US States With the Highest & Lowest Property Taxes

Property taxes are probably the most loathed type of tax that homeowners are stuck with. Even renters indirectly feel the wrath of property taxes, as these pesky expenses tend to affect rent prices.

Certain states property taxes costs are far lower than others in the country. Keep in mind, however, that just because property taxes in these states might be the lowest in the country, that doesn’t mean their income or goods and services taxes follow suit in some cases.

Nevertheless, the following states have the lowest property taxes across the US based on a percentage of home value.

1. Hawaii

Hawaii

The property tax percentage in this glorious state is the lowest in the country, clocking in at 0.28 percent of home value. With the average home value in Hawaii estimated to be $500,000, the average property tax paid on homes in this state averages out to $1,400. But before you pack your bags and relocate, keep in mind that the personal taxes in Hawaii rank pretty high, and the cost of living in many parts of the state are higher than the average in the country.

2. Alabama

Folks living in Alabama pay 0.43 percent of their home value in property taxes. With an average home value of $122,700 in the state, that works out to an average property tax payment of $527.

Alabama

Alabama used to have top spot in 2012 in terms of the lowest property taxes in the US. The state’s general sales tax is approximately 2 percentage points under the national average of 5.95 percent. When factoring in all taxes payable, Alabama ranks the 10th lowest in the US.

3. Louisiana

The Pelican State is third on this list, with a property tax percentage of 0.51 percent of home values. With median home prices averaging an already-low $140,300, residents pay an affordable average of $715.

New Orleans Louisiana

Not only do residents of Louisiana have the benefit of paying some of the lowest property taxes in the country, they can also reap the rewards of the state’s “Restoration Tax Abatement.” This program offers landowners a tax break based on the dollar value of the home renovations they make. The goal of this tax break is to encourage revitalization of properties and infrastructure, both on the residential and commercial front.

4. Delaware

The state of Delaware is in the middle of a continued budget crunch, which makes it probable that property tax rates will one day increase from its current low of 0.55 percent of home value in an effort tap into an available revenue source. The average home value in the state is $226,200, costing residents $1,240 on average for annual property taxes.

5. District of Columbia and South Carolina

Washington DC

Believe it or not, but both have the same property tax rate of 0.57 percent of home values. Even though D.C. is heavily urbanized compared to South Carolina, they still come in at a tie. The median home value in the District of Columbia is $470,500, and $139,200 in South Carolina. Therefore, residents in D.C. are paying quite a bit more, despite the same tax rate.

On the flip side, here are the top 5 states in the US with the highest property taxes.

1. New Jersey

The Garden State ranks number one for the highest property taxes across the nation with a 1.89 percent of home value. The median home value in New Jersey is $348,300, making the average annual property taxes a whopping $6,582. Many of the state’s communities rank pretty high up there, with the prize going to Tavistock Borough with average property taxes an astounding $25,346.

2. New Hampshire

New Hampshire

The taxes as a percentage of home value in New Hampshire equate to 1.86. Residents pay an average of $4,644 in property taxes on the state’s median home value of $249,700. While New Hampshire may have the second highest property taxes in the US, it doesn’t have income or sales tax, which is why it relies a lot on property taxes.

3. Texas

Texas

Even though the average home value in Texas is only $125,800, it’s property tax percentage based on home value is the third highest in the country, at 1.81 percent. One county in Texas is particularly expensive – Fort Bend County ranks 16th the most expensive county in the US.

4. Wisconsin

Similar to Texas, the Badger State’s median home value is quite low at $170,800 compared to other states in the country. But its taxes as a percentage of home values ranks 4th at 1.76 percent. In fact, Wisconsin has the highest property taxes in the Midwest.

5. Nebraska

Following suit with #3 and #4 on this list for highest property taxes, Nebraska has a relatively high property tax rate (1.70 percent) despite its low median home value of $123,300. Recently, farmers in Nebraska have requested that the state legislature lower property taxes because they’ve become so much of a burden.

Omaha Nebraska

While property tax rates vary greatly from one state to the next, it can vary significantly by county as well. In states or counties where the property tax rates are much lower, it just might offer enough incentive for homeowners to relocate to lessen the tax burden.

