5 Home Upgrades That Won’t Add Enough Value

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Gardens, Tuscany, Italy


If you’re hoping to increase your home’s value (above and beyond the cost of an upgrade itself), you should know that the upgrades you value might not be valuable to potential buyers. In fact, you may never recoup the full cost of some home improvements, and the primary offenders might surprise you!

What five common upgrades have the worst return on investment? Find out below.

1. Adding a pool

Pools can be hit-or-miss when it comes to added value. If you’re selling Orlando, FL, real estate, or you live in a warm climate where people are inclined to use a pool year-round, you’re more likely to get a favorable response from buyers. Often, however, the return is not enough to pay for the pool itself. Don’t forget that you’ll need to operate and maintain the pool, and this comes with a sizable extra cost. Ultimately, your likelihood of recouping the money you spent on maintenance, in addition to the installation costs, is pretty low.

Plus, adding a pool to your home could be a major turnoff to some buyers. Buyers with small children may be concerned about safety risks, those looking for a low-maintenance yard won’t want to deal with the hassle and upkeep of cleaning a pool, and buyers who are on a tight budget may not have the extra cash to deal with the added expense.

2. Highly custom design decisions

Your idea of a dream kitchen probably isn’t everyone’s idea of a dream kitchen. Unless you plan to stay in your house for many years to come, think twice about renovations that are too personalized. If you install a kitchen backsplash, you might recoup the cost, because the difference between “no backsplash” and “backsplash” is noticeable. But the specific type of tile might not matter to buyers – they could be just as happy with a simple ceramic tile as they would with an expensive Calacatta marble tile. Similarly, choosing a beveled countertop edge that’s complex and ornate, rather than a basic beveled edge, can turn off buyers whose tastes don’t align with yours.

In fact, these custom features may wind up costing you come listing time, as many buyers will factor in the money they’ll need to spend to change the house to suit their own tastes. If you’re going to upgrade your kitchen just for the sake of selling, stick with neutral, builder-grade design decisions.

3. Room conversions

Buyers will be looking to check certain boxes when they tour your home: For example, three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a garage. Getting rid of these expected spaces (or altering them into something unusual) may harm your resale value. Every bedroom, for instance, is coveted space that can bump your listing up into the next bracket. Buyers are looking for a two-bedroom, three-bedroom, or four-or-more-bedroom home.

You might not need that extra room and dream of knocking down a wall to create a giant walk-in closet. Or perhaps you’d prefer to cover the walls with soundproof foam and convert it into a recording studio. Unfortunately, most buyers won’t share your interests. Instead, they prefer an extra bedroom for children or guests.

4. Incremental square footage gains

Sizable square footage gains – like finishing your dingy basement so it becomes an additional livable floor – can be a boon in buyers’ minds. But tiny, incremental changes may not give you much of a return on your investment. You may love your new sunroom, but it’s not likely to drastically increase your home’s overall value. Adding square footage in a way that doesn’t flow well with the floor plan can also backfire. Sure, a half bath on the first floor would be useful, but if buyers have to pass through the kitchen to get to it, the half bath loses some of its appeal.

5. Overimproving

No one wants to buy a mega-mansion on a block full of split-levels. When your upgrades feel overboard for your neighborhood, you alienate buyers on two fronts: Buyers who are drawn to your neighborhood won’t be able to afford your home, and buyers who can afford a home of your caliber will prefer to be in a ritzier area. Keep the “base level” of your neighborhood in mind. Tour some open houses on your block to see how your neighbors’ kitchens look before you invest a small fortune in granite countertops and high-end fixtures. Being a little nicer than the other houses around you can be a selling point, but being vastly more luxurious is not.

Pursue these home upgrades for your own enjoyment – but don’t trick yourself into believing you’ll more than recoup the cost of the improvement in the form of a much larger listing price when it comes time to sell. You can always opt for the projects that have the best potential to draw in a buyer instead!

What home upgrades have been worth it for you? Share your tips in the comments below!


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10 Ways to Turn Off Potential Buyers

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Couple looking at properties in window of real estate agency


As a result of our obsession with photos and visuals today, buyers make judgments of homes immediately. Many will do their first showing online, so if your photos turn them off, they may never step foot inside.

Sellers need to go to great lengths to get buyers in the door. If you can get them through, it’s the small (and often obvious) things that will keep them interested. Though it’s a home first and foremost, it’s also an investment. Make changes or alterations that could turn off a buyer, and you risk hurting your bottom line.

If you’re planning to put your house on the market, be aware of these 10 ways you might be turning off potential buyers.

1. Turn your garage into a family room.

A family room might be attractive – to a family. But if you’ve sacrificed the garage, the trade-off might be a turn-off, especially to people who don’t have kids or who live in dense urban areas, where parking is at a premium. Even in the suburbs, most people want a covered, secure place to park their cars.

Don’t forget that a garage often doubles as a storage location, housing everything from the lawn mower to excess paper towels and cleansers. If you go glam with your garage, you’re likely to force a buyer to look elsewhere.

