More than three-quarters of Americans who have a yard say the family yard space is one of the most important parts of their home, according to a poll of 1,700 consumers by the TurfMutt Foundation. Since the pandemic began, homeowners are showing more appreciation for their yards and spending more time in them, the poll found.

What’s more, 72% of consumers say a spacious yard would be at the top of their wish list if they were searching for a new home. Homeowners are more willing to invest in their yards and are using them for everyday activities, including work-from-home office space, according to the survey.

“What we are seeing with Americans is greater reliance on the backyard as an extension of the home,” says Kris Kiser, president and CEO of the TurfMutt Foundation. “It’s not just a place that looks pretty—it’s a place to live and do daily activities such as working, dining, and relaxing. They’ve discovered that ‘backyarding’ is a better way to live and there’s no turning back. They are also willing to hire professionals and invest money into yard improvements.”

A group of six people sit in a yard at a barbecue enjoying a meal together.

Eighty-four percent of respondents say they plan to invest more in their yard in 2022, including by purchasing plants, trees, flowers, vegetables to plant; purchasing items to maintain or improve their grassy areas; and installing or updating hardscaping themselves, the survey shows. Other popular projects include interest in installing a fence (19%) or a shed (15%) or adding a swimming pool (10%).

Besides refocusing the yard space for entertaining, relaxing, or doing hobbies, a yard also has become a place to work from. Fifty-eight percent of respondents said they’ve spent time performing job-related functions in their yard during the pandemic, with men doing so more often than women.

Find this article and more on Realtor Magazine.

Choosing a paint color for your home’s exterior can seem like a crazily daunting task. So many options! So crucial in making the right first impression on guests or potential buyers!  Should you go with basic beige, ho-hum neutral colors or (way) outside the paintbox?

Thanks in part to influential designers like Joanna Gaines, more homeowners today are stepping away from the traditional paint colors and choosing less common, modern palettes, like cheery teal or moody charcoal gray.

“We’re seeing homeowners go a bit bolder when it comes to curb appeal,” says Erika Woelfel, vice president of color and creative services at Behr. “While variations of white traditionally make a popular exterior paint color choice for many different types of housing styles—and are an easy way to play it safe—dark grays and browns are increasing in popularity … [or] painting the body a bold color like green or blue, or adding a pop of red on the front door.”

Sue Kim, senior color designer at Sherwin-Williams, agrees.

“Accent colors and colorful pastels are suggesting that homeowners are taking a step outside of their comfort zone,” she says.

Here’s a look at some of the top trends in exterior paint colors right now.

1. Sea blues

Photo by Paintco Professional Painters

Eager to venture beyond a neutral palette, but antsy about committing to too much flashy curb appeal? Watery hues are a charming way to settle the conflict.

From faint skylike shades to rich jewel tones, blues can make a big splash, and don’t get you caught up in the learning curve that more outspoken colors involve. Take Oceanside, Sherwin-Williams’ choice for 2018 Color of the Year—an intense shade of blue-green that, according to the company’s color experts, encapsulates a sense of adventure.

On the contrary, blue—perfect chameleon that it is—can also offer up a serene vibe. Given the technology taking over our days, Kim says, a sea-meets-the-horizon blue lends a feeling of calm when you drive up to your house.

“A light and crisp sea blue provides a renewing moment that we’re craving,” she says.

Try: Sherwin-Williams’ Oceanside or Behr’s Waterfall


2. All black

Photo by ANX / Aaron Neubert Architects

It might feel like a scary choice, but an eye-catching dark exterior can really make your home (and the trim) stand out.

“An interesting trend we’ve been seeing is all-black exteriors,” says Sue Wadden, director of color marketing at Sherwin-Williams. “It makes a statement and is a marked departure from the light neutrals of Scandinavian design.”

It’s no surprise the look has proven a go-to for certain top-tier celebs. Whether it’s Calvin Klein‘s all-black-and-glass mansion, including shutters and trim, in the Hamptons or, just down the road, Madonna‘s moody black farmhouse-style compound, a black exterior demands a certain degree of chutzpah. But if you can pull the trigger, it’s a contemporary look that conveys a fearless sophistication.

