Financial Moves to Make After Closing

By John Voket

For first-time homebuyers, the lead up to and through move-in day demands the level of energy one might expend training for a marathon—or scaling Mount Everest! So it’s not unusual or uncommon for new homeowners to lose sight of the necessary steps they need to take to ensure their financial foundation is as solid and long-lasting as the one under their new home.

Rebecca Lake at reminds new homeowners that financial planning doesn’t stop once you sign off at the closing table—homeowners must protect their investment.

Check out the following information from this panel of experts aimed at helping new homeowners survive and thrive in their new residence:

Maintenance Cushion
A Bankrate survey estimates the average homeowner will spend an extra $2,000 per year on maintenance, including landscaping, housekeeping and minor repairs, so that’s a good financial cushion to plan for. That amount, however, doesn’t cover larger expenses you may encounter, like having to replace an HVAC system or roof, both of which can easily surpass $5,000.

Homeownership Savings
Freedom Financial Group Founder Tad Hill recommends first-time buyers should set up a separate homeownership savings fund to cover bigger repairs that amount to at least $5,000 to $10,000 in cash so it’s available when something breaks.

Needs vs. Wants says good money management involves separating needs from wants. If a homeowner isn’t sure if an item is a need or a want, try doing without it for a period of time. If after that time you truly can’t live without it, it may be a need.

Prioritize Your Debt blogger Elizabeth Renter affirms that your mortgage is likely your biggest debt, but that doesn’t mean it should be the biggest priority when it comes to paying off your debt. Renter says, before homeowners consider aggressively paying down their mortgage, they should consider eliminating higher interest debts like:

  • Credit cards
  • Payday loans
  • Title loans
  • High-interest personal loans

Extra Payment Plan
Renter adds that homeowners should only start thinking of making extra payments on a mortgage after all toxic debt is eliminated, your retirement is on track, and an emergency fund, like the one Hill mentioned, has ample cash.

John Voket is a contributing editor to RISMedia.

Want to See a Return on Your Home Improvement Investment? Prioritize These Projects

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In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, homeowners have turned their focus toward the home, embarking on renovations and remodels at an unprecedented rate. But not all projects are created equal. According to the Appraisal Institute, homeowners should prioritize cost-efficient improvement projects that improve their property’s value.

According to Remodeling magazine’s most recent Cost vs. Value Report, the projects with the highest expected return on investment (ROI) are:

Garage door replacement – 93.8% of cost recouped
Manufactured stone veneer – 92.1% of cost recouped
Minor kitchen remodel – 72.2% of cost recouped
Siding replacement – 68.3% of cost recouped

Other projects with potential payoffs, according to the report, are window replacements, a deck addition and a steel entry door replacement.

The Appraisal Institute advises homeowners to consider holding off on big renovations if they’re unsure how long they will be in their property. The longer a homeowner stays, the greater the opportunity to maximize the potential ROI.

Cost and ROI aside, home improvement projects are usually worth it if they improve the homeowner’s quality of life. For example, with the pandemic sparking an increase in work-from-home situations for many, now could be a great time to create or update home-office space, outdoor entertainment areas or at-home exercise studios.

The Appraisal Institute also encourages owners to upgrade elements of the home that will help ensure that the property meets community standards, reflects neighborhood norms and complies with local housing codes.

In addition to stimulating the building and construction sectors of the economy, which were significantly impacted by the recent economic downturn, home improvement projects can give you an important competitive edge in today’s low-inventory market should you decide to sell. Talk to a real estate professional about the types of improvements that will add the most value in your neighborhood.

5 Old-Fashioned Cleaning Tips That Won’t Go Out of Style

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These five old-fashioned cleaning tips are useful even in the modern world and won’t go out of style anytime soon.

Remove Water Rings on Furniture
Water rings on wood furniture have been the bane of homeowners through the ages. Thankfully, this decades-old trick is effective. Simply cover the ring with a layer of mayonnaise, let it sit for a few minutes and scrub the surface.

Use Newspaper to Keep Windows Sparkling
For a streak-free shine, don’t opt for paper towels that will leave lint behind. Instead, take a page from Grandma’s book and use a newspaper. With a similar streak-free shine to modern microfiber cloths, reuse Sunday’s paper to get your windows sparkling.

