Renovating a home is no piece of cake. Renovating during an unending pandemic? That’s another challenge entirely. Tradespeople are overbooked. Supply chain shortages abound.

But you can get the job done—especially if you know the new rules of the road.

If you’ve been thinking of tackling a home improvement project in the near future, keep reading—you’ll get a better idea of what to expect, plus strategies that’ll set you up for success.

Old rule: Hatch your plan, and get going

New rule: Have a backup plan ready to roll

Check prices and suppliers, and be ready to pounce if a shortage or other hiccup happens.

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Once upon a time, in the not too distant past, home improvement projects were a fairly straight line from “Here’s what I want” to “Here’s how I got it.” After scoping out what you want to do, you’d gather bids to find the best match in terms of professionals and price.

Right now, though, you need to go a step further. Some home professionals believe that having just one plan in mind is not enough to get through the renovation unscathed.

With the current supply chain issues, Janine Acquafredda, an associate broker with Re/Max Real Estate Professionals in Brooklyn, NY, believes that homeowners should have a backup plan before undertaking a project.

“You need to have a Plan B for your design right now, especially if the renovation is time-sensitive,” she says. “You may not be able to get the exact flooring you want or the tiles that you prefer, so it’s best to have a few different designs in mind.”

Check prices and suppliers, and be ready to pounce if a shortage or other hiccup happens.

Old rule: Clients have their pick of available contractors

New rule: Contractors have their pick of interested clients

Contractors have the luxury of cherry-picking their clients right now.

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Part of the planning process is getting bids from contractors. However, while homeowners with cash to spend used to have their pick of qualified pros, things are changing. Now, the shoe is on the other foot.

“In the current climate, a homeowner almost has to ‘sell’ themselves to the contractor and prove that they are a client worth prioritizing,” admits Joe Raboine, director of residential hardscapes at Belgard, a concrete manufacturer and contracting service in Atlanta. “Contractors have the luxury of cherry-picking their clients right now. If they think a client will be difficult to work with, they will often pass on taking on the project.”

That said, Raboine is also quick to note that this supply and demand imbalance doesn’t mean that homeowners should skip doing their homework and take any contractor who’s willing to run with their project.

“Homeowners should still vet the contractor and get multiple bids for their project,” he says. But once you’ve found the right fit, don’t dawdle! Book that project.

“The labor scarcity also means that they should make an effort to treat the contractor well,” adds Raboine. This isn’t the moment to ream out workers and risk their walking off the job.

Old rule: Set a budget and stick to it

New rule: Be prepared for additional costs and then some

To make sure you don’t run out of funds, make sure you have a 30% cushion over the estimated price.

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“Traditionally, our advice was that homeowners should leave 15% of their home renovation budget for contingencies or instances where an aspect of their project may run over the estimated cost,” says Volodymyr Barabakh, co-founder and project director of Structural Beam, a contracting company and construction supplier in Chicago. “However, in 2022, we recommend that homeowners double that amount.”

The reason for the drastic increase? Barabakh points to the supply chain issues.

Lumber isn’t the only material with soaring prices right now, he explains. Glass, electrical components, and structural steel have all been affected as well.

“The costs of many materials are fluctuating wildly,” he says. “Unfortunately, a good chunk of that cost has to be passed on to the client.”

To make sure you don’t run out of funds, plan to have a 30% cushion over the estimated price tag.

Old rule: Set a timeline that works best for you

New rule: Be patient, really patient

Manage your expectations so you don’t freak out when the job isn’t finished when you’d hoped it would be.

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Beyond making materials more costly, supply chain issues will almost undoubtedly affect the time it takes to complete your home renovation project.

According to Jase DeBoer, the senior marketing manager of outdoor living for Deckorators, a composite decking brand based in Grand Rapids, MI, patience is key during this process. So is flexibility.

“Despite proactive forecasts and investments in production and supply, global supply chain shortages aren’t going anywhere anytime soon,” he warns. “While a good contractor will be honest and communicative about the potential challenges they face, you’ll need to work with them to create a realistic timeline. But keep in mind that the timeline will likely be longer than you might expect.”

This can really throw a wrench in your plans: Maybe you are adding a room to your house and have a baby due in a couple of months, or you need a bathroom redone quickly so you can put your house on the market. Even such excellent reasons can’t change the fact that your job will probably run late. Manage your expectations so you don’t freak out when the job isn’t finished when you’d hoped it would be.

Old rule: Get renovations done in one fell swoop

New rule: Tackle what’s urgent, pump the brakes on the rest

Stagger your projects, and save yourself some major stress.

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Renovations can definitely rattle a home. You might lose access to a favorite room or even the kitchen. You have to live with noise, dust, and plastic taped up in the doorways. That’s why many people think if they are going to have work done, they should get it all done at once. In other words, do as much as they can afford to at once and avoid future inconveniences.

But not so fast.

With all these roadblocks facing homeowners as they delve into home improvement right now, some professionals are recommending that they try to wait out the price surges and extended timelines. At the very least, they should carefully consider which projects make the most sense to tackle now and which can be done later.

