Whether your home is hit by lightning, hail, or some other calamity, you’ll be awfully glad you have a home insurance policy in place to help foot the cost of repairs.
Yet while homeowner insurance typically covers a variety of common hazards that can befall your home, don’t get too confident, because it may not cover every mishap that may come your way.
The exact instances that are and aren’t covered by a typical home insurance plan depend entirely on the details of your policy—and, contrary to what you may think, each policy is different.
“Insurance policies are like snowflakes; no two are exactly the same,” says Ashleigh Cloud Trent, an insurance adviser with Swingle Collins and Associates in Dallas.
Generally speaking, most home insurance policies cover natural disasters, certain crimes, and accidents. Think: Wind and hail, dog bites, theft and vandalism, snowstorms, burst pipes. Beyond that general framework, however, there’s no blanket guarantee you’ll be covered.
In our latest installment of our Home Buyer’s Guide to Home Insurance, we’ll flag certain things that most standard policies exclude. Don’t bank on your insurance company footing the bill for the following unfortunate situations.
1. Does home insurance cover floods?
If the “flood” you speak of is a puddle of water from a burst pipe, yes, insurance should cover it.
But if the flood is due to excessive rain, a hurricane, or an overflowing river, most standard home insurance won’t cover it. (The National Flood Insurance Program defines flooding as “an excess of water on land that is normally dry, affecting two or more acres of land or two or more properties.”)
“Many homeowners don’t realize that flood damage is not covered under typical home insurance policies,” says Amy Danise, chief insurance analyst at Forbes Advisor.
“With many parts of the U.S experiencing floods, this is one of the biggest mistakes a homeowner can make.”
With both floods and earthquakes (more on that below), the damage caused by these natural disasters can be so extensive that private insurance companies can’t afford to provide coverage for all (or will only provide costly policies to select homeowners).
Luckily, though, the federal government has stepped in, and is now the primary seller of flood insurance.
If you live in an area that’s prone to floods, you’ll want to purchase this additional flood insurance. This is especially true since flooding tends to cause expensive damage—even 1 inch of floodwater can result in $25,000 in repairs, on average. So don’t buy a home in a flood-prone zone without it!
2. Does home insurance cover earthquakes?
If you live in an area with earthquakes, you’ll need to purchase additional insurance here, too.
Most insurance companies offer special earthquake policies or, if you live in California, you can purchase it from the California Earthquake Authority (most Californians live within 30 miles of an active fault line, so it makes sense to do so).
Your insurance company may offer you a discount or even a rebate when you pay for certain improvements that help your home better withstand earthquakes.
3. Does home insurance cover water leaks?
It depends. Damage caused by slow leaks—technically “seepage and leakage”—can be denied coverage. Water damage has to be “sudden and accidental,” explains Trent.
“A prime example is a client whose contractor nicked a pipe behind a wall. The pipe was connected to a seldom used guest bathroom, so nobody noticed the leak,” he recalls.
“When they rented out the home years later, the tenants called a few months later, to report that the floorboards were warping.”
The slow leak caused $25,000 in damage—and the homeowner insurance didn’t pay out a nickel.
4. Does home insurance cover mold?
This depends on what caused the mold to appear. A policy might cover mold if it’s the result of a “covered peril,” such as water damage from a burst water heater or firefighters dousing flames on your home.
However, mold won’t be covered if it was caused by perils outside your policy, such as flooding (see above), or preventable ongoing problems, like a slow water leak or high humidity.
5. Does home insurance cover sewer and drain backups?
If the sewer backs up and fills your house with water, you might have to clean up the mess yourself—and on your own dime.
“In a lot of places, when there’s serious rain, the sewers and drains can back up into people’s homes,” says Trent. “Not all policies will cover that.”
6. Does home insurance cover wear and tear?
Sorry, your home insurance policy also won’t pay for damage caused by normal wear and tear.
They’re there for actual emergencies that can’t be avoided, not damage that could easily have been prevented. So make sure not to neglect little problems at home that could balloon into bigger problems later on!
7. Does home insurance cover damage from renovations?
A lot of homeowners don’t realize they need to take out a specific renovation policy if they’re doing major work, even if the contractor has a builder’s risk policy.
According to Trent, the builder’s risk policy covers only new construction, not the existing structure.
“It’s OK if you’re just doing cosmetic updates; but if you’re taking the roof off, that’s more than a standard homeowners’ policy is designed to protect,” she says.
Even if the house is a tear-down, a renovation policy will cover any liability issues for people who wander onto the property and get hurt.
“If someone gets hurt on the property, you’re liable,” she explains. “If neighborhood kids are playing around in the empty house, that’s your liability.”
8. Does home insurance cover historically accurate repairs?
If you live in a landmark area and you need permission from the historical society to make changes to your home, there might be a cap on how much your insurance will pay to fix a problem. And the historical society might dictate the kinds of material you must use on your home, no matter how expensive it is.
“A hailstorm decimated all of these historic homes in Dallas recently,” says Trent. “What should have been a $9,000 vinyl siding repair ended up costing homeowners $90,000, because the historical society insisted they use” a specific type of shingle. A typical policy would not have made up that difference.
9. Does home insurance cover acts of war?
“If the U.S. government determines we are at war, and your home is destroyed as a result of the war, you will not be covered,” says JohnEspenschied, agency principal at InsuranceBrokersGroup.com. Destruction from acts of terrorism, however, is generally covered.
DIY home improvements can be great feel-good projects. You get to learn a new skill, use your hands, and take pride in something you create yourself.
But let’s face it: Your DIY project doesn’t make sense if it won’t make cents. In other words, it needs to pay off when it comes time to sell your home.
“The key to winning the ROI game with home improvement is to take a less-is-more approach,” says Dan DiClerico, home expert at HomeAdvisor.
If your goal is to earn a return on your DIY investment, DiClerico suggests taking on smaller improvements that will have a big impact on buyers.
“Bells and whistles tend not to rank high on ROI,” DiClerico says. “The high-tech home theater might mean hours of fun for you and the family, but it’s probably not going to pay for itself when the time comes to sell.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean you can’t outfit your house with the latest technology—if you’re making an improvement that you’ll love and enjoy, go for it. But if you’re looking to roll up your sleeves and tackle a project that will offer serious bang for the buck, try one of these home improvement projects next weekend.
1. Refresh your kitchen cabinets
“If the cabinets are in good shape, adding a fresh coat of paint or stain will dramatically transform the feel of the entire kitchen,” DiClerico says.
Be warned: Even though painting isn’t very difficult, it’s still time-consuming. You’ll need to remove the doors and drawers to ensure a clean finish. “But in terms of skill level, it’s something even novice DIYers can handle,” DiClerico says.
And remember, slow and steady wins the race when it comes to any painting project.
“You could lose some buyers with a sloppy paint job,” says Scott W. Campbell, a real estate agent in Milwaukee. “If you truly want to increase ROI, a good paint job takes time and patience.”
