Wondering how to choose a Realtor®? Purchasing a new home takes some serious prep work—from cleaning up your credit score to amassing a down payment.

But, hey, we’re just getting started! You also need a comrade in arms: a close ally to help steer you toward homes you’ll love more than life itself, find the best possible mortgage, and all in all help you through this emotionally and financially taxing process. That’s where a good real estate agent can make a world of difference.

Here’s how to find one who’s got your back. And your front. Every side, actually.

How to Pick a Real Estate Agent When You’re Ready to Buy Your First Home

How to choose a real estate agent

The first thing you might notice while trying to find home-buying help is all the different titles: agent, broker, Realtor®, etc. Are they all the same thing? Not exactly.

Realtor® is either an agent or broker who is a member of the National Association of Realtors®. Realtors adhere to a detailed code of ethics to treat their clients honestly and fairly. Consider it added insurance that they’re committed to your cause.

real estate agent is anyone who’s earned a license to sell property, which typically entails taking 100+ hours of course work and then passing a state exam. A broker is someone who’s continued his studies and can hire agents to work under him.

Conduct a preliminary search online

We shop online for everything these days, and finding a real estate agent is no different. To locate ones in your area, use online tools such as Realtor.com®‘s Find a Realtor search, which will give you useful info such as the Realtor’s number of years of job experience, number of homes sold, and the price of homes typically dealt with. Take note of a Realtor’s track record, because this can tip you off to superstar agents nearby and whether they’re a fit for your needs.

Don’t settle for ‘good enough’

According to the NAR, more than half of first-time buyers found their Realtor through a friend—and two-thirds contacted only one agent before moving forward. That’s kind of like having your friends set you up on a blind date, then marrying that person by Date No. 2. After all, how can you be sure you made the right choice without looking around? Simple: You can’t.

“One of the things I always tell my prospects is, ‘I’m flattered if I’m the only Realtor you are speaking to, but I think it’s best if you speak with two or more so you can draw comparisons and make a powerful decision,’” says Brett West, an agent with McEnearney Associates.

Trust us, there can be a huge difference between an agent who’s “good enough” and one who’s stellar—the difference between finding your dream home or not, and saving or wasting tens of thousands of dollars.

So the extra legwork you do now could really pay off in the (not so) long term. Be sure to explore at least a few options and grill them thoroughly before settling down with one.

Ask 5 key questions before picking a Realtor

Ask a prospective Realtor all of these questions. This is no time for being shy.

A true professional will have no issues with you asking questions. Reaching a certain comfort level with your agent is key to calming the anxiety around your house hunt.

1. How long have you been in real estate?

You’re looking for a seasoned agent—and while they don’t need to have decades of experience, less than a year or two of experience can be concerning.

2. How long have you lived in this area?

One noteworthy exception to the previous question is if they’ve lived in the area for a long time.

“A newly licensed agent shouldn’t be automatically removed from consideration,” says Mindy Jensen, a Realtor with Equity Colorado Real Estate. “If they’ve lived in the area their entire life, they likely know more about it than an agent who has been in the business for years but only recently moved to the region.”

Weigh overall experience against local experience when making your decision.

3. Do you have a team, or do you work alone?

Many standalone agents are excellent, but don’t ignore the value of a team.

“Working with a team is important,” says Angelo Puma, a real estate agent in Keller, TX. “It increases response time and availability. Often, solo-run agents are double-booked when you need their attention, and you may lose that perfect property.”

4. What is your schedule?

If they’re not a full-time agent, you need to know when they’ll be available.

“If the only time you can see houses is in direct conflict with times they have to be working their other jobs, you could miss out on a lot of properties,” says Jensen.

5. Do you have any vacations planned?

If they’re heading out of the city anytime soon, make sure they have a back-up in case you find the perfect home while they’re out of the country. “Murphy’s Law rules Realtor vacations,” says Jensen.


For this and similar articles, please visit Realtor.com

You’re this close to owning a new home, you can almost taste it. The closing paperwork is prepared, your new digs passed the inspection, and—wonder of wonders—you’re even happy with your loan. Homeownership is just on the other side of the hill.

As long as the final walk-through goes according to plan.

OK, take a breath—there’s no need to panic. The vast majority of walk-throughs reveal no problems at all, and even if they do, most issues are easily fixed. Still, it can be an awkward, stressful process that can make you want to reach for heartburn medication, especially for first-time buyers. Learn what to look for on your last trip through the house before the sellers hand over the keys. Your new keys!

What to Watch for on Your Final Walk-Through of a Home

Create a checklist

Before your walk-through, work with your agent to create a comprehensive checklist covering all of your concerns with the home—the items that you’d like to see addressed or fixed, pronto. Look at your notes from previous walk-throughs and the inspection report to determine what areas of the house you should double-check.