2. Convert a bedroom into a something other than a bedroom.

Aside from location and price, one of the first things a buyer searches for is number of bedrooms. Why? Because it’s a fundamental requirement.

You might think that having a wine cellar with built-in refrigerators in your home will make it attractive to potential buyers because it was attractive to you. But that’s not for everyone.

And while it’s true many people work from home today, at least part of the time, that doesn’t mean they want a dedicated home office -especially one with built-in desks or bookcases they can’t easily remove.

If you must convert a bedroom into something else, make sure you can readily change it back into a bedroom when you go to sell. If you have lots of bedrooms, buyers might be more forgiving. But a buyer who needs three might see your custom home office as a turn-off.

3. Lay down carpet over hardwood floors.

People like hardwood floors. They look cleaner, add a design element, don’t show dirt as much, and consumers with allergies prefer them over carpets.

If you have gleaming hardwood floors, show them off. Let the buyer decide if she wants to cover them. It’s easier for her to purchase new carpeting of her choosing than to get past yours.

4. Install over-the-top light fixtures.

A beautiful chandelier can enliven a dining room. But it can also turn off buyers who prefer simpler, less ornate fixtures.

Did you fall in love with a dark light fixture on a trip to Casablanca? That’s great. And you should use it for your enjoyment. But when it comes time to sell, replace it with something more neutral.

Modern interior decoration beautiful ceiling lights

Remember, you want to appeal to the masses when your home is for sale. You want to stand out from a crowded field of sellers – but in the right way.

5. Turn your kid’s room into a miniature theme park.

Little kids have big imaginations. They tend to love Disney characters, spaceships, and superheroes, and their parents are often all-too-willing to turn their rooms into fantasy caves.

A 2 years old boy playing in his bedroom

But the more you transform a child’s bedroom into something resembling a Disneyland ride, the more you’ll turn off most potential buyers. Your buyer might have teenage children, and see the removal of wallpaper, paint or little-kid-inspired light fixtures as too much work.

If you can, neutralize the kids’ rooms before you go on the market.

6. Add an above-ground pool.

Does it get hot in the summer where you live? Wish you had a backyard pool, but can’t afford to have a “real” pool installed? Then you might be tempted to buy and set up an above-ground pool.


For most buyers, though, these pools are an eyesore. Also, an above-ground pool can leave a big dead spot of grass in your backyard – another eyesore.

If you must have it, consider dismantling it before going on the market. Of course, be sure you’re ready to sell, or you may be stuck without a place to cool off next summer.

7. Leave dirty dishes in the sink.

A kitchen full of dirty dishes is not only unattractive, but it sends a strong message to the buyer: You don’t care about your home.

my flatmate hasn't done the chores again

If your home is for sale, buyers will be coming through, and you want to impress them. Would you keep dirty dishes in the sink for your in-laws or overnight guests? Probably not. Then why wouldn’t you clean up for your potential customers?

Putting your home up for sale, and keeping it on the market, is work. If you aren’t cut out for it, considering holding off until you are ready to clean up for the buyers.

8. Make buyers take off their shoes.

This turn-off cuts both ways. As an agent, I always hated being forced to take my shoes off in someone else’s home – until I sold my own. Not only was it inconvenient, but also I wasn’t happy about my socks picking up a random homeowner’s dirt, pet hair and dust.

Once I became a first-time home seller, and one with sparkling new hardwood floors and carpet, I couldn’t imagine allowing dirt and grime from the outside world to dirty up my floors.
So what’s the compromise? Shoe covers from a medical supply store. Buyers and agents don’t need to take off their shoes, simply cover them. It’s a win-win for everyone.

9. Smoke cigarettes in every room of your house – for years.

Over time, the smell of smoke permeates your home. It gets into the carpet, drapes, wood paneling – just about everywhere. And that’s a big turn-off to most buyers today.

Getting rid of the smoke smell can be a big job. If you’re a smoker, seriously consider how you want to present your home to the market. For a long-term smoke-filled home, it means painting, removing carpets, and doing lots of deep cleaning. If you don’t do it, don’t expect to get top dollar for your home.

10. Keep Fido’s bed and toys front and center.

Family pets bring a lot of joy to the home. But they don’t always bring the same joy to a prospective buyer. Dog’s toys, filled with saliva, dirt and dust, can be a sore both for the eyes and the nose.

Dog and Toys

If you have a pet, put a plan in place to move the food and water bowls as well as the toys and dog’s bed to a better location, like in the garage.

It’s your home – for now

Part of the joy of owning a home is that you can do whatever you want with it, to it, and in it. You should enjoy it. But if you want to sell it quickly and for top dollar down the road, try to picture how others might react to any renovations, additions or modifications you make.

The more specific you get – such as turning your kid’s room into a miniature castle – the harder it will be to sell your home later, and the less return on investment you’ll get. When considering changes to your home, always consider resale.


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Chris Hemsworth Trades Malibu for Oz, Leaving a $6.5M Listing in His Dust

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It’s a listing fit for a god – and his young family.

Chris Hemsworth and actress Elsa Pataky have moved with their three young children to his native Australia, leaving their own private Valhalla – a spacious estate in Malibu – in their dust.

