dog furniture crate for sleeping. These turn an end table or side table into your dog’s sleeping area! ―Meg Marrs, founder of dog care hub K9 of Mine Read also: How to Spend Less Time Cleaning Up After Your Dog Create a doggy oasis. The excitement of new people, delicious food, and extra noise during the holidays can make your dog’s manners diminish. But if dogs are rushed into a room and left alone, it could lead to separation anxiety, excessive barking, or destructive behaviors. Consider creating a space just for doggy in a separate room to provide a comfortable, quiet space with toys and a treat to chew on. ―The team at Zoom Room, a national indoor dog gym and training franchise Set your dog up for success. If you’re bringing home a newly adopted dog, understand that life as this pup knows it just drastically changed from the kennel to your home. Follow these tips to calm the chaos for your dog as much as possible: Provide a safe space or two where the pup can go in the beginning, like an appropriately sized crate. One can be placed in the central part of the home and the other in a more quiet area. Never force your pup to go into the crate or safe area, but make it very inviting with treats, blankets, toys, etc. so the pup enters of its own will. Leave the door open so they can enter or leave freely. Provide long-term appropriate chews, like bully sticks in a bully buddy, to help them relax. Chewing releases the relaxing chemical serotonin. Give the dog 3–4 weeks to break out of their shell, become familiar with their new surroundings and routine, and to trust you. If they’ve been in a shelter, they’ve been failed by humans before. Manage your expectations. Not all dogs came from a good home the first time around and they need time to learn that you are going to be their furever home — trust them, love them and treat them kindly! They’ve been through a lot! ―Johnna Devereaux, Clinical Pet Nutritionist (CPN) for BowWow Labs
There is no shortage of entertaining home buying, home improvement, and property investment series on TV. If you imagine your typical show, it may follow a familiar format: The would-be homebuyers are chauffeured around by a realtor, visiting various listings, walking inside, arguing, and visualizing the ideal scenario. In some cases, the home in question would make a great fixer-upper, flip project, or income property. The buyers discuss nuts-and-bolts costs, estimated renovation project time frame, and sometimes negotiate with the seller. The realtor spends about 15 seconds saying something like, "Let's just double-check with the bank," and then, an hour and some time-lapsed renovations later, the happy couple has a home! Easy peasy, right? Expectations vs. Reality Anyone who's actually traversed the complex and often lengthy home-buying process understands that these shows tend to oversimplify just how much goes into buying a home. To be fair, HGTV's priority is not to highlight the boring loan approval and offer acceptance waiting games that accompany the home-buying process (nobody wants to watch that!). Nevertheless, this and other aspects are vitally important to be aware of. House flipping and other home renovations — as popularly portrayed in Fixer Upper and Good Bones — are common considerations among first-time homebuyers and veteran homeowners alike. According to a Houzz survey of over 130,000 homeowners, over 50 percent of them had completed renovations or planned to in both 2017 and 2018. In an Open Listings survey, over 500 homeowners were asked what they would most likely do if they had $10,000 to allocate towards housing. 73 percent said they would use it toward current home renovations while only 27 percent said they would put it towards a down payment on their next home. Whether you’re looking for a move-in ready home, a place requiring some renovations, or a true fixer-upper, here are 10 important details about home buying that TV doesn’t always show. 1. Buying a home (usually) takes time Lots of us are suckers for before and after pictures without regard to the time it took in between, whether it’s a dramatic fitness transformation or a home makeover that’s turned grungy into gorgeous. On average, the home buying process takes about four and a half months from shopping to closing but can range anywhere from 30 days to the greater part of a year. Debra Carpenter of Sandpoint, Idaho’s Nathan Oulman Realty has noticed that many first-time buyers are unaware of the time it can take to make offers and finalize an accepted offer. “Reality shows don’t portray how long it takes to close on a house once you’ve made the decision to buy,” Carpenter explains, but she admits that while the process definitely takes longer than it appears on TV, “the feeling of being in your new home is completely worth it.” When faced with TV-inspired unrealistic expectations from clients, top agent Lisa Larson of Warburg Realty in Manhattan wisely poses the question, “Would you take relationship advice from The Bachelor?” Chew on that food for thought! Larson continues, “If you watch reality shows, be aware that they are scripted and edited versions of reality. The irony, of course, is that the popular and entertaining shows on HGTV set up unrealistic expectations when it comes to renovation, its expense budgets, time constraints, and obstacles — as well as real estate in general.” Quickly flipping a home and expecting a huge return profit is not feasible in every market, especially for the inexperienced. Larson cautions agents against promising multiple offers over the asking price of a home and finding a deal good enough to flip soon after. This process requires patience — sometimes years of searching for an opportunity where all stars align. 