The Simple Reason Homes Listed in May Sell Faster and for More Money

The Simple Reason Homes Listed in May Sell Faster and for More Money

(Image credit: Anna Spaller)

For homeowners looking to sell their house quickly and for top dollar, the best time to list is in the late spring — specifically the first half of May. That’s according to a new analysis of listing and sales data by real estate website Zillow.

Across the U.S., homes listed in the first half of May sell an average of nine days faster and at a 0.8% price premium ($1,500 on average) compared to the rest of the year. In some markets, the stakes are even higher — and the effect even more pronounced. In Portland, Ore., for example, homes listed in early May sell a full 16.5 days faster, and at an average price premium of 2.0% (or $6,300). And in Seattle? Wait until May to list, and you can expect your home to sell 15 days sooner for 2.5% ($9,300) more money.

And why is this? Zillow posits a simple explanation: Housing inventory is so low, and competition in some markets so fierce, that many hopeful homebuyers strike out on their first, second, and later offers. Then they start to grow desperate and frustrated.

“By May, some buyers will be anxious to avoid more disappointment or eager to get settled into a new home before the next school year,” says Zillow’s Catharine Neilson, “and will be more willing to pay a premium to close the deal.”

That’s right: Many homebuyers who haven’t signed a purchase and sale agreement by Mother’s Day are prepared to do whatever it takes to land a house before the well runs dry in summer. And sellers can exploit their desperation by holding out ’til the waning weeks of spring, when buyers may be ready to stretch beyond their budgets just to avoid another heartbreak.

If you’ve ever lost your dream home in a bidding war, you know the angst and desperation that follow. It can be a crushing experience and one you never want to repeat. And in hot housing markets like San Francisco, Seattle, and Boston, it’s also an increasingly common one.

Homebuyers in such markets are already losing what precious leverage they might have had. When bidding wars are the norm, the offers without contingency clauses—those little buyer protections that provide a legal escape hatch if you can’t get financing or if a home inspection turns up a termite infestation—tend to win out. It’s very risky to do, but some buyers feel they need to drop such contingencies just to make a competitive offer.

Now, sellers have one more way to stretch prospective homebuyers past their comfort zone.

So, what’s a hopeful homebuyer to do — besides continue renting? Try examining Zillow’s research findings for seasonal differences in your area. The best (for sellers) listing windows varied quite a bit by location, with warmer climates peaking earlier: In Washington, D.C., for example, sellers have the biggest edge in early April.

Meanwhile, homes linger on the market longer — and sell for less money — in the off-season. Homes listed in the second half of December sell for an average $3,100 less compared to the rest of the year. But you don’t have to wait until the holidays — the spring price premium begins to evaporate by late July. By late September, you can expect to nab a home at a $1,400 discount.


Forget the Snow: Spring Has Sprung in the Nation’s Housing Markets

| Mar 13, 2017

Much of the country is looking at one more very big bite of winter before spring officially begins, but for the residential real estate market, spring is already underway—and new home buyers are sprouting everywhere.

Job creation so far this year is 30% stronger than in the same period last year. Unemployment is close to a low of more than nine years. Wages and income are also starting to pick up to growth levels we haven’t seen since 2009.

And with more money in their bank accounts, consumers are feeling a boost in confidence that leads to big purchases … like homes! This year’s economic growth gives them another reason to buy sooner rather than later, because stronger economic growth also means higher interest rates.

January and February saw rates in line with what we saw at the end of 2016. But in the last two weeks, we’ve seen the average rate for a 30-year conforming mortgage increase by almost a quarter of a point. That’s because the market is expecting the Federal Reserve to raise short-term rates when the board of governors meets this week.

Mortgage rates will likely stay close to this level until we hear more about additional rate increases later this year. The expectation is for three increases this year. If economic data continue to show growth in inflation and wages, those three increases could actually become four.

This means that rates will continue to rise—we’re more likely to see movement of 10-25 basis points in one- to two-week spurts, as new data and new comments from the Fed indicate rate policy changes are imminent.  Those spurts will likely be followed by weeks with little change in rates.

The upside of higher rates is that it is getting easier to get a mortgage. The most widely followed measure of mortgage credit access from the Mortgage Bankers Association indicates that access has expanded 6.5% since September.

