Is Your New Apartment a Nightmare? 5 Ways to Spot Problems During the Walk-through

Noisy neighbor

You landed a great rental, you’re getting settled in, and everything is awesome—or so you thought.

Night falls, and the smell of Chinese takeout wafts through your living room. The college guys upstairs start playing a video game (loudly), and suddenly you feel like you’re in a war zone. You try to take a shower to escape, but the water pressure is so bad you can’t even wash the shampoo out of your hair. As you finally drift off to sleep, you’re jolted awake by … what is that? Are they bowling?

Welcome to your new nightmare. Lease term: one year.

It could have all been avoided if only you’d spotted these problems in the walk-through. Here are the top things you need to do before you sign on that dotted line.

Test all the things

The first step to finding a truly great rental (and not a stink-and-noise machine masquerading as a two-bedroom walk-up) is to make sure everything actually works.

It may feel a bit silly turning on faucets and opening drawers while the landlord is watching, but follow this checklist anyway—you’ll thank us later.

  1. Doors: Do all the doors latch? Do the locks stick?
  2. Windows: Do the windows open? Does it feel drafty?
  3. Lights: Do the lights flicker or buzz?
  4. Pipes: Do the faucets have good water pressure? Do the pipes rattle or bang?
  5. Drawers and cabinets: Do the drawers stick? Is there enough room for your stuff? Are the cabinets at a practical height?
  6. Heating and cooling: Is there central AC or a wall unit? How loud is the heating and cooling unit? Are you hot or cold even though the air is on a good temperature?
  7. Electrical sockets: Are there enough three-prong sockets in every room?

Keep your ears open

Ever notice that anytime you view an apartment it’s almost eerily quiet? That’s because landlords know ideal times to show a vacant unit, usually when the other tenants are out.

And, unfortunately, it’s difficult to tell if the walls are paper-thin.

New apartments usually have better construction, but they probably still have half-inch drywall and very little insulation, says Scott Taylor, owner of property management firm SCV Leasing in Santa Clarita, CA.

But that doesn’t mean you have to take a gamble. Check for possible sources of insanity-inducing noise.

“I once rented an apartment in city, and there was a little bar downstairs where people sang karaoke several nights a week,” Taylor says. “Then when the bar let out at 2 a.m., everyone walked under my balcony to get to the parking lot. I didn’t know about any of that until I moved in.”

Check out the neighbors

If the neighbors are around, introduce yourself. If not, spy (within reasonable legal limits of course).

If you’re checking out an apartment on a high floor, you should look below you in the stairwell to sneak a peek at the downstairs tenant’s patio or entryway, Taylor says. If the area is littered with kids’ toys, expect some noise. If there is an overflowing ashtray, expect an occasional smoke smell.

Beware of the night

Rentals can feel a lot different in the evening. Since you’re likely doing a walk-through during the day, you’ll have to use your imagination.

Look for external lights that might cause a problem. Is there a street light right outside your bedroom window?

“That might not seem like a big deal during the day, but at night you’re going to have a hard time sleeping,” Taylor says.

Check the window coverings as well. Even if it looks good, it might not function well.

“People love those plantation shutters for looks, but those shutters don’t block light well,” Taylor says.

When all else fails, do a drive-by at night and see if you can spot potential annoyances.

Do some pest patrol

It may be impossible to tell if you’re about to move into a pest-infested hell—some insects are really good at hiding. But there are a few things you can be on high alert for during the walk-through.

For bigger and nastier insects, such as cockroaches, check the backs of countertops, corners, and behind appliances for the telltale sign of black specks. They’re, ahem, droppings, and they’re an indication of infestation.

For mice and small rodents, be on the lookout for shredded paper, tissue, or bits of clothing along baseboards. Mice and rats typically shred trash to make nests.

Unfortunately, some serious infestations such as fleas and bedbugs are nearly impossible to spot in a vacant apartment. But if the place is still occupied, you can peek between the mattress and the box spring, where bedbugs often leave their droppings.