Try: Sherwin-Williams’ Tricorn Black for a bold black, or Benjamin Moore’s Twilight Zone for a matte look.

3. Taupe

Photo by Atelier A Bellavance Architect

If you’re looking for an alternative to beige, greige, or gray, Woelfel recommends a taupe exterior—a cross between dark brown and gray paint colors.

“Grays remain a key neutral for exteriors, but warmer tones in taupe and brown are on the rise,” she says. “Taupe is a great foundation paint color that looks stunning on a variety of architectural types and pairs well with white trim, shutters, and a bright-red front door.”

But a word of caution: When going with taupe (or any shade of brown or gray, really) be sure to consider your home’s position in relation to the sun.

“It will drastically impact how the color appears,” Woelfel says.

Try: Sherwin-Williams’ Tavern Taupe or Behr’s Classic Taupe

4. Spanish moss

Photo by Crisp Architects

Even if you live in the ‘burbs, a nature-inspired paint color can make your home look and feel more like a retreat. That’s why Vincente Wolf, a spokesman for PPG paints, recommends going with a woodsy green exterior, like Spanish moss—even for the trim.

“It has all the brownish tones of tree bark, which allows the house to slip into nature and makes the greenery pop, too,” Wolf says.

Try: Valspar’s Spanish Moss

5. Neutral with a bold front door


Not ready to take the plunge on a new paint color, but want to up your curb appeal? Consider a fun front-door color to change the entire look of your exterior. Try a bright red, blue, or even pastel to show off your home’s personality, and cover shutters and trim in a more neutral exterior color.

“A bold color makes an impression on anyone who walks through the front door,” Woelfel says.

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How long does paint last? This question might sneak up on you as your home’s exterior paint job starts looking a bit worse for wear. After all, it takes effort to keep a house in tiptop shape, and if something’s gotta give, whatever’s outdoors tends to go first.

And not just your house, but everything outside your home. Your lawn mower, gardening tools, and patio set take a beating all summer—and may soon be exposed to even harsher elements as the weather turns. All of this means that homeowners everywhere are advised to take stock of how their outdoor areas are faring.

To help, here are the expiration dates for six common exterior items, plus ways to extend their life spans so you can eke out a bit more time before you shell out for a replacement.

How long does an exterior paint job last?

Photo by Paintco Professional Painters 

Life span: About 10 years

Rain, sleet, hail, your kids’ balls slamming against the wall, and more impact your home’s exterior paint.

“The paint’s chemical compound breaks down due to oxidation as weather, expansion, and contraction take their toll,” explains Tina Nokes, owner of Five Star Painting in Virginia’s Loudoun County.

Make it last longer: “Be sure to fix caulk around windows, door jambs, and trim to keep it sealed and moisture-free,” says Nokes. And if it truly is time to repaint, power-wash the sides first to help fresh paint adhere better, and use a primer so the new coat goes on smoothly. And consider picking a lighter color over a dark one since dark shades fade faster in the sun.

How long do outdoor power outlets last?

Photo by Linn Gresham Haute Decor 

Life span: Mere weeks if the outlet isn’t up to code—or decades if made from quality materials

These little plugs need to withstand UV rays and wet conditions, reports Scott Kainz, owner of Mr. Electric in LaCrosse, WI.

Make it last longer: Unfortunately, you can’t improve shoddy outlets. Ask an electrician to assess what you have (he’ll look for weather-resistant substances and heavy-duty covers).

“High-quality covers and materials are now required for new outlets in the national electric code,” Kainz adds.

How long do lawn mowers last?

Photo by Easy Storage Products, LLC 

Life span: A decade or two

“A lawn mower is a very durable product that just requires regular maintenance to work well,” explains Jordan Ribelin, a Lowe’s outdoor expert.

Make it last longer: After every mow, check for loose fasteners and then tighten them.

“Clean off dirt, clippings, and other debris from the grass catcher, and watch oil and gas levels,” adds Ribelin.

How long do garden tools last?