“It’s smart to pick and choose which renovations you do now and which ones you save for later,” says Donald Olhausen Jr., owner of We Buy Houses in San Diego. “For example, lumber-intensive rehabs will be much more susceptible to price fluctuations than other materials such as drywall or countertops.”

This is a moment when good things can come to those who wait, with those good things being lower costs and fewer delays. So stagger your projects, and save yourself some major stress.


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Two years ago, we painted a major living area in our home—a large, open-concept space that contains our family room and kitchen, with high ceilings and lots of natural light. We took it from a garish mustard yellow to white. The room now looks so light, so bright, so green.

How could this be? It turns out, our home is surrounded by trees, and during the day, the light flooding through the windows carries a green tint, which shows up on our white walls. We hadn’t considered this possibility when we’d picked what we thought was the perfect shade of white. Oops.

The fact is, as simple as it may seem to pick a paint color, there’s a host of factors to consider beyond the colors you like. Even when you narrow it down, for each color there are literally hundreds of shades and sheens, and each will look a bit different depending on where it’s painted.

So how do you choose the right one? Here are some factors experts say you should consider to find a color you won’t regret.

Determine what mood you want the space to convey

Before you determine how you want to paint your space, you want to consider why you’re painting it. Paint has the power to significantly change a room, but it’s important to determine the goal for that change.

Erika Woelfel, vice president of color and creative services at Behr Paint, says an important consideration is mood.

“When people are looking at a painting project, they’re usually looking for a transformation to happen, and mood is a big part of that,” Woelfel says. “So how you want the room to feel is often a good way to help determine the right color. For example, a brighter room is more energetic, while neutrals are calmer.”

Are you looking for a bright and peppy perk-up, or are you craving a tranquil escape? Asking yourself these kinds of questions can help you at least determine a starting point on the color spectrum.

Keep tabs on what colors are in the room already

Woelfel says people also often forget to consider an entire space when choosing a color. Inside, that means coordinating colors with things like the cabinetry, flooring, and hardware. The same idea holds true outside.

“In the excitement of selecting paint colors for the exterior of a home, you can forget to consider the colors of the architectural details you aren’t painting or changing,” says Jessica Barr, national trainer and paint application expert for Behr Paint. “Make sure the colors of the shingles, brick, stonework, and light fixtures complement the exterior paint colors you choose.”

Pick a paint sheen, too

Once you choose the color, you’re not done—you must also consider a paint’s finish, which cannot be accurately evaluated through an app. In general, the choices fall into three categories: flat or matte, satin, and semigloss or gloss. They determine how reflective a paint is and can significantly affect how a particular paint color looks on your walls.

“People very often forget to consider the sheen of a paint,” Woelfel says. “The higher the sheen, the deeper the color looks. When it’s flat or matte, the light gets absorbed, but when it’s glossy, the color looks deeper, because there’s a shine to that surface.”

You must also consider where you’re applying that paint. For example, higher-gloss paints tend to be easier to clean, so they’re better for high-traffic areas, although they do highlight imperfections. Matte paints are more difficult to clean, but they’re better at hiding imperfections and may be good for ceilings and hallways. Satin finishes fall somewhere in the middle, and are a popular choice for bedrooms, living rooms, and playrooms.

For more information on choosing the best paint sheen, Home Depot offers the following video:

Use paint color apps to test it out

Once you have a general idea of the color or colors you like, it’s time to start narrowing things down further. The good news is there are online tools to help you make the right paint choices and set that mood, many of which don’t even require you to leave your couch.

For example, Home Depot’s ProjectColor app lets you snap pictures of various areas of your home, then try out different paints on them. It will make suggestions and help you find versions that coordinate with furniture or other items in the spaces. Similar functionality can be found with the Sherwin-Williams Color Snap Visualizer.

But don’t depend on these apps entirely. One variable that can’t be accurately reflected in pictures is the light in the space you want to paint.

“The type of light you have in a room really determines how that color looks,” says Barr.

What a color looks like in one room may be different in another, and what looks just fine at one time of the day may look not so fine (in my case, green) at other times.

Try a paint swatch first

The only way to truly see how a paint will look on your walls, considering all these elements, is to actually put some on your walls, also known as swatching. Most brands sell small containers of their paints for this purpose, so you don’t have to buy an entire gallon just to test out a color.

Paint a swatch as large as possible, then observe it at various times throughout the day to see how it changes with the light. Painting various spots throughout the room and observing them in different types of weather is helpful, too.

If it leaves you less than enthused, then it’s time to try something new.


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Are you a borrower with a down payment wondering how to shop for a mortgage? We know: Looking for loan products is not exactly what most people would think of as a fun shopping project. Still, your ability to sniff out a great mortgage rate is crucial to your financial well-being as a future homeowner, because the decision you make could stick with you for a very long time, maybe even 30 years. Gulp.

No pressure, right? All we’re trying to say is, it pays to learn how best to compare your mortgage options—which is where this latest installment in our Stress-Free Guide to Getting a Mortgage will come in handy.

How to shop for a mortgage

Like your most trusted shopping buddy, our guide on how to shop for a mortgage lender and a mortgage rate will show you how to hone your bargain-hunting skills and get the most for your money.

Let’s get started mortgage shopping, shall we?

