Window treatments—a catchall term for shades, blinds, shutters, and more—are one of the most impactful ways to make your new home feel cozier and more lived in. But once you start to explore your options (there are a lot) it can be easy to get overwhelmed. That’s why we asked experts to share the most important things you should know about window treatments, from the basics to the looks that are trending right now. Here’s what they had to say:

5 Essential Things You Need to Know About Window Treatments

Window treatments are for so much more than privacy.

One of the first things you probably think of when you think of window treatments is privacy. And yes, window treatments can provide excellent privacy, says Adam Skalman, Vice President of Sales Development at The Shade Store. But they also offer a variety of other benefits. Solar shades, for example, can prevent glare and block UV rays, while blackout shades can create a more healthful sleep environment. Throughout your home, cellular shades can help moderate temperature, keeping heat in during the winter and keeping it out in the summer. And, of course, they can be decorative.

“Window coverings are truly the jewelry of a room and frame the views beyond,” says interior designer Martyn Lawrence Bullard. “I feel they finish a room and add warmth and comfort to a space.”

When considering your options, Skalman says you should take two main things into consideration: “what you would like your window treatments to accomplish in a space and how you would like them to look.”

Most window treatments can be motorized (and they work with your smart-home tech, too). 

Smart shades are the new thing in window treatments, according to Jaret Nichols, co-owner and founder of TBES, which specializes in smart-home systems. These days nearly all of his customers want at least one motorized shade, and while most of his clients are creating custom-made window treatments, he says nearly all window treatments can be motorized. All you really need is a motor.

Popular brands include Lutron, HunterDouglas, Somfy, Control4, and Savant. Regardless of which brand of motor you choose or whether you have a professionally installed system or a DIY system, Nichols says almost all products have integration with Alexa, Google Home, and Apple HomeKit.

Window treatments can cost a lot of money, but they can also save you money.

When it comes to budget, there are plenty of affordable options out there: Cellular shades, wood, faux wood, or metal blinds, and roller shades are some of the most wallet-friendly options out there, according to Skalman. On the other end of the spectrum, there is no ceiling; the sky is really the limit, especially once you start adding in features like upholstered valances and automation. Want the option to have your shades be sheer or blackout? Considering blinds and drapes? Have to have Roman shades in heathered linen? It’s going to cost you.

The flip side is that window treatments can save you money by keeping heat out (and air conditioning costs down) or by keeping heat in (and reducing heating bills). The Department of Energy recommends looking for products with the Attachments Energy Rating Council (AERC) Energy Improvement rating to maximize savings, while Nichols suggests programming your system to lower the shades when it reaches a certain temperature. He also says that you can find specific fabrics, like KOOLBLACK, that reduce heat absorption and help your home stay cooler.

Colorful, patterned window treatments are having a moment. 

Some fabrics and styles will always be in vogue. Linen, for one, continues to be the most popular choice in materials, according to Bullard: “Its durability, natural beauty, and texture is always a winner.” Interior designer Cortney Novogratz adds that a textured white sheer on a French rod is her favorite classic look.”It is a style that is complementary to so many decors,” she says.

But if you’re looking to make a statement with your window treatments, the time to do so is now. “Both color and pattern are back in a big way,” says Bullard. “Patterns, like vines and palm leaves, are very strong motifs that transcend time and place, whilst green seems to be a very strong color in the design world currently. Florals and even chintz designs are back and making bold statements, especially in blinds.” As for linen? “Plain linen is giving way to textures and exotic weaves like the Moroccan basket weave and tone-on-tone embroidery.”

Window treatments should make use of the full window space.

Both Bullard and Novogratz agree that the biggest mistake people make with window treatments is not taking advantage of the full window space, including the space above the window. “You can create an illusion that your ceilings are higher, but you need to utilize every part of the window and above to be successful,” Novogratz says. Bullard adds that seeing a gap between the bottom of the floor and the hemline of your drape is definite no. “Either touch the floor or allow a small cuff of fabric to gather at the floor.”

 

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Spring is the quintessential time for cleaning and sprucing up your space. For many homeowners, that ritual includes refreshing tired walls with new paint.

But choosing a paint color you won’t regret can be tricky. You might be torn between two (or five!) shades. Or maybe you’re just looking for something a bit out of the norm.

The following paint colors are certainly bold, but we promise this: Stepping away from ho-hum white and gray hues is guaranteed to enliven your living space.

If you’re planning to remake your walls this spring, these are the au courant colors to consider. Our experts were happy to weigh in on the paint trends they’re seeing right now.

Rich reds

Living room painted in Raspberry Blush, Benjamin Moore’s 2023 color of the year

(Benjamin Moore)

Red will make a big statement this spring.

“Red is a bold color that adds drama and sophistication to any space,” says Matt Teifke, founder and CEO of Teifke Real Estate in Austin, TX.

Several design companies, such as Pantone and Benjamin Moore, chose red-tinged hues for their 2023 colors of the year. For example, Benjamin Moore’s pick—Raspberry Blush—is a vibrant, red-orange color.

“People are ready to bring color back into the home, taking a step outside their color comfort zones,” said Andrea Magno, color marketing and development director at Benjamin Moore, in a press release. “Raspberry Blush [delivers] delight and personality while transforming rooms for incredible results.”

However, if you’re not ready to paint a whole room this color, Kendal Cavalieri, MBA, AKBD, founder and principal designer at Kendal Cavalieri Design in Buffalo, NY, recommends starting small.

“Consider using it as an accent in furniture, pillows, draperies, and wallpaper,” she suggests.

Teal

Living room painted in Vardo by Farrow & Ball

(Farrow & Ball)

Devin Shaffer, lead interior designer at Decorilla, shares that teal is a rich, versatile color that plays nicely with many design styles.

“It has a classic quality that makes it a timeless choice,” he says. “It can also add a pop of modern flair when paired with the right colors and textures.”

However, it’s essential to remember that the appearance of teal may vary depending on the lighting.

“Teal can look more blue in natural light and more green in artificial light,” Shaffer says.

Because of this, he recommends testing the color on a small area before painting a whole room.

One of our top teal picks is Vardo from Farrow & Ball—a sumptuous, lively color that works particularly well with reds or dark greys.

