Month: March 2016

7 Ways to Avoid an Awkward Project Question: How Much Will It Cost?


Nick & Julia’s Modern Family Home

It’s almost inevitable that when you’re discussing a project—be it a remodel, a new build, an extension, or even a coat of paint—someone will ask what it costs. Whether it’s family, friends, neighbors, or colleagues, you can bet there will be someone who won’t mind asking what you’ve tried to keep quiet. I wasn’t ready for the question of cost—or at least hadn’t thought about it enough to be prepared with an answer I was comfortable with—so when my neighbor asked what our extension was likely to cost, I panicked, and in lieu of a better response, I told the truth. And I wish I hadn’t. Are there better responses than the awful truth?

1. The Personal Ethos

“Oh no, we never discuss finances in polite company.” Polite by definition, this option also emphasizes the point that some people consider it poor manners to discuss money. This could be the preferred option if you don’t mind appearing a bit stuffy.

2. The Quid Pro Quo

“I don’t mind sharing if you tell me where you found that lovely winter coat.” As long as you don’t mind eventually giving up your budget secrets, this would be a great way to get some answers yourself.

3. The Almost-Truth
“We’re still ironing out some details,” or “We’re still accepting quotes.” Technically true, though your understanding of the budget is probably a lot better than you let on. You could low-ball some estimates here to make them feel like you’ve not avoided the question, though this has the potential of causing distress if they express shock at even the lower price.

4. The House Policy
Includes answers like “We’ve decided on a house policy of not talking about the cost until it’s done.” Hint: then you can always change the policy.

5. The Game Master
“I’ll tell you if you can get within $500 (or any amount of your choosing) in three guesses.” Playful, yet non-committal. You make the rules and hold all the cards. The reality is if you still don’t feel comfortable giving it up, you never have to admit they were right.

6. The White Lie
It’s not advisable to out-and-out lie about the cost, but bending the truth a little to save some embarrassment could be an option. “My spouse/partner/financial adviser would prefer I didn’t answer,” or “I’ve no idea, we let the project manager handle that side of things.” This is a fine option if you don’t mind feeling somewhat disempowered and/or appearing a bit superior, as the case may be.

7. The Challenge
“Why do you want to know?” This doesn’t have to be confrontational; it can instead open up a dialogue about their own thoughts and ideas. There is a possibility that this can cause some awkwardness or embarrassment on their part, but perhaps shining a light on the confrontational nature of the question is a good result.

Whatever you decide to spend on your next project, it’s wise to remember that we spend for many reasons and often when we spend on our homes, it’s not important what we put in (the cash) but what we gain from the investment. If you’re certain that the end result will bring you and your loved ones joy, beauty, and a special place in your home, then it isn’t important what anyone else thinks or believes about your choices.

Have you found more elegant ways to answer the question of costs when discussing your projects with friends, frenemies, and family?

(Image credits: Marie-Lyne Quirion)

5 Compromises Worth Making When Buying a Home



Home buyers often start their search with a long list of must-haves … only to find they need to whittle it way down once they see what’s within reach. Unless you’re a bazillionaire, it’s impossible to check all those boxes on the wish list. So, how do buyers decide what pieces of their dream (home) they’re willing to hack off?

Imagine a triangle with price, location, and size/style/upgrades at each point. In most cases, you will have to be ready to give up on one of those three, says Dana Gonzalez, a Realtor® in Denville, NJ. “Expect to compromise. If you get 80% of what you want, you’re lucky.”

We asked experts to name some common concessions and offer words of wisdom—or warning—on how those trade-offs can play out.

Compromise No. 1: Location

It’s one of the first thing agents say their clients are willing to budge on.

“While they might want to find a home that is within walking distance to the downtown area with shops, restaurants, and public transportation, buyers do not want to compromise on their living space,” says Suzy Minken, a Realtor in Short Hills, NJ. “After all, they live in the home. Sometimes these homes are too small to fit their lifestyle needs, or the larger in-town homes are simply above their price range. So the dream of a walk-to-town location very often will get removed from a buyer’s must-have list.”

