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When It’s Time to Get an Accountant to Do Your Taxes

by The Schnoor Team

 

Do you need a CPA? Or will a regular accountant do?

The federal tax law signed by President Donald Trump Dec. 22, 2017, may affect home ownership tax benefits described in this article. The new law goes into effect for the 2018 tax year and generally doesn’t affect tax filings for the 2017 tax year. Here’s a detailed summary of the changes.

You are soooo dreading doing your taxes this year. Gone are the days when you used to sit down with a glass of wine and fill out your 1040 EZ. Remember that time you finished and hit the “submit” button just as you swallowed the last sip?

Not this year. Unless you want to pay a ton in taxes, you’re going to have to itemize. You did it last year, and it wasn’t too bad. But this year, you did some freelancing. And you moved. And it’s going to take a whole lot more time than one glass of wine. 

Maybe it’s time to hire a pro. But do you really need a certified public accountant? And can you justify the expense?

The Differences Between CPAs and Other Tax Experts

First you need to know there are different types of tax experts. And not all accountants are CPAs. So if you’re thinking that an independent CPA and someone at H&R Block or Jackson Hewitt (or your buddy who studied accounting in college) are pretty much the same, don’t count on it. Basically,

  • An accountant is someone who studied accounting.
  • CPAs are accountants who pass rigorous testing from their state board on a regular basis. The designation usually requires a degree. Not every CPA specializes in taxes.
  • An “enrolled agent,” or EA, is an accountant who has received certification from the IRS. Being an EA doesn’t require a degree like CPA. But it does verify they know tax law.
  • A tax preparer at pop-ups like H&R Block or Jackson Hewitt is trained on tax software to help taxpayers file their returns. They aren’t required to be CPAs or EAs.
  • Only CPAs and EAs can legally represent you if the IRS challenges your return.

There’s nothing wrong with visiting a pop-up preparer like H&R Block if your return isn’t all that complicated, says Cathy Derus, CPA and founder of Brightwater Accounting in Illinois.

“It’s when you start generating other income — perhaps you launch a business or own rental property — [or experience a big financial change] when it makes sense to ask for a little extra help,” she said.

When It's A Good Idea to Hire a Tax Pro

When you buy your first house. Many of the expenses related to buying a home and having a mortgage are deductible. But only if you itemize. And that’s what the experts are best at.

When you move to a new state. There’s a good chance you’ll have to file two state returns for the year you move. And each state is a little bit different in terms of state tax owed — zero in some states, a flat amount in others, and graded by income bracket in most.

When you become a landlord. “When you own investment property, you become a small business owner,” says Tai Stewart, accountant and owner of Saidia Financial Solutions in Houston. That means new records to keep and a new tax form, Schedule E, to complete.

When you buy a vacation property. Especially if you rent it. And especially if it’s in a different state.

When you work from home. There’s a lot of potential money-saving deductions that can vary widely depending on the type of business and how much space it takes up in your home. “If you have a 

Tax Tip

Avoid the onerous record keeping for the regular home office deduction with the simplified method — $5 per sq. ft. up to 300 sq. ft., capped at $1,500. Trade-off: Much less paperwork, but possibly a smaller deduction, too.

home office, you can deduct for the square footage you use for work as well as a portion of your utilities, mortgage interest, and property taxes,” says Stewart.

When you make home improvements. Energy-efficient upgrades like installing a new heating and cooling system, water heater, or insulation may qualify for tax credits. But that can change depending on the year. Same goes for medically necessary home improvements that aren’t paid by your employer or insurance.

When your home’s value is reassessed.The tax man doesn’t always get it right, and sometimes your home may be valued at more than it should be. An expert will be able to pull the data together to appeal it.

So, How Much Do Accountants Cost?

H&R Block will do your taxes for about $150, while a CPA or EA may add $100 or more to that fee ($260 on average last year).

You can definitely DIY all these tax scenarios and save the fees, but with CPAs and EAs, the extra cost may be worth it. Especially if you run your own business. Or you own more than one home. “An accountant can help you analyze your spending choices and even act as a consultant,” says Stewart. Best of all, they’ll be by your side if the tax man ever comes after you. That alone could be priceless if the time comes.

Oh, and one last tip: If you decide you want to hire a CPA or EA, best not to wait until the last minute. You may not find one.

Source: https://www.houselogic.com/finances-taxes/taxes/do-i-need-an-accountant/

ALAINA TWEDDALE

is a freelance writer who writes about money, home, and investing. Her work has appeared on Forbes.com, the Huffington Post, and Time.com. When she’s not writing, she’s working with her husband to slowly renovate what seems like every square inch of their home.

The 7 Worst Habits Homeowners Need to Break Now

by The Schnoor Team

 

Guilty of buying cheap stuff? Pack-ratting? Here’s how to change your ways.

Bad habits are so easy to fall into. But in the end, we know they only make us miserable. 

They’re “the opposite of what makes you happy. They’re what make you miserable,” says M.J. Ryan, author of “Habit Changers: 81 Game-Changing Mantras to Mindfully Realize Your Goals.” Especially when they cost you money.

