Cool Home Decor Hacks That Cost $3 (or Less!)

How you decorate can make or break your home’s appearance—but it can also break the bank. On one hand, who doesn’t want to be surrounded by lovely, eye-catching items? But on the other, can you really justify blowing a bundle on pillows and candles?

No, we can’t either. And, thankfully, we don’t have to.

Check out these cool home decor hacks that cost $3 or less for your pantry, pillows, lamps, and beyond.

Pillar candles

Perennially plain ivory pillar candles get a fun and funky face-lift with the help of a little tape. Allison Griffith of Refunk My Junk creates DIY washi tape candles but notes that you can use electrical tape if you have it on hand. Just remember to remove those stripes before you light them.

Adding tape to create a unique candle is a bright idea you'll use again and again.
Adding tape to create a unique candle is a bright idea you’ll use again and again. Refunk My Junk.com

Decorative doorknobs

A $3 can of spray paint is all it takes to elevate these doorknobs from dated to decorativein no time. Rene Peery Beagle, aka the Domestic Lady, notes that this is a perfect project for DIY novices, and can add a touch of elegance to your doors and overall decor.
Add instant character to your door with a bit of paint. thedomesticlady.com

Pantry

If you’ve admired the colorful countertop jars at your local Anthropologie but didn’t want to cough up the big bucks for them, Sarah Khandjian of Sarah Hearts shares the secret to creating knockoffs for practically pennies. Just slap chalkboard adhesives onto jars so you can write (and change) the label based on what’s inside.

 

Chalkboard adhesives take your regular spice cabinet to new heights. sarahhearts.com

Repurposed Mason jars

In case you didn’t already recognize the versatility of the almighty Mason jar, here’s another reason to love the go-to canning favorite. Lauren Shaver of Bless’er House puts the glasses to work as a decorative addition to a vanity light fixture. Spray-painted in oil-rubbed bronze, this light looks like a vintage piece you’d pay a pretty penny to own.

Skip preserving that jam and create this clever sconce instead. www.blesserhouse.com

Cute throw pillows

If you can’t look at a bandana without picturing singer Bret Michaels, we’re about to change that mental image for you. Heather T. of Heathered Nest takes the country-style kerchiefs and turns them into cute-as-can-be throw pillows. They’re available at the dollar store in an array of colors. So go ahead, go bandanas!

Bandanas—they’re not just for pirates anymore!  Heathered Nest.com

Organizer for measuring cups and spoons

If your measuring cups routinely cascade onto your head when you open a kitchen cabinet, or you spend hours looking for a tablespoon, you’ll want to try this clever home improvement hack from Beckie Farrant at Infarrantly Creative. Just grab a yardstick or paint stirrer, and mark where each measuring tool goes, add hooks, and you’ve got anorganized storage solution in minutes.

Find those measuring tools at a glance instead of hunting through drawers.
Find those measuring tools at a glance instead of hunting through drawers. infarrantlycreative.net

Fancy mirror

Transform an old mirror with the help of some colorful clothespins. The tutorial, shared by Aunt Peaches, makes it sound so simple, you may find yourself buying  more clothespins to fancy up other decor.

Dye your clothespin to match or offset your decor, and sit back and watch your guests admire your creativity. AuntPeaches.com

Stylish chair

This inexpensive office chair makeover is an attractive addition to your home office.Allison Murray of Dream a Little Bigger took a seat and gave it a new lease on life with two cans of paint and a little TLC.

This retro desk chair gets a fresh look thanks to a fresh application of spray paint.

Posted on September 21, 2016 at 7:00 am
Noemi Cardoso | Posted in Home Improvement | Tagged , , , ,

What Is a Buyer’s Agent? A Trusted Guide Who’ll Help You Find a Home

Ready to house hunt? It’s a jungle out there: Prepare for a flurry of paperwork, stampedes of buyers competing for the same digs, and other challenges before you get your hands on those house keys. We won’t lie: The process can be complex and stressful—which is why having a pro by your side can make all the difference.

You might have heard of buyer’s agents, seller’s agents, listing agents, and so on. You’re a buyer, so what is a buyer’s agent? True to their name, buyer’s agents assist home buyers every step of the way; they can also save you tons of time and money on the road to homeownership.

Read on to learn how a buyer’s agent can help, and how to find the right one for you.