Compromise No. 2: Square footage

But not everyone is adamant about doing everything they can to keep from downsizing. After all, if you’re willing to skip that guest room, playroom, or dining room, you may be able to stay within your budget and live in a nicer neighborhood, points out Daniel Blatman, a Realtor in Manhattan, NY.

“Sometimes the reward is not paying long term for family and friends to be able to stay in your home,” he says. So, if you’re hoping to discourage the in-laws from spending three weeks with you each summer, this compromise could work out for the best!

But, real estate agents warn, if your space needs might grow in the near future—say, if your family is expanding—you might want to think twice before moving into a tight squeeze.

Compromise No. 3: Yard size

Plenty of buyers fantasize about landscaping a sweeping garden, or at least having an outdoor pool or hot tub—until they see what they have to shell out (or give up) to get it.

“When it comes to describing their dream home, buyers frequently say they want a large backyard,” Minken explains. “After seeing lots of places, however, buyers realize that the size of the backyard is not as important as the spaciousness of the interior of the home.

“When I ask my home buyers to qualify what they mean by a ‘large’ backyard, the answer is almost universally the same: ‘large enough to fit a swingset.’” And that’s not exactly football field-size. “So that means they have more homes to choose from, especially when inventory is low.” 

That said, house hunters are more stubborn when it comes to the terrain itself.

“They prefer a flat backyard to enjoy with their family and friends,” Minken says.

Compromise No. 4: Awesome garage

“For the first-time home buyers who are moving from an urban area to the suburbs, it often comes as a surprise that not all homes have a two-car garage,” Minken says. “Older homes, built in the early 1920s and 1930s frequently do not. While there are homes that do not have a garage at all—and these homes are a much harder sell—buyers will compromise and buy a home that has a one-car garage if the home meets the other items on their must-have list.”

Buyers are often flexible on the type of garage as well. Some garages are detached, which means that buyers can’t enter directly into the home from the garage—helpful during inclement weather. And some single-car garages are attached to the house, but—surprise—there is no entry from the garage into the house.

Compromise No. 5: Specific architecture

So, you’ve always pictured yourself in a Craftsman bungalow, until you saw the asking price. If you suddenly find yourself smitten with a Cape Cod, it’s OK; you’re not alone.

“Whether it be the architectural style of the house or type of kitchen counters​, those things are one of the first things mentioned when clients tell me what they want,” notesAmber Dolle, a Realtor in Sherman Oaks, CA. “But when compromises have to be made and they’ve had time to look at homes for a bit and consider their budget, the home’s aesthetics usually are the thing they choose to overlook.”

9 Easy Kitchen Lighting Upgrades

If there’s one place the worlds of form and function seamlessly meet it’s in the kitchen. And upgrading the lighting is an way to add a fresh dose of style and substance to the space. Even if you don’t have a major kitchen remodel in your future, a simple lighting swap — from adding some architectural track lighting to installing a dramatic chandelier — might be all it takes to upgrade the entire kitchen. Lighting is a lot like painting in that way: it can be an inexpensive, but impressive way to transform the room in a single afternoon.

If your kitchen lighting needs an upgrade, consider these 9 easy ideas:

Custom-Homes-Under-Cabinet-lightingImage: Pillar Custom Homes

Under-Cabinet LED Light Bars

These long, narrow lights are installed directly onto the underside of your cabinetry, making them ideal for illuminating countertops and prep areas. LED light bars come in a wide variety of lengths and they’re linkable, so even long countertops can be fully and evenly illuminated. They can be either hardwired into the wall for a seamless look, or plugged in for easy installation.

Rope-LighitngImage: Cheryl Burke Design

Under-Cabinet Rope Lights

Like LED light bars, rope lights are best used for countertop task lighting. Rope lights are also easy to install: they can be discreetly hung underneath a row of cabinets with a set of rope mounts that screw directly into the cabinetry.

Niki-PapadoupoulousImage: Niki Papadopoulos

Decorative Flush Mount

One of the fastest ways to give a spec kitchen new style is to swap out the standard ceiling fixture for something with a little more personality. A flush-mount fixture with decorative details — like this drum light with geometric cutouts — is a dramatic addition that only requires a few twists of a screwdriver.