And if you get bit—run. That apartment is probably infested with something you don’t want to be your problem.

Survey your location

We all want to live in a cool neighborhood. But consider this: It may seem convenient to have amenities nearby, or you may end up hating it.

“We used to rent an apartment that was next to a supermarket, which seemed amazingly convenient, not realizing 3 and 4 a.m. is when most supermarkets get their deliveries,” Taylor says.

Always question how loud a business will be, how late it operates, and if it will make traffic outside your door unbearable.

And if you do run into any potential snags in your walk-through, go ahead and ask the landlord about it.

The Cheapskate’s Guide to a Stylish First Apartment

Wall art is an easy way to add style to your space

Finally, after a lifetime under Mom and/or Dad’s roof (or years in an awful dorm room), you have your own apartment! OK, maybe you have a roommate or two. Now comes the hard part: making it look like a grown-up lives there, without the aid of a decorator and deep pockets. (Most of your paycheck is probably going toward rent.) That’s where design and lifestyle blogger Joy Cho comes in to get you stylishly set up.

1. Start with the bare bones

Cho recalls her first apartment right after college: “It was 350 square feet, one big studio apartment space,” she says. Her strategy back then that still works today: She started out simply by buying a supercheap couch and a supercheap bed. “People feel like they need to furnish everything right away, but a lot of times it’s not in the budget,” observes Cho, whose new book “Oh Joy! 60 Ways to Create & Give Joy” is packed with budget-friendly ideas on how to decorate and entertain.

Make use of vintage objects that catch your eye.

“Get what you need, and add to it as you go,” says Cho, who advises getting simple basics for furniture and other necessities—think Ikea or Target—and then accessorizing your space with wall art, pillows, and more.

2. Make use of special finds

“Your tastes change through the years, and you start to figure out what style you like, so it’s good not to invest too much in one particular aesthetic,” says Cho.

Cho is a big fan of finding vintage pieces at flea markets or elsewhere and using them to decorate her walls—whether they’re intended as wall art or not. “Just keep an eye out for things that your eye is drawn to, and don’t be limited to what fits the traditional definition of art,” she says.

A scarf or a carved object can be mounted on the wall as well, she points out. Raiding your parents’ attic or basement can also yield some great art. High-quality color copies of botanicals, maps, or whatever you find interesting popped into matching gallerylike frames makes for a personalized display.

3. Splurge responsibly

Sometimes you have to break open the piggy bank. A rule of thumb: It should be for something attractive as well as functional. For her studio apartment, Cho saved for about a year until she could get a custom divider built. (When you live in a small apartment, optimizing your space is key.) It wasn’t as expensive as you might think: “I found someone on Craigslist who was handy and looking to build their portfolio,” she says. She sketched out what she wanted, and he built it for about $700 (back in 2001). Make sure the splurge can be broken down or easily moved—you don’t want to leave it behind for the next renter!

4. Make it look luxe!

One of Cho’s favorite decor tricks is making basic things look expensive. Her decor hack: contact paper. Yup, the kind you use to line drawers. “Back in the day, contact paper was considered sort of cheesy,” she says. “But now you can get beautiful gold and hot pink colors, and they’re really high-quality and durable.”

Gold contact paper is versatile and beautiful.

Gold contact paper is versatile and beautiful.

Gold contact paper, in particular, adds a luxe touch to many items—dressing up an accent piece, a table, or even a trash can.

“That’s such an easy way to decorate something that’s super plain, and it all of a sudden elevates it and makes it into something custom,” Cho says. Plus, it’s easy to remove—and that’s key at a time in your life when things change a lot.

 

Why Fall-Cleaning Is the New Spring-Cleaning

fall-cleaning

Spring gets all the credit as the season for cleaning. After being cooped up for months, the ritual makes sense. But fall-cleaning can be just as important as spring-cleaning. Take some time to tidy your home and your finances so you can enter winter with a fresh space and fresh mind. Here are some tips to help guide your fall-cleaning.