Making a great first impression on home buyers is one of the quickest ways to boost your home’s value.
“Landscaping and gardening are the biggest ones that also are simple,” says Kendall Bonner, a real estate agent in Lutz, FL. “Curb appeal has a significant impact on buyer’s purchasing decisions.”
Aside from adding tasteful foliage and keeping your lawn manicured, a few strings of café lights can also improve your home’s outdoor space and curb appeal. Don’t forget to paint old fences and prune overgrown plants.
3. Give your front door a makeover
Want to boost your home’s curb appeal but don’t have a green thumb? Spruce up your front door instead. All it takes is a few coats of paint. (The same rules apply: Work slowly and carefully to avoid drips and roller marks.)
“A fresh pop of color at the front door is a great way to enhance your home’s curb appeal for not a lot of money or time,” DiClerico says.
“Outdoor living is hugely popular, even more so since the pandemic, since people are looking to expand their home’s usable living space,” DiClerico says.
Creating a new deck is possible to do yourself, but “it’s not for the faint of heart,” he adds, especially if you’re putting in concrete footings for the deck posts. This project is best for intermediate to advanced renovators, and it helps to have a few friends on board to assist.
Keep the design simple—avoid any tricky changes in elevation—and work with pressure-treated lumber instead of hardwoods that are tough to cut and screw into, DiClerico says.
5. Brighten up the basement
You don’t need to spring for a fully finished basement to appeal to prospective buyers.
“Spraying the basement unfinished ceiling with flat black latex paint can make big difference to clean up a look, and spraying the walls,” Campbell says.
To take your project to the next level, you can add carpeting and adjustable lighting. By cleaning up the basement, you can help prospective buyers envision a space that will fit their needs, whether it’s as a rec room, play area, or home gym.
“Anytime you add usable living space to the home, you increase its value,” DiClerico says. “That’s true now more so than ever given all the time we’re spending at home.”
Making an addition to your home might not be realistic. But smaller improvements, like adding a pantry in the kitchen, a new storage unit in the garage, or even closet organizers, add valuable storage space to your home and will pay off when you’re ready to sell.
7. Make small repairs and keep up with maintenance
It may not be as satisfying as tackling a big project, but staying on top of your home’s basic maintenance is just as important and promises serious ROI.
“Many of today’s buyers are staying away from fixer-uppers in favor of move-in ready homes that won’t require frequent repairs,” DiClerico says.
Seemingly small problems like a leaky faucet, loose gutter, or missing light fixture can be a red flag.
“When buyers see things like that, they think to themselves, ‘What else is wrong with this house that I can’t see?’” DiClerico says. “Spending a few hundred dollars on these small repairs will let the buyer know that this house has been cared for.”
I never thought I would buy a house at 25. Like most 20-somethings, I was pushing through school, working odd jobs, and just trying to get by.
Then, after a death in the family, I came into a little money. It wasn’t a fortune or a happy occasion, but it was an opportunity to do something good with this cash. I realized it might cover a down payment on a small condo. The idea of becoming a homeowner was exciting, so I started shopping for real estate in the suburbs of L.A. where I was renting an apartment.
In spring 2016, I found a small, one-bedroom condo that I loved. My inheritance would easily cover the down payment, and the mortgage payments would be only a little more than the rent I was paying. I made an offer, and it was accepted.
At the time, I had a full-time sales job at a natural food company, plus a side hustle working as a host at Disneyland. With steady income and the down payment taken care of, I knew I could easily swing the monthly costs of owning a home.
But being a homeowner proved to be much harder than I imagined. After a few miscalculated costs, I found myself running out of money. I had to take on another side job. And another, and then another.
Ultimately, I had to work five jobs simultaneously to afford my home. Here are the hard lessons I learned that I hope will help you avoid the same fate.
It’s not just about the mortgage
I’d heard plenty of horror stories of friends who, after buying a house and moving in, realized they didn’t have enough money to buy anything else, from furniture to cable service.
So when calculating whether I could handle homeownership, I was careful to look beyond my mortgage. I also factored in HOA fees, property taxes, maintenance, moving costs, utilities, and even new furniture.
But I’d underestimated one massive money drain: home maintenance and repairs.
While it’s simple to factor in a set HOA fee or estimate a monthly electric bill, maintenance costs are hard to plan for. You could find yourself spending money on nothing but paint and Drano one year, then the next find yourself needing to replace a dead refrigerator and reshingle the roof.
A year after moving in, I learned my water heater had started leaking while I was away for the weekend. By the time I’d returned home and saw the mess, I learned that I’d need to test for mold, install a new floor, repair the walls, and replace my water heater.
The total cost: over $10,000.
My home insurance would not cover this, arguing that the water heater leak had been ongoing and that I’d been negligent. I’d have to pay for this out of pocket.
This immediately threw a giant wrench in my budget. Clearly, I was in over my head.
One or two jobs may not be enough
I already had a full-time job and a side hustle. But I knew I couldn’t yet negotiate a pay raise at my sales job and I wasn’t going to get more hours at the theme park. So, I started looking for a third job.
I applied at local shops and restaurants. I felt a bit silly, as a homeowner in my mid-20s applying for the same jobs I had in high school. But I had bills to pay, and I took the first job I was offered: working nights at a movie theater.
About the same time, I got a fourth job, tutoring a college student once a week. Job No. 5 came when I was asked to write for a small dating and relationship website.
I was tired from working all the time, but I was able to starting paying off the bills that were rolling in.
Don’t be afraid to borrow money
I knew I couldn’t handle working 80-hour weeks forever. After a few months, I was exhausted.
I was managing to stay afloat, but I worried about getting sick and falling behind. To keep my sanity, I needed to borrow money and give myself a buffer.
It took me a while to reach this decision—after all, it seemed irresponsible for someone who already had a hefty mortgage to borrow some more. But borrowing was better than skipping mortgage payments—and potentially losing my condo.
In the end, I was fortunate to be able to borrow money from my mom, but bank loans can be just as helpful for those without the option of borrowing from family.
After a long spring and summer of working in the movie theater, I was able to quit and focus more on my sales job. Soon after, my tutoring client was back on track with school and didn’t need my help anymore.
By fall, I was still doing my writing gig and working at the theme park, in addition to my sales job. They were still a lot to juggle, but I felt that I could handle the workload. I was paying my bills, and saving a good amount.
By the time I got back on track, I’d learned a valuable lesson: The costs of being a homeowner can’t always be calculated, and surprises are bound to pop up.
Years before I ever dreamed of homeownership for myself, I was an HGTV connoisseur. In college, I double majored in “Property Virgins” and “House Hunters” and spent hours glued to the TV with my roommate, ogling other people’s granite countertops.
Fast forward nearly a decade, and the time had arrived for me to purchase my own home. (No granite countertops here—my house was more like the “before” scene in an episode of “Fixer Upper”).