“Simply having a checklist during final walk-through can greatly reduce any issues,” says Joe Stanfield, a Realtor in Charlotte, NC.

Other things to add to your inspection list include ensuring that all appliances work—make sure to turn them on while you’re in the house—as well as the bathroom plumbing.

Check the windows, doors, as well as all outlets and lights. If anything is amiss, bring it up with the sellers as soon as possible and negotiate a fee the sellers can give you by personal check to cover the costs of fixing it yourself. It’s your last chance. Make it count.

Ensure required repairs were completed

Most sellers are good, ethical people, but you never know if you’re dealing with a sneaky individual until the final walk-through. But they might not have been deliberately sneaky: they may just have a transitory case of seller amnesia, whose symptoms include the oft-heard line, “Oh, I meant to get to that.”

After all, the selling process can be hypercomplicated—leaving required repairs unfinished because priorities have been focused elsewhere.

“Sometimes a seller will have indicated that a repair previously negotiated during the due diligence period was completed, but the buyer finds out during the walk-through that it has not,” says Suzette Gray, a Realtor with Coldwell Banker in Charlotte, NC.

She recommends asking for copies of paid invoices for all repairs. If it’s a simple repair—such as patching up drywall or replacing a faucet—ask them to send you a photo of the completed work before the walk-through, “so there are no surprises.”

And while civility is key, this is not the time for preternatural politeness. If you do find something wrong that they’d vowed to address, it’s worth the awkwardness of bringing it up face to face and demanding compensation—after all, a promise is a promise. Right?

Inspect previously hard-to-reach spots

During your final walk-through, inspect everything you couldn’t check out earlier due to lack of time.

“You always want to ensure that you aren’t stuck with problems that were previously hidden from view,” says Seth Stisher from the Seth Realty Team in Charleston, SC.

Did an enormous Persian area rug cover the living room floor before? Was the couch pushed flush against the wall? Take a careful look at the hardwood below for any water damage or rot. This goes double if you’re buying a home with a basement that was previously filled with boxes. Basements are ground zero for mold, water damage, and other structural issues, and it’s easy for sellers to hide (or miss) problems behind a layer of clutter.

Look for missing items—or secret swaps

Make sure all appliances and fixtures you’d liked during earlier visits are still present—or haven’t undergone a subpar substitution.

“If you were promised a chandelier and now there is an empty socket, that’s not going to fly,” says Janine Acquafredda, a Realtor in Brooklyn, NY.

Basically anything connected to the home by plugs or pipes should stay—or if the sellers intended to keep something other than their furniture and belongings, it should be specified in the contract. Swapping out the bronze cabinet pulls for mediocre chrome replacements isn’t OK, either, and you have every right to demand them reinstated before the home changes hands.

Don’t panic over a little dirt

You might be expecting a picture-perfect, Architectural Digest–ready home, with polished hardwood floors and shining countertops—but few real estate contracts mandate those expectations, instead asking for the place to be “broom clean.” Which does not mean “scrubbed within an inch of its life.”

Usually that’s your job. Sorry.

“Everyone has a different definition of broom clean, and if the place is a little dirty it’s not the end of the world,” says Koki Adasi, a Realtor with Koki & Associates in Silver Springs, MD. Don’t stress over minor problems such as scratches in the hardwood or marks on the walls. It’s certainly not worth raising a fuss over—not only will it annoy the sellers, but chances are you’ll cause minor damage of your own during move-in.


For this and related articles, please visit Realtor.com

If you’ve been thinking about installing solar panels, you’re not alone. Solar power has been heating up—and with good reason: It’s cheap, clean, and scalable. With just an hour and a half of sunlight, this renewable energy source could meet the world’s energy consumption for an entire year. But is solar power the right investment for you and your home? We chatted with experts to weigh the pros and the cons.

Is It Worth It: Installing Solar Panels

Pro: Installing solar panels will save you money on utilities. 

One of the most obvious reasons to install solar panels is that doing so can significantly reduce utility bills—by about $1,500 per year on average, based on monthly electricity bills of around $120. The exact amount, of course, depends on the size of your roof, your sunlight exposure, and how much you spend every month on electricity. As a general rule, the more you spend, the more you stand to save.

But, says Connecticut architect Duo Dickinson, homeowners really need to do their own research. Start with an online solar calculator, like Energy Sage or PV Value; the latter requires registration but is endorsed by the Appraisal Institute.

Con: Installing solar panels is expensive.

Solar panels don’t come cheap. Even after factoring in tax incentives, you can expect to spend somewhere in the neighborhood of $10,000. If you’re saving $1,500 per year on electricity costs, it’ll take years, not months, to recoup that initial investment.

On the other hand, solar panels have become “much more financially viable in this last decade,” Dickinson says. The panels themselves “are cheaper and they produce more energy. And they’re easier and cheaper to install.”