Here are 7 bad habits to break now for a happier you (and a fatter bank account):

#1 Taking Long, Steamy Showers

Spending 20 minutes in the steam may be good for your pores, but it’s also great for mold and mildew. Run the exhaust fan while you’re singing in the shower, squeegee the walls afterward, and scrub that grout every few months.

“Once you let the grout go, it gets worse and worse, and harder and harder to maintain,” says Mylène Merlo, a REALTOR® in San Diego. Grungy grout is a big turnoff for buyers. And redoing it is a pain and expensive to hire out.

#2 Keeping Out the Sun

Shutting your shades on winter days might seem smart. More insulation from the chilly weather, right? Your energy bill disagrees. A sunny window can warm your home and lower your heating costs. And as a bonus, you could see a decrease in seasonal depression.

But your original idea wasn’t totally wrong. Closing those blinds at night can keep your home toasty.

“Bad habits are the opposite of what makes you happy. They're what make you miserable.”

M.J. Ryan, author of "Habit Changers: 81 Game-Changing Mantras to Mindfully Realize Your Goals"

#3 Compulsively Buying Bargains

Finding a deal feels so good, but cheaper isn’t always better. In fact, budget buys might cost you more in the long run. For instance, dollar paintbrushes will leave annoying streaks, requiring a costly re-do.

And when it comes to appliances, permit a little splurge — especially if selling your home is on the horizon.

“I always err with going for high-quality appliances,” Merlo says. “There is a noticeable difference between the cheapest and next-cheapest models. And buyers want to see stainless steel.”

#4 Running a Half-Full Dishwasher

You get a gold star for always remembering to start your dishwasher before bed, right? Clean dishes every morning! Go you! Yeah, about that: Your dishwasher wastes water unless it’s completely full.

Dishwashers do save more water than washing by hand (just try telling that to your mom), but most machines use the same amount of water regardless of how many plates you’ve stuffed inside, making a half-empty cycle significantly less efficient. For a household of one or two, once a day can be overkill.

#5 Mega-Mulching

A “tree volcano” might sound like a grand ol’ time, but it’s actually damaging your foliage. Too much mulch suffocates your tree, causing root rot and welcoming invasive insects. 

#6 Going on a Remodeling Rampage

Don’t break out the sledgehammer for a demo three weeks after moving in unless your home needs serious, obvious work. Give yourself time to understand the home’s quirks before renovating.

“You don’t know what your needs are when you first move into a home,” says Merlo. “You should live there for at least six months to figure out the space you need. If you do too much too soon, you’ll regret it.”

For instance, you could dump $15,000 into a kitchen remodel — only to realize the original layout would have worked better for holiday parties. Or you paint a room your favorite color, Wild Plum, only to realize the natural light in the room makes it look more like Rotten Plum. Whoops.

#7 Packratting

You know clutter is bad, but you just… can’t… help it. You had to put that unused exercise bike in the spare room instead of by the road as a freebie because what if? Plus, there’s so much in there already, and decluttering seems like such an insurmountable goal — even though every jam-packed square foot is space you can’t enjoy.

If the task seems impossible, Ryan recommends starting small.

“Do one small thing,” she says. “Clean out a drawer or reorganize your counter, and then you feel the satisfaction of having done it. It becomes easier to do the next small thing.”

Just remember: Breaking habits takes time and a lot of slip-ups. “It’s important to be kind to ourselves when we blow it,” Ryan says. “When we create new habits, we’re building new wiring, but it’s not like the old wiring disappears. Don’t turn goof-ups into give-ups.”

Source: https://www.houselogic.com/save-money-add-value/money-saving-diy/preventive-home-maintenance/

JAMIE WIEBE

is a writer and editor with a focus on home improvement and design. Previously, she worked as a web editor for “House Beautiful,” “ELLE Decor,” and “Veranda.”

Home Improvement with Heart — Just in Time for Valentine’s Day

by The Schnoor Team

 

Roses are red; violets are blue — here are romantic improvements that add value, too.

A steam shower is a romantic, luxurious improvement for your bathroom, but be sure it's airtight.

Just in time for Valentine’s Day: home improvement ideas to make you and your home feel, look, and sound sexier.

The sensual shower

What makes your honey feel better than a long, soothing shower? (OK. It’s a rhetorical question.) But showering exactly the way you want it is a little luxury that can set the mood for a lot of love.

Programmable showers ($290 to $3,500) let you digitally determine water temperature, pressure, even type of spray. Pulsating, anyone? 

And if you want things to get a little steamy in the bedroom, start in the bathroom with a steam shower ($7,000 to $10,000). You’ll need space to put the steam generator — an adjacent closet will do — and you’ll have to make your shower airtight to trap the steam. Or you can buy a prefab unit ($1,000 to $5,000) that you can install yourself or hire a pro to do the wet work ($500 to $1,000).

Squeaky clean

We know you’ll want to be extra clean and coiffed for Valentine’s Day night, so get ready for the fun with an electronic toilet seat that washes and warms, plays music, and sprays pleasant scents.