The couple is asking $6.5 million for the secluded home they bought from another Aussie, “Crocodile Dundee” star Paul Hogan, in Malibu’s coveted Point Dume neighborhood.

“I know Chris and his brothers very well – I helped Liam find his house in Malibu – and they’re wonderful to work with, salt of the earth,” said listing agent Ryan Davis of the John Aaroe Group’sAaroe Estates.
Point Dume, known by tourists for its rocky promontory along the beach, is popular among locals for its excellent preschool and elementary school, Davis said. It also offers a plaza with a grocery store, coffee shop and other amenities that make the rural scale of Malibu more convenient.

The 6,800-square-foot home, renovated by the crocodile wrangler before People’s Sexist Man Alive and his wife bought it, features a grand gourmet kitchen with soaring ceilings, a fireplace, a giant center island and tons of storage – including exposed shelves for showing off decorative glassware or an otherworldly hammer.

An expansive master suite boasts two walk-in closets, a seating area and a private lanai with mountain and ocean views. Three additional en-suite bedrooms are ideal for children and visiting Australian brothers, plus there’s a guest house, a bonus bedroom, office spaces and a library.


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Want Your Security Deposit Back? Ask These 6 Questions

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close up of male hand packing...


When you’ve just landed a new apartment in Boston, MA, a security deposit is kind of like the pile of work on your desk at 5 p.m. on a Friday. You could push it aside for now, but you’ll still have to deal with it on Monday (or when it’s time to move out). But until that time comes, it’s easy to be distracted with decorating, meeting the neighbors, and celebrating your new place.

However, it’s important to be proactive so you can help ensure you’ll get back every penny you deserve – and you can’t just assume the security deposit will let you “live out the last month,” either. That concept exists only in tenants’ minds and isn’t really a thing (ever) … unless your landlord has agreed to it.

Here are six important questions to ask before you sign the lease that can help save you some dough.

1. Does your landlord want the place returned spotless?

Your landlord might be the white-glove type that meticulously checks for cleanliness, and not just by putting on a white glove and inspecting for dust. They might expect a sparkling-clean oven, microwave, and fridge (and freshly spackled and touched-up walls). Find out by asking your landlord what they expect at move-out time. If you’re a bit of a slob, you might want to pay a cleaning service to scour your place before you move out. That way, you control how much you spend instead of leaving a mess for the landlord to clean … and to charge you for. Don’t leave dilapidated furniture behind. If the landlord has to discard it, expect to pay for any charges incurred.

2. What is normal wear and tear?

If you’ve lived in a place for several years, it won’t look as good as the day you moved in. The carpet will show wear, the paint will fade or show smudges, and there might be small nicks here and there on the walls. These things are just normal wear and tear – stuff that happens over time in any home or apartment. The landlord shouldn’t charge you for that. In other words, the landlord can’t remodel the place on your dime. But if the wear and tear is excessive and outright damage has occurred (wine or vomit stains on the carpet, the unmistakable odor of cat pee, a child’s “artwork” painted directly on the walls, broken doors or holes in walls from who knows what), that’s on you and will come out of your security deposit.

3. What’s the charge for repainting?

Were the walls in your rental just painted, but you already know that you simply cannot live with those “builder beige” tones without losing your mind? You might not have to cover the walls in floor-to-ceiling artwork. If you wish to paint the walls a soothing aqua chiffon or maybe a lovely hyacinth, you first need permission from the landlord. If you get the A-OK, you’ll either need to paint the walls back to beige before you move out or let the landlord take a repainting fee from your security deposit. Unless you know how to prep walls for painting like a pro and can be certain you won’t get paint on trim, baseboards, or anywhere else it shouldn’t be, let your landlord do it. Once you know upfront how much they’ll charge you for the privilege of painting, those beige walls might start to look kind of nice.

4. Who is responsible for lawn maintenance?

Lawn maintenance is a tricky area for renters and a subject that should be spelled out explicitly in the lease. If it isn’t, generally speaking, when you rent a multifamily unit, the landlord is responsible for lawn care. If you rent a single-family home, you are probably responsible for the upkeep of the grounds. But there’s upkeep and then there’s upkeep. What you consider kept up might not be what the landlord has in mind. Find out, for example, how often you need to mow the lawn and whether you need to water it, trim bushes and shrubs, and keep weeds under control. If there is any doubt, maintain the property of the house you’re renting as you would your own house.

If the landlord needs to spend money to get the grounds in the same shape as when you moved in, that will come out of your security deposit. Keep in mind that maintaining is one thing, but making the yard your own is another. Get permission before you plant a flower or vegetable garden, and know that any bushes or trees you plant should stay with the house when you move.

5. What about pets?

Pets can cause damage. Cats might ruin the carpet by using it as a scratching post, and dogs sometimes dig holes in the yard. Landlords know this, which is why some don’t allow pets. The ones who do might charge a pet deposit (if your state allows it). If you paid a pet deposit, the landlord uses it, not the security deposit, to pay for any pet-related damage. If you weren’t charged a separate pet deposit, the landlord can use the security deposit to repair any pet damage.