Pendant-John-ManiscalcoImage: John Maniscalco

Pendant Lights

If you kitchen has an island or breakfast bar, consider hanging pendant lights above it. Pendant lighting not only adds style to the space, it can also help anchor a kitchen island so it feels more deliberate in an open-concept home.

Puck-Lights-Melissa-Miranda-designImage: Melissa Miranda Design

Puck Lights

Small, disc-like puck lights are easy to install almost anywhere you need added illumination, from under cabinets to inside deep drawers or in dark corners of the pantry. There are hardwired and plug in puck lights, but for the simplest installation opt for battery-operated LED pucks, which can last up to 30,000 hours and can be hung with Velcro.

In-cabinet-lighting-Calvis-Wyant-≈Image: Calvis Wyant

In-cabinet lighting.

Cabinet lighting can be extremely practical for deep or dark cabinets, but added to glass-front cabinetry it adds a cozy, romantic vibe and highlights your best cake stands and wine glasses.

Cabinet-uplighting-Widler-Architecture-Image: Widler Architecture

Cabinet Uplighting

While installing rope or bar lights underneath your cabinetry can be a practical choice, installing them on top of your cabinets can create an ethereal, uplit effect on the ceiling that’s purely aesthetic.

Track-Lighting-Toby-Zack-Interior-DesignImage: Toby Zack Interior Design

Track Lighting

If a single ceiling light isn’t cutting it in your kitchen, track lighting is an excellent solution. With a single ceiling junction box, you can install a track light system that will allow you to direct light wherever you need it most.

Chandelier-Lichten-Craig-ArchitectureImage: Lichten Craig Architecture

Dramatic Chandelier

There are few lighting options that have a more dramatic, unexpected impact on your kitchen than swapping out a simple ceiling lamp for a chandelier. Don’t be afraid to go with something fancy, even in the kitchen. The simple, functional elements of your kitchen will easily balance out an elaborate chandelier.


8 Things Your Home Inspector Won’t Inspect

Inspection day is exciting. Besides running all the faucets, testing the appliances, and peeling back that shag carpet to check for hardwood (fingers crossed!), what else should be inspected? Simply put: Everything.

Your home inspector should examine every square inch of the house, from the electric garage door to the built-in microwave. Faulty construction, improper electrical wiring, inefficient insulation, old heating, building permit violations, and other unseen problems can lead to expensive home repairs — large and small. However, don’t assume that if you hire a home inspector, they will be able to tell you absolutely everything you need to know about the house. Home inspectors are very careful not to take on liability for issues outside their area of expertise, so there are certain areas that home inspectors will be hesitant to “sign off” on. Fill in the blanks by following up with additional inspectors who are experts in the following eight fields.


1. Roof inspection

You’ll need to call in a roof specialist if your inspector isn’t qualified to inspect the roof. Also, keep in mind that the roof may be difficult to access and examine if it’s covered with snow. In this case, it may be possible to include a special provision that allows you to extend the inspection contingency specifically to accommodate the roof, in the hope that the weather improves.

2. Chimney inspection

If you or your home inspector suspect instability or hints of structural damage, it’s important to hire a chimney specialist. The specialist will be able to use a “chimney cam” (a small video camera used to inspect the chimney from the inside) to uncover hidden damage.

3. Geological inspection

A property on a cliff or hillside, or one that is located in a flood zone, can benefit from a geological inspection. The inspector could unearth a severe drainage or ground-shifting problem — and save you thousands in repair costs down the line.

4. Sewer inspection

Your inspector may be able to tell whether things are, um, “flowing,” but a sewer expert can get a better sense of the integrity of your sewer line with a sewer camera to discover cracks or breaks from the house to the street. A sewer inspection is critical for properties that are heavily landscaped, where root growth can crack and clog the pipeline. Don’t overestimate the importance of this inspection; a sewer line replacement can be an enormous expense.

5. Termite inspection

The seller commonly pays for this inspection, because many mortgage companies and banks will need one before approving a loan on the house. Regardless of who pays, make sure you review the finished report and that all the recommended work has been completed.

6. Moisture, mold, and toxin inspection

It’s important to check for moisture in any crawlspace, basement, or below-ground-level areas. Moisture indicates a potential mold problem — if there isn’t one already. Be sure your house has a clean bill of mold health, especially in wet areas close to oceans or lakes.

