Become a Real Estate Investor With 3 Easy Investments

Becoming a real estate investor is much more feasible than most people think. There’s no question that real estate investing comes with risk, like any investment. But with risk can come reward, and real estate has that in spades.

“Real estate is one of the few investments where your upside is truly unlimited,” says Than Merrill, CEO of San Diego’s FortuneBuilders and CT Homes. “With the right property in the right location, you can make 15% to even 30% on your money.”

“You can make money in hundreds of different ways through investing in real estate, and that keeps it interesting,” says Realtor® Ed Laine, partner and broker at Miller Laine Properties in the Seattle area.

Here are three great ways the average investor can start a real estate portfolio.

Savvy investment No. 1: Rentals

People will always need to rent houses, says Laine, which can provide a steady income for landlords.

“A rental property is an investment that pays itself off over time,” says Laine, adding that he named his first two rentals “Son No. 1’s college account” and “Son  No. 2’s college account.”

Owning a property and renting it out allows you to grow your monthly income—or at least make enough to cover your costs.

“I don’t think of it as ‘buy and hold,’ but ‘buy and collect checks,’” Laine says. Of course, he’s partly kidding—anyone who’s been a landlord knows there are times you have to deal with renters who pay their rent late, flooded toilets, and other costly hassles.

Being a landlord can also offer major tax benefits. Most rental property owners can write off the mortgage interest and depreciation and generally don’t pay taxes on the income, Merrill notes. You can also use your rental property to claim deductions, such as repairs and insurance.

Savvy investment No. 2: House flipping

When you’re flipping houses as a real estate investor, on the other hand, it’s anything but “buy and collect.” In fact, this is a real estate investment strategy that requires a lot of work, acknowledges Merrill.

“Rehabbing properties remains one of the most lucrative real estate exit strategies, but it requires an acute attention to detail and a lot of experience to master,” Merrill says.

To make flipping profitable, carefully consider your property and how much needs to be done. Start with the purchase price and then figure out how much you’ll need to invest (whether it’s time, money, or both) to get it sparkling and sale-ready.

Collaborate with a trusted contractor to come up with the “after repaired value” and then compare it with the selling prices of properties in the area. Make sure the comparable properties are in the same school district and have as many similar characteristics as possible, from bedrooms and bathrooms to lot size and garage type.

Don’t forget to factor in closing costs and “carrying costs,” the mortgage and insurance you will be paying until the home sells.

Savvy investment No. 3: Real estate investment trust

Boy, does that sound complicated. But investing in a real estate investment trust, or REIT, could be the easiest real estate investment of all. A REIT is a way to increase the amount of real estate in your financial portfolio without requiring you to actually buy a piece of property. Modeled after mutual funds, REITs allow anyone to purchase stock in large-scale properties.

“I describe mutual funds as a pooled investment which allows a group of co-owners to employ the services of a professional asset manager. A REIT is the same thing, related to real estate,” says Warren Ward, owner of WWA Planning & Investments in Columbus, IN. “The main advantage of owning a mutual fund also applies to a REIT—immediate diversification.”

If you own a rental property or are flipping houses, you are dependent on that market specifically. If you’re not in the right area, your investment could be plunging. By contrast, owning a REIT allows you to diversify geographically and in the types of real estate owned—from residential to commercial.

Ward’s advice if you want to jump into the world of REITs is to stick with widely traded ones.

“Lots of brokers have sold their clients nonpublicly traded REITS, but their pricing is not transparent. That makes them hard to value and very difficult to sell if you need to,” he says.

Another benefit of REITs? You don’t have to collect rent checks or manage subcontractors, and you still own real estate. Maintaining a rental or preparing a house to flip takes a lot of work, says Rycal Investment Group founder and CEO Simon Calton.

“Countless arduous tasks will eat into your time and, if you’re not careful, your capital,” he says.

By contrast, he considers REITs to be an “armchair” investment, as there are no management requirements and no surprise maintenance issues.

“REITs and real estate funds will often yield higher returns and have more security, but cost less and hold less risk for the investor than direct property investment,” he says.