Arguably the biggest challenge to buyers this spring will be simply finding a home to buy and getting it successfully under contract. That’s because the supply of homes for sale is at an all-time low, and yet demand is strong and getting stronger.

We started the year with the lowest inventory of homes available for sale that we’ve ever seen on While we did see inventory grow 2% in February, total inventory was down 11% over last year.

Low inventory and strong supply is leading to inventory moving faster and faster as measured by median days on market. The median number of days on market in February was 90 days, six days less than last year. We also saw 27% of all listings selling in less than 30 days. Last year, we saw that happen in mid- to late March, so this year’s timetable is about three weeks ahead.

The early birds who decided to buy in the winter faced less competition and enjoyed lower rates than we are seeing now. It gets more expensive and more competitive going forward, but the early(ish) buyer, at this point, is still likely to come out on top, when you consider that prices and rates are likely to be much higher later in the year.

Jonathan Smoke is the chief economist of, where he analyzes real estate data and trends to develop market insights for the consumer.

Salary Needed to Afford Home Payments in the 15 Largest Cities

Derek Miller Feb 23, 2017

You finally have enough savings for a down payment and you’re ready to buy a house. How much will monthly house payments cost? Like with any big financial commitment, it’s important to know how much you’ll need to budget per month. It can be hard to calculate exact payments as property taxes and homeowners insurance are also factors. We crunched the numbers to find how much median home payments cost in the 15 largest U.S. cities and the salary needed to pay them.

Data and Methodology

In order to estimate the salary needed to afford home payments in the largest 15 cities in the country, we gathered data from the U.S. Census Bureau and ran the numbers through SmartAsset’s mortgage calculator.

We started with the median home value in each city and calculated how much a 20% down payment would cost. Then we plugged that data into our mortgage calculator. We assumed that each prospective home buyer would get a 30-year mortgage with a 4% interest rate for 80% of the home value (the balance after paying a 20% down payment). We also assumed an annual home value increase of 2%, annual inflation of 2% and that buyers would have annual homeowners insurance of 0.5%. For the purpose of this study, we assumed prospective home buyers had no additional debt.

We then added up the total monthly payments on the mortgage, real estate taxes and homeowners insurance. Our calculator then recommends a minimum income needed to make these payments. We ranked each city from to highest minimum income to lowest minimum income. Median home values and median household incomes are from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2015 5-Year American Community Survey.

Key Findings

  • Pay attention to property taxes – Most people focus on mortgage payments – and for good reason as they are usually the majority of the payments – but property taxes are important as well. For example, our calculator recommends an income of just under $100,000 to afford the home payments on a $609,500 home in San Jose (the median home value there). But if one were to buy a home for the same price in Austin, our calculator recommends an income of $128,000. The reason for the big difference is real estate taxes in Austin would cost almost $600 more per month.
  • Sky-high San Francisco – Your eyes are not deceiving you. After taking everything into account, we recommend an income of $128,000 to afford the median home payments in San Francisco.
  • Affordable cities – Median-priced homes in many cities on our list (including San Antonio and Philadelphia) are affordable to people with incomes of less than $30,000, assuming they have no outside debt and have already enough saved for a 20% down payment.

Salary Needed to Afford Home Payments in the 15 Largest Cities

1. San Francisco, California

As mentioned earlier, buying a home in San Francisco really is as expensive as it’s made out to be. Although San Francisco is home to some of the most well-paid individuals in the country, the median home is still largely out of reach for the typical household. Our mortgage calculator estimates that the total monthly payments on the median-value home in SF will set you back around $3,858 per month. The mortgage payments alone hit the $3,000 per month mark. To afford this, you’ll need to earn a salary around $128,600, and the average household in San Francisco makes around $81,000.

2. San Jose, California

Just down the road from San Francisco is San Jose, where residents need to earn just under six figures to afford payments on the average home. The median home in San Jose is valued at $609,500, meaning after a 20% down payment the mortgage balance is $487,600. That will cost homeowners about $3,000 per month. To afford that, our calculator recommends an annual salary of $99,963.

3. New York, New York

The median home value in New York is just shy of $500,000. After paying a 20% down payment, homeowners will have to make monthly home payments of $2,910 to live there. Our calculator recommends you make at least $96,993 if you are planning on buying the median-value house. Despite New York and San Jose having similar monthly payments, home values are 20% higher in San Jose. So why can homeowners expect to pay about the same amount per month? The answer is high New York real estate taxes. New Yorkers pay double what San Jose residents do in real estate taxes.

