Month: July 2019

The One Thing That Can Make or Break How People Feel About Your House

Category : blog

 | Jul 31, 2019

Considering the time and energy homeowners put toward making their house look great (particularly if they’re trying to sell), many make the critical mistake of neglecting another one of our senses that can be far more powerful: smell.

Even if you’ve decorated or staged your home perfectly, if potential buyers walk in and detect an unpleasant odor, they could skedaddle fast. Good scents, on the other hand, entice them to linger.

“One of the easiest ways to evoke pleasant feelings about a space is to enhance the way it smells,” says Ben Creamer, a managing broker in Chicago. “It’s often the first thing a person will notice upon entering a space—and it’s one of the things that, when done poorly, can kill a sale, no matter how beautiful the home.”

“The first step to a good-smelling home is to get rid of any odor,” says Barb Boehler, a real estate agent in Madison, WI. “Make sure to scrub all surfaces, wash all rugs, and have the carpets cleaned. Until this is done, you’ll only be masking smells.”

In addition, be mindful in creating a home scent that will be as universally appealing as possible.

“The definition of ‘pleasant’ when it comes to the olfactory senses can vary widely from person to person, so it’s best to keep the scent subtle and clean throughout, with a special emphasis on the kitchen and bath,” says Creamer.

With that in mind, here are 11 tips for making your home smell amazing before guests or home buyers arrive.

Scrub down the bathroom

It goes without saying that scummy showers and grubby toilets are major buyer turnoffs. Use Fabuloso liquid cleaner for bathroom surfaces, including tubs and showers, for a lovely lavender scent, recommends Lisa Jacobs, an organizing professional and founder of Imagine It Done.

Freshen the fridge

Yes, there’s a good chance people will open your refrigerator and take a peek inside. Toss any smelly leftovers or expired condiments, then leave a fresh box of baking soda on a shelf to take care of any lingering odors, says Jacobs.

Take out the trash

Obviously, get rid of any and all garbage before you welcome guests. If your trash cans still carry an odor, sprinkle baking soda in the bottom to absorb it, advises Lisa Molinari, a real estate agent in Morristown, NJ.

Get underfoot

Carpets and rugs can trap a ton of bad smells, especially if you wear shoes in your home or have pets—and warm weather can make them even worse.

An easy fix: Get them shampooed or steam-cleaned regularly, and especially before an open house, says Jennifer Snyder, owner of Neat as a Pin Organizing & Cleaning.

Don an apron

You know all of those hours you’ve spent watching bake-offs on reality TV? Put them to good use by whipping up something sweet that will do double duty making your home smell enticing and providing a snack for potential buyers.

Cedric Stewart, a residential sales consultant in Washington, DC, loves pulling a batch of pumpkin bread or banana bread out of the oven right before the open house begins.

“This provides a great smell, and treats seem to stick in the buyers’ mind after they leave,” he says. (It’s also not a bad idea to brew a fresh pot of coffee to go with the baked treat.)

Just add soap

Round up all of those unused bars of fancy soap you’ve been gifted over the years, and place them in a pretty bowl on a bathroom counter. Dove brand soap also works great for this.

“It can fill a room with a remarkably clean, fresh scent for weeks,” says Creamer. “You can even hide a bar or two in a walk-in closet to freshen the space.”

Play with matches

Tried-and-true candles can make a room feel peaceful, as well as fill it with a pleasant scent—provided the scent isn’t overpowering.

Jacobs loves Apotheke’s bamboo three-wick candle, while Los Angeles–based real estate agent Melissa Okabe always turns to Diptyque’s baies candle, which smells fresh and fruity.

Light the candle 10 to 15 minutes before the open house begins and, of course, keep it in a well-ventilated area away from anything flammable.

Focus on essentials

Oils, that is. If you’d rather stay away from open flames, you can opt for essential oil diffusers for a similar effect.

Okabe recommends fresh, neutral scents such as lemon or lavender, to add to a high-quality diffuser such as this one from West Elm. (It will be a gadget you use long after you sell your home, too.)

If you don’t want to invest in a diffuser, you can use essential oils in a few other ways.

Tangela Walker-Craft, a home and family blogger, recommends dabbing a drop of oil on cold lightbulbs before turning them on—it’ll give off a subtle fragrance as the bulb warms up. You can also add a few drops to cotton balls and hide them strategically around your home, then simply toss them after the open house concludes.

