You’re Saying It Wrong (and 7 Other Myths We Debunk)

mardis-gras-new-orleans

New Orleans might be one of the most beloved, most despised, and least understood cities in America, all rolled into one. Love it? You probably think every day is Mardi Gras, when hand grenade–swilling locals party on Bourbon Street. Despise it? See the above—plus, you probably think it’s America’s most dangerous city, just waiting to separate unsuspecting tourists from their beloved fanny packs.

But we’re here to tell you it’s neither.

New Orleans is back in a big way, and whether you’re thinking of relocating—or just planning a getaway—separate the fact from the fiction before you head to the Crescent City.

Myth No. 1: It’s “Nawlins.”

Truth: Nope. Thanks largely to horrible accents in movies such as “The Big Easy,” many people assume that locals call it “Nawlins.” They don’t. It’s “New Orleans.” Say it with us now: New-Or-lens. Plain and simple.

 

Myth No. 2: New Orleanians are always drunk.

Truth: New Orleans does have some lax outdoor drinking laws and, yes, there aredrive-thru daiquiri stands, but locals know about a little thing called moderation.

According to a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, Louisiana had the seventh lowest rate of alcohol poisoning deaths in the nation.

Myth No. 3: Tourists aren’t safe.

Truth: The city has crime (as all cities do), but New Orleans isn’t as dangerous as many out-of-towners think. In fact, in 2014 the murder rate was lower than it had been in more than 40 years. There has also been a big push to prevent lesser crimes. Local businessman Sydney Torres IV recently bankrolled a private policing force in the French Quarter, and the New Orleans Police Department is in the midst of a huge recruiting campaign.

Myth No. 4: New Orleans is below sea level.

Truth: This is only partly true. There are some disputes, but most experts believe only about half the city is below sea level, with some areas much higher. But it won’t always be that way. Because here’s the truth: New Orleans is sinking. Factors such as coastal erosion (a football field’s worth per hour) and poor engineering are causing more of the city to slip below sea level. So, this myth might eventually become reality. Just not tomorrow.

Myth No. 5: New Orleans hasn’t rebounded since Hurricane Katrina.

Truth: Even 10 years later, locals are still asked if New Orleans ever came back after Katrina. In fact, the city has been hard at work adding businesses, improving infrastructure, and repairing homes. The city’s population has also been on a steady incline, up to 78% of its pre-Katrina population, according to The Advocate. Many of those numbers include new residents, happy to call New Orleans home.

Myth No. 6: It isn’t cosmopolitan.

Truth: Tara Elders, wife of actor Michiel Huisman (of “Game of Thrones,” “Orphan Black,” and “Nashville” fame) made waves last year when she told a New York Times reporter, “New Orleans is not cosmopolitan. There’s no kale here.”

The fallout was huge, with locals dubbing the situation #KaleGate. In fact, New Orleans does have kale—and a bunch of other fancy cosmopolitan things—thankyouverymuch, Tara.

Esquire magazine recently named Shaya, a modern take on Israeli fare, as 2015’s best new restaurant in America. New Orleans has also hosted a world-class film festival for the past 26 years, and the city has a 30,000-square-foot farmers market in the works. If that ain’t fancy, we don’t know what is.

Myth No. 7: The swamp is right outside the door.

Truth: Thanks again to the magic of Hollywood, many people visiting (or moving) to New Orleans for the first time are excited to see the swamp. They can—once they hop on a Cajun Tour bus and head about 30 miles out of town. Thanks partly to nature and partly to human engineering, New Orleans is on dry land.

Myth No. 8: It’s hot and humid, and hurricanes happen all the time.

Truth: Hurricane season lasts from June through November, but many years New Orleans is spared any major storms. (The last hurricane to make landfall in the area wasHurricane Isaac in 2012.) And it’s almost never humid! OK, no—that’s a lie. It’s alwayshumid.

6 Ways to Uncover the Truth About Your New Home—Before It’s Too Late

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You set up appointments to visit your potential new home more times than you can count (you’re secretly wondering if your agent is going to change her number). You did so many drive-bys, your would-be neighbors are getting nervous. You took endless video of every room inside, and you measured all the spaces so you can start doing some late-night obsessive-compulsive furniture shopping. You’ve done all your due diligence, right?

We hate to break it to you, but maybe not.

There are a few more things to look out for—a few nagging annoyances that you might not notice right away but, unchecked, could eat at your soul day and night. Certainly, not all of the issues are deal breakers. But given the choice between dealing with them now or eventually becoming a bit too familiar with that bar on your (soon-to-be) new corner as you mull over what might have been, you might want to choose the former. Deal with the extra-fine details now!

Here’s how to make extra sure your new home won’t drive you crazy.

Drive by at night

Stop us if you’ve heard this one before (spoiler alert: You have!). Because it’s really,really good advice. A lot of basic but important questions (Is there a streetlight shining directly in my window? Do the neighbors throw late-night 80s hair metal parties?) can be answered with a quick after-hours drive-by (or two). Yeah, we know you’re already doing them during the day. Do them at night too—on the weekend as well as a weeknight.

“Find out what kind of noise levels there are before making your final decision,” saysAmy Cook, a San Diego Realtor®.