Check out current mortgage rates in New York.

4. Los Angeles, California

It’s tough for the average Los Angeles resident to afford the average LA home. The typical Los Angeles household makes about $50,000 per year but to afford the monthly home payments on the median house our mortgage calculator recommends earnings of about $77,000. Like other California cities, most of the cost of owning a home in Los Angeles is tied up in the mortgage payments. Prospective LA homeowners can expect to pay $2,317 per month on average. Of that, $1,800 will go toward paying off the mortgage itself.

5. San Diego, California

Of all the California cities on our list, San Diego is the most affordable for home buyers. Home payments in San Diego will run up a monthly bill of $2,274 on average. To cover this, our mortgage calculator recommends earnings of about $75,816 per year.

6. Austin, Texas

The Texas capital is home to some of the highest property taxes in our study. The real estate taxes on a home worth $240,000 in Austin will be higher than the real estate taxes on a $471,000 home in Los Angeles. But the relatively low home values make Austin more affordable than big California cities. Monthly payments on the average home in Austin will be about $1,426.

7. Chicago, Illinois

The median home value is Chicago is just under $223,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In order to afford the monthly payments of $1,327 on the average home in Chicago, our calculator estimates that you will need to make at least $44,244 per year. That figure is actually lower than Chicago’s median household salary of $48,522.

8. Dallas, Texas

Data from the Census Bureau suggests that homes in Dallas are on the affordable side. The median home value in Dallas is $135,400. After putting 20% down on that home, a mortgage balance of $108,320 is left. Dallas residents will need to earn a salary of $27,505 on average to afford monthly home payments of $825.

9. Houston, Texas

Prospective home buyers in the Space City would only need to earn $27,067 per year on average to afford the monthly payments on the median-value house. Our mortgage calculator estimates that those payments will be about $812 per month. The average Houston household earns $46,000 per year, meaning it might not be too much of a reach to afford a more expensive home.

10. Phoenix, Arizona

Real estate in the desert can be very affordable. The median Phoenix home is valued around $163,000. To pay the monthly costs on that home (after putting down 20%), you will need to earn just under $27,000 on average. It’s worth noting that our calculator does not take energy costs into account so if you are buying in Phoenix, watch your electricity usage. The average high temperature in July is a sweaty 104 degrees!

11. Columbus, Ohio

The Arch City is an affordable option for potential home buyers. Columbus has the third-lowest median home value in our study. Only San Antonio and Indianapolis have lower median values. Monthly payments on a $129,100 home in Columbus will be $771, according to estimates from our mortgage calculator. That monthly cost is within reach for many Columbus households, who make an average of $45,000 per year.

12. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Homes in Philly are even more affordable than they are in Columbus. We estimate that a household earning $24,465 should have enough to make monthly payments of $734. That’s the cost of monthly home payments on a median value home in Philadelphia. Before everyone moves en masse to the City of Brotherly Love, keep in mind you’ll need to have $27,000 saved on average to afford a 20% down payment.

13. San Antonio, Texas

San Antonio has seen some impressive growth in recent years. The population went from 1,327,000 in 2010 to 1,469,000 in 2015. Despite the population growth, homes are still affordable in San Antonio. After a 20% down payment, owning a home would cost about $706 per month on average. Our calculator recommends an annual salary of $23,529 to afford those payments. Like other Texas cities, the real estate taxes in San Antonio are pretty high. Around $210 of the $706 monthly payment goes toward real estate taxes.

14. Jacksonville, Florida

Florida is known as an affordable place to live and Jacksonville is no exception. The median home value is $136,400. That mortgage balance, after a 20% down payment, is $109,120. According to our mortgage calculator, homeowners need to make around $23,332 annually to pay that off.

15. Indianapolis, Indiana

On average, Indianapolis has the most affordable homes of the largest 15 cities in America. Monthly payments on the median-value house will come to around $609. If you’re earning a salary of $20,294 per year, you should be able to afford the monthly payments. Of course saving up to afford a 20% down payment may take some time.

Salary Needed to Afford Home Payments in the 15 Largest Cities

Questions about our study? Contact us at

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Why Housing in 2017 Will Be a Seller’s Market

 If you’re shopping for a house in 2017, don’t expect it to be easy.
Feb 21, 2017 at 11:45AM
Visiting an open house


If you’re planning to buy a house in 2017, be prepared for a rough ride. A number of factors are coming together to make buying a house particularly difficult (and expensive). It’s predicted to be an especially tough year for first-time homebuyers, who already tend to have a harder time than experienced homebuyers.