6. What if something breaks?

If you spot a problem, tell your landlord right away, whether you caused it and need to pay for it through your security deposit or whether the repair is one the landlord pays for. Either way, if you neglect to tell the landlord and said problem later turns into a disaster, you could be on the hook for the excessive damage. For example, if you spot water coming in from a leaky roof, the landlord needs to fix it right away, and they will pay for it. But if you don’t report the dripping water and a mold problem eventually develops, those mold-removal costs could very well be on you.

Bottom line

The closer you can get to having your place look just the way it did when you moved in (take photos!), the more likely you’ll be to get your full security deposit back. But if the landlord does keep some or all of your security deposit, they almost always need to present you with an itemized receipt detailing the reasons. How long landlords have to get this done varies by state, so familiarize yourself with your state’s laws. If you don’t get your security deposit back or a written explanation as to why not, write to your landlord and ask for your security deposit. If that doesn’t work, you may want to take your landlord to small claims court. You’ll probably get your deposit back that way. In some states, landlords must also pay you a penalty fee in such cases.

Do you have a tip for getting back a security deposit? Let us know in the comments!


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Prepare Your Home Now If You Plan to Sell It This Spring

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Home For Sale Sign in Front of New House


Selling a home doesn’t happen overnight. To maximize your sale price, stand out from the competition and sell quickly, your home needs to go on the market in tip-top condition.

You only get one chance to make a good first impression in real estate. Once your home’s listing goes live, the days on market start ticking. In the Internet age, with access to so much information, buyers will punish a seller whose home has been on the market for many months. If you can’t make the effort to get your home in it’s best condition, hold off on listing it.

Prepping the home rarely happens in one weekend. It takes time and thoughtful planning. If you intend to sell your home this spring, here are a few steps you need to take now.


It may seem counterintuitive to spend money on a property inspection, but you need to know about your home’s condition. If there are issues – big or small – you need to address, it is better to know about them early so you can either remedy them prior to going to market or account for them with a lower listing price.

The last thing you want is for the buyer to uncover flaws once they are under contract. You will get stuck paying more under those circumstances than it would cost you to address the issues now.


As you prepare to sell, think of your home as an investment and start to see it through the eyes of potential buyers and the market. When you’re trying to sell your home, the less-is-more approach applies.

Put away big furniture and personal items. Store or put away all the things you won’t be using until you move into your new home. In the kitchen, make space in the cabinets for items you will need to use daily, but will want to put away for showings.


It’s common for sellers to make cosmetic improvements before they list. Kitchens and bathrooms sell your home. Plan to have the bathroom grout cleaned and have some parts of the house painted to give it a fresh look.

Consider cleaning rugs, refinishing hardwood floors or painting kitchen cabinets. If you plan to list in the spring, you likely have a good local real estate agent on your side by now. Get their advice and ask for referrals to do the work. There are lots of inexpensive contractors who can help spruce up your home quickly.


Today’s buyers have research in their DNA and will investigate all they can. Check with your local building department and ensure there are no outstanding issues with your home.

Verify that property records reflect your home accurately, and prepare to remedy any discrepancy. Make sure your title report is clean, and talk about potential disclosure items with your agent. Banks won’t lend if there are outstanding issues, and you don’t want to jump through hoops at the eleventh hour. Researching now will keep you one step ahead of the buyers.

The sale of your home is likely one of your biggest financial transactions. Get a real estate agent on your team early, and make a list of all the tasks you need to complete before listing this spring. Now is the time to have those discussions. Smart planning and a good strategy will ensure a quick, painless and profitable home sale.


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What to Unpack First in Your New Home

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Couple Moving


Once all the moving preparations have been made, all the arduous moving tasks have been taken care of, and everything has gone more or less according to plan on moving day, you finally find yourself in your new home, surrounded by piles of boxes, tired and glad that your relocation is about to end.

To fully complete your moving adventure, however, you need to unpack your belongings and make your new place feel like home. But how to even begin unpacking?

First things first

No matter how much you want to get it over with as soon as possible, there are several important things to do before you can actually start unpacking.

  • Clean and prepare your new home. It’s easier to wipe down shelves, clean windows, and mop floors before your belongings have been put in place. Make sure your home-to-be is spotless when your items arrive. If you can’t get to your new place early enough to do a thorough cleaning, consider hiring professional cleaners to do the job for you.
  • Inspect and organize your belongings. Check all the delivered boxes and household items against your inventory sheet to make sure nothing is damaged or missing. Then have each of your possessions taken to the room where it belongs. If everything was properly marked and labeled, sorting out your items will be a piece of cake.
  • Open your box of essentials. There should be tools, toiletries, clothes, medicines, packed food, basic kitchenware, and other “lifesavers” in it that will allow you to refresh yourself, open the sealed boxes, reassemble your furniture, and so on.
  • Set major furniture and appliances. Position your large furniture pieces and bulky household appliances first. Then you can put any smaller items you unpack later directly in their rightful places. Plan your interior design well in advance so you don’t end up moving heavy pieces around several times.