Get Stains Out With Sunshine
Don’t want to use a chemical bleach to get a stain out of your white clothing or sheets? Use the sunshine to naturally bleach your items. For particularly stubborn stains, add a bit of lemon juice to heighten the effect.

Reduce Wood Scratches With a Walnut
Whether your offending item is wood furniture or a wood floor, you can reduce the visibility of surface scratches with a walnut. Simply crack open your nut and rub on the scratch to make it disappear.

Remove Mineral Buildup With Vinegar
If your shower head has seen better days, you may only need a little vinegar to make it look new again. Mineral buildup from hard water can cause your shower head to look grimy. Remove mineral deposits by covering your shower head with a plastic bag full of white vinegar and secure it with a rubber band. Let your cleaning solution sit for a few hours and scrub with a toothbrush to complete the effect.

3 Tips to Protect Your Home for the Long Haul

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By Brentnie Daggett

Your home is likely the largest investment you’ll ever make, and the cardinal rule of investing is to protect and preserve. Preventative home maintenance will not only protect your home and preserve its value, but it will also help you save money in the long run.

Beyond the financial aspect, you want to ensure that your home is a safe and comfortable place for you and your family to live for as long as you desire. Here are three tips to protect and maintain your home for years to come:

Invest in Upkeep and Preventative Maintenance
Your home requires regular upkeep and care to prevent any issues from getting out of hand, which may be a new process to you if you’re a first-time homebuyer. A good first step is to create a property maintenance checklist where you break down all of the tasks and projects that need to be completed throughout the year (for example, complete HVAC maintenance before the winter months). Decide which tasks you can complete on your own and which tasks you’ll need to hire a professional to help with, such as roof inspection.

Items related to the roof, structure, HVAC systems and plumbing should be top priorities, no matter what time of the year, as these are critical to the infrastructure of your home. Preventative maintenance is key to avoid causing bigger problems down the road, so it’s wise to schedule things like HVAC maintenance and roof inspections to reduce your risk of breakdown. The 1% rule suggests that your budget should be at least 1% of your home’s purchase price for month-to-month maintenance. Be sure to consider factors like home age and climate when budgeting.

Build an Emergency Fund
Regardless of age, location or condition, all homes will inevitably need some form of unexpected or emergency repair—it comes with the territory of being a homeowner. It’s better to set up a savings account now that you can contribute to over time and pull from as needed.

Depending on the scope of the issue, you could be looking at thousands of dollars in repairs or equipment replacement costs. Some tasks can wait, like a busted washer and dryer or damage to flooring, but problems with the roof, foundation, plumbing, electrical or HVAC systems generally need to be assessed immediately. Being a homeowner isn’t cheap, but you can set yourself up for sustained success with a little foresight.

Don’t Ignore the Small Stuff
Don’t let a small issue snowball into a big problem—when you notice something is wrong, deal with it right away to save yourself time and money down the road. Something like a small faucet drip can quickly turn into a major water problem if ignored for too long. A leak in the water heater may not seem like an immediate problem, but this can often be a warning sign of tank failure. Be wary of seemingly small problems and look into them right away to avoid having to dip into your emergency fund.

Home maintenance is a vital part of being a homeowner to protect both your investment and the place you live. Whether you handle maintenance issues and repairs on your own or bring in a professional, promptly addressing and evaluating potential issues will make it far less likely that you will have to deal with disasters.

Photo by Kindel Media from Pexels

5 Feng Shui Mistakes to Avoid

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Feng shui, the ancient Chinese philosophy that looks to improve the energy flow in our homes, can help us create living spaces that promote positivity and harmony.

According to the experts at Real Simple, however, there are five common mistakes many homeowners make that go against the grain of feng shui principles. Take a look around and see if you have any of these offending situations in your home.

1. Blocked doors. In feng shui, doors are the means by which energy flows in and throughout your home. If you have a door that is unable to open a full 90 degrees due to clutter hanging behind it or a piece of furniture, remove the blockage so that your door can open fully.

2. Misdirected beds. One of the key principles of feng shui is placing your bed in a “commanding” position, one which lets us see opportunities coming toward us. With this in mind, make sure you’re able to see your bedroom door while lying in bed, without being directly in line with it—in other words, make sure your feet aren’t pointed out the door. If you can’t move your bed accordingly, strategically place a mirror from which you can see your door.

