Information About Downsize Home

Downsizing isn’t living with less — it’s living with what’s important. In fact, having fewer financial- and maintenance-related responsibilities will allow you to focus more on your happiness and less on your home. Here are a few tips to help you get started:

Size up your downsize

Exactly how small should you go? For starters, think about your current home. Take note of vacant or unused rooms and plan your new home around your must-have spaces (e.g., your gourmet kitchen or comfy home office). If you have lots of family, consider including a guest bedroom/bathroom in your new home. An extra room will make guest stays more convenient for you and your company.

Empty your closets

If you’ve been in your home for a decade or longer, you probably have memories packed into every drawer and closet. As you begin to sort your possessions, divide items into three piles: yes, no and maybe. Parting with memories is tough, but unless an item has specific meaning, let it go.

P.S. Family heirlooms are important. If you don’t have the room in your new home, rent a storage space to house special items.

Choose your neighborhood

Downtown: Many urban or city-center neighborhoods offer condos and townhouses that are smaller than detached homes, but make up for their lack of size with maintenance-free luxury (i.e., no yard). These neighborhoods also tend to be pedestrian-friendly. Groceries, entertainment and shopping are usually just a few blocks away.

Midtown: If you prefer more space, look for neighborhoods that offer small, two-bedroom bungalows. Although these downsized homes sometimes require maintenance, you’ll have the benefits of a stand-alone home with the cultural vibrancy of a downtown neighborhood.

Stay where you are: If moving downtown doesn’t suit your needs, consider downsizing in your current neighborhood. By remaining close, you won’t lose access to the conveniences and amenities that you’ve grown to love.

Retirement communities: Most retirement villages boast impressive amenities, regular social events, a wide variety of accommodations and a high degree of independent living. If you’re active but want to avoid yard and home maintenance, retirement communities are a great way to downsize in style.

Vacation spot: With a few changes, your cabin or beach house could become the perfect downsizing solution. Before moving in, make sure that the surrounding community and home itself are suitable for full-time living (without a gigantic remodel).

Maximize your happiness

It’s important to reward yourself during your downsize. Make sure to set aside money for decor and creature comforts. If you’ve always dreamed of a certain design or entertainment feature, include it in your downsize.

As you treat yourself to a few extras, remember to keep your new space organized. Because you’re living in a smaller home, any kind of additional clutter will be immediately noticeable. Tools like under-stair cubbies, bench shelves, under-bed shelving and organized closets are helpful in keeping an orderly home.

Tips To Create a Welcoming Look

First impressions count for homes as much as they do for people, and your front yard curb appeal is a key factor in making that first impression a good one. If your home lacks curb appeal, you can take several steps to spruce it up; if you plan well, it doesn’t have to cost a fortune, either! Here are a few entryway ideas that will enhance how your home looks to passersby, prospective buyers, and, of course, invited guests.

Entryway Ideas and Front Yard Curb Appeal Enhancements

While your entryway and landscaping are probably the most important areas for creating a good first impression, curb appeal encompasses everything visible from the street in front of your home. Tackling it all at once can be overwhelming, but improving just one of the following areas could boost the appeal of your entire home.

Front Door Choices

Your front door should be both functional and attractive; if your entryway door sticks, doesn’t lock properly, or is simply an eyesore, there’s definitely room for improvement. A good coat of paint is one of the most effective and affordable entryway ideas out there, but if your door isn’t functioning properly, hiring a handyman to improve its swing can do wonders. If you’re considering door replacement, today’s exterior doors can come with energy-efficient windows that allow light in without letting hot or cool air escape. To top off the project, choose an attractive screen or storm door that enhances the entire doorway and allows light and fresh air to enter your home during good weather.

Upgrade Light Fixtures

Outdoor lighting that matches the architectural style of your house will go a long way in increasing your front yard curb appeal. Lights that mount to the house or are fixed underneath the portico make your home inviting for guests; make sure to either light your house number or move your numbers to a well lit area to make finding your home easier for visitors, delivery drivers, and emergency services. Landscape lighting is another important consideration. Here, less is often more as it can detract from your front door. Consider low-voltage landscape lighting; it is easier to install, uses less energy, and often looks better than traditional outdoor lighting fixtures.