Tackle the necessities

What matters most when unpacking your items after a move is ensuring that your essentials are immediately accessible. So prioritize your belongings, and unpack only the necessities first.


You may not be able to unpack the entire bedroom right away, but you will definitely have to set up the bed the day you move into your new home. Reassemble it (if necessary), lay down the sheets, unpack the pillows, and spread the blankets so you can get a good night’s rest – you’re going to need it!

Provided that you have a change of clothes and some comfortable indoor shoes (as well as curtains on the windows to ensure your privacy), the rest of your bedroom items can wait until you find the time and the energy to deal with them.

Bathroom items

Without a doubt, your personal care items, toiletries, and medicines should top the list of the most important items to unpack after your move. Put out toilet paper and soap, find your toothbrush and toothpaste, hang the towels and the shower curtains, and unpack any other bathroom essentials you’re going to need in order to refresh yourself and wash away the weariness and stress of moving.

Also, fill in the medicine cabinet with the medications you have brought, and don’t forget to take your prescription drugs on time.

Kitchen necessities

You may have brought some food with you, or you may rely on delivery for the first day or two after the relocation, but you’re going to need a fully operational kitchen as soon as possible in order to prepare healthy, homemade meals for yourself and your family.

Kitchens tend to take a very long time to unpack and organize properly due to the large number of items that need to be sorted out and carefully arranged.

As soon as you’ve hooked up the large appliances, such as the fridge and the stove, move on to your smaller kitchenware. Plates, silverware and glasses should be the first to find their places in cupboards and kitchen cabinets, closely followed by cooking utensils, pots and pans, and pantry items.

Kids’ and pets’ items

If you have young children, you should unpack some of their favorite toys, books, games, blankets and such during the very first hours in your new home. Keeping your young ones happy and occupied will let you concentrate on your work and finish it faster.

Of course, you should also take care of your pets’ needs immediately upon arrival. It’s a good idea to pack adequate pet food, water and food dishes, and some of your animal friends’ favorite toys in your open-first box.

Finishing up

When you’ve unpacked the three most essential rooms in your home (bedroom, bathroom and kitchen), everything else can wait a bit. There are no deadlines to meet, so you can set your own pace when unpacking and decorating your new place – just unpack in order of priority and without procrastination.

If you stay organized, set reasonable mini goals and complete them promptly, clean after every unpacking phase, and dispose of the packing materials in a safe and eco-friendly manner, your new surroundings will soon stop looking like a warehouse full of boxes and start feeling like home.

If you have some fun in the process – listen to your favorite music, play “unpacking games” with your kids, and invite friends over to give you a helping hand – the exhausting unpacking endeavor may turn out to be much easier and faster than you expected.


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Estate of Late Comedian Robin Williams Finally Has Sold

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Zillow The 639-acre property was on the market for as much as $35 million before Williams’ death in 2014.

By Melissa Allison

The Napa Valley estate that beloved funnyman Robin Williams built in 2003 and tried to sell before his untimely death in 2014 has finally sold for $18.1 million.

Williams initially asked $35 million for the 639-acre vineyard property, whose 20,000-square-foot main home he dubbed Villa Sorriso, or Villa of Smiles. The home has been on and off the market since 2012, with multiple price cuts.

Inspired by the Palladian architectural style of the 1700s, the villa boasts five bedrooms, eight baths, a library, pool room, elevator, and a luxurious screening room worthy of an Oscar and Golden Globe winner.

Examples of the home’s elite craftsmanship include an imported Portuguese limestone exterior and continue inside with gold leaf and verdigris ceilings in the library and master suite, oak panels with mother-of-pearl inlays, and mosaic glass tile rotundas.

Villa Sorriso offers climate-controlled wine cellars and a viewing tower for taking in the acreage and its spring-fed pond, tennis court, hiking trails, horse barn, olive orchard and vineyards.

Antique European stone terraces overlook the grounds, which include a 65-foot infinity edge swimming pool with a wading pool and spa. There’s also a 3,200-square-foot guest house.

The listing agents were Joyce Rey and Cyd Greer of Coldwell Banker Previews International. The buyers are French winemakers from Chateau Pontet-Canet, according to The Wall Street Journal.


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It’s Not Just Space: 16 Reasons it’s Time for a New Place

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Cardboard boxes in apartment, moving day

By Jen Juneau

Take a deep breath and ask yourself: Has the time come to relocate?

Moving isn’t anyone’s favorite thing to do. Aside from the physical process of shifting everything you own into a new space and/or paying people to do so, there are many other factors to consider, such as budget, location, and (perhaps most importantly) your sanity. But the challenges are worth the struggle if you’ve reached the point where relocation truly is best for you.

If you’re on the fence about moving, start 2016 by perusing these 16 signs that it’s time to take the plunge and start a new house search.

1. One word: money.

Yes, it’s an obvious point, but examining expenses is a task that shouldn’t be overlooked when you’re considering a move. Sure, you might be able to upgrade your current home to fit your future needs — but will you see a return on investment when it’s time to sell? Now is the time to examine your finances and figure out if you should continue to save some cash to boost your down payment or explore financing for that upgraded master bathroom you’ve been dying to take on.

