Category Archives: Buying and Selling Tips

Interest Rates

Did you know Interest Rates Are Low Right Now? 

interest rates

Interest rates have been one of the biggest incentives to purchase a home over the last few years.  With interest rates at historic lows, you are able to borrow more money that you would otherwise.  Your interest makes up a huge portion of your monthly mortgage payment.

For example, if you have a gross monthly income of $4000 with virtually no debt, you could afford a payment of around $1100 per month.  That figure comes from the standard that many banks use that says your monthly housing costs should not exceed 28% of your monthly income.  If your interest rate is 4%, the portion of that $1100 that goes towards your principal is greater.

When the interest rates rise to 5%, that decreases the portion of the payment that actually goes towards your principal.  What that translates to is the at 4%, you might be able to qualify for a mortgage around $195,000 where as at 5%, you might only qualify for $178,000.  The most important thing to remember about interest rates is that they don’t change your monthly payment, but rather how that payment is divided up and ultimately what you are about to qualify for.

-Anne Skinner

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What to Know When Going From Renting to Owning

6 Things Renters Should Know in Summit County: When They Go From Renting to Owning

1) Your mortgage can be less than your rent.  That is not always the case but with our extreme rentals rates it definitely can be the case for many people.  When you own a home you will be responsible for paying for your association dues if there are any.  This can affect the overall amount you contribute towards housing each month.
2) Your mortgage payments can fluctuate.  Your mortgage payment is typically made up of principal, interest, taxes and insurance. The biggest reason mortgage payments fluctuate is because taxes and insurance may change year to year.  Our taxes are mainly based on the value of your home.  The county and towns re-asses these values every two years so your payments may fluctuate then.
 
3) When you are buying a home, your lender probably can not count income from roommates.  Most lenders can only count income from a lease when you have a signed lease in hand.  You may not be able to get a lease signed until you own the home.  It’s a smart idea to make sure that you can handle the full mortgage payments on your own so you don’t find yourself in a tough situation.
4) You can buy a home with a friend or family member. Two friends can go in on a home together to make the purchase more affordable.  You would buy the home as “tenants in common.”  You would want to make sure you have a plan in writing for what will happen when one person wants to sell or move. You can also have a family member co-sign for you.
5) Plan to be at your new home for at least 2 years.  When renting, you may move to different areas more frequently.  Once you buy a home, you will want to occupy it as your primary residence for at least 2 years otherwise there can be greater tax implications.
6) You may need to abide by new rules.  When you own a home you need to ensure that you are complying with the rules and regulations of the neighborhood or complex.  On the upside, most owners are allowed to have pets where as it might have been a struggle to find a rental where you could have a pet.

‘Can You Make Money Renting Your Home in the Mountains?’

One question I am always asked is, ‘Can you make money renting your home in the mountains?’  There are a lot of factors that go into that, but rental rates have become so strong over the last year that most often the answer is yes! A couple years ago you would have been lucky to break even but we have seen at least a 5% increase in rental rates from year to year which has really helped Homeowners to cover their costs.  In addition, Summit County has become a year round destination so we are no longer seeing very slow months like we have in the past.

One of the keys in maximizing your rental income potential is the quality of the updates done to your home.  Homes that are remodeled, staged well and have professional pictures will be some of the first homes that potential renters will be attracted to.  The next factor is the number of people your home can sleep.  That doesn’t necessarily translate to the number of bedrooms.  If renters can comfortably sleep 4-6 people in a 1 bedroom home, you can charge a premium.  What that means is that you need high quality pull-out couches, Murphy beds, or other sleeping solutions. Also, don’t forget, renters love hot tubs and are willing to pay for them!

Summit Mountain Rentals is a great resource for Homeowners who are looking to rent their homes. Their blog has a lot of wonderful information for Owners.

Please contact me if you have any questions or concerns about the rental potential of your current or future mountain home!

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RENTING YOUR VACATION HOME YOURSELF? AVOID THESE FIRST-TIMER PITFALLS

Summit Mountain Rentals (a property management company in Summit County) has some great advice for first-time second homeowners who are looking to rent their property. 