Photo by Mark Hickman Homes 

Life span: Five years for rakes; 20 years or more for metal tools

Garden tools should last for years, if you don’t leave them out in the rain. More delicate items such as rakes made from bamboo tend to break and wear, so they’ll need replacing sooner.

Make it last longer: Scrub tools regularly, and remove rust with steel wool. Sharpen edges with a metal file, and then apply a thin coat of lubricating oil to keep rust at bay. Hang tools on a peg board to protect new edges, rather than lean them upright.

How long does patio furniture last?

Photo by Oakley Home Builders

Life span: A lifetime for teak and wrought iron, 10 to 20 years for other materials

Wrought iron and teak are top of the line and should last as long as you do. Other woods, plastic, and resin can start to look shabby and grow mold much sooner. Coastal homeowners have to contend with salty air and humidity, while mountain dwellers’ furniture will become sticky with sap.

Make it last longer: Keep your outdoor set longer by investing in the right covers or storage. Zip-up cases or a dry garage or basement will protect your chairs during winter months. Deep cleaning with a pressure washer on the lowest setting is smart, too, adds Ribelin.

How long do garden hoses last?

Photo by Nicola’s Garden Art Inc. 

Life span: Seven years for a rubber hose; a lifetime for the coiled ones

The biggest threat to a hose is water, mold, and mildew—as well as twists and tangles.

Make it last longer: Don’t leave your hose in a garage where it could freeze and crack in cold weather (the basement is a better bet). Invest in a hose reel to prevent tangles.

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Looking for a new home may seem like a daunting task these days.

Prices are up, inventory is low and mortgage rates are rising.

Thoughtful Couple Standing Outdoors In Front Of House With For Sale Sign In Garden

That’s why, in this environment, it pays to do your homework before you enter the market. Once you start looking, you’ll have to move at light speed to place an offer, explains Jessica Lautz, vice president of demographics and behavioral insights for the National Association of Realtors.

“As interest rates are climbing, there has been a rush to lock in lower relative rates, while at the same time the inventory of homes has hit all-time lows,” she said.

The median price of a home in January jumped to $350,300, an increase of 15.4% from January 2021, according to the National Association of Realtors. Homes are spending an average of 19 days on the market.

Meanwhile, the mortgage rate for a 30-year fixed loan is 4.17%, according to Mortgage Daily News. Early last year, they were less than 3%.

With that in mind, here’s what you can do now to put yourself in the best position to find your new home.

Learn the language

Becoming familiar with real-estate lingo, like closing costs and home inspections, is part of the process. Yet learning the language before you jump in can help you move quickly.

“Your offer will likely be up against other buyers, so educate yourself with your agent on what terms like earnest deposit, appraisal contingency, home inspection contingency, and appraisal gap mean before viewing homes,” Lautz suggested.

Earnest money is the deposit you put down on the property you’d like to buy. It shows good faith, and the funds eventually go toward the down payment and closing costs. An appraisal contingency is a provision in your contract that allows you to back out if the appraisal price comes in lower than the sale price. That difference in the appraisal and sale prices is known as an appraisal gap.

Similarly, a home inspection contingency gives you an out if there are issues that arise during the home inspection. In both cases, you can also try to negotiate with the seller instead of pulling out of the sale.

Since competition is so fierce, many buyers have been waving contingencies in order to get a leg up.

Make a list

Write down your “must-haves” and your “nice-to-haves,” said Danielle Hale, chief economist at

This way, when you have to make a quick decision you already know what trade-offs you want to make.

It can also help you in a bidding war, which is easy to get carried away with in a highly competitive market.

“Focus on the goal you set out for yourself, like your list of must-haves and nice-to-haves and your budget,” Hale said. “Stick to that. Be persistent.”

Tackle debt

Momo Productions | Digitalvision | Getty Images

Mortgage lenders will look at your debt-to-income ratio, which is the amount of debt relative to your income, when determining your loan. If you have debt, try to pay it down before you start house hunting, Lautz advises.

Consider using any bonus money or cash gifts to pay it off. If you don’t have debt, put that cash into savings to help with your down payment.