7. Asbestos inspection

If the house was built prior to 1975, you will need an asbestos inspection. Asbestos can be present on insulation around ducting, water heaters, and pipes. If it is accessible and can be removed by an asbestos specialist, consider asking the seller to foot the bill.

8. Nonconforming-use inspection

The issue of nonconforming use does not require a specific additional inspector. It is usually a joint effort between your inspector and your real estate agent to determine if all additions and major changes have been properly permitted. Converted garages, sun porches, or add-on bedrooms can increase square footage, but when completed improperly, they can add headaches when it’s time to make them legal.

Pets And New House Anxiety: Helping Our Furry Friends Adjust

MARCH 2, 2016

Your New House Doesn’t Have to Be a Problem for Your Pets

We all get a bit anxious around moving day, and if you’re making the move to a new home with pets in tow, you can be sure there’s probably a bit of anxiety for your companion animals, too. With so much to check off your moving day list, it can sometimes be difficult to remember that your pets may be sensing that change is in the air.

Taking the time to ensure that your moving day will be a smooth and easy process extends to your pets, too. With that in mind, it’s always wise to research various ways of how you can make your pet more comfortable before, during, and after the move from one house to the next. Read on for three key tips and tricks that will help pet owners and their cats or dogs transition to a new home with ease and grace.


Reduce Your Pets’ Anxiety

Before, during, and after the move, it is important to consider your pet as an individual, much like you and your family members. Do they have a routine that they go through in various parts of the day? Do they like to be nearby or touching you at all times? Do they like quiet solitude, perhaps hiding under a bed during times of increased stress?

Be sure to keep their individual preferences in mind as you pack up those last boxes and load the moving van for the final trip to the new house. Considering your pet’s needs will help reduce their anxiety about the transition, because they will feel more comfortable and in tune with their daily routine and yours.

Make Your New Home Pet-Safe Before They Arrive

Before you move your pet into your new home, make sure they have a safe enclosure or space to hang out in, waiting for them. This will go a long way towards make them feel comfortable and actually keeping them safe, especially if their first instinct is to run away from all of the scary moving boxes, seeking shelter in a strange new place — or worse, running right out the door!

Check out your new home for any unsafe wires, electrical sockets, or other hazardous obstacles in your living environment. Talk with your neighbors to see if any aggressive, free-roaming pets or wild animals live in your area, and make a contingency plan to keep your pet from encountering them whenever possible. Consider making clean up a major part of your pre-move in activity, taking extra care to remove smells and signs of other pets that may have lived in the home prior to you moving in.

Keep It Consistent

With companion animals, consistency is often key to their well being and general happiness. By sticking to the daily routine you have created for your pet, you will give your companion animal a greater sense of comfort and familiarity, even in a brand new home.

If you feed your dog or cat before you make your coffee in the morning, keep doing that after you move. If you walk them in the evening, be sure to maintain all of your daily habits as close to the way you had them in the old home. The key thing is to keep things simple and familiar; do not get them a new food bowl or a new hairbrush, or change their flea medication around the time when you move.

Try to keep things as familiar and as close to your normal routine as possible, and be sure to have familiar toys, bedding and treats to help them acclimate.


Happy Pets Make for a Happy Home

One of the best things you can do for your pet when you decide to move is to plan well in advance to help make their transition smoother. It can be difficult to watch your pet having difficulty adjusting, especially if their methods of coping involve making uncomfortable noises, or marking up places in the new home.

Just remember to always be patient with your animals, and to plan as much in advance as possible, and your pet’s experience of the move should work out just fine. Good luck!


How to get the lighting right: The Bathroom

3RD MARCH 2016

Welcome to the fourth and final part* of my series on How To Get the Lighting Right in partnership withJohn Cullen. I do hope you have enjoyed it and found it useful. For new subscribers, who might not have seen earlier posts, we have done the kitchen, the sitting room, the bedroom and finally, today, the bathroom.

lighting-bath - Copy

Each room definitely brings its own issues. From how to avoid the grid of spot lights in the kitchen to creating a room with atmosphere that you can still see to read a book in. How to light the bedroom where you need to be able to see to apply that eyeliner but also want to relax with a book before bed.


this bathroom has several different lighting sources to be both practical and atmospheric

The bathroom also has problems. I expect most of us just have a row/square/rectangle of downlighters that may or may not be on a dimmer switch. If they are you score an extra point and can pass directly to Go collecting your £200 on the way. The rest of you are in bathroom jail until the end of this post.