RENTING YOUR VACATION HOME YOURSELF? AVOID THESE FIRST-TIMER PITFALLS

By

Mark Waldman

If you’re renting your vacation home for the first time, it’s easy to fall victim to what we call “first-timer pitfalls.” Renting your vacation home is a business. Unfortunately, many forget this and treat renting their home too casually or forget to consider the consequences. Running a business, even a small one like renting your property, takes time, effort and thoughtfulness.

Here are the top things to never forget:

Pay your taxes
In the beginning of the vacation rental market, governments were not too worried about a single homeowner paying sales tax. But with the advent of VRBO, AirBnB and other online channels of sale, vacation rentals by owners is big business — with big revenue. Local tax entities no longer look kindly upon a “casual” attitude toward paying taxes. The last couple of years, city, county and state governments have offered amnesty to homeowners for back taxes as long as they start paying current taxes. However, these types of programs are going away.

If you are renting your property, you owe sales tax — and not paying sales tax is a crime. If you have not been paying sales tax, start now. Remember, it does not affect your rental’s price. Everyone expects to pay sales tax on top of the price you list; you just need to tell your guests and charge them for it. There is no reason to risk criminal action, so pay your taxes.

Need help? Check out this great article on vacation rental taxes.

Get professional pictures of your rental
Yes, this costs money. But the difference in revenue, guest satisfaction and just plain pride in your home calls for professional pictures. And, unless you sell photography for money, you are not a professional photographer. The number one way to distinguish yourself from other properties in the sales process is to have great pictures. Homeaway/VRBO is now building algorithms to determine if you have good pictures; if so, you get a higher spot in their listings. This will become standard in the market. Not only do good pictures generate better income; it makes for happier guests. The number one way to make a guest happy is to meet or exceed their expectations. So take lots of great pictures and let your guest know exactly what they are getting. You will make them happier, generate better income and reviews, and just make your life easier.

Upgrade your vacation home
If you walk into your vacation home and say “Wow, I really like being here,” so will your guests. Think of it this way: going cheap gets cheap — and going nicer gets nicer. If you furnish and treat your home like a “rental,” then your guest will do the same. If you furnish and treat your home like a beautiful home, then your guests will do the same. Nicer homes have much less wear and tear because guests love them and come back. I always advise my owners to make their home something they love to come to. It always works — guests know the second they come into a home whether the owner cares about their property. And, it will generate more money for you. The number one way to increase price and sell more nights is creating repeat guests. People come back to places they like. Making your home spectacular not only makes you feel good when you visit, it makes your guests feel good and makes you more money through higher rates and higher occupancy.

Need help? Check out these great articles on updating vacation-home kitchens and bathrooms.

A bad bed is just a bad bed
Have you slept or at least tried to take a nap on all the beds in your vacation home? If you haven’t, do it. One bad review about mattresses can make you lose a lot of guests. People don’t call and ask if you replaced a bad mattress they read about in a review; they just don’t come. If you get a complaint, go try to sleep on the bed. If your mattresses are 10 years old … they are 10 years old! Replace them. The primary function of a vacation home is to sleep. Often your guests will not even eat in the home, but they all sleep in the home. If you don’t give them a good night’s sleep, nothing else matters.

Need help? Check out this great articles on updating vacation-home bedding.

Have local resources ready
Now that you have found your renters, collected their money and checked them in — what happens next? Why, Murphy’s Law, of course: “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.” The TV won’t work, the heat goes out, the air conditioning goes out, the fire alarm goes off, the water doesn’t come out of the master shower … and so on. Almost no one realizes how often things go wrong in their own home … we just take care of it. But in your vacation rental — for which someone is paying good money — you now have to take care of the same issues for someone else. And, you’re a 1000 miles away.

It is imperative that you not only have names and numbers of good local vendors (plumbers, electricians, etc.) but that you have interviewed them. You need to know if the plumber will come out on a Sunday night at 10 p.m. (You do know that toilets only overflow on a weekend night, right?) You need to know that your audio video resource will be able to fix the TV on Super Bowl weekend (again, this always happens!). You need to know that electrician will go out and fix the power at 1 a.m. so the house does not freeze. There is nothing worse than having a guest yelling at you over the phone because their 2-year-old child has been sleeping in a freezing cold or overheated room for four hours. Be prepared … and know your resources.