A couple of years ago, these deluxe seats were hard to come by. Now, big box stores around the country sell these bathroom accessories that fit on top of your toilet ($150 to $600). They come with a host of features, some with slow-closing lids and germ-resistant seats. 

If you want to go whole hog, buy complete high-tech toilets that also include LED lights for late night bathroom breaks and no-touch flush ($450 to $1,100).

Dim the lights

Help romance along by avoiding harsh overhead lights and instead installing dimmers on bedroom lights ($16 to $38) or just replacing a few lamps with lower wattage bulbs.

Not only will dim lighting set the mood, but lowering brightness extends the life of bulbs, saving energy and money — and what’s sexier than that?

Surround yourself with sound

Isn’t it romantic to listen to music in the dining room, bedroom, even the bath? 

You can go high-end — and high-effort — and have a sound specialist install whole-house sound, which entails running speaker wires through ceilings and walls ($700 to $2,700 per room), and hooking up a pair of speakers ($100 to $2,000 each pair).

Or, you can save some money and install a wireless system yourself. The music is distributed by a computer and sent via router into small player boxes in each room ($400 per room). This DYI project takes a couple of hours.

Fireplaces turn up the heat

Lounging by the fireplace on Valentine’s Day, sipping champagne, eating chocolate-covered strawberries is a dream celebration. But, let’s get down to earth and just settle for the fire.  

If you already have a wood-burning fireplace, sweep it out and perform chimney maintenance so your V-Day doesn’t go up in flames. 

If you’re missing a place for flames, you could go all out and add a fireplace. If you have a wood-burning fireplace one but never use it because of the hassle, you can retrofit with a gas fireplace insert that gives you light and heat with just a flick of a switch ($3,000 to $4,000).

Or, if you’re in a hurry, install a plug-in, electric fireplace that supplies a realistic-looking flame and even heat. Installation is a DIY project. Your biggest hassle will be selecting the location — along a wall or stand-alone — and picking the most romantic-looking mantle surround or fireplace shelf (with mantle package $800 to $1,600).

Source: https://www.houselogic.com/remodel/home-improvement-ideas-valentines-day/

LISA KAPLAN GORDON

is an award-winning, Pulitzer Prize-nominated writer who contributes to real estate and home improvement sites. In her spare time (yeah, right!), she gardens, manages three dogs, and plots to get her 21-year-old out of her basement.

No Valentines This Year? Maybe Your Home is to Blame

by The Schnoor Team

 

Affairs of the heart always are hard to fathom. But a new survey provides some insight, revealing how your home affects your love life.

If you’re an adult living with your parents, the only Valentine you probably got is from your nobody-will-ever-love-you-as-much-as-your mother. A new survey shows that only 5% of unmarried U.S. adults would prefer to date someone living with their folks.

For the sake of your love life, move out already, the Trulia survey of 1,000 adults shows.

If you’re a guy, get a house in the suburbs — 37% of women want that white picket fence. And if you’re a gal, get a snappy one-bedroom in the city — 32% of men want a city-dwelling woman.

And, to stack the odds even more in your favor, buy — don’t rent: 36% of women surveyed found home ownership a turn-on. 

Did your love life pick up after you got your own place?

Source: https://www.houselogic.com/home-thoughts/no-valentines-year-maybe-your-home-blame/?pred_search_link_clicked=No+Valentines+This+Year%3F+Maybe+Your+Home+is+to+Blame

LISA KAPLAN GORDON

is an award-winning, Pulitzer Prize-nominated writer who contributes to real estate and home improvement sites. In her spare time (yeah, right!), she gardens, manages three dogs, and plots to get her 21-year-old out of her basement.

Before Buying, Real Estate Pros Insist on Doing These 4 Things

by The Schnoor Team

 

What you really need to know about buying — from the people who house hunt for a living.

Take the long view when you’re buying, says Chicago agent Pekarsky. He plans to start a family in a few years, so he set his sights on a single-family with plenty of bedrooms.

One house you’re looking at has the wraparound porch you’ve fantasized about, but it’s on a high-traffic street. The condo you like has a doorman in the lobby (you can order online now!), but it has no dedicated parking. What to choose?

It’s not every day that you buy a home and make decisions about the next three, five, or 10 years of your life. Since you can’t exactly take a home on a test drive, how do you decide? That got us to thinking about real estate pros. When they’ve seen practically everything on the market, how do they choose?

Four pros who’ve seen it all share their advice and their stories of hunting for just the right home.

Compromise for Your Priorities

Veteran real estate agent Nancy Farkas knew exactly what she wanted in her home: ranch style, three bedrooms, high ceilings. But you know what she bought? A two-story Colonial.

Huh?

For Farkas, an associate partner with Coldwell Banker Heritage REALTORS®, in Dayton, Ohio, the home’s location and price trumped style. “I had a dog I had to go home and walk at noon, and the house was close [to work] and the right price,” she says.

Her advice: Make sure your practical and functional priorities don’t get lost in all the home buying hoo-ha (sparkling granite counters, new hardwood floors, a steam shower!). Remember, you can always add the hoo-ha, but you can’t make a home fit all priorities, such as location and price.

