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September 19th, 2022
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A home uses a lot of energy, which impacts the environment as well as your wallet. The average monthly utility bill for a home in the United States is nearly $400, with approximately $115 of that bill accounting for the cost of energy use (heating, cooling, lighting, etc.). And household energy accounts for 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. What if there was a way to offset both spending hundreds of dollars on utilities each month and contributing to greenhouse gas emissions? Table of Contents: Why you should buy an energy efficient home or invest in energy efficient upgrades Energy efficiency upgrades Options Priority upgrades Energy efficiency financing options How to qualify for energy efficiency financing Question and answer with an energy efficiency expert Why you should buy an energy efficient home or invest in energy efficiency upgrades An energy efficient home can save you 25 percent on utility bills, amounting to over $2,200 in annual savings. These savings can make up for the higher price tag of an energy efficient home and help relieve financial stress while paying down a mortgage. If you currently have a home, investing in home energy efficiency upgrades could save you hundreds of dollars each month. Not to mention that making energy improvements will raise the value of your home, bringing in extra cash if you decide to sell in the future. Additionally, an energy efficient home purchase, or investment in upgrades, has a positive impact on the environment — reducing electricity and fuel use that contributes to a large percentage of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. Greenhouse gases are a leading cause in climate change and making even the smallest of energy use adjustments in your home can benefit the environment. Energy efficiency upgrades Focus on where you’re using the most energy in your home and the cost-effective fixes available to you. Home energy use More than half of the energy consumption in your home comes from heating and air conditioning — combined, heating and cooling account for approximately 51 percent of energy use. Beyond heating and cooling, water heating accounts for nearly 20 percent of energy use with lighting, refrigeration, appliances, and TV and media products accounting for the remainder of energy used in a home. It is worth noting that while heating and cooling are combined in the graph above, heating actually accounts for approximately 46 percent of home energy use on its own. Home energy upgrade options There are many energy efficiency upgrades you could make to your home. If you want to do them all, more power to you, but you don’t need to do everything at once. Insulation Insulation is key to reducing heat loss in your home and is a recommended home energy upgrade. Insulation makes the biggest difference when installed in the attic, basement, or crawl space — any spaces where there are likely to be more air leaks. And insulating these spaces can save you up to 15 percent on your heating and cooling costs. There are different types of insulation available: Blanket batts and rolls Spray foam insulation Blown-in insulation Foam board or rigid foam panels Reflective or radiant barrier If you’re looking for a DIY insulation option, blanket batting or rolls is an easy installation that is also cheaper than other insulation types. Another popular option is spray foam insulation, which would need to be installed by a professional. There are two types of spray foam: open cell and closed cell foam. Closed cell foam has a higher insulation value, but will be more expensive than its open cell counterpart. Insulation costs will be entirely dependent on the type of insulation you choose, but you may want to budget between $1,500 and $3,500. Solar panels Solar panels have become a popular clean energy option over the last decade. Purchase and installation has become more affordable, making it easier to save money on your utility bills, while also reducing your carbon footprint. Additional incentives for installing solar panels include a U.S. federal tax credit of 30 percent, as well as state-specific tax credits and rebates. To know exactly which tax credits and incentives are available in your area, you can speak with your solar provider. While solar panels are designed to generate energy from direct sunlight, they can still be a viable option for those who live in cooler climates — photovoltaic solar panels are an all-climate option. The cost of solar panel purchase and installation ranges from $17,000 to $24,000. New doors and windows Old windows and doors can account for a significant portion of your heating bill through heat loss. It can be costly to replace windows and doors, and if you’d prefer to invest in a more cost-conscious option you could insulate windows and doors instead. Replacing