Pro: Installing solar panels probably will increase your home’s value.

Research consistently shows that adding solar increases the value of your home—and Twin Cities, Minnesota-based Realtor Brandon Doyle agrees: “Most savvy buyers will understand that they’re getting something that creates power for them every month, saving them money during their ownership.”

How much depends on a number of factors, like where you live and how much money those solar panels save you on your annual utility bills. According to the U.S. Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, you can expect your home’s value to increase about $20 for every $1 reduction in annual utility bills. Based on the average annual savings of $1,500, sellers could expect their home value to increase by $30,000.

Con: Installing solar panels may deter some buyers. 

While companies like GAF are changing the aesthetics of solar panels, the vast majority of options on the market right now aren’t very attractive, says Dickinson. And, he adds, they’re something you probably see everyday when you come home. Said differently, while you might embrace solar panels for the savings and greener source of energy, there’s no guarantee the next buyer will.

Pro: Solar panels are a renewable source of energy.

Cost aside, the fact that solar power is a renewable source of energy with zero greenhouse gas emissions is a huge plus. Of course, as with most things, there are mitigating factors, including the environmental impact of manufacturing and the issue of solar trash. But the overall environmental impact of solar panels over their lifetime is a net positive.

The bottom line

“Long term, solar is a great investment,” Doyle says. If you think you’ve found your forever home (or even your five-to-10 year home), you’re going to come out ahead financially. What’s more, improvements to technology mean we’ll see more options and lower prices in the years ahead, making solar panels an even more attractive option.


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Spend a day exploring this state park’s 25-mile network of hiking, mountain biking, and horse-friendly trails.

A 45-minute drive from Portland sits L. L. “Stub” Stewart State Park, an old tree farm with a 25-mile labyrinthine network of hiking, horseback riding, and mountain bike–only trails—plus two mountain-style disc golf courses among trees and sword fern, if that’s your thing.

The park, named for timber baron and Oregon state representative Loren LaSells “Stub” Stewart, spans nearly 1,800 acres of land near the town of Buxton, opened in 2007 and is one of the state’s newest full-service parks. It also has a campground, with 90 campsites open year-round, and happens to be a popular spot for stargazing. OMSI hosts star parties at the park each summer.

With plenty of trails to choose from—a 3.5-mile segment of the paved Banks-Vernonia State Trail also cuts through the park—it’s easy to craft your own hike. That said, there are several mapped routes courtesy of websites like AllTrails.com (which requires a subscription) and Oregonhikers.org. Those include the Bumping Knots Loop, the Northern Loop, and the Linear Trail, which I did … kind of.

The Linear Trail winds through Sidewinder Horseshoe, Hares Canyon Trail, Unfit Settlement View, Skidder Row, and the Boomscooter Trail. Many of the trail names hark back to the park’s logging history. Boomscooter, for example, is the logging term for a small boat used to maneuver floating logs downstream to the sawmill.

I unintentionally did a modified version of the Linear Trail, making it a longer hike than I anticipated. Parts of the AllTrails route appeared to be missing and the park’s trail signage can be confusing, so I recommend keeping a trail map with you.

I started at the Hilltop Day Use Area, where you can park your car, let your dog frolic in the off-leash pet area, and enjoy a picnic while taking in the view of the Coast Range. Across from the parking lot is the Hooktender Horseshoe Trailhead, which enters a forested disc golf area. Keep right on Bullbucker Trail at the junction. After less than a quarter mile, you’ll reach Hares Canyon Trail.

I ambled down the Hares Canyon Trail, winding through second-growth forest for a couple of miles before turning onto Unfit Settlement View. (Note: there were a few fallen trees and some elevation gain on this path.) A little way up the trail, at an elevation of 1,528 feet, you’ll find a viewpoint—though much of the view was blocked off by trees. It did, however, offer a quiet spot to rest before hiking down to reconnect with Hares Canyon Trail.

At the fork in the trail, you would turn right if you were to stick to the Linear Trail route, which runs past the Clayhill Horse Staging Area and Mountain Dale Cabin Village. However, I turned left, passing by the Hares Canyon Horse Camp. (You might even spot a few horses on your hike. If not, there are plenty of hoof prints, and road apples—a.k.a., horse poop—here and there, to let you know that you are sharing the trail with equestrians.) I continued along Peavey Hook Bridleway and turned onto North Caddywhomper Way, returning to the day-use area.

By the end of the loop, I hiked a total of 5.2 miles despite the Linear Trail being officially labeled an easy, 3.5-miles. Cold fog hung over the park the day I visited, so dress warm and be prepared for your boots to get a bit mucky; the trails were well-maintained but standing water and mud persists in some spots.