Dig Into the Details (Dull, Yes, But Worth It!)

When Grigory Pekarsky, co-owner and managing broker with Vesta Preferred Real Estate in Chicago, was looking for his first home, one of his priorities was to minimize his maintenance costs. He made sure to find out if the house had a newer roof, good siding, and a newer furnace. But he recommends you go even deeper to uncover a home’s not-so-obvious maintenance costs:

Scope out the sewer line — especially if you’re interested in an older home — to make sure there aren’t any tree branches or other debris clogging up the works. Otherwise, you might find some nasty sludge in the basement.

Look at the trees. How mature are they? Roots from older trees can invade the sewer line; untrimmed branches can pummel your gutters during storms.

Know what’s not covered by homeowners insurance. “I learned seepage isn’t covered. Shame on me,” he says.

Ask how old the appliances are. You might need to budget for something new in a few years. Sellers are only required to fix what the inspector finds is broken; they’re not going to upgrade working appliances for you.

Seek a House That Matches Your Lifestyle

Having lived the high-rise apartment life as a renter, Pekarsky knew a single-family home was just what he wanted. He was tired of living in a relatively small space with no yard. He wanted a house he could “grow into in the next three to five years.” That meant multiple bedrooms and bathrooms for the family he plans on having. So what he bought — a three-story, single-family with a finished attic bedroom (shown below) on Chicago’s North Side — suits his lifestyle perfectly.

In addition, “you get the biggest value from owning the land,” he says. “In a single-family [home], people aren’t telling you what to do with the investment.”

On the other hand, Matt Difanis wished he’d bought a condo when he bought his first home, a small bungalow ranch in a charming, historic neighborhood in Champaign, Ill. It was first-home love — until it rained.

“If I didn’t clean out the gutters before every rainstorm, the basement would leak,” says the broker-owner of RE/MAX Realty Associates in Champaign. He didn’t realize that taking care of a single-family home wouldn’t be his cup of tea. “I should have opted for a condo without gutters to clean and a lawn to mow,” he says.

Agent Amy Smythe Harris of Urban Provision REALTORS®, in Woodland, Texas, bought a home with a sizable downstairs suite her parents could use now (and she could use years from now). She says her millennial clients aren’t forward-thinking about their lifestyles. Some are childless and say they don’t care about schools, pools, and tennis courts. Then they become parents a few years later and have to move.

“Once they have kids, the first question [they] ask is about school districts, and the second is about where the parks and pools are,” she says.

The pros’ bottom-line advice: Think of your lifestyle preferences and how those might change in the next few years. After all, the typical homeowner lives in a house for a median of 10 years before selling, NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® data shows.

Look at the House Through the Lens of Resale

All the real estate pros we talked to — no surprise here — emphasized resale. Take appraiser Michelle C. Bradley of Czekalski Real Estate Inc. in Natrona Heights, Pa. When she built her current home — a 2,200-square-foot ranch — she included a full, unfinished basement, even though she has no use for one and rarely ventures into it.

Why would she do that? Because basements are standard in her southwest Pennsylvania market. But Bradley’s not going to finish the basement until she’s ready to sell. That way, she avoids having to clean it and ensures she’ll install the most fashionable bathroom fixtures at sell time.

Her advice: “Don’t buy or build something unique that you can’t resell. If you’re not in an area with log homes, don’t choose a log home. If you’re not in an area with dome homes, don’t choose a dome home.”

Don’t Overspend for the Neighborhood

If you buy a home priced higher than average for the area, it’ll be difficult to resell at a higher price.

don't buy a home that's not in line with the neighborhood's average price . When you go to resell, you’ll find yourself in an uphill battle to maintain your higher price.

Other advice from the pros: Watch out for unfixable flaws that could affect resale, like:

What’s next to the home, such as vacant land that could be developed, high-traffic businesses, noisy power generation stations, a cell tower, etc.

Lot issues, such as a steep driveway that could double as a ski slope in winter, or a sloped yard that sends water special delivery to your foundation.

Of course, a home isn’t just about resale. It’s just one factor to consider. Remember the first point: Be willing to compromise for your priorities. If the home meets your priorities and you’re going to stay there awhile, then resale might be where you compromise.

Source: https://www.houselogic.com/buy/house-hunting/what-to-look-for-when-buying-a-house/?site_ref=mosaic

DONA DEZUBE

has been writing about real estate for more than two decades. She lives in a suburban Baltimore Midcentury modest home on a 3-acre lot shared with possums, raccoons, foxes, a herd of deer, and her blue-tick hound.

3 Must vs. Lust Buying Tips to Avoid Overspending

by The Schnoor Team

 

3 Must vs. Lust Buying Tips to Avoid Overspending

The super-simple (and fun) way to separate needs from nice-to-haves.

When you embark on the home-buying process, your heart is filled with all the dreams in the world. It’s really easy to get caught up in the “I have to have’s”

Make a List of Wants

Start by making a list of everything you want in your house. If you love it, jot it down. Have your spouse or partner do the same thing in a separate document.

