How to Create a Kid-Approved Bedroom

From baby to teen, here’s how to put together a room that will grow with your child.

For a child, a bedroom is more than just a place to sleep. It’s a room to do schoolwork, listen to music, play games, sprawl on the floor, rough-house, read, build models, daydream, visit with friends, and keep innumerable possessions.

You’ll need to plan carefully to create a space that serves all those functions, yet is comfortable and inviting — and has enough staying power to require only minimal redecorating and repainting every few years.

Consult the experts

The ultimate experts on what kids like best are kids themselves. Involve your children in the design process by letting them help with color selections for their rooms.

Include their interests, and ask for their opinions as you create a decorating scheme, especially when it comes to paint, furniture, and fabrics. What you want is a room that both meets your needs and pleases your child.

But don’t go overboard: Kids’ interests change often, so use color schemes that can be easily modified when their passions go another direction.

A few safe bets for color palettes include:

  • Black and white with a favorite color all over
  • Pastels
  • Neutral backdrop with bright accent colors, like green and blue
  • Bright colors in small doses

For the little ones

For babies and toddlers, softer, muted colors are key. Little ones need to be surrounded by soothing shades in order to fall asleep quickly and peacefully. Offset a pastel color palette with darker furniture pieces, like a chocolate-stained crib and upholstered glider.

For young children, colors that help them create and explore are best. These can be soft shades for the blossoming bookworm, or deep blue and green for the scientist-in-training.

Patterns also begin to come into play as kids reveal their personalities. Stripes, polka dots, zig-zags, and abstract motifs play well with children’s furniture and are easy to swap out for something a little more sophisticated as they grow into young adults.

For tweens and teens

Pre-teens and teenagers often prefer muted color palettes that feature one or two accent colors. Incorporate a favorite color into the room somewhere. Fortunately, color, especially on the walls, is easy to change.

Some of the most popular color combinations include gray, lavender, and deep purple for a stylish look; navy and white for a preppy personality; or muted or neutral tones like black, white, and gray to let your kids explore their favorite looks without dedicating their space to one single palette.

To personalize a space, consider adding a mural or chalkboard wall. If you or your child is inclined, draw wall art freehand; if you’re not artistic, look for stencils or stick-on wall decor. You can also use letters to embellish a wall with words or sayings that are special to your child.

Don’t overlook durability and safety

The younger the child, the more durable and easy furniture and surfaces should be to clean (think performance fabrics and scrubbable paint finishes).

For any child, a safe environment is critical. Review the literature on all surfaces and products, and get up-to-date on product recalls before you make major purchases.

Creating a kid-approved space is a fun journey, especially as your child grows and develops their unique personality.

Be flexible and willing to try new styles and designs as your little ones grow into their space and claim it as their own.

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A Quick Guide to Holiday Houseplants

How to keep your holiday cactus, amaryllis, and poinsettia alive to the New Year … and beyond!

Don’t let a silly houseplant add even more stress to your holiday routine.

From now through January, poinsettia, amaryllis, and holiday cacti only ask for three things: the right drainage, sunlight, and moisture.

After the holidays you can either throw them out with the tree and buy new plants next year, or you can follow these tips to get even bigger blooms next time around.

What holiday houseplants want — for the holidays

Drainage: First, take the containers out of their cellophane wrappers, which somehow manage to both trap water and leak, staining whatever sits beneath. To save your plant and your coffee table from excessive water, slip the plastic container or rootball into a real flowerpot with a drainage hole. Place a saucer beneath that to protect your furniture.

Sunlight: Notice that I said ‘sunlight’ rather than ‘artificial light.’ Even bright fluorescent lights often aren’t enough, so place your plant in a room that gets bright indirect light from a nearby window. This means that it should be bright enough to read comfortably with the lights off, but not so bright that you have to squint when looking out the window.

Oddly enough, your houseplant’s shadow offers another clue: The plant should have a blurry shadow. If there is no shadow, it needs more light. If the shadow is crisp, it’s too sunny.

Water: Overwatering is the No.1 killer of houseplants, and they’re especially vulnerable during the colder months. Here’s how to water them without regrets. Keep the houseplant where you can easily monitor its moisture. Before you water, allow the top inch (or fingertip length) of the potting mix to dry out. Then water the potting mix (not the leaves) until it is moist throughout. That’s it!

