Home renovation trends are constantly evolving. Many homeowners struggle to find the perfect balance, because the rules are always changing. Between creating a home that will sell for top dollar to living in a space that reflects their taste now, it’s a difficult balance to strike. Following home trends just because they offer more profit isn’t relevant if you’re not thinking about selling, right? Conversely, if you’re about to sell it’s not beneficial to ignore home trends in your market in favor of your style. It’s all about where you are in the process. Additionally, as we pick up the pieces of a global pandemic as a society, we are also redefining what home means to each one of us individually – what we want from the spaces in which we create our lives.

The pandemic has forever changed how we look at our homes. Now more than ever, the desire to create an inviting, relaxing, and versatile living area is our main priority. With most of us spending more time at home, we are learning to prioritize our space and customize each home renovation.

Here are the top 5 home renovation trends that homeowners are jumping on to increase the livability and character of their homes:

couple sitting on the floor with home renovation plans

Functional home offices

The most popular update by far has to be the coveted home office. Before the pandemic, you may have had a space dedicated to your computer or an old desk flooded with paperwork. After the pandemic? Creating an organized and inviting workspace has become more important than ever before.

When considering a home office addition or renovation, think of functionality first. (Don’t worry, we’ll get to the aesthetics.) How can you best utilize the space to maximize productivity and get the most out of your home renovation? Set up your office with every detail front of mind.

Ask yourself questions like:

  • Where do I get the best light?
  • Do I want my desk freestanding or against a wall?
  • What do I want my view to be from the chair?
  • What color walls induces creativity?
  • What background isn’t embarrassing when I Zoom with my co-workers?

Transforming a space into a home office that suits your needs is something you can have fun with! If you’ve worked well in coffee shops, maybe prioritize soft, moody lighting with optional seating locations. This also gives you a great excuse to invest in an espresso machine or French press! If you work well in the traditional office setup, perhaps you will gravitate toward clean, modern designs. Regardless of what office style suits you, you can be confident that designing a welcoming space for work will improve your home – and your productivity.

Enhanced outdoor living areas

Although this may be a home renovation trend – this is a tip that will never go out of style. No matter what part of the country you’re in: whether you have year-round sunshine or seasonal windows, investing in your outdoor space is a great idea.

Human beings, it’s proven, function better on a cellular level when we’re regularly exposed to nature. That doesn’t mean only those of us who live on farms or ranches get to enjoy this perk. Hints of green are everywhere! Oaks in your backyard, flower beds, agave plants, and herb gardens, they are all beneficial to your health and well-being. But they’re also great for your pocketbook.

So in order to give your plot of nature the audience it deserves, think about renovating your outdoor space. Larger projects could be the construction or addition of a deck. If you already have one, consider covering it with a trellis to afford more protection from UV rays. For smaller updates, investing in a patio set, outdoor fire pit, or enhanced landscaping are changes that will pay dividends to your happiness and your home sale.

Bringing nature in

While we’re on the topic, the great outdoors aren’t the only place you can enjoy… the outdoors. The pandemic pushed us all to cultivate our interior spaces in a much more thoughtful way. Enter, the biggest home renovation trend of all: the floor plant. We quickly learned a great way to create a calm, zen-like atmosphere inside your home is to emulate the outside of it.

Floor plants add drama and personality to rooms and look particularly striking against a white wall. Smaller vines, hanging pots, and accent plants all add character without breaking the bank. The pops of green are perfect if your taste leans towards the neutrals, but if you favor more colorful, playful designs don’t shy away from plants either!

We don’t need another reason to love indoor plants, but here’s one. They also are great at purifying the air in your home! Studies even show that certain types of plants placed in bedrooms induce better sleep. So what are you waiting for? Go get in touch with your green thumb.

Incorporated technology

Home tech is a great way to blend ease of use, sophistication, and functionality for inhabitants of any home. The best home technologies are ones you don’t immediately recognize because they seamlessly integrate into the home itself.

Although Rings and Alexa’s are now a fixture in most homes, there are many technologies that aren’t as popular and are guaranteed to catch the eye of future buyers. Smart home functionalities like smart refrigerators, smart picture frames, even smart toilets can elevate an everyday experience to an extraordinary one. Mainstays like surround sound and home security have seen wild innovation in the last few years and are practicalities many home buyers would be on the lookout for. But no innovation is in demand quite like energy-efficient homes. Dual toilets, solar panels, smart power strips and rain barrels are just some of the ways you can make your home more green. The more eco-friendly your home is, the more valuable it appears to a modern buyer.