Here’s why.

Prices are up

As of October 2016, home prices nationwide had experienced a 5.6% year-over-year gain. The Pacific Northwest saw a particularly steep rise, with Seattle showing a 10.7% price increase and Portland close behind with a 10.3% increase.

“With the current high consumer confidence numbers and low unemployment rate, affordability trends do not suggest an immediate reversal in home price trends,” said David Blitzer of S&P Dow Jones Indices. Blitzer noted, though, that housing pricing can’t continue to rise faster than both incomes and inflation rates indefinitely. That’s good news for buyers in future years, but it doesn’t bode well for 2017. What’s more, President Donald Trump’s decision to suspend the reduction in FHA mortgage insurance premiums will raise the payments on government-backed mortgages even higher.

Interest rates are up

The interest rate on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages has risen to 4.17% in early 2017, as opposed to 3.72% in early 2016. The current rate is not exactly stratospheric by historical standards, but the uptick is enough to make it a little harder to get approved for (and to pay for) a new mortgage. This is a particularly big concern for first-time homebuyers, who already struggle to find affordable financing.

Demand is up

The climb in prices and interest rates seems to have many homebuyers thinking, “Grab it now before it gets even more expensive!” According to, home listing views in December 2016 were up by 40% to 80% compared to the same time in 2015, despite the fact that December is historically the slowest time of year for home sales. The high level of competition will inevitably make it even harder to buy a house.

Inventory is down also reports that active inventory on the website was down 11% in December of last year compared to inventory in December 2015. And that’s after 51 straight months of already below-normal inventory levels. As a result, 2017 is starting out with the smallest inventory of available homes since the last recession, if not longer.

A perfect storm for homebuyers

Rising demand, coupled with a shrinking supply, is the textbook definition of a seller’s market. This is great news for anyone trying to sell their house, but not so good for buyers. If you’re looking to buy a house in 2017, allow plenty of time to shop around for a good deal. Also get a mortgage pre-approval early so you’ll be ready to buy the second you find the right house.

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5 Strategies to Make Your Offer Stand Out—Even in Bidding Wars

by |



U.S. Home Sales Were Up in January—Except in One Unexpected Region

| Feb 22, 2017

The year kicked off with buyers across the country racing to lock in rising mortgage rates and close on homes—except in one surprising region.

Sales of existing homes, which have previously been lived in, rose 3.3% from December to January, according to the most recent National Association of Realtors® report. The 5.69 million purchases also represented a 3.8% increase from January of 2016.

Those are the seasonally adjusted numbers, which are smoothed out over a 12-month period to account for seasonal fluctuations in market activity.

Joe Kirchner,’s senior economist, doesn’t anticipate that the throngs of buyers descending on the market will slow any time soon.

“I don’t think we’re going to see any huge increases in sales, but I don’t think we’re going to see any big declines,” he says. “The economy is still strong and we have job growth.” This means more people have the means to become homeowners.

And yet the region with the lowest prices was the only swath of the country that didn’t see a bump in purchases: the Midwest. Purchases of existing homes there were down 1.5% from December and dipped 0.8% annually. The median home price in the region was just $174,900 in January, according to the report.

“The main reason that sales are down is the lack of homes and condos and townhouses that are for sale,” says Minneapolis-based Realtor® Michael Sharp of Re/Max Results. “It’s crazy bad.”

He’s not seeing bidding wars or offers over asking price, but homes that are priced right are getting scooped up in under two weeks, he says. That’s partly due to a lack of newly constructed homes within the city and immediately outside it.

“Anything that comes on the market is just moving very quickly,” he says.

Nationally, the median cost of an existing home fell 1.9% to $228,900 from December to January. But it was up 7.1% from the same month a year ago—a boon for sellers and bad news for those who waited just a little too long to enter the market.

Existing homes were still significantly cheaper, by about 40.9%, than newly constructed ones. The new abodes went for a median $322,500 in December, according to the most recent data available from the U.S. Census Bureau and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Existing condos and co-ops were the most affordable options on the market, with median prices of $217,400. That was a 2.2% dip from December, but still a 6.2% rise from the same month a year ago.

