A Beginner’s Guide to Tax Credits and Deductions for Homeowners

Photo of human hands holding pencil and ticking data in documents

It’s tax time and if you’ve purchased a home, there are a few things to know about tax credits and deductions for homeowners.

By Seve Kale

If you’ve recently purchased a home in 2015 or 2016, you’ve probably heard about the tax credits and deductions available for homeowners.

“Tax-wise, this is a good time to buy – homeownership offers tax breaks that renters do not have,” says Yvette D. Best, CEO of Best Services Unlimited LLC, an income tax preparation firm in Fayetteville, Ga.

Though the thought of itemizing your taxes and figuring out what you qualify for may be intimidating, we’ve talked to the experts to come up with this helpful guide.

Mortgage Interest Write-Off

Let’s start with the basics: mortgage interest deductions.

According to TurboTax.com, the biggest tax break for most homeowners comes from deducting mortgage interest.  If you itemize, you can usually deduct the interest on a mortgage used to acquire a main or secondary home.

Mortgage Points

“In addition to the commonly known write-off for home mortgage interest, there are other deductions and credits for new homeowners,” says Amanda Kendall, president of True Resolve Tax, based in Northglenn, Colo. “In some instances, when buying a new home, you pay what is known as points (origination points and discount points), that the IRS views as being prepaid interest. They can be written off along with your mortgage interest,” Kendall says.

This deduction may be worth thousands. “The return on your investment is two-fold — you get to deduct the cost of the points and the amount paid in interest in the same year as the home purchase,” adds Best.

First-Time Buyers

“As a first-time buyer, the IRS will allow you to withdraw an amount up to $10,000 from an IRA (traditional or ROTH) penalty-free to help with the purchase of a home,” says Kendall. If you’re married, you and your spouse can withdraw a total for $20,000 penalty-free. You are also allowed a $10,000 withdrawal to buy or build for a spouse, kids, grandchildren or parents.

Property Taxes

You can also write off property taxes as an itemized deduction. However, if you’re using an escrow account to pay your taxes, you can’t deduct payments into that account as real estate taxes. “Homeowners often make the mistake of deducting the wrong year’s property taxes — this deduction is allowed in the year the taxes are actually paid,” says Kendall.

Energy Incentives

If your new home is built with energy-efficient appliances and/or energy-efficient technology, you are likely eligible for a tax credit. Green technology such as geothermal heat pumps, small wind turbines and solar energy systems make you eligible for a tax credit of 30 percent of their cost, while a credit of up to $500 is available for energy-efficient HVAC systems, windows or doors.

Home Rentals or Improvements

If you’ve done any renovating, keep your receipts. All improvements will be added to the purchase price of your home. If you track your home-related expenses, you can reduce the capital gains amount you must pay tax on when you decide to sell. “These days, with AirBnB, homeowners may rent their home out or rent a room, in which case all expenses related to the house can be deducted against rental income,” says Ryan Saltz, a licensed tax professional at Jacksonville, Fla.-based Tax Defense Network, LLC.

This guide only covers a few of the deductions available to homeowners, so sure to do your research. “If you take a credit you’re not allowed to take, the IRS is going to make you pay it back, but not before they add interest and penalties,” says Kendall. She recommends consulting with a tax professional.

Are You Wondering What It Takes To Buy Your First Home?

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There are many people sitting on the sidelines trying to decide if they should purchase a home or sign a rental lease. Some might wonder if it makes sense to purchase a house before they are married and have a family. Others may think they are too young. And still others might think their current income would never enable them to qualify for a mortgage.

We want to share what the typical first time homebuyer actually looks like based on theNational Association of REALTORS most recent Profile of Home Buyers & Sellers. Here are some interesting revelations on the first time buyer:

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Bottom Line

You may not be much different than many people who have already purchased their first home. Meet with a local real estate professional today who can help determine if your dream home is within your grasp.

Learning the Lingo: Dollhouse, Bird Dog, and Other Flipping Slang Deciphered

flipping

 

So you’re handy with power tools and have a pile of cash burning a hole in your mattress. Flipping real estate may be just the ticket to grow that pile into an Everest of dough!

However, before you start attending auctions or scouring foreclosure sites for deals, you should know that flipping has its own colorful, and, to beginners, puzzling slang. Our Learning the Lingo series can help you look like you’re in the know.

Read on to understand the difference between a dollhouse and a haircut and beyond.

Distressed property

Yeah, this one you already know, but it’s the starting block for most flips. Distressed properties have fallen on hard times and are usually in the process of foreclosure. Since the original owner hasn’t paid the mortgage for some time—maybe a long time—the bank or lender has taken over. It generally has one goal: sell the place and sell it fast. That’s why distressed properties are priced far below market value. Hello, bargain basement!