Raid your laundry room

Face it: Potential buyers are likely going to be peeping through your drawers and cabinets, so you’ll need to consider how they smell, as well. An easy way to freshen up confined spaces like these is to add dryer sheets a few days before the open house, says Ben Mizes, a real estate agent in St. Louis.

“These places don’t see a lot of light, so they can have some funky smells—but dryer sheets make them smell like fresh laundry,” he adds.

Simmer down

If you don’t have time to bake, you can create a similarly appealing sweet scent by simmering vanilla extract diluted in water on the stove.

Molinari makes a natural potpourri by adding five cinnamon sticks, 1 teaspoon vanilla, 2 tablespoons cloves, three bay leaves, and an orange rind to a pot of simmering water.

Catch air

High-efficiency particulate air, or HEPA, purifiers can be a little expensive, but they’re extremely effective in removing any lingering strong, strange odors from the air, says Mizes. Combining an air purifier with another method, such as baking cookies, can make a big difference in how your home smells.

At the end of the day, remember to not overdo it. Avoid having multiple scents competing with one another in various rooms.

Instead, “find one neutral, mild scent and let it breathe,” says Molinari. “A scent throughout helps give your home flow and connectivity—so allow it to become the background of the experience.”

Kelsey Ogletree is a writer and editor covering travel, fitness, food, culture, weddings, agriculture, and more from her home base of Chicago. Follow @kbogletree on Instagram. Follow @kelseyogletree

Trump Administration to Take on Local Housing Barriers

Category : blog

 | Jun 25, 2019

The Trump administration will explore using federal programs to push local governments to soften or eliminate rules that block housing construction, an issue that has stymied officials at all levels of government for years.

President Trump is expected to sign an order Tuesday creating the White House Council on Eliminating Barriers to Affordable Housing Development, which will include members of eight federal agencies.

“These are things that can be solved. A lot of [these rules] have been on the books for excessive amounts of time. They’re not particularly relevant any more,” said Ben Carson, secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, in an interview Tuesday with The Wall Street Journal.

Home construction per household is near the lowest level in 60 years of record-keeping, creating a shortage of everything from starter homes for young households to rental apartments for retirees on fixed incomes.

A study released Tuesday by Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies found that the U.S. built about 260,000 fewer homes than it needed in 2018 to keep up with population growth and an aging housing stock.

As a result, homes are getting more expensive relative to incomes. The ratio of the median home price to median household income rose from a low of 3.3 in 2011 to 4.1 in 2018, according to Harvard.

The ratio hit its peak of 4.7 in 2005 when loose lending stoked demand, causing prices to soar. This time the index is rising more due to supply shortages, the Harvard report said.

Local zoning and land-use regulations have swelled since the 1970s and cannot be eliminated in one stroke of a pen by the federal government. Expensive U.S. cities and suburbs in California and the Northeast have long been difficult places to build. But housing shortages have grown widespread in recent years, extending from Grand Rapids, Mich., to Austin, Texas.

The Obama administration produced a tool kit in September 2016 that was designed to help local governments pare back zoning regulations, to little effect.

Local regulations that require developers to address such issues as environmental protection and road, school and sewer capacity often have strong support among residents and politically powerful advocacy groups. Also, many municipalities stepped up land-use regulation following the housing bust in 2008, when developers overbuilt leaving hundreds of unfilled homes that decimated home prices and created blight in many communities.

The new Trump council will produce a study quantifying the effect of regulations on the housing market and the U.S. economy as a whole. Its members will include representatives of the Treasury Department, the Labor Department, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Agriculture Department, which will also examine ways to roll back federal regulations inhibiting housing development.

Mr. Carson has made easing barriers for the private sector to build housing the signature issue of his tenure as HUD secretary. He has toured a factory that uses a 3-D printer to build homes faster and cheaper and most recently hosted an event that showcased affordably priced manufactured homes on the National Mall.

Critics say the HUD secretary is focusing attention on local governments and the private sector while neglecting his agency’s responsibility to enforce the Fair Housing Act, which forbids practices such as concentrating affordable housing in poorer areas.

Mr. Carson said the housing shortage creates de facto segregation.

“The thing that creates segregation is not George Wallace-type people standing at the door saying you can’t come in here,” he said. “It’s cost. People tend to congregate in places that they can afford to live.”

The Weird but Totally Natural Way You Can Kill Germs in Your Home

Category : blog

| Jul 25, 2019

Think about this for a second: The average house collects a staggering 40 pounds of dust each year. And let’s take a moment to remember what makes up dust: Pet dander. Dead skin cells. Dust mites. Insect droppings.