Know your credit

Your credit score is also an important factor in getting a mortgage and the type of loan you’ll get. It also impacts the interest rate you’ll receive and potentially how much money you need for a down payment.

By checking your credit score ahead of time, you’ll know whether you’ll need to make any changes or adjustments to try to increase that number.

Also, get a copy of your credit report to check for any errors or unpaid bills, which may also affect your credit score. Consumers can get their credit report up to once a week for free from the nation’s three largest credit reporting firms — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — through April.

Talk to a mortgage lender

Reach out to a lender as soon as possible, at least to ask questions and find out what they need from you in order to preapprove a mortgage.

Using online calculators can help you figure out what you can afford and whether it makes sense to buy or rent. You’ll also want to know how much money you’ll need to bring to closing, since there are fees — known as closing costs — that are due in addition to your down payment.

You can also get preapproved for a mortgage before you start house hunting, since you’ll need it before you submit a contract for a house.

Have a budget

Just because you are preapproved by a mortgage lender for a certain amount of money to spend doesn’t mean that is your budget.

Look at your monthly expenses to determine what you can afford to pay each month. Don’t forget about interest rates. If they continue to rise before you close on the home, they will increase your monthly mortgage payments.

Consider expanding your market, if possible, to find lower-priced options.

“This is the time to go to overlooked areas if there are any in your market,” Lautz said.

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Your home’s floors obviously need regular cleaning, but what about your walls? Although painted walls don’t accumulate dirt the same way that floors do, they will start to gather dust, grime, and stains over time, particularly in high-traffic areas. Plan to clean your painted walls about once a year, doing so gently so as not to damage the finish of the paint.

Wall cleaning is just one part of keeping your home tidy, and it’s a big job. If you need help, consider calling a professional service like The Cleaning Authority. This nationwide company knows the best way to clean walls and other surfaces, and you can easily get a free estimate on its website.

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Cleaning Authority

However, if you’d prefer to do it yourself, here’s how to clean painted walls.


Prepare to Clean

Before you start soaping up sponges, make sure to get your home ready for this process. For starters, dust the walls you’ll be cleaning to remove any surface-level dirt. You can do this with a dusting cloth, a vacuum cleaner with a dust brush attachment, or a rag around a clean mop head. To get into corners or around baseboards and molding, a foam craft brush is great for detail work.

Also, put down a drop cloth or tarp against the walls you plan to clean. Although you don’t want to use enough water that it actually runs down the walls, there are always drips and spills with any cleaning project, so protect your floors.


Pick Your Cleaning Solution

Which cleaner you use will depend on the type of paint on your walls. Matte, flat, eggshell, or stain finishes are slightly more delicate and need a very mild cleaning solution. Use a small amount of dye-free hand soap or dishwashing detergent dissolved in warm water.

Glossy and semi-glossy finishes are a bit hardier, and you can use cleaners with a degreasing agent, including stronger types of dish soap. You can also use most non-abrasive multipurpose cleaners on this type of paint or make your own by mixing one teaspoon of liquid dish soap and ¼ teaspoon of white vinegar into one quart of water. This cleaner should work on most latex paints.

Finally, oil-based paints can take a slightly stronger cleanser. Use the same mixture from above or substitute a small amount of ammonia for the vinegar. You can consider adding an ounce of borax for every pint of water, as well.

If you have any doubts about how well your wall’s paint will stand up to these cleansers, test a small, inconspicuous area first.


Wash Gently

It’s a good idea to have two buckets and two sponges on hand: one for the cleaning solution and one for plain water to rinse. Use non-abrasive sponges (that is, the smooth side—not the scrubby side) and wring out the sponge so that it’s only mildly damp before touching it to the wall. Too much water can create bubbling or watermarks.

Start at the top of the wall and work downward in small sections, rinsing each area after you’ve cleaned it. Scrub gently, applying very little pressure and working in circular motions. Glossy and semi-glossy finishes are prone to scratching, so be particularly careful on those surfaces. Give extra care to areas around light switches or door frames. Also, be careful not to let any water drip into electrical outlets, wall jacks, or light switches.