How to Shop for a Mortgage: A Home Buyer’s Guide to the Right Type of Loan

Step 1. Shop for a mortgage that fits your needs

Ideally, you should start shopping for a mortgage three to six months before you plan to buy a home after you have a down payment. This lengthy lead time is important because you may have to invest time in boosting your credit score. You’ll need a credit score on your credit report of 760 or higher to qualify for the best mortgage rates, says Richard Redmond, mortgage broker at All California Mortgage in Larkspur and author of “Mortgages: The Insider’s Guide.” You’ll need a minimum credit scoring of around 660 on your credit report to qualify for any mortgage at all.

If your score isn’t up to par, mortgage lenders can tell you what you need to do to improve it. (They can also help you save for a larger down payment.) This could involve getting an error removed from your credit report and FICO score, which is a real possibility, given that one in four Americans reported spotting errors on their reports in a 2013 Federal Trade Commission survey.

Step 2. Find low mortgage interest rates

As you probably know, one of a borrower’s main goals while shopping around for a mortgage lender is to secure a low fixed interest rate on a home loan. The mortgage rates different lenders charge, after all, are basically a service fee charged by lenders and are not always apples-to-apples. The lower your mortgage rate, the less money you’ll pay back each monthly payment—and every quarter of a percent counts!

On a 30-year $200,000 mortgage with a 4% fixed rate, for instance, you’ll end up paying back not only that $200,000 loan amount in your monthly payment, but an extra $143,739 in interest over the life of the loan, by the time those 30 years are up. That massive mountain of money on your home loan will end up higher or lower depending on the mortgage interest rate you get. Shorter-term loans for 15 years mean you’ll pay less in interest. You may also be able to refinance your mortgage down the road with your mortgage company.

You can compare fixed rate interest mortgage rates at, but keep in mind the rates listed here may not necessarily apply to you. What rates you qualify for depend on several factors from your debt-to income ratio to your credit score. Better (meaning higher) credit scores merit better (meaning lower) interest rates.

But there are exceptions. Some first-time buyers may have access to lower interest mortgage rates through the Federal Housing Administration. Mortgages through lenders like the government-backed U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which are available to active or retired military personnel, enable borrowers to buy homes with lower interest rates than conventional loans as well. Buyers can also check out Freddie Mac, a government-owned company that funds banks so it can make new mortgage loans to homebuyers. The Federal Housing Authority (FHA) also approves and insures FHA loans with mortgage lenders.

Step 3. Analyze your closing costs

A low mortgage interest rate and a nice down payment may win you bragging rights as a borrower, but this is hardly your only goal. That’s because mortgage quotes come with sizable closing costs, totaling an additional 2% to 7% of the sales price of your home. Some of these extra lender fees are nonnegotiable, such as state transfer taxes, but some fees are negotiable, says Katie Miller, vice president of mortgage lending at Navy Federal Credit Union.

As such, aim to meet with three mortgage lenders—which could be banks, credit unions, mortgage brokers, or any combination thereof—and get what’s called a good-faith estimate, which breaks down the mortgage’s terms, including the interest rate and fees. Your real estate agent can typically recommend different mortgage lenders.

Also find out from each home loan officer or mortgage broker what lender fees are government-regulated and what fees the lender prices—then haggle on the latter, says Sylvia Gutierrez, a mortgage loan officer in South Florida and author of “Mortgage Matters: Demystifying the Loan Approval Maze.”

If you don’t have a 20% down payment, you may have to get mortgage insurance, which will add to your monthly costs.

A caveat: When a mortgage lender processes your loan application, it runs a “hard inquiry” on your credit score, which can dock your score by up to 5 points, says Beverly Harzog, a consumer credit expert and author of “The Debt Escape Plan.” Your score will recover over time, but it may take a few months. As a result, you should limit your loan shopping to three lenders.

Step 4. Be mindful of interest rate fluctuations

Once you commit to a particular mortgage lender, the lender will underwrite and process your loan application. Then you’ll receive a pre-approval letter, which is a commitment to lend you the money for the mortgage you need to buy a home. Although getting pre-approved from a lender is typically good for 90 days, a borrower’s pre-qualified interest rate isn’t guaranteed until you sign a purchase agreement with a seller, so you’ll want to keep an eye on changes in the mortgage market. However, you can opt to lock in your mortgage rate for a period of 30, 45, 60, or even 90 days, depending on your lender.

Soon you’ll be a home owner making monthly mortgage payments.


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One of the most exciting aspects of a kitchen remodel is choosing your fridge, stove, and other appliances. After all, this is where tech and style combine into sleek, sexy packages that can make even takeout veterans drool!

That’s why we’ll take you through choosing the appliances your new kitchen needs, and the questions that’ll help you figure out what’s right for you.

How much do kitchen appliances cost?

Before you get your heart set on that dishwasher that cleans 16 place settings at once, confirm how much cash you have in play.

“A full kitchen package can run anywhere from $2,000 to upward of $50,000, so the style and brand of appliance depends on your budget,” says Ben Pugliares, manager of major appliances for Wayfair. “Generally, you should expect to allocate between 15% and 25% of your total kitchen renovation budget on appliances.”

