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35 Money-Saving Household Habits

by The Schnoor Team

Adopt a few of these home tips to find a bit more cash each month.

Your house gives you so much: security, pride, shelter. With all that on the line, it's easy to assume the costs of keeping it up just are what they are. But wait. There are plenty of expenses you probably make to keep your home in good order that are simply a waste.

Here's how to save money each month without putting a dime of home value at risk.

#1 Clean Your Light Bulbs

What? Who does that? Well, smart people. A dirty bulb emits 30% less light than a clean one. Dust off both the bulb and fixture, and you might be able to cut back on the number or brightness of lights in each room without noticing any difference.

#2 Keep Your Fridge Full

Solid items snuggled together retain the cold better than air and help keep each other cold — requiring less energy overall. Leaving town for awhile and fridge is empty? Fill voids in the fridge or freezer with water bottles.

#3 Switch Your Bulbs to LEDs

By replacing just five of your most-used incandescent bulbs with uber-efficient light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs, you could save $75 a year on your energy bill.

And LEDs last 15-20 times longer than incandescents, so you won't have to replace them nearly as often.

#4 Use Power Strips

Appliances like coffee makers, TVs, and computers continue to suck power even when they're off — which can cost you $100 a year. And did you know the AC adapter for your laptop keeps drawing power even if the laptop isn't plugged in? Stop this slow money burn by connecting them to an easy-to-switch-off power strip.

#5 Use a Toaster Oven When Possible

Toaster ovens use 50% to 70% less energy than a full-size oven.

#6 Set Your Water Heater to 120 Degrees

Hot water heaters often come with a factory setting that's higher than you need. You'll cool your water heating costs by 3% to 5% every time you lower the temperature setting by 10 degrees.

#7 Insulate Your Water Heater

For $30 or less, an insulating jacket or blanket can shave 7% to 16% off your water heating costs for the year. Just make sure to follow the manufacturer's directions to avoid creating a fire hazard.

#8 Wash Clothes in Cold Water

Just switching from hot to warm water will cut every load's energy use in half, and you'll reap even more savings taking the temp down to cold. And don't worry: Your clothes will get just as clean from cold water, thanks to the efficiency of today's detergents (except in the case of sickness; you'll want hot water and bleach then).

#9 Use the Right Dryer Cycle

If you're using a high-heat setting for each load, you could be using more energy than you need. Almost all fabrics can be dried with a lower heat setting, such as the permanent press setting. It uses less energy and has the added bonus of extending the life of your fabrics. Save the higher heat for items such as sheets and towels.

#10 Use Homemade Cleaners

Many commercial products rely on baking soda or vinegar for their cleaning power, so why not make your own? Most homemade cleaners cost less than $1.

#11 Cut Back on Laundry Detergent

Never mind the barely visible measurement lines in the cap: You typically only need a tablespoon of detergent. And, clothes actually get cleaner when you use less, because there's no soap residue left behind.

#12 Ditch Disposable Sweeper and Mop Head

Stop throwing money away every time you clean! Refill your Swiffer Sweeper with microfiber cloths. Just cut to size and use them dry for dusting or with a little water and floor cleaner for mopping. Or switch to a microfiber mop with a washable head.

#13 Stop Buying Dryer Sheets

Another easy swap? Give up your dryer-sheet habit (about $7 for 240 loads) in favor of wool dryer balls (about $10 for six, which last more than 500 loads each). Of course, depending on your laundry preferences, you can always just go without either.

#14 Cut Scouring Pads In Half

Most clean-ups don't require a full one.

#15 Don't Rinse Dishes

Two minutes of rinsing with the faucet on full-power will consume 5 gallons of water — the same amount efficient dishwashers use during an entire cycle. Shocking, right? And it's an unnecessary step, since most newer models are equipped to remove even stubborn food debris. Just be sure to clean the dishwasher trap regularly to keep your dishwasher running efficiently.

#16 Keep a Pitcher of Water in the Fridge

You won't have to waste time and money running the faucet, waiting for it to get cold enough for a refreshing sip.

#17 Set a Timer for the Shower

The average American takes an eight-minute shower and uses about 17 gallons of water. It's easy to linger, so set a timer for five minutes. Or try this more entertaining idea: Time your shower to a song or podcast segment.

#18 Install Low-Flow Fixtures

In addition to water-conserving practices, low-flow showerheads, which cost less than $10, and other fixtures can drop your water use in the shower by 43%.

#19 Hack a Water-Hogging Toilet

If you don't have a water-conserving toilet, there are water-saving retrofitting kits that could yield about $110 in savings every year. Or place a half-gallon milk jug filled with water into the tank — in the corner and away from the flapper and ball-cock assembly. Every time you flush, you'll save.

#20 Close Closet Doors

Each closet and pantry may hold a paltry amount of square footage, but you're still heating and cooling it. Add up all the storage space, and you've got the equivalent of a small room. Shut the doors to keep the conditioned air out.

#21 Program the Thermostat

Program your thermostat to turn the heat down by 3 to 5 degrees when you're not home and at night, and set it to bump the temperature up by the same amount when the A/C is cranking. You'll save $10 to $20 a month and never feel the difference.

#22 Don't Crank the Thermostat Up or Down Too Far

Varying the setting by 10 or more degrees when you're gone for work or over the weekend is overkill. Your HVAC system will have to work overtime to get back to the ideal temperature, erasing your savings.

#23 Use Fans Year-Round

Ceiling fans can reduce your summer cooling costs and even reduce winter heating bills — but only if used correctly. Flip the switch on the base to make the blades rotate counterclockwise for a cooling effect or clockwise to help distribute heat in the winter. And in the warmer months, an attic or whole-house fan can suck hot air out and help distribute cooler air so you can give the A/C a little break.

#24 Caulk or Weatherstrip Around Doors and Windows

Caulk may not have the charisma of something like solar panels, but using it to seal air leaks around doors and windows will deliver immediate savings rather than a 14-year payback. You'll spend $3 to $30 and save 10% to 20% on energy bills.