Multi-use spaces

A home design trend that likely wouldn’t have emerged without 2+ years of lockdown is the multi-functional room. You know, the room that used to be a hybrid guest room/storage closet that became essential in the later months of 2020?

Those ‘bonus rooms’ are now anything but – buyers consider them essential to properties worth their investment. These spaces are a great place to get creative: you don’t have to choose between a home gym and a sewing station. Get both! A hideaway desk can hide your sewing machine and investing in sleeker, more practical gym equipment won’t add unnecessary bulk to a smaller room.

Most of us who aren’t Beyonce probably aren’t able to afford a home theater, but that doesn’t mean we can’t get cinema-quality at home! With a little creativity and a well-placed projector, you can fashion a home theater in just a few minutes! When you’re not curling up to watch the latest Marvel movie, use the room as a lounge, den, reading room, or anything else your heart may desire.

Although home renovation trends will come and go, rise in popularity and the disappear, many are classic enough to stand the test of time. None of these home updates will ever result in selling your home for less, so create the space that will attract the most buyers at the highest price point. Who knows? With all that profit, you may have room in your next home to give your indoor plants their own home theater.

 

For this and related articles, visit Curbio.com

When I started looking for a home during the COVID-19 pandemic, I thought I had a good idea of what I was up against. As a real estate reporter and editor, I was writing stories each week about home prices hitting record highs, inventory shriveling up, and bidding wars going insane—especially in the suburbs where my partner and I were looking.

As first-time buyers, we knew that finding a home outside of New York City wouldn’t be easy. However, we were done with paying what seemed like a fortune in rent for a small apartment in a city that had been largely shuttered and that no longer felt safe. So like many other first-time buyers, we naively believed that as two professionals we would somehow survive the process largely unscathed.

That optimism abruptly evaporated once we made our first offer on a house—and were promptly outbid by about $100,000.

8 Surprising Lessons a Real Estate Editor Learned Buying Her First House

Covering this housing market, I soon learned, was nothing at all like trying to navigate it myself. We suffered crushing disappointments and made more than our share of mistakes.

It took us nine months of scouring the market in three states, touring dozens of homes, losing multiple bidding wars, and rescinding another offer on a fixer-upper that would need more work than we could afford to put in, before my partner and I finally closed on our home late last year—a cute, renovated Cape Cod outside of New York City.

And, now that my homebuying odyssey is over, I wanted to share what I learned—things that no amount of writing about the housing market could teach.

1. Homebuying can take an emotional toll

I always assumed that my years as a reporter covering crime in New York City had made me tough. Someone I was particularly close with had to die before I would shed a tear. But each time we didn’t get a house, I would become a terrible cliche—curled up on the couch misty-eyed.

Meanwhile, my partner’s attitude was that if we didn’t get the house, then it wasn’t meant to be and that something better would come along. This wasn’t what I wanted to hear as I tried to find solace at the bottom of a pint of Ben & Jerry’s.

It wasn’t just the house itself I was grieving; I was mourning the life I thought I’d lost as well. The bright blue house with the big windows was close to one of my old co-workers and his family. If we had gotten that home, it would no longer be an epic trek to get out to his summer barbecues. But that home received 14 offers and was sold for about $150,000(!) over the asking price—a figure we couldn’t come close to competing with.

There was the Colonial with the stunning in-ground swimming pool where I imagined myself lounging by, on the patio with my laptop open, working all summer long. That one went to an all-cash buyer. Then there was the adorable, yellow Cape Cod that I fell in love with the moment I stepped across its Moroccan-tiled threshold. My partner, a trained artist, submitted an original illustration of the home with our offer in an effort to win the sellers over. But we were outbid yet again.

We submitted this original illustration of the home with our offer to show the sellers how much we loved it—but we still didn’t get it.

(Provided by Clare Trapasso)

Finally, another Cape Cod came up for sale in a town we both loved, where we had been renting an apartment until we found our house. The home was recently renovated, located in a great neighborhood, and offered at an attractive price, where we had room to offer more. So we put in our offer.