As you will remember, in order to compile this series, I invited the creative director of John Cullen Lighting, Sally Storey, to come round my house pointing out where I had gone wrong (quite a lot) and what I could do to put things right (quite a lot). The pointing out of what I had got right took significantly less time.

tub-light - Copy

John Cullen’s Contour HD27 strip is perfect for highlighting a niche or making a feature of the bath

So bathrooms. When we did ours, in the far off days before Pinterest, I had cut out a picture of a large freestanding bath with a chandelier over the top and stuck it to my real-life moodboard (I know quaint isn’t it).

“No,” said the builder, when he saw it. “You can’t have that,” and I didn’t get it. I have been standing under a spotlight grid for the last five years and not only that, most of them aren’t even in the right place either. I think, on balance, that it was more about the builder not being sure of the rules and, more to the point, not being bothered to work it out, rather than it not being possible.

white shower-tub

 consider wall lights to make a feature of the tiles

The first thing you need to know when tackling bathroom lighting is that the room is zoned according to the distance between the water and the light fitting. So Zone 0 is basically in the bath and on the floor of the shower. Zone 1 is within the shower enclosure or directly behind the bath. Zone 2 stretches for 600mm either side of the outside of the shower and the ends of the bath. If you want a chandelier over the bath it needs to be 1.5m from the top of the water when the bath is filled, or, in other words, you need a ceiling of around 2.25m high – nearly eight feet. This basically rules out a pendant over the bath for most of us but you might be able to have one in a different zone so that it’s not hanging over the water – the middle of the room for example if the bath is to one side.

But don’t worry, if you can’t have a statement pendant light in the bathroom then consider wall lights. These will reflect onto the water in the bath and create a gorgeous shimmering light that will be really atmospheric. If you have a fireplace, you can light that using some of the techniques from How to Light Your Sitting Room and, of course, wall lights in alcoves.

tub - Copy

                                                                                                                                    Waterspring LED £118 John Cullen: use spotlights to wash light gently down the walls highlighting the tiles

Sally suggested their Bari wall lights which are bright enough for make-up and shaving. “You can also light the shower with downlights which will highlight the tiles and create atmosphere.

“If you light the back and the side of the shower you will draw the eye.”

It obviously makes sense to have one light either side to provide an even light which is more flattering.

Many of us with bathrooms in loft conversions will have awkward sloping ceilings to contend with. Sally’s not phased. Instead of putting spots in the ceiling at an angle (guilty) put lights on the wall to wash light gently down or use floor lights to highlight the basin or bath.

tub-green - Copy

                                                                                                                                               in addition to ceiling lights the owners have installed floor lights to highlight the bath and shower

She is also a big fan of the presence detector which means the light will come on automatically if you get up in the night for a wee and turn off when you have left. This is also good for children who often forget to turn lights off when they leave the room.

Then, when you have sorted out what kind of lights you want and where you want to put them, you need to get the right IP rating. Are we beginning to all understand why most of us just fit spotlights and go to the pub?

subway-tiles - Copy

                                                                                                                                                                                 wall lights create atmosphere and help light the mirrors

Basically if it’s directly over a bath or shower it needs an IP rating of 44. This is to do with the distance between the water and electricity and the chances of splashing or immersion. This comes under Things To Be Avoided.

Come on stick with it. You can get the builder to deal with the technical stuff, but consider making lighting an integral part of the bathroom so that you can create a bright well-lit space in the morning and something a bit more atmospheric with rippling water patterns shimmering over the walls in the evening.


Lighting Rules for the Bathroom

Fit a dimmer

Don’t make downlights the only source of light in the bathroom

If you have a niche light it with led strips

Use wall lights by the mirror and in alcoves

Consider a statement pendant if you have the height

John Cullen hold lighting workshops if you’re interested in learning more detail than I can provide here, check the website for details. 