Drive time: About 45 minutes from downtown Portland // Distance: 3.5 miles // Difficulty: Easy // Type: Loop // Fee: $5 day-use pass


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Some of the biggest decisions about homeownership come after you’ve closed the deal. Should you renovate that dated kitchen? Will adding an additional bathroom increase the value of your home? But also: How many place settings do you actually need? Should you ever buy anything at full price? And what’s the deal with renting furniture? Is It Worth It addresses your questions big and small.

These days, it’s easy to browse online, order up a couch, and have it delivered to your door in just a few days. On the other hand, giving a well-loved vintage find a new life by reupholstering it can land you a one-of-a-kind piece of considerable quality. Still, unless you’re an avid DIY-er, it won’t come cheap. That $75 chair you snagged at the Goodwill could end up costing you $750 when all is said and done.

So, is it worth it to reupholster furniture? We talked to people who frequently level up furniture to find out.

Is It Worth It: Reupholstering Furniture

Pro: It’s (by far) the more sustainable choice.

“Reupholstering is extremely eco-friendly. There’s so much furniture out there already; we should reuse it,” says Amy McMeeken, owner of Vintage Junkies in Lansing, Michigan. She cites the environmental impact of producing and shipping new furniture as well as potential concerns about factory working conditions as reasons to rehab.

Pro: Older furniture is typically higher quality.

It’s probably not a surprise that a $700 couch made today is not as solid as a sofa made in the 1960s, but this is another significant difference. “[New furniture] is not built to last,” says McMeeken. “It’s a better value investing up front,” she adds.

Molly Burke, owner of Chairloom, which sells textiles and reupholstered vintage pieces, agrees. “If you reupholster something it should last 15 years if not more,” she says.

Pro: You can create the piece of your dreams.

When you choose to reupholster, you aren’t limited to a standard ring of swatches. It’s true that many to-die-for prints and fabrics can be staggeringly pricey, but you really can design a one-of-a-kind piece of furniture.

Con: It can get (very) expensive.

“If you’re trying to pay nothing for furniture then reupholstery is not for you,” Burke says. But if you’re shopping at what Burke refers to as “the Big Five”—West Elm, Pottery Barn, Anthropologie, Crate & Barrel, and Restoration Hardware—the price is comparable.

How much you pay for a piece to be reupholstered will be affected by your choice of fabric and who does the labor, but both Burke and McMeeken estimate the cost of reupholstering a chair to be $500-$700 and $1,500-$2,500 for a couch.

Expect to pay even more if a piece has nailhead trim, curved arms, intricate woodwork, etc.) And the reupholstering business is not immune to inflation and supply chain issues. The price of foam used for stuffing has gone up considerably, and that cost will likely be passed on to you.

Con: You might have to wait.

Fewer people are going into the reupholstering business these days, which means the people who are doing it can get backed up. McMeeken has waited a couple of months for a project to be completed, while Burke says something like a chair could be turned around in two to three weeks.

Con: It can be overwhelming.

If it’s not something you’re used to doing, the reupholstering process can be tough to navigate, especially when it comes to picking the right color, pattern, and texture of fabric for your piece. This is, in fact, why Burke created her company: to serve as the “middle man” with a design eye between the customers and the skilled tradespeople. (Tip: if you’ve got pets or kids, steer clear of velvet, which shows everything, and opt for a more forgiving chenille tweed.)

Con: The furniture is used.

Some people just don’t like the idea of having used furniture, while others may be worried about lingering odors or allergens. Nothing can be done about the feeling of heebie-jeebies, but smells and allergens are not a legitimate concern, says Burke.

The bottom line: 

If you’re not operating on a shoestring budget and are shopping at major furniture retailers, reupholstering is a comparably priced option that offers customization and longevity you can’t get from big brands. If you’re strapped for cash and/or need some furniture in a hurry, save your pennies and wait to invest when you have some lead time.


For this and similar articles, please visit Realtor.com

We’ve all come to accept—and perhaps even expect—some of the enhanced language sellers use in real estate listings.

You know the ones we’re talking about: “Cozy” can be code for small, “charming” likely means old, “efficient” often stands in for small, and “unique” might suggest it’s hard to sell.

Yes, some sellers use language to smooth over a home’s rough spots. But when homeowners veer into actual untruths, it’s a problem.

It’s one thing to hide clutter and spruce up the living room furniture to prepare the home to sell, but it’s another thing entirely when sellers outright fib to potential buyers. Read on to get the lowdown on how white lies can torpedo a sale.

Sellers Beware! 5 White Lies That Could Hurt Your Chances of Selling Your Home for Top Dollar

Fudging the truth or telling a lie?

So what’s the difference between fluffing your home’s resume and a bona fide lie?

“Any white lie that misrepresents the condition of the home, neighborhood safety, or selling timeline can have serious consequences,” says Jennifer Spinelli, a real estate agent and the founder/owner of Niche Home Buyer in Albuquerque, NM. “Buyers are looking for honesty and transparency, so avoid any attempt to manipulate or deceive them.”