Do not skip this step: Discovering these problems after closing could give you an endless headaches.Like, real ones—migraines that won’t go away.

Take a walk and ask lots of questions

To be truly thorough, you need to get out of the car and hit the pavement. Repeatedly.

“If you really want to learn about the neighborhood and find out all the gossip, good and bad, walk around the neighborhood meeting people and asking them questions,” says Fort Collins, CO, Realtor® Angie Spangler.

Of course, this strategy works best if your neighborhood is sociable; in a suburban neighborhood without sidewalks or much daytime activity, you might not learn much (and you might freak people out a bit). Some moderation is key. And if things are tooquiet, maybe this hood isn’t for you. Or maybe it’s perfect. Some shoe leather reporting will give you a better indication of how you’ll fit in.

Understand the zoning

If there’s one thing that can prevent surprise heartaches, it’s understanding the neighborhood’s zoning laws.

Even if there are no restaurants or bars nearby today, commercial zoning allows their presence, meaning you might be right behind a noisy club five years down the line. Is your potential new home in a designated historic district? That can affect future renovation plans. In a mixed-use district? Some people don’t mind having shops and restaurants just around the corner, but you know best if that “some people” is you.

Spangler recalls selling a home to a couple a few blocks from what’s now Fort Collins’ Old Town—a raucous strip of retail shops and bars.

“They were upset that there’s commercial going in all around them,” she says. “I took for granted they had a good understanding of what to expect.”

Consult with the city’s departments

Speaking with your city’s planning, water management, and police departments can uncover vital information about your potential home—such as its flood hazard, which you may not notice in the dry season but can put your home at risk when it rains.

How close are you to emergency services and what’s the average response time? Is there a big commercial project underway nearby that could increase traffic? Do the crime statistics concern you?

Scope out social media resources

Apps such as Nextdoor help you keep an eye on the neighborhood and can be a valuable resource before moving in. Scour other apps and online resources, join local Facebook groups, and sign up for neighborhood email lists to find out the most common complaints and concerns of your new neighbors.

Pay attention to nearby homes

If you don’t have a trained real estate eye, it might be easy to overlook your neighbor’s unmowed lawn—but ignoring it might mean missing a vital clue to the area’s health and upkeep.

“As a real estate agent, it’s easy for me to identify the properties that are rentals or show lack of upkeep,” Spangler says.

If houses in the neighborhood aren’t well-cared for, it could affect property values down the line. Caveat Emptor. And that means you.

5 Home-Buying Nightmares Your Title Insurance Could Prevent

title-insurance

 

Imagine that you have found your dream home. Your offer is accepted, you close the deal, you move in. Then, just as you’ve started to make the house your own, the mail carrier delivers news that turns your world upside down: There was a lien against a previous owner, and now it’s been passed on to you.

That’s exactly what happened to Lori Moore and her husband.

“We had barely gotten everything settled in the house when two weeks later we received a letter from an attorney about a pre-existing lien on the house against the prior owner that now carried over to us as the new owners,” says the Louisville, KY, resident. The lien had been missed during the title search process because, Moore says, the county clerk had filed it in a way that made it hard to find.

At first, Moore says, they weren’t too concerned.

“We remembered paying for title insurance, but our Realtor® explained that policy only covered the lending institution for any title problems, not us as the homeowners.”

The Moores were left holding the bag for $2,000 to pay off the lien and attorney costs.

“If we would have bought [owner’s] title insurance to protect us, we wouldn’t have had to come up with that money as newlyweds and new homeowners,” Moore says.

As Moore and her husband learned the hard way, there are two types of title insurance policies. Title insurance, in general, offers protection against any problems with the title, or legal ownership status, of the home. Any lien against a home or competing claim of ownership could jeopardize your financial stake in it, as well as your mortgage lender’s. So the lender’s policy covers the lender’s stake, while the owner’s policycovers your own.

A bank will typically do a title search as part of the mortgage approval process to determine what, if any, legal claims and rights are attached to the house—and, ideally, prevent these kinds of problems. But no matter how thorough, a title search can’t rule out a relative or heir of a seller popping up with paperwork that appears to give them claim to a property. And sometimes, as in the Moores’ case, there are paperwork snafus. Hence the insurance.

Second sellers

Sometimes a distant relative—or an ex-spouse—may surface with a claim that they actually own the property, in whole or in part, and that the seller had no right to sell it to you.

If that happens, a judge could confirm the party’s claim, which means you could be faced with buying them out, having to negotiate, or … setting a bathroom schedule with a new roommate, says Marc Israel, president and chief counsel of MIT National Land Services, a title company in New York City. And say good-bye to that equity.

“A buyer could potentially be out their down payment and any principal paid toward the house,” says Dave Zawadzki, senior account executive at Proper Title, LLC, in Northbrook, IL.

If a judge rules in favor of someone staking claim to a house, the lender’s title insurance policy will only pay for court costs incurred by the bank, and it will reimburse the bank for what you owe on the mortgage if the sale is deemed null and void, Zawadzki says. An owner’s title insurance policy will cover your financial losses, such as attorney’s fees and court costs, even if you have to move out of the house.