Are built-in kitchen appliances best?

If you want your appliances to fit seamlessly behind kitchen cabinets or walls, you’ll want to consider built-ins. In addition to a sleeker look, built-ins also often sport more finely honed systems, such as digital controls, multiple lighting systems, and better drawer and shelf components.

The downside of built-ins is the higher cost—and because they’re custom-built to fit a certain space, odds are you’ll need to leave these pricey appliances behind whenever you decide to move.

Traditional free-standing appliances are the more affordable choice, and installation is a cinch—just slide them into their space, plug them in, and you’re good to go. But if you like the idea of built-ins but can’t afford them, consider a compromise: Buy free-standing large appliances and get smaller countertop appliances (e.g., coffee maker and microwave) built in instead.

Should you get stainless steel?

Stainless-steel appliances are all the rage these days, not only due to their modern look, but also because the material is strong and durable, resisting scratches, water damage, and rust for years. They also increase your home’s resale value. The downside is the cost.

“The cost of stainless steel as a raw material is more than the steel plate used in white and black fridges,” explains Carib Daniel Martin, a residential architect near Washington, DC. Count on spending about twice as much for stainless steel.

Black stainless steel has been a growing trend for the past few years, but now, “white appliances are making a big comeback, but not your parents’ dull, textured white appliances—bright, painted steel appliances with stainless accents,” says Pugliares.

You could also order appliances in matte black or white, then customize your handles and knobs in brushed bronze, copper, or black stainless steel. But before you shell out the bucks, ask yourself: Are you going to appreciate a high-end appliance or not pay it much attention?

Once you’re clear on that, you’re ready to start shopping.


KitchenAid 48" Built-In Side by Side Refrigerator
You’ll never lose leftovers in a roomy fridge.


The first appliance you choose should be the fridge.

“We can all guarantee that those doors are opened way more than any type of oven,” says Ana Cummings, designer and founder of Ana Interiors.

Figure out the size of fridge you need. You’ll need to know the height, depth, and width of the allotted physical space in your kitchen to ensure a unit will fit. You’ll also need to do some math to ensure the model you choose can handle the perishables you store inside it. In a perfect world, a family of four needs a fridge of at least 20 cubic feet.

Aside from size, consider the style and layout. For example, side-by-side doors require less swing space to open, but you can’t wedge wide loads like a pizza in the fridge easily. Here’s more to help you decide which type of refrigerator is right for you.

Trend alert: “We’re seeing black interiors instead of the typical white,” Cummings says. “Black allows the products inside the fridge to pop out at you, so no more opening the fridge door and not finding what you were looking for.”


Heartland 48" free-standing gas range with griddle
Heartland’s vintage-style gas range offers programmable cooking times.


Gas, induction, electric? Figuring out the type of range you need will help you narrow down your options. For instance, an electric range is best for small budgets, gas is great for foodies who crave temperature control, and induction offers the fastest, most energy-efficient option on the market. Here’s more on the pros and cons of gas, electric, and induction stoves and more to help you pick.

Furthermore, “ranges are starting to come in a rainbow of colors because they’re often the focal point of the kitchen,” says Cummings. Smart technology’s also on the menu. For instance, Cummings adds, “some ovens come with apps for your phone so you can start the preheat on your drive home. They can also be preprogrammed to bake your favorite recipes and meals just the way you like them.”


Sharp Insight Pro Series Microwave Drawer
A microwave drawer like this Sharp model helps streamline your kitchen.


Until someone else comes up with a better strategy for reheating leftovers, microwaves aren’t going anywhere. But at least now, you have control over where you want yours to live—on the counter? Over your range? Tucked inside a cabinet?

Plus, a combo convection oven/microwave allows you to brown and crisp—two cooking methods that traditional microwaves tend to botch spectacularly.


This Whirlpool model gets kudos for being quiet.


“A dishwasher will be located as close to your sink as possible to streamline plumbing, so this decision will have the least impact on your design decisions,” says Pugliares.

In other words, make it the last appliance you choose.

When comparing models, consider the noise each model makes, the ease of loading dishes and, of course, how well it cleans.

“It’s also worthy to note if there’s an emergency shut-off, in case it senses a flood or malfunction,” says Cummings. “I’ve known too many people whose floors have been ruined due to a leaky appliance.”

More advice on kitchen appliances

If you’re really into the latest kitchen tech, you might want to install some other favorites, too: Steamers are all the rage, as are built-in coffee and beverage centers and refrigerators that serve a specific purpose, like keeping your wine chilled.

Another tip? Not everything has to match. Many dishwashers, range hoods, and over-the-range microwaves today come without the brand plastered on the front. That said, if you buy all your appliances from one brand and series, you’re likely to get matching handles for a more consistent look—and maybe even a discount for buying them as a package deal.


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Learning how to clean a kitchen might not seem like rocket science, but it’s definitely a lost art—something previous generations of homemakers obsessed over. We’re not saying you should remain tethered to a mop and bucket, but given the heavy foot traffic this area gets—not to mention all the food passing through—learning the right way to keep dirt, grime, and germs at bay is truly an essential part of owning a home.