2. Your credit score is a crucial factor Two words never really mentioned on House Hunters are "credit" and "score." Your credit score is among the most influential determinants in the home-buying process, especially if you need to take out a home loan (and most first-time buyers do). Your credit score is measured by a number of factors, including your credit history, the number of lines of credit under your name, and how prompt you are in making your monthly payments. Banks and other lenders pay close attention to your credit score to help them quantify your trustworthiness in paying back a home loan on time. Generally, if your credit score is above 700, you are considered a low-risk borrower, and lenders have confidence they will get their money back. If your credit score is too low (below 600), you will be considered high-risk and likely won't even qualify for a home loan. Most lenders won't even make you an offer if your credit score is below 620. Even if your credit score is good enough to place you in the market as a buyer, the lower your credit score, the higher your mortgage interest rates and monthly payments are likely to be. Sometimes a greater down payment is also required. And, of course, higher rates and payments can in turn affect how much home you can afford. Take a look at these data projections (courtesy of myFICO.com) to see how your FICO score can influence your annual percentage rate (APR), monthly payment amount, and total interest paid — assuming you live in Colorado and are requesting a principal amount of $100,000: FICO Score APR Monthly Payment Total Interest Paid 760-850 4.469 % $505 $81,744 700-759 4.691 % $518 $86,515 680-699 4.867 % $529 $90,340 660-679 5.081 % $542 $95,042 640-659 5.51 % $568 $104,630 620-639 6.055 % $603 $117,113 As you can see, a bad credit score will not only lock you into a higher rate but also force you to pay more each month, resulting in an additional $35,369 in total interest paid! 3. Luxe features require a larger budget In the Open Listings survey mentioned previously, respondents were asked which amenity or feature they didn’t have in their current home that was a “must” in their next (or, presumably, a renovation requirement). Top responses included hardwood floors (18 percent) and quartz or granite countertops (15 percent). Additionally, Doug Smith, president of Miller & Smith, a Washington, D.C.-based home builder and real estate developer, has seen "a seismic shift in buyer expectations” over the last few years. “Today’s consumers bypass anything mass produced in exchange for ‘artisan’ products, fixtures, and features,” Smith says. “Thanks to the HGTV phenomenon and saturation of home improvement shows, many buyers expect luxe features, such as hardwoods on every floor and granite or quartz countertops, to come standard at all price levels.” Of course, that’s simply not the case. The price tag of such specialized features is above standard levels, and the customization homeowners crave may not always be feasible for the average budget. That doesn’t mean homebuyers, flippers, and builders need to be millionaires to make their homes into something that suits some of their preferences. But be prepared to pay more for luxe renovations or to buy a move-in ready home with them. Smith explains that his company finds the balance in offering customization and providing simplified options through a selection process where homebuyers can capitalize on what is most important to them. 4. Your debt-to-income ratio matters What you might not realize while you're binge-watching Property Brothers is that homebuyers almost always go into debt when financing a home. However, if lenders predict that you're about to take on more debt than you can handle, they will not make you a loan offer. Right behind your credit score in order of importance is something called your "debt-to-income" ratio, or DTI. Simply put, your DTI measures your housing, monthly, and other debt expenses against how much you earn. This number shows creditors how well you can manage your debt payments and, unlike your credit score, you want to keep this number as low as possible. Usually, lenders won't even give you the time of day if your DTI is above 43 percent, meaning 43 percent of your income goes directly