The surprising answer: Open your blinds.

How sunshine fights germs

In a study published last year in the medical journal Microbiome, researchers at the University of Oregon described setting up a series of miniature (and very dusty) rooms. For 90 days, some of these dollhouse-size areas were kept in total darkness while others received UV light. Then, the dust was collected and the bacteria within it sampled.

“We found that household dust exposed to ordinary daylighting contained smaller loads of living bacteria, compared to dust bunnies experiencing darkness,” explains Ashkaan Fahimipour, the study’s lead author and now a postdoctoral scholar in computer science at the University of California, Davis.

The researchers also saw shifts in the types of bacteria living in those dust bunnies.

“Bacterial communities from daylit dust resembled those found in outdoor air, in contrast to dust experiencing darkness, which more strongly resembled the microbiome of human skin,” Fahimipour explains.

While some of the germs we’re exposed to in our daily lives are harmless or even beneficial, others are potentially harmful.

“Which of these are being impacted by light exposure is still an open question,” Fahimipour says.

That means it’s too early to say that sunshine definitively has sanitizing superpowers, but “based on our current understanding, I think we can say that ordinary daylighting has the potential to inactivate living bacteria,” Fahimipour says.

It’s really not a stretch to believe that throwing open your drapes is good for you. Sun-loving scientists have already amassed plenty of research that supports the benefits of natural daylight. Read on for what sunlight can do for you.

Sync your body clock

“Natural light is a primary consideration for a healthy and happy home, because sunlight is a crucial modulator of our circadian rhythm, a cycle which encompasses brain wave activity and regulates hormone production, cell regeneration, hunger, and sleep cycles,” explains Nora Bouz, a well-being design consultant. “That in turn influences our mental, emotional, and physical health.”

Our bodies are designed to be in sync with nature, Bouz points out.

“We wake up when the sun rises, reach our highest level of energy when the sun is at its highest point in the sky, and wind down and go to sleep when it’s dark,” she says.

Boost your mood

“When we’re exposed to sunlight, serotonin, one of the hormones responsible for our high energy and feeling good, is produced,” Bouz says.

You can think of serotonin as your body’s natural antidepressant. If your brain doesn’t make enough, you’ll start to feel irritable and fatigued. In some people, this can lead to to seasonal affective disorder (appropriate acronym: SAD).

Keep you healthy

Your body relies on natural sunlight to make vitamin D, which regulates over 1,000 different genes in your body. This form of vitamin D isn’t really a vitamin, per se, so much as a hormone that may help prevent health issues ranging from osteoporosis and diabetes to heart disease and arthritis.

Help you be more productive

Next time you have a ton of work to plow through, sit by a window. A typical sunny day has a “color temperature” that’s been shown to increase alertness and efficiency. Natural daylight can also lessen eye strain, which may slow you down at your computer.

Heal your skin

Blistering sunburn from hours in the sun? Obviously bad. Low levels of UV radiation—like you get from light streaming through your window? Not bad at all. Research shows that a small amount of sunlight triggers the release of a compound in your skin that quiets inflammation. That could be helpful if you have a skin condition like eczema.

Save you money

“If you have sunlight illuminating your whole house, why would you ever turn on the light?” points out Brad Roberson, president of Glass Doctor, a Neighborly company.

In a recent study to see how much natural light can save on energy bills, Roberson says, experimenters found that in addition to energy, they saved on cooling and heating. The total annual savings? 22%.

If you do decide to let more light into your home, choose sliding glass doors with UV-blocking glass. Old windows can be replaced with insulated glass units, or IGUs.

“IGUs prevent heat transfer from the summer sunshine, while also keeping cool air from escaping outside,” Roberson explains.

You’ll maintain your desired house temperature—and you just might eradicate some germs and acquire a sunnier outlook.

Stephanie Booth’s stories have appeared in magazines such as Real Simple, Cosmopolitan, Glamour, and Psychology Today.


Sunbaked? 9 Shade Ideas for Your Porch, Backyard, and Beyond

Category : blog

Sunbaked? 9 Shade Ideas for Your Porch, Backyard, and Beyond

 | Jul 26, 2019

With the dog days of summer upon us, seeking relief from the blazing sun is a must—but if you lack natural shade from large trees, what then? Don’t sweat it! Here are nine smart shade options for your deck, backyard, and other sunny spaces.