For gaps between moving parts that can't be caulked, add weatherstripping.

#25 Add Insulation

This is a bigger weatherizing project than caulking or weatherstripping, but it could yield more than $500 in yearly savings. While your home should be properly insulated from the roof down to the foundation, prioritize the attic, under floors above unheated spaces, around walls in a heated basement and in exterior walls.

#26 Plant Shade Trees

Block the summer sun to lower cooling costs. Planting one shade tree on the west side and one on the east side of your home can shield your home from the sun during the summer months (but avoid south-side trees, which block winter sun). By the time they're 15 years old, these two trees can reduce your energy bill by 22% , while adding value to your home.

#27 Use Curtains as Insulation

Another way to practice energy-saving passive heating and cooling? Open curtains on sunny windows in the winter and close them up in the summer.

#28 Cool with a Cross Breeze

On a breezy day, open a window on the side of your house that's receiving the breeze, then open another on the opposite side of the house. Make sure the window on the receiving side is open a little less than the exhaust side to accelerate the breeze. You can also use a fan if there's no breeze outside.

#29 Check Your Mortgage's PMI

If your mortgage was for more than 80% of your home's purchase price, you could be paying more than $50 a month, and as much as $1,000 a year, for private mortgage insurance (PMI). So as soon as you have at least 20% equity in your home, contact your lender to terminate the policy — they aren't necessarily required to notify you when you reach that threshold.

Another option for ditching PMI? If your credit score or debt load has improved since securing your mortgage, look into refinancing with more favorable terms.

#30 Check Your Home Insurance for Savings

Your homeowners insurance should change as your life changes. Buying an automatic generator or installing security alarms could reduce your premium by 5% or more.

Bundling your home and auto coverage could save even more — up to 20% off both policies. But the point is to compare and do a price check to see if you can save.

Surveys have found you could be paying a lot more than what another insurer would charge for the same coverage. So you could save by going with a new company, or by using their quote to bargain with your current provider.

#31 Borrow Tools Instead of Buying

How often are you going to use that $600 demolition hammer once you remove your bathroom tile? Not so much? Rent it from a home-improvement store for a fraction of the cost. Be sure to do the math for each tool and project though; sometimes the rental price is high enough to justify buying it.

Or join a tool lending library or cooperative to borrow tools for free or much less than retail stores.

#32 Cut Back on Paper Towels

Two rolls of paper towels a week add up to about $182 every year! Instead, try machine-washable cotton shop towels. They clean up messes just as fast and cost less than $2 for five. Save paper towels for messes that need to go straight into the trash, like oil and grease.

#33 Stop Buying Plants for Curb Appeal Every Year

A pop of color in your landscaping perks up your curb appeal. But instead of wasting household funds on short-lived annuals, invest in perennials that will keep giving for years to come.

#34 Water Grass in the Morning to Save on Your Water Bill

Turning the sprinkler on midday is kinda like watering the air — especially when the mercury soars. Lose less to evaporation by watering during cooler hours (but avoid overnight watering, when too-slow evaporation can invite fungus growth).

#35 Make Your Yard Drought-Tolerant for Long-Term Savings

Save $100 or more yearly by replacing water-hogging plants and grass with drought-tolerant and native species, and beds of rock or gravel. You'll save time on maintenance, too.

Source: "35 Money-Saving Household Habits"


9 Essential Things Every New Homeowner Should Have

by The Schnoor Team

These must-haves will make things a lot easier in the first few weeks.

When Lauren Hunter and her husband moved into their first home in Hilliard, Ohio, the previous homeowner had left behind a ladder. "It turned out to be awesome," Hunter says. "You don't realize how many situations where ladders make things easier. Hanging pictures is one thing, but try hanging curtains in a two-story great room."

Whether it's the need to hang a clock just a few feet higher or the realization that you really can't hold a flashlight and get that nut loosened under the sink, there's always something catching you by surprise as a homeowner.

With the right items on hand, however, you can be prepared for every scenario -- just like Hunter was, thanks to that ladder. When her family moved to a larger home, they paid it forward by leaving the ladder behind for the new owners.

Do yourself a favor by stocking your home with the following items, and you'll be ready for every home ownership challenge.

#1 Wet-Dry Vacuum

You're gonna be spilling stuff. Look for a wet-dry vacuum that can handle everything from paint to nails and small stones. "We inherited one of those with our first house, and it was an awesome thing to have for vacuuming the car and cleaning the garage," Hunter says. Unlike the ladder, "we kept that Shop-Vac when we moved."

#2 (The Right) Fire Extinguisher

"Whenever anyone I know moves, I give them a fire extinguisher as a housewarming gift," says Nina Patel, a Silver Spring, Md., homeowner who, years ago, accidentally set her apartment on fire with a homemade candle. "I was able to put out the fire with a pan of water, but it was a panicked moment. I've had my own fire extinguisher ever since."

But before going out and buying the first extinguisher you see, check out the U.S. Fire Administration's guide. There are five different types of fire extinguishers with different uses, from extinguishing cooking oils to wood and paper. Choose the best type or types for your home.

#3 Extension Cord Organizer

Home ownership seems to breed extension cords that grow into a tangled nest. Save yourself time and hassle, and splurge on one of several cord management devices. Or make your own with a pegboard, hooks, and velcro straps to keep each cord loop secure. Either way, your cords will be knot-free and easy to find. And be sure to include a heavy-duty extension cord in your organizer that's outdoor-worthy. You don't want to really have to use that fire extinguisher.

#4 Big-Kid Tools

Odds are you already own a bunch of the basics: drill, screwdriver, hammer, level, tape measure, wrench, pliers, staple gun, utility knife, etc. But home ownership may require a few new ones you might not have needed before, including a:

  • Stud finder. You can make as many holes in the walls as you want now. Use the stud finder to figure out where to hang those heavy shelves so they're safely anchored.
  • Hand saw. Much easier (and cheaper!) than a power saw, you can get a good cross-cut saw for smooth edges on small DIY projects.
  • Ratchet set. Every bolt in your new house belongs to you, so you'd better be able to loosen and tighten them when needed. Crank that ratchet to get to spots where you can't turn a wrench all the way around. Great for when you're stuck in a corner.
  • Pry bar. Get one with a clawed end to pull nails and a flat end to separate drywall, remove trim or molding, and separate tile.