What You Should Know About Easements Before You Buy

There are literally dozens of real estate terms that you should probably understand before you sign a purchase agreement, and one of the more important ones is “easements.”

You might be alarmed to find out after you’ve bought a home that it’s actually not entirely private – you might actually be legally obligated to share part of your property with the neighbor or let the local utility company waltz onto your yard to erect a telephone pole or bury a pipe.

The term “easement” essentially refers the right of one party to use another party’s property. In return for the right of easement, a fee is paid to the property owner. It’s also referred to as a “right-of-way,” and basically allows other parties to legally come onto your property.

It’s important to know if easements exist on the property you plan on buying, and the impact they have on the purchase or usage of the home. Here are a few common ones you should know about.

Easement in Gross

easement by necessity

This type of easement is actually attached to the owner of the property, rather than the property itself. Easements in gross are usually fixed for the life of the owner, but they may be revoked if the owner sells that particular property. Maybe the homeowner has an easement in gross with a neighbor that allows the homeowner to use a path to go through the neighbor’s yard to reach the property. Once the owner sells that property, however, the easement in gross can’t be passed on to next property owner.

If you’re contemplating buying a house that has an easement which allows the present owner to use the adjacent neighbor’s property to pass through, make sure you identify whether or not it’s an easement in gross. If it is, you won’t be granted the same right to pass through the neighbor’s yard.

Easement By Necessity

When a person has the legal right to cross over another individual’s property in order to get to a landlocked parcel, it’s known as an ‘easement by necessity.’ These easements are described as ‘appurtenant,’ which means that they benefit a particular property, and not an individual.

This type of easement is created only when a landowner divides the property between two or more owners. It basically arises only when such a division of property causes a newly divided piece of land that no longer offers access to a public street.

To claim an easement by necessity, it must be proven that one party has divided his or her land and transferred part of it to the another party. It also needs to be proven that the division of the land causes one party to no longer have legal access to a public street or have any other easement over private property to access a public street.

If someone buys property that didn’t already have access to a public street, that person needs to buy easements as required to get access to a public street — or else wait for the government to construct a public street next to the land.

Easement By Prescription

easement by prescription

If a person has been using a specific part of a property continuously for years without any consent from the owner, and such use has been seen by others during that time period, an easement by prescription has been created.

The prescriptive use of the property needs to be continuous and uninterrupted. This means that the user needs to make use of the easement on a regular basis, and not just occasionally.

Basically, the user gets an easement by openly and continuously using the land for the number of years that is specified by state laws.

Easement By Prior Use

easement by prior use

When a property owner has been using part of his or her land in a way that benefits another part of the property, and then transfers one of these parts to another person, an easement by prior use has been created.

The individual claiming this type of easement must prove that one of the parties has divided the property and transferred part of it to the other. The individual must also prove that one of these land parts has been used to benefit the other part of the property in such a way that would be considered an easement if the parts were owned separately.

Like an easement by prescription, the prior use must have been continuous, and not just sporadic, up until the time that the land is severed. Not only that, but the prior use must have been apparent to the parties when the ownership was severed and transferred to another.

Easement By Estoppel

easement by estoppel

When an owner of land misrepresents the existence of an easement when selling a property, and doesn’t include an express easement over an adjacent property that the seller owns it in the deed, the courts can step in and create an easement. If the court determines that the buyer acted reasonably, and relied on what the seller promised, the court can create an easement by estoppel.

For instance, let’s say the owner of land sells to another on the promise that the buyer can use the seller’s driveway, but such an easement was never included in the deed. The buyer then builds a structure on the seller’s driveway, but the seller then decides to block off the driveway and prevent the buyer from accessing the driveway. In this case, a court can enforce an easement by estoppel.

All these terms might sound like foreign concepts. Your real estate agent is your best friend when it comes to identifying whether or not easements exist a home sale or purchase. Just as much as you should know about any structural issues in a home you plan on buying, so should you know about any existing easements that could have a huge impact on how you enjoy the use of your new home.

How Land Sales Contracts Work When Buying or Selling a Home

If you were a home buyer in the 1970s and 1980s, you might remember how land contracts played a big role in helping buyers finance their new homes. Back then, interest rates were pretty high, and lending requirements were pretty stiff. Land contracts – also known as ‘contracts for deed’ or ‘installment sales contracts’ – offered more attractive financing terms for buyers.