So if you want to do this much-loved area justice, heed this list of tips on how to clean a kitchen right, broken down by areas that need some special attention. Adhering to these guidelines ensures your kitchen will look its best so you can impress your guests and maybe (just maybe) make your parents proud. It’s never too late.

50 Best Kitchen Cleaning Tips Right Now — Eat This Not That

How to clean cabinets

You want to begin by cleaning the cabinets. Why? Because no matter what room it is you’re cleaning, “you always go from top to bottom,” says Debbie Sardone, a home cleaning expert and president of “If you don’t, you’re going to undo some of your work by brushing dirt onto the lower surfaces.”

To clean wood cabinets, Sardone recommends using a microfiber cloth dipped in Murphy’s Oil Soap. For all other finishes, use a mild, nontoxic all-purpose cleaner. Pay special attention to door handles, which tend to accumulate the most germs.

When you’re finished, go over wood with Old English Scratch Cover polish. “It works miracles on cabinets that are overdue for refinishing,” says Sardone.

How to clean a microwave

The microwave is one of the most neglected kitchen appliances, which is why you might silently cringe when you open it to see the spatter of past dinners inside. The good news is that the magic box is usually quite easy to clean.

Jan Dougherty, author of “The Lost Art of House Cleaning,” recommends that you pop in a clean wet rag, run the microwave on high for 2 minutes, and let the rag sit for 20 minutes.

“The steam from the rag will soften up any hard-crusted foods so you can wipe it right off,” says Dougherty. If the microwave has a rotating glass tray, simply pop it in the dishwasher.

How to clean a stove

If your range has a gas cooktop, start by removing the grates and burner covers. Sardone’s cleaning method: “Pour a quarter of a cup of household ammonia into a large gallon-size bag, then put the grate inside, seal it tight, and let the grate soak for 24 hours. Flip the bag six to eight times throughout the day. Within 24 hours, the grime will slide off.”

While the grates are soaking, wipe the burner top with hot soapy water and a plastic scrub pad—but stay away from steel wool and abrasive cleaners, which can scratch the surface.

Have an electric range or cooktop? Wipe it down with hot soapy water, then polish using a formulated cooktop cleaner, like Cerama Bryte.

As for the oven, that’s the fun part—that is, if you have a fancy self-cleaning oven. If you don’t, place a pot of boiling water on the bottom rack and, on the top, a heat-safe bowl containing 1 cup of ammonia. Shut the oven door and leave overnight. By morning, the grease caking your oven’s insides will wipe right off (make sure to use rubber gloves).

How to clean a refrigerator

For starters, follow the top-to-bottom rule when you clean the shelves with a damp cloth and all-purpose cleaner. Next, here’s the step people forget: Wipe down the jars and other containers before you place them back inside, because the goop caked on them will rub off on your fridge’s interior, says Sardone.

You’ll also want to take out your vacuum and clean the refrigerator coils (which sit along the bottom or back of your fridge), which can collect dust and hamper your fridge’s performance.

How to clean countertops

For laminate or quartz countertops, use a soft cloth to wipe with a mild liquid detergent. Granite countertops, however, are a totally different beast, because food, grease, and wine can seep into granite if it isn’t properly sealed. To assess what condition your granite is in, drop a bit of water on the surface. If it beads up, you’re good. But if the water pools together, it’s time to reseal with granite sealant, which is available at any home improvement store.

Once the granite is protected again, make sure to wipe up spills as they happen to keep it in tiptop shape.

How to clean a dishwasher

This might sound strange—after all, isn’t the whole point of having a dishwasher so that you don’t have to clean as many things?—but you’ve probably noticed that even an empty dishwasher can get funky sometimes. That’s because food gets trapped in a strainer that’s in the bottom of the unit, says Sardone, which “creates a horrible odor.” Thus, you’ll want to remove the strainer (usually it twists right off) and clean it once every three months; to access it, simply pull out the bottom rack.

To clean the rest of the dishwasher, “pour a bowl full of white vinegar, set it face up on the top rack, and run the dishwasher without anything else in it,” says Sardone. “The vinegar will circulate and clean everything.”


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If you’re thinking of buying a home in today’s market, you need to be prepared for the possibility of an appraisal gap.

So what is an appraisal gap?

An appraisal gap is when a home’s appraised value is lower than the purchase price the buyer has offered to pay. Appraisal gaps are becoming increasingly common in competitive markets like what buyers are facing today—and they can seriously complicate matters if you aren’t prepared.

“Today’s gaps are the result of market conditions,” explains Will Hedrick, the CEO of Speek Real Estate in Charlotte, NC. “Because buyers are faced with a low supply, the market has become very competitive, driving up prices.”

This can easily cause appraisal gaps to occur—sometimes wide ones amounting to tens of thousands of dollars.

Read on to learn what an appraisal gap is, how it could affect your transaction, and four ways to resolve this scenario.

What is an appraisal gap?

In real estate, an appraisal gap might occur when an appraiser estimates the value of the house to be lower than the offer price that has been agreed to by the homebuyer and seller. For example, if a buyer agrees to purchase a home for $400,000 but the property appraises for $375,000, there is a $25,000 appraisal gap that will need to be dealt with in the transaction.