3. Beds against a wall. Make sure your headboard is against a wall, but that you have left space on either side of the bed. If you have one side of your bed entirely against a wall, this creates an imbalance of yin and yang. Just 18 inches of space will alleviate the problem.

4. Desk facing a window. While it certainly seems appealing to be able to gaze out your window as you move through your work day, in feng shui practice, facing a window while working pulls your energy toward it and away from your work. In other words, that amazing view might be more of a distraction than a benefit.

5. Desk in a bedroom. If you place your primary desk in your bedroom, you’re putting your work/life balance at risk. Seeing your desk while you’re heading to bed puts work top of mind when you should be focused on relaxing. Conversely, gazing at your bed while you’re trying to work can lure you toward sleep when you need to be plugged in and productive. If space restrictions necessitate a desk in your bedroom, put it behind a divider, like a screen or bookcase. Be sure to turn off your computer screen at night and cover it as well. This creates important visual and energetic boundaries.

7 Ways to Save Money Like Grandma Did

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While dealing with food rationing, supply shortages and tight budgets, many of our grandmas found ways to make money stretch while keeping their families happily fed and clothed.

Home economists suggest seven ways to make your money go further by following grandma’s example.

•  Buy From the Farmer – Cut out the middleman and buy fresh produce directly from the farmer at one of the thousands of farmer’s markets that pop up every week in towns and cities everywhere.

•  Learn Basic Sewing – No need to pay the tailor to repair a torn seam or take up a hem. Check out YouTube tutorials or take a basic sewing class at a local crafts store and think of the money you’ll save over the years by doing those simple chores yourself.

•  Swap Talents – If you can mow your neighbor’s lawn, and she loves to bake, trade your lawn care skills for her cinnamon rolls and you both make out like bandits without reaching into your pockets.

•  Eat In – Our grandparents didn’t rely on restaurant dining or take-out. Eating in is cheaper and  you don’t need to be a gourmet cook. Schedule taco night, pasta night, pizza night, soup night, even an occasional breakfast or salad night and, if possible, share the chef’s hat with your spouse or kids and let them add their ideas.

•  Pay With Cash – Grandma didn’t have a credit card, and paying with cash helps you control how much you spend. It also removes temptation to put too much on the credit card and wind up paying double the cost of your purchase because of the interest accrued.

•  Pack a Lunch – It’s okay to go out to lunch now and then, but packing your lunch on most work days will help you control portions, cut down on calories and save dollars every week.

•  Give More DIY Gifts – Who doesn’t love a plate of homemade brownies? Or a cozy-warm hand-knit afghan? Instead of buying gifts for family and friends, give an album of curated family photos or a coupon for a weekend of pet-sitting.

•  Save a Little – Grandma fed a piggy bank and saved a dollar a week in a Christmas Club account. You can, too, and/or set up a direct-deposit to automatically save.

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5 Ways to Make Your Home Eco-Friendly

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An earth-friendly approach to your home isn’t just good for the environment. Making minor adjustments with sustainability in mind can enhance your enjoyment and comfort while reducing expenses related to energy consumption.

Harness the sun’s rays. There’s a reason bright rooms with plenty of natural light tend to be warmer: that light carries heat. Although the effect is less in the winter than in the summer months due to the sun’s position in relation to the earth, those rays can help warm a room. Throw back the curtains and let the light stream in. Not only will you capture some natural warmth, a bright, airy room requires less electric light, so you’ll save on electricity, too.

Swap out cleaning products. While daily cleaners are often top of mind when considering your health and the environment, don’t overlook other types of cleaners, such as your laundry detergent. An option like all Free Clear Pure Liquid Detergent is 99% bio-based and provides a plant-based clean. It’s hypo-allergenic, which makes it a good option for sensitive skin, and is from the makers of the No. 1 recommended detergent brand by dermatologists, allergists and pediatricians for sensitive skin. Learn more at

Get smart about technology. Not only do smart devices add convenience to your home, they can be highly effective tools for helping manage energy usage. Programmable thermostats are especially useful because you can set them to automatically adjust temperatures when you’re away from home, but other devices like smart lights can also be programmed to recognize motion or adjust at certain times of day to reduce energy consumption in unused spaces.

