The Renovations That Will Pay Off the Most for Your Home in 2017

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New year, new home improvement projects? Whether you’re dying to update your kitchen, add a half-bath, or kick back on a brand-new deck, it pays off big-time knowing just what kind of return on investment your dream renovation might deliver. And you’re in luck, because Remodeling magazine has just released its annual Cost vs. Value report, which analyzes what you’ll pay for various upgrades—and how much you’ll recoup on that investment when you sell your home.

For this much-read report (which, by the way, is celebrating its 30th anniversary), researchers scrutinized 29 popular home improvements in 99 markets nationwide, polling contractors on how much they charge for these jobs as well as real estate agents on how much they think these features boost a home’s market price. From there, they divided each project’s upfront cost by the home’s resale value; the resulting percentage gives you a sense of how well each particular reno “investment” pays off.

There wasn’t a lot of change between the 2017 report and its 2016 predecessor, with most projects retaining their value.

But what is noteworthy is that the value of pricier projects rose significantly over last year, says Craig Webb, editor of Remodeling. He believes this indicates that the housing market is healthier and more bullish than ever.

“When the market is hot, Realtors® are more likely to give value to more expensive renovation projects, because they expect that the market will stay hot and people will pay the price,” he explains. “When the market is cool, Realtors tend to put less value on those big-dollar projects, because they have concerns about whether the house will get sold in any state.”

Still, the perennial chart toppers for ROI are the cheapest to pull off. This year (as last), the No.1 finisher was installing loose-fill fiberglass insulation in the attic. Not exactly sexy, but boy, is it cost-effective! In fact, this is the only project that regularly pays back more than you invest, with an average 107.7% ROI.

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This pink insulation won’t put you in the red.DonNichols/iStock

Next up is replacing a run-of-the-mill entry door with an attractive yet tough steel replacement at 90.7%, followed by manufactured stone veneer at 89.4%. Glamorous, no. Valuable, very.

Yet homeowners all need to come to grips with the fact that most renovations won’t pay them back in full. On average, in 2017, you can expect to get back 64% on every dollar you plow into home improvements (same as last year).

Plus, your returns will vary widely by project—and sorry to bring your expectations down another notch, but the payoff on big, alluring, “HGTV-ready” renovations isn’t so great. Adding a bathroom, for instance, will bring only a 53.9% ROI when you sell; a master suite, 64.8%.

Top renovation trends nationwide
Remodeling’s report also points to broader renovation trends that seem to be catching on nationwide. One definitely worth watching is energy efficiency—including simple jobs like adding insulation.

“We added [the category of] attic insulation only last year, and we were surprised at how well it did,” Webb says. Similar projects are installing better-insulated windows and doors.

One new category this year speaks to another hot trend: universal design, which ensures that a home’s features can be used just as easily by the elderly and disabled as anyone else. That means things like grip bars in showers, lever-style doorknobs, and wider, wheelchair-friendly doors. A universally designed bathroom, for instance, reaps a respectable 68.4% ROI.

“This is the first year we’ve included universal design, and it’s truly a rising category,” says Webb. “It’s based on a growing desire to age in place and a greater awareness of people with disabilities.”

Last but not least, the 2017 data suggest that “curb appeal” projects (such as new doors and exterior siding) generate higher returns than improvements done on a home’s interior. In other words, it really isn’t what’s on the inside that counts. If you’re trying to sell, pretty up the outside and it’ll pay off in spades.

How to decide if you need to renovate

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Fancy new garage doors could be a good investment depending on where you live.hikesterson/iStock

So if you’re now sitting there scratching your head wondering which upgrades to make, take a step back and ask yourself this question first: How long do you plan to live in your home?

“If you see yourself keeping the house for at least five years, you shouldn’t worry about value at all,” Webb says. The reason: Housing trends and fads can change dramatically in this amount of time, so what’s hot today could be passé all too soon. So if you plan to stay put, renovate however will make you happy, period.

If, on the other hand, you’re planning to sell in less than five years, “then looking at the return makes sense,” says Webb. Just keep in mind that tastes vary widely by location, so it’s important to pinpoint what’s hot in your area (which is why Remodeling breaks down its data into nine U.S. regions). For instance, composite decks may be big in the Midwest, whereas the South is gaga over new garage doors. As Webb points out, “Every one of the 29 projects had at least one market where the payback was over 100%. So every project got love somewhere.”

Check out this chart below to get a sense of how much various midlevel renovations will cost, and pay you back down the road.