1. Patio umbrella

Photo by Jason Jones Photography


Karen Gray-Plaisted of Design Solutions KGP likes the Tuuci collection from Design Within Reach for its clean lines and uncanny ability to hold up to the elements.

Drew Henry of Design Dudes votes for an umbrella because you can select a color to accent your outdoor space and store it in the offseason. Try one that’s cantilevered so you can angle it to beat back the sun’s rays wherever they land.

2. Retractable awning

Photo by J Cohler Mason Design 

Free-standing or retractable awnings are possibilities if you need more coverage.

“We’ve had awnings in the past that we put up every spring and took down before the snow fell, which was a bit of work, but having them was nice because if it started to rain you could still sit outside and relax,” notes Gray-Plaisted.

3. Arbor

Photo by TerraTrellis 

An arbor is a stand-alone pick that’s usually designed with lattice along each side and a curved or arched top. This shady delight works well on a pathway or to signal a garden entrance.

“An arbor adds an architectural detail, defines your outdoor living space, and they’re ideal for vines and other plants to grow on and create natural shade,” explains Henry.

4. Pergola

Photo by Neumann Mendro Andrulaitis Architects LLP 

It’s easy to mix up arbors and pergolas, so here’s a tutorial: An arbor is a free-standing structure, while a pergola can stand alone but is typically attached to a house or other  building in at least two places. Pergolas are also larger and have a roof grid or latticework above, which creates dappled light.

As with arbors, pergolas can accommodate creeping vines and flowers (Gray-Plaisted has wisteria growing on hers) or they can be draped with fabric for more sun protection.

“A pergola also stands out when you string cafe lights on it, which makes a great light source at night that really sets the mood,” says Henry.

5. Pavilion

Photo by American Landscape Structures 

The hallmarks of a pavilion include a hutlike roof with open sides—but no actual floor. You’ll usually see this structure on a patio or concrete platform with chairs and a table arranged in the shade underneath.

6. Gazebo

Photo by Creative Gazebos 

A gazebo can be confused for a pavilion, but you’ll know this shade option right away by its rounded or oval shape (a pavilion is square or rectangular). A gazebo has a semblance of sides, with a railing and slats at the halfway mark, and it’s also set on a platform or built-in floor.

7. Shade sail

Photo by Turf World Co. 

This easy shade pick is fun because it comes in a variety of shapes and colors to stretch over a sunny patio. Shade sails attach to your house with D-rings and clips, though at least one end will likely need to connect to a post or tree in the yard.

8. Overhead screen

Photo by Phantom Screens 

Screens don’t offer full shade, but they’ll block some rays and heat. Rattan mats offer better coverage, and both can be laid over the top of a pergola. Free-standing screen room kits are available at home stores, and motorized screens can also be set up to retract over your porch.

9. Latticework

Photo by Chris DiSabatino 

If you love the look of a pavilion but want a more open feel, skip the roof part and install latticework. Vines can grow on top, or shade sail  material can be installed above for a pop of color and to block more sun.

Jennifer Kelly Geddes creates content for, the National Sleep Foundation, Fisher-Price, and Mastercard. 

U.S. Existing-Home Sales Rose in May

Category : blog

U.S. Existing-Home Sales Rose in May
By Laura Kusisto | Jun 21, 2019

WASHINGTON—Sales of previously owned homes rose in May, a sign that falling mortgage rates could be nudging the housing market toward a modest spring performance after a sluggish start to this prime selling season.

Sales rose 2.5% in May from the prior month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.34 million, the National Association of Realtors said Friday.

The spring is crucial to the housing market because roughly 40% of the year’s sales take place in March through June. May was the first month this spring when sales rose from the prior month, but compared with a year earlier sales in May still declined 1.1% The housing market struggled late last year even as the rest of the economy boomed, in part because higher mortgage rates priced some buyers out of the market.

Now, analysts said the housing market may be benefiting from growing economic uncertainty.

“We are really seeing some headwinds in the broader economy right now, with the trade war and in the technology sector and also in manufacturing and agriculture,” said Tian Liu, chief economist at Genworth Mortgage Insurance. “The housing market is actually less exposed to those headwinds right now.”

Mortgage rates are now below 4% for the first time since January of last year, according to Freddie Mac. That is down from nearly 5% in the fall, a saving of roughly $200 a month for the typical home buyer.

The Federal Reserve indicated Wednesday that it could cut interest rates in the months ahead if an economic outlook clouded by uncertainty over trade policy doesn’t improve, raising the prospect that mortgage rates may drift even lower.