Once you and your partner have everything down, start sorting your wants by order of importance. What’s your No. 1? Do you need large windows? How about a sunroom? Double sinks in the master? You get the idea. 

Come up with your top 10, and then compare your list to your partner’s top 10. What things appear on both lists? Those items should carry more weight because you both want them in your home.

Highlight the Important Stuff

The things that can’t be changed without a massive investment. I’m talking things like square footage, window size, and number of bedrooms. This is your heavyweight list. These things should take priority in your home-buying decision.

Features that are purely cosmetic, especially things that can be DIYed. These items should be moved way down the list or taken off entirely. Backsplash tile, paint color, and lighting can all be changed inexpensively and after you’re living in your house. You don’t want to pass up a fantastic house because you can’t see past a red accent wall.

At this point, you should have a combined list of 10 or so items. 

My last tip is to figure out the priority of each one of the items. Ask yourself, would you be willing to give up item number 4, say, to have item number 5? Would you be willing to give up hardwood floors for a home theater room? This is the hardest question to answer, but it’ll put your must-haves in the right order.

I always picture this activity like an eye appointment when the doctor says, “1 or 2? OK, now 2 or 3?” Do that with your list! Pool or flooring? Flooring or yard size? Yard size or square footage? Make sense?

Bring Your List When You Look at a Home

As you’re out looking at houses, keep your list handy. Maybe you’re not willing to give up hardwood floors for a jetted tub, but would you be willing to compromise for a jetted tub and extra square footage? Refer back to your must-haves list often. It’s easy to get distracted.

Here’s a quick checklist that I use when searching for a home. If you answer “yes” to all of these, then a “want” may be worth the splurge — that is, if you can be sure that you’ll be able to afford the feature (in terms of your monthly mortgage payments and living expenses).

Is it on both of your lists?

Is it something that’ll be extremely expensive and difficult to change or add?

Would you be willing to sacrifice something else to have it?

Would you feel like your house would be incomplete without it?

Happy house hunting!

Source: https://www.houselogic.com/buy/house-hunting/must-have-items/?site_ref=mosaic

MANDI GUBLER

is the creator of Vintage Revivals, a DIY / shelter blog unlike any other. She loves to share her thrift store finds and inspire her fans with DIY projects.

 

 

 

5 Tips to Prepare Your Home for Sale

by The Schnoor Team

 

5 Tips to Prepare Your Home for Sale

Working to get your home ship-shape for showings will increase its value and shorten your sales time.

Many buyers today want move-in-ready homes and will quickly eliminate an otherwise great home by focusing on a few visible flaws. Unless your home shines, you may endure showing after showing and open house after open house — and end up with a lower sales price. Before the first prospect walks through your door, consider some smart options for casting your home in its best light.

1.  Have a Home Inspection

Be proactive by arranging for a pre-sale home inspection. For $250 to $400, an inspector will warn you about troubles that could make potential buyers balk. Make repairs before putting your home on the market. In some states, you may have to disclose what the inspection turns up.

2.  Get Replacement Estimates

If your home inspection uncovers necessary repairs you can’t fund, get estimates for the work. The figures will help buyers determine if they can afford the home and the repairs. Also hunt down warranties, guarantees, and user manuals for your furnace, washer and dryer, dishwasher, and any other items you expect to remain with the house.

3.  Make Minor Repairs

Not every repair costs a bundle. Fix as many small problems — sticky doors, torn screens, cracked caulking, dripping faucets — as you can. These may seem trivial, but they’ll give buyers the impression your house isn’t well maintained.

4.  Clear the Clutter

Clear your kitchen counters of just about everything. Clean your closets by packing up little-used items like out-of-season clothes and old toys. Install closet organizers to maximize space. Put at least one-third of your furniture in storage, especially large pieces, such as entertainment centers and big televisions. Pack up family photos, knickknacks, and wall hangings to depersonalize your home. Store the items you’ve packed offsite or in boxes neatly arranged in your garage or basement.

5.  Do a Thorough Cleaning

A clean house makes a strong first impression that your home has been well cared for. If you can afford it, consider hiring a cleaning service.

If not, wash windows and leave them open to air out your rooms. Clean carpeting and drapes to eliminate cooking odors, smoke, and pet smells. Wash light fixtures and baseboards, mop and wax floors, and give your stove and refrigerator a thorough once-over.

Pay attention to details, too. Wash fingerprints from light switch plates, clean inside the cabinets, and polish doorknobs. Don’t forget to clean your garage, too.

Source: https://www.houselogic.com/sell/preparing-your-home-to-sell/5-tips-prepare-your-home-sale/

G. M. FILISKO

is an attorney and award-winning writer. A frequent contributor to publications including Bankrate, REALTOR Magazine, and the American Bar Association Journal, she specializes in real estate, personal finance, and legal topics.

 

 

5 Doable DIY Projects To Send Your Home Equity Soaring

by The Schnoor Team

5 Doable DIY Projects To Send Your Home Equity Soaring

 

A new front door has the highest ROI, not to mention the boost in curb appeal.