As the interest rates on mortgages started to plummet and lending criteria started to soften, land contracts started to fizzle out. But they’re still around, and many buyers are still taking advantage of them, especially since financial institutions started making their loan qualifications more rigid following the economic crisis in 2008.

What Exactly is a Land Contract?

land sales

Land contracts are basically a security agreement between a seller and a buyer. In this case, the seller agrees to sell their property by financing the purchase on behalf of the buyer, while the seller still holds legal title of the property, and the buyer gets equitable title.

Both parties in the contract agree that the land contract will be held in escrow by a neutral third party before closing. The seller financing might include a mortgage balance that still exists, or the property may be free and clear of any outstanding mortgage.

An agreed-upon sales price is reached between the buyer and seller, and once this amount is fully paid off (or when the buyer is able able to get approved for a commercial mortgage), the deed is taken out of escrow and title is officially transferred to the buyer.

Let’s illustrate how a land contact would work in real life: A seller owns a property that he’s looking to sell for $300,000. There is no outstanding mortgage on the house, so the property is free and clear.

A buyer signs a contract, and gives a 10% deposit to the seller – or $30,000. The buyer then agrees to pay the difference to the seller on a monthly basis based on an interest rate that both parties have mutually agreed on.

So, if the agreed upon interest rate is 5%, the buyer will have to pay $1,440.97 per month. The buyer also agrees to pay the property taxes and the house insurance.

Of course, this is a simplified version – the numbers change when there is an underlying existing mortgage on the property, which we’ll get into below.

Why Would Buyers Choose a Land Contract Versus a Traditional Sale and Mortgage?

land sale_flexibility

There are a number of reasons why a buyer might want to go the land contract route when buying a property. The biggest advantage is perhaps the fact that there’s no need to qualify for a conventional mortgage. This is especially advantageous for buyers who otherwise would be turned down for a traditional mortgage at the bank. These transactions also tend to close rather quickly, many times within a week.

The down payment amount is totally negotiable between the seller and buyer, so there’s more flexibility when it comes to how much money a buyer can put down. Other negotiable items in this type of agreement include the length of the land contract term, the interest rates, and the payment amounts. And since there are no lender fees to be responsible for, the closing costs are quite low. 

Why Would Sellers Choose a Land Contract?

land sales_why sellers choose it

While there are obvious benefits to buyers in land contracts, sellers also have their fair share of benefits. For starters, sellers can effectively get more money for their property without having to get the place appraised. And if the funds are taxable, sellers might be able to qualify for deferred gains.

The fast closing and being relieved of obligations to maintain the property is another big benefit for sellers, as is the decent rate of return that they’ll get on their money.

There’s also another big advantage for sellers in the case of a land contract with an existing mortgage on the property. If the existing mortgage has a lower interest rate than the interest rate stated on the contract, the seller can earn extra cash on the interest on money that doesn’t even belong to the seller.

Let’s use the same example above to illustrate. If there is an existing underlying mortgage is $100,000, payable at 4% interest, monthly payments will equate to $475.52 per month. The seller will earn 5% interest on $170,000 of equity ($270,000 minus $100,000), in addition to 1% interest on the existing mortgage of $100,000, and will pocket $965.45 a month.

The buyer can agree to pay the existing mortgage lender directly and make a separate payment to the seller, or the buyer might choose to send one lump payment to the seller who will then disburse the funds to the underlying lender.

If you’re a buyer, make sure you get an appraisal and title insurance, and use the services of a holding company or lawyer to keep possession of the contract. If you’re a seller, make sure you run the buyer’s credit report, and include both your name and the name of the buyers on the insurance policy. And regardless of what end of the playing field you’re on, be sure to speak with a real estate lawyer and agent to make sure the contact is carefully drafted.

Top Home Renovations That Bring in the Highest ROI

“Is this renovation going to pay off?” It’s a question that plenty of home owners ask themselves when they contemplate a remodeling job to boost their home’s value. The answer to this question will determine how much more they can get for their house come resale time.

There are a bunch of remodeling projects that offer the potential for a big return on investment (ROI). But by the same token, there are also plenty of projects that will do little to add any perceived value to a home.

Stick to the following remodeling projects to ensure a higher ROI and more money back in your wallet when you sell.