 

4 Ways to Survive Future Real Estate Market Crashes

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BY LARRY ALTON

The real estate market may be very healthy compared to what it was five years ago, but that doesn’t mean we’re in some sort of eternal bliss. There will be rough patches ahead — and likely a couple more crashes in your lifetime — but how can you as an investor safeguard yourself against them?

4 Ways to Protect Yourself

“Historically, economic activity rises and falls in marked business cycles,” senior market strategist Susan Green explains. “Periods of recession appear and recede approximately every 5-10 years.” Thus, it’s reasonable to expect that we’ll encounter some economic issues in the next few years. They may not be as dramatic as what happened in 2008, but reverberations will likely be felt in the real estate market.

Luckily, there are a few ways you can protect yourself.

1. Buy properties that rent below the median.

You have to think one step ahead of the market. While it’s a good rule of thumb to have the best property on the street, you don’t want to be stuck charging a rent that’s higher than the median in the area. This may be fine during times when the market is healthy, but you’ll get swallowed up when the market falters.

People still need a place to live in a down market, but they’re naturally going to gravitate towards what they can afford. By purchasing properties that rent below the median, you can maintain steady occupancy rates, regardless of what’s happening in the larger economy.

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2. Be the best landlord possible.

It pays to be a good person. When you’re a likeable landlord who works with people, deals with maintenance issues in a swift manner, and charges affordable rent, people are more likely to stick with you when the market turns.

Related: How to Make Money in Real Estate — Whether You’re in an Up OR Down Market

On the contrary, if you’re a jerk and tenants are just renting from you because you were the only option at the time, they’re going to bolt the moment they can. Focus on building a strong reputation now so that you’re better equipped to survive a potential crash.

3. Be realistic with cash flow numbers.

When purchasing a new property, it doesn’t do anyone any favors to plug in vague numbers to determine monthly cash flow. Be conservative and honest.

“You should sit down at the computer, open a spreadsheet, and factor in all your expenses,” real estate investor Jason Hanson says. “What is insurance going to cost? Is there an HOA fee on the house? Are you getting a home warranty? You want to know down to the penny what your cash flow will be on a property.”

When the market does eventually take a downturn and rental rates decrease, you’ll at least know that you have some play in your numbers. On the other hand, if you were liberal with your computations, you’ll find yourself underwater in very little time.

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4. Pay down mortgages when possible.

There’s always the question of whether it makes more sense to pay down on an existing mortgage or put that money into a new piece of real estate. While there are schools of thought that apply to both, consider paying down rental property mortgages when you can. This gives you some leverage if the market crashes and you have difficulty making payments.

Related: The Best and Worst Markets for Residential Real Estate Investors, 2016

 

Never Put All of Your Eggs in the Same Basket

At the end of the day, financial diversification is your friend. Real estate may be one of the more stable and appreciation-friendly investments you can make, but don’t put everything you have into real estate. Spread yourself out a bit and diversify as much as possible. This mitigates your risk and provides more tolerance in a down market.

Applying for a Mortgage Loan? Do These 3 Things Ahead of Time.

BY MARK FITZPATRICK

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There’s no question that applying for a home loan can be a paperwork intensive process. If you’re in the market to refinance or purchase a 1-4 unit residential property in the near future, the following are some good things to do ahead of time to help streamline and speed up the loan application process.

1. Run your credit.

Credit plays a big role in qualifying for a home loan, so it’s important to check your credit report before you apply to make sure there aren’t any mistakes or inaccuracies that could hinder your chances of getting the loan.

You can obtain a copy of your credit report for free once a year from AnnualCreditReport.com.

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2. Pull together a “real estate owned” spreadsheet.

If you own multiple properties, it will greatly streamline the loan application process if you pull together a spreadsheet ahead of time with the following information about the various properties you own:

  • Property address
  • Type of property (single-family, multi-unit, condo, etc.)
  • Disposition (rented, pending sale, or sold already)
  • Loan balance
  • Estimated market value
  • Gross monthly rent
  • Principal and interest mortgage payment
  • Annual taxes and insurance
  • Monthly mortgage insurance or HOA payment if applicable
  • Loan number and lender (for matching it up to your credit report)

This information is required on the standard 1003 loan application, and your loan consultant will need to match properties to loans on your credit report. Putting this together ahead of time will save you and your loan consultant time and will help streamline the application process.

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3. Gather up qualifying documentation.

Yes, there is a lot of paperwork that goes into a home loan. And yes, it can be kind of a pain to pull it all together. That’s why I recommend assembling it ahead of time and keeping it in a file you can grab quickly if you’re going to be applying for a loan in the near future.

