How to Avoid Burning Down the House While Cooking the Turkey

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Fire Department Demonstrates The Dangers Of Deep-Frying Turkeys
Getty ImagesIf you decide to deep fry a turkey, move away from the house and use a long-handled tool, as this firefighter shows.

By HomeInsurance.com

The countdown to turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie has begun. Thanksgiving’s arrival means many of us are scouring the closet for pants with stretchy waistbands so we can prepare to feast.

The holiday is all about giving thanks and spending a day with loved ones. But cooking the festive Thanksgiving meal can lead to fires. And fires can lead to injuries, deaths or property loss, so make sure to follow some safety suggestions for this holiday.

Check the Stats

Thanksgiving Day is the peak day for cooking fires in homes, accounting for about three times as many fires as any other day of the year, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

Each year between 2011 and 2013, Thanksgiving Day produced an average of 2,100 residential building fires, resulting in $28 million in property damage, 50 injuries, and 10 deaths, according to a report by the U.S. Fire Administration.

What causes most Thanksgiving fires? More than 71 percent of fires were attributed to cooking, and the highest percentage of fires (24.6 percent) occurred between noon and 3 p.m., the report said.

Eyes on the Prize

Er, turkey. Leaving food unattended while it was cooking was the leading cause of Thanksgiving cooking fires, according to the NFPA. You’ll want to visit with your guests during this holiday, but it’s far more important to pay attention to what’s in the oven or on the stovetop so that you don’t become a statistic.

Also, assign guests items to bring for the meal. Having a potluck-style Thanksgiving dinner will prevent you from doing all the cooking, so you won’t be trying to cook multiple dishes at once. Giving your undivided attention to one dish at a time will help to keep food from burning and starting fires.

And when you want to chat with your guests while you’re cooking, call them into the kitchen with you. Leaving the room while food is in the oven or on the burners is a risky move that makes your insurance provider sweat.

Don’t Wear Loose Clothing While Cooking

Let’s set the scene: You’re wearing a baggy sweater as you cook vegetables in oil or butter, and you divert your attention to talk to a family member. A fire ignites, and, in a panic, you attempt to move the pan to the sink to run water over it. When you move the pan, your loose sleeve connects with the flames and, in a flash, your entire arm is on fire.

There are several things wrong with this scenario. The first is that you should avoid wearing loose-fitting clothes while cooking, as it puts you at an increased risk to catch fire and be injured.

Secondly, never move a pot that’s on fire, or try to put out a grease or oil fire with water. It’s best to put a lid on top of the pot to smother the fire, leave the pot where it is, and turn the heat off when the fire has been tamed.

Getting distracted while cooking is also a no-no.

Keep Fire Hazards Away From the Stove

Just like ill-fitting clothing is a hazard that can easily ignite, so are things like potholders, wooden utensils, towels, and flowers. Keep these items away from burners and the oven to reduce the chances of having a kitchen fire.

It’s also important to keep pets out of the kitchen. Say you just turned off the burner, but your pup comes sniffing around, puts his paws up on the counter, and accidentally slides a towel on top of the still-hot burner without you noticing, causing it to be engulfed in flames. Avoid this type of scenario by keeping the dog in a gated room and keeping other hazards at bay.

Know the Biggest Risks

Frying is the greatest risk for home fires. So if you’re deep-frying the turkey this year, take extra precautions.

  • Keep the fryer away from the house and on even ground. The fryer should be set up more than 10 feet away from the home, and on level ground to keep the oil even.
  • Completely thaw and dry the turkey first. Only fry a turkey after it has been fully thawed and dried off to reduce the possibility of splattering grease, which can ignite fires.
  • Keep children and pets away, and have a fire extinguisher nearby. The last thing you want on Thanksgiving Day is for a child or pet to knock over the fryer and get injured.

If You Have a Thanksgiving Day Fire

The majority of non-fatal Thanksgiving Day fire injuries occurred when people tried to fight the fires themselves. If your home catches fire when you’re preparing Thanksgiving dinner and you don’t have a fire extinguisher on hand, just get everyone out of the house.

Keep yourself, your family, and your guests safe. You can call 911 when everyone has evacuated.

The good news is that property damage and liability coverage for incidents involving fires are typically eligible for coverage under standard home insurance policies. That’s something to be thankful for.

Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Zillow or AOL Real Estate.