Nudging neighbors

The adage that good fences make good neighbors might not hold true if it’s discovered that someone put up a fence, deck, shed, pool, driveway, etc., on your new property. And should that happen before you close, Israel says title insurance will pay the cost of any legal battle or efforts to settle the matter out of court and have the item removed from property that is legally yours.

Hidden mortgages

Just as with liens, it’s possible a title search might not uncover a mortgage until after closing because it was posted incorrectly with the county recorder, Israel says.

“Because the buyer received a clear title at closing, if an owner title insurance policy is in place, the buyer just has to file a claim and the policy will pay off that lingering mortgage,” Israel says.

Unpaid taxes

Zawadzki says that even though a tax search might come up with no delinquent taxes on a property, that doesn’t mean a buyer couldn’t subsequently receive notification of delinquent back taxes after closing. And that bill could be heavy—unless the buyer has owner’s title insurance.

“An owner’s title insurance policy would pay for this,” he says, “because the buyer was given paperwork that indicated taxes were paid.”

The point of purchase

Israel says a title insurance policy is issued the day of closing. It’s paid for then, too.

“The cost can’t be built into the mortgage,” he says.

The one-time premium cost varies by location. “Every state regulates the price of title insurance, which is always tied to the purchase price and/or mortgage amount,” Israel says.

Even if the chances are low that past owners or old tax bills might surface, it’s worth it to at least have a conversation with your attorney and/or title company about title insurance. If you’re on the fence about plunking down money for a policy, Israel suggests reviewing your finances. Ask yourself how you would handle the financial and possible relocation expenses if you were to suddenly awaken to a title-related nightmare.

These Neighbors Nearly Ruined Our Lives—Here’s What We Learned

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Neighbors from hell. They’re the stuff of movies, TV, Stephen King stories—and real life, unfortunately.

Some of these nearby strangers in our midst make for funny anecdotes (usually well after the fact). Some prompt us to seek intervention from psychiatric professionals, bartenders, exorcists, and even law enforcement officials. And some of them have forced major life decisions.

As it turns out, several of us here at realtor.com® have experienced major neighborly challenges. Here are five of our most harrowing stories—and the lessons we learned from them, whether we moved out or fought back (in legal and appropriate ways, of course). We don’t actually suggest you go all Rose Byrne and Seth Rogen in “Neighbors”—unless you have no choice.

 

1. The scary grouch

“I was renting a top-floor apartment in San Francisco’s Inner Richmond District, a sleepy neighborhood. I’d only been living there a few days before the shouting began … and the name-calling … and the banging with a broomstick from below. As I quickly learned, my unit had a high turnover because the ornery old guy who lived directly below never left his house and despised noise.

Apparently, the building suffered damage in the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989, and the owners didn’t bother to put soundproofing back in when they made repairs. And so every step I took and every cough I coughed could be heard by the seething man downstairs. One night after a particularly terrifying verbal assault, I called the police. But they couldn’t do anything about screaming unless there was a direct threat involved. The only way I could escape the situation was to move. –Brittney Gilbert, audience development editor

Takeaway: Ask whether your potential new apartment has soundproofing or sound-absorbing features in place.There are a few DIY tricks you can do to block noise through ceilings and walls, such as adding rugs, bookshelves, and other heavy pieces of furniture as a buffer between the walls. And use rugs (mandated by law in some cities) to mute your footsteps.

———

2. The late-night monsters

“The house next door to us was vacant for at least six months. Then it sold and was used as a flophouse. There were 10–15 people living there, coming and going at all hours. It was all young men—some you’d see for only a few months. They used their porch as the laundry room and enjoyed excruciatingly loud parties. The guy who parked his car in front of our house used to come home at 2 a.m. with his stereo at full volume. It woke me up every single night.

We tried to talk with a couple of them but never got anywhere. We called the police a couple of times, but not much came from that either. We dealt for almost two years before we couldn’t take it any longer—and got the hell out. We’d been wanting a larger house anyway, and this forced the issue.” –Erik Gunther, senior editor

Takeaway: Sometimes there’s not much you can do about neighbors who are simply annoying. After you’ve tried reasoning with them—but before you call the movers—try calling the police when the noise ordinance is being violated. Take note of the time frame in which the violation repeats itself (e.g., bagpipes practice at 11:30 every night) so the police can catch those next-door maniacs in the act. Noise-canceling headphones, meditation, and litigation are other options.

———

3. The odiferous ignoramus

“My neighbor did an illegal renovation of her kitchen that had her stove venting into my bathroom, disgusting as that sounds (and was). She loved cooking heavily seasoned cuisine of undefinable ethnic origins, so my bathroom always smelled like a Third World spice market. I complained to the co-op board, and she started harassing me in the hallway. When I finally stood up to her and told her to leave me alone, she sicced her husband on us. He kicked my door so hard it left a shoe mark and dent—and so when the police came they took my side. Then the real battle began, except I decided to completely ignore her and her aggression. It drove her mad. She actually ended up putting her apartment on the market and moving out before she sold.” –Rosie Amodio, consulting editor

Takeaway: Avoid engaging with furious people. They’re terrifying and sometimes exude strange odors.