Courtesy of realtor.com

What Is a Certificate of Occupancy? Proof Your Home Is Safe

Everyone wants to know the home they’re purchasing is safe to live in. That’s why some municipalities go a step beyond the standard home inspection and require a special permit, called a certificate of occupancy, to ensure the houses in their area meet safety codes. To obtain the permit, an additional inspection must be done. Read on to learn what the inspection covers, who pays for it, and the effect it could have on the real estate settlement process.

What is a certificate of occupancy?

Simply put, a certificate of occupancy—sometimes referred to as a use-and-occupancy certificate, or a U&O—is a document that says a building is safe to be lived in. Not all municipalities require them, but in the ones that do, these permits are usually issued by a local building or zoning authority. The permit affirms that the property has been built and maintained according to the standards laid out by local government officials.

Typically, these certificates are first issued when a property is built, and additional inspections are performed any time the property changes hands.

Certificate of occupancy inspection

The inspection will typically focus on things like making sure the home meets fire codes and that all electrical work has been properly done. But since the exact requirements will vary according to the municipality, there may be more.

“The scope of a U&O ranges from small safety measures such as the installation of railings and smoke detectors to bigger items like ensuring that the proper permitting is in place for renovations,” explains Michael Kelczewski, a real estate agent in Pennsylvania.

Some U&O permits also require that inspections be performed on specific amenities in the home to verify that they are still in good condition. For example, a chimney inspection, a heating inspection, and even a sprinkler system inspection could all fall under the use-and-occupancy umbrella.

Who pays for a certificate of occupancy inspection?

Sellers typically bear the brunt of the certificate of occupancy inspection process. If this permit is required by a city, the seller will pay a fee for the initial inspection, as part of a charge by the real estate agent for the process of transferring property. The seller will also be responsible for conducting any subsequent inspections requested by the zoning authority in order to have the permit issued.

Who pays for the house repairs?

Once the results of the inspections come back, both parties will negotiate who will handle any necessary repairs. Ideally, these repairs will be completed before settlement, and an agent of the municipality will be brought out to reinspect the property before issuing the permit. However, as long as all sides are in agreement, a conditional U&O may be issued under the assumption that work will be done after closing. In the event that no agreement can be reached, both the buyer and seller have the right to dissolve the transaction.

‘As is’ or bank-owned homes

Keep in mind that properties being sold “as is” or that are bank-owed are an exception to the above scenario. In these cases, by submitting an offer, the buyer often agrees to accept financial responsibility for this requirement and any associated repairs. When dealing with this type of transaction, be sure to read the purchase agreement carefully so that you’re aware of the scope of your responsibilities before committing to buying the property.

A note for renters

Certificates of occupancy aren’t just for homeowners. Some areas require landlords to keep them on file for their residents and to have subsequent inspections performed at regular intervals. This ordinance is aimed at making sure that rental properties aren’t allowed to lapse into such a state of disrepair that they become uninhabitable.

Courtesy of realtor.com.

Guide to Buying a Second Home or Vacation Home

One out of three homes sold in 2007 was a vacation home or investment property, showing that demand for second homes remains healthy despite a slow housing market. Reasons for buying a second home vary, from recreation and vacation enjoyment to investment and development to retirement planning.

With homebuyers enjoying an advantage in many markets, now may be the time to buy that second home. Whether you’re dreaming of paradise or profit, follow these five steps for a smart investment:

  • Step 1: Decide if it’s the right time to buy
  • Step 2: Know what to look for in a second home
  • Step 3: Explore financing options and negotiate with the seller
  • Step 4: Learn the tax ins and outs
  • Step 5: Research alternative ownership options

Second Home Factoids:

Median age of buyer: 46 (baby boomers own 57 percent of all second homes)
Median household income: $99,100
Median price of second home/nonprimary residence: $211,000
No. 1 reason for buying: Family retreat
No. 2 reason: Future primary residence
No. 1 location to buy: The South
No. 2 location: The West
Most popular type: detached single-family homes, followed by townhomes and condominiums
Most popular area: suburbs, followed by small towns, urban areas, resort and vacation areas

Source: National Association of Realtors

Step 1: Decide if it’s the right time to buy.