2. You’ve outgrown your storage space.

There’s only so much Pinterest-surfing you can do for inspiration on reorganizing your kitchen and clearing out the clutter before you start to realize that your current space isn’t working for you anymore. If more cabinets will make your life easier, so be it. It’s up to you whether that means a remodel or a new kitchen in a new house.

3. Your family is expanding.

If you’re adding a couple of kids and/or pets to your brood, upgrading your home is a logical next step. Aside from needing more space, aspects you may have overlooked before — like A-rated school districts and that sweet neighborhood park — may be suddenly appealing. Don’t have kids? This rule still applies, since buying a house in a great school district is a big plus when it’s time to sell.

4. The kids/roommates are gone.

In the opposite vein, don’t waste money on space you don’t need. If it’s just you and your honey now, why not downsize to a smaller house or studio apartment to save not only on your mortgage but also on utilities, repairs, cleaning time, and more?

5. Your neighborhood is on the decline.

If the crime rates in your neighborhood are headed in the wrong direction, it might be a good idea to move — quickly — before it gets even harder to rent or sell your place to someone else. There’s no shame in wanting to make your nest in a home where you feel safe and secure.

6. You have a dream your current place won’t support.

Whether you envision a home dressed to the nines with luxurious upgrades or one with an extra room you can dedicate to home brewing (hey, whatever floats your boat), it might be a sign that you’re ready to move on.

7. Your city isn’t as appealing to future buyers as it once was.

Every trendy city has its moment. If yours is one of those whose popularity is steadily declining, selling now rather than later could save you a lot of cash (and heartache) down the line.

8. It would cost you less to move than to keep repairing your current place.

It can be hard to admit when it’s time to throw in the towel on repairs, especially if you’ve put a lot of hard DIY work into your beloved abode. But it might be time to take a step back and think about how nice it would be on your stress levels and wallet if you could start fresh.

9. You’ve started cooking at home more (or less).

If you never have time to cook anymore — and don’t see that trend slowing down any time soon — downsizing to a home with a smaller (or less fancy) kitchen could be worth the cost of moving. On the flip side, if a lifestyle change means you’re at home more (and spending more time honing your knife skills), a larger, upgraded kitchen could be a great thing to focus on during your home search.

10. Your kids have stopped inviting their friends over.

Is your kid always like, “BRB, Mom, I’m going to Johnny’s,” but Johnny never comes to hang out at your place? Sounds silly, but it might be time to face the fact that since it has more room to roam, Johnny’s house is just a more comfortable hangout spot (or his fridge is extremely well-stocked). If your kids seem hesitant to invite friends over because there is nowhere to play or no space to work on that group project together, you might want to rethink your housing priorities and start the house search (and bump a refinished basement or big backyard to the top of your list).

11. You’re intimidated by the thought of rising interest rates.

If you bought your current house when interest rates were at their rock bottom and before housing prices started to rise, you might be reluctant to give up that amazingly low mortgage payment — even if you really need a square footage upgrade. And while it’s true that even a small increase in mortgage rates can have an impact on your bottom line, the reality is that you can’t control all the factors. So if you’ve outgrown or just aren’t happy with your current home, there’s no reason not to at least explore your options. You might be surprised at what you can afford if you’ve built up enough equity in your current home.

12. You’ve been putting off moving for a while.

Similarly, if you’ve been meaning to put your house on the market but have a lot of work to do to prep your home for sale — or are just dreading the home-selling process — now is the time. While interest rates aren’t rising too rapidly, they are rising. So if you’ve been waiting for the push to get started, this might be it.

13. You just don’t jibe with your neighborhood anymore.

Still living in your old college town? Is the nearest grocery store (what feels like) a thousand miles away? Ask yourself whether your current living situation fits your lifestyle. If the answer is “no,” it’s time to figure out what you want in a neighborhood and move forward.

14. Your office commute is the bane of your existence.

Commuting to and from the office can take hours out of your week. Just think, you could be doing much more important things — such as binge-watching Netflix (or just not wasting huge amounts of gas and time in hours of stop-and-go traffic). Whether you’re starting a new job or keeping your current one, moving closer to work has a lot of benefits.

15. Things are getting serious with that special someone.

Having a new love doesn’t necessarily mean it’s suddenly time to pack up and move in. But purchasing a new place together can be spatially, emotionally, and financially rewarding.

16. A fresh start sounds like just the ticket.

Sometimes, life deals us cards akin to flashing neon signs saying, “GO FORTH AND START ANEW.” If you feel that tug in your heart and are in a place financially to do it, don’t hesitate. You only live once, and life’s too short not to experience it fully.


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How to Get Your Home Organized

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Are you looking to get rid of years of old family belongings now that you have an empty nest, or is it time to simplify your hom

By Kendal Perez

Amid the typical New Year’s resolutions, getting organized is an oft-promised, seldom-achieved goal that plagues busy parents, office workers, college students and everyone in between. Clutter and a messy environment are proven causes of distraction and increased stress levels, both of which prohibit creativity and productivity. Despite our best efforts, staying organized is a big challenge when life gets hectic and tossing our belongings wherever they fall trumps storing them where they belong (assuming they have a designated home at all).