to managing your debt. The ideal DTI ratio is at or below 36 percent. Lenders pay particularly close attention to two types of DTI ratios: Front-End DTI: Also known as the housing ratio, the front-end DTI shows the percentage of your income that goes exclusively to housing expenses, such as mortgage payments, mortgage insurance, etc. Usually, your front-end DTI needs to be around 28 percent or lower in order to qualify for a mortgage. The higher your front-end DTI, the more likely you are to default on your mortgage. Back-End DTI: The back-end DTI measures what percentage of your income goes to paying off other debts, like credit card payments or car payments. In simple terms, you can only improve your DTI ratio in two ways: either increase your income or decrease your debt. Unfortunately, these methods tend to be easier said than done. While there's no magic bullet answer for increasing your income, some smart strategies can help you cut down debts and improve your personal finance management. 5. Managing renovations can get messy In Fixer Upper, Chip and Joanna Gaines never shy away from the physically messy aspects of flipping a home, whether it’s removing an abandoned refrigerator with rotting food or discovering a termite infestation in a crawl space. But if you’re not a contractor yourself, you need to be on top of your game managing the various parties renovating your home. John Bodrozic, co-founder of HomeZada, says that home improvement shows completely underestimate how you, the homeowner, need to manage your contractor on the remodel projects. HomeZada helps customers negotiate pricing, build budgets for projects, and track documents and photos to manage your contractor. Bodrozic explains, “You need to review a contractor’s quotes, make sure they are licensed and insured, check their references, and agree to a contract with payment terms that protect you.” Otherwise, you can end up paying more than you bargained for with unsatisfactory results at best — and damaged property at worst. Bodrozic also advises homeowners to take pictures during the remodel to document in case things go wrong “so you can hold your contractor accountable to finish the project to your satisfaction.” Keep in mind that before renovations or even a purchase, a proper inspection that goes more than skin deep is key to determining if a house is worthy of an offer. And, like hiring a contractor, that depends on someone else (in this case, the home inspector) doing a job right. Ben Mizes, founder and CEO of St. Louis-based Clever Real Estate explains that “the walkthrough process isn’t like as seen on TV. There’s much more meticulous inspection of the core systems of the property and looking for major red flags than it is talking about dream floor plans and designs.” A good home inspector won’t let emotions interfere with what should be a thorough and unbiased inventory of the condition of the home. 6. Mortgage rates change every day Occasionally, while you're watching your favorite home-buying program, you might wonder why either the homebuyers or the realtor is particularly anxious to close the deal on a certain day or at a certain time. While this urgency can be attributed to excitement at starting a new life (the homebuyers) or getting paid (the agent), it might also be due to the fact that they've happened upon a particularly good mortgage rate and want to strike a deal before that rate goes up. The fact of the matter is that mortgage rates operate very similar to stock prices: they fluctuate frequently, even several times a day. This is why it can be almost impossible to get a stable rate quote ahead of time. Take a look at this chart (courtesy of Zillow.com) to see just how much a mortgage rate can dip and spike in just one day: Mortgage rates change so often for a variety of reasons, many of which revolve around the current state of the economy and economic forecasts. Thankfully, mortgage rate aggregators like Zillow can clue you into the best mortgage rates at any given time, and many top mortgage companies will update their mortgage rate estimators according to market conditions. 7. Soft costs are involved Jonathan Faccone, managing member and founder of New Jersey-based Halo Homebuyers, says that whether it’s from the house-flipping show phenomenon or the first-time home buyer shows, everyone thinks they know what it entails to purchase and renovate the perfect home. However, a key element missing from the media portrayal is cost. Faccone explains that “the flipping shows never show you what the ‘soft costs’ are when purchasing a fixer-upper.” These soft costs include all the costs other than the actual construction-related expenses that will be incurred and include, but are not limited to, the following: Title insurance Attorney fees (in certain states) Home inspection Home insurance (impacted by vacancy and need for a builder’s risk policy) Closing costs Carrying costs When planning your home purchase with renovations in mind, plan for the expected