Not surprisingly, TV homeownership didn’t prepare me for the real thing. There are lots of lessons I’ve had to learn the hard way.
If you’re gearing up for your own journey into homeownership, turn off the TV and gather ’round. I’ll fill you in on a few things I wish I had known beforehand, and a few surprises (some happy, some frustrating) that I encountered along the way.
1. A beautiful yard takes work
I never met a succulent that I didn’t kill. Even my fake plants are looking a little wilted right now. But even though I don’t have a green thumb, landscaping and yard maintenance are forever on my to-do list.
Each spring, I spray Roundup with impunity, attempting (and failing) to conquer the weeds. My husband handles mowing and edging.
I’ve slowly started to learn which plants can endure abuse, neglect, and a volatile Midwestern climate. I still have a long way to go in my landscaping journey, but all this work has given me a new appreciation for other people’s lush, beautiful lawns.
When you’re house hunting, keep in mind that those beautiful lawns you see—and that outdoor space you covet—come at a steep price. Either your time and frustration, or a hefty bill for professional landscapers, will be necessary to keep things presentable.
2. You might get a bill for neighborhood improvements
Your property taxes should pay for every improvement to the neighborhood, right? Not necessarily.
When my neighbors came together to petition the city for a speed bump on our busy street, the cost was passed on to us homeowners. It wasn’t covered by property taxes, so we got a bill in the mail a few months later. Surprise!
When you’re preparing to buy a house, make sure you budget for homeownership expenses—not just repair and HOA costs, but those pesky fees that crop up when you least expect them.
3. Brush/trash removal? It works differently in every city
As a kid, I spent many fall weekends scooping leaves into yard waste bags that we left on the curb for pickup. But when I became a homeowner, I realized that my early brush with brush removal was unique to the suburb where I grew up. Every city handles it differently, if the city handles it at all.
In Milwaukee, where I live, homeowners can put leaves on the curb for pickup on designated days. For big branches, you need to request a pickup, or potentially dispose of them yourself. Check with your city to find the ordinances and regulations where you live.
4. You’ll want to clean (or hire someone to clean) your nasty windows
Window maintenance was never on my radar as a renter, probably because I never had more than a few windows in an apartment. But then I became the proud owner of many, many windows—and all of them were coated in a thick film of gunk after years of neglect.
After we moved in, I started to tackle the cleaning on my own. But I quickly realized I was getting nowhere fast, and there was no way I could safely clean the exterior windows up in the finished attic.
So, I swallowed my pride and hired window washers. It was some of the best money I’ve ever spent.
5. You may feel a sudden urge to stock up on seasonal decorations
I never looked twice at a $50 wreath or decorative gourd before becoming a homeowner. Now, I have a burgeoning collection of lawn ornaments in the shape of snowmen and spooky cats. Sometimes I don’t even know who I am anymore.
6. You’ll need to create a budget for Halloween candy
At least I did in my Halloween-loving neighborhood, where the trick-or-treaters come out in droves.
I spent upward of $100 on candy my first year as a homeowner, and most of it was purchased in a panic at the Dollar Store after I noticed that our supply was dangerously low just halfway through the evening.
Now, I stock up in advance and shop with coupons to save a few bucks.
7. DIY renovation is equally rewarding and soul-crushing
For the first few months after we closed on our house, my husband and I spent every free hour after work and on the weekends ripping out carpeting, pulling nails one by one from the hardwood floors, and scrubbing away at generations’ worth of grime in the bathrooms and kitchen. It was some seriously sick stuff.
Being frugal and ambitious means we can accomplish a lot on a small budget. But acting as our own general contractors became a full-time job on top of both of our full-time jobs.
Simple pleasures like “having a social life” or “Friday night with Netflix” became distant memories. It’s easy now to say it was all worth it, but at the time, I daydreamed about winning the lottery and hiring a team of pros to handle our rehab.
8. My impulse to check real estate listings lingered for a while
When I started house hunting, I obsessively searched for new home listings every day, poring over MLS descriptions and swiping through photos. Reaching for my phone to refresh the realtor.com app became muscle memory.
But after we closed on our house, my impulse to follow the market didn’t disappear overnight. Even though I was a homeowner, I also had a phantom limb where “checking the real estate listings” used to be.
A friend of mine put it best when she wrote about the sensation of loss she experienced when she “no longer had an excuse to occupy [her] free time with these real estate apps.” It’s surprisingly challenging to turn off your home-buying brain after months of being on high alert.
9. You’ll never want to go back to sharing walls
I like my neighbors. I like them even more because, for the most part, I can’t hear them. Gone are the days of people above me making bowling sounds late at night.
Now, I enjoy the sweet, sweet silence of detached living—no adjacent neighbors blasting music or loudly quarreling. All the yard work in the world is worth it for this level of quiet.
Many homes across the United States are part of an HOA, or homeowners association. So what does that mean?
In a nutshell, an HOA helps ensure that your community looks its best and functions smoothly. If you’re buying a condo, townhouse, or free-standing home in a neighborhood with shared common areas and amenities (such as swimming pools, parking garages, and security gates), odds are high these areas are maintained by a homeowners association.
The number of Americans living in homes with HOAs is on the rise, growing from a mere 1% in 1970 to 25% today, according to the Foundation for Community Association Research.
Is buying a home with an HOA right for you? We’ll help you decide by laying out the pros, cons, and costs of an HOA.
What is a homeowners association?
Let’s say, for instance, that the pump in the community swimming pool stops working. Someone has to take care of it before the water turns green and toxic, right? Rather than expect any one homeowner in the neighborhood to volunteer his time and money to fix the problem, homeowners associations are responsible for getting the job done.
You can think of the purpose of an HOA as similar to real estate property taxes that a homeowner pays for city and state services—except that in this case, these fees go to pay for amenities and maintenance in your own community or condo building.
How much are HOA fees?
To cover these property maintenance expenses and repairs, homeowners associations collect fees or dues (monthly or yearly) from all community members. For a typical single-family home, HOA fees will cost homeowners around $200 to $300 per month.
HOA fees can be lower or much higher depending on the size of your house or condominium and the services provided. The larger the homeowner area, the higher the HOA fee—which makes sense, because the family of four homeowners in a three-bedroom condominium is probably going to be using the common facilities more than a single resident living in a studio condo.
Many HOAs pay property managers to oversee maintenance and deal with other real estate–related property issues. HOA fees might also include insurance payments to cover common areas.
HOA fees are usually divided into two parts: One portion goes toward monthly expenses, and the remaining money goes into a reserve fund. This reserve fund serves as a safety net, to be tapped for emergency expenses that arise when natural disasters or vandals strike—or just the unavoidable wear and tear. They’re also used to cover long-term repairs and replacements such as roofs, plumbing, and exterior paint.
What is an assessment?