Ditch the clutter

Summer can be a busy time, and even if you went through your home in the spring, you might have accumulated more things you don’t need. This can also be a good time to re-evaluate summer items that you didn’t use all summer long. If you plan to just store them for another year, it might be time to get rid of them.

It’s a good idea to evaluate what you have and separate them into categories. There are the items you want to keep, those you want to sell, those you want to give away or donate, and those you want to throw away.

Try doing an exchange with friends if you are looking for new-to-you items to replace the ones you are getting rid of. You could host a garage sale if you have enough stuff and you are looking to make some money. There may even be less competition for buyers than in the spring.

You could also turn to online sales sites such as eBay, Craigslist, Facebook, and others. For the items you want to donate, or those that don’t sell, you can look to a local church or community center, the Salvation Army, or Goodwill. Your fall-cleaning can even help you make a profit or receive tax breaks.

Check your finances

Fall can also be a great time to take a closer look at your money situation and get back on track. The first step is getting organized.

Go through all your papers and figure out what you should file and what you can get rid of. Consider separate files for investment statements, insurance documents, tax paperwork, receipts, and credit card, other debt, and personal loan documents.

This is also a great opportunity to evaluate your budget and be sure you have more money coming in than going out. You can even develop a system (if you don’t already have one) of tracking your monthly and annual costs and be sure your habits align with your financial goals, whether those include becoming debt-free, buying a home, saving for retirement, expanding your investment portfolio, or just taking a trip. And while you’re at it, check your credit to make sure all is in order. You can get two free credit scores on Credit.com, updated every 30 days.

With all the new beginnings of fall, it is easy to get caught up in pumpkin spices and cozy sweaters without properly preparing for the winter. It’s a good idea to take the time to clean out your home and prep your finances for the season ahead. There’s no rule you have to do it only once a year!

Get This Look: Ali Larter Keeps It Clean (and Modern)

ali-larter-get-this-look-bl

Actress Ali Larter played it tough in the TV series “Heroes,” but her home in the Hollywood Hills reveals a relaxed modern sensibility. At $4.85 million, it’s not in most people’s budget, but you can adopt her clean, contemporary style punctuated with organic accents in your own home. (And if you really want to redo your home, enter our“Get This Look” sweepstakes for a chance to win a $45,000 home makeover by me! Time is running out—the sweepstakes ends at 11:59 p.m. ET on Friday, Sept. 18.)

 

gtl ali larter-01

White-gloss cabinetry: Larter’s kitchen has a clean, modern design that features white high-gloss cabinetry. The horizontal cabinets are a fresh, contemporary way to treat upper cabinetry. But custom cabinets in a high-gloss finish can be very expensive. Instead, check out this horizontal high-gloss cabinet from Ikea that starts at around $250.

gtl ali larter-02

Wide-plank flooring: Larter’s modern home is still cozy and warm, partly because of the white oak wide-plank floors. While white oak is a traditional material, the wide planks have a contemporary feel that provides a great anchor for her eclectic furniture. Hardwood wide planks often range from $15 to $20 per square foot, but here’s a great laminate plank option from Mohawk called “Rustic Legacy” that’s under $3 per square foot.

gtl ali larter-05

Organic contrast: This white-on-white bathroom might be too ultramodern for some buyers, but Larter’s softened the look with the organic contrast of root wood bowls. Each piece is unique, and it doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Here are some fun ones from Viva Terra that start at around $50.

gtl ali larter-03

Banquette dining: The built-in banquette has made a return in popularity in recent years for dining room decor, as the style is both cozy and elegant. The one in Larter’s dining room is a custom piece, which can cost thousands of dollars. Here’s the “Halifax” banquette, available on Wayfair.com for under $500.

gtl ali larter-04

Eclectic accents: To keep bathrooms from seeming cold in their modern design, Larter has accented hers with eclectic mirrors and accessories. This gear mirror has a salvaged industrial feel, which is a quirky surprise above the vanity. A true vintage piece can run over $1,000, but here’s a vintage-style pair of mirrors from Urban Trends for about $170.