 

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Love it or Hate it: What to Do After Every Open House

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By Paula Pant

Even if you didn’t fall in love, every open house is an opportunity to learn still more about what you’re really looking for in a home.

You can learn a lot from a visit to an open house, from whether a home is really as amazing as it looks in photos to whether the street noise is tolerable. But one thing that isn’t always so clear after visiting an open house is what to do next.

Whether you’ve fallen in love or never want to set foot in a certain neighborhood again, how do you best put that information to use? Here are the key steps buyers should take after an open house.

You’ve Fallen in Love? Do This

You’ve fallen in love with that Florida home for sale in Boca Raton, and you’re ready to make an offer: Huzzah! Here are your immediate next steps.

1. Determine your best offer. Talk with your real estate agent to figure out your initial bid. Kimberly Ehardt, a Texas real estate agent, says your agent can help you find comparable home sales in the area, look up facts such as how long the property has been on the market, and help you factor in any repairs the property may need. “Don’t make a move without an agent,” she says.

2. Be prepared to hurry up and wait. Accepting an offer is a big decision for the seller too, and as soon as your agent hears something, you’ll be the first to know. The waiting is the hardest part, so try to find ways to distract yourself.

3. Don’t jump the gun. When in doubt, listen to your gut. If you’re worried you may be offering more than you’ll be comfortable with, scale down. It’s better to lose the property and find another that fits your budget than to win the bidding war and be house-poor.

4. Don’t forget the inspection. Getting your bid accepted is only the first step. If the home inspection reveals any major problems the sellers aren’t willing to address, you could still find yourself needing to walk away.

If You’re on the Fence

When you’re feeling lukewarm about a home, sometimes a little thoughtfulness can help sway you in one direction. Here are some tips to help you determine whether a home is right for you.

5. Sleep on it. Don’t let a false sense of urgency push you into making a decision you’re not 100 percent sure about. If the thought of sleeping on it and potentially losing the home to a more aggressive buyer leaves you brokenhearted, that could be your answer right there. If not, give it a good night’s rest and see how you feel in the morning.

6. Know your must-haves. Writing out a list of qualities you consider non-negotiable and deal breakers should definitely be on your home-buying checklist. Compare this property with this list. What matches up? What doesn’t?

7. Schedule a personal tour. Open houses can be misleading. The sellers’ agent (or the seller himself) is extolling the home’s best features, there’s mood lighting and fresh-baked cookies, and you hear other buyers ooh and ah. If you’re really not sure about a house, make an appointment with your agent to take a second look. “Bring a friend or family member who can offer a fresh perspective,” Ehardt says.

8. Consider your lifestyle. If you’re a light sleeper and the home is on a busy, noisy street, it probably won’t work for you in the long term. If you have a big, active family and there’s a tiny backyard, no amount of great rooms inside will keep everyone happy. Imagine yourself living in the home and ask yourself if the fit is right.

9. Consider the add-ons. The cost of a home is often more than just the final closing price — you’ll also want to tally any additional costs you’ll incur, such as fixtures and appliances you want to upgrade, items that need repair, and your maintenance costs. (Read: That vaulted ceiling in the main living area can drive up your energy bills.) After considering all these extras, does buying the home still feel like a good deal?

10. Come back at different times of day. That quiet neighborhood you loved on a Sunday afternoon could become mayhem during rush hour or on a Friday night. Make sure you like the property at all times of day.

11. Trust your instincts. Indecision is rarely a 50/50 split. There’s often a gut reaction or a little voice in the back of your head pulling you in one direction or the other. Listen to these instincts for a clue into what you’re really thinking.

When You Hate the Open House, Learn From It

If you absolutely could not wait to get out of that open house, don’t give up just yet. It’s OK. There are lots of things you can apply to your house hunt even if you feel as if every house you’ve seen so far isn’t even in the ballpark. Here’s the key to following up after an open house you didn’t love.

12. Identify the issues. Knowing what you didn’t like about a property, and why, can help you hone your search so you have success in the future. Whatever your turnoffs with this home — location, layout, style — remember these qualities as you consider visiting new listings.

13. Expand your horizons. Maybe you thought you wanted a ranch-style home, but you’re beginning to realize a Tudor or split-level might be a better fit for you. Maybe you’re running out of solid options in your target neighborhood, so it’s time to broaden your search into similar areas you hadn’t yet considered.