Be aware that when your community is hit with extreme maintenance expenses—like a flood in the underground parking lot due to a broken water heater or a pipe bursting—homeowner insurance will cover some of it, but whatever’s left will have to be paid by your HOA.
Typically in these cases, the HOA will tap the reserve fund, which may become depleted as a result. Or the association may not have enough in reserve to cover necessary expenses. In either case, your HOA board may require you and your fellow homeowners in the community to pay a special assessment bill above and beyond your monthly HOA fee.
For example, if the elevator in your condo building goes out and it’s going to cost $15,000 to replace it—but the HOA reserve account holds only $12,000—you and the rest of the residents are going to have to pony up at least an additional $3,000 in dues, divided among you, to make up the difference. And yes, you as a resident still have to contribute your share of dues, even if your property is on the first floor.
Luckily, though, these assessments are typically temporary until the reserve is back up to a comfortable level.
HOA rules: What to expect
All HOAs have boards made up of homeowners in the complex who are typically elected by all homeowners. These board members will set up regular meetings where owners can gather and discuss major decisions and issues with their community. For major expenditures, all members of the HOA usually vote, not just members of the board.
In addition to management of the common areas, homeowners associations are also responsible for seeing that its community members follow certain rules and restrictions. These rules will be spelled out in the covenants, conditions, and restrictions, or CC&Rs.
What are CC&Rs? Common restrictive covenants
Simply put, CC&Rs are just the rules you’ll have to follow if you live in that community. Unlike zoning regulations, which are government-imposed requirements on how land can be used, restrictive covenants are established by HOAs to maintain the attractiveness and value of the property.
Restrictive covenants differ from community to community, but there are some you can expect to see:
Permissible colors for exterior house paint
Minimum property and landscaping standards
Types of fencing allowed
Types of window treatments allowed
Limitations on the type of security lights you can attach to the house
Controls on installing sporting equipment such as a basketball hoop in the driveway
Restrictions that limit vehicle storage or recreational vehicle parking
Curbs on property uses that generate noise or smells (e.g., raising livestock)
Rules on commercial or business uses of land reserved for residences
When to review your CC&Rs
After your offer to buy a home is accepted, you are legally entitled to receive and review the community’s CC&Rs over a certain number of days (typically between three and 10). Warning: Some CC&Rs can be hundreds of pages, but given these are the laws you’ll have to abide by, this is required reading that you skip at your own peril.
If you spot anything in the restrictive covenants you absolutely can’t live with, you can bring it up with the HOA board or just back out of your contract completely (and keep your deposit). It may seem extreme, but if this is the place you hope to call home, living with rules that seriously cramp your style may just not be worth the trouble.
Can you change restrictive covenants?
Restrictive covenants, however, aren’t set in stone. They can be contested and changed with a majority vote of the shareholders, aka neighbors in your development. This can work for or against you depending on where you stand.
Bruce Ailion, a real estate agent and attorney for Re/Max Town and Country in Atlanta, says he has seen neighborhoods tighten regulations by issuing fines for cars parked in the streets, bicycles left outside the garage, nonstandard mailboxes, and other potentially petty problems.
“Yes, restrictive covenants keep the appearance of the property up and can prevent eyesores such as wrecked cars, unkempt lawns, and oddball home colors,” Ailion says. But he admits there are times when CC&Rs can be so restrictive that they start infringing on the rights of their residents.
But even in that case, there are things you can do. In January 2016, for instance, when an HOA in Keizer, OR, wouldn’t allow a family to park their RV in their driveway—a necessity for their disabled child—the family fought back with a lawsuit, arguing that the Fair Housing Act requires HOAs to make “reasonable accommodations” for people with disabilities.
The bottom line: Restrictive covenants are meant to protect residents, but they can be changed if they’re out of line.
What happens if you violate HOA rules or can’t pay your HOA fees?
First off, rest assured that most lending institutions take the HOA fee into consideration when they write up your mortgage. In other words, they evaluate your monthly income compared with your monthly expenses, and they won’t make a loan on the desired property unless they feel you can safely cover everything: your mortgage payment, taxes, and HOA fees.
But life happens. If you lose your job or are unable to pay your HOA fees, you might be able to work something out with the HOA board. Be sure to talk to the board before you miss even one payment.
If you break your HOA’s rules, the consequences could be severe, and potentially, HOA management could evict you from your property. Fall too far behind on paying HOA fees, and the penalty could be the same as if you fail to make your mortgage payments.
Home shoppers weigh a laundry list of factors before purchasing a home. Location, price, size, and style are all taken into consideration. But for some, a home in a community with a homeowners association could either sweeten the pot or be a major deal breaker.
“I have had clients who specifically want this type of situation, and others who refuse to buy in a community that has one,” says Bill Golden, an independent real estate agent with Re/Max Metro Atlanta Cityside.
Want to know what makes buyers swing one way or the other? The following insights will illustrate the best and worst qualities of HOAs and help you decide if living in this type of community is right for you.
Pro: HOAs maintain common areas
Your community’s HOA will be responsible for handling all maintenance of common areas and repairs for the amenities outside your home. It’s perhaps the biggest perk of living in an HOA community.
“Based on maintenance fees collected, an organized HOA maintains a comfortable balance in their fund to offset maintenance costs or unexpected issues that need to be fixed,” says Drew Scott of HGTV’s “Property Brothers” and co-founder of Scott Brothers Global.
An HOA’s level of involvement varies and might depend on the type and size of the community.
“The HOA will take care of the common areas like the pool, clubhouse, walking paths, or other amenities that provide value to the residents,” says Mark Ferguson, a Greeley, CO–based real estate agent and investor.
Sure, homeowners already taking on a mortgage may hate coughing up more money for HOA dues. But they actually let you off the hook for a ton of home maintenance work. So before you start kvetching, consider all that HOA fees can do for you.
“Your neighbors can’t paint their house bright purple or put an unsightly addition on the front of their house,” Golden says. The CC&Rs make sure “the community retains the look and feel of the way it was built.”
Other common no-nos are parking vehicles on the lawn or keeping inoperable vehicles in the driveway.
“You won’t have to worry about that one neighbor that has decided to let his front yard grow into a wild jungle,” says Golden.
Pro: HOAs help homes retain their value
“Ultimately, the HOA helps the homes within the neighborhood retain their value,” explains Patrick Garrett, real estate broker at H&H Realty in Trussville, AL. “When there are rules and guidelines governing how homeowners should keep their property’s appearance, it helps keep the neighborhood looking desirable for the consumers perusing the neighborhood in search of a new home.”
Pro: HOAs mediate problems on your behalf
An HOA can also reduce conflicts and unpleasant exchanges. If your neighbors haven’t cut their lawn in several weeks, or decide to turn their driveway into an auto repair shop, you don’t have to confront them, because the HOA will. When anyone is engaged in activity that violates the CC&Rs, the HOA sends a friendly notice and follows up with a stern warning.