Think through your plans for a second property before you leap, advise experts.

  • Assess your goals. It may come down to investment reasons, vacation enjoyment or a combination of both. Want a place within driving distance for a retreat? Looking for a family vacation spot? A jump on a retirement home?
  • Consider the market conditions, your personal finances and the affordability of the property. Given the downturn in housing prices with many U.S. regions taking hits, there are deals to be had, says Melanie Greenstein, principal of Rise Network in Minneapolis, a real estate brokerage specializing in second homes. “Use the right agent in the right city and if you do your homework, you can find some phenomenal buys. Don’t plan to flip or sell the property within the next 12 to 24 months.”
  • Focus on areas with steady appreciation rates. Don’t bank on renting out the home or having all your expenses covered, advises Lynda Traverso, GRI, Realtor with VIP Realty Group in Sanibel Island, Fla. “Do look at a second home as an investment and consider areas where homes are going to appreciate.”

Step 2: Know what to look for in a second home.

Once you have a good idea of your goals around a second home, it comes down to homework and scouting for the right property in the right location.

  • Try it out first.
    When assessing location, particularly for a vacation home in an area you’re not familiar with, renting for at least one stay is always a good first step. Carefully consider travel time and expenses against how often you plan to use the home, real estate broker Ruth Krinke says. “How accessible is the property? With the price of gas today and rising airfares, this is a big issue.”
  • Talk to the locals.
    Even if you’ve been vacationing in the same area for years, getting to know the place from a local perspective is important before buying a home there. Talk to residents and ask them what they like about the area, how it’s changing, what types of people are moving there and what it’s like off-season.
  • Act like a local.
    You should also visit the area yourself during each season to get a feel for what it’s like year round. While you’re there, scope out restaurants, grocery stores and entertainment. Does the area have enough of the things you like to keep you interested? Also check out the public school system; even if you never plan on your kids attending there, homes near great schools have more value.
  • Look at the comps.
    To help gauge whether the property is a good investment, review other home sales in the community to examine what the track record is on resale values of similar properties, Traverso says.
  • Know the rules of renting.
    If you plan to rent the property, expect to do additional research. For example, some communities ban weekly vacation rentals, allowing only for monthly rentals. “It depends on the homeowners association and the city law,” Traverso says. On the flip side, if you’re craving a quiet retreat, you may not want to vacation in a community with a lot of rental turnover.
  • Work with an experienced agent.
    A seasoned real estate agent can help you weigh your criteria and make all the difference in a second home purchase. Try these tips for finding an agent or broker:

    • Scout local listings, including free sales publications that list the type of property you want to buy.
    • Find an agent that knows the area and property values. “Select one with at least five years minimum experience in that marketplace, preferably more,” Greenstein says.
    • For extensive searches, scouting in resort communities or exploring alternatives like fractional ownership, consider an agent with the Resort & Second Home Property Specialist (RSPS) Certification by the National Association of Realtors.
    • Beyond the sale, a good agent will stay in contact and help you. This is particularly important for homeowners who may not live near the property.

Step 3: Explore financing options and negotiate with the seller.

In many ways, second home purchases are similar to the primary home purchase. Realtors say putting 20 percent down or more is common for second homes to avoid the expense of mortgage insurance and given today’s tightened lending practices. “It’s possible to buy a true second home with 5 or 10 percent down, but it’s tricky,” says Ruth Krinke, RSPS (Resort & Second Home Property Specialist), associate broker with Steamboat Real Estate in Steamboat Springs, Colo.

When it comes to negotiating, second home sellers may be more flexible than their primary-home counterparts. “Second home sellers are often more flexible in price and terms of sale. They may want out because they are overextended or their lifestyle has changed,” Greenstein says.