The following is what a lender will generally need from you to get the ball rolling on a new loan:

  • Full tax returns for the last two years for all borrowers
  • Last two years W2s (if applicable)
  • Most recent month’s worth of pay stubs (if applicable)
  • Last two months’ worth of statements for asset accounts (if the loan you’re applying for is for an investment property, the lender will need to document adequate reserves)
  • Recent mortgage statement for all properties you own (to verify the payment amounts)
  • First page of homeowner’s insurance policy (if a refinance) or contact information for the insurance company (if a purchase)
  • Purchase agreement and real estate agent contact information (if a purchase)

Additional documentation may be requested depending on your situation and qualifications, but this is typically the minimum needed.

If your tax returns are complex and you don’t have them pulled together in one place already, a good way to save yourself time is to have your loan consultant work directly with your accountant to get the needed documentation.

10 Beautiful Kitchens with Dark Hardwood Floors

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Hardwood is one of the best types of flooring that you can choose for your kitchen. It instantly lends kitchens classic beauty, warmth, and an upscale flair, plus it never goes out of style. Dark hardwood flooring has the potential to have a huge design impact and it will wear well throughout the years — if you have kids or pets, you’ll be thankful to have it. Those who cook or bake often will also find hardwood invaluable when it comes time to clean.

Though there are numerous benefits to going with dark hardwood floors in the kitchen, many homeowners steer away from it because of the perceived design troubles that will follow. Will you have to get dark cabinets to match? Will going too dark with the flooring overwhelm the space? The answer to both questions is “no”, as this type of flooring looks great in kitchens of all sizes and styles. Here are ten beautiful kitchens with dark hardwood floors that will make you want to upgrade your kitchen.

1. Modern farmhouse style

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The finish on the flooring in this kitchen is the perfect match for its laid back, relaxed modern farmhouse style. A varied tile backsplash and white cabinets were chosen to pair with the flooring, and overhead exposed beams featuring dark wood mirror what’s below. Pops of color placed throughout the space keep things interesting and cheery, and the metallic light fixtures in the center of the kitchen are the perfect touch.

2. A grand island

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The only thing more noticeable than the gorgeous dark hardwood floors in this kitchen is the massive island near the middle of it. This would be a dream for anyone who thinks they currently lack counter space, and the many storage nooks and drawers integrated into it provide ultimate convenience. Elsewhere in the room are cabinets that match the style of the island, stainless steel appliances, and white subway tiles.

3. A striking pair

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A bold floor can handle a bold area rug, such as this huge Aztec inspired one. The floor underneath it features a very dark stain, as do the open shelves near the kitchen sink. It was a good idea to choose white cabinets to balance out the color of the flooring, and adding in the area rug was even more brilliant. It’s so lively and vibrant that little else in the way of decoration is needed in this kitchen.

4. Simply chic

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If you like classic, timeless designs that are simple and elegant, you can’t go wrong by choosing dark hardwood floors for your kitchen. As this space shows, it’s the perfect complement for traditional decor. A farmhouse style sink, white cabinetry with clean lines, and gorgeous marble and tile work together to create a kitchen that’s not only attractive but inviting. A few well placed floral arrangements complete the look.

5. Contemporary flair

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Even contemporary kitchens can look amazing with dark hardwood floors, and this one takes it a step further by including cabinets that are dark as well. It’s a daring move that pays off in terms of style. Another standout feature of this kitchen is its coat of rich orange paint, which beautifully complements the tone of the wood. Stainless steel appliances and a large piece of art work tie everything together and keep the design fresh.

6. The perfect mix

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If you can’t decide between whether to go with light or dark cabinets after getting dark hardwood floors, why not choose both? This stunning kitchen has an island with dark cabinets that matches the tone of the wood as well as white ones. The interesting detail is the tops of the cabinetry: the white cabinets feature dark tops while the dark island has a white top. The look is incredibly well balanced and the other fixtures and finishes throughout the space give the kitchen even more style.

7. Casual and relaxed

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The warmth of dark hardwood floors is what makes them so suitable for kitchens with a casual and relaxed vibe. This design is very stylish and trendy, but it’s also a welcoming space that anyone would feel comfortable being in. The tones of the floors, table, and bar stools work well together, and they’re complemented by the style of the light fixtures in the space. Not only does this design look gorgeous, the kitchen is very well organized to make cooking, entertaining, and socializing a breeze.