#5 Tool Kit

You'll need something to carry all those tools around from project to project. Create a tool carrier using a tool bucket liner and an old 5-gallon bucket. Or invest in a handyman belt filled with the basics to keep on hand in the kitchen.

#6 Headlamp

Take that flashlight out of your mouth and work hands-free. From switching out a faucet to figuring out what's making that clicking noise behind the washer, there are plenty of homeowner tasks that require both hands and a little artificial light.

#7 Emergency Preparedness Kit

FEMA has a great list of supplies you should have in your kit, including cash, food, water, infant formula and diapers, medications, a flashlight, batteries, first aid kit, matches, sleeping bags, and a change of clothing. The agency recommends you stock enough for every member of your household, including pets, for at least 72 hours.

#8 Ladder(s!)

But not just any old ladder. Consider:    

  • How high you need to go. If you use an extension ladder for a sky-high job, school yourself on safety tips, such as not standing above the support point.
  • Where you'll use it. Make sure all four legs on a stepladder rest safely on a flat area. A straight ladder must be set up at a safe angle, so if a ceiling is too low, it might be too long for the room.
  • How heavy-duty it is. Check the ladder's duty rating so you know how much weight (you, your tools, paint cans, etc.) it'll support.

And don't forget about the all-important escape ladder. The Red Cross recommends them for sleeping areas in multistory homes.

#9 Confidence

“Especially for first-time home buyers. You're inheriting the responsibilities a landlord would have if you were renting," says Hunter. "Mowing isn't a big deal, but maybe fixing a shingle or changing a faucet is." But with a little self-confidence — and some YouTube tutorials — there's (almost) no DIY project you can't master.

Source: "9 Essential Things Every New Homeowner Should Have"

 

Do’s and Don’ts of Flooring

by The Schnoor Team

What to consider — from durability to style — for what’s under foot.

So many flooring choices, so little time to research which looks good, feels good, and lasts.

No worries. We’ve sorted it out for you with a handy do’s and don’ts list.

Style

DO: Consider your home’s layout. Got an open floor plan? Using the same flooring throughout the space will create a clean, continuous appearance.

DON’T: Forget about your home’s architectural integrity. By all means, make your home a reflection of your personal style. (Get inspired by these super-cool  floor ideas.) Just keep in mind that staying true to your home’s innate style will pay off when it’s time to sell.

Tip: Hardwood floors are the goof-proof option.

  • Hardwood is a win-win when it comes to architectural style. It’s equally at home in both classic and contemporary abodes. You and your eventual buyers will never regret the choice.
  • It’s practical and beautiful; hardwood is strong enough for kitchen duty, but adds a homey and classic touch.

Durability

DO: Keep your local climate in mind. Damp and humid weather can shorten a floor’s lifespan. For instance, hardwood can warp.

DON’T: Underestimate wear and tear depending on where you’re planning to install new flooring. Drop a glass jar on ceramic tile and it’ll chip; heavy foot traffic will beat up pretty plush carpeting.

Tip: Properly sealed, concrete floors are a tough and good-looking choice.

  • Concrete resists water, stains, smells, and scratches. It also won’t harbor mold or mildew.
  • It can take a pounding, so no worries there about daily wear and tear.
  • It packs an energy-saving benefit since concrete floors can retain your home’s heating and cooling.
  • The icing on the cake? It can be painted to look like wood or tile.

​​

Comfort and Air Quality

DO: Consider comfortable flooring materials, especially in rooms where you spend a lot of time standing, such as the kitchen, and if you have small children or plan to age in place.

DON’T: Contribute to household air pollution. Both traditional vinyl flooring and newly installed carpets can emit high levels of VOCs for up to 72 hours.

Tip: Cork hits the comfort and environmental-friendly trifecta.

  • It’s a treat for feet (think kitchens) and can soften the blow when little ones fall (think basements, family rooms, kids’ rooms) thanks to microscopic air pockets that give the material its cushiness.
  • Cork is great for indoor health. It won’t hold on to dust and pollen and resists nasties like bacteria and fungi. When it comes to VOCs, go with low- or no-formaldehyde content and avoid cork-vinyl composites. How do you do that? Look for cork flooring products that are either Floorscore or Greenguard certified, or that qualify for a LEED point for low-emitting materials. Also, if you’re using a sealer or an adhesive select a low- or no-VOC product.
  • It’s sustainably harvested. Cork flooring is made from cork oak bark. Since the bark grows back, the tree is left standing.

Tip: You’ll want to seal cork every few years to help protect it from any standing water; it’s water resistant but not waterproof.

DO: Add carpet. It’s great for maximizing comfort, and it can cost much less than other types of flooring. For a 12-foot-by-12-foot room, you could expect to pay about $1,580 to $3,190 in materials and labor for hardwood versus $335 to $700 for carpet.

New fiber technologies have made carpet more durable (think longer wear and superior color-fastness), stain resistant, and even eco-friendly (some carpets are made from recycled materials, like plastic bottles, and natural fibers). The key is picking and maintaining the right carpet for your home and lifestyle. For example, a dense carpet with a short pile height (half an inch or less) is best for high-traffic areas.

DON’T: Think carpet is off the table because you have allergies.  Several studies suggest that carpet doesn’t cause allergies or make asthma worse.

  • Since carpet traps particulates, like dust and dander, it can act as a filter and bring relief to some people, according to a recent Spanish study.
  • Frequent vacuuming, using a doormat to eliminate the amount of dirt that comes into your home, and a yearly deep cleaning can keep your carpet in good shape for years to come while retaining good air quality.

​​Source: "Do’s and Don’ts of Flooring"

 

Don’t Wait for Spring. 7 Winter Home Improvements to Do Now

by The Schnoor Team

Keep your DIYing going year-round with these indoor winter home improvement projects.