doors could cost you $900 to $2,600. Replacing windows can cost anywhere from $400 to $900. Smart fixtures The fixtures in your home, such as your thermostat, lights, and power outlets, can use a lot of energy. But, you can purchase light switches, outlets, and thermostats that can help you control your energy use instead of eating it up. Smart thermostats, in particular, are a recommended fixture that can control how much heat and air you use in your home. A smart thermostat can cost anywhere from $100 to $500, while installation can cost anywhere from $200 to $500. This may seem like a steep cost, but it could save you hundreds of dollars each year. Not to mention the positive impact it can have on the environment — according to Energy Star, 13 billion pounds of greenhouse gas emissions (equivalent to emissions of 1.2 million motor vehicles) could be offset each year if everyone used a smart thermostat. New water heater The second highest cost on your utility bill, after heating and cooling, is water heating. Replacing a water heater can cost anywhere from $500 to $1,800, but could save you upwards of $100 a year on your utility bill. Furnace filters It is recommended to replace your furnace filter every three months, or at least once a year, depending on the size of your furnace. It is important to replace the filter regularly because an old, dirty filter will require your furnace to work much harder, using up much more energy that it would otherwise. Priority energy upgrades As seen above, there are many energy efficiency upgrades that you can make in your home, and that doesn’t mean that you need to do all of them. If you’re unsure where to start in completing energy efficiency upgrades, it is best to start with smaller, simple fixes, allowing you to prepare for larger upgrades down the road. Energy efficiency financing options In most cases you can finance energy efficiency upgrades or a home purchase through your mortgage, but it is important to work closely with your lender. Beyond a mortgage, there are various options available to finance an energy efficient home purchase or energy upgrades: Energy Efficient Mortgage (EEM) An Energy Efficient Mortgage (EEM) can be used to purchase or refinance an energy efficient home, like an ENERGY STAR certified home, or to finance energy efficient improvements to your current home. EEMs are backed by either private lenders or federal mortgage programs through the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and Veteran Affairs (VA). Department of Energy’s (DOE) Weatherization Assistance Program The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) is intended to cover the costs of energy efficiency improvements for low-income households. Each state has specific weatherization services and WAP programs that can connect you with local weatherization organizations. Fannie Mae HomeStyle Energy Mortgage With a Fannie Mae HomeStyle Energy Mortgage you can borrow money to purchase or refinance an energy efficient home, reduce utility costs by financing energy efficiency upgrades, and/or finance natural disaster damage prevention improvements to your home. For weatherization upgrades you can finance up to $3,500 without acquiring a home energy report, and borrowers may also qualify for a $500 Loan Level Price Adjustment (LLPA) credit. Freddie Mac GreenCHOICE mortgage (home purchase or refinance) Finance an energy efficient home purchase or energy efficiency upgrades with a Freddie Mac GreenCHOICE mortgage. In most cases you must have an energy report to apply for financing, but for basic upgrades less than or equal to $6,500 an energy report isn’t required. GreenEnergy Money GreenEnergy Money (GEM) is an organization that offers financial solutions for new energy efficient home builds and retrofit projects. GEM partners with mortgage and financial companies, as well as builders and developers, allowing affordable energy reductions to be made in communities across the country. Property Assessed Clean Energy Programs (PACE) Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) programs exist for both commercial and residential properties. PACE programs offer solutions to cover the upfront costs of energy and energy improvements. PACE financing is tied to a property, not individuals. On-bill financing (OBF) & On-bill repayment (OBR) With on-bill financing (OBF) or on-bill repayment (OBR), a private lender or utility provider arranges financing to fund energy efficiency or renewable energy improvements. These loaned funds are added and repaid through existing utility bill payments. OBF and OBR are typically low-to-no interest rate financing options, but are not available in all regions or states. How to qualify for energy efficiency financing In most cases, qualifying for an energy efficiency mortgage or other financing services requires a home energy rating. Your home is rated on a scale from 0 to 150 with a lower score