Prices of existing single-family homes were a bit higher at a median $230,400. They were down 1.8% from December, but up 7.3% from a year earlier.

Prices were also lower in the South at a median $201,400. Buyers there purchased about 3.6% more homes in January than December, and 3.1% more than in the same month a year earlier.

Home prices in the Northeast cost quite a pretty  penny more in January, with a median price of $253,800. Monthly sales rose 5.3% and were up 6.7% annually.

Despite having the highest costs in the nation, the West saw sales jump 6.6% from December and 8.4% over January 2016. The median price of an existing home in the region, which includes the pricey markets of Silicon Valley, San Francisco, and Seattle, was $332,300.

“Much of the country saw robust sales activity last month as strong hiring and improved consumer confidence at the end of last year appear to have sparked considerable interest in buying a home,” NAR’s Chief Economist Lawrence Yun said in a statement. “Competition is likely to heat up even more heading into the spring for house hunters looking for homes in the lower- and mid-market price range.”

Clare Trapasso is the senior news editor of and an adjunct journalism professor. She previously wrote for a Financial Times publication and the New York Daily News. Contact her at

The Rookie’s Guide to Investing in Real Estate

| Jan 25, 2017

When you wrap the covers around you at night, do dreams of townhouses, condos, ski cabins, and beach houses dance in your head? Do you fantasize about becoming the Trump of your town, but don’t know where to start in real life?

If you’ve got the dream and the capital, it’s time to start learning about the basics of investing in real estate. We’ll show you how to get the ball rolling!

Step 1: Hone your deal-hunting skills

Investment properties come in many forms: multifamily residential units, condos, single-family homes, and properties that have been converted into rentals. Finding available properties is as easy as searching real estate listings and hiring a Realtor®. The tricky part isn’t locating property investments, but figuring out which ones won’t chew up your bank account and spit it back out.

And the best way to help gauge a property’s potential—aside from seeing it with your own eyes—is to ask your agent for the unit’s financial statements. This will include what the current owner pays for maintenance, utilities, insurance, and taxes—and, if it’s already a rental unit, how much money flows in from rent.

With rental properties, receiving such paperwork from the listing agent or landlord is par for the course during the sales process; if the home isn’t yet a rental, it may be harder to get. But go ahead and ask the Realtor or home seller for whatever documentation they have to know how much the unit will be costing you per month, outside of your mortgage. 

When reviewing these papers, don’t just believe everything you read. No, we’re not trying to make you paranoid. But investment veterans often call these “liar’s statements,” because they may underreport expenses and inflate rents. So as a rule of thumb, cut the income by 10% and jack up the costs by 15%, and you’ll have a better ballpark idea.

Step 2: Pick a property with potential

A property’s potential goes deeper than the home itself—literally. You’re going to want to look at the value of the land.

Jason Hartman, founder and CEO of Platinum Properties Investor Network, says he figured that out 20 years ago when he was “chasing appreciation instead of cash flow.” Now, instead, he targets low-priced land with slow appreciation and little volatility, since these properties generally have better cash flow as long-term rental properties. In other words, they’re predictable.

Hartman says to check four things:

  • Land value: Figure out this out by using the tax appraiser, a house appraiser, and an insurance company (the insurance company will insure only the house; what’s left uninsured is how much the land is worth).
  • Cash flow: If homes rent for 1% of their value a month (a $100,000 home should rent for about $1,000 a month, not $3,000).
  • Appreciation history: The market should be up “about 3% to 6% over the last couple of decades.”
  • Newsworthiness: The press isn’t writing about it. “Linear markets are boring. No one writes about Birmingham real estate,” Hartman says.

Good schools are important, too, but shouldn’t be the driving factor. “It’s about getting the best school district you can for the price of the house,” Hartman says.

Step 3: Investigate new construction, too

But wait—what are those shiny new houses over there? New builds are another investment option, and they may appear to be “safer”—that is, since they’re new, they won’t have as many potential problems, right? Not necessarily. You should vet the builder and architect of the home—buyers who don’t can be unpleasantly surprised.

“The No. 1 complaint from clients and myself is all related to the contractor,” says Joshua Jarvis of Jarvis Team Realty in Atlanta. For Jarvis, proper vetting means “driving to see the homes they’ve done and talking with their customers.”

