Skip to content

12 Home Improvements That’ll Boost Your Home’s Value

dining-3With a few simple, low-cost tweaks, you can significantly enhance your house’s curb appeal.

If you’re looking to sell your home quickly and for top dollar, there are some lesser-known words that match the importance of the famous real estate phrase “location, location, location.”

Those all-important words? Curb appeal.  As the saying goes, “You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.” When people drive up and first see your house, you want them to think of it immediately as a home that has been maintained and well cared for.  “It’s you putting your best foot forward,” says Christy Biberich, owner of Christy B. Design in Los Angeles who appears on the HGTV show “Brother Vs. Brother.” “We do judge a book by its cover.”

While curb appeal gets buyers in the door, sellers who want to move their homes quickly need to take other steps. The strategy varies by neighborhood and market conditions, but staging a house to appeal to the maximum number of buyers can make difference in how fast the home sells.  “Every property is completely different,” says Cannon Christian, president of Renovation Realty in San Diego, a company that helps sellers make improvements designed to get them top dollar. “The little things that get people through the front door matter first.”

Obviously you don’t want to spend money that you won’t get back. Christian advises seeing what improvements house flippers are making in your neighborhood. Comparing the sales prices of, say, homes with older kitchens to homes with kitchens that have been updated is also a good idea. If you see about a $50,000 difference, a $25,000 remodel is likely a smart investment. If homes with original kitchens are fetching close to the same price as those with renovated ones, save your money, since sometimes “it also depends on how hot the market is,” Christian says.

You should also spend time scoping out the competition by viewing listings and photos of similar homes for sale and attending open houses in your neighborhood.  Once prospective buyers are inside your home, you want to make sure the entire house puts its best foot forward. That starts with cleaning and decluttering, two improvements that cost little money and provide a big return.

Next, focus on low-cost “transformative improvements,” Biberich says. “The No. 1 thing you can do is paint.” She advises using neutral tones, but that doesn’t have to mean just white and beige, as brown and cream are also safe choices.  Since every dollar counts, hold off on pet projects and only devote your time and money to renovations that’ll bring you a return. “If you’re looking to sell, do not do the improvements that you’ve always wanted to do,” Christian says.  If, like most sellers, you have a limited budget, here are a dozen home improvements you can make to sell your house for top dollar.

Improve your landscape. Put down fresh sod, replace tired bushes with new ones and add some color, either with flower beds or potted flowers. “Even just a little bit goes a long way,” Biberich says.

Spruce up your entryway. Buy a new front door or paint the old one. If your house number and mailbox look tired, buy and install new ones.

Change out light fixtures and plumbing fixtures. Gold light fixtures are long outdated, and brass is less popular than brushed nickel. Replacing outdated ceiling fixtures and bathroom faucets can give your home a modern touch for a minimal investment.

Clarify any spaces that might confuse buyers. If you have an odd alcove, add a desk or a dresser – something that will suggest how the space is best used. “Most homes have some funky or dysfunctional things that can be corrected,” Biberich says. Don’t keep would-be buyers guessing.

Do partial renovations. Rather than gutting an old bathroom, for example, consider getting a new vanity and refacing the existing tub. In the kitchen, keep the old cabinets but replace the countertops and the hardware.

Consider removing popcorn ceilings. “Half the folks are going to walk out the front door” as soon as they see those, Christian says. But you need to be careful because the popcorn ceilings of pre-1979 homes are likely to contain asbestos, he says. That means this is far from a do-it-yourself project, and you need someone licensed to remove it. Newer ceilings, on the other hand, can be wet and scraped. Or, if it’s feasible and the ceilings are high enough, just drywall over and create new ceilings.

Remove window treatments, unless they are current and high-end. That cuts the risk of turning off would-be buyers who don’t share your taste. Uncovered windows also let more light into the rooms. “You can never outguess buyers on window coverings,” Christian says. Once you’ve got a contract, you can always offer buyers the ones you took down.

Return rooms to their original uses. If you’re using your dining room as an office, turn it back into a dining room. If your third bedroom is an office, turn it back into a bedroom. You can, however, display a photo of the room’s other potential use.

Replace dirty or worn carpet. You might try cleaning it first, but dirty carpet is always a turnoff for buyers. In some markets, you’re better off removing the carpet if there are hardwood floors underneath.