To move the sale along, buyers can request special terms of the seller. For example, as an incentive, sellers might be willing to carry a second mortgage for three to five years, Traverso says. “Sometimes banks will accept 10 percent from the seller when the buyer puts down 10 percent. The seller may take on a burden to get the deal done when banks will only loan 80 percent of the value of the home.”

Consider these tips when investigating your financing options:

  • For mortgage financing, use a local lender in the area you are buying, Traverso says, because its expertise and knowledge of the market can avoid problems later;
  • Stricter guidelines are involved in qualifying for a mortgage for an investment property. Typically, borrowers pay a higher interest rate;
  • If you do need the rental income to qualify for the loan, you may need a minimum of 25 percent down, Krinke says. Lenders tend to give credit for up to a 75 percent occupied rate;
  • Other forms of financing include tapping into your primary home’s equity line of credit, known as HELOCs.

Step 4: Learn the tax ins and outs.

Savvy tax planning can make a difference in your return on the property. Tax implications for second homes can vary significantly based on your financial situation and whether or not you plan to rent out the property. Keep these in mind when figuring the impact on your taxes:

  • Consider property taxes, utilities, homeowners association fees and other applicable expenses.
  • Generally, the interest on the mortgage of your second home is tax deductible, and rental properties are subject to additional tax breaks. “If it’s an investment property, then the deductions come in an array of possibilities, including depreciation of the real estate itself and a separate, accelerated depreciation of personal property such as furnishings,” Krinke says. “Owners can use the property only for two weeks a year to get certain tax benefits on rentals,” Greenstein cautions.
  • If you rent out the home for 15 days or more during the year, you have to report all rental receipts to the IRS as income, but you can also deduct operating expenses such as utilities, repairs, insurance and management fees against that income.
  • Consider strategies for reducing or deferring capital gains upon the sale of the home. For example, the Internal Revenue Code Section 1031 tax-deferred exchange allows for the deferral of capital-gains tax by exchanging for “like kind” property allowing for taxes to be paid when a sale of a second or third property is ultimately realized. As a general rule, 1031s are used when you sell real estate held for investment purposes and not for the sale of your personal residence.
  • Always consult with a tax professional or a specialist such as a national qualified intermediary for tax-deferred exchanges before getting too far into the second-home buying process.

Step 5: Research alternative ownership options.

In addition to single-family homes, townhomes and traditional condominiums, experts say to tread cautiously with alternative ownership forms of vacation homes such as fractional ownership, vacation clubs, time shares and condo hotels.

Resale values on certain types of cooperative-ownership properties may not hold up over time and selling these properties can be a burden. “Resale values on fractional ownership properties are usually higher than time shares because very few timeshares are actually deeded ownership,” Krinke says.

Financing is easiest around single-family homes, Krinke says. “Multifamily dwellings, townhomes and particularly condos, can be difficult to arrange financing for.”

Whether you’re looking for a home to spend your retirement days or an investment property to diversify your portfolio, make sure you do your homework and work with the right experts.

Post courtesy of hgtv.com

How To Be Financally Prepared To Buy Your First Home

Getting ready to buy your first house can be daunting. Credit scores, down payments, and mortgages are all on your mind. Here’s a guide to help you get ready to make one of the biggest purchases of your life.

Buying your first home can be one of the most exhilarating — and stressful — moments of your life. But armed with the right information, you can shop for a house, apply for a mortgage, and close the deal with confidence.

Buying your first home: Where to start

The first thing to do before buying a home is to make sure it’s the right time to do so. Generally speaking, owning a home pays off financially if you will live in it for at least five years. Otherwise, there’s nothing wrong with renting. Your actual numbers may vary, but you can play with scenarios with our rent vs buy calculator.

Step 1: Determine how much house you can afford

You might disagree, but I don’t believe should treat your home as an investment. Yes, hopefully it will appreciate over time. But you should buy it because you want a home, not an investment.
That means you should never stretch to buy your primary residence thinking you can take cash out or flip it for a quick profit in a few years. Only buy a house that you can afford today!
Although it may not always be feasible if you live in an expensive real estate market, try to keep your total housing payment under 30 percent of your gross monthly income. When you spend much more than that on your mortgage, you risk becoming “house poor” — you might live in a beautiful home but find it difficult to save or even cover other monthly expenses.