Benefits of using buyer’s agents

“A buyer’s agent will guide you through the home-buying transaction and be at your disposal for any questions or concerns,” says Shane Wilcox, a Realtor® with Partners Trust. Here are some of the things a buyer’s agent can do:

  • Find the right property. After determining what clients are looking for and what they can afford, the agent will schedule appointments to tour homes that fit the bill. The agent can also explain the ins and outs of various properties and neighborhoods to help buyers decide which home is right for them by explaining the pros and cons of various options.
  • Negotiate the offer. The buyer’s agent will advise clients on an appropriate price to offer and present it to the seller’s agent. “Then they will negotiate on your behalf and write up the contracts for you,” says Matt Laricy, a Realtor with Americorp Real Estate in Chicago. This is where the agent’s experience in negotiating deals can save you money and help you avoid pitfalls like a fixer-upper that’s more trouble than it’s worth.
  • Recommend other professionals. A buyer’s agent should also be able to refer you to reliable mortgage brokers, real estate attorneys, home inspectors, movers, and more. This can also help expedite each step of the process and move you to a successful sale all the faster.
  • Help overcome setbacks. If the home inspector’s report or appraisal brings new issues to light, a buyer’s agent can advise you on how to proceed, and then act as a buffer between you and the sellers or their agent. If negotiations become heated or hostile, it’s extremely helpful to have an experienced professional keeping calm and offering productive solutions.

Buyer’s vs. listing agent: What’s the difference?

Buyer’s agents are legally bound to help buyers, whereas listing agents—the agent representing the home listing—have a fiduciary duty to the home seller. “That’s why it’s in your best interest as a buyer to get an agent who is there to represent you,” explains Alex Cortez, a Realtor with Wailea Village Properties LLC in Kihei, HI. “Think about it this way: If you were getting sued, would you hire the same attorney as the person suing you? Of course not. You need someone who will diligently fight for your interests and rights.”

Let’s say, for instance, you walked up to the listing agent at an open house and gushed about how you love the home and want to buy it, but you will need to move soon because you’re expecting your second child and need to decorate the nursery pronto, or the lease on your rental is up in a couple of months. A seller’s agent could then use this information against you by informing the seller that your clock is ticking, so they shouldn’t budge too much on their asking price—or at all.

Yet make this same confession to the buyer’s agent you’re working with, and it’s all fine—this professional would know to keep this info private from sellers (and their agents) so it can’t be used against you.

How to find a buyer’s agent

A good buyer’s agent can ease your way to homeownership—and a bad one can result in a bumpy ride. As such, don’t just take the first buyer’s agent you meet (which is what two-thirds of home buyers do), or blindly accept the recommendation from a friend (over half do this). Instead, it’s best to interview at least three agents and ask them a few questions, including the following:

  • What neighborhoods do you specialize in? Real estate requires local expertise, so you should find an agent who’s extremely familiar with the areas you’re interested in.
  • What’s your schedule and availability? Part-time agents who are committed can do a fine job, but if the house of your dreams pops up or you encounter last-minute closing snafus, you want an agent who will be readily reachable.
  • How long have you been a real estate agent? You ideally want someone with a couple of years of experience, and a proven track record of selling homes.

To find real estate agents in your area, head to realtor.com/realestateagents, where you can also read online reviews provided by past clients and learn more.

The agent/buyer contract

Once you agree to work with an agent, you will have to sign a contract called an Exclusive Buyer Agency Agreement outlining the agent’s services and compensation (more on that next). This contract also means that this agent will be your sole representative and that you won’t work with other buyer’s agents.

How much do buyer’s agents cost?

Home buyers need to worry about the expense of hiring a buyer’s agent. Why? Because the seller pays the commission for both the seller’s agent and the buyer’s agent. Typically the commission equals about 6% of the home’s sales price, which is split evenly between both agents (on a $200,000 home, that would be $6,000 apiece).

For all of your real estate needs, feel free to contact us at 714-698-9655.


Posted on September 19, 2016 at 2:25 am
Noemi Cardoso | Posted in Buyer's Advice | Tagged , , , , , ,

4 Myths That Could Wreak Havoc on Your Move

moving-day

Peter Dazeley/iStock

If you’ve ever moved, you probably know that everyone seems to have an opinion on the best way to go about it.

Well, don’t let your already tenuous grip on sanity fall prey to their well-meaning moving advice. Because moving is stressful enough without crazy talk and terrible pointers. So here are the four common moving myths that will almost certainly derail you, if you let them. Beware!

1. Free moving boxes are best

Free is good, right?

Not necessarily, when it comes to moving boxes.

While you may be tempted to head to your friendly neighborhood liquor store to plead for castoff cartons, resist the urge. You should never skimp on boxes, even if that means you have to pony up a few bucks for them, says storage and organization expert Emma Gordon of Clutter.com, an on-demand storage service.