So if you’re thinking about buying a recent development from Super Hyper Global Mega Builders Inc., venture out to see the different types of property it has built, even if that means crossing town or city lines. Talk with the people who live there and see what they think about the build quality. Were cheap materials used? Has there been any problem with the wiring? Does the house hold heat? Have any terraces collapsed?

If that sounds like a lot of extra legwork, it is. But there’s no such thing as easy money. You knew that, right?

Step 4: Decide if you want to be a long-distance investor or a local one

This seems like an easy decision. After all, as a rookie investor, you should plan on needing to visit your investment property on a semiregular basis; landlords will need to attend to problems, while rehab projects will need you to keep an eye on the progress to make sure there are no surprises. You could always hand off these hands-on duties to a manager in the area, but that starts to eat into your profits—and the margins on rental units can be thin already.

“It’s hard to deal with issues an hour away,” says Bruce Ailion of Re/Max in Atlanta. Recently, he had to deal with a broken furnace in one of his townhouse rentals, which is 30 miles away. The tenant, just having moved from Europe, didn’t have a car yet, so Ailion allocated money for a cab and two space heaters.

The rub? “I have space heaters in my garage we lend out when these issues arise,” he says. Coordinating efforts for repair was also a hassle. “Being five to 10 minutes away makes dealing with this a lot easier,” he adds.

But there’s one big caveat here: If you’re in a market with lots of ups and downs, look elsewhere.

“If [the investor] lives in an expensive, cyclical market, they’re a gambler. They’re a speculator,” Hartman says.

If that’s the case, head to an area that’s comfortable enough for you to visit when you need to but be conservative enough so it’s not so far away you need a plane—save those cross-country investments for when you’re confident in your investing.

Step 5: Lean on your agent’s expertise

Finally, it really is a good idea to get a Realtor or agent who knows the area. Nick Schlekeway, co-founder of Amherst Madison, a real estate company in Boise, ID, says a common mistake of rookie investors is to “view Realtors as someone to ‘open doors and write the contracts I tell them.’”

Instead, you’ll want to “seek out the services of a qualified Realtor with local market expertise” and listen to them, not just use them as a guide to where you should sign.

Craig Donofrio covers home finance and all things real estate for His work has been featured in outlets such as The Street, MSN, and Yahoo News.

4 Kitchen Renovations That Increase Your Home’s Value

Interior designer Nate Berkus and real estate experts weigh in on which upgrades are worth the investment (plus three that aren’t).

If you’ve ever fantasized about doing something a bit “unconventional” to your kitchen — say, covering the backsplashes in Moroccan tiles or installing a wood-fired pizza oven — you might want to reconsider. Interior designer Nate Berkus, who moonlights as the artistic adviser for LG Studio‘s high-end line of appliances, warns against investing in upgrades that reflect an overly specific aesthetic. Below, Berkus and real-estate experts share which kitchen renovations increase your home’s value—and which you’ll live to regret.

Anything with personality, like a chandelier, is a potential waste of money.


“The right appliance can make the space feel much more finished and expensive. Plus, they involve almost no construction but change the functionality 100-fold,” says Berkus, who recommends going for ranges, refrigerators, cooktops, and other utilitarian devices with stainless steel finishes. The L.A.-based designer encourages homeowners to replace the entire suite of products simultaneously, if possible, which makes for a more cohesive look.

If you’re forced to choose just one, “do not skimp on the dishwasher,” says Sandra Miller, president of Santa Monica-based real estate agency Engel & Volkers. “It’s often the most overlooked appliance in the kitchen.”


“Anything with personality, like a chandelier, is a potential waste of money,” says Minette Schwartz of the Schwartz Team at ONE Sotheby’s International Realty. Her rationale: More often than not, light fixtures reflect personal taste and can be a major turn-off to a prospective buyer who doesn’t share your style sensibility.


Courtesy of LG Studios

Introducing a neutral color palette for major surfaces like countertops and flooring might just be your biggest return on investment. “It sounds boring, but taste changes, and neutrals are much more universal,” explains Berkus. “You can always transform the feeling of the kitchen through accessories on the countertop, or your glassware, dishware, and paint color—things that can be swapped out easily.”


One of the biggest mistakes people make when starting a kitchen renovation is getting swept up in the latest design trends, says Berkus. “When you install things like crazy-intricate countertops, multifaceted tile backsplashes, and intensely carved molding, I can guarantee you that six months from now, something else will come along to replace that concept.” Miller agrees: “When in doubt, always go with timeless finishes versus the fashionable or trendy.”