We waived the traditional home inspection and instead asked for one that would evaluate the structural and engineering components of the home, such as the roof, boiler, foundation, electrical, and plumbing. This meant we weren’t going to back out of the deal unless there was a big, expensive-to-fix issue. Our real estate agent found us a mortgage lender that could close as quickly as an all-cash offer. That helped our bid—one of six—to be accepted.

My takeaway: Don’t lose hope. It wasn’t until our fourth bidding war that we emerged victorious. Something better could be heading your way.

2. You’ll likely have to make some compromises

Finding a home that you and your partner agree on, that’s within your budget, in a desirable location, and where you could comfortably spend five to 10 years isn’t easy—particularly in a highly competitive real estate market with record-low inventory. Just be aware that if, like us, you’re a first-time buyer with limited resources who can’t make an all-cash offer, then the home you end up buying may not have everything you want.

I feel incredibly lucky to have snagged a move-in ready home within walking distance to a train station in an artsy town along the Hudson River. However, it doesn’t have a garage (which won’t be much fun when it snows), central air, or a big backyard for our dogs to run around.

Initially, not having a large yard had been a deal breaker. But the previous owners had turned a corner of the property into a flourishing garden, and there was room to put in a deck without losing much green space. So we compromised. We will eventually add central air and have already made a nearby nature preserve a staple in our dogs’ daily walks. Plus, mowing the lawn should be a cinch this summer.

My takeaway: Figure out your must-haves and would-like-to-haves. Then be open to readjusting your lists, especially if you can add or fix any perceived shortfalls down the line.

3. Buying a home can be terrifying financially

After I came down from the exhilaration of finally having a home within our grasp, reality set in. Everyone we spoke with who had bought a home said they had experienced a moment of financial terror. We were no exception.

Within a few days of our offer being accepted, we were handing an attorney we’d just met what seemed like an obscene amount of money for escrow. That money had taken us years to save. While we believed this house would be a smart, long-term investment, we weren’t wealthy and hadn’t received any family assistance. This cash represented years of sacrifices and side gigs on top of our full-time jobs. And the bulk of it was about to be gone.

Not only that, we were about to sign up for 30 years of fixed-rate mortgage payments. We had crunched our numbers and knew almost down to the penny what we could afford if we wanted to still go on vacation, save for retirement, and manage financially if one of us lost a job. While we would be paying less each month than we did for a previous rental apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, we would soon be locked into a towering debt. We couldn’t just move to a cheaper apartment if something went wrong.

My takeaway: Don’t forget to breathe. As long as you’ve done your homework on finding a home within your means, the panic of laying out so much money will eventually pass.

4. Don’t settle for the first mortgage you’re offered

Once our offer was accepted, the clock was ticking on securing a mortgage, and interest rates were rising fast. So I wasn’t pleased when our main bank offered us only a so-so mortgage interest rate that our lender wanted us to pay thousands of dollars worth of points to secure. (Buyers typically buy points to bring down their mortgage rates.)

A friend had urged me to shop around, since mortgage lenders often match better deals from their competitors.

I found an online brokerage, with no physical locations, that was offering lower rates with no points required, so I applied. When the offer the brokerage came back with was higher than what it had advertised online, I took a screenshot of the ad and asked the brokerage to match it. Then I took that offer to three other lenders with brick-and-mortar locations.

It was stressful since we needed to lock in a lender quickly, but I knew this would save us thousands upfront and thousands more over the life of our loan. To my relief, two of the lenders were eventually able to match the offer. I liked the lender at our own bank so we ultimately went with them—with a far better deal than they’d handed us at the outset.

My takeaway: It can really pay off to shop around.

We were outbid by more than $100,000 on the first house, above, that we put a bid on.

(Realtor.com)

5. Don’t move money around, close bank accounts—or buy a new iPhone

One of the most frustrating parts of the homebuying experience was the mortgage vetting process after we had been pre-approved. It felt like we were being stripped financially bare and then judged for every transaction we had made.

I knew not to open a new credit card or make a large purchase. But I didn’t understand that moving money around between bank accounts to come up with the down payment was problematic. I even made the mistake of closing one account at a bank I rarely used. This seemed to open up a Pandora’s box of dizzying inquiries, requests for documentation, and phone calls with our lender attempting to explain for the umpteenth time that we weren’t money launderers, the cash had come from a different account, and yes, we would include the bank statements to prove it. It was a vexing, blood pressure–spiking process that seemed would never end.