“Boxes should have top and bottom flaps so they can be taped shut, handle cutouts on the sides for easier carrying, and be more or less square,” Gordon says.

And they shouldn’t be wider than your shoulders. Any more than that and Gordon says you’ll have to carry boxes by holding your arms out and away from your body, which will wear you out faster.

The ideal moving box should be made of thick cardboard and be easy to stack on a dolly. It should also have a designated area for writing what’s inside the box, and have the weight limit printed on the outside so you know what it can carry without ripping.

There’s an unsuspecting advantage to buying boxes: Their uniform size makes it easy to gauge how many you’ll be able to pack in the truck based on the dimensions of the truck and a little math. Also, they’re way less likely to fall apart at the worst possible moments.

But if you do decide to go the free route, be careful about what you bring home from the grocer. Packing your possessions in free produce boxes could mean you’re joined by unwanted insects in your new home.

2. All markers are created equal

Instead of grabbing any old marker you have lying around, Gordon suggests color coding the writing on boxes so that everyone knows what goes where in your new home.

“Permanent markers are best since they work on a wide variety of packing material,” Gordon says. “Choose a marker with a thicker tip, so it’s easier to read.”

Along with jotting down the contents of the boxes, make sure to put an arrow facing up so everyone knows how the box should be loaded and carried, says Dustin Black, founder and CEO of Dallas-based Black Tie Moving.

“If you have delicate or fragile items in the box, make a note on at least two sides of the box,” he adds.

3. There are some things you can’t pack until moving day

It’s tempting to wait until the last minute to pack up personal items and bedding if you’re using them on your final night in your old digs. But that can create chaos and increase the odds of something getting left behind or misplaced.

Instead, have everything packed up and ready to go on moving day, Black says. Not only will that help reduce the chance for problems, but it’s also good for your wallet, too.

“Lack of preparation is the No. 1 reason why consumers experience higher-than-expected moving costs,” Black says.

That’s because you could wind up paying professional movers to stand around while you pack up those last few incidentals.

“Pack personal items like medicines, pet food, toiletries, school items for kids, a few days of clothes, as though you’re going on a two- to three-day vacation,” Black suggests. “That way it’s easier to find the essentials you’ll need to muddle through a move during the first day or two in a new home.”

4. You should always move on Friday

Perhaps you think Friday is the best day to move because it gives you the whole weekend to unpack.

But here’s the reality: Everybody else is thinking that, too. And that extra demand means higher costs. Movers charge more on weekends and at the beginning and the end of the month because that’s typically when they’re the busiest.

“You can see rates 20% to 30% higher during those times,” Black says.

Most moving companies also charge more in the spring and summer than they do during the fall and winter, Black says.

And it isn’t just your wallet that’ll be affected: If you move during a peak time, it can mean crews are stretched thin and you might have to settle for movers with less experience, Black says.

No matter when you choose to move, you should make sure to book movers three to four weeks in advance to lock in the day and time you want.

“Getting to the heart of move-related myths like these can make a drastic difference on moving day,” Gordon says. “It can be the line between stress and bliss.”

By Gina Roberts-Grey has been covering real estate news since 2000. She also enjoys writing about celebrities and their homes, pop culture, antiques, bichon frises, insurance, and NASCAR.


Posted on August 28, 2016 at 7:02 am
Noemi Cardoso | Posted in Buyer's Advice, Seller's Advice | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

How to Write an Offer Letter That Will Win the House

offer letter sealed with wax, feather quill

t_kimura/iStock; Sergey Galushko/iStock

You love the house sooo much. The problem is, lots of other people probably do, too. How can you stand out in a competitive environment? Try writing an offer letter that knocks the seller’s socks off.

“Making the highest offer is typically the best way to win a bid, but when a seller is faced with two very similar offers, a letter can oftentimes tip the scales toward yours,” says Realtor® Mindy Jensen of Longmont, CO.

So how do you use writing to woo a seller to your side? Check out these snippets from winning offer letters, then learn how you can follow in the footsteps of these real-life buyers.

A winning game plan

The words that wooed: After seeing a number of properties that have not “spoken” to us in a significant way, we were delighted to discover your home, with its mixture of charm and warmth. We envision family gatherings within its open living area and drinking coffee while watching our children play in the pool. As basketball is in the family blood (Steve is a former employee of the National Basketball Association), I’m sure there will be plenty of pick-up games for everyone.

