Budget Bangs for Your Buck

Putting money into the curb appeal of your home has a decidedly less glamorous feel than the idea of redoing your bathroom or kitchen. It’s much harder to care about picking out drought resistance ground cover than it is to pick out granite countertops. You know you want to spend your money on something that creates a great impression, transforms your home’s exterior and is a great return on investment, but you also know you don’t want to spend luxury bathroom remodel money on your exterior. It’s not like you can bubble bath in your new sod. Here are some options for a major exterior renovation that doesn’t feel as major to your budget. 

 

Roof, Siding & Gutters

A roof is one of those things that is completely unsexy to buy, but is really important both for your home’s curb appeal and also for its salability. It’s hard to sell a beautiful house with a bad roof—everything is at risk. Fully replacing your roof actually has a little more average return on investment than even a bathroom remodel. It typically costs between $1.50 and $10 per square foot. Even if you can’t replace the roof completely, having a professional look at your roof and suggest options for a refreshment can help get a long life out of your current roof. 

 

New gutters are a much cheaper option—the cost usually lands between $500-$2,000 for replacing your gutters and it’s over in a few days. Gutters are another unsexy exterior component, but gutters do so much heavy lifting to keep your home weatherproof and snug. Also, nothing mars an otherwise pleasant exterior like a broken gutter. 

 

Replacing siding, painting your brick, or adding a veneer, are all options for your exterior that start to get more exciting (colors!) but most options are starting to creep toward more expensive. Replacing siding costs around $10,000, depending on the price of the materials. Painting or refreshing brick costs around $7,000 and adding any kind of veneer interest can run you between $6-9 per square foot. Keep in mind this is another area that recoups value very well. If you see your siding bubbling, blistering, coming loose or otherwise damaged, it’s time to prioritize this upgrade, but a siding professional can help you decide. 

 

Decks & Patio 

Building a deck or patio is another great option for a project with a good return on your investment. People are drawn to homes with those collective spaces where everyone can gather. No matter how simple a project, these spaces are an extension of the spaces inside. A wood deck will cost an average of $7,000 and a stone patio will run between $8-$20 per square foot. A contractor or landscaper is a great person to begin a conversation about creating an outdoor space. 

 

Garage Door

If you’re not ready to change the whole exterior but something has to happen, consider replacing the garage door. The average cost is around $1,000-$1,500 and has an almost 100% return on investment. Replacing the garage door hits a sweet spot between your budget and the need for a visible change in the exterior. 

 

At the end of the day, it’s tough to make decisions about things that don’t have the appeal of something as fun as new kitchen cabinets or a wallpaper in the powder room, but spending some time with a contractor or designer and deciding what investment is needed will go a long way toward picking the right project for your home’s exterior. 

Budget Busters

Ever experience sticker shock in a store? You are just browsing with a sweating Starbucks cup, maybe to get out of the heat for a bit and you see something that looks interesting and reasonable and maybe you know people that have something like it. Reasonable people! You find the little dangly price tag and turn it over and. . . 

Die. 

Okay, you don’t die, but you definitely take a big step back and try to walk away before you accidentally break it. It seemed so reasonable!

When starting on a home renovation, especially with a sizable budget that you’ve spent time preparing, you feel prepared to turn over the price tag. It seems reasonable! But often times, the actual cost gives us the rush of panic as seeing an unexpected price tag in the store. Suddenly, your well-prepared budget can seem small and your dreams still out of reach. 

 

Kitchens

Expect granite, cabinets, and design to be your biggest costs. Hiring a designer can be around half that cost. Something as simple as installing an appliance can be around $200. Installing cabinets will average out to about $5,000. All told, an average kitchen remodel costs a little over $20,000. When you are sitting down to decide your budget, it’s best to keep your kitchen renovation budget between 5-15% of your home’s value. 

 

Bathroom

Hiring a plumber for either kitchen or bathroom starts at $300 and can go from there. If you are installing a shower or bath, especially with tile work, you can expect around $3,000 for an average size project. Most bathroom remodels total around $10,000. A reasonable bathroom remodel budget should be 5-10% of your home value and you can expect around 60% of the value to be retained. 

 

Flooring

Aside from the cost of the actual materials, usually calculated by price per square foot, different materials will have a wide variation of installation costs. Carpets will often be installed for free, but things like hardwood or tile will have higher installation costs and the subfloor may even need preparation before installation can begin. An average flooring remodel will come in around $3,000. 