Ashley Lauren Farnschlader, a Realtor in Philadelphia, said she had one client reach out to her because she had read that mortgage rates were low and had decided to start looking for a home again. Still, Ms. Farnschlader added, “I don’t think it’s been the big push that everybody wants it to be.”

Indeed, economists say the housing market’s performance is surprisingly tepid given the sharp fall in mortgage rates. Some analysts said that suggests the market is moderating after years of rapid price growth and sales will struggle to reach previous highs of the current housing cycle in 2017.

“Certainly with existing sales, I think we’ve seen the peak,” said David Berson, chief economist at Nationwide Insurance.

He added he expects most metropolitan areas to continue to see modest price and sales growth but that some, such as San Jose, Calif., are more vulnerable to a downturn because prices have risen so steeply.

Existing home sales have now fallen on an annual basis for 15 straight months. New home sales have grown strongly in recent months, but the construction sector has struggled. Housing starts fell 0.9% in May from the prior month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.269 million, the Commerce Department said Tuesday. U.S. home-builder confidence also dropped in June, as builders reported concerns over rising construction costs and trade issues.

Prices are continuing to rise faster than incomes, which may be offsetting some of the additional buying power that consumers are getting from lower rates. The national median sale price for a previously owned home last month was $277,700, up 4.8% from a year earlier and the strongest monthly pace of growth since August 2018, the National Association of Realtors said Friday. It marked the 87th straight month of year-over-year gains.

News Corp., owner of The Wall Street Journal, also operates under license from the National Association of Realtors.

Inventory of homes for sale is continuing to increase. The NAR said there were 1.92 million existing homes available for sale at the end of May, up 2.7% from a year earlier and a 4.3-month supply at the current sales pace.

The market has been starved for inventory for years, but in this case economists said inventory levels are increasing primarily because homes are taking longer to sell so the growing choices aren’t necessarily appealing ones.

The city of Boston has seen roughly a 30% increase in inventory compared with the same time last year, according to Larry Rideout, chairman of Boston-based Gibson Sotheby’s International Realty.

“Everything is always behind the curve,” he said. “Everyone has decided it’s the chance to [put their home on the market] and unfortunately they’ve missed that window.”

—Harriet Torry contributed to this article.

Home buyer, Home Seller, and For Sale By Owner Statistics

Category : blog

Home Buyer Statistics

First-Time vs. Repeat Buyers:
First-time buyers: 33%

Median age of first-time buyers: 32
Median age of repeat buyers: 55
Median household income of first-time buyers: $75,000
Median household income of repeat buyers: $100,000
The typical home purchased was 1,900 square feet in size, was built in 1991, and had three bedrooms and two bathrooms.
Among those who financed their home purchase, buyers typically financed 90% of the home price.
87% of buyers purchased their home through a real estate agent or broker—a share that has steadily increased from 69 percent in 2001.
Buyers who would use their agent again or recommend their agent to others: 74%

Home Seller Statistics
The typical home seller in 2017 was 55 years of age, had a median household income of $98,800, and lived in their home for 9 years.
91% of sellers were assisted by a real estate agent when selling their home.
Recent sellers typically sold their homes for 99% of the listing price, and 23% reported reducing the asking price at least once.
The typical home sold was on the market for 3 weeks.
39% of sellers who used a real estate agent found their agents through a referral by friends or family, and 24% used the agent they previously worked with to buy or sell a home.
Sellers who definitely would use same agent again: 69%
Source: 2018 National Association of REALTORS® Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers

For Sale By Owner (FSBO) Statistics
FSBOs accounted for 7% of home sales in 2017. The typical FSBO home sold for $200,000 compared to $265,500 for agent-assisted home sales.
FSBO methods used to market home:
Yard sign: 22%
Friends, relatives, or neighbors: 18%
Online classified advertisements: 6%
Open house: 10%
For-sale-by-owner websites: 5%
Social networking websites (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, etc.): 12%
Multiple Listing Service (MLS) website: 4%
Print newspaper advertisement: 2%
Direct mail (flyers, postcards, etc.): 2%
Video: 1%
None: Did not actively market home: 49%

Most difficult tasks for FSBO sellers:
Getting the right price: 17%
Understanding and performing paperwork: 12%
Selling within the planned length of time: 5%
Preparing/fixing up home for sale: 8%
Having enough time to devote to all aspects of the sale: 3%

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