30-60-90 pre-NOD list

This is the primo list of leads generated by property data companies on homes where owners are 30, 60, or 90 days late in paying their mortgage.

 

What’s important here is that the property is in pre-foreclosure andnotice of default, or NOD, has not been filed; therefore, the property is not public knowledge yet. If you want to beat other rehabbers to the property, these lists give you a sneak peek at which homeowners might want to throw in the towel so you can pounce. They give you a competitive advantage in the marketplace. They also usually cost money, often priced per lead.

After-repair value (ARV)

This is the price people will pay for the property after you fix it up. It’s your profit margin! It’s what you’re working for, and it’s the key metric in your investment strategy. You need to do a realistic calculation of what the home could be worth based on the amount of work you plan to do and the comparable homes in the area. So if you find something that looks like junk but has great bones and is located in a desirable neighborhood, the after-repair value, or ARV, might just sound phenomenal and you should probably plunk down an offer.

Dollhouse

It’s a minor fixer-upper. Barbie herself would be proud to live there because it needs only cosmetic attention—some new paint and maybe a few lighting fixtures. There’s an absence of the deeper problems (foundation, plumbing, electrical) that would require lots of elbow grease and hard cash in order to get the place up to snuff on the market.

Haircut

You like the no-fuss sound of a dollhouse? This property is even more sales-ready. Just take out the trash and mow the lawn before planting that “for sale” sign, and you’re good to go!

Bird dog

In the same way wirehaired pointers flush out pheasants, these professionals hunt down distressed properties whose owners might be desperate to sell. If they smell blood, bird dogs (also called “deal scouts” or “real estate jobbers”) then sell these leads to frequent or professional flippers to swoop in and close the deal.

OPM

Flippers often use other people’s money, or OPM, to curb their own financial risks. Unless you’re fully confident in your flipping skills and flush with cash, OPM can make the difference between an intriguing side venture and a do-or-die investment.

Hard-money lenders

Hard-money lenders give loans to flippers in a fraction of the time it takes to get a traditional mortgage. They are not banks, but rather private businesses or individuals. And yes, they’re expensive, with interest rates well in the teens. But at an auction, when flippers need cash quickly, a hard loan can serve as a bridge until they can secure longer-term financing—or just flip the house and pay their lender back.

Wholesaler

This is a property flipper on human growth hormones. This professional buys a distressed property and then immediately turns around and sells it as is to another flipper. Sometimes these guys work so fast they don’t actually close on the initial sales contract; they just agree to buy the property, but before closing, find a buyer and simply assign the contract of sale to this next guy in line. It’s great because wholesalers pay nothing but rake in a profit. That said, you’d better know what you’re doing and how to spot properties with real potential.

Weekend warrior

This is a more relaxed flipper, someone who approaches it as a hobby or a part-time second income. Usually these flippers invest their sweat equity (see below) on, well, you guessed it, the weekend.

Sweat equity

This is the energy and effort flippers put into buying a property, fixing it up, and selling it. With any luck, it does not involve tears, blood, or hospital visits due to a malfunctioning nail gun. A bit of actual sweat is OK.

Crying the sale

This is the ridiculously rapid-fire patter of an auctioneer at a foreclosure auction. It takes these guys years of practice. The National Auctioneers Association hosts an annualInternational Auctioneer Championship in which contestants are scored, among other things, on clarity, voice control, speed, rhythm, and voice expression.

Bene

Bene is an abbreviation for “beneficiary.” When a distressed property doesn’t sell at a foreclosure auction, it goes automatically to the bene—the bank or lender, which will typically then just put it up for sale as a foreclosed property and hope for the best.

 

Can Paint Color Increase Your Happiness?

Learn how the color choices in your home can increase your well being.

 

When you think of the word “wellness” you may think of a trip to the spa, or the mountains, or maybe wellness is your weekly yoga class. But can wellness be incorporated into your home? What does that mean, exactly? The Random House Dictionary defines wellness as “the quality or state of being healthy in body and mind,especially as the result of deliberate effort.” Wellness and well-being can be thought of as the act of purposefully creating a state of feeling good.

You might already have a wellness room in your home without knowing it. Perhaps it’s the kitchen or the garden where you feel creative, connected and inspired. Maybe it’s the oversized tub where you relax and unwind at the end of the day. It might even be that cozy nook by the window where you love to sit and read. At a recent trip to Heimtextil, design experts from all over the world and across multiple disciplines designed a special exhibition called Well-Being 4.0. They focused on that which makes us feel protected,energized, nourished and enriched. Given these descriptives, you’d be amazed at how right color strategy in your home can influence your well being and help create a stronger sense of wellness for you and your family.