Why it worked: “My clients were up against a better offer from a builder, but the seller couldn’t bear the idea of their house being torn down,” explains Anne West, a Realtor with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Winnetka, IL. “They wanted to sell their home to someone who would raise their family there and who would love it as much as they had, and my clients were able to articulate that they were just that family.”

How to do it yourself: Find out some backstory about the owners or other bidders if you can. The tidbit about the builder, for example, was crucial knowledge. But for any property, most sellers who have taken good care of their homes want to make sure they will be loved by the next owner, too, so let your enthusiasm shine to gain the edge over pricier offers.

———

Must love dogs

The words that wooed: My husband and I have been searching for our first home, and we believe your house will be the perfect place to raise our growing family. Our son is due in September, and I know he will be so happy playing in the fabulous backyard with our two dogs.

Why it worked: “The seller appreciated her praising specific things that were obviously installed by the homeowners,” says Mindy Jensen, a Realtor in Longmont, CO. “But the tipping point was when she included a picture of her dog with the letter. The seller specifically allowed her to match the highest offer, based solely on her dog.”

How to do it yourself: Make yourself relatable. Take a cue from the lovingly tended roses or, in this case, a dog, and try to glean what the seller values. It could be kids, a dog, or even a love of gardening. If you share those same interests, offer them up. You never know what phrases may spur the seller to choose your offer over another.

———

This way to Easy Street

The words that wooed: We are not looking for a bargain, just a fair price for something nice. This would be a cash sale, and we could close quickly or at a convenient time for you. 

Why it worked: “This was a no-brainer for the seller, because you can tell these folks are clued in, and money talks,” says Bruce Ailion, a real estate agent with Re/Max Atlanta. “This letter makes it clear that this is going to be an easy transaction: cash sale, market price, close quickly or on your timetable.”

How to do it yourself: Get your ducks in a row before you make an offer. Even if you’re not doing an all-cash offer, have a pre-approval in hand. Especially in a seller’s market, make it clear that you are going to be easy to work with and that the seller can call the shots.

———

Sentiment sells

The words that wooed: We grew up in the city and our parents live very close by; one of them is living very close to your home. It’s important to find a home close to our family, so that when we start our family, our children will be close to their grandparents.”

Why it worked: “If the seller has raised their own family there, they have an emotional connection to the house,” says David Feldberg, broker/owner of Coastal Real Estate Group in Newport Beach, CA. “Talking about several generations plucks those heart strings.”

How to do it yourself: Include details about your family and connection to the area. And always include a photo. When the seller is considering multiple offers, the photo makes your offer stand out from the pack.

———

Flattery can get you everywhere

The words that wooed: From the moment I walked in, I knew this place felt like home. (Well if I am being honest, I fell in love with the wallpaper in the bathroom first!! ha-ha.) I also really appreciate the attention to detail in the upgrades you made: the stain on the floors, the wall colors and the charming lights, and I absolutely love your furniture selection.

Why it worked: “My client clearly admired the seller’s decor decisions,” says John Michael Grafft with Berkshire Hathaway Koenig Rubloff in Chicago. “It turned out she was an interior designer. Everyone appreciates a sincere compliment.”

How to do it yourself: Find details that you love about the home and mention them so it’s clear you’re not sending a generic letter to every potential property seller. The seller chose those design elements, so find something you love that you can mention sincerely. Even if you are planning to change everything about a place you consider a fixer-upper, compliment the fact that the seller took great care of the home.

———

Short and sweet

The words that wooed: Semper fi.

Why it worked: “The rest of the letter was great, but in all honesty, that phrase at the end of his letter sealed the deal. He and the seller were both Marines,” says Mindy Jensen, a Realtor in Longmont, CO.

How to do it yourself: Common interests can make all the difference, but don’t lie. That goes for military service, of course, but also other details. Don’t tell the seller that you want to raise your children there, if you don’t have any. Instead, if you hope to eventually have a family, you can say, “I hope to someday be able to raise my children in this beautiful home.”

—————

By Cathie Ericson is a content marketer and journalist who writes about real estate, finance, and health. She lives in Portland, OR, where you can find her writing, reading, hiking, running, or wrangling her three boys.


Posted on August 27, 2016 at 7:00 am
Noemi Cardoso | Posted in Buyer's Advice | Tagged , , , , , ,

The Worst Home-Buying Advice People Actually Believe

angel and devil giving advice

Fanatic Studio/Getty Images

If you’re looking to buy a house, you’re bound to have well-meaning friends and family pull you aside and say, “Let me give you some advice.” After all, they’ve been there, done that. Or they’ve watched an ungodly amount of “House Hunters.”