Renovated Kitchen

home renovations_kitchen

Revamping your kitchen can return you as much as 168% percent of your investment – when done right, of course. It’s the kitchen that homebuyers look at first when they are browsing for a new home. Even if your home has an awesome basement recroom and an ensuite, if the kitchen is outdated, the majority of buyers won’t be too impressed.

Your ROI will depend on how extensive the remodeling job is, and what you decide to equip the kitchen with. One of the key aspects to a kitchen remodeling job is not to go overboard – you don’t want to jack up the price of your home that’s way out of the average price range of the local market. For instance, if your neighborhood commands an average home value of $250,000, and you put in a $60,000 kitchen, you could potentially be out-pricing your home.

A major kitchen renovation might not be a good idea if the room only needs a cosmetic facelift. It’s not always necessary to completely gut out the kitchen if it’s in pretty decent working shape already. Many times, less-dramatic updates – such as replacing the countertops, upgrading appliances, and installing new light fixtures will often do the job.

Make sure you’re not overlooking the possibility that your kitchen indeed needs a full-out remodeling job. Making the mistake of choosing only a cosmetic facelift when the room actually needs a complete remodel will cost you. For instance, determine whether or not the cabinets are still holding up, or if they’re in need of total replacement before you simply opt to only reface the cabinet doors.

Make sure that the renovation is done using modern finishes – an affordably-remodeled kitchen that’s done in poor bad taste could negatively affect the value of your house.

Renovated Bathroom

home renovations_bathroom

Investing money in a bathroom renovation – or even adding one completely – can also yield an ROI of as much as 168%. The trick is in doing it the right way. Spending too much money on extravagances that buyers aren’t exactly looking for will only result in you getting less on your returns. But only putting the bare minimum can have the same effect.

For instance, if buyers in your area are looking for double sinks and a glass-door stand-up shower, and all you’ve got is a tiny bathroom with a pedestal sink and a bathtub, you might turn buyers off. By the same token, if buyers in your area aren’t wiling to pay extra for crown molding, marble counters and teak vanities that you installed in your bathroom, you may have spent more money than you’ll be able to recoup.

Even just giving your bathroom a simple update, such a new coat of paint, a new sink faucet, or a new toilet can be enough to bump up the value of your home a little. That, of course, is assuming the rest of the bathroom is in decent condition.

Painting Job

home renovations_paiting

Whether it’s the interior or exterior, a paint job can yield a return of as much as 112%. It’s an affordable way to freshen up a home and significantly improve the look of a space. It’s also an effective way to get rid of any unsightly scuff marks or crayon drawings on the walls from the kids.

The color you choose is key – painting your home a bright orange is probably not the best idea. You’d be hard-pressed to find a home buyer that’s in search of home specifically with these colors in its decor. Instead, a paint color in a neutral hue is what professional appraisers and home stagers typically suggest. Buyers are better able to see the potential of your home with a fresh canvas, which is why the ROI for this job is so high. 

New Hardwood Flooring

home renovations_hardwood floors

One of the top features that homeowners covet when they’re searching for a new home is new hardwood flooring. And for good reason – hardwood looks fantastic, it’s classic and timeless, and it’s durable.

It can also be expensive, which is why it’s important to weigh your options before dishing out the big bucks for the significant impact that hardwood flooring delivers to the look and value of your home.

There are different wood materials to choose from, as well as thickness of the planks that can dramatically affect the price. At the end of the day, new hardwood flooring can deliver an ROI of as much as 102%.

Any home renovation should always be done with the surrounding neighborhood in mind. You don’t want to add extravagances that the area simply doesn’t call for – it’ll just be money wasted. Instead, stay in line with what home buyers are looking for in your neighborhood, and choose finishes that are more highly sought after.

Your real estate agent is always a solid source for this type of guidance to help ensure your remodeling job will put as much money back in your pocket if you should ever sell in the near future.

Unique Fall Decorating Ideas That Won’t Cost a Fortune

Once the kids are back in school and the long summer days began to grow shorter and shorter, homeowners begin thinking about fall. First comes the change in leaves that completely alters the landscape, followed soon after by Halloween. The next month brings Thanksgiving, which often involves visiting relatives. All of this activity usually inspires homeowners to invest in décor specific to the season.