Whether you are aware of it or not, color plays a huge part of your life. From the clothes you put on in the morning, to the foods to buy at the grocery store, to the brands you reach for in the pharmacy, color is influencing you constantly. In fact, brands hire color experts when launching new products or when entering a new marketplace. Experts know that the colors of the package can increase, or decrease, sales.

The colors you pick for decorating your home, inside and out, influence your overall wellbeing too. You’ve probably purchased a colorful trendy paint you saw in a magazine only to realize that in person the color gives you a headache, or makes the room feel dark and depressing. Your very perception of color can really make or break a room, so to speak.

Color experts know that our perception of color (or rather, our perception of light) stems from many core values that have evolved over a long period of time. At the Heimtextil conference I listened as color expert, Carola Seybold, from the color authority company Pantone, explained the psychology of color:

 

Color-experience-pyramid

 

Frank H. Mahnke was a founding member of IACC (International Association of Color Consultants/Designers), which aims to bring color education and expertise into the world of design, including interior design. The pyramid above shows how much influence certain factors, like cultural influences, may have on your love of certain colors.

  1. The strongest influence, Mr. Mahnke describes, is our biological reactions to a color stimulus. Think of the luscious, bright red colors of sweet berries that our ancestors foraged for quick bursts of energy.
  2. Less influential than that but still very strong is our collective unconscious, which would include the examples of orange and red, which signify the colors warmth and security of a roaring fire.
  3. Conscious symbolism – associations is like how children always color the sun yellow, and that we still equate that color with a sunny point of view.
  4. Cultural influences and mannerisms refer to the colors that become symbolic within our own distinct cultures. The color white, for example, represents purity in the U.S., and is used for wedding dresses and baptismal gowns. However in Japan, white is the cultural symbol of mourning, and people wear that color when attending funerals.
  5. The influence of trends, fashion and styles are less important but still may influence our color choices. This is easy and obvious to see, particularly when a photograph of a movie icon on the red carpet spawns a whole industry of new dress designs.
  6. Finally, our own personal relationship to color, although the least influential, is still important. If you’ve always hated the color of orange because you had a bad experience with something that was a dominant color orange in your memory bank, you may never like that color.

Of course, understanding this pyramid of influence is just one part of why we like certain colors in our home. But it’s an important idea to grasp when thinking about how certain colors in your home can make you feel protected, energized, nourished and enriched – in other words, make you feel well.

Color is merely our perception of light, and as we age our perception of color, or our ability to remember color, may change. Hospitals, for example, are experiencing the effect of color with patients suffering from memory loss. In fact, memory and color are closely intertwined. If you don’t find this compelling think about how large parking garages use color to influence your ability to remember where you’ve parked your car. Our brains can only pay attention to small amounts of information at a time, that is exactly why brands rely upon color to impose their brand on your brain.

Ebay-Amazon-Brand-Colour-Swap

The above example by design company Printsome shows just how powerful color can be on our memories. Check out their other brand color-swap examples; what does your mind think when the Starbucks logo is illustrated in Dunkin’ Donuts colors? Does your mind switch brands?

Despite this information about color and memory, Ms. Seybold also mentioned that it may be hard to describe why, exactly, we like a certain color more than others.  Studies have shown that when shopping, 93% of consumers place visual appearance over all other factors. 85% of shoppers say color is the primary reason for selecting a particular product.* Within seconds our brains can recognize a brand before we even register the letters or logo.

So how does all of this help you choose the right colors for your home? How does this help you create a state of well being in your living room, kitchen or home office? It’s important that you go with your gut (your biological reaction) when selecting linens, paint colors or upholstery. Choose colors that makes you and your family feel good and remember that in a room full of furnishings you have many opportunities to influence the overall color palette. You may choose earthy neutrals for your long term investments like carpeting or flooring, and you may want to experiment with “new” colors in the form of inexpensive accessories that can quickly be replaced.

Leatrice Eiseman, Executive Director of the Pantone Color Institute, head of the Eiseman Center for Color Information and Training, and author of nine books on color, understands that feeling good about your interior colors is not necessarily about choosing one color over another. It’s important to play with the right shades and tones for your own home. “It’s a mistake to simply rely on paint swatches,” she says about choosing the right color paint for your walls. Test out paint samples on the wall or on sample boards and live with it for awhile. Take note of how the color changes with the light of day and how it works with the bounced light from your furniture. Ms Eiseman recalled that when living in sunny Los Angeles she loved a particular shade of yellow she chose for her home. When she moved to the Northwest, she still kept yellow as a primary color but had to adjust the shade in order for it to work well with the grey lighting of the cloudy Northwest.