8. Open and bright

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The floors in this kitchen are quite dark, but it’s a stunning contrast to the gleaming stainless steel, white cabinets, and marble seen elsewhere in the space. A coat of light beige paint and ample sunlight streaming in through the windows allow the kitchen to feel spacious and airy. Vibrant accents in turquoise and shades of green also brighten up the room.

9. Simply well done

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You don’t need a huge kitchen to have dark hardwood floors or to obtain a beautiful look. This kitchen is rather compact, but it’s still well organized, chic, and dripping in style. Its clean look is part of what makes this design so notable, as was the choice to go with slate lower cabinets to contrast with the wood flooring. The upper cabinets are white, but they have slate colored shelves to tie the look together.

If your kitchen is modestly sized, follow the example set in this design and keep it simple on your counters and with your decor. Too much decor will overwhelm the space and look cluttered, but a carefully curated selection of accessories will look fantastic.

10. Beautiful marble

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Marble pairs exceptionally well with dark hardwood floors, as this design shows. The counters and backsplash are a beautiful marble, while the floors have a deep and rich stain. The contemporary space gets a boost from plenty of color placed throughout the room in the form of pottery, and an area rug near the sink adds another element of visual interest. Choosing natural window treatments helped the kitchen look more modern and balanced.

How to Create a Warm, Inviting Winter Listing

By Patti Stern, PJ & Company Staging and Interior Decorating

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A Welcoming Curb Appeal

Maintain a polished look by keeping gutters clean and shrubs trimmed. Be sure to also remove any hazards by shoveling, sanding, and removing any ice or snow from the driveway, walkways, and sidewalks. To engage buyers on a gloomy day, keep the front porch well lit, use potted evergreens or berry branches, a wreath on the door, lanterns, and a seasonal welcome mat.

Simple and Elegant Holiday Decor

Do not overdo! Buyers want to see the home’s permanent features and a fireplace or window covered with too many ribbons and stockings will distract from key focal points. Instead, incorporate elegant finishing touches such as mercury glass votives and ornaments for some sparkle paired with candles, pine cones, berries and twigs.

Create Warmth With Lighting

Use modest lighting as an accent to create an inviting ambience. Scatter a few lightly scented tea lights in votives, candles in varying heights on beautiful pillars or lanterns and soft white string lights on the front porch, entry stairway or fireplace.

Splashes of Minimal Color

Too much traditional green and red can compete with existing decor and command a room’s attention. A couple of red plaid throw pillows or a red wool blanket draped on the sofa will add just enough festive pop. We also love using silver and gold paired with fresh, white seasonal flowers to complement freshly painted neutral walls that appeal to nearly all buyers.

Keep It Bright

With shorter days, let in as much natural light as possible by opening blinds and curtains. Make sure that all lights are working, light bulbs have been changed, and be sure that the property is well lit both inside and out for late afternoon showings.

Top 10 Christmas Light Ideas to Brighten Up Your New Home

By Drew Knight

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Looking to add a little extra spirit to your new home this holiday season? Brighten it up with an updated Christmas light experience. And since we’re heading into the year 2017, we all know it could use a little updating.

Whether you’re an experienced Christmas lights fanatic or just getting started as a new homeowner, these top 10 Christmas light ideas can definitely help you up your game this year:

10) Time It Right

The easiest way to update your lighting system this year is to put it on a timer.

At a low price, Walmart sells a three-outlet mechanical timer with multiple settings (light it up for two to eight hours), from dusk till dawn and a daily repeat. Just pick your setting and enjoy the feeling of complete automation.

This one’s almost a must-have, because who wants to go outside in the snow to unplug it all?

9) Rope ‘Em In

Tired of the typical string lights and icicles? Try rope lighting.

Perfect for wrapping around columns, banisters and tree trunks, rope lighting adds a modern appeal to your Christmas lights display.

8) Supersized Decor

From inflatables to Christmas light sculptures, you’ve seen them in all the best holiday displays … but they’re not for everyone.

Some communities have guidelines and restrictions toward how “supersized” and how bright you can actually go, so before your develop a plan, check in with your HOA — and next-door neighbors — to make sure you’re not going overboard.

From a lit llama to an air-blown Yoda Santa, you’re bound to find something that suits your holiday style.

7) Cast a Net

Have a good supply of foliage in your front yard? Instead of lighting it up branch by branch with string lighting, take the easy way out with net lights.

Save time and energy by casting a net over a bush or tree in moments.

6) Brighten Your Path

A Christmas décor staple for many holiday spirit enthusiasts, simple path lighting is an easy way to add character and cheer.