Pricing is important
Don’t be fooled: Having every date sold in July 2016 by the end of August 2015 the previous year is not “great.” It means your pricing is WAY TOO LOW. Not only have you lost out lots of revenue, you have probably rented to the cheapest and least respectful people. The same is true for not having July 4 booked by June 15. In this case, your pricing is probably WAY TOO HIGH.

So … pricing is very important. You need to sell your property, but you don’t want to give it away. The trick is research and paying attention. Do a quick search of the vacation homes that are similar to yours. How are they priced? Now do you want sell your home before them (price yours slightly lower) or after them (price yours slightly higher). Then pay attention. if your home is selling too fast, raise the price. If it is selling slowly, lower the price.

Renting a vacation home is a job
It takes time. Don’t fool yourself. If you want to do it yourself, make sure you have the time to do things right. What I’ve discussed here is just a small part of what it takes to rent your vacation home yourself. If you take the time and do it right, you can make good money. But if you don’t have the time or don’t like doing it, no amount of money made will be worth the aggravation.

So, try it! You’ll know quickly if you like it. If you don’t like doing it, get a good property management company do it for you. Either way, USE YOUR HOME AND ENJOY IT. I have found that owners who visit their vacation home often have the happiest guests. If you are happy with your vacation home, then others will be happy too.

If you have any questions about renting your vacation property yourself, call me! I’m happy to talk with you and help you get started. Here’s my number:

Mark Waldman, Owner, Summit Mountain Rentals, 970-423-7382

Or, shoot me an email. You can also post any questions (or tips) on vacation rentals in the “Comments” section below.

5 Home-Buying Mistakes That Can Sabotage Your Retirement

5 Home-Buying Mistakes That Can Sabotage Your Retirement

By
Daniel Bortz

William Howell/iStock

Buying a home is a major step toward building a solid, secure financial future—so whether you’ve made the plunge into ownership or are aiming to soon, you should pat yourself on the back! (This, of course, is not as easy as it seems.) And yet, in the race to settle into a place of your own, it can be easy to overextend yourself and cut corners on yet another important financial goal: saving for retirement.

Even if retirement is decades away for you, this subject nonetheless repeatedly tops the list of Americans’ economic fears in Gallup’s annual Financial Worry metric. But just because you buy a home doesn’t mean you can’t save for retirement, too. It’s a high-stakes balancing act, one where the right home-buying decisions will keep your retirement on track, and the wrong ones may throw you seriously off-kilter.

Here are some common retirement saboteurs to avoid.

Saboteur 1: Buying a house outside your price range

When you purchase a home, your retirement savings are on the line—even if it may not seem that way at the time.

“Housing is the biggest expense most people have,” points out Mary Erl, a certified financial planner and owner of Nest Builder Financial Advisors in Gurnee, IL. Hence, if you purchase a property that’s way outside your budget—and you’re forced to forfeit saving for retirement in order to make your mortgage payments—you’ve put yourself in a bind. A pickle, even.

And don’t just consider your current income, but your future income, too.

“People almost never take future earnings into consideration,” laments Joe Pitzl, a certified financial planner and partner at Pitzl Financial in Arden Hills, MN. “Younger couples get married, buy their first home based on their combined household income. But then when they start a family, one of the spouses leaves the workforce to raise the children and all of a sudden they’re bringing in a lot less money each month. That reduces how much money you can save for retirement.”

Saboteur 2: Draining retirement accounts for a down payment

While it’s tempting to borrow from your IRA or 401(k) to amass a down payment on a home, many financial experts say home buyers should do so sparingly, only as a last resort. IRAs and 401(k) plans are called retirement accounts for a reason—you’re not meant to touch the money until you’ve entered your golden years. If you borrow from either plan before age 59½, you’ll get slapped with a 10% excise tax on the amount you withdraw, on top of the regular income tax you pay on withdrawals from traditional defined contribution plans. Ouch.

Making early withdrawals also obviously prevents the money from accruing interest in these accounts. Put simply: Raiding the piggy bank before the money has matured can put a serious dent in your retirement savings, and many underestimate the repercussions.