Vining Ivy, a blue-green jewel tone, was selected by Glidden Paint by PPG as their 2023 color of the year.

Muted blues

Kitchen wall painted in Smoky Azurite by Sherwin-Williams

(Sherwin-Williams)

Soft, muted blues will be a go-to for those looking to create a relaxing atmosphere, says Graham Gordon, senior designer marketplace manager at Block Renovation.

“This calming color is a nod to the sky and water,” he says.

Give new life to your slab-front kitchen cabinets by painting them Smoky Azurite by Sherwin-Williams, a cool denim hue with yellow-gray undertones.

If you’re looking for the perfect shade of light blue, Philippa Radon, a color and design specialist from C2 Paint, recommends C2’s Thermal.

“This cool and sophisticated hue of blue delivers an airy, soothing veil of color that delights the eye,” Radon says.

This versatile shade works well with light-bleached woods and deeper, mid-tone blues.

Jewel tones

Wall painted in Shamrock by Sherwin-Williams

(Sherwin-Williams)

You can also expect to see Art Deco-inspired paint palettes pop up.

“Art Deco color schemes often center on moody, saturated tones,” says Diana Viera, managing partner at ITALKRAFT in Miami.

She recommends opting for jewel tones, such as cobalt blue, emerald, and pure purple—rich shades that are proven to lend a sophisticated look.

“When you contrast these colors with dark gray or black paint, it establishes a striking, elegant atmosphere,” explains Viera.

Sherwin-Williams’ Shamrock is a classic, emerald paint choice. And Purple Mist by Valspar is a cool, light purple that celebrates the beauty of an amethyst stone.

Unexpected color pairings

Not only will we see unexpected paint colors this spring—but also unexpected color pairings, says Gena Kirk, vice president of Corporate Design Studio at KB Home.

“As we continue to personalize our spaces to make them a reflection of our personal styles, some old rules go out the window,” she says.

Surprising pairings may include browns with warmer blue tones or mushroom-inspired grays placed alongside magentas.

Eli Pasternak, a real estate professional and founder of Liberty House Buying Group, echoes this sentiment and says he’s observed increasingly frequent mashups of warm and cool tones in a single space.

“For example, homeowners might use a deep green to cool a warm brown or a vibrant pop of purple against a tan,” Pasternak notes.

However, he cautions that you should be mindful when mixing colors.

“Never let the color tone in a room be so muddled that you can’t tell if it’s warm or cool,” Pasternak says. “Remember, one temperature ought to predominate over the other.”

 

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Many first-time homebuyers might presume they’re better off going used rather than new—in other words, purchasing a pre-existing property rather than pricey new construction.

While it’s true that brand-new homes often come with a heftier price tag upfront, these properties can actually end up being a good—even great—deal for first-time buyers.

“It is true that new-construction homes, on average, are 10% to 15% higher in sales price than resale homes, but that doesn’t mean that they are less affordable,” says Bob Seeman, vice president of sales for New Homes at Realtor.com. “Simply put, total homeownership costs are more than a monthly mortgage payment alone.”

Here’s why first-time homebuyers shouldn’t rule out new construction, and how these opportunities can be a better deal than many might think.

Low inventory means first-time buyers should explore all options

Unless you want to be waiting a long time to buy your first home, you should consider new-construction homes.

(Getty Images)

In a housing market that’s still dealing with extremely limited inventory, the reality is first-time homebuyers can’t afford to dismiss this option.

According to the National Association of Realtors®, the inventory of existing homes on the market in December 2022 was at an all-time low of 910,000. That was a year-over-year decrease of 18%, and marks 31 straight months of declines in available homes.

“The housing shortage will get worse over the next year—we simply don’t have enough supply,” says John Hunt, chief analyst for MarketNsight.

For example, Hunt says, to get back to “normal” and meet demand, Atlanta alone would need 66,000 additional homes on the market over the next 12 months.

Compounding the problem is that homeowners who might normally sell aren’t doing so because they’re reluctant to buy a new home—and get a new mortgage—when interest rates are so high.

Translation: Unless you want to be waiting a long time to buy your first home, you should consider new-construction homes because there just aren’t enough homes of any kind to satisfy the current demand.

Builders can help first-time buyers with better financing

Many builders can offer financing through their company’s mortgage arm or through a lender affiliate and also have programs to help reduce the amount of cash a buyer needs to close on a home.

(Getty Images)

Let’s face it, price matters. That’s true whether you’re buying your first home or third luxury vacation property. The difference with a new-construction purchase, however, is you might be able to save money through builder incentives.

These promotions—meant to attract buyers to a certain development project—frequently come in the form of financing help, and this is what can make a new-construction home purchase workable for a first-time buyer.

“What many first-time buyers most need are cash to close and monthly payments that they can afford,” says Seeman. “Because many builders can offer financing through their company’s mortgage arm or through a lender affiliate, they have programs to help reduce the amount of cash a buyer needs to close on a home.”

A reduction in the initial cash outlay can make all the difference for a first-time homebuyer. Many builders are also currently offering much lower mortgage rates through their lenders as well in order to attract first-time buyers who would otherwise be priced out of the market.

“We’re seeing builders get creative with financing—offering rates as low as 4.99% to 5.99% right now, which is lower than what you’ll see for existing homes,” says Alex Toth, director of homebuilder partnerships at Opendoor.

Since mortgage rates spiked in October to over 7% for a 30-year fixed-rate loan for the first time in 20 years, this could indeed determine if a first-time buyer can qualify for a home or not.

Another benefit of working with a builder’s lender is that the lender is usually well-versed in FHA and VA loan options. These low or no-down payment loans might also be a huge benefit to first-time homebuyers trying to secure a mortgage if they qualify.

New-construction homes can save you money on utilities

New homes are built to the latest building codes which set more stringent insulation and energy standards.

(Getty Images)

Total homeownership costs include more than just a down payment and mortgage, but many first-time buyers forget that part of the equation.

“Even if a new home is 10% more than a resale home, new homes are built to the latest building codes, which set more stringent insulation and energy standards,” says Seeman. This means new homes might cost a buyer less in heating and cooling costs.

“Those efficiencies should help offset a slightly higher monthly mortgage payment,” adds Seeman.

Bill Samuel, owner of Blue Ladder Development, agrees.