Those seeking a more streamlined lifestyle this year are likely influenced by the rise of the minimalist movement, the allure of tiny houses and the surprising popularity of such texts as Marie Kondo’s bestseller, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.” These trends are not simply strategies for enhanced organization; they’re lifestyles that espouse a more intentional approach to living. Underlying the need to be organized, after all, is a desire for more control.

“Organizing is about making decisions,” says Alison Kero, owner of ACK Organizing in New York City, adding that it’s ultimately about wanting the best for yourself. Consider these steps toward a more organized and intentional life in 2016:

Toss or Donate

Decluttering is a natural first step in getting organized, but experts agree tossing things you don’t want isn’t just about making space for more stuff. “It’s more about becoming aware of what you’re choosing to bring into your life and making a decision to keep it or let it go based on what’s best for you and what you really like,” Kero says. Practically speaking, it’s best to group like items together before you start purging so you can easily identify duplicates and keep your favorites.

“Start by doing an initial sort,” says Sandra Schustack, owner of Clear Your Space East in Manhattan and New York Chapter Board Director for the National Association of Professional Organizers. “Only keep what you use and love; the rest is taking up precious space.”

The idea of your space being “precious” or valuable is key to keeping sentimentality from sabotaging this process. “If you don’t love it, need it, or use it, then it doesn’t deserve a place in your home,” says Janet Bernstein, Certified Professional Organizer and owner of The Organizing Professionals, LLC, in Philadelphia. “I keep my clients focused on this mantra as we’re decluttering,” she says. “It speeds up the process when you’re forced to categorize your possessions in this way.”

Experts also note that getting organized takes time, so don’t expect overnight results. Remove items room by room, starting with the area that bothers you most. That way, you can carry the sense of accomplishment you feel in tackling that room to others throughout your space.

Find a Home for Everything

Putting back items you’ve decided to keep is not as simple as tossing them into a storage container. In fact, rows of clear plastic bins with expertly-applied labels simply disguise chaos as order, and don’t provide for long-term organization.

“The reason so many people find it hard to stay organized is that they do it once, dismantle it when they need something stored at the bottom of the bin, and then don’t have the energy to put it all back together again,” says Holly Rollins, minimalist and blogger at HollyLaurel.com. Instead, determine the proper home for items based on when and where you need them, so access and storage are both intuitive and practical. Moreover, continue the “like with like” grouping strategy you employed during the decluttering process so you always know where to find (and store) batteries, light bulbs and even important documents.

Keep Functionality in Mind

Most experts agree storage containers are worthy investments, but purchasing these items before deciding how they’ll be used is a waste of money. “I see far too many potential clients purchase organizing products believing these items will solve their clutter woes,” Bernstein says. “What they don’t realize is they’re putting the cart before the horse.”

Placing all your cosmetics in a decorative box under your bathroom cabinet may be tidy, but it’s neither functional nor sustainable. Since you use these items frequently, they will likely end up strewn about drawers and countertops more often than tucked behind cabinet doors. Instead, organize your makeup by type within the top drawer of your vanity for easy access. “Get some shallow square and rectangular trays from the dollar store,” suggests Alison Warner, owner of Prepped to Organize, LLC, in Chester County, Pennsylvania. “Stick Velcro tabs on the bottom of each tray to adhere them to the drawer. No more rolling items every time you open the drawer!”

This strategy can be applied elsewhere in your home, including the “junk” drawer in your kitchen or the utility cabinet in your garage. The trick is to organize spaces well enough that replacing items once you’ve used them becomes habit.

Maintain Organization

It doesn’t matter how organized you become; the moment you start to accumulate more stuff, you’ll be surrounded by the very clutter you sought to eliminate in the first place. Before you buy anything new, remember the criterion you used during the decluttering phase. “Keep only what you use, what you love, and what you need,” Rollins says. “If you make and keep this promise to yourself, you’ll never have organization problems again.”


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How to Avoid a War with the Neighbors

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Hispanic referee between arguing neighbors
Hill Street Studios

By Devon Thorsby

A disagreement between neighbors can escalate quickly. One minute you’re mowing your lawn, the next you’re plotting revenge on the homeowner next to you for parking his car on your freshly cut grass.

“You hear about neighbors chasing each other down with spades and all sorts of weird things,” notes Nick Hall, director of the Dispute Resolution Center of Harris County, Texas, which offers mediation for civil disputes, including neighborhood problems.

It doesn’t serve you well to pick a fight with the people who live on the properties surrounding yours, and especially not when you’ve just moved in. But it can be all too easy to start off on the wrong foot with a neighbor, and it can haunt you for years to come. (Another strategy: Check out the neighbors before you buy the house.)

While you don’t have to be the next Lucy and Ethel, you and your neighbors should be able to get along amicably enough to avoid major disagreements when it comes to what you each do with your properties. Follow a few simple guidelines to get on your neighbor’s good side from the start.