How to get bigger blooms next year

Up for a minor challenge and a big reward? Keep your poinsettia, amaryllis, and holiday cactus thriving and get bigger blooms each year by following these instructions.

Poinsettia: Poinsettia is probably the trickiest plant on this list to grow indoors year-round, but the payoff is big. After the holidays, prune the stems back hard to about 3 to 4 inches tall. Add slow-release fertilizer according to label instructions and continue watering whenever the top inch of the potting mix dries out. Provide extra humidity during winter by placing it in a brightly lit bathroom or occasionally misting with water.

Your poinsettia might look ragged by spring, but will quickly perk up if placed outdoors in a shady spot after the last frost. Prune again in summer for a bushier plant. To get a colorful display of leaf bracts, provide 14 hours of darkness every day from September through December. You might feel silly, but will be rewarded with a plant that grows bigger and bushier each year.

Holiday cactus: Since holiday cacti are naturally found growing along with orchids in the branches of South America’s rainforests, repot the plants in a 50 percent mixture of orchid mix and potting mix. After the blooms have faded, prune the outermost pads to stimulate growth and bushiness.

Give your holiday cactus a rest period during winter by watering only when the potting mix has dried out completely. Resume regular watering in April, and feed with an orchid fertilizer according to label directions. In September, place the plant in a cool place (between 50 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit) and reduce watering until flower buds form. Then resume normal watering, and fertilize for a flush of flowers that gets bigger each year.

Amaryllis: Amaryllis (Hippeastrum) is very easy to grow and will readily bloom again next December with just a little bit of care. After blooming, cut off the flower stem and continue letting the top inch of potting mix dry out between waterings.

Photo Courtesy of Maxpixel

In spring (after the last frost) move it outdoors to a sunny spot, provide fertilizer, closely monitor for slugs, and water regularly. Starting in mid-August, allow the potting mix to dry out completely between waterings. When you see a flower bud about eight weeks later, move the plant to a sunny spot (direct sun is fine) to get a strong and sturdy stem, and resume regular watering. Once the flowers have opened, display your amaryllis with pride.

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How to Feel at Home, No Matter Where You Are

Whether you’re couch-surfing, living in base housing, or renting a room, here’s how to make yourself at home anywhere.

So it turns out, despite our best efforts, we don’t all actually have the kind of “home” that commercials and catalogs like to pretend we do.

Not that we wouldn’t want it. Who could say no to a quaintly historic house towering over the neighborhood like an architectural cupcake? Who would turn down a wraparound porch, complete with attractive spouse and loyal Golden Retriever?

Catalogs represent an ideal, but the reality is the concept of home is hardly universal (for example, some porches don’t even wrap around!).

The meaning of home

In its most basic sense, home can be understood as simply having a place to live. But home is more than that. It’s a sense of safe, comfortable, familiar permanence. For a variety of real-life reasons, a lot of us don’t actually have that.

Some of us travel for work. Some are in military families, going from base to base as needed. Sometimes we run out of cash and resort to couch-surfing, relying on the kindness of family and friends to get a roof. And then some of us — and stop the shaming, folks — have had to move back in with our parents until a job comes along.

But being between homes, or not having the kind of cash or loan-worthiness to actually purchase one yourself, doesn’t mean you don’t deserve the feeling of home. We just have to be a little more creative and learn to cultivate a sense of home that resides within us, rather than the other way around.

Here are four tips to help you get started feeling at home, even if you’re not quite there yet.


It might seem counterintuitive, since many of us live according to the gospel of “stuff equals self,” but if you want to carry from place to place things that reflect you  (photos, a special crocheted pillow, that karate trophy from second grade) the rule should really be “less is more.”

It’s basically about curating what you really care about, and paring down the mountain of belongings into a small, movable pile of what makes you happiest. Not to mention, throwing out (or donating) belongings actually feels good.

I recently helped my mom downsize her book collection from maybe 300 strong to the 20 or so she actually wants to keep. And it was surprisingly easy for her to say “Nope, chuck it.” (We donated the books, meaning there’s a library out there somewhere newly rich in Agatha Christie mysteries.)

Keep pictures — actual pictures

This is an easy, but surprisingly underused, way of creating a sense of “you” wherever you go. Photos of yourself, your family members, and your friends are an instant way to create a sense of home.