 

You’re going to save money with DIY home improvement projects. Sure, everybody knows that.

 

But did you know how much? Cut professionals out of the equation and you can save half the cost of a project — or more. 

 

What’s more, you get a great return on your investment. Meaning, the financial value you get out of a DIY project is much more than what you put in.

 

Here’s a rundown of some top money-saving projects, using cost and recovered costs data from the “Remodeling Impact Report” from the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.

 

#1 New Steel Front Door

 

Few replacement projects have as much upside as a new steel entry door. Not only will you recover about 75% of the cost of having an entry door professionally installed, but you’ll spruce up your curb appeal big time. Want proof? Ninety-six percent of homeowners responding to the “Remodeling Impact Report” say they are happy or satisfied with their new front door.  

 

Of course, you’ll save even more if you tackle this project yourself. Know your door parts (jambs, threshold, stops) before digging in. You’ll be putting in a pre-hung door that includes jambs, so the old stuff has to come out. If you can, preserve the old casing (trim) that goes around the door. Otherwise, plan to buy new casing.

 

This is a good one to have a friend or spouse lend a hand. It’ll take six to eight hours if it’s your first time. Remember the three-legged mantra of door installation: Plumb, level, square.

 

#2 New Garage Door

 

Tired of looking at that big blank billboard every time you pull into your driveway? Change out your old garage door for a spiffy new steel model and the whole neighborhood will thank you. Save some cash by keeping the same motorized 

 

A steel garage door comes in four panels that are relatively lightweight but awkward — get a friend to lend a hand and you’ll have this project done in a day. Then stand back and admire along with 95% of homeowners in the “Remodeling Impact Report” who said they were happy or satisfied with their new garage door. 

 

 

#3 New Vinyl Windows

 

If you want to replace four or more windows, or a second-story window, then hire the work out. Being up on a ladder with an object as bulky as a window is no place for a non-professional. Pros bring scaffolding, which takes time to set up but ultimately makes the work faster and safer.

Replacing one, two, or maybe three first-story windows is a good DIY job. Anything more and the pros will get the job done with better efficiency in terms of time and hassle.

 

If you’ve measured your rough opening correctly and bought the right window, then one window should take you three to four hours. You’ll get faster with subsequent windows.

 

#4 New Wood Flooring

 

Few projects are as satisfying, while recovering such a high percentage of your investment, as new wood flooring. According to the “Remodeling Impact Report,” 96% of homeowners were happy or satisfied with their professionally installed hardwood floors. Combine that with a 91% return on your investment, and you’ll likely be a very happy homeowner.

For the DIYer, installing hardwood flooring is a bit labor intensive, but the techniques are fairly easy to master. Once you get the hang of it, installing prefinished hardwood flooring should go smoothly.

 

#5 Insulation Upgrade

 

OK, maybe it’s not the sexiest project. After all, it’s tucked out of sight in your attic. But you can feel it with increased comfort, and see the savings on your energy bill. Those are big pluses. 

Upgrading an under-insulated attic space can save you up to 50% per year in energy costs. With a pro cost of $2,100, it’ll take at least a couple of years to pay off your investment with savings. Do it yourself, however, and you’ll only spend about $700 for enough 10-inch-thick fiberglass batt insulation to cover a 20-foot-by-40-foot attic space. You’ll pocket the savings much sooner. 

 

It’s also an awkward project, it can be messy, and you’ll need to bundle up behind protective clothing. However, insulating your attic is a low-skill project that most DIYers can pull off. Just be sure not to stick your foot through the drywall under the attic floor joists!

 

Source: https://www.houselogic.com/save-money-add-value/money-saving-diy/diy-how-much-do-you-save/?site_ref=mosaic

 

JOHN RIHA

 

has written seven books on home improvement and hundreds of articles on home-related topics. He’s been a residential builder, the editorial director of the Black & Decker Home Improvement Library, and the executive editor of Better Homes and Gardens magazine.

 

Organize Your Home by Feb. 1 in Less Than an Hour a Day

by The Schnoor Team

 

Did you ever notice that your self-improvement pacts with yourself are action oriented? Walk 10,000 steps a day. Fix that leaky faucet. Register for VolunteerMatch.

But “get organized”? It’s a goal so broad that just trying to figure out what action to take makes you wonder what you were thinking in the first place. It’s like you need an organizing plan for your organizing.

Ta da!

Here it is. Follow these steps, spending less than an hour day (sometimes just a few moments), to a better organized home:

1. Do That Project                                                                                                                                    

"What about your space is making you feel uncomfortable or overwhelmed?" asks Amy Trager, a professional organizer in Chicago. Is it the paperwork disaster in your office? The pile of clothes teetering on your dresser? Or that mess that surrounds your doorway? Start with what’s annoying you, she says. One hour on that task will get your organizing engine revving.

2. Create a "Go Away" Box                                                                                                                           

Put anything you’re planning to donate in it (or give to a friend, or take to recycle). And keep it by the door so you can easily grab it when you’re leaving.