“Withdrawing $5,000 from your IRA or 401(k) to pay for home repairs may not seem like a big deal,” Pitzl says. “But if you do so at age 30, that money would have grown exponentially over time if you left it in the account.”

Saboteur 3: Paying off your mortgage too quickly

While it sure sounds impressive to pay off your mortgage in three years, it’s not necessarily the best for your retirement. The reason: There’s good debt and bad debt. You want to pay off your credit card bill (bad debt) in full each cycle or you’re going to pay interest. Mortgage payments, though, work differently.

From a psychological standpoint, you probably don’t like owing a hefty sum to your lender. (We don’t blame you.) However, if you’re a younger homeowner with a new mortgage (good debt), it’s beneficial from a retirement savings perspective to make only the minimum monthly payments on the loan and invest the money where you can get a higher return.

For example, on a 30-year mortgage, at today’s interest rates, it makes more sense to put the money into an IRA or 401(k) than increase your mortgage payments, Pitzl says. “Don’t throw every penny you can at your mortgage debt,” he says. Granted, if you’re approaching retirement and are close to paying off your mortgage, it may make sense to up your payments if you want to retire debt-free.

Saboteur 4: Not saving for a rainy day

When asked about their emergency savings, an alarming 29% of Americans said they had none, according to a report last year by Bankrate.com. Nada. But without a sufficient emergency fund, you may be tempted to run up credit cards or tap your home’s equity or retirement accounts to pay for major repairs (new roofs don’t come cheap). And “if you get laid off, your mortgage payments don’t stop,” Erl says.

Therefore, make sure you have enough cash tucked away to cover six months of living expenses in the event you lose your job and budget 2% of your home’s value for annual maintenance (1% for newer homes), says Pitzl.

Saboteur 5: Waiting too long to downsize

Your $1 million McMansion may have made sense when your family of five was living under one roof, but if you’re heading into retirement, it’s probably time to downsize.

A common mistake, says Austin Chinn, a certified financial planner at Fountain Strategies in San Jose, CA: “People destroy their retirement savings by staying in their home so that they can have their kids move back in after they graduate college.”

Unless you’ve budgeted for a boomerang child, you need to do what makes sense for you financially.

“If you can move from a larger home to a smaller home and wipe out your mortgage, that’s a huge boost to your retirement,” says Erl.

Because crunching the numbers can be complicated, it can be helpful (and a huge relief) to meet with a financial planner to determine if a reverse mortgage makes sense for you (find one at Napfa.org).

7 Bathroom Renovations That Really Pay Off

7 Bathroom Renovations That Really Pay Off

kohler.com

Let’s get real: The first room you stumble into in the morning—bleary-eyed, dazed, and yawning—should be a soothing oasis. A bathroom that achieves those lofty heights? That’s a bathroom you can love. That’s why these most special of rooms are second only to kitchens as the areas homeowners eagerly spend time and money renovating—and that catch a buyer’s eye when you’re trying to sell.

But exactly which upgrades are the best, in terms of both usefulness and return on investment? Before you go nuts installing saunas and rain shower heads, check out this second installment in our series Renovations That Really Pay Off, for some smarter tweaks you’ll be very glad you made.

Reglaze, don’t replace, the tub

“No, no, no—do not put in a new tub,” says Rebecca Knaster, associate broker with Manhattan’s William Raveis. “It’ll cost thousands between the tub and the installation.” Instead, have the tub reglazed for “around $1,500,” which will make it look brand new.

Matt Plaskoff, founder of One Week Bath, agrees that if the shower area “is in decent shape,” it’s best to concentrate on the front part of the bathroom, which “sets the tone for the space.” 

Invest in a new sink

Face washing, teeth brushing, gerbil bathing—your sink sees a lot of use. It’s also the very first thing a buyer notices in a bathroom, says Knaster.

“Step 1 for getting the most bang for your buck is a new contemporary sink,” she says. “It will set you back a few hundred dollars and make all the difference.”

Just note whether the sink you already have is an undermount (where the edge is below the countertop to create an uninterrupted surface) or overmount (where the sink lip comes up over the countertop), says interior designer Randal Weeks, founder of Aidan Gray Home.