Just because it’s winter doesn’t mean you have to hang up your tool belt. You can keep the DIY going with winter home improvement projects. Do these without propping open doors or freezing your fingers off setting up shop in the garage.

Let the indoor work begin with these seven value-adding projects.

#1 Update Your Laundry Room

Laundry rooms in need of an upgrade tend to suffer from a lack of features, so this is typically a sledgehammer-free project. That means no windows propped open on a seven-degree day to let out dust.

To make a bleak laundry space more functional, add shelves and bins for laundry baskets and detergent, and put a countertop over the washer and dryer. You get storage space and a place to fold clothes. Add a little peel-and-stick wallpaper, and you can make the chore-heavy room more enjoyable without fumigating your cozy home with paint.

Pro Tip: Appliances go on sale September through November and in January. You can snag a deal for your winter home improvement project if you time it right.

#2 Add Crown Molding

Crown molding adds some heavy-duty appeal to a home without any heavy materials to haul through the ice and snow. You can put it at the top of walls or door frames or on the wall along the top of cabinets.

It’s not just pretty; crown molding will cover dings and nicks on walls, and it gives your home a custom look buyers love. You won’t be using a ton of paint on molding, so fumes won’t be an issue, either.

You can do this winter home improvement project – painting, prep and installing – in a weekend with a miter saw, drop cloth, paint, nail gun, and a ladder.

For professional results, be sure to pick the right size. Crown molding ranges in width from 3 to 20 inches, so choose one that’s in proportion to your ceiling height:

  • For standard 8-foot ceilings, the molding should be 2.5 to 6 inches wide.
  • For 9-foot ceilings, 3 to 7.5 inches wide.
  • For 10-foot or higher ceilings, at least 8 inches wide.

#3 Change Out Cabinet Hardware

Here’s a simple upgrade you can practically do with hot cocoa in one hand: replacing the old pulls and handles on cabinets with new hardware.

If you inherited minimalist cabinets with no pulls at all, you’re adding function, too. “It’s simple and will have dramatic effect on a room,” says Kathryn Emery, a home improvement and lifestyle expert with an eponymous YouTube channel.

A hardware redo’s one of the simplest winter home projects because all you need is a screwdriver and an hour or two.

#4 Get a New Faucet

A faucet is the brains of your sink. Put a better one in, and your sink is suddenly smarter. Normally, plumbing projects are near the top of the list of “Don’t Try This At Home” ideas. But this one is an easy one— as long as you get a faucet with the same number of mounting holes in your sink.

Just turn off the water shutoff valves under the sink, and follow the instructions that come with the faucet. If you can assemble an IKEA bookshelf, you can install a faucet. Really.

#5 Put in a New Bathroom Vanity

Take your bathroom into the 21st century with a new vanity. You can pull out your old one without making clouds of dust, and buy a new one that’s a single, prefab unit you won’t have to paint. No fumes, no dust, no problem for a winter home project.

#6 Max Out Your Kitchen Storage

Turn a kitchen wall into a storage wall by covering it in easy-to-install pegboard, then hanging pots, pans, cutting boards, and other utensils on it. You can find pegboard in a variety of colors and styles now, so you can skip the fume-y painting step.

Plus, it adds storage space without losing any square footage. Add a shelf at the top of that pegboard wall, and you’ll have storage on steroids.

Another genius hack: Add storage in the wall with between-the-studs shelves. You get more space for your stuff and more value because homebuyers love-love-love space for stuff.

#7 Add Wainscoting

Pump up the panache in your house by adding wainscoting to walls. “It’s like icing on a cake because it creates a finished look,” Emery says.

It’s pretty easy to do, too, because it comes in panels you can put on the wall in one piece (even pre-painted to avoid the fumes), and you don’t need mad carpentry skills to install it.

Just take off your baseboards. Cut each panel of wainscoting to length. Glue it in place with construction adhesive, and nail the panels where the studs are. Glue on the cap rail, and put the baseboard back. You can do wainscoting in an average-sized room in two to four hours, including breaks for hot chocolate.

Source: "Don’t Wait for Spring. 7 Winter Home Improvements to Do Now"

Tax changes for 2019 change the landscape for homeowners.

Tax season is upon us once again, and to make it even more interesting this year, the tax code has changed- along with the rules about tax deductions for homeowners. The biggest change? Many homeowners who used to write off their property taxes and the interest they pay their mortgage will no longer be able to.

Stay calm. This doesn’t automatically mean your taxes are going up. Here’s a roundup of the rules that will affect homeowners — and how big of a change to expect.

Standard Deduction: Big Change

The standard deduction, that amount everyone gets, whether they have actual deductions or not, nearly doubled under the new law. It’s now $24,000 for married, joint-filing couples (up from $13,000). It’s $18,000 for heads of household (up from $9,550). And $12,000 for singles (up from $6,500).

Many more people will now get a better deal taking the standard than they would with their itemizable write-offs.

For perspective, the number of homeowners who will be able to deduct their mortgage interest under the new rules will fall from around 32 million to about 14 million, the federal government says. That’s about a 56% drop.

“This doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll pay more taxes,” says Evan Liddiard, a CPA and director of federal tax policy for the National Association of REALTORS® in Washington, D.C. “It just means that they’ll no longer get a tax incentive for buying or owning a home.”

So will you be able to itemize, or will you be in standard deduction land?

If the answer is standard deduction, you’ll be pleased to know that tax forms are easier when you don’t itemize, says Liddiard.

Personal Exemption Repealed

One caveat to the increase in the standard deduction for homeowners and non-homeowners is that the personal exemption was repealed. No longer can you exempt from your income $4,150 for each member of your household. And that might temper the benefit of a higher standard deduction, depending on your particular situation.

For example, a single person might still come out ahead. Her $5,500 increase in the standard deduction is more than the $4,150 lost by the personal exemption repeal. 

But consider a family of four with two kids over 16 in the 22% tax bracket. They no longer have personal exemptions totaling $16,600.  Although the increase in the standard deduction is worth $2,420 (11,000 x 22%), the loss of the exemptions would cost them an extra $3,652  (16,600 x 22%).  So they lose $1,232 (3,652 – 2,420).