Manage water usage. Many people don’t realize how much water they’re wasting at home. Consider that the Environmental Protection Agency estimates about 30% of each household’s water goes to the toilet and chances are good you’re literally flushing away that natural resource. Manage your water usage by only running full loads of dishes and laundry, eliminating leaks, reducing shower times and switching to a low-flow or other eco-friendly toilet.

Improve air quality. It may not be the first thing you think of when it comes to clean air, but your flooring plays an important role in your home’s air quality. In addition to improving ventilation and opening windows for natural air circulation, you can take other steps to naturally boost your air quality without relying on energy-dependent filtration systems. The carpet in your home can contribute to poor air quality, so be sure to vacuum frequently to minimize dust, dander and other allergens.

Simple adjustments can make a big impact on the earth and your monthly energy expenses. Start with an audit of your home so you can begin taking steps toward an eco-friendly environment.

3 Tips for a Healthy, Sustainable Home

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Wellness and sustainability are two of today’s biggest buzzwords and when it comes to luxury real estate, they often go hand-in-hand. A healthy living space tends to be one that has little impact on the environment, which is good news for anyone who strives to embrace these two concepts. If you want a home that promotes wellness for you and your family without causing harm to the planet, here are several ways to make that a reality.

Organic Cleaning Products
The majority of cleaning products that we use in the home are full of harsh chemicals that are bad for people, pets and the environment. Aerosol spray cans, for example, are known to release harmful gasses into the atmosphere, but they can also introduce volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into your home. Detergents, dishwashing liquid and chlorine bleach are just a few other products that are commonly made with chemicals that take a toll on both your well-being and mother nature. That should be reason enough to opt for organic cleaning products throughout the house. Natural ingredients are just as effective at doing their job, yet far gentler on our planet and the people in your home.

Two Types of Ventilation
Proper ventilation is key to ensuring that your home has good indoor air quality and can also reduce your carbon footprint. For instance, a home that’s designed for natural ventilation will be comfortable without air conditioning during the warmer months, because the breeze passes through and ceiling fans keep the air circulating. Thoughtful landscape design might also include plenty of trees to keep the home in the shade, as well as absorb carbon in the atmosphere.

Nonetheless, sometimes you simply have to put the air conditioning on to be comfortable. These days, homes are designed to tightly seal the air inside and reduce the loss of heating or air conditioning, which is good for the environment but bad for your air quality, as it can become stale and stagnant. If that happens, you may want to consider installing a ventilation system that can bring fresh air into your home while sealing in the heat or air conditioning.

Vegetable Garden 
These days, it’s all too common for produce to be grown using pesticides that are bad for the environment and our health. By starting your own vegetable garden, you can ensure that your family is eating truly organic veggies that are free of all the toxic chemicals. Furthermore, you’re eliminating the need for fossil fuels to transport food from the farm to your table.

Simple Home Staging Tricks to Incorporate Into Everyday Life

When selling your home, there’s no doubt that making the space look appealing can go a long way when it comes to landing a deal. When you are looking to sell, it’s worthwhile to invest in a home stager whose trained eye will ensure your home puts its best features forward. However, that’s not the only time you can benefit from a home stager’s expertise. Borrow these tricks from the pros so that you can enjoy your home even more in your everyday life.

Rearrange or Rehome Your Furniture
The more furniture in a room, the more it tends to look cluttered and small. Home stagers look at your room’s potential and arrange the furniture accordingly. Maybe you don’t really use that extra side table on the end of your couch, or if you move your small kitchen table against one wall, you can open up more walking space and visual separation between your dining and living areas. Play with your furniture with fresh eyes, and don’t keep anything you don’t use. Even if it’s “conventional” to have a pair of side tables, the space you gain from nixing one may be worth it.

Opt for a Large Area Rug
A small area rug in the center of your room may seem cost-saving, but it will visually shrink the space. Spring for a large rug that creates a minimum border of uncovered space, the last thing you want your decor to do is make your usable living space feel smaller. Investing that extra cash will be worthwhile.

Avoid Dead Space
While a minimalist design can help your home feel larger, you still want to avoid dead spaces that feel unwelcoming. Keep all corners and nooks of the home alive with an additional light source, like a floor or wall lamp, wall art or even a plant. This is especially helpful at the end of hallways or other small nooks within the home. Brightening these spaces can ensure that every inch of your house feels cozy and welcoming.