*And the good news is that this series will continue next month with a piece on Vintage Lighting with help from Skinflint Design

How To Get The Most Money When Selling Your House

Business Competition

Every homeowner wants to make sure they maximize their financial reward when selling their home. But how do you guarantee that you receive maximum value for your house? Here are two keys to ensuring you get the highest price possible.

1. Price it a LITTLE LOW

This may seem counterintuitive. However, let’s look at this concept for a moment. Many homeowners think that pricing their home a little OVER market value will leave them room for negotiation. In actuality, this just dramatically lessens the demand for your house (see chart below).


Instead of the seller trying to ‘win’ the negotiation with one buyer, they should price it so that demand for the home is maximized. In that way, the seller will not be fighting with a buyer over the price, but instead will have multiple buyers fighting with each other over the house., gives this advice:

“Aim to price your property at or just slightly below the going rate. Today’s buyers are highly informed, so if they sense they’re getting a deal, they’re likely to bid up a property that’s slightly underpriced, especially in areas with low inventory.”

2. Use a Real Estate Professional

This too may seem counter intuitive. The seller may think they would net more money if they didn’t have to pay a real estate commission. With this being said, studies have shown that homes typically sell for more money when handled by a real estate professional.

Research posted by the Economists’ Outlook Blog revealed that:

“The median selling price for all FSBO homes was $210,000 last year. When the buyer knew the seller in FSBO sales, the number sinks to the median selling price of $151,900. However, homes that were sold with the assistance of an agent had a median selling price of $249,000 – nearly $40,000 more for the typical home sale.”


Bottom Line

Price your house at or slightly below the current market value and hire a professional. That will guarantee you maximize the price you get for your house.



4 Essential Home Buying Tips for 2016

Posted by Staff Reporter ( on Feb 09, 2016 06:30 AM EST


CORAL GABLES, FL – APRIL 22: Juan Carlos Correa (L) , a prospective home buyer is shown a short sale home by Denise Madan, a Real Estate agent with Re/Max, as he shops for a house on April 22, 2014 in Coral Gables, Florida. The Federal Housing Finance Agency reported today that home prices rose a seasonally adjusted 0.6% in February, and were up 6.9% from the year-ago period. (Photo : Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Mortgage credit continues to defrost, interest costs remain shockingly leveled and more homes are expected to be up for sale on the market as Spring comes closer.

A few purchasers have a more streamlined way than others. Full scale level standpoints are one thing; it’s another to make the credit and funds needed to secure a home loan in the present loaning environment.

Here are four tips to help you make the jump and exploit a promising housing market in 2016.

1. Tackle Credit First

Credit seems to be extricating as we head into the Spring home buying season. Through the initial six months of 2015, the normal FICO rating for every closed loan was 730, however that diminished to a 722 FICO score before the year’s over, as indicated by mortgage software firm Ellie Mae.

But building the most grounded credit profile conceivable can spare you cash with regards to things such as mortgage insurance and interest rates.

Pay your bills on time and make sure to keep your credit balance under no less than 30% and preferably 10% of your credit limit.

2. Educate Yourself and Explore the Market

Home buying education is critical. Research and studies reliably demonstrate that purchasers overestimate their mortgage knowledge or think that it is not important at all. Actually, unprepared buyers can end up in an awful loan or essentially pass up a major opportunity on making the most out of their budget.

Spend some serious energy to find out about the major home loan types, the forthright expenses of homebuying and what may bode well given your personal credit and financial ability and lifestyle.

3. Get a Pre-Approval Letter

A pre-approval letter shows dealers and agents that the buyer has genuine homebuying potential. Truth be told, a few agents won’t acknowledge buy offers without one. Pre-approval likewise gives the buyer a reasonable feel of the amount of home he or she can purchase.

Loan pre-approval does not ensure getting a home loan. It’s a major stride in the right course that accompanies conditions and possibilities.

4. Refrain from Costly Changes

It is smart to discipline your credit and funds once you’ve chosen to commit after a home purchase. Having new credit, changing jobs and moving funds around accounts can raise a warning with moneylenders and, now and again, wreck your loan.