3. Deal With the Decorations                                                                                                         

Hallelujah — the holidays are over! When you’re putting away your décor, donate anything you didn’t bring out last season, and separate decorations by holiday. No need to dig through your St. Patty’s clovers when you’re searching for a menorah.

4. Create a System for Your Entryway                                                                                                     

Set up a “command center” so your front door doesn’t become a lawless accessories arena, especially during winter months. Add hooks for coats, bins for shoes, and a mail sorter if you need it. (Remember to keep a place for your “go away” box).

5. Wrangle Your Pet Supplies                                                                                                         

Minimize the time spent scrambling when your pup is desperate for a walk or eager for a meal. Hang hooks and cubbies near the door and keep leashes, kibble, bowls, and toys in one convenient spot.

6. Organize Your Spices                                                                                                                     

Arrange your herbs and spices alphabetically, by cuisine, or by brand — whatever makes them easier to find when you’re in the middle of your noodle stir fry.

7. Pare Down Your Utensils                                                                                                                 

You’ve accumulated several dozen kitchen utensils in your culinary career: can openers, microplanes, four (what?!) wine openers. Pare down the collection and use drawer dividers to keep the remainders in order.

8. Reconfigure Your Pots and Pans                                                                                                           

Stop digging around in your shelves for the oversized, cast-iron skillet. Donate the pots and pans you hardly use, and install cupboard organizers to help manage the rest.

9. Throw Away Expired Foods                                                                                                                 

You never use Worcestershire sauce — except that one time. Go through your refrigerator and pantry and ditch or donate anything past its prime.

10. Stack Your Pantry Staples                                                                                                                Make better use of your pantry by sorting through your staple dry goods — think flour, sugar, pasta, oatmeal, dry beans — and putting them in airtight, stackable containers. You’ll free up a ton of space, too.

11. Downsize Your Kitchen Gadgets

You had noble intentions when you purchased that spiralizer. (Zucchini noodles every night, right?) Give those space hogs to someone else with lofty dreams.

12. Say No to Coffee Mug Over-Saturation

Every time you lose a sock, a new coffee mug appears. Keep one or two mugs for every coffee or tea drinker, and donate the rest.

13. Sort Your Food Storage Containers

No singles allowed. Toss any tops or bottoms that have no mates.

14. Reassess Your Display Shelves

Shelves crammed with knickknacks, books you’ll never read, and stuff you somehow accumulated are just a waste of space. Donate books to the library, discard the junk, and arrange what’s left in a way that pleases you.

15. Deal With Your Cables

With a Roku, PlayStation, DVD player, and a cable box, it’s no surprise your entertainment center is a mess. Create ID tags for each plug from bread tags or cable ties, and bundle the clutter together with velcro strips.

16. Put Clothes on New Hangers

Switch your clothes over to the slimmer, grabbier hangers. They use less space and keep your clothes from sliding down to your closet floor. As you do this, discard the clothes you never wear.

17. Corral Your Accessories

Belts, scarves, purses, hats — all the accessories that don’t have a drawer or spot in the closet can end up everywhere. Buy an accessories hanger or install a simple series of hooks to give your wardrobe’s smallest members a home.

18. Purge Under the Bed

Under-bed storage is ideal for out-of-season clothing. But when out-of-season becomes out-of-sight and out-of-mind, clear out those clothes you’ll never wear again from this precious storage space.

19. Declutter Your Desk

When your workspace is swimming with collectibles, staplers, Post-its, and more, paring down can keep you focused when it’s time to hunker down.

20. Shred Old Paperwork

Not every form, statement, and tax record needs to stay in your filing cabinet forever. Check out this list to make sure you’re not wasting space. Shred the rest to ward off identity thieves.

21. Tidy Your Files

Now that you’ve shredded the paperwork you don’t need, tidy up your files by organizing them and labeling them clearly. Colorful folders can help organize by theme (home stuff, tax stuff, work stuff, etc.).

22. Get Rid of Mystery Electronics

Admit it. You’ve got a drawer where black mystery cords, chargers, and oddball electronic bits go to die. Free that drawer up for better uses, or at least get rid of the ones you know for sure are “dead.”

23. Pare Down Your Personal Care Stuff                                                                                             

Your intentions were honorable when you bought that curl-enhancing shampoo — but it expired two years ago, and you haven’t used it since. Throw away any expired potions, salves, hair products, and medicines.

24. Tackle Under-the-Sink Storage                                                                                                         

Clean everything out. You’ll be amazed at what you find (like those Magic Erasers you could never find). Then put back everything you’re keeping in bins you can easily pull out so nothing gets lost again.

25. Hang a Shelf                                                                                                                                         

Wall storage is so often overlooked. Find a spot in your home where a shelf would solve a problem, and hang it. Maybe it’s for some toiletries in the bathroom, or laundry supplies, or for your kid’s stuffed toys.

26. Reduce Your Towels and Linens                                                                                                   

There are the towels you use — and the stack of towels you never use. Donate them to the animal shelter. Those torn pillowcases? Convert to rags or toss. Same for napkins, dishtowels, pot holders, etc.