Here are some great tips for choosing the right colors for your home:

  • Take your time. You should never feel rushed when buying fabrics, linens, furniture, carpeting or any interior furnishes for your home. Use Pinterest to create color boards or cut out magazine images.  Putting your gut feelings down on paper is the best way to gain focus and identify how you respond physically and mentally to particular colors or color combinations. Using a professional interior designer can help speed up the process however you still need to know what colors you do, and do not, like. Read more tips for working with an interior designer.
  • Always bring home swatches. Most furniture companies have fabric samples that you can bring home. Not only is this a great way to see how your family reacts to the color, it’s also a great way to see how it works within the room. Read more about samples and swatches here.
  • Don’t choose paint colors in the store. The biggest mistake is to pick out your paint chips in the store without testing it out at home first. Even if you have to purchase a small quantity of paint to test at home, it’s worth the money to paint part of your wall or paint a sample board. This same idea should be used when selecting wallpaper as well.Read more of our painting tips here.

Hire a color consultant. Color consultants are definitely a worth-while investment, especially when you need to make a lot of color decisions at once. If you are repainting the whole home, for example, or building a new home, this is a great opportunity to learn more about the colors you love and how to settle on the correct shades. Find an expert here.

 

* Source: https://blog.kissmetrics.com/color-psychology/?wide=1

Other sources:

International Association of Color Consultants/Designers https://iaccna.com/

Pantone http://www.pantone.com/pages/pantone/index.aspx

 

Cold Weather Decorating

JANUARY 7, 2016

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Image: Coco Lapine Design

The holidays are over but the cold weather is still here…..at least for some of us. My Christmas decor is back in boxes and all of the greenery has been tossed. So now what? Do we make our spaces all springy? Or do we use the cold weather to create cozy homes? I like to call this “cold weather decorating”. I have a few easy tips for you to create a warm space for this chilly season.

1. Use throw pillows, not only for added textile but to add warmth and comfort. Splash them around your home, using them on sofas, chairs, beds, window seats, benches and even on the floor.

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Image: Andy Liffner

2. Magazines and books can immediately give the sense of cold, rainy days that require lots of blankets, hot chocolate and hot fireplaces. Display them by stacking them on the floor, on tabletops or displaying them on shelves. Create a more organic feel by mixing and matching sizes and colors.

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Image: Amber Interiors

3. Rugs ALWAYS warm up a space. Choose a rich, textured rug for your powder room. Your guests will love it!

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Image: French By Design

4. Wood accessories bring a sense of rustic, warm moments. I love pairing vintage wood pieces with more modern, streamlined pieces.

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Image: Marie Claire Maison

5. Display your silver collection with pride. All of that gorgeous old silver compliments the cold, winter months and creates a masterpiece.

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Image: First Home

6. Sheepskin is an obvious choice for creating cozy spaces. You can display them on chairs, sofas, benches and even in front of fireplaces.

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Image: House Of C 

7. If you want to bring some practical warmth to your bed as well as adding some style, a simple quilt will do the job!

Get the Best Return on Investment with Your Next Home Improvement Project

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Home is where the heart is, but sometimes it’s also where a homeowner’s savings plan comes into account. Homeowners may have a long wish list of home renovations and projects, and sometimes the work is never done. While return on investment (ROI) may not be the biggest consideration in a homeowner’s mind when deciding which projects make it to the top of the list, knowing which projects see the highest returns may be helpful in the decision-making process.

Happiness in the home can be a part of the ROI, but other cost vs. value factors vary by region and even by room.ROI, as defined in Remodeling’s 2015 Cost vs. Value report, can be broken down as the percentage of the estimated average cost of a renovation project that is projected to be recouped in resale value, as aggregated from real estate and appraisal estimates. Let’s take a look at some of the most common renovation projects and how their ROI breaks down.

According to Huffington Post’s 10 Most Popular Remodeling Projects Across the Country, the most common remodeling job request projects in the United States are in the bathroom. A midrange bathroom addition cost, a complied in Remodeling’s Cost vs. Value report, in 2015 was estimated at $39,578. The ROI was estimated at 57.8 percent. For those needing a bathroom remodel, the cost averaged $16,724 with an ROI of 70 percent. Upscale additions and remodels naturally went up in cost, but the ROI didn’t quite hit the level of a midrange upgrade, with 58 percent and 59.8 percent, respectively. Bathroom remodeling projects that were big in 2015, according to Forbes, included custom vanities, feature floor tiles, bigger showers and plant life.

Kitchen remodel job requests accounted for 69 percent, the second most common in the U.S. Major midrange remodel costs in 2015 averaged at about $56,768 with an ROI of 67.8 percent, while minor remodels saw an ROI of 79.3 percent and a cost of about $19,226. A major upscale remodel could cost upward of $113,097 in 2015, with an ROI at 59 percent. According to My Home Ideas, trends in 2015 included built-in coffee centers, dual-fuel ranges, Italian cooking gadgets, designer dishwashers and wine refrigeration.