The reason we tend not to do it is that most of our visual history now lives online — Facebook, Instagram, or just on our phones. Not that the Internet isn’t a great way to share images, especially when you find genuinely decent lighting and look incredible, but a few photo frames, tangible as well as conceptual, can make a strange space feel a bit more like your own.

Enjoy your smells, so to speak

This can be a tricky one. Scents — the nice kind — are incredibly evocative. Scent “plays an important social and emotional part” in human life, according to the Journal of Medicine and Life.

That doesn’t mean you have to run to your nearest Yankee Candle and endure the intense mixture of cinnamon bun, French vanilla, and spruce pine candles to find a way to feel like you belong to your current digs.

But any smell that’s evocative of home — maybe it is a certain candle scent, fresh flowers, or even the regular application of Windex to dirty windows to remind yourself of childhood chores — can help you feel more at home.

Find a space of your own

When you’re regularly in new territory — couch-surfing, changing military bases, or renting a room in someone else’s place — it’s not just the house itself that feels … un-yours. It’s the outside. Whether its sketchy neighbors or creepy woods, these familiar sights may actually feel really unfamiliar to you.

Don’t shy away from exploring the neighborhood, no matter how temporary it might be in your life. Find a (safe) walking path or nature area, check out a local café or bodega, and say hi to people if and when they’re not looking at their smartphones.

And this counts for indoors or outdoors. Whether you’re a nature lover or prefer aggressively air-conditioned malls, there’s probably somewhere close by that might feel normal to you — a reminder that wherever you are, you’re never without a sense of belonging.

And that’s what home is, at its core: belonging somewhere. The trick is, you can do it anywhere.

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5 Things to Know Before You Refinance

A refi could cut your monthly mortgage payment, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the right move.

Even though rates spiked after the election and may rise further after the Fed meets December 14, there are about four million borrowers who will still benefit from refinancing, and of that, two million borrowers could save $200 or more per month by refinancing.

There are many reasons to refinance, but here’s what you should know before you act.

Refinancing costs money

There’s no such thing as a free refinance. You’ll need to pay closing costs, which typically run anywhere from 2 to 5 percent of your loan amount. So, if you’re refinancing a $150,000 loan, you might pay between $3,000 and $7,500 in closing costs upfront.

One option you have is for your mortgage lender to cover the closing costs using a no-closing cost refinance. But if you go that route, you’ll pay a slightly higher interest, says Ray Rodriguez, regional mortgage sales manager at TD Bank.

Therefore, “you need to calculate your time horizon,” says Rodriguez.

Before selecting a no-cost refinance, look at what the closing costs would be if you were paying for them separately, then calculate how long it would take the monthly payment savings from a refinance to repay the closing costs. Once you do that you can more accurately determine whether a no-closing cost refinance is mathematically sound for your situation.

Use a refinance calculator to see how long it will take for you to recoup the closing costs. If your breakeven point is four years but you only plan to stay in the home for two years, refinancing isn’t a smart move.

Savings should repay costs quickly

Refinancing makes sense when your interest rate on your mortgage is more than 100 basis points above current interest rates, says Todd Sheinin, a mortgage lender and chief operating officer at New America Financial in Gaithersburg, MD.

Of course, everyone has different objectives, so there’s no hard and fast rule on how much you should save, but generally your refi costs should be recouped in about two years or less.

For example, if you got a 30-year fixed loan of $200,000 loan in March 2011, your rate would have been 4.83 percent, according to Freddie Mac. This week that rate is 4.13 percent.

So if this refinance cost you $2,800 and saved you $179, your savings would repay the closing costs in 15 months. This means that after one year and three months, you’d truly benefit from the lower payment — a very favorable refi scenario.

In contrast, if you got that same $200,000 30-year fixed loan in August 2013, your rate would’ve been 4.45 percent. So if you paid $2,800 to refinance into this week’s rate of 4.13 percent and only saved $93, your savings would repay the closing costs in 30 months.

This is six months past the two-year mark, so it would take a while to truly benefit from the refi.  But some may deem the $93 per month savings meaningful enough to refinance. This is a discussion to have with your lender.

Before you commit, be sure to do your homework and compare refinance rates from multiple lenders.

A refi could cancel your PMI

If you’re currently paying for private mortgage insurance (PMI) on your loan but have gained a substantial amount of equity in your home, refinancing could enable you to cancel your mortgage insurance.