If you have a stretch of sidewalk or driveway in front of your home, light the way with some pathway markers. For example, Lowe’s has plenty of options from candy canes to oversized light bulbs.

5) Raise the Curtain

A rarer treat you don’t see too often is the Christmas light curtain.

Perfect for draping across your front window or from your porch rafters, this light curtain has a whimsical cascading effect.

4) Go Green with LED

With the help of LED lighting, the future is now.

When compared to the bulbs of the past, LED Christmas lights generally have a longer life, carry less risk of electrical fire and are more energy efficient — many even come with Energy Star certifications.

Available in regular style, fairy or dewdrop and even solar power, we highly recommend these mighty lights.

3) Holiday Projections

Rounding out our top three are projector lights, similar to what you’d see at a rock concert or theater.

From star-spangled Laser shows to light and bright snowflake projections, there are plenty of options for upping your production value.

2) Custom Colors

If you really want to get technical, check out Philips Illuminate C9 lights series. This selection of holiday lighting allows you to customize your light show every night with different colors and moods.

With the help of the Illuminate app on a smart phone or tablet, you can browse through colors or create your own, select one of the many preloaded functions (like warm or cool) and even change the speed of these functions.

It’s the perfect way to get your first go at the world of extreme Christmas lighting.

1) Put on a Show

But, if you’re ready to put together a Christmas light display worthy of viral video fame, our No. 1 tip can help you get there.

The Home Depot sells a system to help sync your lights along with your favorite holiday songs. Dubbed the Holiday Brilliant Spectacular Light and Sound Show, this series of products can detect the pulse of music you select and trigger the lights to match the beat.

These products allow you to select your music via Bluetooth from a computer, smartphone or tablet, control it up to 30 feet away and amplify the sound to suit your needs.

Learn how it all works right here. And if you learn it right, we’d love to see a link to your holiday display in the comments.

Happy holidays and may all your Christmases be bright!

Got the Need for Speed? 10 Timely Tricks for Buying a Home in a Hurry

By Jamie Wiebe

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Buying a home can be a mind-numbingly slow process, broken up by periods of confusingly frantic activity. It goes something like this:  Look at a zillion homes before you think you’ve found one. Hurry up and get in your offer … and then wait. Submit a million letters to the underwriter … and then wait. And don’t even get us started on closing. The average time for closing on a loan is 50 days, according to Ellie Mae, and the process can often take even longer.

But sometimes you don’t have the luxury of waiting. Maybe you’re moving from another state and need a place to live now. Or maybe your current home sold significantly faster than expected—and if you don’t find a new place, the deal will die.

Regardless of the reason, if you’ve got the need for speed, real estate transactions can fly through quickly. But you’ve got to have a little luck and a lot of preparation. Here’s what you need to know before kicking off the buying sprint.

1. Pick your Realtor® carefully

The No. 1 secret to purchasing a home super-quickly? Find a Realtor intimately familiar with your preferred area—one who knows which homes are about to hit the market.

“This will give you a head start in finding out if that listing is right for you,” says Adriana Mollica, a Realtor in Beverly Hills, CA.

2. Ask questions early

The home-buying process can be mind-blowingly confusing—especially if you’re a first-time buyer. You shouldn’t feel guilty about peppering your agent with questions, but getting the most important ones resolved early on will expedite the process.

“When you fall in love with a home in a competitive market, you need to be prepared to sign the offer fast and submit it before the deadline,” Mollica says. “There may be some questions you want to ask your lender, lawyer, or accountant. If you wait until the offer to ask these questions, you may miss the deadline.”

3. Get pre-approved (not just pre-qualified)

It’s a good idea to get pre-qualified for a mortgage before starting your house hunt—but a pre-approval is a necessity if you’re eager to close quickly. The two are vastly different beasts: A pre-qualification requires little more than a quick conversation with your lender and perhaps a peek at your credit score.

A pre-approval basically front-loads the entire underwriting process. (Be warned: It might not eliminate all underwriting concerns.)

It “makes your offer look stronger,” Mollica says. “It also minimizes any surprises that may delay or force a cancellation during escrow.”

4. Be narrow-minded

Agents often tell buyers to stay open-minded about homes that don’t fit their wish list precisely. But if you’re in a rush, it’s best to be particular about the homes you see. Just don’t bring a super-long list of attributes you think you need. Define your absolute, must-have features and only look at homes that fit that list.