———

4. The tattletale

“My neighbor almost got me kicked out of my apartment. I was dog-sitting a friend’s dog who wasn’t very house-trained. So on our way downstairs to his morning walk, the pooch decided to pee on my neighbor’s welcome mat. Somehow my neighbor figured out right away. … She freaked and immediately set out to squeal to the landlord. I know this because by the time I got to her door 15 minutes later with a check to cover the expense for a new welcome mat, she had a letter in hand she was about to fax over. Pets weren’t allowed in the building, so that note would’ve got me booted! Luckily, I caught her before that happened.” –Judy Dutton, senior advice editor

Takeaway: If you fear you’ve rubbed a neighbor the wrong way, nip it in the bud immediately. A genuine apology can go a long way in making for a happy home life. And train your damn dogs.

———

5. The lunatic

“I was having a party in my apartment, and a small group of us decided to go up to the roof. My building was on a corner and, like most Brooklyn rooftops, connected to other buildings, so there was another party going on a few rooftops away. They weren’t particularly loud. Or so I thought.

Apparently, a longtime resident of the neighborhood had been incredibly annoyed by the multidirectional noise coming from the rooftop all night. It was dark, and I didn’t see him clearly, and thought it was a joke one of my neighbors was pulling when I saw something being swung at me. It turned out it was an infuriated man with a baseball bat. He struck me hard in the back of the leg and started swinging wildly, landing glancing blows on a few others, before we could run down the stairs. We called the cops, and when they arrived I led them upstairs, where the guy was still standing with the bat. When he saw me he yelled, ‘Oh, you come back for some more?!’ as a cadre of police officers spilled out from behind me. The look on his face as his anger melted into abject fear took some of the sting away from the huge bruise I had for months.” –Greg Chow, photo editor

Takeaway: Remember the ground rules of shared common spaces. You may think a rooftop is the ideal spot for your summer evening entertaining, but don’t forget that your rooftop party pad is likely another person’s ceiling. Also, watch out for people carrying baseball bats.

New Orleans: You’re Saying It Wrong

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Chris Graythen/Getty Images

New Orleans might be one of the most beloved, most despised, and least understood cities in America, all rolled into one. Love it? You probably think every day is Mardi Gras, when hand grenade–swilling locals party on Bourbon Street. Despise it? See the above—plus, you probably think it’s America’s most dangerous city, just waiting to separate unsuspecting tourists from their beloved fanny packs.

But we’re here to tell you it’s neither.

New Orleans is back in a big way, and whether you’re thinking of relocating—or just planning a getaway—separate the fact from the fiction before you head to the Crescent City.

Myth No. 1: It’s “Nawlins.”

Truth: Nope. Thanks largely to horrible accents in movies such as “The Big Easy,” many people assume that locals call it “Nawlins.” They don’t. It’s “New Orleans.” Say it with us now: New-Or-lens. Plain and simple.

 

Myth No. 2: New Orleanians are always drunk.

Truth: New Orleans does have some lax outdoor drinking laws and, yes, there aredrive-thru daiquiri stands, but locals know about a little thing called moderation.

According to a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, Louisiana had the seventh lowest rate of alcohol poisoning deaths in the nation.

Myth No. 3: Tourists aren’t safe.

Truth: The city has crime (as all cities do), but New Orleans isn’t as dangerous as many out-of-towners think. In fact, in 2014 the murder rate was lower than it had been in more than 40 years. There has also been a big push to prevent lesser crimes. Local businessman Sydney Torres IV recently bankrolled a private policing force in the French Quarter, and the New Orleans Police Department is in the midst of a huge recruiting campaign.

Myth No. 4: New Orleans is below sea level.

Truth: This is only partly true. There are some disputes, but most experts believe only about half the city is below sea level, with some areas much higher. But it won’t always be that way. Because here’s the truth: New Orleans is sinking. Factors such as coastal erosion (a football field’s worth per hour) and poor engineering are causing more of the city to slip below sea level. So, this myth might eventually become reality. Just not tomorrow.

Myth No. 5: New Orleans hasn’t rebounded since Hurricane Katrina.

Truth: Even 10 years later, locals are still asked if New Orleans ever came back after Katrina. In fact, the city has been hard at work adding businesses, improving infrastructure, and repairing homes. The city’s population has also been on a steady incline, up to 78% of its pre-Katrina population, according to The Advocate. Many of those numbers include new residents, happy to call New Orleans home.

Myth No. 6: It isn’t cosmopolitan.

Truth: Tara Elders, wife of actor Michiel Huisman (of “Game of Thrones,” “Orphan Black,” and “Nashville” fame) made waves last year when she told a New York Times reporter, “New Orleans is not cosmopolitan. There’s no kale here.”

The fallout was huge, with locals dubbing the situation #KaleGate. In fact, New Orleans does have kale—and a bunch of other fancy cosmopolitan things—thankyouverymuch, Tara.

Esquire magazine recently named Shaya, a modern take on Israeli fare, as 2015’s best new restaurant in America. New Orleans has also hosted a world-class film festival for the past 26 years, and the city has a 30,000-square-foot farmers market in the works. If that ain’t fancy, we don’t know what is.

Myth No. 7: The swamp is right outside the door.