Step 2: Prepare your finances for the mortgage process

The last thing you want to do is find your dream home only to discover you’re not financially qualified to buy it. To guarantee you’re financially ready to buy your first home, you’ll need good credit, cash to close, and a verifiable income.
Check your credit

Hopefully this isn’t a a surprise, but getting a mortgage requires a good credit score. It’s a good time to check your credit reports for errors and possibly invest in a few months of a daily credit score monitoring service.
A fast way to improve your score by a few points is to pay down credit card balances and stop using them for two months before you apply for a mortgage. Also, you’ll want to avoid applying for credit (for example, a new credit card or car loan) until after you’ve closed on your new home.
If you’re buying a home with a spouse or other co-buyer, your mortgage lender will likely consider both buyers’ credit scores in the application process. That’s not to say you’re necessarily doomed if one person’s credit isn’t as good, but don’t count on things going off without a hitch just because one buyer has a stellar score.
Finally, remember that improving your credit score significantly can take at least six months, so get started if you need to!
Save cash for a down payment and other expenses

In addition to making sure your credit score is in order, you’ll also want to consider the cash you’ll need to make buying your first home a reality. Of course there’s your down payment — typically between 3.5 and 20 percent of the purchase price.
As you save money for your down payment, avoid the temptation to invest in the volatile stock market with money you hope to use in the next year or two. While you might be tempted to try to earn a greater return on your money than an online saving account paying 1 percent, the greatest risk is not having your money available when you’re ready to buy a house.
And as you save, don’t underestimate how much money you’ll need — you might be surprised at how much cash you’ll need for closing over and above the down payment amount.
Get your documentation in order

Finally, if you’re close to putting an offer on a home, begin to collect documents that you’ll need to verify your financials on the mortgage application: paystubs, W-2’s, bank statements and, if you have freelance or self-employment income, copies of your last two tax returns.

Step 3: Go shopping for a mortgage

Too often, home buyers leave mortgage shopping to the last minute and watch their dream home go to another bidder who had financing in order. Mortgage pre-approval is a free and non-binding process that presents you to sellers as a serious, qualified buyer when buying your first home.
Mortgage types

Comparing two mortgages can be confusing. There are fixed-rates and adjustable rates, or ARMs, which are priced very differently. You can take out a mortgage for 30 years or as little as five years (interest rates are typically higher the longer the term of the loan).
Most buyers should look at fixed-rate mortgages and, indeed, the 30-year fixed rate mortgage is the most common kind of loan, by far. Still, it doesn’t hurt to become familiar with how mortgage rates work and the different kinds of loans that are available.
You may also want to run some scenarios through a mortgage calculator to see how different terms and rates will affect your monthly payment.
Mortgage fees

To make matters worse, mortgage lenders charge fees that aren’t necessarily reflected in the interest rate. There can be fees for appraising the home, checking your credit, and preparing documentation.
In some cases, you may be offered the option to pay “points” at closing that will reduce your interest rate. Points are essentially prepaid interest. This can be a tricky decision, but it can make sense if 1) you can afford to put down the extra cash and 2) expect to carry the mortgage for many, many years.
It can be a good habit to compare mortgage rates online regularly. You’ll notice that they fluctuate quite a bit from week-to-week and that some lenders will run the equivalent of “sales”, lowering rates to attract more customers away from the competition.
Private mortgage insurance (PMI)

If you put less than 20 percent down, your lender will likely charge you a monthly premium for what’s called private mortgage insurance, or PMI. Private mortgage insurance protects the bank in the event you default on your loan and the value of your home declines significantly.
Before the 2008 financial crisis, you probably remember hearing about how many people were starting to have trouble making payments on adjustable rate mortgages, or ARMs. This post briefly describes the difference between fixed rates and ARMs, as well as what mortgage points are, and whether you should ever pay them on your mortgage. Compare current mortgage rates and get good-faith estimates from a few lenders on what your rate and costs would be.