New-Home Sales Are Up! How About Prices?

new home sales september 2015

The housing market ended summer on a positive note, with sales of newly built homes increasing 6% in August.

According to estimates released jointly on Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, sales of new homes in August were at a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of 552,000—a 6% increase over July’s 522,000. This was well above the consensus forecast of 515,000; plus, new-home sales are currently up about 22% over last year.

“The new-home sales report covering August released today was the most positive report so far in the housing recovery, but we should be careful to put too much credence to the monthly change, which once again failed to be statistically significant,” said Jonathan Smoke, chief economist of realtor.com®. “It’s hard to discern a monthly trend in August.”

That’s because the Census Bureau–HUD report is based on a small sample of builders, so the margin of error for the sample is large. For annual trends, though, there’s enough data to put the findings outside the margin of error.

Still, it’s worth noting that the median new-home price, $292,700 in August, increased for the second time this year.

There’s only 4.7 months of new-home supply on the market; that’s extremely tight. Remember, we learned last week that single-family starts were up only 15% in August over last year, but this increase is not outpacing demand. That’s why supply remains tight.

But overall, the forecast looks good.

“The new-home market should continue to grow in the months and years ahead,” Smoke said. Why? Because, he said, new home construction will rise again to the normal share of 15% from the current 9% share. In addition, Smoke expects new-home prices to come down a bit as builders shift more toward younger and first-time buyers.

Homes in the U.S. Towns With the Fastest-Growing Economies

Victorian homes in Wheeling, West Virginia

Victorian homes in Wheeling, West Virginia: Ryan Stanton/Flickr/Creative Commons

When the Commerce Department reported Wednesday on the economic growth of certain metropolitan areas across the U.S. in 2014, The Wall Street Journal was quick to note a common theme among these boomtowns: the energy sector! All of them are major centers for mining and other energy-related natural resources.

So it’s not surprising that half of the top 16 cities on the list are in Texas.

Holding the top slot is Midland, which saw its economy grow 24.1% from 2013 to 2014, sunstantially driven by mining. It’s the same story in nearby San Angelo, which is next on the list with 11.4% growth.

Of course, one of the main reasons that people relocate is for work, so you might want to check out our list of median-price homes in the top 10 cities with the fastest-growing economies.

Midland, TX

Economic growth 2013–2014: 21.4%

Median salary (in 2014, from the U.S. Census): $55,814

Median list price (from realtor.com August 2015 data): $250,000

Midland, TX

This four-bedroom, two-bathroom home boasts an open floor plan, a patio for entertaining, and even a workshop/storage shed out back. And it’s listed exactly at the median price for the area, $250,000.

 

Economic growth: 11.4%

Median salary: $43,143

Median list price: $194,000

San Angelo, TX

 

You’re definitely getting a whole lot for your money ($195,000) with this four-bedroom, 2.5-bathroom home that sprawls over 2,244 square feet. There’s a nice flagstone patio for your barbecue parties, and an enclosed patio when the weather isn’t so nice.

 

Economic growth: 10.3%

Median salary: $76,395

Median list price: $192,000

Lake Charles, LA

This adorable three-bedroom, two-bathroom cottage has style to spare. It’s recently been updated, while preserving the original red oak wood floors. Like the furniture? Hey, it’s yours! List price: $195,000.

 

Economic growth: 9.9%

Median salary: $96,803

Median list price: $298,000

Greeley, CO

Here’s a grandiose four-bedroom, three-bathroom home that features an open floor plan and 16-foot ceilings downstairs. There’s a granite kitchen island and wood floors, plus it’s all energy-efficient with green-certified construction. List price: $290,000.