27. Hang a Shoe Organizer                                                                                                               

Hanging shoe organizers can solve a ton of storage problems beyond the obvious. They can store scarves, mittens, cleaning supplies, craft supplies. You can even cut them to custom-fit inside a cabinet door.

28. Organize Your Junk Drawer for Good                                                                                         

There’s no shame in a junk drawer — but why not organize it? Dump the whole thing on one surface and sort everything into piles. Use drawer dividers to keep each pile in its own space.

29. Store Your Tools the Right Way                                                                                                   

Finding the right Phillips-head screwdriver to put together that cute IKEA bookshelf shouldn’t be so hard. Track down your hammers and screwdrivers, and arrange them in one easy-to-access spot, such as a pegboard.

30. Plan for the Future                                                                                                                               

See how much you’ve accomplished! Take a look around your newly organized home, making note of any spaces you missed. Then dream a bit about your next home project. Maybe paint that dining room finally?

Source: https://www.houselogic.com/organize-maintain/storage-ideas-hacks/how-to-organize-your-home/


 

How to Prepare Your Finances for Home Ownership

by The Schnoor Team

Preparing your finances for home ownership begins the day someone decides they actually want to buy a home. After all, saving for a down payment doesn’t just happen overnight! So, how do you best prepare your finances in advance to handle the most expensive purchase of your lifetime?

Below are five areas to tackle in order to ensure home buying success, and these steps can be completed months or years in advance of a first home purchase. To assist in preparing your finances for home ownership, use this worksheet in order to track progress and keep all of your to-dos straight.

Step #1 - Prepare Your Credit

Everyone knows good credit is needed in order to qualify for a mortgage, but preparing your credit also encompasses an important component of financially preparing for home ownership — debt payoff.

Paying off debt, especially student loans and high-interest credit cards, not only frees up money in the budget for down payment savings, it also raises your credit score by lowering your overall debt. Debt payoff is also important for lenders when determining your debt-to-income (DTI) ratio (total monthly debt payments divided by gross monthly income), the primary number lenders look at to determine how much home you’ll qualify for.

Lenders can qualify an individual with up to 43% debt-to-income ratio, though lenders are more likely to make a loan if it’s lower. The debt-to-income number is important for first-time buyers to know as many are struggling with five-figure student loan burdens, which can severely impact their DTI ratio.  

The best way to tackle debt is to use the debt snowball method. List all of your debts (credit cards and student loans for now) in order of highest interest rate and throw all extra money at that amount. When this amount is gone, then go to the next one. Use the accompanying worksheet to list your debt and track your pay off status.

Step #2 - Save for a Down Payment

If you opt for a conventional mortgage and want to avoid private mortgage insurance (PMI), which protects the lender in case you default, you’d typically need to put down 20% of the purchase price. It could take years to save up the proper funds for a home down payment. This is why many buyers opt for putting down less than 20% or prefer an FHA loan, where a down payment as low as 3.5% of the purchase price is possible depending on your credit.

You’ll still need money in the bank no matter which type of loan you think you’ll go with, so it’s important to begin saving as early as possible.

Paying off debt will make saving easier over time as you’ll have more money to allocate to your down payment fund.

You may also want to consider:

  • An expense audit, where you cut subscription services and negotiate with your utility providers to lower your costs. Then you automatically put the money saved into your down payment savings account. You’ll never miss it.
  • Halting retirement savings for a period in order to contribute more to your down payment funds, but only if you feel comfortable doing so for the short term. 
  • Funneling any “found” money, such as work bonuses or holiday cash, into your down payment fund. The temptation not to spend is real, but once in your new home, you’ll be glad you sacrificed.
  • Getting a side hustle. Putting even $100 extra away each month can make saving for a home much faster (and easier).

Step #3 - Prepare Your Budget

Have you thought about what your budget will look like post-closing? The expense audit (see above) will help make some room, but to see if you can truly afford a home, try building out a sample budget of what your monthly expenses will look like after you buy a home.

Mortgage calculators can help you get a rough estimate of what your monthly mortgage payment will look like. I recommend adding 2 to 3 times utility rates if upsizing from an apartment into a home.

Step #4 - Shop for a Mortgage

Rate shopping for a mortgage is an important step, so don’t go with the first rate you’re offered (unless it ends up being the most competitive, of course). Shopping for the most competitive interest rate is one of the few ways to actually save money on a home, because the lower the interest rate, the less money you’ll pay over the life of the loan.

Rate shopping is now super quick (thanks, Internet!) and doesn’t impact your credit score, so the few minutes you spend rate shopping will pay off big time for your future self … to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars.

Step #5 - Consider Closing Costs

Don’t get blindsided by closing costs — you’ll need to save for these too. Typically, you can multiply the purchase price of the home by 3% to 5% and get a rough estimate of how much you’ll need to bring to closing. Even if the seller offers to pay some (or all) of the closing costs as part of the sale, having this money in the bank - just in case - will assure the lender you’re ready to take on the responsibility of a mortgage.

By LAUREN BOWLING 

Source: https://www.houselogic.com/finances-taxes/financing/how-to-prepare-to-buy-a-house/​


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