But say their two kids are under 16, giving them a child credit worth $2,000. That offsets the loss resulting in a $758 tax cut.

The takeaway: Your household composition will probably affect your tax status.

Mortgage Interest Deduction: Incremental Change

The new law caps the mortgage interest you can write off at loan amounts of no more than $750,000. However, if your loan was in place by Dec. 14, 2017, the loan is grandfathered, and the old $1 million maximum amount still applies. Since most people don’t have a mortgage larger than $750,000, they won’t be affected by the cap.

But if you live in a pricey place (like San Francisco, where the median housing price is well over a million bucks), or you just have a seriously expensive house, the new federal tax laws mean you’re not going to be able to write off interest paid on debt over the $750,000 cap.

State and Local Tax Deduction: Degree of Change Varies by Location

The state and local taxes you pay — like income, sales, and property taxes — are still itemizable write-offs. That’s called the SALT deduction in CPA lingo. But. The tax changes for 2019 (that’s tax year 2018) mean you can’t deduct more than $10,000 for all your state and local taxes combined, whether you’re single or married. (It’s $5,000 per person if you’re married but filing separately.)

The SALT cap is bad news for people in areas with high taxes. The majority of homeowners in around 20 states have been writing off more than $10,000 in SALT each year, so they’ll lose some of this deduction. “This is going to hurt people in high-tax areas like New York and California,” says Lisa Greene-Lewis, CPA and expert for TurboTax in California. New Yorkers, for example, were taking SALT deductions around $22,000 a household.

Rental Property Deduction: No Change

The news is happier if you’re a landlord. There continue to be no limits on the amount of mortgage debt interest or state and local taxes you can write off on rental property. And you can keep writing off operating expenses like depreciation, insurance, lawn care, and utilities on Schedule E.

Home Equity Loans: Big Change

You can continue to write off the interest on a home equity or second mortgage loan (if you itemize), but only if you used the proceeds to substantially better your home and only if the total, combined with your first mortgage, doesn’t go over the $750,000 cap ($1 million for loans in existence on Dec. 15, 2017). If you used the equity loan to pay medical expenses, take a cruise, or anything other than home improvements, that interest is no longer tax deductible.

Here’s a big FYI: The new rules don’t grandfather in old home equity loans if the proceeds were used for something other than substantial home improvement. If you took one out five years ago to, say, pay your child’s college tuition, you have to stop writing off that interest.

4 Tips for Navigating the New Tax Law

1. Single people may get more tax benefits from buying a house, Liddiard says. “They can often reach [and potentially exceed] the standard deduction more quickly.

2. Student loan debt is deductible, up to $2,500 if you’re repaying, whether you itemize or not.

3. Charitable deductions and some medical expenses remain itemizable. If you’re generous or have had a big year for medical bills, these, added to your mortgage interest, may be enough to bump you over the standard deduction hump and into the write-off zone.

4. If your mortgage is over the $750,000 cap, pay it down faster so you don’t eat the interest. You can add a little to the principal each month, or make a 13th payment each year.

Source: "Tax Deductions for Homeowners: How the New Tax Law Affects Mortgage Interest"

7 Important Repairs to Make Before Selling A House

by The Schnoor Team

The most critical things to do to increase your home’s value before putting it on the market.

As a smart seller, you’ll want your home in tip-top shape — but you don’t want to eat into your profits by overspending on home improvements. You won’t be around to enjoy them anyway. The key is to focus on the most important repairs to make before selling a house to ensure every dollar you spend supports a higher asking price.

“Smaller and less expensive updates in combination with good staging will have a great return,” says Colorado Springs agent Susanna Haynie. But how do you know what things to do before putting your house on the market? Prioritize these updates — and consider letting the rest go.

#1 The Most Important Repair to Make Before Selling: Fix Damaged Flooring

Scratched-up wood flooring; ratty, outdated carpeting; and tired linoleum make your home feel sad. Buyers might take one step inside and scratch the property from their list. Want to know how to increase the value of your home? Install new flooring.

“Replace what’s worn out,” says Haynie. “Buyers don’t want to deal with replacing carpet, and giving an allowance is generally not attractive enough. Spring for new, neutral carpeting or flooring.”

If your home already has hardwood floors, refinishing does the job. Expect to spend about $3,000 on the project — and recoup 100% of the cost, according to the “National Association of REALTORS® Remodeling Impact Report.”

Consider swapping any old flooring for new hardwood. This project costs more at around $5,500, but you could recoup more than 90% of that at resale. If that’s not in the budget, any flooring update makes an enormous difference.

#2 Fix Water Stains

You’ve learned to live with the results of a long-fixed plumbing snafu, but for buyers, a water stain suggests there could be a dozen pesky problems hidden beneath the surface. That’s why this is one of the things to do before putting your house on the market.

“No buyer wants to buy a money pit,” says Haynie.

First, make sure the problem is fixed: Bring in a plumber to look for leaky piping or poor yard drainage if your basement is damp. Diverting rainwater from your foundation may cost as little as $800, and repairing a leaking pipe costs approximately $300.

As for the repair work, replacing a water-stained ceiling runs about $670, and drywall costs around $1.50 per square foot.

All are cheaper than a lost sale.

#3 Repair Torn Window Screens

So super inexpensive — and even DIY-able. You can purchase a window screen frame repair kit from a home improvement store for $10 to $15.

Considering the simplicity of this repair, making the fix is always worth it — and so are other small but highly visible issues. When you’re debating how to increase the value of your home, nix any small problems, snags, or ugly spots that might make buyers scrunch up their brows.

#4 Update Grout

Is your grout yellowing or cracked? Buyers will notice. New grout, on the other hand, can make old floors look like they came straight from the showroom.

“The best return-on-investment projects before selling a home involve making a home look like new,” says Malibu, Calif.-based agent Shelton Wilder. She recently sold a home above asking price after a complete re-grout.