soft costs as well as for the inevitable unexpected. Faccone suggests that the amount of money a typical buyer thinks a home needs for a renovation budget should be doubled. “I am always going over budget in my own projects because of the unknown fixes that I didn’t expect lurking behind the walls.” Alberto Marinas, CEO and co-founder of PadBlock, reminds buyers about the impact of the appraisal on the home sale. The price, the value of upgrades, and the reliability of current appliances may not be appraised to the agreed purchase price. Not to mention the cost of new furnishings for the home once the renovation is complete. “This can derail even the most cooperative seller,” he explains. “Unless the buyer has additional cash to cover the difference, the asking price will have to drop to the appraisal price. More often than not, in today’s market, the buyer has just enough cash for downpayment and closing fees — and not a penny more.” Finally, adequate insurance for a house requiring major renovations can be steep. Scott Johnson, founder of Marindependent Insurance Services in the Bay Area, California, explains that “consumers often fail to disclose to the agent their intentions [to flip] and often go mis-insured.” He describes two issues regarding property insurance during a house flip: If you are not planning on living in your new purchase in the first 30 or 60 days, then the home will be considered vacant and you are not eligible for typical home insurance. If your home undergoes significant construction, you should secure a builder’s risk policy protecting contractors and workers on your property. So how much does proper coverage cost under such circumstances? Johnson says it’s impossible to say without knowing all of the details of a situation, but a builder’s risk policy can easily cost $3,000 per year, while a regular home insurance policy might only cost $900. 8. There are different types of mortgages Wait, what? Whenever agents on TV tell clients something like, "Alright, now we just have to fill out some paperwork," they are most likely referring to the loan application. And somewhere on that application, the future homeowners will have to indicate which type of mortgage loan they are shopping for. The sheer number of mortgage loans is the many-headed monster of the home-buying process and includes FHA loans, VA loans, Jumbo loans, USDA loans, Conventional loans, and ARMs. Each type of loan has unique eligibility requirements, advantages, and disadvantages, but for the purposes of this article we’ll touch on two types: Fixed-Rate Mortgages: The main benefit of choosing a conventional or fixed-rate mortgage is you know exactly how much you'll be paying each month for the term of the loan. The one main drawback, however, is that fixed-rate mortgages tend to initially sport higher rates than do adjustable-rate mortgages. The most popular term lengths of fixed-rate mortgages are the 30-year and the 15-year. Each term length has strengths of its own. Mortgage Type Advantages Disadvantages 30-Year Fixed-Rate Monthly payments tend to be lower You will end up paying more interest over time, and at a higher interest rate 15-Year Fixed-Rate/strong> You pay less total interest over time, and at a lower interest rate Your monthly payments will be much higher Buyers who want lower monthly payments will often go with the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage, but a 15-year mortgage gets you on track to pay off your home loan in half the time, avoiding a bulk of the interest payment. Adjustable-Rate Mortgages (ARMs): Adjustable-rate mortgages are just as they sound: over the course of your loan, the rates and monthly amount you pay are subject to change. This can either be a good or a bad thing depending on your future plans (e.g., how long you plan on staying in the home, how comfortable you are with changing your rates, etc.). Just remember, while you might initially pay a lower interest rate than you would with a fixed-rate mortgage, that can easily change in as little as a year. Below is a list of some of the most common ARMs available: Mortgage Type Description Advantages Disadvantages 1-Year ARM Interest Rate Changes year-to-year Qualifies for a higher loan amount; good for flipping Considered risky, as payment can change significantly each year 10/1 ARM Rates fixed for first 10 years; fluctuates for next 20 Lower rates than 30-year fixed rate (at least for first 10 years) Bad for those wanting to stay in the same house for more than 10 years 2-Step Rates are fixed for first part of mortgage, and adjustable for the second Borrowers can choose when to pay fixed vs. adjustable Rates could adjust upward following fixed period 5/5 and 5/1 ARM Rates are stable for 5 years, then adjust every year or five years until loan is paid off Good for borrowers who can accept periodic changes Bad for short-term homeowners 5/25 ARM Rates stable for 5 years, then adjusted at year 6. Rate only changes once in 30 years Rate could adjust upward