Then, shortly before the loan was approved, my 5-year-old iPhone died. So I bought a new phone through my carrier, agreeing to pay roughly an extra $25 a month until it was paid off. No big deal, right? Not according to my lender, who flagged this as a new debt. This kick-started a whole new debacle before we could get approved. The fact that I could afford my slightly higher phone bill seemed lost on the lender.

My takeaway: Before you even start looking for a house, consolidate the money you plan to use for your down payment and closing costs into one bank account (or two if you’re purchasing with a partner). And whatever you do, don’t finance anything, however small, before your mortgage closes.

6. Property taxes can add quite a bit to your monthly mortgage payments

When my partner and I started looking for homes, we were initially concerned with things like square footage, curb appeal, and living in neighborhoods within walking distance of restaurants, entertainment, and train stations. However, we quickly started paying closer attention to property taxes. We were shocked to learn that similarly priced homes could cost drastically more or less each month depending on those amounts.

The New York City suburbs are notorious for having some of the highest property taxes in the country. The taxes can easily add an extra $2,000 a month—or more—to a monthly mortgage payment for even a modest, older starter home on a small lot.

To put that in context, I have family in South Carolina who pay less than $2,000 in taxes a year.

Even more confusing: Many towns set their taxes differently. Some increase taxes only when homeowners make costly improvements to their properties. In others, taxes are more closely tied to the sale price of the home or appraised values. So when prices rise, so do taxes.

Just one town over from us, property taxes are about $700 to $800 more a month on comparable homes. (We immediately stopped looking there once we found this out.) And both towns share the same schools!

My takeaway: Don’t focus just on the sales price of a home. Factor in the entire monthly payments, which can make a more expensive home more affordable and vice versa.

We submitted the highest offer on the second home we put a bid in on. However, the sellers chose an all-cash offer instead of ours.

(Realtor.com)

7. Set some extra cash aside for your first few months in your new home

Spending my adulthood in city apartments with superintendents who would fix whatever was wrong, I soon learned that owning a house was far more daunting. The home inspector we used explained that our dryer vents would need to be cleared out once a year so as not to start a fire. I had never thought enough about dryers to realize they even had vents.

We needed to have sealant applied to the roof. Our boiler would need to be serviced before winter. The chimney would need to be cleaned along with our gutters. The locks would need to be changed. All of that money was quickly adding up.

And then there was the not-so-little matter of the hideously overgrown bushes in front of our home that looked like they had been fed steroids until they swelled and seemed to take up the whole yard. They had to go. But the quotes we received didn’t mention it would cost an additional few hundred dollars to have the unsightly stumps removed. Sigh.

My takeaway: We hadn’t realized just how much we would need to shell out, upfront, on maintenance and other necessities. Set some cash aside for these unexpected expenses in addition to the ones you know about, like closing fees and furniture.

8. Expect the unexpected

After my partner and I had our closing date, we were feeling pretty good. Our mortgage had been cleared to close, and we’d made good progress on packing up our place.

And then our attorney called: Our closing was going to be delayed.

The sellers, it turned out, were purchasing a property from a couple getting a divorce. And one of the spouses had abruptly decided to blow off her own closing to fly to Spain—with her real estate agent! Our sellers couldn’t move out of their house until the purchase of their new home went through. And that couldn’t happen until this woman returned from Europe.

Our apartment had already been rented out and we needed to be out of it ASAP. The whims of a woman I had never met would determine whether we would soon be homeless. It was the worst possible situation.

After our initial freakout, my partner arranged for us to stay with family for a few days while I looked for a dog-friendly place on Airbnb in case the delay would be longer. I also reserved an inexpensive storage unit nearby for our stuff.

Fortunately, everything worked out. The woman returned and signed the paperwork, delaying our own closing by just a few days.

My takeaway: No matter how prepared you are, you’re not in control of this process. Have a backup plan in place.

 

For this and related articles, visit Realtor.com

Renovating a fixer-upper is not for the faint of heart. It takes money, hard work, and patience. But if you’re able to pull off a successful transformation, you’ll reap the benefits.