“Everyone loves to mimic the kitchens they see on television cooking shows,” says Ida Schwartz of ONE Sotheby’s International Realty. “With the increase of foodies and amateur chefs, we’ve seen that a conversion from an electric stove to a gas stove—in addition to a double-oven—is highly coveted.” One solid option for the aesthete-gourmand hyphenate: LG Studio’s Stainless Steel Built-In Double Wall Oven. Merging modern form and function, the oven has four convection modes and the kind of sleek, smudge-proof finish which would be welcome in any homebuyer’s dream kitchen.


A pizza oven won’t do your bottom line any favors. Same goes for the built-in coffeemaker and hibachi grill. “None of these things maximize the value of your home,” says Minette Schwartz. She also urges people to think twice before installing a washer/dryer in the kitchen—an idea that seems better in theory than reality, because, as Schwartz explains, “most people don’t want to eat where they’re washing clothes.”


“A larger kitchen is really what buyers are looking for when they’re shopping for a house,” says Berkus. He suggests knocking down a wall that separates an adjoining room, or creating the illusion of spaciousness by adding a window. “We live very differently now than how people lived when many of these homes were built, and these days, the kitchen is an all-encompassing space where everybody gathers.”


Creating your ultimate smart home

Build a smarter home with the best Internet of Things tech and devices

Creating your ultimate smart home

Are you looking to design and build a smart home, complete with connected devices in every room? Do you know whether to go HomeKit, Brillo or SmartThings? Do you even know what that means?

Getting started when setting up a smart home can be a daunting experience. There are just so many variables – and we’re not just talking about the plethora of choices when it comes to selecting the connected smart scales for your bathroom.

But don’t worry – we’ve got your back. We’ve got a wealth of smart home guides, features and reviews on hand…

Setting up the ultimate smart home

The smart home of the future may be a way off, but the systems powering the internet of things revolution are getting ever more sophisticated. All of the major players – Apple, Google, Samsung and so on – are competing for space in the ever evolving new marketplace.

There’s already a load of HomeKit connected devices (Apple’s platform) and Google’s Brillo’s platform – essentially Android for your house – was unveiled at I/O back in June 2015.

As with every other tech genre, the devices on sale are upgraded rapidly and there’s always a new, killer, bit of kit around the corner. Make sure you read our guide to the most exciting new smart home kit coming in 2016 to find out what’s coming next.

Smart home kit can also save you plenty of cash. The most compelling connected kit is that which justifies its existence by paying for itself and then cutting your costs in half.

Controlling your smart home

What use is your connected smart home if you still have to get up off the sofa to get it working?

Instead, grab yourself a smartwatch and get full control of your life with a quick tap of your wrist. Whether it’s your heating, your media or your home security that you’re looking to fine tune – there will be an app for that.

IFTTT connected devices are also brilliant and there are a tonne of great IFTTT recipes already set up for syncing up your wearables with your smart kit. Alternatively, we’re also seeing the rise of the really universal remote.

The best smart lighting solutions

Wi-Fi enabled bulbs are the easiest place to start if you’re looking to overhaul your home.

They’re easy to use, fun to show off and they double as a superb security measure while you’re away from home. What’s more, some can now even be controlled by wearables such as the Apple Watch and Pebble, and with low power LED tech, they’ll save you money over a bad old incandescent bulb.

Smart thermostats to install

Smart thermostats are designed to give you more control over your home heating. They will learn your habits for when you’ll really need that burst of warmth and heating your home intelligently means big cash savings.

Nest may the the darling of the smart home, but Hive – a British Gas funded upstart straight out of the UK – has big ambitions. Check out our Nest v Hive head-to-head and also see how Nest compares against Honeywell.

Connected kitchen tech

If your fridge isn’t connected to the web, then you’re living in the dark ages. If your cutlery isn’t Bluetooth enabled you may as well be eating your dinner with twigs.

From connected coffee pots to washing machines that know when to start a load based on you location, the kitchen has never been so cool.

Smart home security

The big question with smart security systems is Nest Cam v Piper NV v Canary. They are the big players in a genre that is exploding in popularity.

As well as a smart camera security system, you should also consider connecting your door locks.