Not all projects, of course, are room-centered. Window/door replacement accounted for 44 percent of home remodeling job requests in 2015. This included window replacement, entry door replacement and steel, with ROIs of 72.9 percent, 78.8 percent and 72 percent, respectively. Finished basements also were high on the list, as complied by House Logic, with 27 percent of remodeling job requests. Coming in with an average cost of $65,442 in 2015, the ROI on these projects was 72.8 percent.

Additionally, home remodeling job requests vary by U.S. region. In the East-North Central (Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio), the midrange top five requests include entry door replacements, garage door replacements, manufactured stone veneers, vinyl window replacements and vinyl siding replacements. The upscale top five requests include fiber-cement siding replacements, garage door replacements, vinyl window replacements, foam-backed vinyl siding replacements and wood window replacements. In the East-South Central (Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee), the midrange top five requests were much of the same, however an upscale request of fiberglass grand entrances made the cut.

The Middle-Atlantic (New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania) followed suit, along with many of the same requests in the Mountain area of the nation (Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming). New England home owners (Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont) in the midrange chose steel entry door replacements, manufactured stone veneers, garage door replacements, vinyl siding replacements and wood deck additions as their top five. Top upscale requests included garage door replacements, fiber-cement siding replacements, foam-backed vinyl siding replacements, vinyl window replacements and wood window replacements.

Midrange top five requests in the Pacific region (Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington) mirrored New England, along with the South Atlantic (Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, Washington, D.C., Florida) region and the West North Central (Minnesota, Missouri, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, Kansas, Nebraska) region.

Finally, in the West South Central (Arkansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Texas), the midrange top five were manufactured stone veneers, steel entry door replacements, garage door replacements, basement remodels and roofing replacements. The top five upscale requests were fiber-cement siding replacements, garage door replacements, foam-backed vinyl siding replacements, vinyl window replacements and roofing replacements.

Advantages of Buying a Home During the Wintertime

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By Published December 23, 2015 Buying Home FOXBusiness

Spring and summer are popular times to look for a new home, but house hunters willing to brave the cold might be rewarded with a great deal. Although you’ll have fewer houses to choose from, there are also fewer buyers to contend with.

“You can leverage colder weather to your advantage because you’re a rarity — there’s less competition and buyers, which gives you negotiating power and puts you in the driver’s seat,” says Cara Ameer, broker associate and Realtor at Coldwell Banker Vanguard Realty based in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. “A seller knows that someone who drives through the snow and cold weather to see their house is a pretty serious buyer.”

You may benefit from a discount too as sellers are eager to unload their homes. “Homebuyers can take their time when they’re looking for a home because there’s less people in the market and there aren’t as many bidding wars,” says Lisa Foradori, Head of Consumer Direct for Mortgage Originations at Chase.

If you need a mortgage, while rates are expected to increase eventually, they’re still low from a historical perspective. “It’s going to remain a good time to buy for a while,” says Foradori. “Getting in now as rates start to pick up, with rates where they are, makes the winter look attractive too.”

As you decide whether to hunt for houses during the cold winter months, experts provide advantages and disadvantages to consider.

Fewer Bidding Wars

Fewer buyers frequent open houses during the winter as compared to the spring, when there’s more inventory. The benefit is that you’ll have some breathing room — hot markets known for bidding wars and multiple offers tend to cool down in the colder months. “It saves buyers money and their sanity,” says Mazen Fawaz, CEO of OpenHouse.

Less Housing Supply

“The selection of houses may be less because of lower inventory versus what’s going to come on the market during the spring, but there will also be more competition in the spring,” says Ameer. The weather can make getting a home ready for showings cumbersome for a homeowner. “Sellers may have to shovel snow,” she suggests, “and people would rather wait until the holidays are over and they can take their lights and decorations down.”

Motivated Sellers

Time is money for a seller, and those sellers that open their doors to showings during the holiday season and cold-weather months want their homes to sell. “A seller probably doesn’t want to sit with the house through the winter months, particularly if they don’t live there anymore and have to make sure the home’s being maintained and safe,” says Ameer. A buyer may very well benefit from a lower price because the seller doesn’t want to continue paying for the expense of the house and would like to get it off their plate.

Quicker Mortgage Closings

“Lenders have less inventory in the winter because there are less people buying and selling and we can move the loan through the process faster,” says Foradori.

End of Year Tax Benefit

“There’s also tax implications for buying before New Year’s Eve, which fuels a lot of the activity in the ‘off season’,” says Fawaz. If you close on a new home before December 31, you can apply the purchase of your home towards deductions for that year, otherwise you’ll have to wait a full fiscal year to reap any tax benefits from your purchase.