Your loan balance must be 80 percent or less of your home’s appraised value in order for this to work, says Richard Redmond, mortgage broker at All California Mortgage in Larkspur, CA and author of “Mortgages: The Insider’s Guide.”

If your first mortgage is 80 percent or less of your home’s value when it’s appraised for the refinance, your new loan wouldn’t require PMI, and this new loan would replace the loan with PMI, thus cancelling your PMI obligations.

You’re rewinding the clock on your loan

When you refinance, you’re effectively resetting the life of your home loan. So if you’ve had your loan for many years, you’ve reached a point in your loan where most of your monthly payment is going to paying the loan down (rather than paying interest). Refinancing the loan will change this dynamic, so most of your payment is going to interest rather than paying your loan down.

Ask your lender to do a side-by-side loan amortization comparison so you can see how fast you’ll pay off your existing loan versus a new loan. Also ask them to show you how much faster you’d pay off the new loan if you took the savings from a refinance and applied it as an extra monthly pay-down on the new loan.

Your equity could be a good source of cash

A cash-out refinance lets you take out a new mortgage for more than the amount you owe on your current loan and then pocket the difference — typically up to 80 percent of your loan-to-value ratio. That can be a good move, depending on how you’re planning to spend the money, says Rodriguez.

If you’re going to use the cash to build an addition to your home that’s going to increase your property’s value, taking a cash-out refi makes sense. But  keep in mind that cash-out refinance rates are slightly higher than rates for non-cash-out refinances.

If you’re going to use the money for discretionary spending, such as a vacation, think twice. It’s not advisable to use cash out proceeds for discretionary spending, although lenders don’t prohibit you from doing this.

One caveat: If home values in your neighborhood are decreasing, now may not be the right time to tap your equity. “Before you pull equity from your home, you need to weigh the costs and benefits,” Rodriguez says.

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Should You Take Your Home Off the Market for the Holidays?

Nobody’s buying homes between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, right? (Or are they?)

Home sellers often suggest to their agents that they should take their listings off the market during the winter holidays. Surely nothing happens between now and the end of the year, they ask? It’s best to wait for the spring selling season, right?

Perhaps surprisingly, the answer is: not necessarily.

Conventional wisdom used to be that you shouldn’t even try to sell your home during the busy holiday season. Potential home buyers were attending parties, cooking holiday meals, buying presents, or vacationing this time of year. With all that going on, there just wasn’t time to ride around with a real estate agent to look at properties.

But with the Internet, smartphones, tablets and our always-on lifestyle, that conventional wisdom isn’t relevant anymore. The reality is, the home-buying season is now year-round.

Here’s why you should consider listing your home during the holidays — or even in January.

Today’s buyers check the listings 24×7

These days, serious buyers are always real estate aware — and the holidays are no exception. They may check out the latest listings in a mobile real estate app before bed or while waiting for the bus. You know the drill. We can’t pull ourselves away.

Our hectic lifestyles also play a role. Many serious buyers today work hard. They don’t shift into holiday mode until the last minute. Even during the holiday break, they’re still squeezing in work. There’s no such thing for them as “going off the grid.” So why not continue to monitor real estate listings, too?

The inventory — your competition — is lighter

Despite our always-on lifestyles, many sellers still believe buyers stop looking come mid-November. At the same time, sellers who’ve had their homes on the market for months often take them off now to give the listing “a rest.”

The net effect is that the inventory for good homes often tightens this time of year. There’s less competition for sellers, at a time when motivated buyers are out there looking — and no doubt wishing there were more properties to see.

If you’ve been considering selling, are motivated, are flexible on timing, and have a salable home, consider listing right after Thanksgiving. There’s still a window of several weeks to get buyers into your home before the end of the year.

And those buyers swiping right will be excited to see something new and awesome hit the market. Buyers will be motivated to see your home, regardless of what the calendar says.

Update a slow mover

If your property has been on the market for months, most buyers and their agents will assume it’s stale, overpriced or that something is “wrong” with it, no matter how light the competition is.

In that case, it’s time to take action, and the year-end holidays can be a great opportunity to shift course. Dramatically reducing the price or overcoming some major obstacle that’s been preventing the sale might be what’s needed to sell your home.

If you received lower offers early on but weren’t ready to accept them, or you keep hearing there are issues with how your property shows, this is a good time to show the market you’re listening and are serious about selling.