Depersonalize. That means packing away family photos and taking the children’s drawings (and everything else) off the refrigerator. You want a new family to envision themselves living in the home.

Clean thoroughly. Do a deep cleaning before you put your home on the market so everything shines. Be sure to wash the windows.

Paint. Your daughter may love her purple room, but a prospective buyer probably won’t. Repaint all rooms in neutral colors. A fresh coat of paint also makes the house look newer and more modern.


To-Dos: Your October Home Checklist

It’s a great time to clean your gutters, swap out seasonal clothes and wallow in favorite fall traditions. What’s on your October list?



With the air turning crisp, leaves falling and farmer’s markets overflowing with squash, gourds, apples and potatoes, October is a time to celebrate the harvest — and button up the home and garden for the winter ahead. From raking leaves to sharpening knives, see which of these 13 to-dos make your list this month.

10-Step Guide to Buying a House


10 Step Guide to Buying a House photoAre You Ready to Become a Homeowner?
Whether you’re becoming a homeowner for the first time or you’re a repeat buyer, buying a house is a financial and emotional decision that requires the experience and support of a team of reliable professionals. Read more »



10 Step Guide to Buying a House photoGet a REALTOR®
In the maze of forms, financing, inspections, marketing, pricing and negotiating, it makes sense to work with professionals who know the community and much more. Those professionals are the local REALTORS® who serve your area.Read more »



10 Step Guide to Buying a House photoGet a Mortgage Pre-approval
Most first-time buyers need to finance their home purchase, and a consultation with a mortgage lender is a crucial step in the process. Find out how much you can afford before you begin your home search. Read more »



10 Step Guide to Buying a House photoLook at Homes
A quick search on® will bring up thousands of homes for sale.  Educating yourself on your local market and working with an experienced REALTOR® can help you narrow your priorities and make an informed decision about which home to choose. Read more »



10 Step Guide to Buying a House photoChoose a Home
While no one can know for sure what will happen to housing values, if you choose to buy a home that meets your needs and priorities, you’ll be happy living in it for years to come. Read more »



10 Step Guide to Buying a House photoGet Funding
The cost of financing your home purchase is usually greater than the price of the home itself (after interest, closing costs and taxes are added). Get as much information as possible regarding your mortgage options and other costs. Read more »



10 Step Guide to Buying a House photoMake an Offer
While much attention is paid to the asking price of a home, a proposal to buy includes both the price and terms. In some cases, terms can represent thousands of dollars in additional value – or additional costs – for buyers. Read more »



10 Step Guide to Buying a House photoGet Insurance
No sensible car owner would drive without insurance, so it figures that no homeowner should be without insurance, either. Real estate insurance protects owners in the event of catastrophe. If something goes wrong, insurance can be the bargain of a lifetime. Read more »



10 Step Guide to Buying a House photoClosing
The closing process, which in different parts of the country is also known as “settlement” or “escrow”, is increasingly computerized and automated. In practice, closings bring together a variety of parties who are part of the real estate transaction. Read more »



10 Step Guide to Buying a House photoWhat’s Next?
You’ve done it. You’ve looked at properties, made an offer, obtained financing and gone to closing. The home is yours. Is there any more to the home buying process? Whether you’re a first-time buyer or a repeat buyer, you’ll want to take several more steps. Read more »



Courtesy of

Locals Guide: Road Closures And All You Need To Know Surrounding The Upcoming Two Weeks of ACL Music Festival

acl 2014The tell-tale sign of fall has arrived: Zilker Park’s Great Lawn is now closed in preparation for Austin City Limits Music Festival.

Beginning on Monday, the Great Lawn will be closed to visitors until October 26. “This includes 11 days of festival set up, two event weekends, a week to remove staging and at least a week for the annual Parks and Recreation Department’s post-event maintenance,” according to the Austin Parks and Recreation Department.

During the festival’s run from October 3-5 and October 10-12, expect area roads to be closed beginning at 12:01 am on the Friday before each weekend and running through the following Monday morning.

The following roads will be closed:

  • Barton Springs Road from Robert E. Lee to Rollingwood Drive
  • Stratford Drive from Barton Springs Road to Nature Center Trail
  • Barton Springs Road/Lou Neff to Stratford Drive (right lane westbound)

The Zilker Botanical Gardens and Austin Nature and Science Center will be closed only on the festival weekends. Barton Springs Pool and the parking lot on Robert E. Lee will remain open for business (or should we say, “swimness”) as usual.