Cheaper Moving Costs

Securing time and negotiating with vendors, movers and contractors may be easier in the wintertime. “There’s more flexibility with scheduling, and you’ll feel less rushed and under the gun,” says Ameer. “Since these companies aren’t as busy during the winter, they may be open negotiating their prices.”

Cold-Weather Inspections

“When you’re searching in the wintertime, you’re seeing the home during extreme weather and when the home’s systems like heating and plumbing, the roof, doors, windows, and insulation are being tested,” says Foradori. You can schedule your inspection during a time when you can see the house’s problems. “Depending on what you find, you can probably negotiate the price even further,” she adds.

Mid-Year School Change

People don’t always want their child to change schools midyear for continuity reasons, but this can work in your favor. Depending on your child, a midyear move could give them an opportunity to get acclimated to a new environment before summertime, says Ameer.

Shorter Daylight Hours

“You’ll see how the house holds up in harsher weather, but you don’t know what the lawn looks like,” says Ameer. Getting a sense of the exterior condition can be a challenge when it’s dark outside by 4 p.m. If you buy a home, you may not know what the landscaping actually looks like and if the grass needs to be resodded or the condition of the bushes until all the snow has melted in the spring.

7 Ways To Get Rid Of Bad Odors In Your Home

Pets, cigarette smoke, pungent foods—they can all make your house smell bad. Queen of Clean, Linda Cobb, gives us her best remedies for getting rid of funky odors and creating a fresh-smelling house.

12/23/2015 07:56 am ET
  • Ellen Breslau
  • Grandparents.com

Every house has a smell. “It’s a combination of the people who live there, their perfume, aftershave, the food they cook, and other things. Most of the time it’s a good smell, but sometimes, it’s really not,” says cleaning expert and best-selling author Linda Cobb, aka The Queen of Clean. What to do when your house smells bad? Read on for Cobb’s best tips:

1. General funkyness

House just smelling yucky? Cobb creates her own air freshener that’s perfect for getting rid of odors in the bathroom, bedroom, or anywhere else in your home. “I buy small decorative spray bottles, fill them with this mixture and place them all over my house,” says Cobb. “Vodka is the secret ingredient.” It soaks up the smell and evaporates quickly.
Linda’s Air Freshener Recipe
Mix:

  • 3-parts water
  • 1-part cheap vodka
  • 10-20 drops of essential oil such as eucalyptus, citrus, or lavender for the bedroom. (You can find essential oils at theVitamin Shoppe and your local health food store.)

2. Cigarette/cigar smoke

“Even when you ask someone to smoke outside, the smoke can come into the house through open doors and stay there,” says Linda. Her fix:
Use a hand towel and pour white vinegar over it, then wring it out. “Take the towel and walk through the house swinging it in the air, like you’re rooting for your favorite team.” This will get rid of the smell in no time, and it’s all-natural, so no one is breathing in chemicals,” she says.

3. Pets

Doggie or cat smell can be tough to get rid of because it’s constant and becomes embedded in fibers. Linda’s favorite solution for getting the smell out of the carpet and fabrics: Odorzout. “It’s 100 percent natural and animals and kids can be around it without worry,” she says. Odorzout is a dry product that you sprinkle on the affected area, and it absorbs the odor. Then you vacuum it up! “A little goes a long way and it works great,” says Linda.

As for a smelly dog, Linda says, “Believe it or not, I’ve found the thing that works best is to take a Massengill Douche (any kind except the vinegar type or medicated), put vaseline over the eye of the bottle so it won’t spray too quickly, wet down your dog, then spray the douche on him.”

Why it works? Douches deal with protein-based smells, and your dog’s fur is made up of protein. Works like a charm.

4. Bathroom

No one likes a smelly bathroom. First try Cobb’s Air Freshener recipe:
Linda’s Air Freshener Recipe
Mix:

  • 3-parts water
  • 1-part cheap vodka
  • 10-20 drops of essential oil such as eucalyptus, citrus, or lavender. (You can find essential oils at the Vitamin Shoppe and your local health food store.

Or try this other recipe she swears by:

  • Combine 2 cups of water
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon of baking soda
  • 10 drops of essential oil

Mix and put into a spray bottle to leave in the bathroom.

5. Disposal

“Do not put carrot peelings, onion peelings, or potato skins down your disposal,” says Cobb. “These can cause you to call a plumber more than any other foods, and when they start to decay they really smell.”

As for keeping your disposal smell-free, Cobb suggests putting some ice in the disposal and grinding it, then sprinkling Borax down the disposal, running water, and grinding it. The other thing you can do, says Cobb, “Put the stopper in the sink and add three inches of warm water. Then mix in a handful of baking soda.Turn on the disposal and pull out the stopper right away (so you don’t harm the disposal). This creates suction, and pulls the baking soda mixture down the disposal and cleans it.”