14. Don’t settle. It can be frustrating to visit home after home that just isn’t doing it for you. But don’t let frustration tempt you to settle for something that isn’t right for you. While no home will be “perfect,” there’s a difference between making a few small compromises and making a big mistake you’ll have to live with for many years to come.

 

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How to Help Your Adult Kids Buy Their First Home

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By Susan Johnston Taylor

As families gather for the holidays, some adult children or their parents will broach the topic of real estate and how to make that first home purchase.

For parents who have the funds and desire to help adult children buy a home, gifting a down payment is one of the most common ways to help. But it’s not the only option.

Here’s a look at several ways parents can assist their children in becoming homeowners.

Gifting a Down Payment

For an owner-occupied property (not an investment property), mortgage lenders typically allow borrowers to use money gifted from a family member as a portion of the down payment. However, if it’s a recent gift, the borrowers must be able to prove the origin of those funds and provide a letter affirming that the money is a gift and does not need to be repaid.

Bob Collins, a mortgage broker with Signal Hill Mortgage in California, says parents gifting a down payment often treat it as “here’s your inheritance in advance,” so they can see the benefit of that money during their lifetime.

This approach puts the gift-giver under some scrutiny with the lender, but not nearly as much as other options. “All we have to do is verify that they have the funds to give, and we get a gift letter,” says Greg Cook, a mortgage consultant in Southern California. “Then they send the money to the settlement agent, and as long as it matches up with the gift letter, we’re good to go.”

If the gift exceeds the Internal Revenue Service’s annual gift tax exclusion of $14,000 per recipient per year, then it may require extra tax paperwork. However, a married couple could each give $14,000 to a child and a child’s spouse, for a maximum of $56,000 in four separate gift checks.

Offering a Family Loan

Given the current low interest rates on savings vehicles such as certificates of deposit, or CDs, relatives with cash to spare might choose to loan money to a family member to buy a home in lieu of the buyer getting a traditional mortgage. “It’s a win on both sides,” says Dan Yu, managing principal of EisnerAmper Wealth Advisors in New York. “If Mom and Dad went to the bank and said, ‘What will you pay me for a five-year CD?’ If the son or daughter went to the bank to try to borrow on a 30-year mortgage, they might have to pay 4 percent. Both sides of the family win, and mom and dad are earning a higher interest rate [than they’d get from a CD].”

However, as Yu points out, “it’s not just Mom and Dad, but rich aunts and uncles do this as well.” Assuming the lending relative has the liquidity to make the loan and is prepared to do so, the homebuyer would be able to make an offer not contingent on financing and potentially offer the seller a quicker closing, which could be an asset in competitive markets where all-cash offers are the norm.

One thing to remember with family loans is that it still needs to be at arm’s length, meaning it follows the IRS’s proscribed interest rates based on the term of the loan.

If earning interest isn’t the goal, the relative giving the loan could choose to forgive up to $14,000 in interest per year under gift tax exclusions ($28,000 if they’re lending to a couple). Otherwise, lenders have to report interest payments as taxable income, just as they’d report interest from CDs or money market accounts. Borrowers can deduct mortgage interest (assuming they itemize their tax deductions) just as they would with a traditional mortgage.

Co-signing the Mortgage

In cases where an adult child’s income is too low to qualify for a mortgage on the home they want, having a parent co-sign the mortgage might help. If they can afford to take on the obligation, some parents may prefer this option if the alternative is their child buying in an area they consider unsafe or undesirable.

However, co-signing is a bit of misnomer in this case. “They’re really a co-borrower, and they’re in the deal as much as the kids are,” Cook says. “They’re under the lender’s microscope to the same extent: income, credit, current debt load, all the things that we look at for the kids.” If the child’s income is sufficient to qualify for the remaining balance on their own in the future, the loan might be refinanced in just his or her name to relieve the parents of liability.

One potential downside for parents is that the mortgage will show up on their credit as an outstanding loan obligation, which could complicate refinancing or buying another home in the future. “They’ve created an obligation for themselves that could limit anything they might want to do moving forward,” Collins says. Also, if the child misses mortgage payments, that will also impact the parents’ credit.

With all these options, you should consult a financial advisor first to make sure you can comfortably afford to help without jeopardizing your financial security. You may also want to consult your tax preparer about potential tax implications, and, depending on the circumstances, ask a lawyer how to structure the legal paperwork in case your child divorces or defaults on the loan. Nobody plans on things going awry with real estate transactions, but it can happen, so it’s best to be prepared.