The motivated buyers, desperate for good inventory, will notice you and take a look. Strike while the iron is hot.

You might even get a sale closed before the end of the year. But before you make any big changes, talk it over with your real estate agent, as always.

Plan B: List in January

Admittedly, the thought of keeping the house clean, holding open houses and vacating to accommodate last-minute showings during the holidays is a dealbreaker for some would-be sellers.

If so, consider listing your property after New Year’s Day. Traditionally, not much inventory comes onto the market in early January. Many areas are seeing cold weather, bare trees, and dead landscaping. Many sellers wait until the spring — a more conventional time to sell.

While January inventory is typically still very tight, the number of buyers may be growing. Often, new buyers — with their fresh New Year’s resolutions to stop wasting money on rent and buy a home — are ready to jump into the market as soon as possible. Some buyers are motivated to search for a home in January because of year-end tax planning.

Whatever the buyers’ motivation, for sellers it means one thing: Demand for homes can increase at a time when inventory is traditionally low. And that means if you’re ready to sell, you’ll have an even more “captive” audience during the holidays, all the way through January.

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What to Do If You Can’t Make Your Mortgage Payment

Whatever you do, don’t skip a payment and think no one will notice.

Living paycheck to paycheck is not uncommon for many homeowners.

And sometimes, when you find yourself in a bind and you’re struggling to make the next mortgage payment, you may be tempted to try to skip a payment, thinking you can repay it later once you get back on track.

But a passive approach to a financial issue — particularly one involving something as impactful as your mortgage — is not advisable. Being proactive and straightforward with your creditors is far more prudent in a personal financial crisis.

The power of honesty

“The first and most important thing I always tell clients concerning delinquent mortgage payments is to contact their lender/servicer, in writing, to advise them of the hardship and inability to make payments,” says Cydney Bulger, attorney with The Bulger Firm in Jacksonville, Florida.

Openly admitting your inability to pay your mortgage is probably one of the last things you want to do, but being forthright about your situation will serve you far better in the long run.

Don’t wait too long

The longer you wait to make your financial struggle known and the harder you attempt to work the system, the less favorably your personal financial crisis is likely to work out.

“The farther the issues go, the less affordable a modified loan can be,” warns Bryant H. Dunivan, Jr., a real estate and consumer protection attorney in Florida. Don’t assume that you have no options — you won’t know if your bank or servicer will work with you unless you ask.

Educate yourself

For homeowners who have already missed a mortgage payment, Dunivan recommends making the most of rules restricting dual tracking, by seeking loan assistance as soon as possible.

Dual tracking is when a mortgage servicer forecloses on a property while simultaneously considering a loan modification. Created by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) in 2013, the rule restricting dual tracking prohibits the practice in the 120-day period after a default.

Dunivan explains that this rule has “… allowed for a lot more protecting for homeowners going into, or already in, foreclosure.” Violations of this rule, “… may subject the servicer to damages, and may give a borrower leverage in a foreclosure lawsuit,” he adds.

Pursue all possible options

“There may be some state programs that make mortgage payments for people,” says Dunivan.

The Hardest Hit Fund (HHF) was developed in 2010 for homeowners who struggle to make their monthly mortgage payments in an effort to prevent foreclosure and stabilize neighborhoods.

Not all states participate in the HHF, but those that do focus on helping two groups of people stay in their homes: unemployed homeowners who are looking for new work, and homeowners who owe more on their mortgage than their home is worth.

But don’t expect miracles

“Calling your bank gets the ball rolling on any potential loan modification option,” says Dunivan. But banks may or may not offer leniency, even if you’re honest about your situation.

And if your situation is more serious and your ability to pay back the loan is truly compromised, “it’s a typical handoff system where once you meet certain criteria, you are put into foreclosure and then a series of automated messages are sent out by mail.”

Be proactive

Failure to act can lead lenders to believe that you don’t care about your financial obligations.

“Now, more than ever [post-2007 housing crash], lenders are willing to work with delinquent homeowners, but if the homeowners fail to advise them of the problem, [lenders] don’t know that they need help, and assume the worst,” says Bulger.

If you wait too long to ask for help, you could eventually discover that it’s too late. If foreclosure is inevitable, consider reaching out to an attorney who specializes in helping people through — or, if you have a good case, fighting — the foreclosure process.