And depending on the severity of the lie, buyers might seek legal action against the seller.

“Buyers could sue the seller for misrepresentation and breach of contract,” says Martin Boonzaayer, a real estate agent in Phoenix.

To help you stay out of hot water (and sell your home), we’ve rounded up the top five white lies homeowners might be tempted to tell.

1. The house hasn’t been on the market that long

Sellers pretending their home just hit the market (when it’s been sitting for weeks) is probably one of the most common untruths told during the selling process.

Sellers tell this not-so-white lie hoping buyers won’t think something is wrong with the house if it’s been on the market for a while. Or sometimes, sellers want to create a sense of urgency so a buyer will make an offer on the home.

“The truth will eventually come out,” says Spinelli. “And no one likes being deceived.”

So seller’s beware—it’s pretty easy for a buyer’s real estate agent to look at your property’s history on the multiple listing service to determine the listing date. And if the home has been removed and relisted, that will also show up.

2. We ‘just’ installed the HVAC/roof/plumbing

Another typical white lie sellers tell is about recent upgrades that were actually made years ago.

But any fudging a seller does about the HVAC, roof, or plumbing will eventually come out during the home inspection.

“It’s a terrible idea not to disclose everything you know about your home, because it can lead to a buyer walking away from the deal if they discover the issue during an inspection,” says Diana Rodgers, a real estate agent with Keller Williams in Philadelphia.

3. This is a great neighborhood

A seller might be tempted to tell a white lie about the amenities in an area or how safe the neighborhood is. But neighborhood safety is also one of the easiest things potential buyers can find out on their own.

Buyers can research online and find out the local crime rate to determine the safety of a neighborhood. And they can also visit the local police department and request public records like police reports for the area.

“While it’s important to highlight positive attributes of the area, exaggerating or fabricating details can misrepresent what a potential buyer is getting into,” Spinelli says. “This could cause them to abandon the sale completely.”

4. The neighbors are all wonderful

A seller fibbing about their next-door neighbors might seem like a tiny white lie. But, again, when the truth comes out, it can spell bad news.

Michael Winkler, a real estate agent and co-founder of Sell Home Today, had a potential buyer who drove by a house they were interested in at night. The seller had said the neighborhood was quiet. But there was a loud party raging next door to the house for sale.

The buyer ended up looking for another property.

“A seller should never lie about disruptive neighbors,” says Winkler.

5. We’ve never had a mold problem

State laws vary on whether sellers must disclose the presence of water damage or mold.

Yet, since mold can lead to serious health issues, the ethical thing for all sellers to do is be upfront about it—even if there is no legal requirement to do so.

Failing to do so could open the seller to potential liability lawsuits.

Deni Suplee, a real estate agent with Long and Foster in Doylestown, PA, experienced firsthand a problem with a seller not disclosing the presence of mold.

Suplee and her husband bought a house that passed a home inspection. But five months later, dark spots appeared in the bathroom.

“The owners covered up the mold instead of doing remediation,” says Suplee. “So we were able to force a complete fix. This included mold cleanup, repainting, and the addition of a bathroom exhaust fan. Guess who had to pay the price for all of this? The sellers!”


For this and related articles, please visit Realtor.com

Imagine attending an open house and stepping into a newly remodeled master bathroom complete with brand-new Carrara marble tiling and a luxurious free-standing tub. Home improvements like this are enough to make potential home buyers fall in love, and it may even motivate you to make an offer on the spot.

But what may seem like a dream perk at an open house can turn into an expensive nightmare if there’s no permit paper trail and the home improvements were done without the proper authorizations. Why? Because, depending on where you are in the buying process, unpermitted work could leave you (yes, you) on the hook for way more than you bargained for.

Want to save yourself from this predicament? Read on for everything you need to know about buying a home with work done without a permit.

Buying a House Remodeled Without a Permit? Here’s What You’re on the Hook For

How do you know if work was done without a permit?

“All sellers have to give buyers something called a property disclosure,” says Andrew Hillman, a broker at Hillman Real Estate, in Boston. “This will list information about what the current owners have done to the property during ownership, including work done without a permit.”

As an extra precaution, you can also cross-check with your local building department to see if the owners pulled permits. Many municipalities, such as New York City, have the status of permits online. Otherwise, you can call or visit the local buildings department for information. Remember, building codes and permit requirements vary with every city and town.

What is your responsibility as the home buyer?

The last thing you want to do as a home buyer is get your own hands dirty with sourcing permits or paying fees. But your responsibility in the matter all depends on where you are in the closing process. If you haven’t signed the purchase agreement yet, the seller can be held accountable for obtaining and closing out permits. But that’s easier said than done. It could take weeks or even months to close out permits.

Your best bet is to put language in the contract before signing stating that the seller has to take care of pulling a permit and having the local building inspector sign off on a certificate of occupancy before closing.