This is another small fix with a big impact: Simple bathroom re-grouting may cost just $1 to $2 per square foot, increasing to $10 per square foot for more complicated jobs. And if you’re handy, you can save even more DIY-ing it.

#5 Resuscitate a Dying Lawn

Nothing says, “This one’s gonna take some work” like a brown, patchy, weedy lawn.

Fixing the problem doesn’t cost a ton of money — and you’ll get it all back (and then some!) once you sell. Hiring a lawn care service to apply fertilizer and weed control will cost about $375. Once you sell the home, that comparatively cheap fix could recoup $1,000. That’s an unbeatable 267% return on investment.

#6 Erase Pet Damage

Did your (sort of) darling kitten scratch your bedroom door? Fix the damage before listing your home. Otherwise, buyers may consider the scuffs a canary in the coal mine.

“If you have pet damage, buyers will [then] look for pet stains on the floor,” says Haynie.

Refinishing a door costs between $100 and $215 (or less, if you’re willing to DIY). Replacing pet-damaged carpeting or hardwood may be a bigger job than buffing out some scuffs — but it’s worth the cash.

#7 Revive an Outdated Kitchen

A full kitchen renovation is rarely worth it when it comes time to sell — even though buyers love a fresh look. “Kitchens are still one of the most important features for buyers,” says Haynie.

The problem is, this $65,000 upgrade isn’t something that buyers will pay you back for. Sellers recoup about 62% of a full-on kitchen renovation. If you’re updating the space just for your sale, focus on low-cost, high-impact projects instead.

“Updating the kitchen doesn’t need to be expensive,” says Wilder. “Painting wood cabinets, updating hardware, or installing new countertops or appliances could be enough.”

Setting up your home for selling success doesn’t have to be expensive. Focus on the most important repairs to make before selling a house by picking projects that do more than look pretty. Choose updates that get your home in selling shape and justify a higher asking price.

Source: "7 Important Repairs to Make Before Selling A House"

Little-Known Ways You Can Buy A House With No Down Payment

by The Schnoor Team

The city where you plan to buy a home may offer loans with no money down.

Can you buy a house with no down payment?

Yes, you can.

“Paying 20% down is, quite frankly, a myth,” says Karen Hoskins, vice president at NeighborWorks and bearer-of-great-news. “Most buyers pay only 5% to 10% down — some even pay zero.”

The key to finding a no-money-down home loan is finding the right assistance program. And there’s no shortage of them if you qualify.

Of the roughly 2,500 home-buying programs tracked by Down Payment Resource, a nationwide database of home ownership programs that helps match buyers and properties, 69% offer down payment assistance.

Even better: The average amount of assistance from those programs nationwide tops $11,000 — though amounts would vary greatly between disparate cost-of-living markets like Southern California and Iowa, according to Down Payment Resource. Some 87% of properties are eligible for some kind of assistance.

Here’s where to find the financial help you need to buy a home:

National Government Programs

Because they’re at the national level, they’re often the ones people turn to first:

  • FHA. Helps first-time buyers — especially those with lower credit scores — buy with down payments as low as 3.5% (low-down).
  • USDA Rural Development Loans. For low-to-middle income families buying homes in towns with populations of 10,000 or fewer people or that are “rural in character.” That means some areas with bigger populations have been grandfathered into the program (zero down).
  • VA Home Loans. Helps service members, veterans, and eligible surviving spouses (zero down).
  • Government-sponsored enterprises. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which set the rules for mortgages nationwide, both offer programs allowing eligible buyers to put down as little as 3% of the purchase price. That’s even lower than FHA (low-down).

But those aren’t the only options. Too often, buyers neglect to look for help locally, which may offer even better assistance.

State and Local Home-Buying Programs

Responsible homeowners are vital to a community’s stability and economic health, so municipalities and states have a vested interest in helping you buy a home — even if you don’t have the down payment.

Qualifications vary based on the agency or the community requirements, but assistance programs generally:

  • Have income limits
  • Have purchase price limits
  • Require participants to take home buyer counseling

Other requirements — like whether you’re a first-time buyer, how good your credit is, where you have to buy, whether you have to rehab the home, or if you need to be part of a group, such as active military, veterans, or teachers — depend on the program.

Assistance comes in these forms (Note: Specific programs named as examples below may change or close over time.):

Forgivable loans and grants. These are literal gifts for some or all of the down payment and closing costs, which means there’s no recorded lien or mortgage on that money. Eligibility and terms will vary and funds are limited. Example: The National Home Buyers Fund, Inc. offers down payment and closing cost assistance up to 5% of the mortgage loan amount as a gift or zero-interest second mortgage that’s forgiven after three years.

Second mortgages. As the name suggests, these loans are in addition to your primary home mortgage. They take a variety of forms, and the differences can be confusing. The most important thing isn’t the terminology, though; it’s knowing they exist, because they can offer substantial down payment assistance (DPA) and favorable terms.

  • Soft mortgages. These DPA loans are deferred for some period of time based on a particular program’s requirements. Occasionally, they’re forgivable. Example: The Home Purchase Assistance Program in Washington, D.C., defers payments for five years for moderate-income borrowers.
  • Silent seconds. DPA repayment is deferred until you sell or refinance. The city of Napa, Calif., for instance, offers eligible first-time buyers up to $58,000 or 30% of the purchase price, whichever is less, at 1% interest. The loan can be deferred for the 30-year term if you stay in the home.
  • Hard seconds. You start paying off the DPA loan as soon as you close. Programs offer a variety of loan amounts and interest rates (some below-market) depending on your eligibility.

First mortgages at below market interest rates. Local and state agencies subsidize a mortgage to make it more affordable for the buyer by reducing the interest rate, or offering 100% financing (which means no down payment), and sometimes waiving mortgage insurance, too.

Mortgage credit certificates (MCCs). Issued by some state or local governments, MCCs allow taxpayers to claim a tax credit (Form 8396) for some portion of the mortgage interest paid during a given tax year. A credit, unlike a deduction, is a dollar-for-dollar savings on your tax liability.