indicating a more energy efficient home. To get a home energy rating you will need to schedule a home energy assessment with a certified home energy rater. The energy rater will inspect multiple features in your home such as insulation, windows and doors, heating and cooling systems, and potential air leakage. After this inspection, you will be given an energy rating and energy report. The report will include energy efficiency improvement suggestions and estimated costs, as well as potential annual savings. To qualify for financing if you are purchasing an energy efficient home, your home energy report must indicate that the home is energy efficient. To qualify for financing for home energy efficiency upgrades, your home energy report must indicate that the upgrades will make the home more energy efficient and that these improvements are cost-effective. Bonus: Question and answer with an energy efficiency expert We asked Anna DeSimone, an energy efficiency expert and author of “Live in a Home that Pays You Back A Complete Guide to Net Zero and Energy-Efficient Homes,” some common questions that homeowners might have when approaching the topic of energy efficiency. 1. What are common financing options for purchasing an energy efficient home or financing energy efficiency upgrades? Are there certain options that you would recommend? Homebuyers looking to complete energy improvement are able to finance a good portion of the improvement costs with their mortgages. The amount of costs can be as much as 20 percent over the purchase price. Mortgage lenders who are authorized to originate loans to Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, FHA or VA can offer such programs. Lenders generally require an energy assessment, along with an estimate from a licensed contractor. If you’re planning to purchase or lease solar photovoltaic panels, they would ask for copies of the agreements. For smaller projects (less than $5,000) energy assessments are not required. 2. What are the priority energy efficiency improvements homeowners should make? Most energy consultants recommend that homebuyers upgrade the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system — since a good operational system helps deliver the maximum efficiency. Upgraded HVAC will improve indoor air quality, and today’s technologies have systems that capture biological pollutants and other toxins that result in cleaner air and a healthier environment for your family and pets. Other key energy measures include adding extra insulation, air sealing, and installing energy-efficient doors and windows. Small changes can make a difference — such as programmable thermostats and LED lighting. 3. What if you don't own your home? What energy efficiency improvements could you make? People who are renting a single-family home could “lease” solar photovoltaic panels. However, renewable energy systems require upgraded electrical systems which may not be feasible. Renters of condos, townhouses, and apartments can reduce their energy by installing window treatments (shades or curtains) that help keep the warm air inside in the winter, and reduce the heat of the sun in the summer. Other changes can include buying Energy Star appliances, LED lighting, and programmable thermostats. 4. When buying a house, how do you know it's energy efficient? What should you be looking out for? Most homebuyers order a professional home inspection which assesses the entire structure of the home, HVAC, and its operational systems. To determine whether or not the home is energy-efficient, homebuyers can also order a home energy assessment from a professional rating company. The home energy rater will assign a relative performance score such as the well-known HERS Energy Score from the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET). You can learn about the HERS Index, Energy Score, and locate a HERS energy rater on the RESNET website. The U.S. Department of Energy offers a program called Home Energy Score, and provides detailed explanations about the testing process and assessor locator by zip code. 5. Should energy efficiency upgrades be a priority for homeowners? Energy efficient upgrades are best completed in an efficient manner. An outdated HVAC system, or insufficient electrical panel can become a home’s “weakest link” when you’re attempting to reduce energy. If you are considering a solar photovoltaic system (or other type of renewable energy system such as geothermal, wind, or power) keep in mind that such systems are far more effective on homes that are well-insulated and with sound operational HVAC systems. The results of your home inspection report — coupled with an energy assessment — can be the basis for developing a strategic plan. Many important priorities in a home need to be met for your family’s health and safety, and each of these priorities can be implemented in accordance with your household needs, budget, and environmental goals.