“Fixing up a house is an incredible opportunity, but should never be viewed as a TV show. It’s real life,” says Elizabeth Enright Phillips, a financial coach at Running Creek Properties in Lancaster, OH, who has renovated nearly a dozen properties.

Best-case scenario: You’ll end up building your dream home and increasing the value of the property. But fixing up a ramshackle house can cost a fortune. Unforeseen problems can surface that will make your fixer-upper a real money pit.

When looking at real estate listings, you’ll notice that no two fixer-uppers are the same. One may have sat vacant for a while, another may be in desperate need of a new roof, and another may have a mold infestation. Each of these scenarios will cost money to rectify, but some situations are more manageable than others.

To help you out, we tapped experts to identify the features and characteristics you should look for in a fixer-upper, to make the renovation go much more smoothly. On your hunt for that hidden gem of a fixer-upper, keep your eye out for the following signs.

What to Look For in a Fixer-Upper: Signs the Home Isn’t a Money Pit

Strong structural elements

A solid structure is ideal for any home, but it’s especially critical when you’re buying a fixer-upper. If the home has a crumbling foundation or serious roof problems, you’ll have to decide if you’re willing to pay to repair this type of damage.

These are the five important structural elements:

  1. Roof
  2. Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC)
  3. Plumbing
  4. Electrical
  5. Foundation

Mike Coughlin, owner of Summit Design Build in Stoneham, MA, says you can get a good idea of the house’s structure by exploring the basement, attic, and unfinished areas. Focus on those areas rather than the pretty, recent additions to the home.

“You want to look at the basement rather than the granite counters and new bathroom fixtures. All of that shiny stuff is really easy to fix,” says Coughlin, who is working on a nearly 300-year-old home that he bought with his wife, Francine. “The stuff behind the walls is what’s more important. As long as the bones are good, you can pretty much do anything.”

Only minor plumbing problems

There’s a good chance that your fixer-upper will need plumbing work. Depending on the scope of the project, the work will be either a quick fix or a significant undertaking that will eat into your budget. Some fixer-uppers may have low water pressure (fairly minor problem), while others may have pipes that need to be replaced (a big problem).

Before buying a fixer-upper, make sure you’re comfortable with the amount of plumbing work required to bring the place up to snuff.

That said, you shouldn’t immediately flee any fixer-uppers that need plumbing work. If you really love the house, it’s all about balancing costs and diverting money from one project to another.

A sound layout

A logical layout is important in any home (no one wants to walk down a long hall to get to the guest bathroom), but it’s especially critical when you’re looking at an old home. Older homes are often divided into small rooms, but many people in this decade favor an open floor plan.

“The entire family wants to be connected; no one wants to be stuck back in the kitchen when everyone else is hanging out. With an open floor plan, there is no separation between the zones of the house,” says Jean Brownhill, founder and CEO at New York City–based Sweeten, which matches people who have major renovation projects with general contractors.

If you envision needing to knock down walls to create a more open, airy interior, know that the job can be expensive, time-consuming, and dusty.

Little to no infestations

It’s not uncommon to encounter a fixer-upper that has an infestation, be it mice, termites, mold, dry rot, or asbestos. A minor issue such as mice can be resolved by putting out traps and filling holes in the house. However, severe termite damage could require a costly solution, including lifting the house (yes, right off the ground) to access the foundation and check for further damage.

A seller is required to disclose such infestations, but a home inspector will also uncover any issues during the inspection that may occur after the house goes into contract.

If you find any of these problems in your fixer-upper, it’s a good idea to get an estimate from a contractor to resolve the issue.

Recent occupation

Buying a foreclosed home that’s sat dormant for a few years might get you a low sale price, but it may also present a challenge when you start renovating it.

“You never know what’s going on with plumbing behind the walls,” Coughlin says of homes that stand empty for an extended period of time. Maybe the water wasn’t turned off properly in the winter, which can cause the pipes to freeze, split, and leak.

A home without humans can also become a refuge for critters such as squirrels and bats.

“We have found dead mice and rats and a live mother possum feeding her two babies in attics,” says William Begal, president of Begal Enterprises, a disaster restoration company in Rockville, MD.

All of these problems can be fixed—they’ll just add more to your bottom-line costs.

 

For this and related articles, visit Realtor.com

Q:Between the increases in mortgage rates and prices, it’s so hard to afford a home now. Should I max out my budget?