Truth: Thanks again to the magic of Hollywood, many people visiting (or moving) to New Orleans for the first time are excited to see the swamp. They can—once they hop on a Cajun Tour bus and head about 30 miles out of town. Thanks partly to nature and partly to human engineering, New Orleans is on dry land.

Myth No. 8: It’s hot and humid, and hurricanes happen all the time.

Truth: Hurricane season lasts from June through November, but many years New Orleans is spared any major storms. (The last hurricane to make landfall in the area wasHurricane Isaac in 2012.) And it’s almost never humid! OK, no—that’s a lie. It’s alwayshumid.

6 Ways to Uncover the Truth About Your New Home—Before It’s Too Late

house-stethoscope

Peter Dazeley/Getty Images

Congratulations, you’ve found your dream home! Or have you?

You set up appointments to visit your potential new home more times than you can count (you’re secretly wondering if your agent is going to change her number). You did so many drive-bys, your would-be neighbors are getting nervous. You took endless video of every room inside, and you measured all the spaces so you can start doing some late-night obsessive-compulsive furniture shopping. You’ve done all your due diligence, right?

We hate to break it to you, but maybe not.

There are a few more things to look out for—a few nagging annoyances that you might not notice right away but, unchecked, could eat at your soul day and night. Certainly, not all of the issues are deal breakers. But given the choice between dealing with them now or eventually becoming a bit too familiar with that bar on your (soon-to-be) new corner as you mull over what might have been, you might want to choose the former. Deal with the extra-fine details now!

Here’s how to make extra sure your new home won’t drive you crazy.

Drive by at night

Stop us if you’ve heard this one before (spoiler alert: You have!). Because it’s really,really good advice. A lot of basic but important questions (Is there a streetlight shining directly in my window? Do the neighbors throw late-night 80s hair metal parties?) can be answered with a quick after-hours drive-by (or two). Yeah, we know you’re already doing them during the day. Do them at night too—on the weekend as well as a weeknight.

“Find out what kind of noise levels there are before making your final decision,” saysAmy Cook, a San Diego Realtor®.

Do not skip this step: Discovering these problems after closing could give you an endless headaches.Like, real ones—migraines that won’t go away.

Take a walk and ask lots of questions

To be truly thorough, you need to get out of the car and hit the pavement. Repeatedly.

“If you really want to learn about the neighborhood and find out all the gossip, good and bad, walk around the neighborhood meeting people and asking them questions,” says Fort Collins, CO, Realtor® Angie Spangler.

Of course, this strategy works best if your neighborhood is sociable; in a suburban neighborhood without sidewalks or much daytime activity, you might not learn much (and you might freak people out a bit). Some moderation is key. And if things are tooquiet, maybe this hood isn’t for you. Or maybe it’s perfect. Some shoe leather reporting will give you a better indication of how you’ll fit in.

Understand the zoning

If there’s one thing that can prevent surprise heartaches, it’s understanding the neighborhood’s zoning laws.

Even if there are no restaurants or bars nearby today, commercial zoning allows their presence, meaning you might be right behind a noisy club five years down the line. Is your potential new home in a designated historic district? That can affect future renovation plans. In a mixed-use district? Some people don’t mind having shops and restaurants just around the corner, but you know best if that “some people” is you.

Spangler recalls selling a home to a couple a few blocks from what’s now Fort Collins’ Old Town—a raucous strip of retail shops and bars.

“They were upset that there’s commercial going in all around them,” she says. “I took for granted they had a good understanding of what to expect.”

Consult with the city’s departments

Speaking with your city’s planning, water management, and police departments can uncover vital information about your potential home—such as its flood hazard, which you may not notice in the dry season but can put your home at risk when it rains.

How close are you to emergency services and what’s the average response time? Is there a big commercial project underway nearby that could increase traffic? Do the crime statistics concern you?

Scope out social media resources

Apps such as Nextdoor help you keep an eye on the neighborhood and can be a valuable resource before moving in. Scour other apps and online resources, join local Facebook groups, and sign up for neighborhood email lists to find out the most common complaints and concerns of your new neighbors.

Pay attention to nearby homes

If you don’t have a trained real estate eye, it might be easy to overlook your neighbor’s unmowed lawn—but ignoring it might mean missing a vital clue to the area’s health and upkeep.

“As a real estate agent, it’s easy for me to identify the properties that are rentals or show lack of upkeep,” Spangler says.

If houses in the neighborhood aren’t well-cared for, it could affect property values down the line. Caveat Emptor. And that means you.

5 Kitchen Design Trends That Buyers Hate

Fancy kitchen

Glow Decor/Getty Images

Serious home chefs, or just house-proud owners, might consider the kitchen their showstopper room—the one that will stop potential buyers dead in their tracks. And that’s why they add all the upgrades, accoutrements, and trendy new finishes they can possibly find. To some extent, they’re absolutely right—a great kitchen can make a buyer fall deeply in love.

An inherent danger of taking a deep dive into modern design is accepting the harsh fact that today’s trends may be tomorrow’s “Oh, God, remember that?” fads such as fake brick or hideaway appliances. With the average kitchen remodel pushing $20,000, designing without foresight can be a costly and embarrassing mistake.

Some trends such as subway tile and granite countertops have a long tail: Designers expect they’ll be in style for the foreseeable future, so you’re safe giving them a starring role in your makeover.