“In most cases, a new-construction home will be considerably more energy-efficient than an older home since it was built to a higher standard of energy building code, so you’ll likely have lower utility expenses than an older, similar sized home,” Samuel explains.

However, Janice Glessner, the online sales and marketing manager for S&A Homes, suggests first-time homebuyers look for a builder that can offer proof of the home’s energy efficiency through a Home Energy Rating Score.

“This can translate to hundreds of dollars, even thousands, saved every year depending on where and how you live,” says Glessner.

New-construction homes often require fewer repairs—and come with warranties

Another way that a first-time homebuyer might save money by purchasing a new-construction home is through far lower maintenance expenses over the years since all of the components of the house are new.

“Older homes have hidden costs,” says Glessner. “For example, having to replace an HVAC system in an old home can cost thousands.”

But if something does go wrong with your new home, not only are there likely some manufacturer warranties in place, but many builders also include additional home warranties, which can save a first-time buyer from unforeseen expenses.

“Builder warranties usually come with multiple components,” explains Seeman. “For instance, a warranty may cover major appliances and systems—for example, plumbing, electrical—for two years, and structural defects for 10.”

Customization is cheaper than renovation

One of the biggest benefits of purchasing a new-construction home is the potential to customize the home to meet specific tastes.

(Getty Images)

“Cost aside, a lot of first-time homebuyers are of the millennial generation, who are used to and expect customization in almost everything they do–and a new-construction home provides that,” says Toth. “From integrated smart home systems and technology to customizable finishes, today’s builders are giving first-time homebuyers a wealth of options.”

Numerous experts also agree that one of the biggest benefits of purchasing a new-construction home is the potential to customize the home to meet specific tastes. And this is also a financially savvy move since renovating a resale home can be costlier than new construction.

“Oftentimes a builder will have access to favorable pricing from its subcontractors and suppliers,” says Samuel. “So it is typically much more economical for them to perform upgrades during the construction process versus buying a property as is and hiring a retail contractor to make the requested improvements.

 

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Finding a new place to plant roots isn’t solely about the price tag. Your real estate search is likely to include a range of options: condo vs. townhouse, condo vs. house, house vs. townhouse and more. As you stack different types of properties against each other, it’s important to think about not only what you can afford, but also your preferences and expectations as a homeowner or renter.

“When it comes to deciding which style of home to focus their search on, buyers should consider their budget and lifestyle, as well as their desired amount of involvement in home maintenance,” says John Ameralis, a licensed associate broker and leader of The Ameralis Team at Compass in New York City.

Maybe you’re a first-time homebuyer, or an empty nester looking to downsize. No matter where you are in life, consider this your primer on what type of housing will best fit your needs.

A comparison of four housing types

Condo vs. house vs. townhouse vs. apartment

Living Space Cost Ownership Best for
Condo Down payment, monthly mortgage payment and HOA fees Unit First-time homebuyers, downsizers
House Down payment and monthly mortgage payment, maintenance House and property it sits on Couples, families
Townhouse Down payment, monthly mortgage payment and HOA fees Unit and property it sits on Those who want more space than a condo, but not all the responsibilities of a house
Apartment Security deposit and monthly rent No ownership Those who want flexibility to relocate or are saving for a down payment

Condos

condominium (or condo for short) is a salable unit within a larger community, which could be a high-rise building. Condos can be a good option for anyone who wants to keep home maintenance to a minimum, including first-time homebuyers, singles, older homeowners or people who travel frequently. Condos are similar to apartments, in that both are likely to share multiple walls with neighbors. There is one major point of distinction, however: You own a condo, and you rent an apartment.

Of all the home types on the market for sale, condos “require the least amount of maintenance. You only need to maintain the ‘walls in,’” Ameralis explains. So, if the roof is leaking or the carpet in the lobby needs to be replaced, that’s not your responsibility — the condo association handles those duties. In addition, some condo buildings have doormen and offer an extra level of security, particularly in large cities.

Of course, you and all your neighbors pay HOA or condo fees to cover the costs. Condo association rules can be highly restrictive, as well. You may not be able to customize your unit the way you want, and you may be prohibited from renting it out to others.

Those who value privacy might find a condo’s communal areas less than ideal, too. “It is important to keep in mind that in condos, even the most exclusive ones, you are still sharing elevators and other amenities,” explains Judy Zeder, a Realtor with the Jills Zeder Group at Coldwell Banker in Miami.

Pros

  • Limited maintenance
  • Extra security

Cons

  • Monthly fees
  • Communal spaces

Houses

When most people talk about buying a house, they mean purchasing a single-family home, which is a standalone structure on a foundation. It doesn’t share walls or common spaces as condos, apartments and townhomes do, and it may also come with a lot of land to enjoy.

Two of the biggest points in favor of buying a house are privacy and the freedom to decorate and maintain it however you like. (Within the frame of local ordinances and/or HOA guidelines, of course.) “Owning your own house gives you more freedom to live how you want to versus condos, which have bylaws that govern what you can and cannot do,” Ameralis says.

Single-family homes are usually the most spacious housing option, and you can expect a higher price tag to reflect that. The average single-family home sold for $58,000 more than a condo in 2020, according to data from real estate brokerage Redfin.

In addition to paying more up front, you’ll likely pay more down the road, too. Owning a house means you’ll be responsible for all of the lawn care, maintenance and repairs, which can be considerably more cumbersome than you’d have with another type of home.

Here are more house vs. condo differences.

Pros

  • Freedom over aesthetic choices
  • More space, both outdoors and inside

Cons

  • Higher price
  • All maintenance is your responsibility

Townhouses

Townhouses can be much cheaper to buy than a single-family home. Some even have small yards or patios. However, most modern townhouses have fairly small footprints and shared exterior walls with neighboring homes.

Townhouses also usually come with HOA rules and fees. When it comes to the ability to make your own choices, you might have a bit more autonomy than condo owners, but your decisions still typically have to be HOA-approved.

“The older a townhouse development, the higher the maintenance fees tend to be, because the communal parts of the property — whether it’s the grounds, a pool, roofs or siding — need to be repaired over time,” explains Andrea Webb, a Senior Real Estate Advisor with Keller Williams Realty in Montclair, New Jersey.