But first, “consult with your Realtor to determine if your wish list is possible in your area and price range,” says Michael Shaffer, a broker associate with LIV Sotheby’s International Realty in Greenwood Village, CO. If you run out of homes to see that check all your boxes, you may want to review your criteria.

5. Look for slow sellers

Often, the sellers who are most motivated to move quickly are those who haven’t been able to sell their home for a while.

“Ask your Realtor to look into homes that have been on the market for a long time,” Schaffer says. “In some markets, that may be a week or two. In others, it could be a year or more.”

6. Make a strong offer

Now isn’t the time for underbidding—even if you’re convinced that all that ratty wall-to-wall carpeting should lower the asking price.

“Make sure your offer is as strong as possible, with your Realtor’s expertise and guidance,” Schaffer says.

That doesn’t just mean offering a lot of money. You can also offer a larger down payment and more earnest money. And that fast closing date will definitely help. Remember: Sellers who aren’t worried about the buyer backing out are more likely to accept an offer.

7. Be prepared to waive contingencies

When you’re buying a home, it’s standard to throw in some contingencies. (A contingency is a clause in the offer that allows you to walk away from the deal under certain circumstances—with all of your cash in hand.)

But if you’re looking to buy in a hurry, you might have to take a deep breath and bypass some of those bad boys. Just beware: Waiving certain contingencies can spell trouble down the line—and possibly land you in a money pit. Choose your battles—and your concessions—carefully.

8. Have your paperwork in order

Even with a pre-approval—the buying process requires reams of paperwork. Get everything together beforehand: At least three months of bank statements, pay stubs, letters of explanation for any weird or unusual expenses. If your mom’s giving you cash for the down payment, make sure the payment is documented.

When you think you’ve provided enough proof of everything, double it. The more documentation, the better, when you’re trying to buy fast.

“In most cases, things get held up because paperwork and information isn’t readily available,” says Raena Casteel, a Realtor with the Casteel Little Real Estate Group in Tucson, AZ. Even the smallest omission could end up delaying your closing for a week.

9. Write a letter

If you can’t eliminate contingencies or offer more money, and the sellers aren’t moved by a quick closing, consider writing them a personal letter. Tell them about the children you plan on raising in the house, or about your love for the home’s vintage ’20s details.

“Sellers often want the highest price, but oftentimes, offers come in very similar,” Mollica says. “Your letter could be the edge in getting the seller to choose your offer.”

Keep it short—nobody wants to read your autobiography. (Sorry.) One or two paragraphs are all you need to prove your worth.

10. Don’t tell the seller

Beyond writing a quick closing date into your contract, don’t hint to the seller you’re desperate for a home.

“When [buyers need] to buy fast, they are at a disadvantage in a negotiation,” Schaffer says.

10 Ideas for Stunning Holiday Lights

Go all out this year with these techniques to light up your house and garden for the holiday season

By Lauren Dunec Hoang

As anyone who has untangled a snarled string of lights or come up 5 feet short on the roofline can attest, the process of hanging holiday lights is more complicated than it looks. A satisfying result depends both on having the right products on hand as well as proper installation. Let us help take the guesswork out of your holiday light setup this year with tips from lighting professionals, including tricks for hiding cords, the best lights for tree-wrapping and how to evenly hang lights along the eaves of your home.

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1. Wrap shrubs: Adding just a few lights to the landscape can make a big difference in making the garden an inviting place to walk through or gaze at. In this walled garden in Manchester, England, a pair of clipped shrubs wrapped with white lights makes a lovely entrance to a garden room.

Get the look: To evenly cover outdoor shrubs, pick up “net lights,” which have bulbs distributed over a square or rectangular lattice of cords. Energy-efficient LED net lights often have a more true-white or bluish-white color than those with incandescent bulbs. Read the packaging to be sure the netting is large enough to wrap all the way around your shrubs.

 

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2. Deck out your front porch. This front porch in Atlanta — done up with festive garlands, strings of lights and a Santa figurine — looks lavishly festive without being overwhelming.

Get the look: Concentrating outdoor decorations in a single area, such as the entryway or a garden bed, can be a great way to go all out with holiday exuberance without turning your front yard into Disneyland.

 3. Showcase trees. Gardens this time of year are primarily quiet. Highlight the branch structure of deciduous trees by wrapping the trunk and individual branches with white lights. Choose a single tree as a specimen, or illuminate a cluster of trees for greater impact.

Pro tip: To get the professional look in this photo, Ryan Morici of Heritage Oaks Landscaping recommends swapping regular holiday lights for LED mini lights to save on power consumption. “The LED lights allow you to use many more lights per circuit versus the incandescent lights,” Morici says.