Spot Treat for Stains

Walls can accumulate stains over time, so if you encounter any streaks or marks that a mild cleaning solution can’t seem to remove, don’t panic. You can make a paste out of baking soda and water and apply it to the stain. Give it a few minutes to set, and then wipe it away. Be careful not to scrub the mixture too hard, though, because baking soda can be abrasive.

A little bit of hydrogen peroxide can take care of red wine stains, and rubbing alcohol is worth a try. Always try gentler methods before working your way up to harsher cleansers. Cleaning products like stain removal pens and magic erasers can also help out. No matter what cleaner you use, make sure to wipe any residue away with a damp sponge afterward.


Dry the Walls

Since your sponge should be merely damp, there shouldn’t be much water left on the walls after rinsing, but you may want to hand-dry your wall with a towel anyway. If you removed any hanging pictures or other items from the wall, make sure it has thoroughly dried before replacing them. You might want to wait to clean your walls until the weather is warm and dry so you can open your windows to speed the process up.

For help or advice on how to clean walls, The Cleaning Authority offers its services in 45 states across the country, including all but Alaska, Hawaii, Montana, West Virginia, and Wyoming. Get a free estimate from the company today.


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Welcome to the ultimate moving checklist—a list of all the things you should do before moving into your new home.

Let’s face it: With all the excitement of new digs, it’s easy to forget some important tasks. Plus, certain things are best done while the house is still vacant, long before your boxes and furniture are parked in the place. Put these things off, and it becomes all the harder to tackle them later.

So before you move—or in case you have moved and are wondering how many of these you hit—check out this moving checklist to know what should be done long before you settle in.

1. Turn on utilities

Electric, gas, water—don’t assume they’ll be on and operational when you arrive. Instead, get all your utilities set up ahead of time.

“Chances are the seller will be turning them off as of the closing date,” says Greg Beckman, an Annapolis, MD, real estate agent.

2. Set up internet and cable service

Plan on having a “Property Brothers” marathon while you’re unpacking? Have your home wired for service before you arrive, advises Julie McDonough, a real estate agent in Southern California.

3. Order an energy audit

One of the best ways to cut your energy bill is to order a home energy audit, says Rachel Foy, a real estate agent in Newton, MA.

An energy audit is a professional assessment of your new home’s overall energy performance. This will show you how to make your house more energy-efficient (think insulating the attic, weather-stripping windows, sealing air leaks in crawl spaces), so it’s best to have one done and make related repairs before moving in.

A home energy audit costs, on average, about $215 to $600, but some utility companies will do them for free.

4. Do a deep clean

“It’s never easier to do a deep clean than when the house is empty,” Beckman says. A cleaning service costs around $150. Don’t mind cleaning the home yourself? Check out our House Cleaning Guide, with tips on how to clean a kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, and beyond.

5. Change the locks

This is a basic safety measure; however, “it can’t be done until after closing,” says Chris Dossman, a real estate agent in Indianapolis.

6. Test smoke and carbon monoxide detectors

Make sure these are functioning properly to protect your new home from fires and other emergencies. Also, read our recommendation of the best type of smoke detector.

Your Moving Checklist: 15 Things to Do Before Moving Into a New Home

7. Set up the alarm system

If the home already has a security system installed, call the provider to confirm that service is set up, says Jennifer Baxter, associate broker at Re/Max Regency in Suwanee, GA.

8. Tackle major home renovations

The last thing you want to do is have to tiptoe around a construction zone after you move in. So, if you want to repaint the home, resand floors, or make any other renovations, do them in advance.

“These projects are best done when the house is empty and usually don’t happen once the furniture shows up,” says Foy.

One caveat: “You have the right to bring in vendors for quotes, but work cannot start until you own the home,” she adds.

9. Make repairs

Before moving in, Baxter recommends hiring a handyman to do any repairs that the seller didn’t agree to make. Check out our tips on how to hire a great handyman (or woman).

10. Get a home warranty

Imagine waking up one morning to a busted boiler or leaking washer in your brand-new home. A home warranty covers the cost of repairing many home appliances—and basic coverage starts at only about $300, says Shawna Bell of Landmark Home Warranty.