6. Garbage Can

If the can itself smells, wash it with warm water and white vinegar. Or try sprinkling in some Odorzout, let it sit a few minutes, then dump out and rinse the can. If the garbage is smelly, but the bag isn’t full yet, Cobb suggests dumping in some coffee grounds, which neutralize smells.

7. Sweat

Dirty clothes can stink, especially if they’re workout clothes. To make sure the smell comes out in the wash, add half a cup of Arm & Hammer Washing Soda to the laundry. “It’s not baking soda, but it’s similar, and you’ll find it in the laundry aisle,” says Cobb. “It takes the smell right out of fabrics.”

 

5 Tips for Buying A House

So, you’re thinking about buying a house. Your first house in fact. Well, we’ve compiled a few things we think are very important for you to know before jumping in! Here are five home buying tips learned from experience.

5 Things You Need to Know Before Buying A House

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  • There is no such thing as a “turn key”.
    • There will always be things to buy or fix when purchasing a new home. No, you might not have to do a complete renovation job but just bare that in mind when you are looking at houses. Make sure to do your due diligence and look for the odds and end things you might have to purchase right away or fix. For example, shower rods, appliances, outside trash bins, etc. Not everything you see stays with the house – so make sure to ask!
  • The closing date can and will more than likely change.
    • Probably one of the most frustrating things in the process of buying a house is when the closing date is changed, especially if your lease has already ended, or if you have already sold your house. So, when purchasing your home, make sure to give yourself some wiggle room. There is no worse feeling than feeling displaced or scrambling to find a place to crash for a few weeks before your home closes.
  • You will need fluid cash.
    • Even if you are able to negotiate the seller paying the closing costs and you already have your down payment – there will still be costs throughout the process. For example, things like home inspections, radon tests, appraisals, and terminate inspections all come with a price tag. Make sure you have the fluid cash before jumping in!
  • Your bank account is your best friend and your worst enemy.
    • The loan underwriter will go through your finances with a fine tooth comb once you’ve decided on your home. Seriously, if you deposit money that you found lying around your house more than likely the underwriter will ask for an explanation of where the funds came from and to show evidence of how you got it. To be honest, explaining that I sold a few pieces of furniture on craiglist and deposited it into my account was probably one of the hardest things to prove to my underwriter. So, word of advice, when you start looking at houses (not when you put on offer in) keep track of all of your cash deposits, this will just help you later on.
  • Rational vs. Emotional
    • Looking at homes, putting offers on homes, offers being rejected, counter offers, all of these things have an emotional toll. But try to keep the decision of buying a house the most methodical, logical and rational choice you make. It will be tough – so try to take a step back and think “what is the best financial decision for me when buying a house?”

I hope these tips on buying a house have given you some insight in buying a home! What are some things you think buyers should know before buying a house? Are you ready to buy your first home? What was your experience like? Let us know in the comments below!

How To Make Your Place Look AWESOME

This article was originally published on June 18, 2014.

Revamping a smallish apartment is a challenge on its own. When you add a decorator’s need to satisfy his client’s very specific style points, the difficulty only multiplies. For this apartment makeover, Thomas Altamirano brought his client’s “witchy chic” fashion sense into the light to create a modern lair anyone could love.

My client Abby and I were set up by mutual friends who thought I could help Abby express her particular fashion sense throughout her apartment. I basically won the client lotto, because something just clicked with us — and we were able to make quick work of evolving her “modern macabre” style with a dash of retro femininity. From the building’s bones to Abby’s eclectic taste, there were a lot of details to uphold, but we kept an eye on staying sophisticated without sacrificing functionality. She does live in a New York apartment, after all. One has to maximize.

My concept was to frame and highlight existing architecture, which we did with dark-gray painted walls and graphic wallpaper. These elements would create a backdrop for all of the new and vintage modern furnishings and art. We had to consider the scale of the furniture, different finishes, and balancing statement paint choices with decorative accessories. It took a bit of chemistry, a lot of patience, and more know-how I’ll tell you all about ahead. In the end, Abby ended up with a customized Brooklyn dwelling that melds its historic roots with her creative aesthetic. Her cats like it, too.

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1.  Take cues from your personal style.

In this room, I was able to layer different elements of Abby’s style — modern with a dark, subcultural twist.
Dark-gray paint cozies up the place while the copper pendant modernizes it. The masks over the mirror and the art in the shelves are quirky bits that scream Abby. I mounted industrial library sconces over the bookshelves for that retro feel.

Tom Dixon Copper Shade Pendant, $425, available at Ylighting.

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2.  Always have a one-off.
This stool adds playful pattern and texture to the dining area. And, since it is backless, it maintains the open layout of the space.