Others are doomed to fade hard and fast. Such as…

Mixed metals

Combining bronze and copper in the kitchen might give the room an “eclectic” look, but in a few years, chances are good it will just look confused. Same goes for stainless steel and gold, or nickel and brass.

“Anybody who mixes metals besides Rolex is an idiot, and maybe Rolex is an idiot, too,” says Chicago kitchen designer Scott Dresner of Dresner Design. “Some people think it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread. It’s just not. I think it’s appalling.”

He should know: Dresner has designed more than 7,000 kitchens, and his airy Chicago renovation won K+BB’s 2014 Kitchen of the Year Design Award.

Still want the look? Try mixing in different metals with replaceable hardware such as drawer pulls and towel rings, so you can easily ditch them if you put your home on the market.

DIY concrete countertops

Making your own concrete countertops is all the rage on Pinterest, but kitchen designers think the trend is already passé.

“The DIY concrete countertops have become a nightmare,” says Yarmouth, ME, designer Jeanne Rapone. “Every call I’ve had about those counters  is all about people calling me wanting them ripped out of the house they just bought. They hate the concrete.”

Because countertops are the kitchen’s primary focal point, it’s important to ensure their longevity. Picking a trendy material will—at best—annoy the hell out of you in a few years. In a decade, it might make your home impossible to sell. Better to spend a bit more on a surface you’ll love for a long time.

Open shelving

There’s a time and a place for open shelving—a few simple marble-and-steel slabs can look stunning. But swapping all of your cabinetry for open shelving is a soon-to-be-outdated fad.

“Open shelving is a thing that could be done very elegantly or very cheaply,” says Dresner. Simply pulling off the cabinet doors to mimic the effect is a surefire path to an unattractive, dust-collecting kitchen. If you’re interested in the look, a designer can help you combine minimalism, style, and functionality.

Rapone believes open shelving was a “complete economic response to the 2008 recession,” when homeowners wanted to redesign their kitchen but lacked the budget for extensive cabinetry upgrades. Under financial strain, “they’re willing to do stuff like open shelving in the kitchen, which saves a lot of money. It came out of good intentions, but now people say, ‘No, Jeanne, I’m tired of dusting shelves. I’ll pay for the doors now.’”

Reclaimed wood

Another recession response that’s fast approaching (or already surpassing) its sell-by date, reclaimed wood can look either superb or terrible, depending on its application.

As an accent, it’s perfect: “I love reclaimed wood. I love the idea of reusing something,” Dresner says. “Reclaimed wood on your island top could be gorgeous.” But what happens when you go beyond accents? “If you’re using it to make cabinets, I think it’sgarbage. It looks horrible, and it’s not the right way to use that type of wood.”

So if you’re itching to integrate repurposed wood into your kitchen style, focus on horizontal surfaces, where it has a tabletop effect.

“We see people going a little overboard with the reclaimed look,” Rapone says. “A reclaimed wood island countertop will last a lifetime, but reclaimed cabinetry with barn doors and a real rustic look—that’s a trend that will be way out of style soon.”

Industrial style

Unless you’re living in a loft, skip the stainless-steel countertops, exposed Edison bulbs, and aluminum shelving.

“The industrial look is making its way out,” Rapone says. If you want the effect without the commitment, she recommends finding an industrial-looking lamp that can be easily swapped out when the trend passes its prime.

“In five years—when everyone’s, like, ‘Wow, remember when we did that in 2014?’—you can take it down and replace it with something else,” she says. “That way, you’re not changing out $30,000 in cabinetry.”

But whatever you do, Dresner strongly recommends avoiding the exposed-lightbulb look.

“There are so many cool lights at Restoration Hardware that have that industrial feel, versus something that looks like it should be in the basement of an old building hanging from a block,” he says.

7 Ways to Conserve Energy and Save Money This Winter

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With the temperatures dropping, you may be worried about a soon-to-come snowy commute or potential holiday season stress. No matter what is on your mind, before you know it, your winter energy bills will be pouring in. For many of us, these are higher than what we got in the summertime, throwing your monthly budget out of whack and even possibly putting you into debt.

Some of your energy use may be hard or even impossible to curb, but there are plenty of things you can do now to prepare your home for the cold weather. Your wallet will certainly thank you. Check out these tips to help you conserve energy and save money during the cold weather this year.

1. Consider an audit

Before you make any changes, it is good to know where you stand. You can hire professionals or speak with your local energy company about getting an energy audit to evaluate your space for efficiency. Your home can be tested for energy loss, and a report can be generated highlighting any issues in your home. Some companies offer an audit for free.

2. Insulate & assess

The biggest way to cut back this winter is keeping outside air out and inside air in. Look for gaps and cracks in your foundation, windowpanes, and door frames. You can also look for places to add insulation, from the attic to the pipes.

3. Tune the heating system

Energy costs are often closely related to your heating system. If you have inefficiencies with your furnace, the price can jump even higher. Every fall, it can be a good idea to change or clean your heating filters and check on them once a month while the system is being used heavily.