 

Electrical work 

Needing to run wires, install fixtures, or fix existing problems with a licensed electrician will often start at $400. Expect this to be an additional cost to what you’re expecting to spend on the project. 

 

Overall, materials stay consistent pretty much no matter where you are, but labor prices can fluctuate by 20%. Prepare a budget that can accommodate the known and the unknown, and you’ll be on your way to a smooth renovation project. No surprises needed.

Where to “Marie Kondo” Your Stuff

The good news is you were super inspired after watching Netflix’s “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo”. The bad news is your garage or basement is piled with things that no longer bring you joy. No one told you how overwhelming getting rid of stuff can be, even after you know you want to get rid of it. Never fear. Here is your guide to selling and donating. 

*Sell: 

Unless you’re doing a garage or yard sale, divide your “get rid of” pile between donations and items to sell, only pulling out the truly valuable items that are in excellent condition to sell. The easiest things to sell are furniture and designer brands and jewelry, but smaller things can add up. Be prepared to create a profile, manage the sale and eventually ship the items or arrange pick-up. Do your homework to price your items accurately and make sure you have your jewelry appraised prior to a sale. 

TheRealReal—designer wardrobe consignment/sales. 

Poshmarkwardrobe consignment. 

ThredUP-basic wardrobe consignment

Vestiaire Collective—designer wardrobe. 

LePrix–designer clothes.

Amazon’s Trade-In programupgrade your amazon devices

Second Spinelectronics

Discogs—electronics, records

Decluttr–electronics

Delgatto / I Do Now I Don’t—jewelry 

WP Diamonds—jewelry 

Chairishfurniture

AptDeco—furniture 

Apartment Therapy Bazaar—furniture 

Swap—furniture 

Facebook Marketplace—furniture or odds & ends. 

eBay—furniture, electronics, jewelry, wardrobe. 

BookScouter–textbooks

Powells Books –books

Replacements Ltd—china & flatware

Craigslist—everything 

And just remember to follow safety precautions if you are meeting a buyer in person! This includes meeting in a public area and taking a friend.

*Donate:

Goodwill Industries of Southern Piedmont—wardrobe and household items.

Salvation Army—wardrobe, household items, toiletries, linens, diapers. 

The Free Storeclothing, tents, sleeping bags, furniture, and any general household items.

National Kidney Foundation of North Carolinahousehold and clothing items 

Dress for Successbusiness attire (suits and blouses) in sizes 0-4 and sizes 24 and larger suits and blouses, maternity business attire, accessories and scarves, shoes, especially in larger sizes, knee-high’s and pantyhose of all sizes in unopened packages and purses in conservative colors.

Charlotte Catholic Social ServicesThe refugee resettlement department accepts donations in the form of household items and furniture.

Appalachian Prison Book Project–paperback books

Queer Appalachia Coat Drive: Gently used, clean winter coats can be donated to poor and vulnerable LGTBQ+ folks in rural Appalachia via:

Queer Appalachia

POB 844

Bluefield, WV 24701

Whether you get a couple bucks in return or the warm glow of having helped someone in need, you will walk away with that particular sense of relief of having unburdened yourself of belongings. 

Four Mortgage Misconceptions to Watch For

The process of buying a house feels like trying to finish a level on Super Mario World—one minute you’re bumping along on Yoshi and the next minute you miscalculate and sink into a bottomless pit. Here are four things to watch out for before you run out of lives.

  1. Your credit score doesn’t matter for anything other than approval. Ouch! That’s not a Koopa but it’s close—your credit score determines not just your approval but your rate. The rate you’re going to have to live with for the duration of the loan. Make sure your credit score is looking healthy using these tips. (link)
  2. Your payment is 30% of your income, next level! Not so fast. The rule that your mortgage payment should not equal more than 30% of your income is more complex than it seems. Think of it this way—there’s more to home ownership than just the mortgage payment. There are maintenance expenses, taxes and homeowner’s insurance. If you fail to calculate those expenses into this thirty percent, you will be putting yourself in a sticky financial situation.
  3. You don’t really need a down payment. While this may be factually true—you aren’t required to put down 20% –it’s not a good idea for long term financial house. If you don’t put down a down payment, you will be required to purchase private mortgage insurance, which can be a substantial extra cost in your monthly mortgage payment.
  4. A traditional 30-year mortgage is the way to go. The 30-year mortgage is certainly the most common choice for mortgages, but it may not be the best choice. If you can afford a larger monthly payment for a 15-year loan, you will end up spending a lot less money over the life of your loan. Adjustable rate mortgages can be a good option if you are in a vigorous housing market and only plan to be in a house for a few years—before the rate resets, you will have moved.

