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9 Things I Wish I Had Known About Owning My First Home (Before I Bought It)

November 18, 2019


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

That lawn’s not going ti cut itself


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

You might not be able to just leave your leaves on the curb…


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

Stock up…


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

Maybe just call someone next time…


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 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.

The post 9 Things I Wish I Had Known About Owning My First Home (Before I Bought It) appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights |®.

Lessons From Listing Photos: This Palm Springs Pad Far Exceeds #BackyardGoals

June 12, 2019

It doesn’t matter how perfect your home is—if your listing photos don’t stand out, potential buyers won’t come by to take a look. In our series “Lessons From Listing Photos,” we dissect the smart updates sellers have made to their homes, and how their listing pics highlight the home’s best assets.

This Palm Springs, CA, palace was built in 1998, and it’s spent a fair share of time going on and off the market since then.

The problem: While it has gorgeous bones, it was lacking a design personality to make it really shine. The most recent owner, who purchased the home for $2 million in November 2018, made quick work of upping the midcentury modern aesthetic while cultivating a bohemian vibe. You’ll see this in the eclectic mix of colorful accessories and natural textures.

After the renovation, the home was listed in May 2019 for nearly $1 million more than what the seller paid. And we have a feeling finding a buyer won’t be a problem (you’ll understand why when you see the improvements to the backyard).

To find out how the seller pulled it off—and how you can make that kind of profit on your remodel—we went to the experts. Here are the rooms—and home improvements—where the work paid off the most.

Before: Living room

living room before (1)
The living room appears cold and sterile.

After: Living room

living room after (1)
Opening up the ceiling and adding conversation areas made the living room warmer and more inviting.

At first glance, it looks like the changes in the living room were mostly furniture, but the homeowners went way beyond that.

“The removal of the drywall on the farthest section of the ceiling reveals the beautiful original wooden structure and allows for a more organic transition to the outside space,” says Jared Cohen of Trig Builders, in Los Angeles.

In addition, “adding an entrance tucked just off of the living room optimizes the layout and creates a perfect flow between the indoors and out for a great entertaining pad,” explains Levi Austin of Levi Austin Design, in New York City.

Of course, new furniture played a big role: “This is the perfect example of using decor to highlight the amazing features of this great space,” says designer Paul Trudel-Payne. “Multiple conversational seating areas, vibrant pops of color, and the cacti along the entire length of the windows all help to highlight how large and open this space truly is.”

Before: Kitchen

kitchen before (1)
The old kitchen was classy but dated.

After: Kitchen

kitchen after (1)
With a reconfigured space and larger island, the kitchen is brighter and more spacious.

It’s hard to tell this renovated kitchen is the same room shown in the before picture!

“This renovation virtually doubled the size of this kitchen. It’s the perfect nod to the history of the home, with up-to-date finishes this luxurious space deserves,” says Austin. “This kitchen remodel reconfigured the space to add ample counter space, a larger island to allow room for prep and informal dining, and high-end finishes and fixtures.”

Altering the cabinetry also makes the kitchen appear more spacious. “Colorblocking the cabinetry with white panels adds interest and allows them to take up less space visually,” says interior designer Christina Toole of Design Tribe.

Before: Bedroom

bedroom 2_sitting area before
The blandness of this bedroom could put you to sleep.

After: Bedroom

bedroom 2_sitting area after
Fresh decor and a sitting area breathe life into the bedroom.

You know that extra space in your home you have no idea how to decorate? That was the case with this bedroom before the sellers got hold of it. This bedroom can clearly accommodate more than a bed and dresser, but the round table and chairs weren’t cutting it. So they repurposed it into a junior suite with a sitting area.

“Adding a partition screen breaks up the long, narrow room into more pleasing proportions without blocking light,” says interior designer Janet Lorusso.

Before: Master bedroom

bedroom 1 before
Before renovation, this was just a great place to sleep.

After: Master bedroom

bedroom 1 after
But after the changes, the space is more fun and functional.

Before the renovations, we wouldn’t have hesitated to grab a good night’s sleep in this modern master bedroom; but after the renovations, it’s a place where you might want to spend your whole day.

Austin is a big fan of the changes, especially the elements you may not notice immediately.

“All new finishes, poured concrete flooring, and updated ventilation systems modernize this home behind the scenes,” he observes. “Clean, open, and natural woods brighten the room, setting the stage for charming, colorful elements.”

Those colorful elements also caught Trudel-Payne’s eye. “You had me at floral wallpaper and hanging rattan chair,” he says. “From the woven pendant lights above the nightstands, to the breakfast/work bar, to the perfectly placed sitting area at the foot of the bed, this room was done so right!”