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The Ins and Outs of Showing Property

Whether it’s a last-minute private visit or an open house for anyone who stops by, homes need to be seen to sell.

Showing a property is essential to the home-selling process. Every market works differently, but buyers and sellers will quickly learn the ropes by working with a competent local agent.

The last-minute call to show a property is par for the course. Should the listing agent and seller accommodate? Is it better to hold off a buyer for a day or so?

It’s a dilemma, but sellers and their agents should have a concrete strategy for showing. While homeowners need to be as flexible as possible to show their home, serious buyers and smart buyer’s agents know that last minute scrambles aren’t always desirable.

When it comes to showing and viewing homes, buyers, sellers, and agents need to understand how to best use their options, which include open houses, lockboxes, and private showings.

Open houses

Most people make their first foray into the real estate market by cruising listings online on Sunday morning and deciding to check out open houses that afternoon. Attending open houses helps buyers get a feel for the market without committing to an agent or the process. It is in the fabric of the real estate industry.

Open houses are great for some sellers, too, because they ensure that, within a two- or three-hour period, a good number of buyers can get in to see the property.


Lockbox showings

In some markets, the lockbox showing is the easiest and best way to see a home for sale. To make entering the home convenient for everyone, the listing agent places a special digital lockbox on the front door for agents to access with their buyer clients.

For home shoppers who are unavailable on the weekends, lockbox properties can be a good way to start getting a feel for the market and learn from their buyer’s agent. Also, if an agent has an out-of-town buyer coming in for just a day to see properties, lockbox listings might be the way to go.

Lockboxes can also enable buyers and their agents to quickly pop in and out of a house, and it’s an easy way for buyers to get up to speed quickly on the types of properties available.

Private showings

Most buyers who are interested in a particular home will have attended an open house and viewed the home once or twice with their agent. But when they get serious, they’ll want to go back another time. In this case, the seller’s agent will accompany the showing.

The seller’s agent can answer questions and represent the interests of her client. The buyers will likely have numerous concerns as they walk through with a more critical eye. This private showing provides the seller’s agent an opportunity to be the eyes and ears of the seller.

Advice for buyers and sellers

Buyers and their agents should be mindful of the home-viewing process, and always be respectful of the seller’s and the listing agent’s time.

Sellers who are serious about getting their home sold should be ready for anything. Showings can sometimes happen at a moment’s notice. As a result, they must maintain the home in its “staged” appearance at all times.

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3 Things to Do When Your Neighbors List Their Home for Sale

Most people think their real estate concerns end once they’ve closed on and moved into their new homes. But given the constant access to information and the changing nature of society today, smart homeowners know that their real estate awareness should continue after the closing.

When a neighbor’s house goes on the market, there can be some important implications for you. Here are some tips for staying real estate aware.

Document important disclosure items

For the most part, good fences make good neighbors. But sometimes the folks on the other side of the fence don’t cooperate, and unresolved neighbor conflicts tend to arise when one of the homes goes on the market.

Have a property line dispute or an issue with a broken fence and want to make sure that the new buyer knows about it? While sellers in most states have a duty to disclose issues to potential buyers, not all areas require this.

Do your new neighbor-to-be a favor and alert the seller’s agent to anything the buyer needs to know about your neighbor’s property.

See things differently

Open houses allow buyers to spend some time exploring a home, but these events also present you with a chance to see your home from your neighbor’s perspective.

Once, at a busy open house in San Francisco’s Noe Valley neighborhood, an open house visitor made a somewhat obvious beeline for the back of the house. He immediately got on the phone, and was clearly communicating with someone about where he was standing, and giving orders to move left and right. It turned out this visitor lived in the home behind, and was checking to see the neighbor’s view into his home.

The open house is your chance to check your home’s paint job from the neighbor’s yard or simply to see your home from a different perspective.

Know and learn the market in real time

Typical sellers claim and save their home online, but also keep searches going after the fact. Why? To keep tabs on the market, see the comps and have a real-time sense of what’s happening nearby.

Just like when you were a buyer, knowing about the area and types of homes in the market is a good move for any homeowner. Take a neighboring home for sale as an opportunity to see what the market bears. You can also learn about the latest trends in home design.

Speaking to a real estate agent can help inform you of changes to property taxes, or how assessments are changing in your town. A smart real estate agent, working their listing, will be an incredible resource to would-be clients down the road. Leverage their experience when your neighbor sells.