“Your attorney can draft the amendment to the contract for you,” says Beth Jaworski of Shorewest Realtors, in Wauwatosa, WI.

But once the contract is signed, the buyer assumes all responsibility for work done without permits.

“Buying a home without performing due diligence is as irresponsible as the homeowner who doesn’t pull permits,” says Hillman.

Still, all hope is not lost if your contract is already signed. There may be contingencies that can halt the transaction and give you some leverage.

How your appraiser and home inspector can help

One of the main contingencies all contracts have is the inspection period. A professional home inspection can identify unpermitted construction, work not completed to code, and other potential surprises before you commit to buy the property.

“The inspector can also check with the local permitting department to see what permits have been obtained,” says Brad English, a real estate professional with First Team Real Estate, in San Clemente, CA.

Your appraiser will help. “When I do a walk-through of a dwelling, I ask about the legality of a deck, living space, or an extra bathroom not found on the property record card,” says Ginna Currie, a New York state general appraiser at C.T. Appraisals.

Depending on the language in your contract, you have the right to terminate the transaction if you are not satisfied with the results of your home inspection or appraisal.

What’s the worst that can happen?

The worst-case scenario: Your city can “fine you for having unpermitted work, force you to remove the improvements, and you’ll have to start the process over to have the work done legally,” says Currie.

Keep in mind pulling a permit can cost hundreds of dollars. And having the work brought to code by a contractor will be an additional expense. But if you don’t pull permits during this transaction, the issue can arise again if you choose to sell your home later on.

“If the unpermitted work isn’t allowed at all, the city inspectors can make the homeowner tear down or remove the renovation or addition,” says Hillman. And if the inspectors don’t make the homeowner tear something out, you can at least expect a tax assessment for any improvements.


For this and similar articles, please visit Realtor.com

You’ve probably already told several white lies this week. Yes, really. When someone asks how you are, do you always mean it when you answer with, “Doing well”? Stretching the truth here and there is pretty standard.

But when it comes to applying for a mortgage, you’re required to be 100% truthful about the nitty-gritty details of your personal finances, work history, credit score, and more. And if you stretch the truth, even by a little, you could land in hot water.

The consequences of telling seemingly harmless lies during the mortgage application process are serious. Worst-case scenario: You’ll be charged with mortgage fraud, and the penalty can include a maximum sentence of 30 years and a $1 million fine.

Shockingly, though, plenty of people do it. Last year, an estimated 1 in 131 applications contained some form of fraud, according to the 2022 Mortgage Fraud Report from Core Logic.

So which fibs are most commonly floated during the mortgage-application process? Some of the fictions below may seem innocuous, but the consequences of getting caught aren’t worth it.

7 White Lies That Can Destroy Your Homebuying Chances

1. Claiming you’ll live in the home but are planning to rent it out

If you’re buying a house to use as a short- or long-term rental, you need to spill the beans.

“A white lie I see a lot is when buyers aren’t honest about how they plan to use the property,” says Jessica Lane, president of Greenwich Luxe LTD in Greenwich, CT. “You cannot buy a home as an end user and rent it out as an income property. This is a little white lie that can amount to mortgage fraud and can be a felonious crime, punishable by jail time and/or major fines.”

2. Insisting you pay your bills on time, despite those late fees

If you’ve missed a credit card payment or mailed in a few loan bills late, you need to share that information. Same goes for a less-than-ideal credit score. And yes, these two issues often go hand in hand.

“One of the most common and often overlooked things I see with buyers is when they omit their history of late payments and credit score,” says Josh Wilson, a licensed real estate agent and co-founder of That Florida Life. “Mortgage lenders generally require buyers to provide a history of their credit scores. Omitting this information can immediately disqualify buyers from getting a loan, especially if their credit score is lower than the benchmark minimum.”

Wilson says that explaining the situation honestly won’t necessarily disqualify you from getting a mortgage—but getting caught in a lie definitely will.

3. Fudging the source of funds for a down payment

A lot of homebuyers—especially younger ones—receive help from family to foot the bill. And chances are, that will be fine, as long as you’re honest about where the money is coming from.

“You can’t skip over that,” says Matthew Roberts, chief operating officer of My Choice Financial. “Whether it’s a gift or you borrowed it and plan to pay it back, the source must be disclosed.”

4. Omitting debts, even the small ones

It can be tempting to gloss over car loans or student-loan debt on a mortgage application. But don’t give into temptation!

“Total debt load does affect the size of the loan you get,” says Bridget Blonde, a licensed real estate agent for Nest Realty. “But trying to hide some of your debt will affect getting the mortgage in the end—and when the cover-up is discovered, you’ll be in a whole bunch of other trouble.”

5. Describing your puppy as a medium-sized dog

If you’re buying a condo or an apartment, or moving into a housing community with rules around pets, don’t try to slide your oversized Rover in under the radar.