Smart locks aren’t perfect: there is that rather large question mark about what happens when they crash and they are expensive. But they are ever-evolving and offer a wealth of features that your regular deadbolt simply cannot.

Connecting the garden

You don’t necessarily need to a back yard to enjoy a smart garden. The connected world has caught up with horticulture.

There are handfuls of sensors at the ready which are adept at picking up those key variables like light, temperature, moisture and soil pH conditions, and there’s some great kit for indoor and outdoors.

Smart home diary

Our editor-in-chief Paul moved into a new house recently; a real blank canvas with the opportunity for making it smart from the off. He’s done all of the boring research so you don’t have to.

For 19 weeks, Paul updated his smart home diary with helpful tips, tricks and guides about the best (and easiest) smart home setups. Take a look…

Week 1: Planning the ultimate smart home
Week 2: Getting started with home networking
Week 3: Deciphering the matrix
Week 4: Burying Ethernet cables
Week 5: Not much happened
Week 6: Things are heating up
Week 7: What smart home platform to use
Week 8: Do I really need a smart washing machine?
Week 9: Smart nursery made simple
Week 10: Lock all the doors, maybe they’ll never find us
Week 11: There’s more to connected speakers than music
Week 12: Plugging the gaps in a connected home
Week 13: Building a Nest
Week 14: Finally moving in
Week 15: Getting my house in order
Week 16: Home security made simple
Week 17: IFTTT recipes gone wrong
Week 18: Sorting out my security holes
Week 19: Final thoughs – over and out


Are Property Taxes Included in Mortgage Payments?

property-taxAre Property Taxes Included in Mortgage Payments?

Paying property taxes is inevitable for homeowners. The amount each homeowner pays per year varies depending on local tax rates and a property’s assessed value (or a yearly estimate of a property’s market value). If you’re unsure of how and when you must pay real estate taxes, know that you might be paying them along with your monthly mortgage payments.

Paying Taxes With a Mortgage

Lenders often roll property taxes into borrowers’ monthly mortgage bills. While private lenders who offer conventional loans are usually not required to do that, the FHA requires all of its borrowers to pay taxes along with their monthly mortgage payments.

To determine how much property tax you pay each month, lenders calculate your annual property tax burden and divide that amount by 12. Since their numbers are estimates, some lenders require their borrowers to pay extra money each month in case the property tax payments come up short. If you end up paying more property taxes than you need to, you’ll receive a refund. If you underpay your property taxes, you’ll have to make an additional payment.

When you pay property taxes along with your mortgage payment, your lender deposits your property tax payment into an escrow (or impound) account. When your property taxes are due to the county, your lender uses the funds in that escrow account to pay the taxes on your behalf.

Both you and your lender should receive a notice from your local tax authority. If you don’t, it’s best to contact your lender and your tax authority to make sure your property taxes are being paid on time.

Why Can’t I Just Pay Property Taxes Myself?

 Are Property Taxes Included in Mortgage Payment?

Including your property tax payments in your mortgage payments allows your lender to protect himself. If a homeowner is forced into foreclosure, his lender will likely have to pay the remaining property tax amount. That’s why failing to pay property taxes is considered an event of default, allowing your lender to foreclose on your property.

While some homeowners would rather pay property taxes themselves, rolling your tax payment into your mortgage payment allows you to avoid shelling out large amounts of money to tax collectors once or twice a year. Some lenders might even offer to lower your interest rate when you choose to pay your property taxes through an escrow account. Besides, you’ll probably only be able to pay your own property taxes if your loan-to-value ratio is low (i.e. somewhere below 80%).

What Happens When You Pay Off Your Mortgage?

Once your mortgage is paid off, your lender won’t be collecting payments from you anymore. At that point, paying property taxes becomes your responsibility.

Sometimes lenders let their borrowers start paying their taxes directly before their mortgages are paid off. This might happen if you’ve paid down a significant portion of your principal loan balance.

Hispanic family standing outside home smiling with sold sign

Final Word Are Property Taxes Included in Mortgage Payment?

If you’re looking to buy a home in the near future, you may need to speak with your potential lender about paying property taxes. Most likely, your taxes will be included in your monthly mortgage payments. While this may make your payments larger, it’ll allow you to avoid paying a thousand dollars (or more) in one sitting. And with your lender’s help, you can make sure that your property tax payments are made in full and on time.

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