An undermount can be difficult to remove unless it’s under a formica top. If the sink is adhered to the surface, the top will also have to go, which quickly drives up the cost. One easy and dramatic sink upgrade Weeks recommends is replacing separate hot and cold faucets with a sleek single-handle faucet that starts at $70.

Go for timeless tile

While natural stone is hot, Weeks prefers neutral styles that will appeal to a broader range of people and provide better return on investment. Pricey stones are taste-specific, he notes, and can give a busy look that’s a turnoff regardless of expense.

In fact, Weeks says one of the biggest issues buyers consider when making offers is the cost of redoing other people’s “bad choices.” So go for crowd-pleasing features such as bright white subway tiles, which run a mere 21 cents each. The payoff?

“You can add $10,000 of value to your home by selecting timeless elements that won’t date it.” 

Upgrade your lighting

It’s not just Snow White’s evil stepmother and the Kardashians who spend lots of time staring into the mirror on the bathroom wall. For most of us, lighting and lighting fixtures are critical elements.

“Dated light fixtures are a turnoff,” says Knaster. “For no more than $100 you can buy a basic but nice bathroom light fixture.”

Install a double vanity

The last thing you need in the morning is a battle with your partner over who gets the sink. It’s no wonder “I’m looking for a double vanity” is one of the most common things heard by Will Johnson, a Hendersonville, TN, real estate agent and founder of the Sell and Stage Team.

A double vanity typically costs between $200 and $800, with installation falling around $220, Johnson says—and it’s a wise investment. Johnson has clients who “won’t buy a house simply because there’s only one sink in the master bathroom!”

Swap in new fixtures

“Old materials such as bronze can instantly date your bathroom,” says Johnson. To knock out this easy DIY update, simply purchase new door handles, drawer pulls, and towel bars. A nice chrome drawer pull can cost as little as $3, while a towel bar canaverage $30

Get a water-saving toilet

Old toilets use 6 gallons of water per flush, gobbling up about 30% of all residential water in U.S. homes. Go green when you swap out your throne. New WaterSense models using only 1.28 gallons per flush (e.g., TOTO’s Carlyle II 1G toilet) conserve up to 18,000 gallons of water annually. The initial cost of $974 will shave more than $110 per year off a water bill and add up to almost $2,200 over the lifetime of the toilet. Bonus: The latest water-saving thrones actually work.

But skip the bidet 

Bidets may be considered the Rolls-Royce of toilet upgrades, but most bathrooms simply don’t have room for them. What’s worse: Most Americans have no idea what on Earth these things are and may even be weirded out  by them.

“My personal opinion is that our society is not accustomed to this practice and doesn’t see the extra value in them,” says Tracy Kay Griffin, an expert designer at Express Homebuyers in Springfield, VA. “We haven’t renovated a home yet where we thought it would be a good investment to add a bidet.” Just say nay to the bidet.

Non-Bank Servicers Creating Bigger Mortgage Problems

Non-Bank Servicers Creating Bigger Mortgage Problems

By
Catherine Curan

elenaleonova/iStock

It’s hard to find a more sympathetic foreclosure story than Kathleen Conrad’s.

The disabled widow of a Marine who served in Vietnam, Conrad, 66, lives in a rundown Westchester house the couple bought in 1999, realizing their modest version of the America dream.

But after her husband died in 2004, Conrad faced larger-than-expected cuts to her widow’s benefits. During the 2007 housing market boom, she took out a second mortgage from GMAC. In 2013, Conrad fell behind on payments and was contacted by her loan’s new owner, Infinite Customer Systems and the strong-arm tactics began to get Conrad out of the home.

Unlike big banks, non-bank servicers like Infinite are not bound by even the modest consumer protections built into the National Mortgage Settlement (NMS) of 2012.

Non-bank servicers are taking a page from their predecessors’ playbooks. Sources say that many of the same old problems the NMS partially sought to address are back with the nonbank servicers, including long delays in reviewing loan modifications and wrongful denials of loan modification requests.

While Federal Housing Finance Agency director Mel Watt is still dithering about whether to finally allow principal write downs to help troubled borrowers keep their homes, private investors who’ve already gotten a steep discount on distressed debt sold by government-sponsored entities are using hard-knuckle tactics with homeowners.