for a 25-year period 3/3 and 3/1 ARM Rates are stable for 3 years, adjust every year or three years until loan is paid off Good for borrowers wanting a new rate after 3 years Bad for long-term borrowers Keep in mind that if you’re considering buying a fixer-upper, ideally you should be ready with a cash offer with minimal contingencies so that you can land a great deal. “The better deal you can get,” explains Jonathan Faccone of Halo Homebuyers, “the more margin you can build in for unexpected costs, along with being able to put in your desired finishes and renovation requirements.” Faccone says the problem is that most home buyers don’t have enough cash to fund both the purchase and renovation. In that case, there are conventional and FHA 203(k) rehabilitation loans that can cover the difference, “but the amount of paperwork that you have to do and the red-tape of the process can put a damper on your first flip experience.” It’s clear that funding a flip is not for the faint of heart! 9. Knowledge and grit don't guarantee success Successfully renovating a home or even purchasing the perfect move-in ready home can’t be guaranteed on a certain timeline or with certain financial limits, even for the most persistent buyers. Grit, talent, or strong emotions alone won’t carry a sale or renovation to fruition. An evolving market and other factors outside your control are at play. John Bodrozic, co-Founder of HomeZada, laments that real estate TV shows “tend to focus on the lifestyle and emotional aspects of buying a home and fixing it up while glossing over financial details” such as negotiating strategies on how much to offer based on list price and other market comparisons. In addition to knowing how much of a down payment you can make and the loan amount you qualify for, “it is wise to get a comparative marketing analysis (CMA) to help you determine your approach” when it’s time to make an offer and negotiate. Remodeling costs, too, can vary dramatically based on your product and brand selections and the market conditions with local contractors. In regards to a complete remodel, even the most experienced flippers find that things unexpectedly go wrong throughout the process. Many of the experts we consulted for this piece shared their own not-made-for-TV stories. Ben Mizes, founder and CEO of Clever Real Estate, says, “I wish these shows would share that investing and flipping isn’t as glamorous as it sounds. When I first started investing in real estate, I did all my own work, and there was a lot more of hauling old cabinets and 2:00AM sewer clogs than there were brand new houses and excited buyers.” 10. A good lender is crucial Brad Pauly, owner of Pauly Presley Realty based in Austin, Texas, thinks HGTV makes buying real estate look easy. And, surprisingly, he says it can be — “as long as you have the right people working for you!” An agent with years of experience is important because “the seasoned agent has already experienced all the potential pitfalls of the home purchase.” Pauly explains that a good lender is crucial because once a buyer puts a property under contract, the lender is responsible for getting the buyer’s loan approved — and on time. So how do you choose a good mortgage lender? Obviously, some mortgage lenders are going to be better than others. The home loans industry can seem difficult to navigate, especially if you're a first-time homebuyer. So here are some guiding questions to keep in mind before you sign any paperwork: What do mortgage reviews say? Read real, verified customer reviews to determine if a lending company provides good customer service and follows contractual agreements. How transparent is the lender? One of the most important qualities of a trustworthy mortgage lender is how honest the company is about what you, as the borrower can expect throughout the process and what the company generally charges for lender fees. Which loan type are you seeking? The type of loan you seek for your purchase and/or remodel is important because not all lenders offer every loan product available. Is a fixed-rate or adjustable-rate mortgage best for your long-term plan? For a remodel, will you purchase with a 203(k) renovation loan, or finance with a conventional loan, then fund your renovation with a personal loan, credit card, or another method? Who can give you the lowest rate according to your credit score? As we discussed, interest rates vary, but get an interest rate estimate from multiple lenders to see how each lender’s rates compare to the national daily average. If you’re disappointed we've ruined the picture-perfect world of your HGTV binge-a-thon, take heart in knowing you can still embrace the entertainment value of these shows while also being armed with the knowledge of important details often left out of these portrayals. And when the time comes for you to play the lead in your own, real-life house-hunting drama, you’ll have realistic expectations to guide you and keep you grounded through the excitement!