Where to get mortgage rates and pre-approval

The only wrong way to get a mortgage is to walk into your local bank, ask for a loan officer and accept whatever rate she gives you without ever shopping around.
You can compare rates with any number of leading online mortgage lenders or find a local mortgage broker who will shop your application to multiple lenders on your behalf.
I often also recommend using the site LendingTree to quickly get four or five competing mortgage rates from different banks. These rates will be more accurate than the ones you see in advertisements and Websites because banks provide real rates based upon your credit profile and the location and value of the home you want to buy. Learn more about getting mortgage quotes and pre-approval from LendingTree.

Post courtesy of MoneyUnder30.com

 

Real Estate Investing: How to Make Money in the Current Housing Market

Forecasters say that mortgage rates above 4 percent are here to stay. With that in mind, it’s important to realize what high mortgage rates mean and how they affect your current and future real estate investments.

As a seasoned real estate investor and house flipper, I’ve seen a lot of changes come and go in the housing market. I’ve come to realize that even the toughest and hottest housing market can still leave investors reaping the rewards.

Right now, prices for houses are higher due to the extremely low supply of homes. Very few homes are being built, especially in the low end-range. While it may seem like it’s slim pickings in terms of real estate investing, there are still good deals available; it just takes time and savvy investing smarts to find them.

Even though there are fewer listings in today’s market, rising prices present opportunities for people to sell homes that need work. While there are opportunities in both buyers’ and sellers’ markets, my advice when it comes to real estate investing is to always leave yourself plenty of room for unknown costs or changes in the market. That way, you can flip in good, bad or even mediocre markets. The trick is never assuming prices will increase and accounting for all costs. Investors get in the biggest trouble when markets change and they bought based on estimated future appreciation.

Real estate agents have also felt the effects of the current housing market. Along with the market changes and higher rates, real estate agents are competing in a smaller pool of homes. There are many buyers and prices are rising. Normally this makes a good seller’s market, which is good for agents, but this market is different because there are so few homes for sale. (Agents love a seller’s market, but not when there are no homes to sell!) They are suffering under fewer sales and less money, causing many to drop out of the business altogether. The bright spot for investors is that agents still in the game have much more time on their hands and investors may be able to find hungry agents who have both the time and the drive to find them deals.

As far as worrying about the current political climate, I don’t think the market will change much based on new policies. If anything, lending guidelines will get looser, making it easier to get loans. Prices are higher, but if you invest wisely based on ratios and profit margins, you can make money with low or high prices. It can be tougher to get cash flow on rentals in a hot market, but there are many markets in the U.S. that are still great for rental property investing. I think supply and demand are the biggest factors when looking at housing prices, and supply is not going to increase for single-family homes any time soon, so bear that in mind.

While rising mortgage interest rates can hurt buyer demand and buying power, you can still make money in real estate no matter what the market is like. It takes a huge jump in rates to significantly affect buying power.

Furthermore, I don’t think rates will cause a housing crash, either. The last crash happened because of inflated demand caused by loose lending guidelines. The builders over-built, and it all started to crumble when everyone realized how many people who should have never gotten a loan in the first place got one they really couldn’t afford. This time around, the people who are getting loans have much stronger financial capabilities and stability. There is also not the over-building that caused issues we saw in the past. So, even if there is a crash, many investors will do just fine. In fact, the last crash created more tenants and increased rents in some areas, while prices decreased. The trick is creating equity by purchasing below market, buying with cash flow, and not over-leveraging.

Regardless of the current interest rates, people will always buy and sell homes, which means there will always be opportunity to make money flipping or as a landlord.

Post courtesy of RISmedia.com

10 Sneaky Ways to Make Your Kitchen Look Expensive

There’s no denying that the kitchen has become the focal point of the modern home, the place where the outsize influence of the Food Network and HGTV converge. Prospective buyers want to imagine themselves gathered there among friends, sipping wine and nibbling on hors d’oeuvres with ease—or perhaps preparing a family meal while the kids pitch in as little sous-chefs.