Take note when your neighbor goes to sell their home. It’s not just a time to nose around, but to document, inspect or learn from the home sale. Some homes get listed once in a lifetime. Take advantage of the opportunity.


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Tackling the Top 10 Home Organization Issues

As we face down the last couple of months of the year, it’s important to get organized now so you can reduce your stress and current clutter before the influx of holiday parties and gift-giving begins.

Use my tips to tackle some of the most common home organization complaints, so you can breathe more easily from now until the end of the year.

“I can’t find it!”

Cutting clutter is an obvious starting point for resolving this issue. Having too much stuff can make it hard to locate items you need. Favorite shirts get lost in a crowded closet, the perfect spatula hides in the overstuffed kitchen drawer, and necessary tools float to the bottom of an unsorted tool box.

But getting organized may be easier than you think. Let’s take those tools as an example. The garage can be one of the messiest places in the house, but this simple and easy starting point will help get it under control.

  1. Hang a peg board and put in some hooks.
  2. Using a marker, draw an outline around each tool to indicate its location.

You will have a tool organization system that not only keeps you organized, but also alerts you when the tools are missing. This is especially handy as you install decorations, hang outdoor lights, or build new furniture to host guests during the holidays.

Organizing is contagious — once you start, it spreads rapidly throughout the house.

“I left home without it (again).”

Have you ever walked out of the house and forgotten the birthday card for your friend? Left the set of directions to your niece’s wedding on the printer? Or failed to retrieve the receipt for returning the vacuum you purchased last month?

If only we could remind ourselves about these things before walking out the door.

Whether the front door or mudroom is your jumping off point each morning before you leave, you can set up the area each day for total success. Create an organizing system with pockets that hangs on the knob or over the door to hold items you’ll need before you leave for work, school, or events.

A simple door organizer usually costs under $15 and can be purchased in many department stores and online.

You’ll no longer say, “Oh no, I left my outgoing mail, the kids’ lunch money for school, and the keys to the storage unit on the kitchen counter.”

“Mom, did you wash my soccer uniform?”

It’s amazing that the tiniest room in the house can make or break harmony in the home. The laundry room is often the nemesis of an organized house.

Here’s a laundry system that will restore household harmony and save you time. Get each family member his or her own laundry basket and label it.

When the laundry is done, rather than placing the clean laundry on the stairs or couch and watching everyone walk by without picking up their clothes, ask everyone to come to the laundry room to pick up their personalized basket of clean clothing.

There will be no lost items or mix-ups — and no more blaming you.

“Do I have to do everything?”

The kitchen is the pulse point of most homes. It’s a high traffic area that everyone uses all through the day. We open our mail here; study for school here; use the computer here; pile our stuff here — not to mention it’s where the food is!

Dedicate one part of the counter to be set up for daily routines, like a lunch-making station (stock it with paper towels, wraps, baggies, and a cutting board) or a coffee and tea station (equipped with supplies like filters, strainers, and sugar).

If you create an organized space for your family to make their own lunches or coffee drinks, your life is easier. That’s called delegation.

“What if there’s an emergency?”

Another tip for the kitchen is one that can save a life: a household manual, in either a physical or digital form. You can create this in just a few minutes, and it costs you nothing.

To get started, grab a binder and three-hole punch and put all your vital information in the binder. This includes emergency contact info, the name of your family doctors and vet, school rosters, alarm codes, medications and dosages for the kids, the name of your father’s caregiver, the location of your wills — anything you’d need someone to know in an emergency.

When you have a minute, you can digitize it. But start with step one: simply gather important information in one place and keep it contained.

“I can’t corral these crazy cords!”

These days, everyone has cell phones, chargers, remotes, and mismatched cords scattered throughout the house. The shortcut for pulling everything together? A central charging station.

It’s practical, it’s organized, and it can even be decorative. A charging station hides cords, keeps all electronic items together, and can blend in with your furniture.

“There are toys all over the place!”

Many parents’ biggest home organization issue is the kids not picking up their toys.

Parents remember having to do it as a child, so what’s wrong with their own kids? The solution here might be as simple as teaching your children organization skills early on, and making it easy for them to put things in their place.

