10 Must-Have Tools Every Homeowner Needs

From burned-out light bulbs, to popped-out nails, to everything in between, all sorts of scenarios will creep up on a regular basis in your home that will require your handiwork. Even things like hanging a picture on the wall or measuring rooms for furniture require some type of tool to get the job done.

Unless you plan on calling the local handyman every time you need something done, you’d be well-advised to get yourself a set of tools so you don’t have to break the bank paying someone else to do something you easily can accomplish with the right gadget.

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Here are 10 must-have tools that you should have at your disposal when you become a homeowner.

1. Hammer

You can’t get away with maintaining a home without a trusty hammer. Driving nails in, pulling nails out, and just tapping things into place can all be done a lot easier with a hammer than with the heel of your shoe. The one you get should feel well-balanced and allow you to grip the handle firmly and securely. You might even be able to get away with a smaller and lighter claw hammer if your hands are petite, though these versions aren’t as efficient as full-sized hammers.

2. Screwdriver

A screwdriver is another very common tool found in every toolbox. If you plan on assembling furniture together, for instance, a screwdriver is a necessity. Consider getting one that accommodates interchangeable tips so you can use all sorts of screw sizes and types. Those with magnetic tips make it that much easier to swap the tips. If your budget permits, consider getting a power screwdriver that will get the job done a lot faster without tiring your hands out.

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3. Tape Measure

You’d be amazed at how many times you’ll be whipping out this tool at home. Buying new furniture? Installing some floating shelves? Hanging artwork? Then you’ll need measuring tape to make sure your furniture fits in your space and your shelves aren’t on a 45-degree angle. A standard 30-foot metal tape measure that locks in place should suffice.

4. Level

Speaking of making sure your shelves and artwork aren’t crooked, a level is another necessary tool to have in your collection. Get yourself one that’s around 3 feet long, which you’ll get the most use of.

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5. Putty Knife

If you’ve got any holes in the walls from where the previous owners hung their photos, or you simply made a mistake when hammering in your own nails and hooks, these holes will need to be filled and painted over. The way to fix them is by filling them with some spackle or putty, but you can’t apply this goopy stuff with just any tool.

A putty knife will let you evenly spread the material to ensure a smooth finish that you won’t even notice after you’ve painted over the area. Consider getting yourself a couple of different sizes – wider ones are good for spreading, and narrower ones are ideal for scraping.

6. Pliers

This handy tool is essential for tightening or loosening up just about every type of hardware, such as plumbing pipes. You can choose from a variety of options, including grove-joint pliers that are adjustable to grasp large or small items, and needle-nose pliers are great when you’re dealing with any type of wire. Get yourself a pair or two that lock, which make them a lot easier to work with.

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7. Adjustable Wrench

While pliers are great for gripping pipes and wires, wrenches are necessary to loosen and tighten nuts and bolt. The easiest ones to use are those that adjust to the size you need, and hold its opening once you’ve set it.

8. Utility Knife

Imagine trying to cut through cardboard boxes or old wallpaper with a regular kitchen knife. Without a high-caliber tool, jobs like these are a lot more tedious. With a standard-size utility knife, cutting through tough material is a breeze.

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9. Flashlight

You’ll appreciate having a flashlight handy when the power goes out, or when you’re working in tight spaces where light isn’t readily accessible (such as under the sink). While you’re at it, get yourself a stock of batteries so your flashlight doesn’t die on you when you need it the most.

10. Ladder

Unless you’re 8 feet tall, you’ll probably find it a lot easier to change light bulbs, paint up to the ceiling, or fetch something from the attic using a ladder to get you up there. At the very least, a step stool can work, especially when you’re trying to reach the top shelves in your kitchen.

You don’t have to be all that handy to deal with minor issues in the home. If the job is large in scale or even dangerous, by all means, call a professional. But for all other scenarios, sometimes all you need is the right tool and a little patience.

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Affordable Upgrades That Boost Home Value

A home that’s in pristine condition will do well at attracting the eyes of buyers and impressing them enough to put in an offer. If your home could use a little sprucing up, make sure you do what you have to do to bring it up to par before it even hits the market.

But you don’t necessarily have to break the bank to make sure your home is in tip-top shape. There are certain tasks that you can do that cost very little compared to the return they can bring. The following upgrades can easily be done on a tight budget to boost the value of your home and bring in large profits come sale time.

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Update Your Hardware and Fixtures

Never underestimate the power in the details. Simply replacing a few light fixtures, kitchen cabinet handles, door knobs, faucets, and outlet covers can go a long way in breathing new life into your home. This is one of the most affordable and effective ways to enhance the look of your house, and make a big selling impact to buyers.