 

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Why Staying in Your Home Might Be the Best Retirement Choice

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By Tom Sightings

The typical retirement dream involves riding off into the Sun Belt, golf clubs and beach umbrella in hand. However, the reality is that the majority of retirees never leave home. Most people opt to age in place, or if they do move, they find a smaller house near their old neighborhood.

Only about 7 percent of older Americans move every year, according to a long-term study by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. And even though more people have been relocating recently with the improving economy, an AARP survey found that most people approaching retirement hope to remain in their current residence as long as they can.

Here’s why retirees resist the siren call of the beach and tropical breezes:

Home is where the heart is. Many people feel attached to their home towns. Whether they grew up there or moved there to raise a family, they still enjoy going to the park where they took their kids as toddlers. They feel comfortable knowing about the best hardware store and the best pizza place. Many old-line suburbs have developed programs and amenities for their older population. Another benefit: Urban centers in the Northeast provide better public transportation than the retirement meccas of the Sun Belt. There’s no subway in San Diego and no ‘T’ in Tampa.

Home is where your friends are. You go to the library and see familiar faces. Maybe you belong to a book club, or regularly meet friends for lunch, tennis or golf. All the research says that a strong social network is crucial for successful aging. Friends not only supply emotional support, but sometimes offer practical benefits like loaning you a book or DVD, helping with a project at home or giving you a ride. Why should you uproot yourself, move a thousand miles away and then be faced with the sometimes difficult challenge of finding a new group of like-minded friends?

People retire in the last place they land. Some people never settle down to live in one place for 20 or 30 years to raise their kids in a single community. Many baby boomers have moved around for work, or just because they’re restless, and then finally put down roots when they’re in their 40s or 50s. For example, my sister-in-law grew up in New Jersey, then moved to Michigan, Texas and finally in her late 40s settled down in Pennsylvania. She’s adamant that she’s not moving again.

You don’t necessarily save much money. It costs a lot to move. You give up about 10 percent of the selling price of your house in real estate commissions, legal fees and taxes. Then there’s the cost of buying, moving and resupplying your new house. If you’re moving a long distance, there are additional expenses involved in traveling and researching your new location. You might need to rent for a while or store some furniture. It’s not worth it if you only save a couple thousand dollars a year in your cost of living. (Renting long-term is another option some consider.)

It doesn’t have to cost a lot to age-proof your home. Of course you can spend a lot of money if you want to remodel your entire house. But many of the safety issues involved in age-proofing a home involve modest expenses. Improve the lighting in stairways and outdoor areas. Change out doorknobs for lever handles that are easier to manipulate. Install bathroom grab bars and raised toilet seats. Get rid of scatter rugs, and put down colorful traction strips on the front edge of your stairs to help prevent falls. None of these changes costs much money. Depending on the layout of your home, it may even be possible to turn a study or den on the first floor into a master suite, converting the upstairs rooms into guest quarters.

Visit a virtual village. Virtual retirement villages can help seniors access resources to make it easier to age in place. A virtual village is a local non-profit organization that posts information online, providing referrals to member-recommended service companies and volunteers available to help out with dog walking, yard work and other homeowner needs. Some villages host social activities such as concerts, restaurant gatherings and group trips. Check out Village to Village Network at vtvnetwork.org to find more information on what villages do and how they work.

 

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3 Home Improvements You Can Make With $5,000

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Courtesy of White Buffalo Styling Co.via Zillow

By Lindsay Jackman

For a renovation budget of $5,000, you can add some serious functional upgrades to your home. Kitchens and bathrooms are smart places to focus your dollars. They are hardworking rooms that you’ll enjoy using, but also among the first rooms a future buyer will want to see.

Another practical way to increase the function of your house is by adding living space. While you can’t do an actual home addition for $5,000, you can create a functional outdoor living space that increases your usable square footage.

Here’s how to complete each of these three renovation projects on a $5,000 budget. (If you have a little more to spend, consider what you can do for $10,000.)

Upgrading to Custom Kitchen Cabinets

​Creating a more functional and beautiful kitchen is a win-win, and one way to achieve that goal is by upgrading your cabinetry. For this price-point, you could design cabinets that work for you, the way you use your kitchen, and your kitchen layout. Custom cabinets allow you to maximize storage for the space that you have.