“If you have multiple pets or large pets, you need to be upfront about this,” says Gerard Splendore, a broker at Coldwell Banker Warburg in New York City.

Chances are, the board will find out eventually. Then you’ll have to choose between yourself or the pet. Or you might just be kicked out for the fib in the first place.

6. Mischaracterizing your financial past

If you have a spotty financial history—even if it’s a decade or more in the past—you need to ‘fess up.

“I once had a buyer not disclose a bankruptcy from years ago,” says Splendore. “That lie turned into a big issue, even though their partner had a great credit score, they had no problems with debt, and had an income of more than $500,000.”

7. Fibbing about employment history and job prospects

Claiming to be employed when you’re not is an obvious no-go, but even seriously interviewing for another job must be discussed.

“If a buyer switches employers at any point in the buying process, they may lose their loan,” says Kristen Jurevich, a broker associate at Intero Real Estate Services in Hollister, CA. “Human resources will be contacted, and if they say that the person is no longer with the company, they’ll lose the loan.”

The most important part of a mortgage lender’s job is investigating every fact you share and assessing whether there are any reasons to doubt you or your assets.


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Like all things in life, setting up your new home is more manageable if you break it down into steps and prioritize what needs to get done right away, and what can (or even should) wait. For advice on both, we talked to Shira Gill, home organizing expert and author of Minimalista, professional organizer Ioana Galdau of Westchester, New York’s Sleek Living NY, and Jennifer Verruto, founder and CEO of San Diego’s Blythe Interiors.

The Best Advice for Setting Up Your New Home? Pace Yourself. Here’s How.

Do: Start with a deep clean.

Before unpacking, before painting, before anything really, the first thing you should do is clean your home. After all, putting clean clothes in a dirty closet doesn’t make any sense.

Unpacking is a process, but a good strategy can make it feel manageable.

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Do: Unpack everything (but not everywhere or all at once).

To tame the chaos as you unpack, Galdau recommends putting boxes in the room where they belong, then going through five to 10 boxes a day. Once you open a box, empty it completely.

Do: Declutter (again).

Even if you thought you were ruthless with your decluttering at your old place, you may find you still have too much stuff. Gill’s advice? “Honor the boundaries of the space you have, not the space you want.” For example: How many pairs of shoes will actually fit in the entry closet? That’s the number that should be there. Everything else should be donated or put in the trash.

Junk drawers are out; general stores are in. Make your catchall space a functional home for the essentials you’re constantly searching for.

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Do: Reimagine the “junk drawer.”

Gill recommends being intentional about the space that holds all those essential things one inevitably needs in life: scissors, tape, highlighters, Sharpies. She designates a “general store” spot in her home—this might be a drawer, a closet shelf, or something else—so that she (and everyone else she lives with) knows where to find them when needed.

Do: Draft a design budget and a timeline.

Now that you’ve got your space neat and tidy, you’re ready to think about decorating your new space. Even if your home is a 10, chances are you’ll want to invest some time and money into making it even more perfect. Maybe there’s a room you want to paint or a sofa that is made for your new den. Whatever the case, Verruto recommends establishing some financial guardrails and a timeline.

Don’t: Install window treatments.

You may think of window treatments as one of the first decorating tasks to tick off your to-do list, but Jaret Nichols, co-owner and founder of TBES, warns against rushing for a number of reasons. A big one is the cost. “It’s an expensive investment,” he says, which means, “it’s a good idea to make sure it’s a valuable investment.”

You’ll also get a better sense of what you need from your window treatments after living in your home for a while. “Live in the house and see how the light is coming in during the day; see if there is an issue with privacy,” he advises. “Is there a nice view that you want to be able to see? You might find out that you have a heat problem or there’s a bedroom you want a little darker.”

For a temporary solution while you’re figuring out what you need, he recommends paper blinds.

Don’t: Buy new appliances.

This is especially true if you think there might be a kitchen renovation of any kind in your future. “If you want to remodel and hire a designer and you’ve already pre-designed the space, they’re stuck designing around your new appliance,” says Verruto.

Focus on the interior of your home first.

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Don’t: Make cosmetic exterior improvements.

Verruto advises waiting on exterior projects such as landscaping or painting until after you’ve settled in. “It’s more important to make the inside feel like home than out,” she says.


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The day I planned to close on an acre lot where I hoped to build a brand-new house, my real estate agent turned up a deed restriction that limited the number of garages I could construct. I had intended to build three, but according to the deed, I could have only two.

This seems like the ultimate First World problem, I know. But it was the first deed restriction I, as a new developer, had encountered, and I didn’t understand why this rule had come out of nowhere to block my progress on land I was paying good money for.