“A reasonable HOA is like heaven,” says Ailion. Several years ago, he represented a builder of family homes that were sold to investors; with no restrictive covenants in place, the community looked terrible two years later. By contrast, a nearby community that had instituted an HOA to oversee lawn care and home exteriors was thriving.
“Those properties looked like new, and year after year, the gap in price between the two communities has grown,” he says.
But HOAs come with some distinct downsides, too:
Con: Those pesky HOA fees
If you move into an area with an HOA, membership is mandatory, and so are the monthly or annual fees. Plus, “the fees can change, based on decisions that you don’t have total control over,” Golden says. “Fees can also be a detriment to resale, if potential buyers don’t want that extra cost in addition to their house payment.”
Con: There’s a lot of red tape
Building that new second-floor addition will be especially difficult in an HOA community.
Any exterior modification—even a minor one like a play area for your kids—has to be approved by the HOA.
You must submit plans describing the height, colors, location, shape, and materials to the HOA board for approval.
“This can really slow down the process or limit the type of work you can do,” Scott says.
Ferguson says the approval process can be downright unreasonable.
“It once took my HOA nine months to approve a basketball hoop that had already been approved by them for the previous owners,” he says.
Con: HOAs can be overbearing
Remember those CC&Rs? While they come in handy for preventing rowdy college students from moving in, they also might be off-putting for homeowners who like their autonomy.
“Many folks believe that buying your own home should give you the freedom to make the changes you want to make and express your own individuality,” Golden explains. “They don’t want decisions about their own home made by a committee.”
HOA-mandated restrictions can be set on swimming pools (e.g., in-ground swimming pools can be built in the back of the house, but above-ground pools are prohibited), pets (e.g., they are allowed, but they can’t be bred or kept for commercial reasons; livestock or poultry are not allowed without permission), and rentals (e.g., you might be prohibited from renting out rooms or the entire home).
In extreme situations, some HOAs can evict the tenant and hold the homeowner responsible for any eviction costs or any damage caused by the tenant.
Just keep in mind that an HOA’s goal is not to meddle; it’s merely to maintain a neighborhood aesthetic. However, if you don’t like being told what to do with your home, living under the bylaws and rules of an association may not be for you. Make sure to read your CC&Rs carefully and weigh the pros and cons of any particular HOA before you buy.
Michele Lerner, Cathie Ericson, and Lisa Johnson Mandell contributed to this article.
Getting ready to move into your new home? Before you settle in, there are some important home improvement projects you’ll want to tackle.
We totally get that home improvement is probably the last thing on your mind while you’re unpacking boxes, but trust us. You’ll regret not tackling these tasks while your home is a blank slate. Some of these projects are just easier to do before your furnishings are all set up, whereas other things are essential for your safety.
Curious about what you could be missing? Take a look at these eight essential home improvements to do after moving in—or even just before—to start your new life right.
1. Change the locks
Here’s a basic safety check: Those old locks at your new house need to be replaced or rekeyed, says Sarah Fishburne, director of trend and design at The Home Depot.
It’s not that you shouldn’t trust the sellers—it’s that you shouldn’t trust all of the people who’ve had contact with those keys over the years, any of whom could have copied the keys for some unsavory purpose.
Unfortunately, more than half (52%) of baby boomers and about a third of Gen Xers (33%) and millennials (31%) who moved in the past year have not changed their locks, a recent Home Depot survey found. Don’t join them.
2. Change alarm batteries
Making sure your fire and carbon monoxide detectors have fresh batteries may not seem like a pressing issue when you’re in the middle of a stressful move, but it’s the kind of thing that gets ignored and then forgotten. It’s better to deal with it now, when the home is empty and you can replace the old batteries without having to move furniture to make way for a ladder.
3. Caulk cracks and gaps
Using caulk to seal cracks around bathtubs, windows, doors, and other crevices around the house will help you stop leaks, drafts, and other nuisances that could inflate your utility bills.
“Caulk serves multiple purposes: It lowers heating and air-conditioning bills by reducing airflow into and out of the home; it prevents moisture that can cause wood rot, mold, mildew, and water damage; and it keeps insects and other pests out,” says J.B. Sassano, president of Mr. Handyman.
Pro tip: Mark Clement of MyFixItUpLife recommends using a latex-based elastomeric caulk, specifically DAP Dynaflex 230.
“It’s versatile: You could use it for molding, repair for paint jobs, both interior and exterior,” Clement says. “It’s the best jack-of-all-trades caulk.”
4. Spackle holes
Cracks, scratches, and holes in walls can form over time from regular wear and tear, or simply from nails that were used to hang artwork. A bit of spackling and spot painting will make rooms look fresh again, says Fishburne.
Nearly 3 in 5 (59%) new homeowners patch and paint their walls themselves, a Home Depot survey found. If you have only a few holes and scratches, you can fill them with spackling compound, which is sold in small qualities. For a greater number of gashes and holes, use joint compound, which is sold in quarts or 5-gallon buckets.
When you’re done spackling, you’ll want to repaint those areas. If you don’t have any of the original paint lying around (ask the seller if there’s left any), peel a dollar-size piece from the wall and bring that to your local paint store, which can match the color.
5. Build extra storage
If your new home is short on storage space, installing some storage units around the house can make your new home a lot less cluttered after you move in.
Specifically, entryway storage is crucial, especially in the winter, when puffer jackets, snow boots, and scarves demand extra space. So, consider mounting a shelving unit near your front door or in your mudroom (or both).
The only tool you’ll need is a power drill. If you don’t have one, you can rent one from a hardware store—or, better yet, borrow a drill from one of your new neighbors.
6. Childproof your new home
If you have young kids, take a day to childproof your new house. After all, accidental injuries are the leading cause of death in children aged 14 and younger, and more than a third of these incidents happen at home.
Installing safety gates at the top and bottom of all stairs is a must for small children. Choose a gate model that needs to be mounted with nails or screws to the wall or banister, rather than one that stays in place with tension, which kids can potentially push out of place, says Sharalyn Crossfield, a child safety expert and owner of Gate Maven Childproofing Services.
Blind cords are another problem—every day, at least two kids head to the ER for blinds-related injuries, often involving little ones getting entangled in (or strangled by) these strings.
To keep window blind cords and strings out of a child’s reach, place them on high, wall-mounted hooks.
Going up against deeply embedded dirt? You’ll want to rent a powerful, industrial-style carpet-cleaning machine such as a Rug Doctor, which sprays hot water with a detergent over the carpet and extracts it with a high-powered vacuum. These have more washing and sucking power than most consumer carpet cleaners, but they’re expensive to buy—about $400 to $700—so it’s more economical to rent one from a hardware store for about $25 to $30 per day.
Transporting the equipment and operating the machine can be cumbersome, but it does a better job cleaning your carpet than a regular vacuum cleaner and is less expensive than hiring a professional carpet cleaning service, which costs on average between $121 and $233, according to HomeAdvisor.