Installing a Tile Shower

Nothing says luxury in a master bath like a standing tiled shower with glass door. For $5,000, you could remove the standard bath insert and surround and put in a custom tiled shower. For additional function, tile in a corner bench and soap shelf. You’ll feel like you’re visiting a luxurious resort in the comfort of your own home.

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Courtesy of White Buffalo Styling Co.via Zillow

Create an Outdoor Living Area

Boosting square footage is a great idea for you and future buyers, but additions are expensive. Adding a fabulous outdoor patio can drastically increase your usable living space for a much smaller price tag.

The options for patio material include chipped granite, pavers or flagstone. Adding mulch in beds surrounding the patio will really make a visual statement, and keep the patio from looking like it’s floating in your backyard.

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Courtesy of White Buffalo Styling Co.via Zillow

Build a pergola or covered seating area to create more visual appeal and boost the space’s usability. You can hang lights or fans overhead in the structure — and if it’s covered, you’ll have a spot to escape the weather.

While this upgrade benefits you, it’s also a big selling feature. Most homes don’t have an attractive outdoor living area, and adding this amenity will make buyers flock to your listing.

Any of these three updates will make you love your home in a whole new way. You can’t go wrong with improving kitchen storage, upgrading your current bathroom, or increasing your potential living space by taking to the outdoors.

See more home design inspiration.

 

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Sweltering? Here are 10 Hacks for Living Without AC

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By Michelle Hainer

No AC? No problem! With these hacks, you can keep cool this summer — and keep your electric bill down.

When the temperature creeps past 90 degrees on a hot summer day, it’s natural to regret the decision to rent a place without air conditioning or own a home without AC installed. But don’t despair. With these tips for living without an air conditioner, you can stave off the sweltering heat without paying a sky-high utility bill (or putting in a noisy, energy-sucking window unit).

1. Change the rotation on your ceiling fan to counterclockwise.

It’s easier than you think to make this fix (usually your fan will have a little switch on the motor housing that alters its rotation), and doing so will allow the blades to circulate faster, creating a cooler breeze. If you have box fans, turn them around so that they blow hot air out the window.

2. Don’t let the light in.

Keeping shades, curtains, or blinds closed can lower the temperature inside your house by up to 20 degrees.

3. Channel your inner MacGyver.

Create a misting effect by placing a metal mixing bowl full of ice in front of a fan. Tilt the bowl so that the fan blows directly onto the ice. When the air hits the cubes, it will release a cool, misty breeze that chills the whole room.

4. Don’t close yourself off.

By shutting doors, that is. Keep inside doors open throughout the day, which allows the cool air to circulate throughout your house.

5. Revamp your bedding.

Pack away the flannel sheets (duh) and opt for percale instead, which is more breathable. Mist your sheets with cool water before bedding down for the night (or stick them in the freezer for a few minutes), and invest in a buckwheat pillow, which won’t trap heat the way traditional pillows do.

6. And then sleep solo.

Your partner may balk, until he or she realizes how much body heat cuddling creates.

7. Hit up your hot water bottle.

Only this time, stick it in the freezer first and then position it near your feet, which contain many pulse points. If you don’t have a hot water bottle, dunk your feet in ice water before turning in.

8. Unplug.

Appliances that are plugged in radiate heat — even when they’re not in use. So unplug what you can. Now is also the time to embrace your grill; turning on the oven on a 100-degree day is only going to make things hotter. But you knew that.

9. Turn off the lights.

Even the most energy-efficient light bulbs give off some heat, so make do with natural light on super-hot days. But still swap out incandescent bulbs for CFLs, which will also lower your energy bill.

10. Lie low.

Literally. Hot air rises, so putting your mattress on the floor can help you stay cool while you slumber. Or if you’re feeling outdoorsy but like sleeping with a roof over your head, rig up an indoor hammock, which will increase airflow. Bonus: It may even lull you to sleep, which will make you forget how hot you are.

 

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6 Clever New Uses for an Old Pool

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By Jill Russell

Swimming pools have many virtues, especially during scorching summers. But they can easily become eyesores — not to mention money pits — especially if they leak or have other functional issues.

Instead of going through the costly (and sometimes unsuccessful) process of trying to bring an old swimming pool up to date, why not turn it into an entirely new, seriously cool feature that sets your home apart?

From a detached, lower-level studio space to a fully realized aquaponic farm, here are six smart ideas (some DIY projects and some that require a little professional help) to convert your old swimming pool into something useful, beautiful, or both.