This is a problem because lenders will typically cover a loan for only the appraised value of a home—so if that appraisal is lower than what the buyer has offered, the buyer is stuck covering the difference.

Lenders use a loan-to-value (LTV) ratio to determine how much money they can put out for a loan. This LTV ratio is a percentage of the home’s value. Most conventional lenders like banks prefer an LTV ratio of 80% (or lower), which means that buyers need to make a 20% down payment.

Yet when an appraisal comes in low, the total amount that lenders let buyers borrow changes.

Let’s say, for instance, that the buyer has agreed to pay the seller $400,000 for a house and is willing to make a 20% down payment amounting to $80,000. This leaves the lender with an LTV ratio of 80%. That’s all fine and good.

However, if the appraised value comes in lower, at $375,000, the bank will be willing to loan the buyer only 80% of that, or $300,000. Yet given the buyer has agreed to pay the seller $400,000, this would mean the buyer will need a total of $100,000 to cover the difference. In addition to the 80,000 down payment, the buyer will need to find an additional $20,000 to close the deal.

A Homebuyer’s Guide to the Appraisal Gap: Why It Happens and What To Do

Best practices for handling an appraisal gap

As you can imagine, most buyers aren’t thrilled at the prospect of having to come up with thousands of extra dollars by the time they sit down at the settlement table. After all, not everyone has the cash on hand to cover a large unforeseen expense. Fortunately, we’ve collected some best practices to help you navigate an appraisal gap if one comes up in your transaction.

Include an appraisal gap clause in your offer

First, including an appraisal gap clause in your offer is a way to tackle this situation head-on. Using this clause, you can spell out for the seller what you are willing to do if an appraisal gap occurs. For example, you could agree to pay the full amount of the difference or to put a set amount of money toward the gap.

In short, including this clause in your offer can help you limit your exposure. Still, at the same time, since you’re willing to put extra money out for the home, it will also help give the seller a better sense of your motivation.

Request an appeal of the appraisal

When you request an appeal of an appraisal, you’re essentially asking for the appraisal to be redone by another neutral third party. The hope is that the new appraiser will think the property is worth more than the figure in the original appraisal. If so, you might be able to close the appraisal gap.

However, there is no guarantee that the new appraisal will be any different. If you decide to go this route, ask your real estate agent to provide comparables that support your proposed purchase price. That way, you’ll be able to provide evidence that supports your offer.

Renegotiate with the home seller

If there’s an appraisal contingency in your offer and your appraisal comes back low, you’ll have the option to renegotiate the purchase price with the seller. That said, again, there is no guarantee that the seller will be willing to accept a lower price. Especially in a competitive market, there is very little incentive for the seller to do so.

Walk away from the home

Last but not least, if you have an appraisal contingency, you are also within your rights to walk away from the home. While it might not be the ideal outcome, if you don’t have the cash to cover the appraisal gap and the seller is unwilling to budge on the price, it might be your only viable option.


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With new waves of COVID-19 cases surging across the U.S., it’s understandable that Americans are still spending a ton of time at home—and decorating up a storm in order to make their places more versatile and functional than ever.

That, at least, was the latest finding of Houzz‘s 2021 Emerging Home Design Trends Report, which examined data on the top search terms on its site over a three-month period, from April to June 2021, then compared those numbers with a year earlier to see which trends are falling out of favor, or rising fast. And what’s clear is that our needs around the house have evolved way beyond your run-of-the-mill home office.

“With the home suddenly functioning as office, gym, classroom, restaurant, and more, the pandemic gave people time to invest in order to accommodate these new changes,” says Mitchell Parker, Houzz senior editor.

Consider these blisteringly hot trends some smart inspiration for your next round of renovations!

Grab your paints, and get busy!

(Caroline Sharpnack)

No surprise: Searches on Houzz for the term “home office” were up 108% over last year. But we’ve branched way beyond that now. In fact, the terms “home theater” and “home gym” were even higher (up 190% and 156% respectively).

Wine lovers and those craving their own bar at home also drummed up interest for their activity spaces, with searches for “wine cellar” soaring 271%  and “home bar” 277%.

“Families aren’t spending their budgets on entertainment, traveling, or dining, so their homes have to do it all for them, which is why home theaters and gourmet kitchens are also trending,” says Lacy Hughes at Julian Design.

But nothing compares to installing your own space to paint. An insane 10-fold rise of 875% on the phrase “art studio” means homeowners are practically dying to free their inner Picasso.

“People are making more of every space they have if they can’t build out, putting garages, basements, and porches to work as offices, gyms, and playrooms,” says organization expert Darla DeMorrow, of HeartWork Organizing.

2. Green cabinets, tile, furniture, and more

Infusing rooms with plants and floral motifs is a big trend.

(Rikki Snyder)

Per the Houzz trend report, 1 in 5 of us is opening up the kitchen to the outdoors by grabbing the color green. The result: Searches on the term “green cabinets” soared a whopping 829%.

Also trending big-time: “green tile bathroom” (up 771%) and “green accent chair” (754%). And homeowners with black thumbs embraced faux greenery with a vengeance. Searches for “artificial plants & trees,” as well as “indoor pots & planters,” went up seven-fold (658%) and four-fold (353%) respectively.