However, redoing your house for one season can be expensive. You can add a few things, then store them the same way you store your Christmas decorations, but new welcome mats, centerpieces, and knickknacks can be expensive. Here are a few ideas that can add an autumnal touch to your home without stretching your budget to its limit.

Use Pumpkins

fall decorating ideas_pumpkins

As fall begins, you’ll see stacks of pumpkins on sale everywhere. They’re available at the grocery store and local farmer’s markets, as well as at pumpkin patches on farms in rural areas. Traditionally, homeowners carved pumpkins for decorations but over time, people have come up with a variety of other creative ways to decorate with them. You can use them for your centerpieces, mantel decorations, or set them up on your front porch.

Go Grocery Shopping

fall decorating ideas_grocery items

Sometimes great decorations start with a visit to the produce section of your grocery store. Certain items have become synonymous with fall, making them ideal for jazzing up your home for parties and weekend visitors. You can get creative with apples or dried corncobs at minimal cost and create a unique look. You can also use squash, gourds, and red onions to create stunning displays.

Buy Hay Bales

fall decorating ideas_hay bales

You can stop by a local hardware store or farm supply for a couple of hay bales to spice up your outdoor décor. If you have farms nearby, you may even find hay bales for sale at a fraction of the price of what you’d pay at a hardware store. Check sites like Craigslist to see if someone in your area is offering hay bales for sale. There are a variety of ways you can decorate with hay bales, including stacking them and accenting them with other decorations or giving them a fun Halloween theme.

Decorate with Candy

fall decorating ideas_candy corn

Halloween has become known as a holiday that revolves around candy. You can go with that theme and use candy corn to spice up your centerpieces and other decorations. If you have kids around the house, they’ll likely have fun helping you with your DIY project, then feel a sense of accomplishment when the decorations are complete. Just make sure you buy extra candy corn to make up for the pieces you’ll consume while working on the project.

One of the best things about these options is that they’re perishable, which means when the season is over, you’ll have nothing to store. With a little creativity, you can spice up your décor on a budget, impressing your friends and neighbors with your inventiveness. Best of all, you’ll have fun thinking of new ways to use everyday objects in your fall-themed decorating.

Update Your Ceiling Fan with These Trendy Options

Ceiling fans have become staples in homes, helping with air circulation and adding to the décor of a room. Although, over time a ceiling fan can easily become dated, displaying decorating trends from decades past.

Replacing a ceiling fan is fairly simple, especially for someone who is comfortable with do-it-yourself projects. Once you’ve become comfortable with the steps required, you’ll learn that you can dramatically change the look of a room with a ceiling fan that matches the overall look of your room. Here are a few unique ideas to consider for your own house.

Go Vintage

update ceiling fans_vintage fan

The brushed-nickel ceiling fan mimics the look of vintage floor fans, making it the perfect look for a kitchen or room with vintage décor. It is also available in a restoration bronze finish to make an even stronger statement. For a more outdoorsy feel, a bamboo-based ceiling fan like the Minka-Aire F580 provides an interesting touch to any room.

Add a Masculine Touch

update ceiling fans

If you’re adding a fan to a bonus room or man cave, there are plenty of options available. If you’re a fan of aviation, you can find plenty of ceiling fans that run with that theme, including designs from Minka Aire, Irene H, and Acqua. If you’re into cars, this automotive air filter-themed ceiling fan could be a fun way to spruce up a room.

Show Your Interests

update ceiling fans_multi colored fan

For your younger family members—or young-at-heart grownups—there are many ceiling fan options that show off your interest. You can show off your love for sports or wine or history. Or save yourself the work of upgrading with some fun ceiling fan skins that can liven up any room.

Add Charm

update ceiling fans_victorian fan

Each of your rooms likely already has a look and a ceiling fan can only add to that. This ceiling fan brings the charm of the Victorian era to an outdoor area, while this fan brings bright colors to your ceilings. If you have a contemporary look in a room that you want to enhance, a classy black and white fan could make a big difference. As you build the look of a room, search for a fan that enhances the look rather than detracts from it.