For homebuyers debating between a house or a condo, a townhouse might be the best of both worlds. You get more space, often in multiple levels (like a single-family house), with less exterior maintenance (like a condo).

Pros

  • Lower price
  • More space

Cons

  • Monthly fees
  • Shared walls

Apartments

An apartment is any residence inside of a residential building where the individual units are rented, not sold. In bigger cities, these can be condos that are being individually rented. Apartment buildings often have shared amenities for tenants, like a gym or a pool.

A big factor in determining if a condo or apartment is right for you comes down to money: Do you have enough cash to put toward a down payment? You can use Bankrate’s rent vs. buy calculator to get a good idea of which is a better financial move for you.

There are other questions to consider, too. How long do you plan to live there? Are you likely to have a job or lifestyle change that would require you to move? If you plan to move within five years, it could be better to rent than buy for now.

Renting an apartment provides a place to live minus most of the responsibilities that come with homeownership. However, as with condos, you’re limited in the changes you can make (think paint colors or fixtures), and the landlord can dictate things like whether to allow pets. Also, you won’t build any equity, nor get the tax perks that come with homeownership.

Here are more condo vs. apartment differences.

Pros

  • Flexibility to move
  • No maintenance

Cons

  • No equity or ownership benefits
  • Must abide by landlord’s rules

Bottom line

To help you choose among a condo, home, townhouse or apartment, consider your savings account, how much space you need, how long you plan to live there and how much money you can comfortably put toward repairs, maintenance and remodeling costs.

Visit open houses and search online listings to see what’s on the market in your price range. Consider working with a real estate agent to help you narrow your choices, and do in-depth research so you have a solid understanding of the process. If you aren’t sure of where you want to land just yet, follow Bankrate’s Housing Heat Index to get a sense of where you might be able to find a good deal today.

 

For this and related articles, please visit Bankrate.com

Before you start your house-hunting journey, you’ll need to know your budget. The most accurate way to do that is by getting pre-approved for a mortgage.

How long does it take to get a mortgage pre-approval? To answer that, you’ll need to learn a bit more about the pre-approval process and what to expect when buying a home.

Pre-Qualification vs. Pre-Approval

If you’ve already been pre-qualified, do you also need to be pre-approved for a mortgage?

While it’s not a strict necessity, you’ll need to go through the pre-approval process if you want to get the most accurate mortgage estimate. Some borrowers use  “pre-approval” and “pre-qualification” interchangeably, but there are distinct difference

Pre-qualification is a quick, rough estimate of your purchasing budget. A mortgage lender can pre-qualify you after a soft credit pull, and the whole process can be completed within minutes based on the information you tell your Loan Officer..

The pre-approval process is more in-depth and involves a thorough examination of your finances, as well as a hard credit pull and documentation to support your income and assets. In return, you’ll receive a document known as a “pre-approval letter,” which will outline your purchase price and the type and terms of your mortgage loan that you qualify for..

What Information Is Needed to Get Pre-Approval for a Mortgage?

In order to receive a pre-approval letter, you’ll need to provide your lender with a full financial history. This typically includes:

  • Social Security number
  • Pay stubs
  • Driver’s license
  • Proof of income
  • Bank statements
  • W-2 statements
  • Tax returns
  • Employment verification
  • Proof of assets

Most significantly, your lender will do a hard credit pull (credit report pulled through 3 bureau’s: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) to evaluate your credit history. The higher your credit score, the lower your interest rate is likely to be. A low credit score doesn’t prevent you from being pre-approved, though it can affect the type of home loan you qualify for or interest rate.

Self-Employed Mortgage Approval

If you’re a business owner, freelancer, or private contractor, you may have found it challenging to get mortgage pre-approval since you lack the formal documents to prove your income, assets, and other financial data. But self-employed individuals can still receive approval for a mortgage loan if they supply certain documentation, such as:

  • Form 1099
  • Recent tax returns
  • Bank statements
  • Profit and loss statements
  • Company balance sheets

As always, self-employed borrowers can expect a hard credit pull to assess their credit history prior to receiving final approval.

What’s in a Pre-Approval Letter for a Mortgage?

Once you’re approved, you’ll receive a document known as a “pre-approval letter.” This document includes information about you and the nature and terms of your loan. It commonly includes:

  • Your name (and the names of any other borrowers)
  • The total purchase price you’re approved for
  • The type of mortgage and the term
  • Your approved interest rate
  • The property address (or area you’re looking to buy a home)
  • Your down payment amount
  • The expiration date of the pre-approval letter

Keep in mind that a pre-approval letter doesn’t guarantee the terms it contains. Purchase price, loan type, and interest rate are all subject to final approval, which depends on your financial information remaining unchanged between pre-approval and final purchase.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Mortgage Pre-Approval Letter?

Depending on your lender and the complexity of your finances, you should be able to receive pre-approval within the same business day. But for some, the process can take up to a week.

How Can I Get Pre-Approved Faster?

You can speed up the pre-approval process by gathering your documents ahead of time. While your lender will still need time to review your mortgage application and financial data, having your data organized well in advance will simplify the process.

If you’re thinking about buying a home, start saving your pay stubs and bank statements now — you’ll need them when you go through the pre-approval process.

How Long Does Pre-Approval Last?

Pre-approval has an expiration date, usually 60 to 90 days after receiving the letter. Your pre-approval letter will likely specify the expiration date, after which you’ll need to apply for pre-approval again to continue house hunting.

Does Pre-Approval Hurt My Credit Score?

Because the pre-approval process involves a hard credit check, it can lower your credit score by a few points. This effect can be multiplied if you fill out multiple mortgage applications within the same period.

However, the impact on your credit score is relatively small and is unlikely to alter the interest rate you’re approved for. And after roughly two years, hard credit inquiries will disappear from your credit report.

With that being said, because the pre-approval process affects your credit, you should only seek pre-approval when you’re ready to get serious about buying a home.

Before that, you can seek pre-qualification to give yourself a ballpark estimate of your purchase budget, then seek pre-approval once you’re ready.

Why Should You Get Pre-Approved for a Mortgage

There’s no law that says you have to get pre-approved for a mortgage before you start shopping for a home, but a pre-approval letter will make the process much easier. Here’s how.