4. Line a pathway with luminarias. Welcome guests this year with an enchanting walkway lined with glowing luminarias.

Get the look: You can purchase luminarias or make your own with paper bags weighted with a handful of sand at the bottom. If you’re thinking of a large display, gather some helpers to place tea lights in each one — or use battery-powered candles — and light just before guests arrive.

5. Hang snowflakes. Trade traditional string lights for a set with glittering snowflakes. Hang them where they have room to stand out, such as just below the eaves or along large branches of a tree in the front yard.

6. Illuminate potted branches. You may not have small trees or shrubs to wrap with lights along driveways or paved entryways. But you can light up container plantings instead.

Get the look: Pick up branches from the backyard or a florist, and set them upright in containers filled with sand or gravel. Wrap the branches with lights of your choosing, and use conifer trimmings to hide the plugs and containers.

7. Add magic to snowy landscapes. Lights twinkling like tiny stars hovering over a snowy garden are just about as magical as it gets. To mimic stars overhead, wrap branches that overhang garden walkways or beds to create a softly lit canopy.

8. Light up a treehouse. As if a backyard treehouse weren’t magical enough, this one is fully decked out for Christmas. A Houzz favorite for the past few years — with good reason — the treehouse was built by a Dallas couple, with the help of an architect, to give their grandchildren a place for imaginative play.

A Magical Tree House Lights Up for Christmas

10. Outline the eaves of your home. Perhaps the most classic style, perimeter lighting along a home’s eaves and roofline creates an inviting arrival. Pelham McMurry from Light Up Nashville shares these tips for getting a professional look at home:

  • Upgrade your lights. “Even the most expensive sets of LED lights at box stores are cheap-quality,” McMurry says. “Commercial-grade LED lights purchased from specialty retailers is the way to go if you don’t want to repurchase your lights year after year. Quality lights cost more, but in the long run, you’ll save time, frustration and money by not having to repurchase every year.” To get those perfectly straight lines, where every bulb seems exactly aligned with the next one, attach lights to your trim with commercial-grade clips.
  • Consider a professional. “There are many reasons to hire a professional to install your holiday lightings, but maybe the most important is safety,” McMurry says. To avoid the risk of falling from a ladder or slipping on an icy roof, consider hiring a local lighting professional.

Kitchen Design Tips: Choosing Durable Floors

By Bethany Jenkins

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The holidays seem to be coming faster and faster each year. If you’re like us, you feel like you just get your decorations up and it’s time to take them down again. It can be a lot of work and take a fair amount of time, and time seems to be our most precious resource these days.  So why not skip the separate Thanksgiving and Christmas tables and make a blended holiday table that works for both? That’s what we’ve decided to do this year.

Decorating the Holiday Table

A great way to start is to keep the table runner and other table linens neutral. That is not to say they have to be boring though. We’ve picked a table runner that had a little bling in it for this year’s look. At only $18, you can never go wrong with a neutral color that has a little sparkle to it. Next, we’ve picked placemats and napkin rings that have a sort of luminescent sheen to them that says, “I could be silver or I could be gold.” We looked for a pearl color but found these to be even better.

Bring in a Bit of Rustic

With all of the bling and sheen, we needed a touch of rustic to tone it down. So we brought in some gourds and rustic candles to bring it down a notch.  The gourds also serve another purpose for us–they look more like Thanksgiving than Christmas. So, when we are done with Thanksgiving dinner, all we have to do is toss these and bring in our next favorite live decoration, one that looks more like Christmas. These could be holly, cranberries, or even some small white pumpkins. These are best found at your local grocery store or craft store.  If you prefer an even more rustic look, you could line a bowl or tray in brown paper and fill it with red pomegranates like the ones shown here. We love the addition of a live decoration. Not only for the nice look, but live decorations also tend to be inexpensive and don’t have to be stored for next year. Yay!

Fill in with Snacks and Sweets

Now this part is entirely optional and doesn’t work for everyone, but we LOVE it. There’s nothing nicer than sharing yum-yums at the holidays, and having candy out as a decoration is one of the easiest ways to do that. Especially if your family is in and out at various times, just tell them that the candy on the table is for them to enjoy and share. Even no one eats them until the actual holiday, they will look great and very inviting on the table.  Unlike the store display, your table will look like it’s for real people.