But achieving that dream kitchen is also one of the most expensive home remodeling projects you can possibly undertake. If your taste trends more toward Veuve Clicquot on a budget that’s solidly PBR, never fear: We’ve got some sneaky tricks to give your kitchen a fancy upgrade on the cheap.

1. Choose a luxurious color palette (and play with texture)

pctune up

“These work best and convey a really luxe vibe,” she says.  “Look at the branding colors of luxury designers—they are mostly lightly muted and off the primary color.” She favors charcoal, cream, and champagne over harsher black, white, silver, or gold.

And consider texture when you’re planning your palette.

“You want to vary the texture to vary the complexity and make the design more layered and high-end,” says Hoffmann. “Choose two or three very close colors and play with texture instead—think white, a cream, and a very, very light natural beige as your colors, and then create visual interest by incorporating lots of texture in the room as your accent.”

Think of varying high-gloss, matte, and distressed finishes, and using raised patterns.

2. Reinvent tired cabinets with new hardware

If new cabinets aren’t in the cards, take your kitchen from outdated to outstanding with new hardware. Replace all door pulls, handles, and even hinges with fancy pieces in unexpected hues (we love these gorgeous handmade pieces by House of Antique Hardware). Just make sure to choose pieces that fit the holes in your cabinets, since traditional spackle or caulk can shrink. (If you can’t fit existing holes, pros recommend using a nonshrinking wood putty or auto body filler, but you’ll need to sand the work surface first.)

And don’t be afraid to mix metals, says Maize Jacobs-Brichford, a designer and project manager at Brynn Olsen Design Group in Chicago, who favors clean, traditional lines in unlacquered brass or polished nickel.

“Even if your sink or lighting is chrome, your hardware can still go brass,” she says.

3. Paint (or add glass doors to) your cabinets

pctune up

When it comes to tired old cabinets (particularly the stalwart oak cabinets of the ’80s), a good coat of paint can hide all manner of sins, according to Hoffmann.

“Enough already!” she exclaims. The old cabinets “are aging your space!”

We like Ace Hardware’s Cabinet, Door & Trim Paint, a semigloss alkyd enamel paint that promises a smooth finish. If you’re a clumsy DIY painter (are those brush strokes?), hire a pro.

Hoffmann also claims it’s “fairly easy” to cut out the front of existing cabinets and put in glass for an open, modern look. We’re not so sure, so if you’re at all in doubt, leave it to a trusted contractor or handyman. (Tutorials for this type of upgrade abound on the internet; we like this one from HGTV.)

4. Put your best stems forward

Invest a little in new stemware. If you have a bit of cash to spend, splurge on a gorgeous open shelf (or consider glass-front cabinets) to display pretty colored or textured glass, like these from Epitome Home.

5. Update the light fixtures

“Even if you don’t have the budget to change out some of the bigger architectural features, updating your fixtures can be a big change,” says Jacobs-Brichford. “When in doubt, go with a globe fixture with polished nickel or brass details to keep it simple but chic.”

Hoffmann also swears by dimmable lighting.

“Get an electrician to put your lights on a dimmer, and instantly upgrade the feel of your kitchen, especially at night or when entertaining,” she says.

And finally, don’t forget about task lighting—particularly under-cabinet lights. Battery-powered LED lights are inexpensive and couldn’t be easier to install (in many cases, you just stick them on using removable adhesive). Position them under cabinets in the areas where you typically spend the most time.

6.  Recast the backsplash

After cabinets, a backsplash makes the biggest statement in a kitchen. This is one place you want to splurge, pros say.

“It’s a great place to showcase your personal style and taste,” says Hoffmann, who favors monochromatic trends like concrete, herringbone, and subway tile.

If you’re on a budget, reinvigorate your backsplash without mortar by using a simpler, adhesive-based product like SimpleMat.