Your Offer Carries More Weight

Many sellers are unwilling to consider an offer unless you have pre-approval. Without a pre-approval letter, there’s a greater likelihood that you’ll fail to obtain financing, causing the deal to fall through. And in a seller’s market, a pre-approval letter from a mortgage lender can help you stand out from other competing buyers.

Know What You Can Afford

One of the most important benefits of mortgage pre-approval is that you’ll be able to zero in on your price range. Doing so will allow you to proceed through the home-hunting process with realistic expectations about what you can afford and find a property that matches your needs and budget.

Easier to Look for Homes

An approval letter can also give you greater confidence when searching for the right home.

Even in an unstable housing market, you’ll know exactly what to expect in terms of down payment, interest rate, and more. Additionally, your pre-approval letter will usually specify the geographic area you’re approved to shop in, which can help you narrow down your list of potential properties.

Lock in Your Mortgage Rate

Some lenders offer a mortgage interest rate lock, which lets you tell your loan originator you want to lock in your interest rate. With a mortgage interest rate lock in place, your interest rate will remain unchanged as long as you close your loan on time.

CrossCountry Mortgage FastTrack Credit Approval

How long does it take to get a mortgage pre-approval? With some lenders, the process can take as long as a week. But time is of the essence — the faster you can obtain financing, the more competitive you’ll be in sellers’ eyes.

That’s why CrossCountry Mortgage offers a FastTrack Credit Approval program. Our clients have closed their home loans within seven days of signing the original purchase contract. That kind of speed matters to sellers, who are generally more willing to work with buyers who offer a quick turnaround.

For more information, contact CrossCountry Mortgage today.

Lessons from the field that will save you time, money, and stress along your co-buying journey.

Most co-buyers are excited about the adventure of buying and owning a home together. At some point, many feel overwhelmed. This is normal. Buying a home is complicated, full stop. Compared to a married couple or a singleton, co-buyers have more research and planning to do. In fact, co-buyers face greater complexity across every aspect of their purchase and homeownership.

Here’s where many co-buyers who come to us say they’re having difficulties:

  • Navigating the process
  • Finding the right professionals
  • Managing market competition
  • Setting up co-ownership

While the preferences, circumstances, and goals vary from one situation to the next, there are common patterns and friction points.

In this post, we’ll look at how these obstacles hold co-buyers back. Understanding where things get tricky makes it easier to navigate around roadblocks.

⛔ Mistake #1: Searching for homes before getting approved for a mortgage

It may sound obvious. Still, nearly half of buyers start the home search before sorting out financing. This approach to home shopping is inefficient and ineffective.

First off, it’s shopping without a budget. According to a recent HarrisX survey, nearly 70% of first-time buyers misunderstood their budget.

Second, it generally results in disappointment. In competitive west coast markets, the most desirable homes are currently on the market for less than 14 days. Say you do find the perfect home online. By the time you and your co-buyer(s) have:

  1. worked through the important details of your joint purchase
  2. agreed on key elements of co-ownership
  3. secured financing

…there’s a good chance the home has already sold.

The costs of this approach can mount quickly, particularly in an environment where home prices are rising.

⛔ Mistake #2: Not getting clear about participation and contributions

It’s essential to get clear on who will be involved, how each party will participate, and what each party is bringing to the table.

→ Who will be an owner?

→ Who will be an occupant?

→ How much is each party contributing in cash up front?

→ How much will each party contribute to total monthly housing expenses?

→ What is each party’s credit situation?

These are just a few of the decisions that need to be ironed out—the earlier, the better. What you decide will impact every aspect of the purchase process and co-ownership. For starters, mortgage pre-approval will require clarity on these issues.

⛔ Mistake #3: Sticking to unrealistic expectations

It’s human to want more than we can afford, particularly when it comes to our home. A recent nationwide survey of first-time homebuyers found that 40% had to compromise on budget, features, amenities, or location. In competitive metros—where home prices are two to four times higher than the national average—most buyers have to compromise to get an offer accepted.

Managing expectations against reality is tough(er) for co-buyers. When compromise is required to successfully purchase a home, everyone must agree on what’s acceptable and what isn’t. Co-buyers may or may not have the flexibility or appetite to increase their budget, widen the geographic search area, or give up certain features. The list goes on. Ultimately, you need to weigh the desire to become a homeowner with the concessions required to get there.

⛔ Mistake #4: Selecting the wrong professionals

If you’re not a soccer fan, you’d probably struggle to put together a U.S. Olympic soccer team that could take home gold. Selecting the best professionals for your joint home purchase isn’t so different. Co-buyers depend on guidance from a range of pros who have the right skills, experience, and approach. There’s a vast spectrum of talent and different types of expertise. To achieve a successful outcome, the players have to work together.

It’s understandable why co-buyers struggle to select the right professionals in the wild. A typical home purchase involves 11 or more parties. Finding the right real estate agent, lender, attorney, and others—all with relevant experience in co-buying and co-ownership—would be a tall order. But having the right professional guidance is critical to a smooth purchase and the success of your co-ownership arrangement.

⛔ Mistake #5: Starting the journey without a roadmap (DIY approach)

Co-buying involves a multitude of moving parts before, during, and after the purchase. The decisions on any given issue—the target home, financial considerations, structuring co-ownership, day-to-day running of the home, etc.—have implications for other aspects of the co-buying journey.

Without a roadmap, navigating the co-buying process and decision points is (at best) inefficient. More unsavory outcomes include: not being ready in time to submit an offer, making multiple offers without success, the purchase falling through during closing, incurring unanticipated costs, incurring financial loss after the purchase, and experiencing disagreements during co-ownership.

“If you invest the time earlier to create structure and process around communication, planning, and goal setting, you can prevent missteps before they occur.”

-Christine Tsai

⛔ Mistake #6: Forgetting to plan your exit strategy

It’s said that there are two certainties in life: death and taxes. One way or another, the co-ownership period will eventually conclude through sale, buyout, or transfer of ownership. What an exit looks like depends on how co-ownership is structured.

When a married couple owns a home and divorces, the process of dissolving jointly held assets is defined. Still, 71% of divorcees wish they had more guidance splitting assets (Fidelity 2019). Co-owners who are not married to one another do not benefit from established legal frameworks or structures. Even amicable conclusions to co-ownership can have unintended consequences and costs in the absence of a defined exit strategy.