The Sunken Patio

Though part of a rooftop lounge in Midtown Manhattan, this former pool retrofitted as a patio by Future Green Studio holds a lesson for homeowners — work with the site rather than against it. The final dining area maintains the pool steps, depth indicators, handrails, and even a retooled version of the pool lights, telling the story of the space’s origins beautifully.

The Practical Deck

A simple but elegant solution for an unwanted pool? Drain it and build a deck over the top. Work with a landscape pro to design a deck that blends perfectly with the original pool’s shape and structure. Not only will it add valuable entertaining square footage to the backyard, but it will also boost your home’s value over time.

The Detached Studio

This gorgeous studio by Walk Interior Architecture & Design becomes even more awe-inspiring when you realize it’s housed in an old, neglected in-ground pool. The finished space feels at once industrial, modern, and airy, and the solar panel-topped A-frame roof is both functional (preventing water from seeping in) and beautiful.

The Peaceful Pond

If you’re imagining spending lazy afternoons surrounded by nature instead of cleaning the pool, think about transforming your pool into a pond. It’s the perfect way to invite more wildlife into your yard, and it just makes sense. In the spirit of repurposing, you may even be able to get away with converting the original sand filter into a koi pond filter.

The Water-Wise Garden

A Southern California couple converted their little-used pool into a rainwater harvesting system, as noted by the Los Angeles Times. Now in the pool’s place the couple has a stream, small waterfall, and some 100 plants, all fed with rain collected from the roof and stored in underground, recycled-plastic tanks in a system designed by the firm EnviroscapeLA. The resulting garden is luscious and inviting while making the most of the region’s scant rainfall.

The Food-Producing Farm

And then there’s the family who built a food-producing greenhouse, known as the Garden Pool, in the pit of their former swimming pool. The finished ecosystem includes solar panels and a greenhouse, and produces such varied foods as tilapia (through an aquaponics system), fresh fruits, vegetables and poultry.

While you might not be ready to go full-scale eco-farm, the project proves that an old pool site might be just the spot to pull off the herb-and-veggie garden of your dreams.

 

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5 Ways to Handle the Eyesore Next Door Before You Sell

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By Laura Agadoni

You’re almost ready to put your house on the market when you realize it: The neighborhood eyesore is going to pose a problem.

Sure, we know some people might view any attempts to hide an eyesore from view as being underhanded, sneaky, and designed to fool unsuspecting buyers. They might envision unscrupulous sellers and agents who keep their fingers crossed, just hoping no one spots the eyesore next door.

If you feel that way, by all means, point out the junkyard behind you that’s worthy of “American Pickers,” the yard next door that looks more like a prairie than a lawn, or the bail bonds sign spray-painted on the wall across the street.

For the rest of us, here are five ways to resolve these eyesore neighbor issues so would-be buyers won’t be scared off. And who knows? Maybe if you tackle these unsavory sights, you’ll decide not to sell your home after all.

1. Ask your neighbor to fix the problem.

This solution can be tricky. There’s really no easy way to tell someone that his or her house is the neighborhood eyesore. But there are some methods that might help.

“Just writing a friendly note (dropped off with a bottle of wine or another small gift) can sometimes do the trick,” says Ross Anthony, a San Diego real estate agent.

It also can’t hurt to mention to your neighbor that the more your home sells for, the more his or her home will be worth.

2. Be neighborly.

You know how people can become desensitized to certain smells? (“How did you know I had a cat?”) Well, people can become so accustomed to the condition of their house that they don’t notice when it looks run-down.

This sometimes happens with elderly homeowners: Either they haven’t realized the condition of their home or they simply can’t manage the upkeep. You might think a condo or townhouse situation might better suit your overwhelmed neighbor, but steer clear of that suggestion.

Instead, offer to spruce up the house yourself. “If it is an elderly person, I offer to help,” says Sarah Bentley Pearson, an Atlanta real estate agent.

But it’s not just elderly neighbors with houses that could benefit from a little TLC — just think of all the work you did to get your house in selling shape.

Alexander Ruggie of 911 Restoration in Los Angeles says that if the next-door neighbor has a poor paint job, a wobbly fence, or a caved-in garage, there’s no reason you can’t offer to help fix the problem. “Most people would be surprised how much they can convince people to do when they offer to help do it.”