4. Stock up in fall

Don’t wait until the snow starts to buy what you need. Restock your winter essentials such as salt, ice melt, shovels, and blowers now so you are more prepared—and you’ll likely get a better price. It can also be a good idea to clean your gutters and leave mowed (instead of raked) leaves on the grass so that the small pieces can decompose and nourish your lawn through the coming season.

5. Seek & seal leaks

Apply stripping or caulk around windows and doors to prevent cold air from seeping into your home. You can even put insulation film on your windows to further warm your home. Lastly, make sure the damper on your fireplace chimney is closed when you’re not using it.

6. Program your thermostat

A smart thermostat allows you to set lower temperatures at certain days and times. You can leave it warm for the morning and when you get home from work, while letting it drop while you’re out of the house. You can also try setting the temperature slightly lower and instead put on a sweater. You can even add layers through indoor decorating—pillows, rugs, mats, and blankets can add both warmth and aesthetic value.

7. Check the lights

The less you take advantage of (free!) sunshine, the more electricity you will need to use. There is no time like the present to buy some CFL and LED lights for your home. Also take advantage of the sunlight when it is there by keeping shades and curtains open during the day, especially on the south side of your home. Then close them when the sun goes down to keep the heat in.

How to Make a Mediocre School Great Within a Year

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How to Walk to School via Facebook

For home buyers with kids, settling in a good school district is a must, right? Not according to Jacqueline Edelberg. In 2006, when she was deciding where to send her child to school, Edelberg checked out Nettelhorst, the local public option in her Chicago neighborhood. The problem: It was run-down and failing. Most of the students were bused in from outlying low-income areas; even local city officials recommended that Edelberg send her child elsewhere.

But after touring the school, Edelberg and another parent were asked by the principal what it would take for them to enroll their kids. So they submitted a list of must-haves—and they insisted that these changes be completed within nine months. Some of the demands were low-hanging fruit, such as replacing the motivational posters in the hallways with kids’ artwork.

“We knew if it took longer, neighborhood families would make other plans for their kids’ education,” says Edelberg. She and the other parent also agreed to help the school meet these challenges.

Although it was a tall order, it didn’t take long for Edelberg’s changes to make a palpable difference. Within a year, Nettelhorst had a waitlist and the school was on its way to being designated “high performing.” And within a few more, developers started building condominiums in the neighborhood and boasting in promotional materials that they were located in the Nettelhorst district.

“The school has absolutely given families a reason to stay in the neighborhood,” saysBrad Lippitz of Chicago’s Brad Lippitz Group. “It’s become the nucleus of the whole area, and home buyers now seek it out.”

“The important takeaway is that we’re not a boutique example or an urban myth, and we’re not rocket scientists,” says Edelberg, who went on to co-write “How to Walk to School: Blueprint for a Neighborhood School Renaissance.” In fact, she says communities all over the country are improving mediocre schools so quickly that their own kids can reap the benefits.

Here’s how Edelberg and others achieved these goals in case you’d like to follow in their footsteps.

It takes a village

For Edelberg, the key to improving her school started with making it a more welcoming place. For one, she asked that the intimidating “No Loitering” signs in the playground be removed, and that the classroom shades stay open, day and night, to show off classrooms filled with kids’ artwork.

“That way neighbors on the way home from work would see joyful classrooms,” she says. “It’s very hard to invite your neighborhood in when everything is locked down and shuttered tight.”

From there, Edelberg galvanized local parents, assigning tasks to members of the school community with relevant experience to improve the school—piece by piece.

“Our success depended on being a place where people wanted to be, and a place that locals felt invested in,” recalls Edelberg. So to cultivate that connection, they invited local artists to make over the walls and asked neighborhood tradespeople (electricians, plumbers, etc.) to each do one thing, pro bono, at the school site. They also made the school’s space available after hours to community groups and began hosting community festivals. On weekends, they set up a farmers market; within the classrooms, they had parents volunteer to help support teachers.

It didn’t take long for this influx of community involvement to make a difference. Some teachers weren’t in tune with the new vibe at the school and opted to leave. Others upped their game to meet the new expectations of the students, their parents, and the school administration.

The whole movement was led by a core group of eight parents—some working full time, others occupied with young children—that used a local diner as its headquarters for biweekly meetings.

“You wouldn’t believe what even the busiest parents can get done with some training and strategizing,” says Danielle Asher, director of the Parent Leadership Initiative in Commack, NY, which offers training in public speaking and organizing to parents interested in making changes in their school system.

A school’s online impression matters, too

Another essential step to transforming a school: Improve the impression it makes online, because that’s how many parents will research a school.

“The trick is to talk about the school in the light in which it wants to be perceived,” saysMatt Archambault, who works in online brand management for BrandYourself.com. A killer website, active Twitter feed, and a blog with real stories about the people and events of a school can all burnish a school’s image.

Communication is also key when it comes to making change, whether it happens over coffee at a local diner, as in Edelberg’s case, or by using new options such as Tendle, which offers school communities an online space for discussions and sharing ideas.

“Whether it’s school performance or other trends that are circulating at an institution, knowing about the issues and having a place to discuss them is the first step to solving them,” says Melanie Lekkos, Tendle’s founder.