 

Economic growth: 9.5%

Median salary: $58,775

Median list price: $112,000

 

 

Wheeling, WV

You get three bedrooms, one bathroom and a grassy yard for kids, dogs, and guests to enjoy. What more could you want for $112,000?

 

Economic growth: 8.5%

Median salary: $59,530

Median list price: $272,000

Dallas, TX

This four-bedroom (or five, if a study counts), 2.5-bathroom home listed at $272,000 features “updates galore,” according to the listing. They include crown molding, wood floors, granite counters, and—in true Dallas style—much more.

 

Economic growth: 7.6%

Median salary: $63,356

Median list price: $294,000

Bismarck, ND

Four bedrooms, three bathrooms, and four levels?! There’s a charming porch, a brick fireplace, and plenty of space (2,309 square feet) for $294,000.

 

Economic growth: 6.7%

Median salary: $50,107

Median list price: $236,000

Victoria, TX

Its location on a corner lot means this four-bedroom, two-bathroom home sits on 9,148 square feet of land that could be yours for $234,000 (less than median list price!). A vaulted ceiling gives the main level a spacious feel, and there’s even an upstairs loft that would work as an office.

 

Economic growth: 6.7%

Median salary: $96,481

Median list price: $878,000

San Jose, CA

In the “capital of Silicon Valley,” this three-bedroom, two-bathroom home features Brazilian walnut floors, a remodeled kitchen with granite counters, and high-end appliances. Total square footage is 1,320, and the price tag is  $878,000. Too pricey? Go back to Texas! We won’t hold it against you.

———

Corpus Christi, TX

Economic growth: 6.5%

Median salary: $52,050

Median list price: $238,000

Corpus Christi, TX

Corpus Christi, TX

4617 patriot st corpus christi tx

Ah, four bedrooms, 2.5 bathrooms, and 2,153 square feet of living space for $238,000. Maple cabinets and granite counters in the kitchen, dual showerheads in the master bathroom, and a walk-in master closet with built-in drawers is livin’ large, indeed.

My Home Isn’t Selling—When Should I Give Up?

House for Sale (or rent) sign

It’s the end of the traditional summer buying and selling season, and Debbie Davis is facing a major dilemma.

The Allentown, PA, resident put her four-bedroom, three-bathroom house up for sale in March. She figured it would fly off the market—after all, the house is spacious, well-maintained, has a fully remodeled basement, and is in a fantastic neighborhood. What’s not to love?

“I did all the things that my Realtor® recommended: painted and decluttered,” Davis says. “A house down the street was on the market for about $30,000 more than what I was asking, and so I was optimistic.” Very optimistic.

But then reality reared its ugly head. Davis’ house lingered on the market, attracting no offers. Finally she decided to take the hit—and dropped the price from $239,000 to $229,000. The result: one lowball bid.

Now Davis, a professional musician who moved several states away while her home still sits on the market, is forced to pay a mortgage on her new house (which would have been otherwise paid for with cash from the sale proceeds). And so, the dilemma: Davis’ Realtor contract is up at the end of the month. Should she keep trying to sell the house, or take it off the market and rent it out?

Davis isn’t alone in her quandary. It’s a seller’s market across the nation right now, but that doesn’t mean every home is being scooped up in a nanosecond.

When your home for sale is languishing on the market, how do you know when to give up? Here are a few things you should consider before you call it quits.

Take a good, hard look at the numbers

The first thing to do is evaluate the way the house is priced, says Shannon Sharpe, a Realtor in New Orleans.

“I mean really evaluate,” Sharpe says. “Look at the active competition. What else would a buyer in that price range be getting for the same amount of money? Can your house be marketed better?”

When a home is stalling on the market, it’s often a price issue. Scrutinize the market before making a decision. If you’re comfortable lowering the price, try selling it for three more months.