Escape from Stress

update ceiling fans_tropical fan

Today’s seascape- and island-themed rooms are designed to serve as a way to mimic the feel of being on vacation every day. Tropical fans will add to the look of indoor and outdoor areas, while rustic ceiling fans will instantly transport you to your favorite mountain cabin. After a long day, you could kick back and relax, looking at your new ceiling fan and imagining you’re in your favorite vacation spot.

If your ceiling fans are outdated or worn out, there are plenty of options for new fans that can add to your décor. Whether you want to express your personal interests, you can find the perfect fan to fit each room of your house. Once you’ve learned how easy it is to switch out a ceiling fan, you’ll feel inspired to regularly reevaluate the fans in your home and determine whether an upgrade is a good idea.

Should You Get a Mortgage With an Online Lender?

Back in the day, home buyers would head off to their central banks to get the mortgage they needed to finalize a purchase on a home. But these days, there are a myriad of options for buyers to choose from when it comes to obtaining a home loan.

Online mortgage companies are popping up everywhere, many times offering excellent mortgage rates and making the application process as simple and convenient as possible. Americans are just so busy these days that any way to simplify the mortgage process is highly welcomed. It only makes sense that the latest trend in mortgage lending is full-service internet-based mortgage lenders.

The online lending marketplace has become incredibly popular for borrowers looking for various loan rates and options. The spread between the highest and lowest interest rates available online is wider today than it’s ever been, making comparison-shopping critical.

But who exactly are you dealing with? Can these online mortgage firms be trusted? And are you really getting the best rates, terms and services compared to conventional mortgage brokers?

The Online Application Process

online mortgage lender_application process

For the most part, the online mortgage loan application process is somewhat simplified compared to going to a big financial institution or meeting one-on-one with a mortgage specialist. That’s one of the biggest reasons why they’ve become so popular; you can pretty much apply for a mortgage while watching your favorite television show or preparing dinner. With online lenders, you don’t have to spend unnecessary time with in-person meetings, which can save you a ton of time.

Online lenders also have a tendency to undercut conventional mortgage brokers on interest rates and fees, too. And with the online mortgage industry becoming increasingly competitive, these lenders are always coming with ways to snag more clients – including by offering the lowest rates and more flexible payment terms.

For those with a low credit score (under 680), online lenders may actually be your only recourse when it comes to getting approved for a mortgage. Traditional lenders have strict lending criteria, including high credit scores. If you don’t meet their stringent borrowing requirements, you stand a good chance of getting declined on your mortgage application.

Instead, online lenders often use different underwriting investors compared to big banks, so you might be able to qualify for a mortgage even if you were turned by your bank. Just keep in mind that the interest rate you’ll be charged will probably be quite high if your credit score is low.

Are Online Lenders Reputable?

online mortgage lender_BBB

Perhaps the first question you need to ask yourself is whether or not the internet-based lender that you plan on working with can be trusted. The good news is, the majority of mortgage lenders are honest, but there’s always the bad apple in the bunch that can spoil the bushel.

Companies that are below the bar will show red flags that you should be on the look-out for, such as negative online reviews or bad ratings from the Better Business Bureau. Make sure you do a little digging into the online lender you’re considering before you apply for a mortgage loan with them, and make it a point of reading the fine print of each website carefully to understand their terms of use and privacy policies.

The Convenience of Online Mortgages

online mortgage lender_customer support

Online lenders provide for a highly streamlined process. A pre-approval application will be submitted online, along with the necessary documentation (credit reports, income statements, etc). The best online lenders will have impeccable customer support that is highly knowledge able always accessible. This is especially important if this is your first mortgage, and you’ve got a lot of questions that you need answered in order to make you more comfortable throughout the process.

The Fine Print

online mortgage lender_internet scam

No shocker here, but there are frauds and scams out there that you should be wary of in the world of online lending. You should never have to pay a fee for a pre-approval or quote. While plenty of lenders charge an application fee to cover things like your appraisal, credit check, and other expenses, you shouldn’t have to pay this fee until the application process is well underway.

You’ll also come across online lenders who promise a specific low interest rate just as an incentive to fill out a mortgage application. Then once your credit score has been run, you find out that this introductory rate in not available anymore. Not only is this unethical, it’s also illegal. The only way to avoid being scammed like this is to do your homework and pay close attention to each stage of the process.