 

For this and other articles, please visit CoBuy Blog

Every new year, countless vows are made to declutter—which explains the enduring popularity of Marie Kondo.

This tidying expert “sparked joy” around the world with the release of her bestselling book in 2010, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.” Since then, she’s starred in her own Netflix series, “Sparking Joy With Marie Kondo,” recently released yet another tome, “Kurashi at Home,” and has even encouraged us to add to our pile of possessions by launching her own line of organizational products.

Yet in the 12 years since she first encouraged household purging, Kondo’s approach to organization has evolved, expanding beyond streamlining our closets and cabinets into a whole way of life. Curious to hear what’s changed, we asked Kondo about her own New Year’s resolutions, the biggest mistakes people still make when decluttering, and much more that will help you live your best life at home in 2023 and beyond.

Marie Kondo practices category-based decluttering.
Marie Kondo practices category-based decluttering.

(KonMari Media, Inc.)

Clearing out clutter is a common New Year’s resolution. What’s your best advice for achieving that goal?

My best advice for those looking to initiate a New Year’s organization project is to think clearly about what intentions you want to set. Ask yourself what your ideal life looks like, and envision what exactly you want to be surrounded by.

When you work through this step of the decluttering process, you are really clarifying why you want to tidy and envisioning your best life.

I feel the same goes for setting a resolution; be honest with yourself and what you want out of the new year.

Do you make New Year’s resolutions and if so, what are they? What are you looking forward to in 2023 that will spark joy in your own life?

Winter months are the ideal time to go inward and plan for the year ahead. Journaling is how I sort my thoughts and tidy my mind. I use the opportunity to identify what I am looking forward to reorganizing, whether it be related to my personal or professional life.

To me, a fresh notebook can go a long way when it comes to getting your life in order, especially around the new year. I often will refer to what I’ve written to check back with my original resolutions and track how I’ve progressed, or if the original intention has evolved since working toward it.

The new year is a time of rich tradition in Japan, with family and friends gathering for days to celebrate the occasion. From writing intentions to eating symbolic foods, this time of year is great for resolution setting.

In 2023, I am setting the resolution to use something new. Replacing something that you often use, like a toothbrush, towels, or socks, can infuse fresh energy into our life and make the new year one that truly sparks joy.

What are the most common mistakes you see clients make when decluttering in the new year?

In the KonMari Method, we tidy by category and not by location. When clients tidy a single closet or room at a time, they’re repeating the same work in many locations. That is why my method believes in category-based decluttering, so you can tackle all of one category or type of item at once—beginning with clothes, then books, moving over to papers, then komono [miscellaneous items], and finally sentimental items.

Tidying in this specific order is not only efficient, but you’ll also gain a deeper understanding of the method and of yourself as you move along.

Marie Kondo journals to set organizational intentions.
Kondo journals to set organizational intentions.

(KonMari Media, Inc.)

Gifts are an inevitable part of the holiday season. … What’s your strategy for giving presents that don’t contribute to clutter, and how do you deal with receiving items that don’t spark joy?

When giving gifts, I urge people to follow these three steps: Think about the recipient’s lifestyle, imagine them using the gift, and let go of the end results.

When you think intentionally about what your friend or family member may need in their life, the process becomes a little simpler. It doesn’t have to spark joy for you, but it obviously should for them!

Lastly, I urge people to give gifts without expectations or an agenda, which can help both the giver and the receiver from feeling undue pressure or like they’ve fallen short.

My recommendation for making the most of gifts you’ve received is to try it out at least once.

The ability to feel what truly excites you is only gained through experience. Be adventurous and welcome things that are different. After trying the gift out, if it still doesn’t feel like a fit, thank it for the joy it brought when you first received it and let go with gratitude. There are many ways to mindfully discard an unused gift.

Marie Kondo with her new book, “Kurashi at Home.”
Kondo with her new book, “Kurashi at Home”

(KonMari Media, Inc.)

How is your new book an evolution or next step from your prior books on organizing and living your best life?

Writing “Kurashi at Home” gave me the opportunity to show readers how [to] tidy all aspects of your life, not just your home. Mindful rituals have always been very important to me, and while everyone’s daily rituals will look a little different, explore the ones that encourage you to achieve your best life.

The book goes into more depth about the steps to take to achieve Kurashi. It also offers inspiration throughout via wonderful imagery and my own personal rituals that I hope will help readers better understand how to surround themselves with joy.

How do you approach organizing your digital life?

When it comes to your computer, phone, or tablet files, identifying what exactly sparks joy in this capacity is that your files are organized and tidy, so you can find what you need when you need it.

Digital clutter can be more tedious and time-consuming to sort through, but once it’s done, you’ll feel relief each time you log on. Don’t be afraid to archive and store a majority of your data. If you aren’t using it every day or needing it readily available, it can definitely live elsewhere!

Now that she's a mother, Marie Kondo embraces the occasional mess.
Now that she’s a mother, Kondo embraces the occasional mess.

(KonMari Media, Inc.)

How has your organizing method evolved since having children?

Since having children, [my] method has not changed but my daily mindset definitely has. It will always stay true to its six basic principles, but since the founding of the method, I’ve become a mother and faced many business changes as well.

Before my children were born, it was easy to completely devote myself to tidying and the growth of the method and business. Now, since having children and learning to juggle my priorities, I have become less critical of messes in my life both literally and figuratively. I try to keep my life in order as much as possible, but with juggling a family and a brand, these days I am OK with—and embrace—the occasional mess.

When one family member—spouse or kids—is messy and other is not, how should they approach finding an organizational system that works for them both?

It can be hard to find middle ground when a family member or roommate has a different living style than you. A few tips I recommend to create a functional, shared organizational system is to find a time that works for everyone, including kids, and commit to tidying and organizing together.

I also recommend dividing and conquering. Maybe your roommate or partner doesn’t mind vacuuming and sweeping, and you prefer to do the dishes and fold laundry—lean into each other’s tidying preferences.

Lastly, if you’re looking to incorporate your children more, I always tell parents to make organizing fun for children. Teach your children that everything has a home so when cleanup time comes around, it can be made into more of a fun game where children will want to tuck their toys into designated spots.