A new year is fast approaching, which means it’s time to make your New Year’s resolutions. Among your goals to exercise more, binge-watch less, and take time for meditation, don’t forget about those home improvement projects you’ve had on the back burner for years now. It can be easy to let your home improvement plans fall by the wayside — they can be expensive and time consuming. But why live one more year disliking and complaining about features in your home? Instead of putting your home improvements off until it comes time to sell, make some plans and enjoy the improvements yourself! Home Improvement Guide & Workbook Tackle home improvement plans by choosing some small tasks and prioritizing them with a helpful chart and budget. Download We've teamed up with Utah realtor Laurie Stauffer (@MsLKS) to identify the top New Year’s 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. Make an extra mortgage payment Weight loss is a common New Year’s resolution for Americans, providing an interesting 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 While these tasks might not contribute to the new vanity and bathtub you’d like, they can help you feel like you’re making some improvements, perhaps keeping you motivated to tackle bigger projects. 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 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 very minor things 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 replacement costs ranging from $8,000 to $20,000. Properly maintained, an asphalt shingle roof should last you around 30 years and a metal roof can last longer 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) 1. Batch small projects Instead of making a list of home improvement tasks that you want to tackle when you can, choose a specific day to address these smaller projects. This allows you to save time and be more effective overall because you are less likely to be distracted by other daily tasks. 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, pulls you out of your flow and introduces 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. Avoid procrastination The author Mark Twain once said, “If you eat a frog every morning, nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” While this quote could be taken literally (although we wouldn’t recommend it), it teaches us a good lesson of not putting off bigger tasks or projects that may seem daunting. 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 In conjunction with tackling the hard tasks first, Danzger recommends rewarding yourself when you complete a project on your list: 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 Organizing your house or tackling improvement projects can be daunting — the project might be big and require certain expertise, or perhaps there are just lots of organization tasks to complete. Instead of looking at everything head on and trying to figure out how to accomplish it all at once, Danzger also recommends getting some small tasks out of the way first. Doing so can allow you to feel less overwhelmed and more motivated to tackle larger projects: 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 Break large projects into smaller tasks and set a time limit for yourself to accomplish each task. 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 you’re lacking motivation or vision for what you want to accomplish, Finan also recommends displaying a picture of what you’d like to achieve, providing a reminder and inspiration for your project: If I'm remodeling something in my own house but not sure how to start or 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. 7. Banish perfectionism Your improvement or renovation may not look as perfect as something you see on HGTV, and that’s okay! It’s important to manage your expectations and try to let go of wanting everything to be perfect. 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 To persevere through the enjoyable tasks, Chailland recommends visualizing how you’ll feel once that task is complete: 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 When you have multiple tasks or projects on the go, it can be easy to forget one or two along the way. Thus, it can be helpful to write your tasks 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 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. The final word 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. Home Improvement Guide & Workbook Tackle home improvement plans by choosing some small tasks and prioritizing them with a helpful chart and budget. Download
It’s the most wonderful time of the year, right? But it doesn’t always feel that way. Perhaps you’re running around, taking kids to activities, trying to get holiday shopping done, among all your other responsibilities, and you may be feeling less than merry and bright. But amongst all your responsibilities, activities, and parties, you can make sure that your home is a peaceful place where you can enjoy the holidays. 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. 1. 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 2. 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. 3. 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 4. 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 5. 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 6. 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. 7. 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 8. 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 interior design and organizing firm Elegant Simplicity 9. 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 10. 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 11. 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 12. 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 13. 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 HeartWork Organizing 14. 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 15. 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 16. 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 17. 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 18. 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" 19. 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 20. 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 21. 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 22. 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? — Tanya Dalton, productivity expert and author of "The Joy of Missing Out" 23. 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 24. 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 25. 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 26. 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 27. 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 28. 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 29. 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 30. 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