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3.  Turn your bookshelf into a feature wall.
The built-in bookshelf was our one big construction detail of the project. It serves as the obvious storage solution and it’s a decorative showcase, too. Organizing your books by color creates a fun, patchwork wall — and it’s so easy. Also, by switching up your groups of tomes from rows to stacks you provide visual interest while creating small platforms for your random tchotchkes.

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4.  Creepy can be cool.
Abby is really into taxidermy. And, although it isn’t for everyone, it’s a decorative feature that works in any space. After passing on a wall-hung wild turkey, we settled on some colorful pheasants from Holler and Squall.

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5.  Define space, the decorative way.
Dividing a room into two functional spaces can be tricky. We used an oversized rug to delineate the living room space, while the large copper pendant anchors the dining area.

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6.  Create random groupings.
The client had a vast collection of small pieces of art varying in style and subject. It lent itself perfectly to being clustered on the wall — which also helped provide alignment for the sofa. We used a set of skeleton plates to tie the framed selections together.

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7.  Try a different coffee table.
Instead of one coffee table, we used two small bunching tables made of spaced-out wire and smoky glass to maintain visual openness without compromising size or function.

Restoration Hardware Savoy Upholstered Sofa, $1865, available at Restoration Hardware;Crate & Barrel Lucida Side Table, $229, available at Crate & Barrel; Blu Dot Scamp Medium Table, $399, available at Blu Dot.

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8.  Use see-through surfaces for maximum visibility.
The transparency of the table tops set the stage for interesting objets and allow the graphic rug to stand out. Plus, this lends an airy feel to even the most cramped of quarters.

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9.  Trade plain walls for lively wallpaper.

A strong pattern is a great substitute for filling your walls with art. I like going with high-contrast palates, as I do with paint. The two organic patterns I chose create a whimsical backdrop throughout the apartment.

Cavern Paleolith Wallpaper, $155, available atCavern.

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10.  Honor a meaningful piece.
Using an old portrait of Abby’s father, and a hand-me down cabinet, we were able to create a really interesting bar nook. We added a new drinks tray and floor lamp for height and shine.

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11. You can bleach your bathroom — go all white!
All-white tiles and bathroom fixtures are classic, and when you add natural light and greenery you have the essence of purity.

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12.  Try a bathroom garden.
Adding a variety of green plants to this light-filled room brings a touch of nature and freshness. Plus, the steam from the shower is like a self-watering system for not-so-thirsty succulents.

Urbio Big Happy Family, $175, available atUrbio.

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13.  Create mini scenes.
Abby’s pretty funny, so I matched that trait with whimsical accessories she could play around with to keep the humor going.

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14.  It’s okay to mix and match.
The bedroom holds the most traditional elements in the apartment: that molding and the stained-glass window. To bring a modern and organic twist I added two clean, white nightstands with patchwork wood drawers and topped them off with industrial-feeling brass sconces.

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15.  Personalize your bedside table.
A trio of personal photos in a mix of brass and painted-white frames seamlessly connect the old time-y sconces to the updated furniture.

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16.  Door space is fair game.
We used the back of Abby’s door as real estate for her many (but never too many) black bags.

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17.  Try small pieces with big impact.

The rough-hewn wood-slab side table and sliver jewelry tree keep Abby’s things organized, yet playful looking. Each one’s got an earthy vibe and together, with the potted cactus and crystal, the display is almost boutique-like.

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18.  Turn big pieces into stations.
A standing mirror is also a holding spot for final touches, so she can try, look, and go.

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19.  Clean lines, clean look.
To keep the look relaxed and sophisticated, we stuck to white, textured bedding.

20.  In a room of neutrals, go for one rich color.
I kept the palette basic but bold with high-contrasting neutrals, usually grays and whites. Neutrals are timeless and pack a lot of punch when applied strategically. This mustard sofa really adds dimension.

YLiving Masters Chair, $300, available atYLiving; Eskayel Akimbo 5, $275, available atEskayel; Rugs USA Moroccan Diamond Shag Grey Rug, $163, available at Rugs USA; CB2Geometry Nesting Tables, $329, available atCB2.

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21.  Add personality with pillows.
The patterns on the throw pillows compliment the graphic wallpaper while also helping the sofa blend into the rest of the gray-and-white decor.

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22.  Why can’t tables be pedestals?
These nesting marble tables are more playful than most due to the varying shapes and sizes of each top. Setting the tables in an overlapping arrangement adds depth and creates the perfect platform for a vignettes of plants and collectibles.

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23.  Happy client, ecstatic designer.
Abbey and I relax in her “new” place.

West Elm Linen Cotton Grommet Curtain, $59, available at West Elm.

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