3. Notify your HOA.

If you live in a community with a homeowners association (HOA), let it know about the unkempt house near you. One of the main reasons HOAs exist is to prevent homes in the neighborhood from becoming eyesores that could drive down the value of other homes.

Your HOA might send a letter to the offending neighbor warning him or her to fix the problem or face fines. Or the HOA might take care of the problem and then bill the homeowner.

4. Call the city.

If your neighbor won’t mow his or her lawn, get rid of the junk outside, or let you help tidy up, you can always call your local government.

“If there is a really bad problem, like the grass is a foot tall and there are junk cars on the front lawn, your neighbors are probably in violation of local codes and can be forced to clean up,” says John Z. Wetmore, producer of the TV show “Perils for Pedestrians.”

Do this well in advance of putting your house on the market. The city could give your neighbor up to 90 days to meet housing codes.

Wetmore also suggests that you “walk around the block and pick up any litter along the public streets and sidewalks.”

If the house is a bank-owned foreclosure, find out which bank owns the property by checking county title records. Insist the bank maintain the property.

5. Plant view-blocking trees or install a fence.

It might be worth the investment to block an unsavory view. If you plant trees, choose ones that are at least six feet tall to give you an immediate sense of privacy. Privacy fences should also be six feet high.

If your neighbors are noisy, putting in a small water feature can drown out the racket.

“You only have one first impression,” says Anthony, the San Diego real estate agent. “You want potential buyers to fall in love with your home before writing it off due to an unkempt neighboring property.”

 

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3 DIY Projects to Try and 3 Times to Call for a Pro’s Help

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ShutterstockInterior painting is a project even an enthusiastic novice can handle, though careful prep will yield the best results.

By Abby Hayes

Nearly one-third of Americans are planning a home renovation this year, according to a Liberty Mutual Insurance survey of 2,000 adults. Of those, 7 in 10 plan to do at least some of the work themselves. DIYing it can be a great way to save money, but you have to be careful with the projects you choose to tackle on your own.

Projects that look enticing and easy on Pinterest can easily go awry if you’re an inexperienced DIYer. Even experienced DIYers can have trouble handling some of the more difficult home improvement projects.

So which projects should you tackle to increase your home’s value, and which ones should you hire out to a professional? Master carpenter Chip Wade of “Ellen’s Design Challenge” and HGTV’s “Elbow Room” weighs in.

To DIY

Let’s start with the hopeful side of this equation. You can give your home a boost this summer and save money by doing it yourself. You just have to be careful which projects you choose. Chip’s top three projects for homeowners to DIY include landscaping, seating and interior painting.

1. Landscaping. This can be a huge project, but you can use a few simple tricks to add some curb appeal and comfort to your home. “A tip I always give is for homeowners or renters to start by removing dead plants, or trimming unhealthy plants that may bloom later on in the season,” Wade says. This simple trick can make your home appear more pulled-together. Then, add splashes of color with easy-care perennials in a front garden bed, or place potted annuals on the porch.

2. Seating. If you’re hankering to start hammering something, building multipurpose outdoor furniture is a good place to begin. Boxy, bench-style furniture is a great option for cutting your teeth on carpentry. It’s fairly easy to build, and there are plenty of tutorials online. This easy, versatile seating can instantly update a front porch or back deck, and give you a more personable outdoor space.

3. Painting. The easiest of these projects is probably interior painting, and it can make a huge difference. The right paint can make a space look larger and more finished. Or you can simply update the look of your home by opting for a trendy color, like these in the Benjamin Moore Color Trends 2015 palette.

Not to DIY

When it comes to home renovation, Wade says, some projects are simply best left to the professionals. Certain projects, of course, are downright dangerous. For instance, you don’t want to go around messing with electrical wiring if you don’t know what you’re doing. The top three popular projects Wade cautions homeowners against tackling alone include outdoor pathways, retaining walls and large landscaping.

1. Outdoor pathways. This can seem like an easy, cheap DIY project. Pinterest, after all, is full of cute ideas for outdoor walkways. However, Wade notes, homeowners often skimp on costs by using less expensive materials, which crack in a season and need to be replaced. Plus, ensuring an absolutely level underlayment is essential. Without proper tools and knowledge to level the walkway, even the best materials will crack.

2. Retaining walls. These are similarly difficult to install properly, though they can look effortless. Most homeowners don’t understand the intricacies of properly installing a wall that will last for years to come. Engineering is essential, especially for walls over 2 feet high.