Entryway Accessories

Don’t skimp on small items such as doorbells, door knockers, and house numbers. A handsome brass doorbell sells for as little as $10, and is a far better option than plastic. Same goes for doorknockers, house numbers, and mailboxes. Keep the finish on all these accessories consistent with each other and with your lighting fixtures.

Landscaping Ideas

Your front yard curb appeal is not going to shine to its fullest without some good landscaping! A small vegetable garden is a very inexpensive addition that adds a lot; similarly, a few potted plants or flower boxes (real estate experts recommend yellow flowers when trying to sell!) can breathe life and color into a hum-drum entryway. Ideas are everywhere; take a drive around your neighborhood and see what features others have included in front of their homes. Perhaps a brick or stone paved path will be the key to better curb appeal. Maybe a fruit tree or bench will be the element that puts your front yard curb appeal over the top. Keep your eyes open when you travel and you’re sure to find one or two elements that not only work for other, but will work for you, too!

Best Real Estate Tips For 2017

High demand and low interest rates drove housing sales in 2016, and 2017 is shaping up to be another good year, albeit with a few minor caveats.

While home prices for starter-to-midrange homes are pushing upward toward pre-recession peaks, especially in secondary markets, they’re stabilizing in higher-priced areas.

Prognosticators see the robust markets of Seattle, Portland and Denver as 2017’s top performers, with 10 percent to 11 percent price growth. If mortgage rates rise modestly as expected in 2017, sales elsewhere may normalize with smaller price appreciation, especially as housing starts rise to fill the inventory breach.

But it sure looks like another seller’s market again in 2017, and likely in 2018, with a few localized exceptions such as the overwrought Atlantic City, New Jersey and Detroit urban markets.

As we march into the latter part of the decade, homeownership remains a practical long-term hold and self-enforced savings plan.

Here are 10 tips to adapt to the latest market conditions.

1. First-time homebuyers: Get that starter home now

Well, you’d best gyrate into action. And we mean now! More than half of the home sales (52 percent) in 2017 are expected to be to first-time buyers, and mostly to the millennial set (19 to 34 years old), many moving from urban rentals, research by the National Association of Realtors shows. That means competition — and bidding wars — could become fierce in the spring for such “starters” in desirable areas.

While there’ll be less inventory this winter, there’ll also be less competition per unit and a higher percent of motivated sellers.

2. Sellers: Hire the right agent

Oftentimes, the best investment a seller can make is time spent researching agents. A bad hire can cost sellers tens of thousands of dollars and months of worried waiting.

First, look at an agent’s’ online marketing material and listings. Is there good photography or video? Does it “pop”? Are descriptions accurate and complimentary without seeming exaggerated?

Then, look at profiles of the agents on LinkedIn, Facebook and other social media; and be sure to read web reviews. What kind of vibe is an agent sending out?

Narrow your search to three agents and interview each, ideally in person. Ask for sales-activity reports, existing listings and time-on-the-market averages, plus the requisite local comps.

A seasoned listing agent also will know the best times for open houses and how to initiate a price war if the market allows. Never consent to a listing contract of longer than 90 days in a seller’s market. You can always extend.

3. Buyers: There’s more loan money out there

Those who couldn’t get mortgages during the downturn because they didn’t have 20 percent to put down can find affordable financing again.

Borrowers with FICO scores as low as 690 are now getting conforming mortgage loans (those under $417,000).

One telling sign: About two-thirds of mortgage refinancing were getting approved in the fourth quarter of 2016 compared to just one-half of those at the end of 2014.

However, borrowers without a 20 percent down payment will still likely pay private mortgage insurance, or PMI, until they hit the 20 percent to 25 percent equity mark.

The best rates go to those with 800-plus credit scores, though 750-plussers are getting virtually the same terms.

Unfortunately, those seductive interest-only loans are also on the menu again. Avoid them. They’re affordable at first since you’re not paying principal, but then years later, well … see the Great Recession of 2008.

4. Sellers: It may be a seller’s market but …

Home sellers can do several simple things to enhance appearance, increase buyer interest and boost their home’s profile:

  • Renew selectively: Instead of wholesale renovations from which sellers recoup maybe 60 percent on investment, do light makeovers everywhere, with an eye on the kitchen and bathrooms. They’re far more cost-effective.
  • Clean, clean and clean some more: It’s hard for buyers to picture themselves living in a dirty house. Scrub floors, baths, kitchens, windows and walls, and be sure to clean, vacuum and deodorize rugs. This is simple but effective.
  • Depersonalize, declutter: Show the space, not the contents. Box up family photos, kids’ school papers and excess art, and store bulky and worn furniture. Organize your closets to make them look half empty.
  • Illuminate: Think bright and cheery. Open drapes and add brighter light bulbs in dark areas. Repaint where needed but use neutral colors.