8. Clean hardwood floors—without ruining the finish
This is another task you’ll want to tackle before moving in so that you don’t have to move heavy furniture around to get the job done. Using the right cleaning solution is crucial. Most wood floor installers or manufacturers recommend cleaners that contain isopropyl alcohol, which dries quickly, and are available at home supply stores.
To make your own solution, add a capful of white vinegar to a gallon of water, which will help dissolve grease and grime on the floor without stripping the finish.
To remove shoe scuff marks, rub marks with a tennis ball. Whatever you do, do not clean wood floors with a steam mop, says Brett Miller, vice president of education and certification for the National Wood Flooring Association, in St. Louis.
“Steam is horrible for wood floors,” he says. “It opens the pores in woods and damages the finish, causing irreversible damage to any wood floor.”
I live in a house with a gorgeous in-ground pool. When my husband and I bought the property in 2012, I swooned over visions of pool parties filled with floaties and endless summer fun.
It’s a good thing I didn’t start sending out those pool party invitations too soon. Because first, we had to figure out how to repair and maintain a swimming pool, which is no small task. Here are a few things I learned about what it takes to have a home with a pool.
Lesson No. 1: Renovating a run-down pool will drain your bank account dry
The home we’d purchased was a distressed property near Seattle that had been empty for years. Thieves had stolen anything they could, including equipment and wiring. My neighbor talked about chasing off groups of teenagers who trespassed onto the empty property and sat around the pool, throwing rocks and bottles into the water. By the time we’d bought the place, the pool water wasn’t just green. It was a menacing green, a black, lumpy morass.
We were about to discover just how expensive and harrowing pool repair can get.
For one, the pool equipment needed to be replaced. A new, energy-efficient heat pump cost $4,500. We bought a pool-cleaning robot for about $800. Just to get the pool running, we spent about $10,000.
It wasn’t just money, either. Because draining a fiberglass pool can cause the shell to shift, we had to actually clean the existing water in the pool rather than draining it. So we spent weeks dragging rubbish and rotting debris out of the murky depths. We evicted hundreds of croaking frogs and salamanders. We cleaned out gallons of pine needle sludge before the pool was even clean enough to start using the pool robot.
The day we could see the bottom of the pool was a long-awaited victory.
Lesson No. 2: Once it’s up and running, swimming pools rock!
And yet: Once all the repairs were done, our first pool party had me hooked! Friends came, and friends of friends. They brought food, and babies, and laughter! It’s a good thing I live in the country, because the shrieking and carrying on would have been heard for blocks away in the city.
I discovered why playing in a home pool is much better than going to a lake or a public pool. I control the temperature, for one thing. (I think 86 degrees is about right.) I test the water myself, so I know the chemicals are all just so. We follow our own rules, with all the floaty toys and basketball games we want.
Lesson No. 3: Even when your pool is fixed, maintenance costs a pretty penny
I’ll admit that my expectations of pool ownership were different from the reality. I had thought that once it was fixed up, we could add a few chemicals and run the pump filters every so often, and spend long, lazy summers lounging by the pool.
First, we live in the Pacific Northwest. So which long, lazy summers? You don’t know how short our summers are until you’re scanning the weather report, looking for enough sunshine to open the pool. I’m lucky if my pool doesn’t look more like this:
Second, pools require a lot of maintenance, and inevitably, repairs. Sometimes we say we should just throw cash in the water, for all the chemicals we buy and dump in the pool. Last year, the pipes sprang a leak, and the summer was half over before it was working again. We spend a significant portion of every summer working on our pool. Last summer, we spent about $500 on repairs, plus another $200 on chemicals.
Lesson No. 4: Sometimes, a pool can’t be saved
In 2015, we bought another house in Puyallup, WA, intending to use it as a construction office. It came with a gigantic old concrete pool. We thought about filling it in to create more parking space, or filling it in part way and creating a koi pond. It seemed a shame to fill in a nice pool, though, especially after the previous owner told me how long ago her mother had won $20,000 in Reno and spent it on building this one.
Eventually, we dropped the office plans and started fixing up the property to sell, at which point I thought that perhaps the pool might even be an attractive feature for the next owners. Despite my husband’s skepticism, I started watching YouTube videos on restoring pools.
My daughter-in-law Sherri was game. We fished shoes, branches, milk cartons, and other junk out of the pool.
We pumped it out and started scraping the loose plaster. I bought crack sealant and plaster-patching supplies. Sherri and I spent days hauling buckets full of old plaster from the depths of the pool and spraying muriatic acid on the walls so the plaster patches would stick.
Unfortunately, the more we scraped, the more the plaster came loose. It became clear that we wouldn’t just be patching the pool, we’d be resurfacing the whole thing.
To get it done right, I looked into hiring a pro—and got a bid for $20,000 to replace all the plaster, tiles, and steps. Oh, and the pool equipment would be extra. That was money we didn’t have, considering that we had already spent more money on this house than we’d planned. We eventually cut our losses and sold the house with the pool “as is” rather than risk doing an iffy repair job or spending too much money.
Lesson No. 5: Get a pool inspection first, to know if you’re getting in over your head
If you’re looking at a house that comes with a pool, how do you know whether the pool can be saved, or whether you can afford to save it?
If you have your heart set on using a pool, consider having a pool expert inspect your property before you buy the house. Be reasonably confident you can afford to fix the pool and maintain it, or no one will be having any fun with it.
While the pool at our house has lived up to all my expectations of how much fun a pool can be, I hate to think how much money we’ve spent on it. I’m sure we could have gone on some fabulous vacations with that much money. But whether my pool has a dozen small children laughing and squealing in it for hours, or I’m all alone floating in warm water and looking up at the blue sky and tall fir trees, I wouldn’t change a thing. I’d rather be in my own pool than at any exotic location on earth.
So you’re a first-time buyer who just closed the deal on your new home and moved in. Finally, you can breathe a deep sigh of relief. After all, you managed to pony up a down payment, closing costs, and other sundry expenses. Provided you make your monthly mortgage payments, you’re fine and dandy on the finance front … right?
Not quite. Because owning a home means you have to maintain it—and maintenance costs money to do right. Expenses that you may not have considered are bound to crop up after you’ve bought the house. Some are one-offs, but others will come back around regularly. Overlook them at your peril, since neglect may just lead to even bigger breakdowns that will cost you more down the road.
Want to know what lies ahead? (Hey, it’s better than being blindsided.) Check out these hidden expenses that first-time buyers often overlook.
1. New locks
Cost: $100 to $350, plus installation
Once you’ve signed on the dotted line, you get to take the keys to your new home—but before moving in with all your stuff, you should get those locks changed ASAP.
“I don’t think people are thinking about who else has a key: the babysitter, dog walker, mother-in law,” says Elizabeth Samti, a real estate agent for Weichert Realtors in Cherry Hill, NJ. “People aren’t conscious about how many keys could be floating around out there.”