“The investors buying these loans are not interested in offering home-saving solutions to struggling homeowners,” said Jacob Inwald, director of foreclosure prevention at Legal Services NYC.

As government-sponsored enterprises including Fannie Mae sell delinquent mortgage loans to shore up their balance sheets and banks pull back on this market, private investors are muscling in. They range from small fry like Virginia-based Infinite Customer Systems to $60 billion Texas-based private equity titan Loan Star Funds. Loan Star is the backer of mortgage servicer and originator Caliber Home Loans, a major new player in New York.

After a flood of complaints about Caliber’s practices, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman opened an investigation last year. Loan Star declined to comment. A spokesman for the AG said the investigation is ongoing.

ICS’ Patrick Desjardins said he tried to reach a deal with Conrad before filing foreclosure. She halted the case by filing for bankruptcy protection, aided by foreclosure defense attorney Linda Tirelli. Earlier this month, a judge voided ICS’ lien, leaving the investor with worthless paper, and Conrad in her home.

“I don’t know where I would have [gone]” Conrad said. “That’s why I was fighting so hard to keep the house.”

Experts fear the new wave of investors will steamroll other vulnerable New Yorkers.

“We’re really concerned about the outlook,” said a spokesman for the Center for NYC Neighborhoods. “This is an unprecedented transfer of property ownership, accelerated by the distressed sales to non-bank servicers.”

Non-banks serviced 25 percent of the $9.9 trillion in outstanding US residential mortgages last year, against just 7 percent in 2012.

That’s according to a new Government Accountability Office report released last week by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), who called for more oversight. This shift could lead to “harm to consumers, such as problems or errors with account transfers, payment processing, and loss mitigation processing,” the report said.

These new risks come as thousands of New Yorkers are mired in foreclosure. A new report from New Yorkers for Responsible Lending notes that as of last October, the state had nearly 90,000 pending foreclosure cases, half of which were filed in the previous 12 months. The crisis has bypassed wealthy enclaves of the city while ravaging low-income minority neighborhoods in Brooklyn, Staten Island and Queens.

To-Dos: Your April Home Checklist

The Renovation Dilemma: What to Fix If You’re Selling

The Renovation Dilemma: What to Fix If You’re Selling

By
Deborah Kearns

Warren Goldswain/iStock

It’s always a Sisyphean task to set a budget for a renovation—or at the very least an ever-moving target—but if you’re planning to put your home on the market, you’ll have a way different set of calculations than a starry-eyed new homeowner.

Before you embark on a gut of your circa-1990 kitchen, consult with a Realtor® and a general contractor about which renovations will yield the biggest return on investment. How much work you’ll need depends on your home’s value, your market, and the comps in your neighborhood.

“In competitive markets where prices are through the roof, like San Francisco or New York City, you don’t really need to do renovations before selling,” says Mike Aubrey, a Realtor with Long & Foster Real Estate in Gaithersburg, MD. “But in other places where inventory is going up, your house needs to measure up to the other listings on the market.”

Committed to doing some work? Start by thinking small. Minor cosmetic upgrades go a long way in getting more buyers through the door for a quicker sale—and time on market is key to determining what you’ll net at closing.

Where to start? Here are some suggested upgrades (and some to avoid):

Walls and floors

Replacing or refinishing your flooring and painting the walls are the quickest and least expensive ways to give a house new life, Aubrey says. With these enhancements, you can expect roughly a 15% uptick in asking price.

Paint color matters. Shades of gray are in with buyers right now; stay away from tan and beige hues—they scream the era of Bill Clinton and Seattle grunge, Aubrey says. While you can certainly go the DIY route with paint, hiring a pro will get the best results. Expect to spend $2,000 to $3,000 for whole-house interior painting, Aubrey says.

The same goes for new carpet. A sturdy, builder-grade fiber in a neutral color that doesn’t compete with your wall color is the way to go. While most buyers prefer hardwood floors, they’re pricey to install. If you have existing hardwood floors, refinishing them will bring back the luster.