Design pros confirm the popularity of verdant shades and even muddy colors.

“Goodbye, cool grays. Hello, warmer earth tones,” says Karen Gray-Plaisted of Design Solutions KGP.

3. Living room makeovers

Swapping throw pillows is an easy upgrade.

(Jessica Cain)

Leaps in searches for “slipcovers & chair covers,” “abstract paintings,” and “display shelves” was reported as folks decided to rehab their main living spaces, perhaps in an attempt to get ready to finally entertain family and friends once again.

But the biggest gains in this room came from “accent pillows”—which was searched for an eye-popping 5,050% more than last year. Homeowners felt they couldn’t take those worn-out cushions one. More. Second.

4. Flex spaces

Got guests? A Murphy bed will save you.

(Matthew Niemann Photography)

Sara Chiarilli of Artful Conceptions has seen more interest of late in multiuse pieces like Murphy beds, storage ottomans, and sleeper sofas that improve a space’s functionality. Houzz found the same—with queen-sized Murphy beds searched for 21 times (2,081%) more than last year.

A similar search rate held for the terms “TV armoire with pocket door” (up 2,259%), “nesting side tables” (up 1,918%), and “swivel accent chairs” (so fun!—and up 1,922%). All of these offer dual uses and creative hiding places without building out a new space.

5. Pool upgrades galore

Come on in—the water’s just fine!

(Carolyn Reyes)

Pandemic pool ownership was all over the news, and Houzz tracked this rise accordingly, especially “pools with water features” (think slides, fountains), with searches on that term up nearly 800%. Homeowners also sought out “rectangle pool” (up 576%) and their own lap lanes at home (with “lap pool” up 269%).

“Here in Florida, pool companies are running more than six months behind on new pool jobs, and when they do put one in, it’s an all-out project,” says Chiarilli, with designs that include fire pits, spas, waterfalls, and sun shelfs, which are long shallow ledges just below the water’s surface that allow you to bask while also cooling off.

6. Luxe materials

Velvet and gold offer a luxe aesthetic.

(Nick Klein)

All things glam were also a big focus for homeowners, such as “velvet accent chair,” up a huge 1,161%. And if you were casting about for “gold table lamps,” you weren’t alone. Searches on that term were up 1,166%!

“Luxe materials have been on the scene for a few years as Instagram has made this trend pretty user-friendly,” says DeMorrow. Consumers have learned that a single shiny piece or two can be enough to pump up a space, without having to live through a big renovation.

Having a high-efficiency washer and dryer is widely lauded as a way to save money and the planet in one fell swoop. But do you know exactly how much cash these appliances can save you—and how?

Before you lug your old-school laundry apparatus out to the curb, here’s what you need to know about these energy-saving appliances in plain old dollars and cents terms.

High-Efficiency Washer and Dryer: How Much Will You Save?

How high-efficiency washers work—and save money

The savings largely boil down to how much hot water is used.

“High-efficiency clothes washers reduce hot water consumption, and therefore save water heating energy,” explains Logan Jacobson, a technology research analyst specializing in energy-efficient laundry equipment for E Source.

Traditional top loaders use a lot of water during the wash and rinse cycles—20 gallons or more per load.

More importantly, HomeAdvisor’s smart home strategist Dan DiClerico points out, “they don’t do a great job extracting that water during the spin cycle, so your clothes spend more time in the dryer, the most energy-intensive phase of the laundry process.”

High-efficiency, front-load washing machines use less water to get clothes clean—as little as 7 gallons per load. Plus their fast-spinning drums are better at extracting water, which shortens your drying time.

“Replacing a 10-year-old top-loader with a new front-loader could save you upward of $200 a year,” says DiClerico.

Even if you’re loyal to top-loaders, you can look for a high-efficiency model. These models also use less water and spin faster than traditional top-loaders.

Is a high-efficiency dryer worth buying, too?

We’ll cut to the chase: not really.

Though dryers use more energy than any other appliance in your home, “manufacturers haven’t been able to make them much more efficient,” admits DiClerico. “The basic physics of creating heat simply hasn’t allowed for the same level of innovation in this category.”

With dryers, DiClerico adds, “energy consumption is comparable from one unit to the next.”

What you can look for is a model with moisture sensors that can figure out when your clothes are dry. These will stop your machine from overdrying, save you some energy, and also keep your delicates from getting crisped-up like french fries.

And although gas dryers tend to cost more, if you can afford to get one, you may see another dip in monthly utility bills. Gas is usually cheaper than electricity, so “you’ll make up the difference in operating costs pretty quickly,” says DiClerico.

What an Energy Star rating means

Consider this the government’s seal of approval that an appliance is energy-efficient, and has been independently verified as such. This sticker makes it easy for you to home in on the most efficient laundry appliances on the market.

“An Energy Star clothes washer uses 37% less energy, or 397 kilowatt hours less annually, and saves users $48 per year compared to conventional equipment,” says Jacobson. “An Energy Star clothes dryer uses 21% less energy, or 160 kilowatt hours less annually, and saves users $19 per year.”