11. Buy fire extinguishers

Get one for every level of your home, make sure you know how to use it, and plan an escape route in the event of a fire.

12. Get to know your new house

Figure out where the circuit breaker box and main water shut-off valve are before moving in, so you know how to turn off the electricity or water in an emergency. Also, consider labeling your home’s electrical panel.

13. Childproof the home

Have kids? Every year, millions of children are hospitalized because of accidents around the home, according to Safe Kids Worldwide. So, before your bundle of joy starts toddling around the house, take steps to fully childproof your new home.

14. Forward your mail

Don’t forget to update your address with the United States Postal Service. (Visit the Official Postal Service Change of Address website.) The postal service charges a $1 fee to verify your identity when changing your address online, so you’ll need a credit or debit card.

Note: The postal service will stop forwarding periodicals to your new address 60 days after you move, so alert magazines and newspapers that you’ve moved.

15. Update your billing address

Alert your credit card companies, banks, or any other financial institutions of your new address. Also, if you frequently buy anything from a website, you can avoid a future headache by updating your profile with your new address.

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“So what’s the neighborhood really like?” is the ubiquitous refrain among home buyers shopping in areas they’re unfamiliar with. And though your real estate agent can fill lots of the big-picture details, it pays to do your research before committing to a residential purchase.

Short of stopping people on the street for intel—and being greeted by strange, skittish looks, or way worse—there are some far easier ways to get a feel for what living in a neighborhood is really like.

Best of all, you can even do them from afar (you’re welcome, relocators)! For starters, you can get local information on various neighborhoods on our site. Then for more deets, get digging in the resources below.

10 Ways to Find Out About a Neighborhood Without Being There

For general demographics…

The first census required by the U.S. Constitution was completed in 1790, and U.S. Census Bureau workers have been counting the population—now more than 331 million people—every 10 years ever since. It’s all easily accessible, and you’d be amazed at the depth of detail. Their latest count, the 2020 Census, breaks down the nitty-gritty of age, race, population density, and even average commute times to work by neighborhood. The bureau’s maps also offer a graphic overview of select demographics.

For what’s notable and unique…

Type any address into NeighborhoodScout and its proprietary search algorithm provides a ton of data—median home price, crime rates, ease of commute—in one easy-to-digest snapshot. And beyond that, the site can tell you what makes a neighborhood unique. For instance, you may learn that a certain area has a high percentage of brownstones, or gay/lesbian families, or homeowners who don’t own cars.

For walkability …

Since “walkability” is such a buzzword, especially among millennials, it makes sense that there’s a site devoted to telling you how easy it is to get around by foot. That’s where Walk Score comes in. How easily you can you hoof it to a coffee shop, grocery shopping, and parks gets crunched into one overall rating showing how conducive an area is to walking. You say you’d rather spend your time getting around on two wheels instead of two feet? Bike Score gives you a sense of a neighborhood’s bike-friendliness from the extent of its bike lanes and trails.

For public transportation access …

Each day, millions of Americans use public transportation, making access to it a must. To check out an area’s accessibility to trains, buses, and light rail, David Reiss, a professor of law and research director at the Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship at Brooklyn Law School, recommends researching the Transit Score. “These scores are great, really giving you a sense of how important it is to have a car in a particular community,” he says.

For school quality …

Sure, a seller may tell you a local school is great. But don’t rely on bias when it comes to your child’s education. Instead, go to the nonprofit and type in a potential ZIP code. You’ll have a chance to read school report cards crafted by reviews from teachers, parents, and even the students themselves. Or, if you already know which school district you want your child to attend, download’s mobile appyou can search for homes by school district. 

For crime rates…

To see how safe it would be to set foot outside your home, enter your address into My Local Crime to pull up any recent local crimes from vandalism to shootings. Click on the map function to see where exactly those crimes were committed (in other words, maybe certain blocks to avoid after dark?).

For the lay of the land, literally…

When Professor Reiss asked students to find interesting web resources to learn about neighborhoods, they discovered that topological maps are a cool tool. Most maps show only a two-dimensional rendering. Topographical maps, which add the third dimension of elevation, show the surface and physical features of a given neighborhood. Besides highlighting hills and valleys, topography is important when it comes to weather events (just ask anyone in a flood plain).