Analyze how your home was marketed

“Before you take the next step, really check what happened over the last six months,” says Gary Malin, president of Citi Habitats in New York City. “Arm yourself with as much information as humanly possible.”

He suggests asking a few questions:

  • Were you provided with traffic reports and detailed information about the number of people who saw the house?
  • What client feedback did you get?
  • What advertising did you do in print as well as online?
  • Do you have details on what people who viewed your property ended up buying?

 

Both Sharpe and Malin agree that if you aren’t happy with the marketing approach, it may be time to seek another real estate professional. Approaches differ, and you might need to find someone who is better suited to your needs.

“Given that you haven’t gotten the result you want, it might just not have been the right fit,” Malin says.

Don’t limit your options

So you discovered your home was priced appropriately and you have no quibbles with your Realtor’s approach. It’s time to take a deep breath and accept the possibility that your market is in a slowdown.

Ask agents about the typical time on the market. And, Malin notes, the choice doesn’t have to be between renting and selling the house. You can hedge your bets and try both options until you find a buyer.

“You could put the house up for rent and for sale at the same time so that potential clientele have a trial rental period,” Malin says. “Maybe it’s just a slow time in your market, and the rental market is really strong. Maybe a year from now the market will be better.”

Smart Tips for Selling Your Home While Living in It With Kids

messy-kid

Selling your house is a big, fat scary undertaking that comes with a fair amount of exhilaration when potential buyers line up to take a gander at your home. Before that happens, though, you have to prep your humble abode for sale—and that means keeping it in tiptop shape for showings.

If you have young kids, you’re probably laughing or having an anxiety attack at this notion. After all, how on Earth can you get hundreds of Lego bricks, piles of dirty laundry, and the remains of that morning’s breakfast out of sight before you hustle everyone out of the house every single day? Any parent who has shared living space with a toddler will tell you that’s asking a lot.

But don’t stress; we have some tips and tricks from the experts that will help you list and sell your home while working around your littlest residents.

Get kids to help you declutter

The first task, obviously, is to declutter. Enlist your kids’ help so they feel involved in the process, says Lauren Sheehan, a Realtor® in Portland, OR.

“Older kids are usually good about keeping their rooms clean, but offering more allowance money or special privileges can motivate them,” Sheehan suggests. “Younger kids are a little tougher to convince. I find that the reward chart system works really well. Give your kids a sticker each time they pick up toys or help clean their room. Once they’ve filled their chart, let them choose a special toy or treat as a reward so the process becomes less stressful and more fun.”

(Need some reward charts to get started? The “Supernanny” has you covered. You’re welcome.)

Let them pack their own items

Another way to engage your children’s help is to sit down with them and make a list of their toys, books, clothes, and games, then assign them certain items to pick up and pack away, says Kevin Curtis, a Realtor in Minneapolis, MN. Curtis also suggests letting your kids label and decorate moving boxes for extra measure. (What kid doesn’t love to go to town on cardboard boxes with a box of crayons or markers?!)

“Ask your kids to pick their favorite toys so they can keep playing with them, and have them store the rest away,” Curtis says.

And buyers understand that your entire life isn’t on hold for showings, Curtis says. Try to put toys away, make the beds, and keep the surfaces neat, but don’t obsess over the details in these rooms.

“It’s OK to let kids be kids; buyers aren’t going to judge the whole house based on your kid’s bedroom,” Curtis says.

Buyers coming over? Field trip!

After your home hits the market, you’ll need to think about what to do with your brood when buyers come to scope out your place. That’s where a little preparation and planning go a long way, Curtis says.

“Selling can be very disruptive to a family’s schedule, but try to make showing times fun so your kids get excited about showings instead of dreading them,” Curtis says. “Take them out to eat, go for ice cream, visit a relative or friend, go to the park, or stop by the library.”