Introduce Yourself

You’re not required to bring a casserole, but a knock on the door and friendly handshake will go a long way. It’s harder for your neighbors to make assumptions about you when you approach them with a friendly greeting — and it’s not as easy for them to hate you when they think you’re just so darn sweet.

“Don’t have the first contact with your neighbors be when you need something, or when you have a complaint,” says Stuart Watson, a staff mediator at Resolutions Northwest, a center for dispute resolution in Portland, Oregon. “Build some kind of relationship first, so that when you do want to remodel your garage into a spare rec room … you’re not coming up to somebody you don’t know with demands.”

If you’re moving into a community with a homeowners association or other kind of neighborhood group, Hall says it’s a good idea to attend the first meeting you can and start the relationships early. You can even go as far as offering to organize a community event. “Everyone likes potlucks, so why not do a block party or a street party and invite everyone?” Hall says.

Know the Rules

Everyone wants to think they’re right, but before you do anything to your property, be sure you’re following the neighborhood or municipal rules when it comes to construction, noise and other hot buttons for cranky neighbors.

Reading up on the community’s regulations should happen even before you buy the property, says Brad Aldrich, senior attorney at Aldrich Legal Services in Plymouth, Michigan, who specializes in real estate law, among other areas. Especially if the home you’re buying is part of a homeowners or condo association, be sure any construction or landscaping you do on your property doesn’t put you in the wrong.

“Forget bothering your neighbor — if you wanted to put in a pool, but for whatever reason your local homeowners association didn’t allow pools … you’re not going to be able to put one in,” Aldrich says.

Being familiar with regulations and local ordinances, like setback requirements from the property line for any structures, could help you know if your neighbor is infringing on the rules as well.

“We get a lot of people call in and say, ‘I’ve never owned a home before, and I don’t know if my neighbor is doing something wrong,'” Aldrich says, adding that familiarity with regulations can help you avoid speculation, so any issues are based on fact and written rules or laws.

Let Them Know of Any Changes

Whether you’re planning to redo the landscaping or put an addition on the back of your home, it’s a courtesy to give your neighbors advance warning of any construction on your property.

Renee Bove, a staff mediator with Watson at Resolutions Northwest, says many of the neighbor disputes that come to mediation reach a heightened level simply because one person didn’t communicate well with the other. “Oftentimes, it’s just a simple misunderstanding that somebody had a pretty good intention that kind of backfired and had a negative impact. And they don’t talk about it, so it takes a life of its own,” Bove says.

For example, warning that you plan to put up a tall fence because your dog can jump high will probably go over better than erecting a privacy fence without any notice.

If it Would Bother You, Don’t Do It

The rule of treating others the way you want to be treated still applies as a homeowner. If you keep your neighbors in mind when you make decisions, you’re far less likely to tick them off.

An example: You don’t want excess water runoff on your property, so don’t assume your neighbor will think any differently if you direct your drain pipes at his foundation. Yet, Aldrich says water runoff is a common cause of neighbor disputes.

“If the natural topography of the land is that water runs off into an adjacent property, that’s really not the other property owner’s fault — it’s just the way the land is,” Aldrich says. “But if that property owner were to put in a sump pump and then route the water line to where it dumps directly on the neighbor’s property, well then, that is an act of the one property owner where it does negatively impact the neighbor,” Aldrich says.

In Portland, Bove says a growing topic of dispute involves using a home for Airbnb stays, whether it’s the whole house or individual rooms. The new home rental trend “just brings a lot more traffic and new people into a neighborhood that can be disconcerting for other neighbors,” Bove explains.

It can be useful to have a conversation with your neighbors before listing your home for rent, and, ensure you are not infringing on any laws, guidelines or regulations.

Count to 10

Being a good neighbor doesn’t mean you have to let everyone walk all over you (or your land). If you believe your neighbor is encroaching on your property or your ability to live peacefully, you shouldn’t have to suffer.

But keep in mind, people have a tendency to dig in their heels when they feel their property is being threatened, so it’s best to tread lightly when addressing issues.

“If you give someone a ticket, or if you go to court or to trial of some kind, you’re going to make even bigger enemies of the neighbors,” Hall says. “And yet, [you’re] going to have to continue living together in the same neighborhood.”

Bove uses the example of a homeowner parking a few inches in front of a neighbor’s driveway during a personal emergency. Seeing the car blocking part of the driveway, but not knowing why, the neighbor assumes it is an intentional slight.

“They just didn’t take a moment to come from a place of curiosity: ‘Hey, I noticed your car was in my driveway a little bit. What was happening for you?'” Bove says.

In the event you simply can’t resolve a problem on your own, mediation is often an effective way to ensure both parties are heard, and put some rules down without taking it all the way to court.

Watson estimates mediation through Resolutions Northwest resolves about 80 percent of the disputes brought to them, with a solution made that day. But the number of parties that come out of mediation feeling it was a positive experience is even higher, he says. “Even in those more rare times when they don’t come to some kind of agreement, it was helpful for them to be able to have a discussion and to feel their concerns were heard.”


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