The Finishing Touches for Decorating your Table

The final touch for us is the lighting. The battery-operated twinkle lights, or fairy lights as they are sometimes called, are just too much fun on the holiday table.  Especially when you have glass plates and other reflective surfaces, the lights seem to pick up everything that is fun about the table and project it to anyone standing nearby.

Decorating the holiday table is a very personal endeavor. Just like good design in any form, it is highly personal. Here at Jenkins Design+Build, we spend our days thinking about ways to design each home’s details in ways that are personal to the individual homeowner. We do our best to listen well and understand each homeowner’s personal style in order to them in every detail.  In the words of Eero Saarinen (who designed the famous St. Louis Arch), the best designs are “the shapes that the ‘creators’ best relate to and thrive in”.  To see a sample of what we’ve been designing lately, check out our What’s in Design section here on our website.

From our team to your family, we wish you ‘happy decorating’ and hope your table turns out just the way you like it.  More importantly, we wish you and yours Happy Holidays during this special season!

Experts Share the Most Creative, Thoughtful and Unexpected Host or Hostess Gifts

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Nobody wants to walk into a party empty-handed. And yet, equally as dreadful is the idea of being the umpteenth person to hand a bottle of wine to your creative and generous host.

Well, I guess it’s not the worst thing in the world to have too much of…

But what if, instead of wine, you had a different gift in your arsenal—one that was equal parts crowd-pleasing and unexpected—to hand off to your host or hostess? Wouldn’t you go for that unicorn every time? Me too. That’s why I called in the experts.

These 13 party people dished about the things that, as a host, they’re always jazzed to get. Their ideas range from simple to sensational, so you’ll have the perfect gift for your next invite, whether it’s a simple get-together or a blow-out bash. Read on, take notes, and be the favorite guest at your next party.

joy-cho

“I like giving people something that’s small yet useful that goes     beyond just that night—like a salt cellar with great salt, a succulent plant in a fun vessel, or a vase filled with local flowers.”

— Joy Cho, Oh Joy!

 

chantal-aida-gordon

“One year I was stressing over a holiday punch in the middle of a party, and moments after I realized we’d run out of lemons, a new, invited-on-a-whim acquaintance walks in and hands me a lovely glass jar of fresh-squeezed lemon juice wrapped with a bow from the farmers market.”

— Chantal Aida Gordon, The Horticult

    kate-arends

Maldon Salt. If they’ve used it before, they’ll love you for bringing them an extra box. If they haven’t used it before, they’ll thank you for the introduction.”

— Kate Arends, Wit & Delight

    sarah-ashley-schiear

“A great bottle of olive oil, used for that last-minute drizzle that takes so many dishes to the next level. This is my favorite.”

— Sarah Ashley Schiear, Salt House Market

jordan-ferney

“My husband is an artist so I always make him do a little sketch of someone’s dog or child. It’s a special little gesture.”

— Jordan Ferney, Oh Happy Day!

mandy-kellogg-rye

“While you can never really go wrong with a great bottle of wine, or even a candle, there are a few classic moves I like to pull. I love gifting something personalized or homemade, whether that’s a set of monogrammed tea towels or napkins, a high end local line of preserves and jams, or my personal favorite: a preserved boxwood or magnolia tree in a gorgeous planter to be potted  later.”

                              — Mandy Kellogg Rye, Waiting on Martha

camille-styles

“A loaf of homemade zucchini bread with a jar of jam from the farmer’s market.”

— Camille Styles, CamilleStyles.com

    danny-seo

“A great bottle of olive oil, used for that last-minute drizzle that takes so many dishes to the next level. This is my favorite.”

— Danny Seo, Naturally, Danny Seo

holly-becker

“Something handmade and personal. I love when a hostess gives me a little tin of homemade cookies or a mini loaf of bread or some homemade jam. These personal handmade things make me feel so loved and happy. Plus I love sampling what other people make.”

— Holly Becker, Decor8

roxy-te

“A champagne corksafe. It’s a great keepsake and makes for a unique hostess gift when paired with a favorite spirit.”

— Roxy Te, Society Social

lauren-conrad

“Sweets! It’s nice to bring the hostess some candies or baked goods for them to enjoy later.”

— Lauren Conrad, The Little Market

    michiel-perry

“My favorite candy or a set of stationery. I have a huge sweet tooth so candy will always make me happy, especially anything with caramel. And stationery is one of those required essentials, especially for a southern hostess. If they get it from Papyrus I am event happier.”

— Michiel Perry, Black Southern Belle

ashley-rose

“Not that it’s necessarily unexpected, but I always love receiving candles!”

— Ashley Rose, Sugar & Cloth