Although you can’t always anticipate when buyers will view your home, most showings happen over the weekend. Sheehan suggests working with your Realtor® to schedule showings in long morning or afternoon blocks to make it easier on your kids. And don’t forget to keep a small stockpile of activities, snacks, and drinks ready for those one-off showings where you need to grab and go, Sheehan says.

Once your house finally sells, grab an adult beverage and congratulate yourself profusely on making it through the listing process with your sanity (and your kids!) intact.

Thinking of buying? Read more tips from Curtis and Sheehan about house hunting with young kids.

The Money-Saving Home Insurance Option No One Will Ever Tell You About

people covering cracked house with money representing home insurance

Rainbows aren’t the only things to follow a nasty spell of weather. As a homeowner, you might also notice an influx of storm-chasing contractors appearing out of the (water-soaked) woodwork—often suggesting how badly you need a new roof or siding due to wind and hail damage.

This is known as cosmetic damage repair (and also “opportunistic contracting”).

You probably didn’t realize, though, that these eager home-repair experts may well be indirectly pushing up home insurance prices in your area. When several claims for this type of work are submitted in a single a region, the price everyone pays (including those who haven’t filed a claim) can increase, because the insurer sees the region as having greater risk of additional claims.

“Hail damage is one reason Texans pay some of the highest annual home insurance premiums in the country,” says Loretta Worters, vice president at the Insurance Information Institute.

There’s nothing you can do about a widespread storm that damages several homes in your area and ultimately raises everyone’s rates. But you can help curb your own annual home insurance costs with a little-known option called “cosmetic damage exclusion.”

A storm of cosmetic claims

Claims for hail and wind damage have been responsible for roughly 40% of all home insurance claims in the past five years, according to the Insurance Information Institute. That’s up from around one-third in 2009. Many of those claims are believed to be for minor cosmetic repairs such as a few dimples in siding that, in some instances, homeowners were tricked into believing were way more urgent than they actually were.

Caveat emptor: “A contractor may misrepresent the extent of damage to shingles if a homeowner isn’t present and reviewing the damage with him,” says Billy Van Jura, an insurance broker in Poughkeepsie, NY.

Let’s stop for a moment and be absolutely clear: Homeowners are well within their rights to submit a claim for cosmetic damage covered by a home insurance policy. Just know that you’ll pay any applicable deductibles. And that these types of repairs are often not necessary.

Your home insurance company classifies dents, dimples, and dings in roof vents, shingles, or aluminum siding and fascia that do not compromise the structural integrity as “cosmetic damage” to a property, Van Jura says.

Cutting cosmetic damage coverage

In 2013, the American Association of Insurance Services created the cosmetic damage exclusion to protect consumers from scammers and try to keep home insurance rates affordable.

Available in nearly all states, this makes cosmetic damage coverage optional, allowing homeowners to decide if they want to foot the bill for cosmetic-only wind and hail damage—which could run anywhere from a few bucks to hundreds or thousands of dollars. However, if the damage compromises the integrity, safety, and/or structural functionality of the house, the home insurance policy will take effect.

Excluding cosmetic damage could drop the annual premium anywhere from $100 to $200 or more, says Troy Thompson, an independent insurance broker with Pinnacle Insurance Agency inCoon Rapids, MN. The savings varies based on factors such as your state, value of your home, and coverage amounts.

Most insurance carriers allow policyholders to opt out of cosmetic coverage, but Van Jura suggests shopping around and talking to two or three different carriers to fully understand the potential savings and risks.

“Ask your insurance agent or broker if this is an option, and what the savings would be,” he says. But, of course, if you opt for the exclusion, you can’t change your mind if you need to file a claim.

“Excluding cosmetic damage means you must be prepared to pay for repairs yourself,” Van Jura says.