Change isn’t a good event amid the home buying process. It’s insufficient to get your credit and funds all together before beginning the procedure – strive to keep them that constant as you move toward the closing day.

6 Real Estate Secrets You Can Learn From House Flippers

You’ve seen the TV shows: Individual finds a foreclosed home in the best neighborhood in town, scoops up said home for a steal, fixes it up, and sells it for a significant profit. What those DIY and home improvement shows don’t necessarily show you, though, is how tough flipping houses for a profit can actually be.

But professional house flippers have insights that can be helpful to just about anyone who’s looking to buy or sell real estate. Here are the six secrets house flippers know that you can apply to your own real estate adventures.


1. Location always rules

It’s the age-old real estate adage: “Location matters.” For flippers and buyers alike, location is one of the more important criteria when buying. “I have learned that the best homes that sell for the most money and quickly are in areas where people want to live,” says Justin Udy, a real estate agent with Century 21 Everest Realty Group in Midvale, UT. If you’re hesitating in buying a home because of a locational factor — it backs up to a busy road, for instance — don’t buy it. Down the line, other buyers will hesitate for the same reason.

2. Consider resale as you go

Of course you want to put your own stamp on your new home, but you should also avoid superpersonalized design choices. Just because you like shag carpet doesn’t mean potential buyers will love it just as much when it comes time to sell. In addition, don’t overinvest in design upgrades. Flippers make a conscious decision not to “overupdate” their homes (for instance, adding marble tile when the comps all have ceramic), and as a buyer you should also consider your comps (otherwise known as your neighbors’ homes) when renovating your space.

Consider the upgrades and fixes that will be attractive to buyers who want to be in your neighborhood, adds interior designer and licensed real estate agent David Schneider of Schneider Kennedy Design in St. Louis, MO. “For instance, in some neighborhoods, laminate flooring is fine, while in another it is taboo,” he says.

3. Aim for instant equity

House flippers know not to buy homes at market value — they need to be well-underpriced (like a foreclosure) so the flippers have immediate equity. This allows flippers to quickly make repairs and sell without having to wait for the market to catch up to the price they want.

Homebuyers can adapt this rule for their own buying strategy. It’s not easy to find a house that’s extremely underpriced — and if you do, it’s probably not one you’d want to live in while you’re fixing it up — but you can aim to buy a lower-priced home in the neighborhood you want, live in it and make modest repairs, and then sell it years later for a profit. By that time, the market value should (hopefully) surpass your purchase price plus improvement expenditures.

4. Be diligent with inspections

Surprises usually aren’t happy news for a home flipper. A home may look OK on the surface, but professional flippers know that problems can lurk beneath what you see. Thorough inspections are key to help minimize fix-up costs — and make sure you know exactly what you’re getting into so that you can plan your budget accordingly. These inspections are essential to understanding the difference between a cosmetic fixer-upper and a serious rehab.

The same rule applies to homebuyers. When your HVAC or plumbing breaks unexpectedly because problems weren’t pointed out during an inspection, you might have to save up more cash before you can afford to make the cosmetic fixes you’d planned when you submitted the offer.

5. Have a backup plan

In other words: Always consider the worst-case scenario. For flippers, the goal is to buy, renovate, and sell, but what if the listing just sits on the market and those dreaded “carrying costs” start to add up? Sometimes a change of course is necessary when the local real estate market is soft and it doesn’t make financial sense to list your home for sale. Then what? “If the entire market turned around and no more homes were selling, ask yourself, ‘Could I lease this property and make a monthly profit?'” says Justin Udy. “A long-term exit strategy should be considered with any investment.”

6. Hire professionals

When it comes to home repairs, the old saying “You get what you pay for” rings true. Home improvements and upgrades affect both your enjoyment of your new home while you live in it and also your ability to sell it quickly (and at a good price) when you’re ready to move on.

“Seasoned professionals are worth their weight in gold,” says Udy. “Your goal is to maximize perceived value [when selling a home], so craftsmanship is important. Surround yourself with professionals. Get multiple bids and hire the person that seems to be the best for the job and most realistic — not the most expensive. I found the cheapest bid never does the best work and the most expensive just costs more. Remember, good work is not cheap and cheap work is not good. Just find someone good, professional, and competent.”