Plus, this little sticker can help sell a house.

Jen Nelson, a real estate developer and investor in Phoenix, uses Energy Star appliances in all of her homes, not only for the cost savings but the resale investment as well.

“Most home buyers look for [the rating], and it certainly helps with marketing a home for sale,” Nelson explains.

But if you want to drill down even deeper, check the EnergyGuide, a yellow tag found on many appliances, which tells you the estimated yearly operating costs.

“It contains a lot more valuable information [than an Energy Star sticker], including an estimate for what you’ll pay to run [an appliance] for a year, plus an idea of how this compares to other similar models,” says DiClerico. “That last data point is what really leads you to the most energy-efficient model.”

EnergyGuide label
The EnergyGuide label spells out your costs and savings.

(Federal Trade Commission)

How to save on energy-efficient appliances

Yes, high-efficiency laundry appliances may cost a few hundred dollars more than traditional units, but you can get some of that money back by taking advantage of rebates from your utility company.

“We see mail-in rebates for as much as $75 in some parts of the country,” says DiClerico.

Check the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency, and search for rebates by your ZIP code.

But don’t write off your current washer and dryer just yet. If they’re still in good shape, “replacing them just to save energy doesn’t make sense—it’ll be easier on your wallet and the planet to get the longest life possible out of the existing machines,” says DiClerico.

On the fence about whether to repair or replace? “A good rule of thumb is if the appliance is more than seven years old and the fix will cost more than twice as much as a new unit, go for the replacement,” DiClerico says.

How to cut energy costs without new appliances

Some simple changes in how you do laundry can save you some bucks, regardless of how efficient your machines are. For instance, try the following:

  • Use the cool water setting: “Washing machines and laundry detergents have both become so much better in recent years that clothes will generally get clean without hot water,” DiClerico explains.
  • Do full loads as often as possible: Why waste water and energy on just a pair of jeans? Load that sucker up. But not too much, or you’ll throw it out of balance.
  • Choose the highest spin speed: “The more water you can extract from your clothes, the less time they’ll have to spend in the energy-intensive dryer,” says DiClerico.
  • Put up a clothesline outside: That way, when the weather’s nice, your clothes can dry (for free) in the breeze—and you’ll continue to slash your laundry-related energy costs.

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Every spring, the design world seems to come out in full bloom to celebrate, and this year is no exception. This week, we’re shaking off our drab neutrals and heavy winter blankets for lighter, brighter, and more vibrant pops of color—and it’s all happening in the foyer.

From flower-shaped designs to peppy welcome mats, this week’s trending Instagram decor will pull your entryway out from its deep winter slumber into the new sunny season ahead. Here are the five looks you’ll want to steal this week.

1. Tulip-shaped baskets

Love flowers but not so much into floral prints? Then you’re going to want to spring for this tulip-shaped basket (and all its whimsical vibes) from @kerripilchikdesign.

“The popularity of decorating with baskets is a classic, long-running trend,” says designer Autumn Stankovsky, of FLOOR360. “These tulip baskets are both functional and visually interesting for an entryway since they can store outdoor gear and also add flair to the space. The rounded design can soften the straighter lines you’ll find with tables, mirrors, and coat hooks.”

Get the look: Snag a few of these flower-shaped beauties.

2. Plant pedestal

For another earthy twist on your entryway decor, consider putting your favorite houseplant on a literal pedestal, like in this post from @lesliebnew.

“Adding plants and greenery is a design trend that’s still going strong, especially in spring and summer,” says Stankovsky. “That’s why adding an architecturally interesting plant stand or pedestal for your fern is becoming a preferred design anchor for an entryway. There’s freedom to choose the combination of plant holder and stand, and you can make a statement with a bold color or add texture to make it feel more natural.”

Get the look: Put your favorite plant on display with this spun-metal plant stand.

3. Layered frames

There’s something about vintage decor schemes and fresh flowers—especially when the vintage pieces in question are layered picture frames like these ones from @collectionprints.

“Layered frames create depth and interest while incorporating a more maximalist style in a carefree, less fussy kind of way,” says Stephanie Purcell, owner of Redesigned Classics. “You can mix and match patterns, colors, and styles of frames for a more eclectic feel as well.”

Get the look: Shop the entire collection of mix and match frames on Etsy.

4. This tile mat

If you haven’t yet gotten on the @letterfolk tile mat bandwagon that’s been taking the internet by storm, consider this your sign from the universe.

“There’s no better way to customize a space or your home than with arts and crafts made by the people who live there,” says Stankovsky. “A customizable tile welcome mat is the perfect way to create something that’s fun and unique to the home it’s in.”

Get the look: Get creative with the original tile mat from Letterfolk.

5. Foyer mural

For a work of art that will capture interest on a more vertical plane in your foyer, you might just want to consider a mural like this one from @m_m_interior_design.

“Murals instantly add interest and draw the eye in, so incorporating one to your foyer helps give an often overlooked space a dramatic transformation,” says Purcell. “The foyer is often one of the first places a guest sees when entering your space, so why not make it worth viewing?”

Get the look: Give your foyer some gallery-level glam with this rural vintage landscape wallpaper.


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