Going with an online vendor is a viable option when it comes time to get a mortgage. It’s recommended that you consider both online mortgage lenders and a local broker and do a little comparison shopping before you commit to a specific lender. Your real estate agent may be the perfect source to find out where to look, and can even provide you with a few reputable references to check out.

6 Hacks That Make Your Kitchen Look Bigger

A big, bright kitchen might be a dream come true for the majority of homebuyers these days, but restrictive budgets and limited square footage can be huge obstacles to overcome.

Luckily, there are clever ways you can expand the look and feel of your kitchen without breaking the bank.

1. Knock a Wall Down

take down wall_6 kitchen hacks

If your kitchen is separated from an equally small living room by a wall, consider knocking it down. In fact, knocking down a wall is one of the easiest ways to open up the space in the kitchen, especially for experienced renovators and contractors. Sure, it might be the more expensive suggestion on this list, but for the price, it makes a massive difference.

If the wall is not load-bearing, you can expect to pay anywhere between $2,000 to $4,000 to take it down. However, if the wall is bearing the load of the second story, you could be faced with a much bigger bill considering the fact that structural issues will need to be factored in. But it could well be worth the cost when you see the finished product. Homeowners spend thousands and thousands of dollar on a brand new kitchen, and sometimes tearing a wall down is all it takes to completely transform the space.

2. Replace a Dividing Wall With a Raised Breakfast Bar

glass cabinets_6 kitchen hacks

Instead of completely knocking a wall down, you could just tear down the upper half and leave the lower half intact. But to make it useful, consider turning that half wall into a raised breakfast bar, which can provide the space with some great functionality and practicality for more casual meals. Making the bar counter height is a contemporary way to update  the kitchen while making it feel bigger at the same time.

3. Use Plenty of Layered Lighting

lighting_6 hacks for kitchen

Lots of light is always a good thing when it comes to opening and brightening up a small space. To maximize the effect that lighting has on your kitchen, consider adding layers of different fixtures throughout the room. Add a chandelier over the dinner table; hang pendant lights over the breakfast bar; install under-mounted lighting your cabinets; and brighten the inside of your cabinets with pot lights.

Keep the color of the lighting the same as the wall color and/or cabinets to boost the effect of the lighting in the kitchen. Lighter colors are always best in small spaces, as they reflect light and create a sense of space. When the same light colors are blended throughout various components, the effect of a larger space is even more enhanced.

4. Use Glass-Fronted Cabinets

glass cabinets_6 kitchen hacks

Adding cabinets with glass fronts will draw the eye to the back of the cabinet, which helps expand the look of the space. Not only that, but glass is highly reflective; any light coming through the windows or from all the light fixtures will reflect off the glass surface, making the area look larger than it actually is. Playing with illusions such as these is great when there’s little you can do about the square footage in your kitchen.

5. Consider the Scale of Your Cabinets and Furniture

Having too many cabinets or an oversized dinette set will only make the kitchen look cramped. Instead, you should focus on things like a slim kitchen island, streamlined furniture pieces, and just enough cabinets to house all your utensils without taking up every square inch of the wall space. Everything that’s installed in the kitchen should fit to scale in order to avoid making the space look smaller than it really is.

6. Clear the Clutter

clearn the clutter_6 kitchen hacks

Nothing encloses a space more than clutter. And when it comes to the kitchen, the countertops can be easily crammed with dishes, utensils, bills, and anything else that you didn’t have the time to put away. For a cleaner, more streamlined look, clear off the clutter. It’s easy, fast, and doesn’t cost a cent.

While there are invasive and expensive ways to enlarge your kitchen space – such as physically expanding your home – there are simpler, more affordable ways to do so. Use a little imagination, and play up visual illusions in your space to make your kitchen look and feel more spacious.

5 of the World’s Hottest Luxury Real Estate Markets (Infographic)

While cities like New York, London and Paris still make the list of some of the world’s hottest luxury real estate markets, sales have cooled somewhat. This makes room for other international cities to emerge on the list of markets boasting spiked values in luxury homes.

The trend we seem to be experiencing is the hike in sales of homes over the $1 million mark is attributed to the increasing number of high net worth people – those with over $1 million in finances. In addition, cities with a strong tech foothold are seeing increasing home prices. For these individuals, real estate investments offer a hedge for their wealth, and these 5 cities seem to fit the bill.

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