Paint

With a couple of hundred bucks worth of paint, you can completely change the look of your home’s interior and hike up its value. In fact, painting can bring as much as a 112% return on investment, making it worth your time and money. By freshening up the walls and repainting them in a neutral color, buyers can better see the potential of your home with a clean slate.

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Change the Front Door

For less than $1,000, you can make a huge impact on the curb appeal of your home simply by changing the front door. If the one you presently have is looking a little tired, replacing it with a new one can make a massive difference to the look and feel of your home.

If you don’t want to sink money into a new door, consider refacing it instead. Sand it down, repaint it, add a new door handle, hang a decorative wreath, and add a ‘welcome’ mat to completely transform the esthetics of your door. 

Add Shrubs and Flowers to the Landscaping

Curb appeal speaks volumes. In addition to a new or refaced door, consider grooming your lawn. Sounds like a no-brainer, but your grass should be cut and the weeds should be pulled. While you’re at it, plant some shrubs and flowers, and trim and dead branches or leaves off the trees. What buyers look at when they first approach your home is critical. Changes like these can instantly change their viewpoint of your home and boost its value.

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Replace the Kitchen Counters

In the world of real estate, the kitchen is typically considered the most important room in a house. A completely new kitchen would obviously add a ton of value to a home, but it’s often an extremely expensive endeavor. You don’t necessarily have to go all out to make an impact on buyers and boost your home’s value. If the counters are old and dated, you can quickly and easily switch them up for something a little more modern, like granite.

Years ago, granite was typically only reserved for wealthy homeowners, but these days, the cost of this gorgeous material has come down quite a bit. Depending on the size of the surface area, the average granite countertop costs around $50 to $100 per square foot. For 8 feet of counter space, you can easily change your counters for less than $1,000.

Reface the Kitchen Cabinets

Considering how important the kitchen is to the value of a home, anything you can do to spruce it up would be extremely helpful. Refacing the cabinet doors is an excellent way to improve the look of this space. With a little elbow grease, you can sand down and repaint your cabinets in a new color that will make it look as if you’ve completely gutted the place.

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Replace the Toilet

Aside from the kitchen, the bathroom is another room in the home that plays a key role in its overall value. Replacing an outdated, cracked, ugly toilet can have a big effect on your bathroom. Get rid of that old thing and get yourself a stylish, environmentally-friendly one for a couple hundred bucks.

Reface the Bathtub

An old, dingy bathtub is enough to turn anyone’s stomach. If that sounds eerily like the one you have, it’s time to reglaze it. Luckily, this doesn’t have to cost you a fortune. For a few hundred dollars, you can totally reface your tub and bring it back to its original luster, or better.

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Add New Window Coverings

If your windows are still covered with tacky aluminum blinds, they’ve got to go. Nothing makes a room look more modern than brand new window treatments. If your windows are standard-sized, you’ll have an easy time finding blinds that fit like a glove. You can even get yourself pairs of curtain panels from stores like Target for anywhere between $15 to $40 each.

Pinpoint all the components of your home that could use a facelift, and apply any one of the above tips to make the necessary changes to increase your home’s value and impress buyers. With a few hundred dollars and a little elbow grease, you can make a big impact on your home that will translate into more money at the negotiating table.

Will Britain’s Bail-Out From the EU Affect Mortgage Interest Rates in the US?

Americans have been enjoying historically low mortgage interest rates for years now, making financing a home more affordable. But how much longer can the rates continue to scrape the bottom?

The Fed  already made plans in December 2015 to increase the interest rates, which will impact the rates you could be paying on your mortgage in the near future. But what’s happening outside of American soil also has an effect on our mortgage rates. Global economies, such as those in China and Greece, have been up in arms over the recent past.

And with news that the UK will be breaking away from the European Union, markets all over the world – including here in the US – will most likely be affected in some way.

Brexit was unexpected, and caused stock markets all over the world to plummet. The Dow Jones tanked 600 points immediately following the vote, and S&P 500 futures were down 3.2%. The German index dropped 10%, and France’s index plummeted about 7%.

The question is, what is Brexit’s effect on mortgage rates in the US?

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US Mortgage Rates Drop to 3-Year Lows Following Historic Brexit Vote

After Brits voted to separate the UK from the EU, mortgage rates nosedived right along with global stock markets. Rates dropped 0.125% the day after Brexit’s vote stunned the world, and are now on their way to hitting all-new lows as 30-year fixed rates drop under 3.5%.

Sounds good for American homebuyers, but what’s the link between Brexit and US mortgage rates?

The ambiguity swirling around global stock investments is pushing investors to seek out safe-haven investments, and US mortgage bonds are fitting the bill. These bonds are considered to be some of the safest across the globe because they’re made up of US mortgages that are only approved with rigorous lending requirements.