You don’t have to itemize to use this credit, according to Greg Zagorski, senior legislative and policy associate at the National Council of State Housing Agencies. It’s capped at $2,000 per year, and you can claim it throughout the life of the loan.

A cool tax benefit of MCCs is that if your tax liability one year is lower than the credit, you can roll over the amount you can’t claim to the next year. If you make more the next year (and therefore have more tax liability), you can claim what you couldn’t before.

How to Find a Program You Qualify For

  • Housing counselors, who are free (!) and can discuss what mortgage options are best for you, are available through housing finance agencies and organizations like NeighborWorks. Find HUD-approved housing counselors by state here. Or contact your state’s housing finance agency.
  • Check your eligibility for a host of DPA programs at Down Payment Resource.
  • Find a good mortgage broker, who should have information about down payment programs in your area and can help you determine your eligibility.
  • Talk to your real estate agent.

A final note: When you put down less than 20%, you pay private mortgage insurance (PMI) each month to protect the lender’s interest. On the other hand, not having to save up for a 20% down payment can get you into a home a lot faster. And you can cancel PMI (except for FHA loans) once you reach 20% equity.

Source: "Little-Known Ways You Can Buy A House With No Down Payment"

8 Lesser-Known Fees That Factor Into the True Cost of Home Buying

by The Schnoor Team

Application fees, appraisal, inspection … a lot of little costs start to add up. Here’s how to be prepared.

This article was contributed by financial expert and blogger Mary Beth Storjohann, CFP, author, speaker, and founder of Workable Wealth. She provides financial coaching for individuals and couples in their 20s to 40s across the country, helping them make smart, educated choices with their money.

With your focus on building your down payment fund and figuring out what your mortgage payment will be, it’s easy to overlook some of the smaller fees that come along with a home purchase. Here are eight and what they could cost you.

#1 Home Inspection

A home inspection helps protect you from purchasing a home that could be a lemon. So you don’t want to forgo it. Inspectors will look for signs of structural issues, mold, and leaks; assess the condition of the roof, gutters, water heater, heating and cooling system; and more. Inspections cost between $300 and $500, and whether or not you end up purchasing the property, you still need to pay this fee.

#2 Appraisal Fee

This appraisal report goes to your lender to assure it that the property is worth what you’re paying for it. This report worked in our favor a couple of years ago when our home came back appraised for $10,000 less than our bid; the sellers had to reduce their asking price in order to move forward. An apprasial can take about 2 hours and costs between $200 and $425

#3 Application Fees

Before ever approving you for a loan, the lender is going to run your credit report and charge you an application fee, often lumping the credit report fee in with the application fee. This can run $75 to $300. Be sure to ask for a breakdown of the application fees to understand all costs.

#4 Title Services

These fees cover a title search of the public records for the property you’re buying, notary fees for the person witnessing your signature on documents, government filing fees, and more. These can cost between $150 and $400, and it’s important to get a line item for each cost.

#5 Lender’s Origination Fees

Your lender will charge you this upfront free for making the mortgage loan. This includes processing the loan application, underwriting the loan (researching whether to approve you), and funding the loan. These fees are quoted as a percentage of the total loan you’re taking out and generally range between 0.5 to 1.5%.

#6 Survey Costs

This report ($150 to $400) confirms the property’s boundaries, outlining its major features and dimensions.

#7 Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI)

When you put down less than 20% on your new home, the lender requires that you purchase PMI, which is a policy that protects the lender from losing money if you end up in foreclosure. So PMI is a policy that you have to buy to protect the lender from you. PMI rates can vary from 0.3% to 1.5% of your original loan amount annually.

#8 Tax Service Fee

This is the cost (about $50) to ensure that all property tax payments are up to date and that the payments you make are appropriately credited to the right home.

Always ask questions when it comes to understanding the fees you’re paying. If possible, print out documents and go through them with a highlighter to indicate any areas you have concerns about. Discuss them with your lender or real estate agent and determine if you can negotiate any of them down.

Don’t be afraid to price shop to ensure you’re getting the best value. Just because you’re spending hundreds of thousands on a home doesn’t mean you should be comfortable throwing thousands of dollars at fees.

Source: "8 Lesser-Known Fees That Factor Into the True Cost of Home Buying"

Cleaning Your House for Guests: A Checklist

by The Schnoor Team

Countdown to a perfectly clean guest-ready home no matter how much — or little — time you have.

It feels great to have a clean, organized, well-functioning home when you’ve got guests coming. Especially around the holidays. It’s like your gift to you.

Here’s how to get that satisfying feeling — no matter how much time you have. Just choose your starting point on this checklist:

Three (or More) Weeks to Go

Think big picture. Get anything that requires a pro or installation out of the way now. No one wants calamity to strike when guests are pulling into the driveway.

  • Get your HVAC maintained if it’s overdue.
  • If you have a self-cleaning oven, clean it now. An oven is most likely to break down during the cleaning cycle, so don’t save this task for last.
  • Replace any appliance on its last legs. You don’t want your hot water to go out or fridge on the fritz with a houseful of guests.
  • Steam-clean upholstery. (Or hire a pro. It’s a big job)
  • Hire a handyman for those repairs you’ve been putting off.
  • Check outdoor lighting. Replace old bulbs and call an electrician to address any bigger issues.

Two Weeks to Go

It’s not panic time yet. Focus on decluttering and a few deep-cleaning tasks now, and you’ll have a more manageable to-do list when the clock really starts ticking down.

  • Do a deep declutter. It’ll make things easier to keep clean.
  • Dust ceiling fans, light fixtures, and high-up shelves.
  • Wipe down baseboards.
  • Clean out and organize the fridge.
  • Wash windows to make the entire house feel brighter and cleaner.
  • Toss washable shower curtains and drapes in the washing machine and re-hang. Easy.

​​

One Week to Go

It’s strategic cleaning time. Here’s what to tackle now — things your family won’t easily undo before your guests arrive.

  • Declutter again.
  • Vacuum and dust guest rooms. If they’re low-traffic, the cleanliness should hold with just a quick wipe-down right before they arrive.
  • Wipe down walls.
  • Wipe down kitchen and dining room chairs and tables, including the legs. You’d be surprised how grimy they get.
  • Deep clean the entryway — and make room for your guests’ stuff.