We don’t all have to fall into the bottomless pits—in many cases a good real estate and mortgage broker can help you get through these levels and rescue Princess….I mean, buy the house of your dreams.

 

Photo by Cody Hughes @clhughes21

Renting or Buying?

The value of home ownership has been on a roller coaster ride the last few years, and in many ways it’s like looking at the seven stories Tower of Doom TM and wondering whether it will leave you smiling or woozy for the rest of the day. Should you get on the roller coast? Or stay on the teacups? Here are three questions to ask yourself when deciding between buying a home or renting one.

Q: How long do you plan to stay?

Most questions of renting and buying come down to the question of timing. If you plan to stay in an area or a home for a long period of time, you can buy a home knowing you have plenty of time to absorb any market drops. But bringing this to concrete numbers helps most of all—compare the average home price in your area to the average rental price, calculate in a down payment for your home purchase and a 5% increase in rental prices and the numbers should tell you how long you’d need to own a home before making it the more affordable option.

Q. What are your costs?

Both renting and owning carry hidden costs that we tend to overlook when comparing. For renters you need to think of the loss of home equity and home owner tax breaks. The offset is not being responsible for home repairs. For homeowners, you’ll deal with things like homeowner’s insurances, private mortgage insurance, property taxes and maintenance.

Q. Are you “throwing money away”?

We’ve all heard it when discussing the pros and cons of renting—renting is throwing money away. But building home equity isn’t the only way to make money. If you have any doubt about your ability to keep up with the cost of home ownership, or keep up with savings, it’s better to consider renting for the near future.

When having these discussions, remember you can always talk with your agent and walk through the decision together.

 

Photo by Cody Hughes @clhughes21

The Big Day

Out of all the big days, moving day is definitely one of the most exciting. It’s the end of a long journey, full of ups and downs and finally the house is yours.

You might think the key to a great moving day is having a great selection of donuts and hot coffee, but to truly have a smooth moving experience, do these few things before the big day.

  1. Change the locks before you pop the champagne, celebrate signing those closing papers by making your key the only one that works.
  2. If you plan on it, now is the time to install any home security and get a certificate of installation to send to homeowner insurance to get a discount on your policy.
  3. Schedule an appointment to get your internet, television, and phone set-up before moving day and you can collapse on the couch that night with no hassles.
  4. Hire a cleaning service or schedule a family cleaning day make sure you get inside the light fixtures, windows, closets and cupboards, basement, and attic.
  5. Get ductwork, heating, and cooling systems serviced.
  6. If you can, do any invasive home improvement projects such as replacing floors, ripping up carpets or painting.

Follow these steps and the night you move in you’ll be eating pizza out of a box, buried in your unorganized stuff, happily watching television and procrastinating on your phone with nothing to do but figure out where that other chair is going. Home sweet home.

 

Photo by Cody Hughes @clhughes21

Chimney

There’s a major fire hazard you probably aren’t thinking about—and no it’s not the candle you forgot to blow out before you left for the grocery store. It’s your chimney. Each year, around 9,000 homes have fires that begin in the chimney.

If you don’t have a fireplace or wood stove, don’t think you are exempt. Furnaces also have chimneys that need regular checkups. Oil furnace can cause soot buildups and gas furnaces can create smoke and condensation. It’s important to seasonally keep up on small repairs and do a thorough cleaning when buying a new house.

If you’re unsure of where to start, it’s probably best to hire a chimney company. They will check the following things to ensure a working chimney:

  1. Ensure lining of the flue is in good shape. The major cause is creosote buildup inside the chimney itself. This is typically done with a remote camera. Simply looking up the chimney isn’t good enough to determine if there’s a problem.
  2. Check for cracks or loose bricks—cracks can let carbon monoxide leak into the house.
  3. For a furnace, check the return vent.
  4. Check for debris that may have accumulated where the furnace enters the chimney.

Five Ways to Improve Your Credit Score

Your credit score can sometimes feel like your weight after a long weekend of indulgence. If you never step on the scale, it never happened. Unfortunately, for both our jeans and our credit score, we all know simply refusing to know, doesn’t change the facts. Buying a home, leasing a car, or even getting a job requires a credit check—the step on the scale—and obviously, we want our credit to be in good shape so as to not risk our future. Here are a few tips to achieve a healthy score. Some of them may surprise you!