5. Renters: It might be time to buy

In many cases, rents are rising faster than home values, yet mortgage rates remain low. That, and the fact that renters now account for 37 percent of households (the highest level in 50 years), seem to indicate an imminent coming-out party for renters-turned-buyers, especially if they plan to stay put for five to 10 years after buying.

There are limitless buy-versus-rent calculators like Bankrate’s calculator for renters to compare affordability. But no gauge accounts for human behavior, such as reluctance of renters to re-invest what they’ve saved from not paying property tax, insurance, upkeep, etc. Homebuying basically enforces that discipline.

6. If you’re a buyer, don’t believe the house is yours

Don’t bank on a done deal or other verbal promises from listing agents until you sign a contract.

In heated markets across the country, sales agents are giving buyers false hope and using their offers to bid up the price for preferred buyers who they think can pay more and close faster. Have other homes in mind.

Strategies such as preapproval (versus prequalification), proof of funding, closing flexibility and the always-risky practice of waiving inspection and repair contingencies can help sway buyers.

For added clout, tell sellers you’re willing to “escalate,” or exceed all offers to a certain limit. Some agents even advise buyers to write so-called “love letters” to sellers, telling them how much the home will mean to their families.

7. Sellers: The grass is always greener …

… in yards with a “sold” sign. Major presale upgrades typically aren’t needed, but a little greening outdoors is a must.

Surveys show that strong curb appeal can increase prices by 10 percent or more. Greener grass, whether derived from new sod or fertilizer and water, is a must.

New shrubs, plantings and flowers also project a welcoming feel. Sellers typically enjoy a 100 percent return on the money they put into curb appeal.

Another form of green, sustainable landscaping has become a value-add for buyers. Native plants, native grasses and perennials that require less water and attention fill that bill.

Do some local research or ask your local home-and-garden pro for simple “greening” tips.

FREE TOOL: Looking to buy a house? First, check your credit score for free at myBankrate today.

8. Sellers and buyers: Know the state of your market

A balanced housing market is defined as one with an average inventory of 6.5 months, according to Texas A&M University Real Estate Center research. When inventory remains below equilibrium, sellers enjoy more control over prices and terms, and the area becomes a seller’s market.

When inventory lingers well above stasis, you have a buyer’s market where sellers must get more serious about price reductions, credits and throw-ins. Of course, these averages don’t necessarily reflect demand in certain desirable and undesirable submarkets.

Go to for such market home sales data by state or to a local agent, business journal and daily newspaper you can read online. In 2016, the U.S. housing inventory average was under five months.

9. Sellers: House going on sale in the spring?

Do some prep work now. First, grab your camera or smartphone and do an exterior autumn photo shoot, with the leaves changing colors.

It’s a much better way to showcase your home than to wait until late winter when everything is still dead and brown and mucky. Also take some landscape shots after the first snow, ideally on a sunny day, to show how cozy your place looks in winter.

Take a preliminary inventory, too. Look through your attic, closets, basement and garage to see what stored items you’ll want to keep, give away or sell in the spring. This will help you determine whether you’ll need a storage unit when your home is on the market and if there are any problem areas that need repairs or attention.

It’s also a good time to start discussing financing options with a local lender and interview prospective listing agents who also might provide additional preparation tips.

10. Buyers: Relocating near a waterfront?

You’d best consider weather and insurance realities. Major hurricanes and floods of the past dozen years, particularly Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy, have pushed the National Flood Insurance Program into a $23 billion hole, forcing flood-insurance rates to spiral.

FEMA flood-map changes are aggressively expanding flood zones, especially along the East Coast and Gulf Coast, forcing hundreds of thousands of homeowners to buy flood insurance for the first time and others to pay thousands more annually.

Parts of Florida saw 20 percent increases in 2016 and will likely see similar hikes in 2017. Insurers also are imposing coverage caps so there’s no guarantee you’ll be made whole post-catastrophe.