72 Hours to Go

The final cleaning stretch is on the horizon.

  • Do another declutter.
  • In the kitchen, toss stove burners, drip pans, and knobs into the dishwasher for an easy deep clean.
  • Wash kitchen cabinet fronts.
  • Scrub the kitchen floor.
  • Clean and shine appliances.

48 Hours to Go

Now it’s time to get serious.

  • Clean and sanitize garbage cans to banish mystery smells.
  • Wipe down doorknobs, faceplates, and light switches. They’re germ magnets.
  • Clean the front door.
  • Deep clean the bathroom your guests will use, and close it off if possible.
  • Wash guest towels and linens.

24 Hours to Go

Your guests’ bags are packed. Time for final touches.

  • Do a final declutter - by now it shouldn’t take more than five minutes.
  • Give one final wipe-down to toilets, tubs, and bathroom sinks.
  • And another final wipe-down in the kitchen.
  • Do all the floors: mop, vacuum, sweep, etc.
  • Make guest beds and set out clean towels.
  • Plug in nightlights in guest baths.
  • Put out guest toiletries so they’re easy to find.
  • Add a coffee or tea station in the guest room or kitchen.
  • Get your favorite smell going, whether it’s a scented candle, spices in water on the stove, or essential oils.
  • Use rubber gloves to wipe off pet hair and dust from furniture. It works.
  • Do the full red carpet: Sweep or shovel porch, steps, and outdoor walkways

​​Source: "Cleaning Your House for Guests: A Checklist"

4 Funky Odors In Your House Only Your Guests Can Smell

by The Schnoor Team

You could be nose blind. Here’s how to find and eliminate the funk you can’t smell.

Stand in your kitchen and take a deep breath. Smell that? From last night’s fish to your son’s nasty lacrosse pads (why did he leave them on the table?), you probably can’t detect any of your home’s rankest odors. You’ve got nose blindness.

“You adapt to the smells around you,” says Dr. Richard Doty, the director of the Smell and Taste Center at the University of Pennsylvania.

On a sensory level, your processing mechanism becomes less sensitive to the continuous stimuli. Or, on a cognitive level, you can become habituated to the smells and basically learn to ignore them. Or you can do both.

Here are some of the most common nose blindness culprits, and how to ban them from your home.

#1 Pet Funk

There’s one easy way to tell if your home smells like pets: Do you have them? Then yeah, unless you’re an obsessive cleaner and groomer, your abode has at least some Fido funk.

It could be pee, but more likely it’s just hair, gunky ears, and weeks-old slobber.

The first step to cleaning up pet smells is — sorry, pets — cleaning the pets themselves. Bathe and groom them regularly.

Then, vacuum, vacuum, vacuum. If they have a favorite couch or cushion, cover it with a blanket and run it — and the cushion cover — through the wash weekly. Every time you vacuum, start with a hearty sprinkle of baking soda on the carpet.

And use that crevice tool liberally; pet hair loves tight spaces like the border between the carpet and the wall, the edges of your steps and that little crack of space between the stove and your cabinets.

Hopefully urine isn’t the issue, but to be sure, you can use a black light to out any dried stains your pet was hoping you’d never notice.

Use more of that baking soda followed by a half-water, half-vinegar solution to neutralize the odor. Lots of people also swear by store-bought neutralizers, like Nature’s Miracle.

#2 Mustiness

Fortunately, nose blindness only affects one of your senses, and you don’t need your nose to verify a basement with a musty smell.

Mustiness is caused by mildew and mold, which — for better or for worse — your eyeballs can easily detect. Do a careful inspection of your basement, from the darkest corner to the surface of every cardboard box or bookshelf. If you find gray or white splotches anywhere, it’s probably mildew. If it’s fuzzy, (oh no!) it’s mold.

First, you’ll want to bust up those existing odors. Then, you’ll want to make sure they never return. Some elbow grease with regular household cleaner will scrub away mildew. Bleach isn’t the cure-all for mold. If often can exacerbate the problem.

To prevent mildew and mold from returning, consider running a dehumidifier or improving air circulation and sunlight exposure in the affected area if possible.

For chronic mustiness, you can deodorize rooms by setting out bowls of vinegar, cat litter, baking soda, or — as crazy as this sounds — an onion also will do the trick. Cut one in half and let it sit in a bowl in the room. The onion smell goes away in a few hours, and so will the dankness.

#3 Smelly Bedding

Similar to pet odors, knowing if your mattress could smell is easy: Do you have a human body with skin and oils? Do you sleep on it?

Eventually, all the dead skin and body oils you shed while sleeping are going to build up, and stink they will, especially if your bedding is older.

You can’t exactly toss your mattress in the washing machine, so you’ll have to deal with it where it lies.

But it’s an easy fix: Sprinkle baking soda on it, let it sit for an hour or more, and then vacuum up the soda. (This works for memory foam, too.) Add a couple drops of essential oil to the soda (drip directly into the box and shake it well to mix evenly) for a pleasant smell. Bonus: Lavender has been shown to help you sleep.

#4 Fridge and Freezer Grime

It’s your fridge and freezer’s job to keep your food fresh, but they need a little help staying fresh themselves.

Itty bitty food bits hang out long after you’ve tossed the item from which they came. Although you might not notice the odor creep, you may notice your ice starting to taste funny or see those food morsels start to accumulate in the corners of your fridge shelves.

If you see or taste something icky, you can bet others can smell something icky.

To zap odors from from your freezer and fridge, unplug and empty them and do a thorough cleaning with a mix of hot water and baking soda.

You can sanitize with a solution of one tablespoon bleach and one gallon of water. Let it air out for 15 minutes. Try wiping it down with vinegar for extra odor eliminating, or even leave the door open for a few days.

What better excuse is there for a long weekend away, or to treat yourself to takeout?

Source: "4 Funky Odors In Your House Only Your Guests Can Smell"

 

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