2. Tree trimming/removal
Cost: $75 to $4,000, depending the height of the tree
You remembered to budget enough to purchase a lawn mower and an edger, or maybe you set aside money to pay for a lawn maintenance service. But did you remember tree maintenance? Many first-time home buyers don’t, and if your property has older trees on the grounds, tree trimming or removal can cost a pretty penny.
For instance, having a tree completely removed can average $4,000 or more. And if you want that pesky stump removed, too, expect to cough up several hundred more.
3. HVAC maintenance
Cost: $70 to $100 twice a year
Twice-a-year maintenance on your HVAC system can prevent expensive emergency repairs in the future. Even brand-new systems need check-ups, as most warranties require regular maintenance.
The cost of HVAC maintenance depends on the payment plan you select. If you choose to pay a technician each time he comes to your home, you can wind up paying up to $100 per visit. Instead, Samti recommends signing up for a yearly service contract. These contracts typically include two check-ups a year, and may also offer perks like priority emergency service or a small discount if repairs are needed. The price of a year-long contract depends on its terms, but tends to run around $150.
4. HVAC filters
Cost: $10 to 25 a month
Also on the HVAC note: “The whole system works better if you change your filter once a month,” says Samti. Basic filters won’t break the bank, but filters with allergy reduction elements typically have a higher price tag. To save money, Samti suggests buying filters in bulk or subscribing to a monthly filter delivery service, which will drop a filter right at your door when it’s time to be changed.
5. Duct cleaning
Cost: $450 to $1,000, depending on the size of the home
If you purchase a previously lived-in home, contaminants in the ducts can be a major problem for allergy suffers. Samti recommends paying for a one-time duct cleaning in homes where the previous owners had pets, especially cats.
The National Air Duct Cleaners Association points out that the duct cleaning cost for an average-sized home varies depending on a number of factors, such as the number of ducts, level of contamination, and environmental factors.
6. Fire extinguishers
Cost: $20 to $75 per extinguisher
In some states, home sellers are required to keep a fire extinguisher within 5 feet of the kitchen when their house hits the market, so there’s a chance there will be one waiting for you when you move in. But if your newly purchased home doesn’t include a fire extinguisher, Samti suggests buying at least one to store in the kitchen.
7. Smoke/carbon monoxide detectors
Cost: $12 to $80 per unit
New homes usually come equipped with modern smoke and carbon monoxide detectors that are hardwired, but previously owned homes may contain older, battery-operated detectors that are way past their prime. In addition to replacing any outdated detectors, Samti recommends installing smoke detectors in every bedroom in your home—even if they’re not required by law.
8. Pest control
Cost: $50 to $250 for initial treatment
Even if you paid for a pest inspection before purchasing, you can still end up with an army of ants marching across your kitchen counter in the spring. An initial treatment to exterminate ants can cost $50 to $75, and your exterminator will typically charge around $40 for each additional month he needs to continue treatment, according to Ed McGettigan of Exterminating Company of America in Audubon, NJ.
As for rodents, the cost depends on how many critters are crawling around your home.
“Since there are various methods of removing rodents, the fees for each method will vary, but expect to pay at least $75 for an initial visit from any pest control company,” McGettigan says.
9. Fireplace cleaning
Cost: $75 to $175 depending on the length of the chimney
If you purchase a previously owned home that includes a fireplace, you’ll need to pay to get both the fireplace and chimney cleaned. While a home inspector visually inspects the chimney’s structure, he’s not a specialist in its cleanliness, according to Samti.
“Even if you think you’re not going to use it, get the fireplace cleaned,” she says. “It’s such a fire hazard. You have no idea how long stuff has been in it.”
Finally, you’ve done it: You’ve scoured the market for available homes—and then some—and found one you can’t stop thinking about. It’s time to make an offer!
But before you put your money on the line, take a peek around the neighborhood. We won’t use a certain cliché, but there is a reason the pros emphasize location when buying real estate. You can change your house—but you can’t change the neighborhood. And if your hood is on the decline, you just might have a helluva time offloading your home when you decide to sell.
A bad neighborhood isn’t always obvious, though; sometimes you need to do a little digging to know if a community is worth buying in. Luckily, we’ve identified seven red flags that should give you pause before you sign on the dotted line.
Red flag No.1: Too many houses are on the market
There’s nothing wrong with two or three listed houses on the same street. But if you see an army of “For Sale” signs, consider looking elsewhere.
“This points to illiquidity in the market and pricing pressure, which is a risk for buyers,” says Alison Bernstein, the founder of Suburban Jungle, which helps families find their ideal suburb.
Of course, the hue of this particular red flag depends on the reason for those “For Sale” signs. Perhaps the neighborhood is rapidly gentrifying and longtime residents have decided to cash in. Or maybe there’s a more sinister explanation, like increasing crime rates. Your agent can help you assess the situation before making any big moves.
Red flag No.2: The schools are enrolling fewer students
Schools in healthy communities should be steadily increasing their enrollment—or at least keeping the population steady, if there’s no physical room to grow.
“Shrinking class sizes are a red flag,” Bernstein says.
There are a number of reasons enrollment might decrease. Your local school might have a reputation for poor management, sending parents fleeing to charter or private options. Or perhaps residents are staying put as their kids grow up, leading to older neighbors and fewer close-by pals for your kids. That may or may not be a deal breaker, but it’s certainly something to consider.
Red flag No.3: The area leans industrial
A nearby strip of cute boutique stores might be a nice selling point, but reconsider the purchase if the closest commercial influences lean toward the industrial.
“Be mindful of any kind of commercial influence on the block, such as close gas stations or anything that could be undesirable health-wise,” says Ralph DiBugnara, the vice president at Residential Home Funding.
Any nearby industrial plants should automatically nix a neighborhood, and think long and hard before buying across from a car dealership or auto body shop, which attract a lot of car traffic.
Red flag No.4: There are lots of empty storefronts
Don’t just stop at counting boutiques versus gas stations. Are the stores actually thriving, or are there lots of retail spaces for rent?
“Empty storefronts can tell you a lot,” Bernstein says. “They point to less disposable income of residents than clearly there once was.”
Why does that matter? Decreased disposable income indicates a neighborhood on the decline. If homeowners don’t have money for dinner out, they probably don’t have cash for upkeep. Shabby homes drag down property values. Meager cash flow can also lead to future foreclosures—and a foreclosed-upon home is a neighbor that no one wants.
Red flag No. 5: The Stepford style is in full force
You might love the homogenous, well-groomed suburban look (and there’s nothing wrong with that!). But take a moment to examine it more closely. Are there any unique decorative doodads dotting each garden, like aluminum chickens or wind chimes? Or is the front porch furniture identical?
If all the neighborhood’s homes (and landscaping) look suspiciously similar, “explore how restrictive the homeowners association is,” says Susanna Haynie, a Realtor in Colorado Springs, Co. “It could be an issue.”