Anyone who's actually traversed the complex and often lengthy home-buying process understands that HGTV 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, but these are crucial steps in the home buying process that can’t be overlooked. While HGTV can give you great ideas for interior design, and priceless entertainment value, there are certain things you won’t necessarily learn about regarding the home buying process: Buying a home takes time Shopping around for a mortgage lender is crucial There are mortgage qualifying factors beyond your income There are different types of mortgages You should lock in a mortgage rate There are additional costs for buying or building Luxe features require a higher budget Managing renovations can get messy Hiring a contractor isn’t cheap Knowledge and grit don’t guarantee success 1. Buying a home 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?” 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. Even if you’re buying a move-in ready home, the process could take a month or two — buying, building, or renovating a house isn’t an overnight experience. 2. Shopping around for a mortgage lender is crucial Shopping around and choosing a good mortgage lender is crucial because it will affect your mortgage rates, fees, loan terms, and how quickly you’ll be able to close on your new house. So, how do you choose a good mortgage lender? Here are some helpful tips: Read real, verified customer reviews. Doing so will help you determine if a lending company provides good customer service and follows contractual agreements. Determine whether or not a mortgage company is transparent in the mortgage process. You’ll want to know if a company is likely to charge you additional fees that you didn’t know of when you applied — you want to make sure that you can trust them. Choose a loan type. The type of loan you seek for your purchase and/or remodel is important because not all lenders offer every loan product available. Pre-qualify with multiple lenders to get the best rate. Interest rates may vary by lender, but get an interest rate estimate from multiple lenders to see how each lender’s rates compare to the national daily average. 3. There are mortgage qualifying factors beyond your income Two terms rarely mentioned on House Hunters are "credit score" and “debt-to-income (DTI) ratio”. But they are two of the most important factors in determining whether or not you’ll qualify for a mortgage. Credit score 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. Most lenders won't even make you an offer if your credit score is below 620. If your credit score is above 700, you are considered a low-risk borrower, and lenders have confidence they will get their money back. In addition, the higher your credit score, the more likely you are to secure a lower interest rate. If your credit score is too low (below 600), you will be considered high-risk and likely may not qualify for a conventional loan. There are bad credit mortgage options available, but 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. Debt-to-income (DTI) ratio Simply put, your DTI ratio 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. Generally, lenders want to see a DTI ratio of 43 percent or less. Before applying for a mortgage it is a good idea to calculate your DTI ratio, and to determine ways you could lower it, if necessary. You can typically improve your DTI ratio in two ways: 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. search Highlight: 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. 4. There are different types of mortgages 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. Mortgage loan types include some of the following: Conventional fixed rate loan Adjustable rate mortgage (ARM) loan FHA loan VA loan USDA loan Jumbo loan Each type of loan has unique eligibility requirements, advantages, and disadvantages. If you’re not sure which loan type will best suit your needs, you can always speak with your mortgage lender/loan officer to discuss your finances and best options. 5. You should lock in your mortgage rate Occasionally, while you're watching your favorite home-buying program, you might wonder why the homebuyer is particularly anxious to close the deal on a certain day or at a certain time. One contributing factor, beyond the desire to move into their new home as quickly as possible, could be that they’ve locked in a competitive mortgage rate and they don’t want it to expire before they close on their home. Mortgage rates fluctuate frequently, even several times a day, and the best way to secure a competitive rate is to lock it in with your mortgage lender. A rate can typically be locked for a period of 30 to 120 days, protecting you if rates increase, but also limiting you if rates drop. Most mortgage experts encourage locking in your rate early, but then you’ll want to make sure you close on time so that your lock doesn’t expire and you end up losing that rate. To get a taste for mortgage rate trends, 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. 6. There are additional costs for buying or building 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. search Highlight: There are additional or "soft costs" involved in a house purchase or renovation, that you should be aware of. 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, but also the unexpected, costs. 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. 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: One, 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. Two, 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. 7. Luxe features require a larger budget 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. 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 fit into their 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 materials and features in your home. 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. 8. 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. 9. Hiring a contractor isn’t cheap After watching Ben and Erin Napier from the HGTV program, Home Town, renovate and revitalize properties, you may be tempted to hire a well-known contractor in your area to breathe new life into your home. Hiring a contractor isn’t always a cheap venture. Yes, there are some home renovation projects that require a professional, but there may be some projects you could tackle yourself. That being said, the cost of your own time is an important consideration, since contractors can typically get jobs done much faster than you might be able to by yourself. The HGTV shows make it seem quick and easy to hire a contractor to completely redo your house, but it’s important to remember that you will be paying for the contractor’s labor, as well as all material costs, so it’s important to have a plan and not get carried away in all the tempting possibilities a contractor could offer. 10. 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 hauling of old cabinets and 2:00 a.m. sewer clogs than there were brand new houses and excited buyers. The final word 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.
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