7. Upgrade your view

pctune up

Hoffmann swears by window appliqués to fake a great view outside a kitchen window. These also add visual interest if the area isn’t conducive to traditional window treatments, she says. Another great trick? Hang ferns or other flowers outside your windows to give the illusion of lush, verdant space. Hoffmann also likes to add herb gardens to the counter space, over the sink, or just outside windows.

8.  Paint the countertops

Innovative new products from companies like Giani Granite and Rust-Oleum let you paint (yes, paint!) your dingy old wood or laminate countertops if new granite or slab isn’t in the budget. You can go for a textured imitation stone look, or keep things cohesive with a simple solid color.

9.  Incorporate fruit

pctune up

Bring life to a kitchen with a driftwood bowl filled with a bright fruit or vegetables; Jacobs-Brichford likes lemons, artichokes, or green apples.

“They can usually sit out for two weeks—much longer than the life span of flowers,” she says. (Fake fruit is fine in a pinch, though designers prefer the real thing.) If you’re staging your home to sell, consider adding fruit to your kitchen to give it an attractively livable feel.

10.  Add fragrance

“Stop burning hideous, noxious, cheap candles,” says Hoffmann. “They are toxic and smell cheap to anyone who knows better when they enter your house. If you’re spending $20 a month on candles, that’s $240 a year.  Purchase a lightly scented luxury Culti diffuser instead, and get a couple of flameless candles. Your space will smell more expensive, elegant, and subtle.”

The (admittedly pricey) diffuser uses perfume-grade oils, gives off a more understated scent than traditional candles, and lasts an entire year.

Post courtesy of realtor.com

3 Ways to Research a Property Online

Once you’ve got the basics, it’s time to do a little more digging.

Nearly every home search starts online these days. Sorting through listings, photos, floor plans and descriptions is a great way to feel out the market for those who are in the earliest stages of the home search.

When you find a home you’re ready to bid on, it’s incredible how much background information you can find online. The Internet is full of data on past home sales, recorded sales prices, and the history of each sale, plus information that may not be as obvious — such as the safety of the neighborhood you’re considering buying into.

Here are three ways to use online tools and real estate mobile apps to get more details about the home you want.

Check building records

Nearly all public information and documentation is now available online, and most municipalities provide web access to building permit history. Although the law requires most sellers to disclose previous work done on the property, there may be a history of earlier work the seller didn’t know about.

For example, if there is a newer bathroom or kitchen but no history of a permit for the work, there is a chance someone did the work without a permit — and potentially not to health or safety code. And if you become the owner, this unpermitted work becomes your responsibility.

To begin your search, type “building records,” plus your city’s name into your favorite search engine. Example: “building records Seattle.”

Use Google Street View

Researching an address using Google’s Street View can be one of the most revealing options available. Street View provides a snapshot of a property at a particular moment in time, which can provide insight into the recent history of the property or neighborhood.

Be aware, however, that the image you see may not accurately reflect the home’s current state. For example, I helped a homeowner list and sell a home in San Francisco’s Lower Haight neighborhood a few years back. We planted a beautiful garden area to create a buffer between the sidewalk and the windows. But a search for the property on Google Street View revealed the windows with bars on them, and no garden. The previous owner had bars on the window, and someone had removed the bars to make the property look more inviting.

Seeing the windows with bars on them in Google Street View could raise questions for potential buyers: Is the neighborhood unsafe? Was there a history of crime in the community or on the property? Are the street-level windows safe?

Consult a neighborhood crime app

A variety of crime reporting apps for mobile devices show on a map recent crimes that have been reported, including assault, theft, robbery, homicide, vehicle theft, sex offenders, and quality of life (which often means noise complaints). It’s an easy way to get a quick overview of how safe or unsafe a neighborhood is.

So much information is available to buyers these days. You don’t need to rely solely on the seller’s or the real estate agent’s disclosures. Use online resources to find out as much background information on a property as you can, either before making an offer or during your contingency period. It is best to do as much research as possible, in order to make an informed final decision.

Post courtesy of zillow.com