Show me the money

Of course, to raise a school’s standing quickly, money is also important. Instead of “shaking parents down,” Edelberg and her team opted to create a dozen or so proposals for projects they desperately wanted funded, including a new gymnasium and science lab. Over time, as donors and organizations expressed interest in helping out, the proposals—with precise requests and guidelines—were made available so people could pitch in. Other creative methods abound, too.

“Parents often think raising money isn’t worth it, because it won’t affect change quickly enough to benefit their own kids while they’re still at a school,” says Sarah Barrett, author of “A Mom’s Guide to School Fundraising” and “The Party Book Kit,” which outlines innovative suggestions for fundraising events. “But if the fundraisers are genuinely enjoyable and therefore popular, they’ll raise money that can be used toward visible things like new playground equipment—and that can improve the school’s standing.”

Barrett suggests partnering with local businesses to offer an evening that parents would most likely pay to participate in elsewhere, such as a wine tasting. Or for an event with more family-friendly appeal, she recommends cutting a deal with a video game truck at a time when it probably isn’t booked, like a weekday afternoon.

Lastly, there are always the old-fashioned ways of getting things done, such as running for a seat on the school board.

“It’s great for parents to be involved by showing up at parent-teacher nights and PTA fundraisers, but it’s better for parents to get control,” explains Regina H. Paul, president of Policy Studies in Education, an organization that provides consulting services and technical assistance to both public and private educational institutions. “And being elected to the school board is the best way to do that.”

Ultimately, it is possible to turn a school around. But it takes serious commitment and vision.

“Nettelhorst’s transformation was not all smooth sailing all the time,” cautions Edelberg. In fact, during one early volunteer shift when she was helping paint a mural near the lunchroom, a teacher spit on her while passing by. Yet somehow, Edelberg and her team remained resolute.

“The school wasn’t fit for any kid, let alone my own,” she says. “But we just kept asking people to help by doing a little of what they already did professionally, like advertising or communications. And it worked.”

Why You Should Never Buy the Best House in the Neighborhood

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Dimitri Otis/Getty Images

When you’re house hunting, finding an amazing house in your location of choice that doesn’t require much additional investment seems like a huge score.

But is it really? Before making an offer on that picture-perfect home, take a look at the surrounding houses. If they’re all in disrepair—or just obviously less nice than the one you’re considering—you might be buying the most expensive house in the neighborhood.

Maybe that seems awesome because you’ll get bragging rights and price of place! But more than likely, it’s going to hurt you. Here’s why.

Someday you’ll need to sell it

When you’re in the throes of buying a home, it’s easy to forget that the place you’re busy buying will someday be the place you’re selling. And when it comes time to sell, unloading the priciest home on the block will be a challenge.

Please, Mr. Postman

Send me news, tips, and promos from realtor.com® and Move.

“A lot of buyers forget a home is an investment,” says Brendon DeSimone, a real estate expert and author of “Next Generation Real Estate.” “The world changes. Things happen fast. People transfer, people lose their jobs. Now imagine yourself as the seller of that home.”

So you’re hanging by a thread: As it is, someone might buy it—after all, you did—but there’s no way to increase your equity in the home. With your house already significantly nicer than its neighbors, any upgrades (however minor) will send it into the stratosphere. That quality mismatch between your home and the surrounding homes will lead most buyers to pass on it. If they’re going to spend that much money, why wouldn’t they buy a home in a more desirable neighborhood?

The best you can hope for is your home holding its value. The worst-case scenario: You can’t sell it.

“You can change your house, but you can’t change your location,” DeSimone says.

You need to leave room for improvement

As we said before, a home is an investment—and the best investments have the most room for improvement. Ideally, you’ll be adding to the home during your ownership, building equity in hopes of a payoff when you (eventually) sell.

That’s why DeSimone actually recommends buying the worst house in the best neighborhood. Yes, you read that correctly.

“You can add value on your own,” he says. “If you’re choosing between an awesome house in a crappy location or an awful house in a great location, I would choose the latter.”

Note that “improvement” doesn’t necessarily entail a complete renovation. Even the small changes that happen when you—a responsible person—move in will increase its value. We’re talking about things such as regular maintenance, refreshing the paint, and fixing the odds and ends that might go ignored by another occupant. But if your home is already priced well above the rest of the neighborhood, those tiny changes won’t make a lick of difference.

You can’t bet on the neighborhood to improve

If you’re buying the nicest house on the block hoping the neighborhood will improve, you’re putting a lot of stake in a volatile market—and you’re more likely to be disappointed (and possibly even go broke).

Ideally, the chain of events goes like this: You buy your nice home in an up-and-coming neighborhood. Over time—thanks, gentrification—the homes around you improve until all of your neighbors are pretty much on the same footing. Because the area has improved so drastically, your home’s value will still increase.

It’s a wonderful idea, and it is certainly realized occasionally. Too bad Magic 8 Balls don’t really work. For each time this strategy works, there are a dozen others in which homeowners end up with an overpriced, unsellable home in a middling neighborhood.

If you’re eager to live in a neighborhood with potential, “buy a bad house,” DeSimone says. “At least you can improve the interiors and make it more valuable. If that neighborhood doesn’t actually ‘up-and-come,’ your expensive home is already as viable as it can be.”

Sometimes, betting on your home can pay off—but risking your home? That strategy might sacrifice everything.