All in all, open dialogue and understanding of preferences can help you develop an organization system where everyone under one roof is held accountable!

Marie Kondo gives a home to every item in her house.
Kondo gives a home to every item in her house.

(KonMari Media, Inc.)

Working from home is now common. What’s the best way to keep spaces that serve dual purposes—work and personal—organized?

It is vital to keep dual-functioning, work-from-home spaces organized so when you are working from that area, you can have a productive and efficient day.

Go through your desk drawers and toss out old receipts, corral loose change, and recycle paper items that are no longer needed.

Consolidate same-category items versus having them loosely scattered in multiple areas. Office supplies, paperwork, books, and other items should all have a specific home within your desk area.

I also recommend making a clear separation of your professional and personal paperwork. Items like [a] bamboo file divider and organizer or letter and papers tray are a great addition to any desktop to keep important paperwork separate and neat.

You’ve been practicing and teaching your method for years. What new lessons have you learned, and what still surprises you about organization?

Since my first book, I’ve learned countless lessons both professionally and personally. Since meeting my husband and growing our family, I’ve learned how special raising children has been for both of us and helped us lead more fulfilled lives.

With the publishing of my latest book, “Kurashi at Home,” the opportunity to teach people how to apply the method to other areas of their life has been an exciting lesson that I’ve been developing for a while.

Organization is truly an act of self-care, and I am able to practice that craft each day, which is what makes my job feel so special. Tidying my surroundings and practicing a tidy lifestyle is constantly teaching me new lessons, and I cannot wait to continue to explore it further.

 

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Home improvements are—or should be—as much about the future value of your home as they are about improving your quality of life today.

You might think installing a lap pool–size bathtub in your bathroom is a great idea. But before sinking thousands of dollars into any home project, you might want to consider whether that $10,000 will deliver a return on investment, or ROI, when it’s time to sell your home.

ROI, simply put, can be calculated by adding up all of the costs associated with a home project, from materials to labor, and then factoring in the return the investment yields when it’s time to sell your house. You subtract the initial outlay of the investment from the final value.

Upgrades like radiant floor heating and a steam shower will transform your bathroom into a haven of luxury. But if your main goal is to invest in a renovation that’s smart for you and your wallet, you probably want to prioritize other projects.

Which bathroom improvements will deliver the best and worst ROI? Read on.

1. Fixing wear and tear: Good ROI

If there is cracked tile, moldy caulk, or any visible water damage, this might lead buyers to think that you’re deferring maintenance issues in general.

(Getty Images)

One of the most rewarding ways to improve your bathroom is to repair those little things that show the room’s wear and tear.

“When a buyer is assessing a home, bathrooms are one of the key talking points. If there is cracked tile, moldy caulk, or any visible water damage, this may trigger buyers to think that you’re deferring maintenance issues in general,” says Samantha Black, an interior designer at California’s Freemodel.

In addition to fixing your bathroom’s blemishes, you should consider replacing outdated or worn components.

“This can be as little as replacing or painting the vanity, bringing in new hardware, a new mirror, or updating your paint job,” Black says. “You can also install a new showerhead and toilet, all for as little as $2,000. A general face-lift and update will deliver a tenfold ROI.”

2. Adding a window: Good ROI

One under-the-radar project with excellent ROI is to add a window to the bathroom.

“I’ve found that adding a window delivers incredible ROI,” says Vivian Sahba, founder of the interior design studio Boucle San Francisco. “When we redid our granny flat, the window we added to the bathroom’s exterior wall was small—about 30 by 18 inches—but it transformed the tight dimensions of the space, flooding it with light and a sense of depth that was previously lacking.”

It was, Sahba explains, a part of a broad $40,000 renovation, but she says the window helped “justify a threefold valuation of the home when it came time to sell.”

3. Upgrading the flooring: Good ROI

The flooring can make or break the look of a bathroom. No matter how fancy your vanity, shower, and toilet are, a cracked or tired floor will automatically age and downgrade everything else.

“Flooring upgrades top the list in terms of ROI,” says Black. “Whether you are replacing tired linoleum or refreshing with a whole new tile scheme, having a clean, new floor in a room where cleanliness really matters is paramount.”

Flooring upgrades in your home can yield over 100% ROI, but be sure to choose your materials wisely to match your market and home. Don’t splurge for a marble mosaic if a more reasonably priced porcelain tile will do the job.

Depending on materials, you can expect to pay between $1.82 and $2.39 per square foot on bathroom flooring.

4. Replacing the vanity top: Good ROI

If your bathroom features a building-grade or decades-old vanity, it’s time to trade up.

“Most standard vanities from big-box stores look great at first, but the cheap laminate wears out quickly,” says Jeff Miller, owner of McHenry Roofing in Baltimore. “A high-ROI project is to swap out a cheap vanity top with a countertop made of high-quality material.”

The cost to replace a vanity top—taking into account materials and labor costs—is about $2,300 on average.

5. Updating the toilet: Good ROI

The first flushing toilet was invented in 1592, and the technology just keeps getting better. These days, if you install a smart toilet, you can reduce your water usage from the fixture by up to 30%. And seeing as the toilet accounts for almost 30% of all water used indoors in an average home, that means a lot less water waste and lighter utility bills, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

“Investing in a new toilet offers great ROI,” says John Linden, an interior designer from Los Angeles with Mirror Coop. “They’ve come a long way in recent years, with more efficient models that use less water. Replacing an old toilet with a new one can bring in a return of up to 60%.”

6. Adding a whirlpool tub: Bad ROI

Ah, the siren song of the whirlpool tub. Many have heard it and succumbed, but don’t make the same mistake yourself.

“Whirlpool Jacuzzi tubs are expensive and provide one of the worst ROIs for a bathroom upgrade,” says Miller. “These tubs are costly to repair and have finicky components that always seem to give out at just the wrong time. More complexity means a higher potential for leaks and other issues, and this can be a major turnoff for potential homebuyers.

7. Adding luxury upgrades: Bad ROI

Investing in very specific, pricey amenities is typically a risky move if you’re trying to add value—even if they look and sound aspirational.

“Luxury additions almost never add the value you think they will and almost always have a very low ROI,” says Black. “Curbless showers, in-floor heating, steam showers, and even bidet washlets are some of the most frequently installed luxury upgrades I see.”