Here’s one idea that will allow you to shift from frustration to elation:

  • Use bins to hold the toys.
  • Each bin should hold toys of the same type.
  • Find a magazine or use your computer to find pictures of the toys being stored in each particular bin. For example, if you have dolls and stuffed animals in one bin, attach a picture of dolls and stuffed animals to the front of it.

“I have no place to really relax.”

Clearing clutter can create a peaceful home — away from overstimulation and the demands of our external world.

Take that idea to one room in particular: our bedrooms, which are meant to serve as a sanctuary for rest and romance. The piles of laundry, books, and magazines living next to the bed nix any possibility of a calm and relaxing experience.

Let’s get the laundry and closet into a workable system, and put a cap on the number of books and magazines in your personal space.

You can start to create a peaceful space by:

  1. Getting rid of all clothing that does not fit you right now, is in disrepair, or is out of season (box it and store it, sell it, or give it away).
  2. Going through all the books on your bedside table (or floor), and selecting just one to read. Store the others in an alternate location. Keep just this month’s magazines on your table, and either relocate, recycle, or give away the rest.

“Can everybody please clean up after yourself?”

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there could be just one room that we all use and know that everyone is responsible for his or her own clean up? Does your bathroom come to mind?

You can make this a reality by creating a system that works fairly universally.

Get each person in the house a toiletry caddy. Just like at summer camp or in a college dorm, put names on the caddies, and store them on shelves in the bathroom or, if space is really at a premium, ask folks to carry their caddies back and forth from their bedrooms.

The bathroom stays organized and there’s an automatic tidying-up system built in after every visit.

“I don’t have time to get organized.”

One of the top reasons for not getting organized is lack of time. It seems we devote all the energy we have to work, family, school, volunteering, and other commitments.

While many of us dream about alphabetized folders and color-coded sheets and towels, the fact remains that there is often little time in the day to organize or even clean.

The best way to manage this issue is to reduce — and then repeat after me.

  • Reduce. Eliminating clutter is the number one thing we can do to create more time for ourselves. When there is less clutter, we spend less time cleaning it, less time putting it back where it belongs, and less space storing it. Take just 10 minutes today and eliminate 10 items you no longer really need.
  • Repeat after me. Here’s a mantra for you: “Avoid perfection at all costs.” Don’t get too hung up on the details. Unless you’re hosting a very special event, your home doesn’t need to be perfectly organized every day. Sometimes “good enough” will win the game. Talk yourself through those nagging anxieties about having to have all your towels sorted by color.

Relax, reduce, and remember to repeat after me. You’ll be able to enjoy more time to yourself without guilt.


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4 Reasons to Go to Open Houses (Even If You’re Not Looking to Buy)

Some people just can’t get enough of that ‘fresh-baked cookie’ smell.

After a seller has staged their home and listed it on the market, it’s likely their real estate agent will recommend holding an open house. Home buyers flock to these events for a chance to get a peek inside the closets and stroll through the rooms.

But not everyone who attends open houses is looking to buy. Here are four opportunities open houses present if you’re willing to devote your weekend afternoons to them.

Learn from listing agents

Would-be sellers and nearby homeowners represent a large portion of open house traffic. You can use the open house not only to see what’s for sale and the price of comparable homes, but also to learn about the market.

Pick the brain of the listing agent to get his or her take on what’s happening in your area. Real estate agents tend to be aware of market changes well before the mainstream press.

Check out home design trends

Sellers generally put their best foot forward. Some go as far as making cosmetic updates or design/staging changes before putting their homes on the market.

They likely rely on their real estate agent to suggest the latest and greatest looks in the market. So if you’re planning to list a home that needs updating, or you aren’t sure where to begin when it comes to choosing paint colors, countertops or bath fixtures, going to open houses will allow you to see styles and designs.

Even if you’re not looking to sell, you may get some design inspiration to make your home feel like new.

Get referrals for contractors or designers

Want to be connected to a good local designer or contractor? Ask the real estate agent selling the home you liked if they can get you the contact information.

Although getting referrals from friends is also a good idea, seeing the finished product in an open house can inspire you to replicate what that owner did, and how they did it.

Fuel your daydreams

For dedicated real estate buffs, browsing the ‘for sale’ sites and flipping through listing photos isn’t enough. If you’re truly obsessed, you hit the open houses in your area to tour the home for yourself.

Watch real-life open house obsessives tour their dream homes.


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