Red flag No.6: There’s no parking
Sure, the property may have a one-car garage—but where will your friends park, and where can you keep your spouse’s car? If the streets have bumper-to-bumper traffic, think twice about buying in the neighborhood—especially if the home lacks a garage or carport.
“I’m always on the lookout for a lack of parking,” DiBugnara say. “It’s best to visit at night or on weekends to really, truly tell what will be available to you once you live there.”
Unless you commute primarily by foot or bike—or you’re OK spending your weekends circling the block—the neighborhood may not be a good fit for you.
Red flag No.7: Surrounding homes aren’t well-maintained
Tread lightly here: A street full of run-down homes with overgrown yards and broken fences should set off warning signals. And this has nothing to do with wealth; lower-income neighborhoods can be just as well-kept as more expensive ones. It’s about pride. Neighbors with no pride in their home’s appearance and upkeep decrease property values for everyone.
Plus, problems with the homes next door can indicate that the house you want might have bigger issues than meet the eye. Look at every house on the block for issues such as water pooling in the yards, or flickering porch lights.
“If there are problems such as water pipes or electrical issues, you will tend to see more than one home showing damage,” DiBugnara says. Fixing these major problems “could be a major expense, hassle, or detriment to your value later on.”
Navigating the home-buying and -selling process is kind of like diving into “Game of Thrones” for the first time: People speak in a language you don’t quite understand. There’s backstory you should research before you get started. And ideally, you’d have someone by your side who knows what’s coming and who can guide you through the experience.
Yes, buying, owning, and selling a home comes with its own share of drama and plot twists. But rest assured: We’re here to help guide you! That’s why we’ve doled out so much expert advice over the past 12 months on everypossible real estate topic we could think of.
But what was most useful to you? In no particular order, here are our most-read advice pieces of 2018—the greatest hits that resonated with you the most and (hopefully!) have helped make your real estate journey a little less overwhelming. (Just click the headlines to read the full story.)
Does anyone actually like the tedium of home maintenance tasks? We’re doubtful. (Although if you’re out there and single, call me!) But when you’re a homeowner, regular—and monotonous—maintenance comes with the territory.
And sure, you might think you know what you have to do to keep your house in order—mow the lawn, clean the gutters, sweep your chimney. But we guarantee there are some small things you’re overlooking—things that can create big problems and enormous repair bills.
Can’t-miss tip: Clean your refrigerator drip pan. Your what now? If you didn’t know your fridge has one of these, you’re not alone. It turns out, like with belly buttons, we all have one—and it can get pretty gross (and moldy) if you don’t clean it regularly.
But to clean your drip pan, first you have to find it. Just remove the kick panel at the bottom of your refrigerator, then use a flashlight to trace the defrost drain line to the pan. Pull out the pan carefully (it could be full of water), then empty and wash it with an all-purpose cleaner.
You’ve scrimped and saved for your first home, and you’ve already mentally moved in. But then, in a cruel and humiliating twist of fate, your mortgage application is rejected. How could this happen to you, of all people?
According to a Federal Reserve study, 1 in 8 mortgage applications (12%) is rejected. And often those rejections are the result of something you could have easily avoided.
Can’t miss tip: If you’re a Venmo-only kind of gal, or you’ve avoided using credit cards (debt’s bad, right?), it’s time to rethink your fiscal approach and swipe that plastic.
Credit cards allow you to establish a credit history—proof of a strong track record of paying off past debts. (Of course, don’t forget to actually pay those bills.) Without that credit history, lenders will likely be reluctant to fork over loan money they can’t be certain they’ll get back.
Quick: When was the last time you changed your sheets? If you can’t remember, we won’t judge—you’re in good company (38% of Americans wash their sheets less than once a week). But after you read this, you might want to strip your bed, pronto.
This year, we launched a series where we put all aspects of homeownership under a microscope—literally. In “According to Science,” we take a look at the scientific reasons behind what’s happening in your home, the weird stuff that can be avoided, and, in this instance, what’s lurking under your covers.
“Body oils, sweat, and sloughed-off skin,” answers Bill Carroll Jr., an adjunct professor of chemistry at Indiana University. “We live in a world of pathogens, and not all are virulent enough to take us down. But can bedclothes spread disease? Kind of.” Yuck.
Can’t miss tip: We’ll let you read up on the bacterial Armageddon that’s happening every day you don’t wash your sheets. But if you want to slow down the invasion, just make a simple adjustment to your bed-making routine: Each morning, pull all the covers down from the fitted sheet and let things air out for a few minutes. This lets the sweat and moisture evaporate from your sheets.
This one might seem macabre, but dealing with a deceased family member’s estate is, unfortunately, a part of life. And not an easy one: Figuring out what to do with your loved one’s property and possessions, all while you’re grieving, can feel like a one-two punch. So it’s understandable that mistakes happen. We ID’d the biggest ones to avoid during this turbulent time.
Can’t-miss tip: When you’re going through a loved one’s belongings, it’s easy to overvalue the sentimental stuff and undervalue the things that are unfamiliar to you. Rather than unwittingly letting go of something rare and valuable, talk to an appraiser before you get started.
“I’d love to pay more for that house than I have to!” said no one ever.
Every home buyer wants to score a deal, and the most obvious place to start is with the house’s sticker price. Offering below asking is a common tactic, but not one that always works. How low can you go before you offend the seller—and ruin your chances of landing your dream home?
Can’t miss tip: In the same way you should know how long that leftover chicken parm has been in your fridge, you should know how long any house you’re eyeing has been on the market. If you’re familiar with the property history, you can get a better idea of demand for the house—and whether the listing is getting stale.
“Two days on the market? Probably not a good idea to go in with a lowball offer $50,000 below asking price,” Jennifer Carlson of Coldwell Banker in East Greenwich, RI, told us. “A whole year on the market, with price reductions? Go ahead and roll the dice. The longer a house has been on the market, the less of an upper hand the seller has in negotiation.”
The number of days on market is public on most online listings, and if not, any good real estate agent should know.
Decluttering seems like the last thing you’d be able to screw up. Isn’t it just sorting and tossing?
Well, sure, that’s a big part of it. But a good decluttering session (yes, there’s good and bad) hinges on more than just purging. And if you go into decluttering mode assuming you know how to do it right, you could end up with more stuff than you started with.
Can’t miss tip: We’ve been conditioned by organizing gurus like Marie Kondo to keep only the things that “spark joy” and to toss everything else. We don’t disagree entirely. But realistically, some exceptions should be made.
“Let’s be clear: My diaper pail does not spark joy, but it’s an essential item that is used every day in my home,” Laura Kinsella, owner of Urban OrgaNYze in New York City, told us.
Declutter with this thought in mind, she says: Is this item beautiful in my home or does it prove to be useful? If the answer is no, then it’s probably time for it to go.