As it turned out, the restriction was more than 50 years old and created by a neighborhood association that had long ago ceased to exist—and therefore couldn’t enforce it. I ended up closing the deal, but I had to consider all the dreamy-eyed buyers who longed to build their own home and were thwarted by rules—archaic or not.

And here’s the rub: Deed restrictions and deed-restricted communities affect more than would-be home builders. Homeowners can be restricted by anything from the number of bedrooms in a house to the types of vehicles in the driveway. It’s best to know about deed restrictions before you buy, so let’s take a look at what they’re all about.

What Is a Deed-Restricted Community? What to Know Before You Buy or Build a Home

First, find out if your property has any deed restrictions

First, let’s back up for a second. Deed restrictions, often called “restrictive covenants” (especially in the context of homeowners associations), are contained in a deed and limit how a piece of real estate can be used, and what can be built on it. Most often, developers include restrictions not covered by community zoning regulations. The property doesn’t even have to be part of an HOA to be limited by some rule a developer included in the deed decades ago—as I discovered.

Deed restrictions turn up during title searches and a careful reading of the current deed. They “run with the land,” which means that anyone who buys the property in future is supposed to abide by the restrictions, whether they were attached to the property 20 years ago when the neighborhood was developed, or 100 years ago when the land was a farm.

“When building a new home, or even doing an addition to your current home, it’s vital that you check your deed for any building restrictions,” says Bill Golden, an Atlanta-area Realtor®.

Deed restrictions aren’t HOA rules

Don’t confuse deed restrictions with regular HOA rules. A HOA can decide one day that no home in the association can string up Christmas lights. But if all the homeowners in the community object, the HOA board can easily change its mind.

Deed restrictions, on the other hand, are difficult to change. Usually it takes a judicial ruling, not just community disagreement, to invalidate them. In the worst of all worlds, a property’s use can be limited by both deed and HOA restrictions.

Types of deed restrictions run the gamut

And deed restrictions aren’t just about construction. Zachary D. Schorr, a Los Angeles real estate attorney, says he’s seen restrictions that require exterior paint colors to match colors found in nature, or even restrict rental properties.

“With the rise of VRBO and Airbnb, we are even seeing restrictions on nightly rentals and the minimum rental period for a house,” Schorr says.

Today, HOAs and developers create regulations that, in theory, provide the greatest good for the greatest number of people in the community. Some common deed restrictions can cover the following:

  • Number of bedrooms (an attempt to avoid overwhelming sewer and septic tank capacity)
  • Building height, width, and siting (to prevent obstructing views, especially in scenic and vacation areas)
  • Number of vehicles allowed in the driveway or in front of the house, intended to keep the neighborhood from looking cluttered and junky
  • Type of vehicles allowed in the driveway, like motor homes, boats, and motorcycles
  • Type of fencing allowed (e.g., chain-link fences or very high privacy fences might be restricted)
  • Type and number of trees you can remove from the property (some regulations protect a percentage of trees on a lot, which may have been put in place years ago by neighboring farmers and still are attached to the land)
  • Style, color, and construction materials used in a renovation (an attempt to limit architectural variations in a neighborhood)
  • Pools, sheds, detached workshops, and extra garages can be forbidden or restricted
  • Use of your home as a business (to prevent a lot of strangers from coming and going)
  • Types of animals allowed on the property (many deeds restrict livestock, like chickens and goats; some also restrict breeds and number of pets)

Who enforces deed restrictions?

Prior to World War II, homeowners often wrote deed covenants that restricted the race and religion of future owners. However, in 1948, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that covenants that impose racial or religious restrictions cannot be enforced.

Today, some title companies that research restrictions don’t even include these restrictive covenants in their reports, fearing that potential buyers might misconstrue the fact that they exist for their enforceability, leaving the title company open to discrimination charges.

Many covenants, in fact, exist in limbo, because no ruling body still exists to enforce them—just like the garage covenant on the deed to my property. Your real estate agent and title company can help you determine if the ruling body still exists or is actively enforcing the rules, an important piece of information to know before you buy.

How to change a deed restriction

Modifying a restrictive covenant isn’t easy, but it’s not impossible, either.

First, go to your county courthouse and obtain a copy of the covenant, which often contains provisions for changing it or, if you’re lucky, an expiration date. Sometimes, you can seek special permission from the governing body, like your HOA. Sometimes you can violate the covenant if you obtain permission from your neighbors.

In some states, laws allow property owners to modify covenants if they follow certain steps.

If all else fails, you may be able to persuade a judge to invalidate a covenant if it’s vague, impractical, illegal, or has been widely disregarded by neighbors.

What if you can’t change the restriction?

This is why we advise that you investigate all restrictions before buying. You may not want the hassle of begging enforcing groups or judges to allow you to build a work shed or park your boat in the driveway.

It’s often easier to adjust your expectations, or simply look at other real estate, when deed restrictions prevent you from building your dream home.


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