Before: Backyard

Backyard before
The original backyard had a desert vibe.

After: Backyard

_Backyard after
The new backyard has lush and green landscaping.

Finally, we arrive at the pièce de résistance of this renovated home: the backyard. It was a good space to begin with, but the renovations here are most likely to boost the home’s value.

“This backyard was done perfectly, to every last detail,” says Austin. “The minimalist desert landscaping and thoughtful touches of color are perfect surrounding the poured concrete patio, allowing for maximized space around the pool. From the clean lines and modernized landscaping to the infinity hot tub, it’s a perfect backdrop for parties.”

Before: Another view of the backyard

Backyard 2 before
The rounded corners dated the pool.

After: Another view of the backyard

Backyard 2 after
The new pool looks modern and luxurious.

Chicago-based interior designer Lauren Visco noted a change to the pool’s shape that made a world of difference.

“Squaring off the rounded pool corners gives this outdoor space a clean look and allows for a gradual transition between the landscape and water,” she says.



Watch: Point, Shoot, Sell? To Show Off Your Home, Avoid These Listing Photo Mistakes


The post Lessons From Listing Photos: This Palm Springs Pad Far Exceeds #BackyardGoals appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights |®.

Saving for a Rainy Day: Your Home Repair Emergency Fund Should Have This Much Cash

August 3, 2018

Saving for a Rainy Day: Your Home Repair Emergency Fund Should Have This Much Cash


A home repair emergency fund can save you from financial disaster. While it’s easy to believe your house is in great shape, you never know when you’ll have to deal with an expensive plumbing bill or a flooded basement.

If you don’t have money set aside for repairs, you might be tempted to use your credit card. However, unless you’re able to pay them off immediately, charging costly home repairs is never a wise financial idea—it’ll accrue interest and leave you with an even larger bill later.

The better solution is to think ahead and create a home repair emergency fund.

What’s a home repair emergency fund?

A home repair emergency fund is money set aside to pay for unexpected home repairs—the cash you can grab at a moment’s notice. In other words, you don’t want to put that money into a long-term savings portfolio where you’ll face massive fees if you pull money out early.

Homeowners don’t need to get too creative with an emergency fund, says Byron Ellis, managing director of United Capital Financial Advisers in The Woodlands, TX. A savings account in a local bank will suffice.

How much money should you save in your emergency fund?

Ellis suggests homeowners create a cash reserve of three to six months of living expenses. You cash reserve target should be about 1% to 3% of your home value. So, if your home is worth $500,000, Ellis suggests setting aside $5,000 to $15,000.

Of course, each situation is different. A homeowner with a new home with all new systems and appliances might not need to tap into a home repair emergency fund. Fixer-uppers and old homes, of course, will likely require that money sooner.

General emergency funds

In addition to a home repair emergency fund, it’s also wise to create two general emergency funds: an everyday emergency fund and a dire emergency fund. Everyday emergencies—such as needing a new boiler in your home—can cut into your monthly budget, so having some cash stowed away will allow you to still pay your rent or mortgage. Shoot for having about 10% of your annual wage in your everyday emergency savings account, says Robert Reed, a partner at Partnership Financial in Columbus, OH. If you’re self-employed, Reed says to put aside 20% of your yearly salary since the income is variable.

The second emergency fund—the dire emergency fund—is for life’s calamities that interrupt your income. It could be losing your job, falling ill and needing to take time off work, or dealing with a death in the family.

“Our concern when something catastrophic happens is that people could risk losing their home because all of a sudden they can’t make their mortgage payment,” Reed says.

Reed recommends working toward saving 20% of your mortgage balance for the dire emergency fund. Put aside money from each check and you’ll quickly begin to get closer to your goal. For instance, putting aside $25 every week will get you $1,300 in a year.

Use a savings or money market account for your emergency fund. You shouldn’t use a brokerage account since that fluctuates.

What to do if you don’t have an emergency fund

Let’s say your central air-conditioning system dies in the middle of summer and you desperately need to replace it, but you don’t have a home repair emergency fund. Where do you turn? Two options are a home equity loan and a home equity line of credit, or HELOC.

Both of these let you tap into the value of your home to cover costs. A major difference is that the home equity loan is a lump sum and you often have a fixed interest rate. HELOC is a line of credit that you can borrow. A HELOC lets you draw money from the account as much as you need up to the available maximum amount. Also, a HELOC usually has an adjustable interest rate.

You can think of a home equity loan as a way to pay for a significant renovation project, while a HELOC is more likely going to help you with smaller projects that crop up over time. You tap into the HELOC only if you need it.

The post Saving for a Rainy Day: Your Home Repair Emergency Fund Should Have This Much Cash appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights |®.