If you live in an area where ceramic tile is the standard (hey, we’re looking at you, Florida), a less expensive and durable option is DuraCeramic, an engineered tile that mimics the look of ceramic without the high cost, Aubrey says. You can find it for less than $3 per square foot.

Doors

According to Remodeling magazine’s 2015 Cost vs. Value Report, replacing your existing front door with a new steel door will net you a 101.8% return on resale for a minimal replacement cost of about $1,230. Who knew? But think about it: It’s the first and last thing you’ll touch on your home visit. It makes an impression.

Installing a new garage door has an impact on buyers, too. Even better: It offers an 88% return at resale and costs an average of about $1,600 to replace, according to the Remodeling report.

Roof and siding

Adding a new roof and replacing your home’s unsightly vinyl siding will also yield a high ROI, Aubrey says. His assertion is backed by the Cost vs. Value Report, which found that homeowners recouped 72% and 80% of the cost, respectively, for those upgrades. Another benefit: When it comes time for inspection and appraisal, having those repairs done will not only increase the value of your home but also reduce the likelihood of being forced to make fixes or adjust pricing later in the process.

Kitchens

A modern kitchen is a top draw for buyers—but don’t try to overhaul a dated one, which could cost mucho dinero. Buying new cabinet drawer pulls, painting or refacing old cabinets (white is in right now), and installing sleek light fixtures are all low-cost upgrades that will make your kitchen sparkle.

New appliances, which can run about $10,000 for a whole-kitchen replacement, are an easy way to add value. While the upfront cost might be hard to swallow, new stainless appliances make your kitchen more attractive to a wider range of buyers, says Ashley Oakes-Lazosky, a Realtor with Vegas Homes and Fine Estates in Las Vegas.

Granite or quartz countertops are also hot, but they can be pricey, depending on your kitchen layout.

“You need bids from professional remodelers to figure out how much new countertops will cost—and if it fits your budget and timetable for selling,” says Robert Criner, chairman of the National Association of Home Builders Remodelers and owner of Criner Remodeling in Newport News, VA.

A less pricey alternative is simply adding a clean, white ceramic tile backsplash to create visual appeal, Criner adds.

Upgrades to skip

Thinking about finishing an attic or basement? Adding a deck? Well, don’t. Those upgrades tend to be pricey, and buyers will likely prefer to remodel those areas to their own tastes.

Other areas to avoid doing a major renovation: bathrooms, bedrooms, and home offices, according the Remodeling report.

In other words, if it ain’t broke, don’t renovate it!

5 Spine-Tingling Stories From Exterminators and What They Learned

5 Spine-Tingling Stories From Exterminators and What They Learned

By
Craig Donofrio

spxChrome/iStock

Exterminators have seen it all. They’ve seen stuff that no one, including them, ever wants to see. And as long as you’re at a safe distance, it’s oddly fascinating to delve into what some of their worst days actually were like. Check out these war stories—and learn professional secrets for keeping your own home critter-free.

The case of the black kitchen floor

One day in the summer of 2009, John Kane, a technical services manager for the pest control company Orkin, went to a home in a Philadelphia suburb to get rid of a reported mice problem. It turned out to be a very big problem.

“There were frayed wires hanging from the ceiling and holes in the walls,” Kane recalls of the two-bedroom home occupied by an older couple. “The kitchen floor was black—only it wasn’t. We scraped … and it was white—but covered in pressed mouse droppings.”

In total, Kane and his crew caught more than 3,000 mice. And yes, this kind of extreme rodent invasion happens more often than you might think. According to Kane’s calculations, one pregnant mouse can lead to 28,000 mice over the course of five to six generations if every mouse survived. Luckily, their population is usually kept in check by predators, or exterminators like Kane.

“The lady of the house thanked us and said, ‘Last night was the first night we didn’t have a mouse in bed with us,’” he says. Gross.


 

Raining roaches

When California exterminator Milton Cardoza was called to a San Jose restaurant to get rid of cockroaches in 2004, he was warned by colleagues to make sure his pant legs were tucked into his socks, and to “start stomping” his feet once they started fogging. He wasn’t sure why. Then he found out.