Don’t do it.

10,712 Mortgage Calculator Stock Photos, Pictures & Royalty-Free Images -  iStock

Granted, it’s hard not to buy a home at the top of your budget when prices have hit record highs and mortgage rates are climbing—especially if you fall in love with a particular property and get into a bidding war over it. But I urge you to think it through, because going all-in on a home at the edges of what you can afford is a big gamble. It’s a risky financial move at a time when inflation is soaring and the housing market appears to be shifting.

If you’re hit with an unexpected medical expense or your car breaks down, you might not be able to pay all those bills, along with the high mortgage. Even if nothing financially devastating happens, you don’t want to become house poor. You likely want to have enough left over every month to put some savings aside for emergencies, vacations, retirement—or even just those summer music festivals.

The rule of thumb that is buyers shouldn’t spend more than 30% of their income (before taxes) on housing. That includes property taxes and home and private mortgage insurance. Buyers with high child care, medical, or other costs might want to spend even less.

That means if you earn $100,000, you shouldn’t spend more than $30,000 a year—or $2,500 a month—on housing.

Keeping to your budget might seem impossible in today’s housing market where prices keep shooting up toward the sky and increasing mortgage rates are adding significantly to the cost of purchasing a home. Buyers might no longer be able to afford larger, turnkey homes in more desirable areas.

So what’s the inflection point? Some buyers will have to compromise on the size and the features they want in a home as well as where it’s located. They might consider moving to a more affordable market. Others might be forced to wait until prices or rates—or even both—come down. While this doesn’t look likely at the national level in the near future, the housing market is adjusting as the higher mortgage rates are putting a limit on just how high prices can go.

Those who aren’t in a rush may want to wait to see how the housing market shakes out. More homes are going up for sale, and some real estate agents report bidding wars are dying down. Some parts of the country are already seeing prices dip a little as the housing market may be entering into a correction.

Inflation is making it more difficult to budget your money

You’ve probably noticed that your grocery bills are higher, energy bills have soared, and you’re paying more to fill up your car.

It’s difficult to plan for inflation, which is eating into the bank accounts of just about every American. And that makes it harder to figure out a budget—and how much you can comfortably afford each month for a mortgage.

That’s why my advice is to give yourself as much financial wiggle room as you can. You may already know that if you’re moving from a small apartment to a larger house, you’ll be paying significantly more for electricity and heating and cooling costs. But energy costs are expected to rise 50% this year—and could be even higher.

And while homeownership costs are more fixed than rent, property taxes can rise (and likely will due to record-high home prices). Condo, co-op, and homeowners association fees can also go up.

Just because you can afford to make your monthly mortgage payments today doesn’t mean you’ll be able to do so next year if your other costs rise. So try to leave enough for rising costs when you’re putting together your budget.

Maintenance and repairs cost more than you think

Maintaining a home isn’t easy, nor is it cheap. If the roof springs a leak or your home develops a rodent infestation, you can no longer call your landlord to come over and fix it.

A week after my partner and I purchased our home, the boiler flooded a small area in our new basement. It was easy enough to clean up and fortunately didn’t cause any damage. However, it signaled there was a problem that needed to be fixed. Two days and more than $500 later, a part was switched out in the boiler and the problem was solved.

Two months later, a heavy, wooden closet door in our guest room fell off of its ancient rolling track and came crashing down in the direction of myself and my 13-pound dog. The dog ran behind a nightstand, and I stepped back just in time to avoid impact. We emerged unscathed. The nightstand wasn’t as fortunate.

Replacing those closet doors wasn’t cheap. Neither were the furniture, rugs, blinds, and everything else we purchased to outfit our modestly sized house. And then there were the tree removals, the gutter cleanings—and all of the things we never had to worry about before we bought a house.

Don’t forgo vacations and retirement, or forget about emergencies

Maybe you love (or aspire) to travel the world. Maybe you’d like to retire early (or at all). Or maybe you just want to avoid financial ruin if there’s an unanticipated emergency.

If you’ve kept your mortgage payments, and the rest of your expenses, at reasonable levels, then you’ll have a better shot of navigating the challenges—preferably while sipping something fruity as you lounge on a scenic beach in January.

 

For this and related articles, visit Realtor.com