3. Large landscaping. The last project to steer clear of may seem contradictory. Wade did say that landscaping is a great DIY project, right? However, when it comes to planting medium-to-large sized trees, it’s a whole different story. These trees and shrubs need particular care to help them take root. You don’t want to spend hundreds on an ornamental tree only to have it die within a season.

If you decide to hire professionals for some must-do projects this summer, Wade gives some good advice: “A great way to find a professional is to ask friends or neighbors who they have used for their renovations or home projects. Additionally, if you have one trusted professional, he or she may be able to recommend a skilled worker they have worked with in the past.”

DIY projects can be a great way to save on summer upgrades to your home. But you won’t save a dime if you waste money on a project that’s better left to the pros,

 

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Add a Dash of Style and Curb Appeal With Just a Little Cash

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Grey small house with porch and white railings with summer landscape.
Shutterstock / Artazum

By Abby Hayes

Looking to sell your home? Or maybe you just want to feel proud of the place as you swing into the driveway each evening?

Either way, you can add some serious curb appeal without making a huge financial investment. For less than $50, you can make your home more attractive with these eight DIY projects.

1. Paint the front door.

If your front door is a boring gray or brown — or blends into the facade of your home — it’s time to glam it up. Bright blue and red are both great options for a front door. Keep it classy, but choose a color that will coordinate with — and still stand out against — your home’s facade.

Cost: $25 for a gallon of paint, plus a few hours of your time.

2. Upgrade your house numbers.

House numbers are a practical necessity, but they can also be a statement. You can pick up large metal house numbers for around $5 each. Or you can buy wooden numbers from a craft store and stain or paint them yourself. (Maybe paint them to match that newly painted front door?)

Cost: $20 or less.

3. Jazz up the mailbox.

If you have a mailbox attached to the front of your house, it’s another great place to add some color. Those who lean more traditional may prefer to simply replace the mailbox with a new one. But if you’d like to add even more color to the front of your home, you can spray paint the mounted mailbox a fun color. Add your new house numbers to it in a contrasting color for eye-catching appeal.

Cost: Around $20 to $30 for a new mailbox and $5 for a can of spray paint.

4. Add porch furniture.

Does your home have a nice front porch? Adding a porch swing or rocking chairs can make your home more appealing and more functional. Contrary to what you might think it will cost, this can be done for less than $50. You just have to thrift shop for the furniture, and you might have to do a bit of upcycling.

Cost: $20 to $40 for furniture, and $10 to $20 for a can of paint to touch it up.

5. Paint the porch rails and ceiling.

This is the last painting project on the list, but it’s an important one. Peeling, worn out porch rails are not good for curb appeal. Stripping and repainting them can be an extensive project, but it will be worth your time. While you’re at it, you can repaint any peeling wooden trim around your front door and windows.

Cost: $30 and a weekend’s worth of time.

6. Install an outdoor light.

If you have a bit of electrical knowledge, you can easily replace a light fixture on your porch ceiling or add a sconce beside the front door. Don’t feel comfortable with electrical projects? Try adding some late-night curb appeal with wire-free solar fixtures.

Cost: $20 to $50 depending on the fixtures you use.

7. Decorate with potted plants.

Green plants and healthy flowers are one of the easiest ways to make your home more appealing. If you don’t have much of a green thumb, you might hesitate to landscape in the front. But you can just as easily add appeal with potted plants. Place large pots near the steps or front door, or hang plants from the roof of the porch to draw the eye up.

Ask your local nursery which plants are easiest to grow in your local area. Make this project even more affordable by spray-painting cheap terra cotta pots or buying nicer pots secondhand.

Cost: $20 to $50, plus time devoted to watering and upkeep of the plants.

8. Plant flower beds.

Ready to really go green on the curb? Dig a new flower bed or two in front of your home. You can make this project super affordable if you know friends or family members with perennials ready to be divided. Most perennials, including irises, bulbs, astilbe, day lilies and easy-care hostas, need to be divided. This is a great way to get free plants!

Keep in mind, most plants divide best in early spring or late fall. And remember, it takes perennial beds a couple years to come into their full glory. Be patient, and fill in with cheap by-the-flat annuals while you wait.

Cost: Possibly free, or a few dollars for compost or other organic soil amendments.

There are plenty of other things you can do to improve curb appeal — consider a new fence or gate, for example. But these eight ideas will give you plenty of bang for your buck.

 

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