“Thousands of roaches started climbing out from everywhere you can think of—I’ve never seen anything like it,” Cardoza recalls. “They were climbing toward me from the ceiling; they fell down and started coming at me.”

Roaches can be serious business. They can get into your appliances and short out your circuitry. Or they could just infest a place so badly, you need to burn it to the ground.

In the video below, the fire department of Pana, IL, did a controlled burn on a residential house because it was infested with the six-legged scuttlers. To prevent the roaches from fleeing into the neighborhood, it dug a trench, filled it with straw, poured gasoline on it, and made a ring of fire.


 

Nose nibblers

Jeff McChesney, an exterminator with the pest control company Truly Nolen, says one of the worst cases he experienced involved a woman with a rat problem in Palm Harbor, FL, in September 2015. Over the course of a year, she had spent over $8,000 on another company to clean up her rat problem, McChesney says. That turned out to be money wasted, when she woke up “in the middle of the night with a rat on her face,” McChesney says. The rat had been chewing on her nose.

OK, we’ll repeat that. The rat had been chewing on her nose.

After a follow-up of eight more daily visits, with a total of nine rodents collected, the home was proclaimed to be rat-free. There’s no word on the current condition of the owner’s schnoz, but history confirms she may have gotten off easy—rats have been known to eat live humans if provoked. Witness England’s “Rats’ Dungeon” during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, where “the flesh has been torn from the arms and legs of prisoners during sleep by the well-known voracity of these animals.” So, compared to that, a chomped honker seems like NBD.


 

Bed of fire

While the thought of rats performing rhinoplasty is horrifying, McChesney says the worst infestation he ever had to combat happened in March 2013 to an elderly, nearly blind woman in Gulfport, FL, who had a red, bumpy rash covering her body. For a month, a doctor treated her for allergies but made no headway.

Thinking it might be bedbugs, she called for pest control to inspect her three-story condo. The good news? It wasn’t bedbugs. The bad news?

“I discovered a fire ant nest in her bed was a satellite colony traveling back and forth to the main supercolony nesting on the roof,” McChesney recalls. The fire ants were chomping on her skin while she slept, but the agony had been blocked because she was on pain medication. That, combined with her poor sight, meant she had been sleeping in the belly of a fire ant swarm for weeks.

Fortunately, McChesney’s team was able to quickly clean up the situation, and her rash disappeared. The memories, however, will live on forever.


 

A movable feast

Jorge Sandoval, a manager with the pest control company Truly Nolen, says his biggest bug nightmare involved bedbugs at a senior living community in San Diego in August 2012. Starting from the front door, he spotted blood spots—the modus operandi of bedbugs—spattered on the wall and near a bed. But it wasn’t just bedbugs. He also spotted some German cockroaches, and the two insect populations were not living in harmony.

“The cockroaches were actually feeding on the bedbugs,” Sandoval recalls.

It took Sandoval and his crew two weeks to stop this creepy cycle of seniors feeding bedbugs and bedbugs feeding cockroaches. Call it repellent, but some insect aficionados point out the positives of using cockroaches as a natural and effective form of pest control.

“Cockroaches are disgusting, frightening pests, but they may be able to help get rid of other disgusting, frightening pests,” according to one comment on roachforum.com. “Bedbugs are the cockroach’s midnight snack, and cockroaches will eat and kill a bedbug infestation.” Which is true—but then you’re left with cockroaches. What then?


 

Keep the creepy crawlies at bay

Our experts have these tips to prevent pests from infiltrating your home.

  • Trim branches away from your home. “Trees form bridges, especially for ants,” Kane says.
  • Check all leaks for signs of pest activity. “Where there’s water, there’s life,” Kane says. Warm, humid areas such as dishwashers are particularly inviting to bugs.
  • “Don’t let any hole bigger than a dime go unsealed. Mice can enter a home through a hole the size of a dime, and rats can enter the home through any opening the size of a quarter,” Sandoval says.
  • Cleanliness is critically important. Dishes in the sink overnight are “an insect’s buffet,” Sandoval says.
  • Understand over-the-counter pesticides and know their limits. Kane says to use only the amount recommended on the directions, and keep in mind they lose their effectiveness eventually. And if things get out of hand, hire a professional already!