  1. Keep credit card balances under half of the total credit limit.  Halfway and under says you know how to use credit without abusing credit. If you have more than that on your balance already, make getting under half your first financial goal.
  2. Stop using so many credit cards. Pay off credit card balances on small cards and use one or two cards for all purchases. Start with cards you only use once in a while and are easy to pay off, like store credit. Request a lower interest rate on the one or two cards you decide to keep. Bonus, you have an excuse for a smaller (new) wallet (budgeted, of course).
  3. But don’t get rid of old debt and good accounts. You can’t have good credit, if there isn’t any credit at all. Keep stable, low interest, high reward accounts open. The history of being able to use credit and repay, is what counts. Keeping these accounts can help illustrate a long repayment history.
  4. Pay bills on time. Many late payments will negatively impact your score.
  5. Review your credit report once a year in January. If you notice any errors, report these problems to each of the three major credit bureaus—Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax.

If you follow these small steps to steadily improve your credit, it will never come as a nasty surprise right when you don’t need it. Your pants on the other hand….there’s no guarantees.

Three Steps to Picking the Neighborhood That’s Right For You

You can change just about anything in a house. Carpet. Paint. Fixtures. Even the appearance on the outside of a house. Theoretically, you can bulldoze and start over. The only thing you can’t change about the house you buy is the location. So, what can you do to make sure a potential neighborhood is right for you?

Visit at variety of hours. A neighborhood can seem quiet and calm during the day, and change drastically into the evening. It’s important to visit at all hours—this gives you a chance to see anything the potential neighborhood might be hiding. Like the annoying dog next door who barks from 7pm-9pm.

Check the School district. Even if your only baby is a fur-baby, you want to make sure you buy in a highly-rated school district. Schools are one of the most looked at factors when people decide where to buy, keeping neighborhoods and housing values in good school districts stable. And while you’re checking on the public schools, look at the potential neighborhood’s proximity to the areas desirable private schools.

Test the Commute: The new commute may seem great, until the first week in the new place. By then, all you can do is sink into the couch, stare at your new living room and try to avoid the feeling of having made a fatal error. Save yourself the crisis and test out the new commute—both ways—before you buy.

With these tips, you’ll be able to make sure the neighborhood is right for you. Make sure to check out our Picking A Real Estate Agent that’s Right For You to help guide you through the process.

 

Photo by Cody Hughes @clhughes21

Four Steps to Get Ready to Buy

Buying a home in Charlotte’s real estate market can sometimes feel like watching the news footage on Black Friday sales. Homes are selling within hours and everyone else seems to know to run for the TV in the back, while you’re still trying to get through the door. Having a trusted voice to cut through the noise is the first thing you need, but here’s what else you need to know so you’re ready to buy in Charlotte.

  1. Save: We all know to save for a down payment. What you don’t know is that lenders are also looking for a prospective borrower who has several months’ mortgage payments saved up. A prospective borrower who is only looking for loans that will allow them to put as little down as possible, sometimes 3%, not the typical 20%, is not going to be as competitive as someone with a down payment and savings. Lenders will give a borrower a little wiggle room if they have a lot of savings, but not much for annual earnings or credit score.
  2. Check your credit score: The higher your credit score, the lower your down payment and/or monthly mortgage payments could be. Tips for improving your credit score? Hack away at credit card debt, don’t apply for any new lines of credit for a few months prior to your home purchase, and avoid closing out any accounts. Wait to make any large purchases like furniture, TVs, etc. until after the closing date of your home.
  3. Get pre-approved: Sellers are getting multiple offers nowadays, and this is a great way to set yourself apart from the competition. Get pre-approved, not simply pre-qualified. This means your loan officer will collect financial information, run a full credit report, and give you a clear price range based off a mortgage amount that won’t overextend you on a monthly basis.
  4. But before you buy:. You need to prepare to move on from your current situation. Do you need to sell a home before you can purchase your next property? If you need to sell your home first, you’ll need to get your property ready for the sale. Like yesterday. A real estate agent will help you through this process—see here for how to pick an agent that is the best fit for your situation. If you don’t currently own, is your lease term up in a few months? If so, how much time do you need to find a home? If you’re renting, does your lease convert to a month-to-month term at the end of the lease? If so, how much notice do you need to give your landlord or property manager?

Regardless of the situation, be prepared so you’re not left outside while everyone else manages to grab the good stuff.

 

Photo by Cody Hughes @clhughes21