4 things you need before buying a home

home for saleBuying a home can be very exciting. But it can also be scary if you’re not sure if it is the right decision for you and your family. Many factors go into whether it makes more sense to buy or rent.

Here are four things you should have before you take the plunge into homeownership. If you have them, buying may be a smart move.

1. An emergency fund

If you have avoided or paid off debts, your credit is healthy and you are saving for retirement, you may feel good about your financial situation. Before buying a home though, it’s important to go another step further: Focus on building up an emergency savings fund.

While everyone should really have an emergency fund to cover unexpected costs, it’s especially important to homeowners. This should be in addition to the money you plan to use as a down payment. If you have enough liquid cash to cover three to six months of your living expenses, you are much more prepared for homeownership.

This way, in case your steady income is interrupted, you can still afford mortgage payments while you get back on your feet.


2. A proven ability to stick to a budget

A track record of maintaining a budget can be a good sign. Because you already have a budget, try adjusting it to fit your new financial life as a homeowner before you buy. This should include mortgage payment, utility bills, homeowners insurance, property taxes, maintenance and upkeep costs. It’s a good idea to even try living on that new mock budget for a few months. If you can do that comfortably, it may be a good time to buy.


3. A steady income

With mortgages usually 15 to 30 years in length, buying a home is a serious long-term financial decision. When calculating how much house you can afford a consistent income that covers monthly payments and miscellaneous home expenses is important.

You may want to consider your other goals beyond buying a home. This may include how your financial situation will be affected if you plan to go back to school, start a family or change careers in the near future.

It’s important to keep in mind the average time it takes to recoup your buying and selling costs is three to five years. If you sell before then, you risk losing money on the deal, so it’s good to look at buying a home as a long-term commitment.


4. A good credit score

When you go to a lender to apply for a mortgage, they will also look at your credit score in addition to your income. It’s important to know where you stand before you actually apply for the mortgage, since there may be incorrect information on your credit reports that you can correct. And since your credit score will be a major factor in determining not only the interest rate you’ll qualify for, but also whether a lender can even lend to you.



By AJ Smith,

Beat the Competition in Austin’s Market with a Pre-Approved Loan

mortgage appWith the Austin housing market  red hot, you’ll have to compete with other buyers for a home.  But with a pre-approved loan from a lender, you’ll give yourself a head-start in the race for a home you love.  Pre-approval also comes in handy when you’re dipping your toe into the market. Even in a soft market, you’ll have to compete with other buyers if you find a home in excellent condition with an attractive price tag.

What is a pre-approved loan?

Every potential homebuyer should start the process of looking for a home with a visit to a reputable mortgage lender. While a lender can give you a pre-qualification for a home loan based on your credit score and your stated income and assets, a home seller wants to see you’re completely pre-approved for a loan.

To find a lender who will help land your dream home, try a pre-approved loan service like the one featured on the® individual listings page. By checking the box that says, “I want to get pre-approved by a lender” you’ll be connected with up to three lenders right away.

A pre-approval requires complete documentation of your finances. Be prepared to provide these piece of information:

  • A review of your credit report
  • Verification of your income and employment history
  • Bank statements to prove you have the resources for a down payment, closing costs and cash reserves
  • A calculation of your debt-to-income ratio based on your gross monthly income and the minimum payment on all recurring debts

Your lender will review your documents and discuss loan options with you, so you’re prepared to close as quickly as possible once you have a signed contract. The pre-approval will be based on all elements of the home loan other than the specific property you intend to buy.

The lender will tell you the maximum loan amount you can qualify for, but you should also be certain you understand the monthly payments associated with each loan—don’t get in over your head.

After you have a pre-approved loan letter in hand, it’s important to maintain the same credit profile so that you can be certain that your loan approval is valid.

Be sure to keep a paper trail of all unusual deposits and pay your bills on time. Don’t apply for new credit, close any credit cards, or take on new debt—these actions can impact your credit score and force your lender to re-check your credit before closing.

How a pre-approved loan can help you compete

If you’re competing with other buyers, a mortgage pre-approval makes your offer stronger. While many buyers today have a pre-approval handy, you can use yours to win the bidding war by providing a financial statement along with a pre-approval letter from your lender with your offer.