After the housing crash of 2008, lenders tightened their boot straps and made lending requirements much more stringent in an effort to avoid another disaster. As such, borrowers are now making sure their finances are in good order and their credit scores are beefed up in order to get approved for a mortgage.

Such strict underwriting practices have helped to ensure that mortgage defaults stay low. The national delinquency rate on first mortgages in May this year was approximately 0.63%, down six basis points in comparison to the month before. It was the third month in a row that the default rate on first mortgages decreased. The national default rate on first mortgages in April was approximately 0.69%, down eight basis points as compared to March.

Such stability has prompted an increasing number of investors to sell off their riskier global stocks in favor of safer US mortgage bonds. As mortgage bond prices increase on heavier purchasing, the yields (or rates) of these bonds plummet. Even the smallest decrease in mortgage interest rates can mean huge savings for the average homeowner.

Let’s say you’ve currently got a $250,000 home loan. If your rate dipped just 0.25% from 3.75% to 3.5%, you could be paying $35 less per month towards your mortgage, or roughly $420 a year. Over the life of your mortgage, that tiny decrease in your interest rate can save you $12,664.

What’s in Store For Mortgage Rates in the Near Future?

Whether mortgage rates will continue to decline or will start to increase is up for debate. When rates are affected by political unrest, their future movements can be rather tough to predict.

Some experts anticipate a gradual increase in mortgage rates as the sting of Brexit alleviates over time. But there’s also a growing belief that low rates are here to stay, at least over the short-term.

Whatever the case may be, economic and political chaos across the pond has a big impact on what happens on home soil. In response to Brexit, the Federal Reserve has decided to hold off on increasing interest rates as an effort to stave off any increased risk of a US recession.

Such conflicting sentiments point to unpredictability in the movement of mortgage rate over the next few months. If the current drop meets your specific financial goals, then it might be a good idea to speak with your lender about refinancing at a lower rate. Just keep in mind that there may be penalties to pay for cutting your current mortgage short.

Sellers: These Are Things Your Real Estate Agent Needs From You

Selling your home is a team effort between you and you agent. Having a professional realtor represent you means you’ll be getting solid advice that’s based on experience and in-depth knowledge of the market.

But as much as your real estate agent needs to work hard to deliver the results you want, you also have your role to play in the home selling process.

Here’s what your agent needs from you to make sure that the process is a smooth and streamlined one.

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Be Realistic About the Listing Price

Many sellers have an inflated idea about what their homes are really worth. Of course, the more money sellers can get, the better for their bottom line. But pricing too high is a bad idea.

You need to price your home so that it attracts attention, but not so low that you’re leaving money on the table. If similar homes in the area have recently sold for $250,000, for instance, you’ve got no foot to stand on if you insist on listing for $290,000.

Overpricing your home will only scare off buyers, and leave your listing in the dust. The longer the house sits on the market, the staler it will become, prompting buyers to wonder if there is anything wrong with it. You’ll just end up lowering your price down the line in order to garner renewed interest in it.

Keep Your Home Clean

A clean, de-cluttered home obviously shows a lot better than a messy, unkempt one. When your home is on the market for sale, it needs to be ready to be seen by prospective buyers at short notice. That means it needs to be in tip-top shape around the clock.

Sure, it can be tough to keep your home in pristine condition at all times, but that’s all part and parcel of the real estate game. Your listing is likely competing with many others in the areas, so you’ve got to make sure it shows well, or buyers will simply turn their attention away to the other properties.

If you want your home to sell in a reasonable amount of time, keeping things neat and tidy is necessary. Get all your kids’ toys off the floor, put all your magazines away, and wash that pile of dishes in the sink. Taking these steps will help ensure a positive experience for all the homebuyers out there.

Make Repairs Before the Listing Hits the Market

If your home needs a few minor repairs here and there, do them before the house is listed for sale. Why? Sometimes sellers will promise to fix cracked bathroom tiles or replace a broken screen. When buyers hear this, they expect it to happen. If you change your mind after the buyer agreed to buy the home at a certain price that includes these repairs being made, you could potentially lose out on the deal.

If the repairs are too expensive or rectifying them is out of your element, don’t promise anything. Instead, negotiate the price based on the deal that the buyer will take care of them once they take possession.

Or else, if the repairs are minor in nature, you’d be better off taking care of them yourself – it’ll make your home show much better. 

Don’t Be Present During Your Open House

Sticking around while buyers are meandering through your home during an open house is not a good idea. You might be the friendliest face on the planet, but when buyers know that the owners are present, they’ll feel much more restricted in what they can say and which doors they open. Your presence will only alienate buyers and make them feel awkward.