We know they’re trying to be helpful, but just because people have an opinion doesn’t mean they’re informed. And when it comes to buying a house, that seemingly friendly direction can send you down the wrong path.

So to keep you from jumping into the market armed with half-baked “wisdom,” we’ve gathered the worst home-buying advice people have heard and explain why these maxims are myth rather than gospel.

‘Hold off, home prices are going down’

Why you might hear this: The predictions have been going on for years: The housing bubble is going to burst again; income is stagnant; the zombie apocalypse will free up stock.

Why it’s bad advice: Sadly, we have yet to find a Magic 8 Ball that’s spot-on when it comes to predicting the future. So if you want or need to buy a home, the time isn’t someday—it’s now. And “with a lack of inventory and the busiest time of the year approaching, home prices aren’t going down anytime soon,” says California Realtor®Tracey Hampson.

‘You don’t need to use a real estate agent’

Why you might hear this: See a home you like, then make an offer—how hard can it be? Cut a buyer’s agent out of the picture entirely and you’ll do just fine. Plus, with no agent to collect a commission, you’ll be able to negotiate a better deal with the seller. Right?

Why it’s bad advice: In a market where houses are moving so fast it’d give you whiplash, a real estate agent is indispensable. Not only will your agent know about properties long before you do, he or she can also guide you through mountains of paperwork, pointing out potential problems that could cost you big-time down the road.

“Also, though you may consider yourself a great negotiator, an agent’s knowledge and experience will help you get the house you want at the best price,” says Atlanta-based Realtor Bill Golden of Re/Max Metro Atlanta Cityside.

‘Just use the listing agent to represent you’

Why you might hear this: While listing agents work for the seller, they might offer to help you, too. What’s wrong with that? It certainly seems to cut down on the number of cooks in the kitchen, and maybe it’ll give you an edge in a competitive bidding situation.

Why it’s bad advice: You need someone in your own corner with a water bottle, cool towel, and an eye on getting you the best deal.

Put simply, “the seller’s agent represents the seller,” says Evelina K. Vatkova, associate partner at Partners Trust in Beverly Hills, CA. It’s akin to going to court with just one lawyer—one who’s working both sides of a case. You want someone who has your interests in mind, first and last.

‘Make a lowball offer and negotiate up from there’

Why you might hear this: Someone read Donald Trump‘s “The Art of the Deal” (while moving their lips, most likely) and thinks everything is a negotiation.

Why it’s bad advice: Making a major lowball offer can very often start negotiations off on the wrong foot with the seller. Worse, “you end up paying more in the end than you would [have] had you been more reasonable to start with,” says Golden. Serious buyers and sellers know what homes are worth. Which leads to our next piece of bad advice…

‘Never pay full price’

Why you might hear this: Because only losers pay full price, right? (See: “The Art of the Deal.”)

Why it’s bad advice: There’s no such thing as absolutes in real estate.

“If a home is overpriced, you don’t want to pay full price,” says Golden. “However, if it seems that the house is well worth the money after carefully studying the comps your Realtor provides, paying full price may be the only way to get it, especially in a seller’s market.”

‘Remove contingencies to make your offer stronger’

Why you might hear this: A house has tons of bidders, and you want to be the most attractive to the seller.

Why it’s bad advice: In a competitive market, it’s tempting to feel pressure to cast off contingencies—you know, those safeguards where you agree to buy the home only if certain requirements (e.g., passing a home inspection or title clearance) are met. Of course sellers dislike contingencies, because they’re designed to protect you against utter catastrophe—say, your buying a home riddled with toxic mold or liens that will cost you thousands of dollars.

“Never remove contingencies unless you are 100% positive the property is the right home for you,” say Erfan Haj, an associate partner at Partners Trust.

‘Don’t bother hiring a home inspector’

Why you might hear this: You’ll spend a lot of money on an inspector to point out a leaky faucet. Besides, the home looks fine! Um, right?

Why it’s bad advice: Oh boy. That property that looks just perfect at an open house could be rife with issues only a pro will uncover. And saving those few bucks from skimping on an inspector could cost you loads down the line. And Los Angeles stager Michelle Minchof Moving Mountains Design reminds us not to skip inspection even with a home warranty from the seller.

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By Margaret Heidenry is a writer living in Brooklyn, NY. Her work has also appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Vanity Fair, and Boston Magazine.


Posted on August 26, 2016 at 4:57 am
Noemi Cardoso | Posted in Buyer's Advice | Tagged , , , , ,