Is It Time to Downsize? Ask Yourself These 4 Questions First

measuring-house

When is the right time to “rightsize” to a home that’s better suited to your needs? Well, if you’re in the 60+ crowd (or have a parent in that demo), there are plenty of things that can go into that decision. Maybe you’re finding yourself in a (more or less) empty nest. Maybe you want to (finally!) get serious about retirement planning. Maybe all that maintenance on your current home is more than you can or want to handle. Or, heck, maybe you just want to simplify your life.

Whatever the scenario, you’ll find that you have plenty of company. The U.S. Census Bureau’s population projections forecast that the number of Americans aged 65 and older will more than double by 2030, increasing from 35 million in 2010 to an estimated 72 million.

Of course, getting older doesn’t mean you have to slow down or compromise on the lifestyle you want. It just means you have to make informed, calculated decisions on how best to achieve it. And that’s especially true when it comes to homeownership.

So if you’re thinking about downsizing, ask yourself these questions first:

Q: What kind of lifestyle do I want after I downsize?

For some folks, it’s a matter of living a simpler life focused on family. Some might want to cross off travel destinations on their bucket lists. Some might want a low-maintenance community with high-end upgrades and social events. Decide what you want to achieve from your move first, and you’ll be able to better narrow down your housing options.

Alex Haigh, a Realtor® with Illustrated Properties in Stuart, FL, says most folks come to South Florida for the warmer weather and amenities, and he’s seeing more seniors who are still working—because they enjoy it or want to have an extra cushion in their budgets.

Debra Whitfield, a Realtor in Charleston, SC, who specializes in working with seniors, sees her older clients making two types of moves.

“The first move are retirees looking to enjoy their freedom, so they come down to Charleston to find active adult communities where they meet like-minded people that they can befriend easily,” Whitfield says. “The second comes after retirees have enjoyed their freedom for 10 years or so and they decide to move one last time to live closer to family to have the physical, emotional, and spiritual support they need.”

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Q: What should my buying budget look like? 

If you’re planning to retire soon or have already entered those coveted golden years, you’ll likely be on a fixed income. Downsizing might net you a decent profit, especially if the home you’re buying next costs considerably less than the one you’re selling. Consider other expenses as you age: medical bills, health and life insurance, travel, estate planning, final expenses, and home maintenance. The common rule of thumb: Spend no more than 30% of your monthly income on housing. But in theory, it should be a lot less if you’re downsizing.

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Q: Have I built up enough equity in my current home to make a profit?

For most homeowners, the answer is yes. This is if they’ve held on to their properties long enough to have positive equity that will be sizable enough to put a large down payment on their next home. Unless you have a significant amount of debt to pay off, chances are you’ll see enough profit from your sale to buy your next home outright or bring a sizable down payment on closing day.

Most of the inquiries Haigh receives are from retirees from the Northeast who are looking to relocate to the South. A majority of those downsizing buyers have a winning hand in bidding wars since they walked away with a profit on the sale of their old home. They have the funds and solid credit history to pay all cash or provide a large down payment, Haigh says.

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Q: Will I be able to find another home that’s affordable in a seller’s market?

OK, this is where things might get tricky. In some fast-paced markets (such as Denver orSan Francisco) where soaring home prices show no signs of letting up, you might have a tougher time. If you’re relocating from a pricier part of the country such as California or the Northeast for states such as Florida or Texas, however, you should be in a better bargaining position than first-time home buyers.

Whitfield advises her sellers who have the financial means to buy their next home first before selling their current one. She recommends they take out either an equity line of credit on their current home or a home equity conversion mortgage to finance their purchase, then pay off the loan when they sell their former home.

“Since we have low inventory here in Charleston, buying their next home first gives my clients control over finding the perfect property instead of being rushed to find whatever happens to be on the market after their house is under contract,” says Whitfield.

After you’ve answered these questions and feel confident about making your next move, find a Realtor who can help you determine what your current home is worth and what market conditions are like in the town you want to relocate to.

Not sure where you want to go but open to a new adventure? Check out Forbes’ list of the nation’s most affordable cities for retirement.