Generally, Black says, these updates cost several thousand dollars and rarely, if ever, recoup the costs.

“Often, they’re a turnoff for potential buyers,” Black says.

 

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You finally found your new home (yay!) and you’re ready to start prepping for the big move. One of the best things you can do to make the whole process of putting everything you own into boxes feel significantly less onerous is simple (and free): Ruthlessly declutter before you start packing your things.

Not sure where to start? We checked in with Shira Gill, home organizing expert and author of Minimalista, and Ioana Galdau, professional organizer and founder of Sleek Living NY, for their best advice. (Warning: some of their suggestions may make you feel as if they’re spying on you.)

8 Things You Should Get Rid of Before Moving Into Your New Home, According to Organizing Experts

Below, the key clutter creators you should attack before moving day:

Things you haven’t used in a year

“If you haven’t used it in the past year, don’t bring that to the new house,” says Galdau. “It’s bad energy and a loss of time.” Gill agrees: “If it’s coated in dust, that’s a good indication you don’t use it very often.”

Things that are broken or incomplete

Pretty obvious, but: Don’t move the broken thing just to store it in your new home and not fix it again. Also, sister to broken things: items with missing parts, incomplete puzzles and games—anything rendered useless because it’s not all there.

Mystery items

Another category of stuff ripe for tossing, according to Gill: “the ‘what if?’ things. Random keys, cords, remotes.” (Either Gill has been to my house or these are common things to cling to.)

Anything you’d need to put in storage

Galdau is adamant: Do not waste your money or time on storage space. “You end up never going back for it,” she says. “Just sell it. Give it to somebody.”

Unfinished projects

The macrame, the DIY lava lamp, the opened seed-starting kit. Let them go, says Gill.

Things you got for free

Those hotel toiletries, corporate swag bags, and other freebies? You won’t miss them.

Duplicates

Both organizers say people often have more than enough of everything from tea and reusable bags to holiday decorations and office supplies. The same goes for wrapping paper, vases, dishware, and glassware. “One of the big categories I see is an insane number of bowls and platters for people who seldom entertain,” says Gill.

Sentimental items

These are some of the hardest things to part with. Galdau suggests that each member of the household should have one manageable-sized box for their most cherished memorabilia. Got kids? Galdau recommends one box for each child’s baby clothes, art projects, birthday cards, etc. (Good luck.)

What to do with all that junk

They say that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure–but it’s also true that sometimes junk is just junk. Below, a few resources for re-homing, reselling, or just getting rid of the stuff you don’t want anymore.

  • Charities like Goodwill and The Salvation Army are a great starting point.
  • Your local Buy Nothing Group is another great resource, especially for anything Goodwill won’t take.
  • For clothing, try Thredup or For Day’s Take Back Bag and earn credit toward someone else’s thrifted items.

 

For this and similar articles, please visit Realtor.com

Tough financial times call for creative financing. Historically high mortgage rates and a cooling housing market have caused buyers and sellers to look for novel ways to stretch their dollar and seal a deal.

Buyers, scared by lofty mortgage rates that threaten to add hundreds of dollars to their monthly housing bill, are seeking out mortgage buy-downs as a way to trim some of that excess. Sellers, desperate to unload homes, are often willing to help out.

Simply put, a mortgage rate buy-down is upfront money, often paid by the home seller (builders and lenders can also front the cost), to “buy down” the interest rate on the buyer’s loan for a period of time. This temporarily eases a buyer’s mortgage woes.

But just how practical are mortgage buy-downs for homebuyers?

We reached out to real estate experts for insight into the benefits and drawbacks of a mortgage buy-down. Here’s what they had to say.

The Pros and Cons of a Mortgage Buy-Down for Homebuyers, According to Loan Experts

Pro: Lower monthly bills

There are different types of buy-downs, but all of them lower your interest rate.

“While these funds are temporary, they immediately lower buyers’ monthly payments, making homeownership more affordable in the short term,” says Shri Ganeshram, who works with real estate investors on financing as CEO of Awning.com in San Francisco.

Con: When the buy-down expires, regular payments may come as a shock

One of the biggest downsides of a buy-down is that it’s temporary. A buy-down will offer homebuyers a lower monthly mortgage payment for a set period of time, typically one to three years. But once the buy-down expires, your bills could become a lot heftier.

“When the initial buy-down period ends, your interest rate may reset to a higher rate than before,” says Shaun Martin, owner and CEO of We Buy Houses in Denver.

If this does happen, it may defeat the purpose of the buy-down and potentially lead to more costly payments down the line. It’s a risk that buyers have to consider and should discuss with their lender.

Pro: They can provide cash flow for repairs or furniture

As every homeowner knows, moving into a new home—no matter how perfect it might seem initially, and no matter how many furnishings you already have on hand—often entails a series of unexpected fixes and furniture buys. The break you’ll get on your mortgage bill courtesy of a buy-down can leave you with some cash on hand.

“Buy-downs can be especially valuable for investors or owners who need to make repairs to the home or furnish it,” Ganeshram points out.

Con: Not all lenders offer buy-downs, and terms vary

Buy-downs are not offered universally, and when they are offered, one lender’s terms might differ considerably from another’s in the same region.

“Not all lenders will offer mortgage buy-downs, so you may need to shop around,” Martin says. “Additionally, the terms of buy-downs can vary from lender to lender, so it is important to do your research and find one that best meets your needs.”

Weighing the pros and cons

Whether or not a buy-down is right for you might also depend on your timeline and how long you plan to live in the home.

“If you’re planning on selling your home in a few years, a buy-down is a smart move,” says Emmanuel Guignard, senior mortgage broker and director of Loanscope. “But if you don’t have a steady income and are planning on living in the house long term, you may struggle to make the repayments.”

When making this momentous decision, it’s important to consult professionals.

“My advice is to consult a mortgage professional and understand the terms and conditions of the buy-down, including the buy-down period, the increase in payments after the period, and the costs associated with the buy-down before making a decision,” Ganeshram says. “Ask them to do a calculation of how much you would save on the monthly payment in total versus how much they are asking you to commit upfront.”

Buy now, pay later is great in theory. But in practice, it depends on how much you need to pay back and whether you have the cash to cover it.

 

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