To find out what people do there for fun…

You know Yelp can help you discover local restaurants, and that Moviefone can let you know what theaters might be near you. But what about entertainment, culture and nightlife? Enter Gravy, a website and app that gives you the rundown on an area’s events, from rock concerts to church suppers.

To find a neighborhood just like the one you’re already in …

Love your neighborhood, but feel it’s time to move? Head back to NeighborhoodScout once more. Users can find their ideal neighborhood by selecting filters that take into account their lifestyle preferences—whether family-friendly or suitable for first-time home buyers. Alternatively, if you love your current neighborhood, enter your address to find comparable towns throughout the country.


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What Is a Storybook House? A Home Straight Out of a Fairy Tale

A storybook house is a quaint style of architecture known for its cottage-inspired sloping roof, turret, and other fanciful features. Also called fairy-tale homes, they essentially look like a family of elves or maybe Snow White herself would answer the door if you knocked.

Although these houses evoke visions of the European countryside, this style is wholly American—specifically, Hollywood in the 1920s. At that time, soldiers had recently returned from Europe after World War I, and those who went to work in Los Angeles’ film industry (including Walt Disney, who drove an ambulance in Europe) often built sets inspired by the villages they saw in England, Belgium, and France.

“Silent films were often set in Europe in an earlier era, and actors, set designers, and audiences alike fell for the charming look of the houses in these film sets,” says Douglas Keister, photographer and co-author of “Storybook Style: America’s Whimsical Homes of the 1920s.”

A history of storybook houses

The home thought to be the original storybook house was known as the “Witch’s House,” built in 1921 on a studio lot, designed by an art director to serve both as offices and a film set. In 1926, the house was converted to a residence and moved to a corner in Beverly Hills, CA, where it remains today (and where it scored a cameo in the movie “Clueless”).

what is a storybook house
The “Witch’s House,” built in 1921, is believed to be the first storybook house.

(Douglas Keister/Studio Publishers)

It wasn’t long before storybook houses began cropping up around Los Angeles, and the style spread to the Northern California communities of Oakland, Alameda, and Chico. They eventually reached as far as Spokane, WA; Louisville, KY; and Milwaukee.

The style lost popularity during the Depression, because these houses are relatively expensive to build and the style probably seemed frivolous during the nation’s era of economic malaise. So, they are still a relatively rare style to see—which makes encountering one all the more enchanting.

Features of a storybook house

Although many cottage-style houses might be described as a “fairy-tale house,” true storybook houses share specific characteristics. They are almost always made of stucco or brick, and feature curving walls that suggest premodern building techniques and steeply sloping rooftops, which make it look like gravity has taken its toll over the years. Windows tend to be tiny, and a winding path leads to a front door with a tiny porch or no porch at all. They sometimes feature medieval design features like rounded doors, rounded ceilings, or birdhouses on the roof called dovecotes that lend a theatrical flair.

“The one thing they all have in common is an element of whimsy, a flourish that makes you smile,” says Keister.

Kathleen Cavender’s storybook style home in Spokane, WA.

(Ryan Lindberg)

Pros and cons of a storybook house

A storybook house might provoke a strong reaction among potential home buyers—those who crave expansive, light-filled rooms or a sleek modern style won’t take to the small scale and specific aesthetic of these houses. But people looking for a cozy and fanciful home will be smitten.

“It looks like Bilbo Baggins might have lived here, and it has oodles of charm,” says Kathleen Cavender, an artist and jazz musician who recently moved into a storybook house in Spokane. While her home’s small rooms and single bathroom wouldn’t work for a large family, she’s an empty nester who appreciates having less to clean and maintain.

“These kinds of homes do dictate a bit how you can decorate them,” says Cavender, who sticks to classic or antique pieces rather than anything contemporary, which could strike a discordant note next to the home’s textured walls and rounded ceilings.

If you love the idea of seeing your life unfold on such a quaint backdrop, a storybook home could be your happily ever after.


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