If your pre-approval letter is for an amount above the asking price for the home, this will give the sellers confidence in your ability to easily finalize the loan. You also can ask your lender to call the listing agent directly to emphasize your ability to close the deal and to discuss how quickly the contract can go to settlement.

Most real estate contracts include a contingency: the offer depends on the buyer obtaining financing. If you have a strong pre-approval letter and feel your lender is dependable, you can remove the financing contingency or shorten the contingency term.

Sellers are happy to see an offer without a financing contingency, because it proves the buyer has confidence the loan will close on time. However, waiving this contingency can be risky because if your financing doesn’t come through you could lose your earnest money deposit and even run the risk of being sued by the sellers.

A shorter contingency might be safer and still garner you the attention and confidence of the sellers in a competitive situation.


Six Reasons To Hire An Interior Designer

12milOur homes are our sanctuaries. We want them to be stylish yet comfortable, polished yet functional. And, above all, we want them to reflect our personal styles.

But sometimes even defining a “personal style” can be difficult. We know what we like, but we don’t know how to articulate it to a salesperson. Or, when we do bring home new treasures, we can’t decide how to pull them all together — not only to make our rooms aesthetically pleasing but also to make good use of our spaces.

Thankfully, these are all things a professional interior designer can help us do. And contrary to what you may think, a designer is not a resource that only the wealthy can afford. Designers work within all budgets, and most will take on clients for by-the-hour consultations or small project fees.

And, if you believe Dallas home and design expert Peggy Levinson, a professional designer may even save you money in the long run. Levinson, a former showroom owner herself and current consultant to the local design industry, says whether you need help with space planning, selecting fabrics and furniture, or a game plan for a top-to-bottom refresh, an interior designer is not a luxury but a necessity.

To find a designer, ask your friends — the ones who wised up before you did — for referrals, or turn to your favorite local showrooms and home and design stores for names, because they work with designers all the time. Remember, working with a professional should be a fun and inspiring adventure. If it’s not, find another designer, Levinson says.

With that in mind, here are six reasons why everyone should hire an interior designer:

You will avert at least one very costly mistake.
Imagine this scenario. You see a coffee table in a store, and you know it’ll be just perfect in your living room. So you pay dearly for the table, then pay again to have it delivered. When it arrives, you discover it’s too big and overpowers the space — even though in the store, the size looked just right. Yes, the store will take it back — perhaps for a restocking fee and more delivery charges — and still you don’t have a coffee table. A professional designer understands scale, Levinson says, and could have saved you a whole lot of trouble and money.

A designer sees potential where you don’t.
You know that horrid, orange-ish wood chair your great aunt gave you — the one covered in olive green chenille that smells vaguely of cat pee? An interior designer will see it and swoon, Levinson says, because he or she knows that it just needs a little refinishing and reupholstery to become the chair that everyone raves about — and no one else has. Plus, you get to take the credit for having it in the first place.

There’s a world of design out there that you don’t know you love until you learn about it.
Crusty polychrome finishes, sleek Biedermeier styles, Middle Eastern carved chests — you never know what you like until you are introduced to it, Levinson explains. As a famous designer said, “You don’t know you want a Bentley until you drive one.” A professional opens up the world of design to you.

A designer can help you discover and define your style.
If you happen to love copper pots, then they should be incorporated into your home’s design because it’ll make you happy to look at them. When your friends come over, they should see you reflected in the space. You can steal ideas from a blog post or pick out a whole room setting from a magazine — but that’s someone else’s taste, not yours, Levinson says. Work with a designer to figure out your style.

A designer is also a space planner.
You just found your new favorite chair. But will you have a lamp and table close by so you can truly sit and enjoy it? Is the seating in your living room close enough for comfortable conversation? Does your family room flow into the kitchen, or is there a giant piece of furniture in the way? A designer not only beautifies your space, but also ensures it’s comfortable and suited to your lifestyle.

A designer actually will save you money.
A good interior designer doesn’t just throw out the old and bring in the new, Levinson says. He or she repurposes or moves around your current belongings so you can see your stuff in new ways. Maybe you have a chair hiding in a guest room that belongs in the den. Or perhaps you have a few accessories stashed away in a closet simply because you didn’t know how to display them. A designer can “discover” items in your own house and situate them in a way that makes you love them again.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.