When buyers go to open houses, they want to be free to open all the cabinets and drawers, poke around in every corner of each room, and make comments to their agents or whomever they happen to be visiting with. If you’re there, they can’t really get to know your home as well as they might have if you had just vacated the premises for a couple of hours.

Don’t Be Greedy

You’ve listed your home at the appropriate price point, staged it, and finally received a decent offer. Now’s not the time to get greedy.

Once you see the offer on the table, it’s perfectly normal to want to counter the offer if it’s well under what you’ve asked, or if you know that a similar house down the street just sold for $25,000 more. But don’t give up on the offer and throw it out the window completely in hopes of getting a better offer tomorrow. Anything close to the listing price should be seriously entertained without nickel and diming the buyer.

Similarly, if you come to an agreement on the listing price of your home, then another property lists at a higher asking price, don’t be tempted to relist your house for more. You don’t know if the other home was listed properly.

The market will command the value of your home, so you and your agent will know what offer is reasonable enough to accept.

Before you list your home, go through all the details about what needs to be done before, during and after the process. Make sure you come up with a solid plan of action, and stick to it. Your role in the selling process is extremely important – your agent is counting on you to ensure the end result is a desirable one.

13 Creative Ways to Make Your Small Space Look Much Bigger

Small spaces certain pose a set of design challenges, but there are plenty of savvy decor tactics that can be employed to make a room seem larger than it actually is, while keeping it stylish at the same time.

Here are 13 ways to decorate your home to make it appear bigger if it’s short on square footage.

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1. Use Light Colors on the Floors and Walls

Darker colors tend to be rich and sophisticated, but they don’t often work in large amounts in smaller spaces. Go for lighter colors on your walls and floors so that light is reflected rather than absorbed, creating a sense of more space.

2. Declutter

Too many knick-knacks in a tight space will make it feel even tighter. Get rid of anything that you haven’t used in over 6 months. You might have an affinity for all your little figurine collections or like to have stacks of magazines available at your discretion, but too much “stuff” in a room will make it feel smaller.

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3. Use Multi-Functional Furniture Pieces

A small room obviously doesn’t have the luxury of housing a variety of furniture. As such, try to find pieces that serve double-duty. For instance, an ottoman that also acts as a coffee table can serve more than one purpose without having to outfit your room with two separate pieces that will take up extra space.

4. Scale Down Your Furniture

Furniture that’s sleeker and less bulky will make the room look larger.  Instead of a puffy sofa with a skirt, for instance, a thinner sofa with exposed legs that offers the same amount of seating is perfect for a smaller room.

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5. Hang Shelves Up to Ceiling Height

Adding a wall bookcase or floating shelves that extend all the way up to the ceiling can help create the illusion of more space. This helps generate a focal point that draws the eyes upward and visually expands the area by pushing the ceiling and walls out.

6. Use Stripes to Stretch Out a Room

You’ve likely heard that vertical stripes help to make a person appear slimmer and taller. Well, the same concept can be applied to the world of home decor. Arranging area rugs or sofas to run the length of a room at its longest point can help visually elongate the space.

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7. Skip the Top-Down Lighting

Small rooms with low ceilings should forego central light fixtures in the middle of the ceiling. Instead, use a few smaller lamps and wall sconces to counter the top-down effect of ceiling-mounted lights and draw attention around the entire room.

8. Hang Lots of Mirrors

Mirrors obviously have reflective properties, which can be harnessed to reflect light all around a room and make it seem bigger. Hang your mirrors across from windows or lights so that they can more effectively allow the light to bounce off them and illuminate the surrounding space.

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9. ‘Float’ Your Furniture

If the space permits, try pulling your furniture away from the walls a few inches. Lining up your sofas and chairs against the walls will only make the room seem tight.

10. Leave Your Windows Uncovered

The less obstructed your windows are, the more natural light will be allowed in. If you want some privacy, you can always hang blinds that can be drawn up when not required. These offer more versatility compared to curtains, which tend to make the room feel cramped.

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11. Use Lucite or Glass For Furniture

These materials are super hot in the world of interior design these days, so now’s your chance to take advantage of this trend. Transparent furniture allows more light to flow through a room, as opposed to bulky, opaque furniture that just blocks the light.

12. Use Different Shades of the Same Color For Consistency

Creating harmony in a space can be done by using two different shades of the same color. For instance, a baby blue sofa can be effectively paired with steel blue throw pillows to create coherence and make a room feel much more open and airy.

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13. Keep the Same Flooring Through Adjacent Rooms

If your living and dining area are linked, make sure to keep the same flooring throughout. Breaking it up with hardwood in the living room and ceramic tiles in the kitchen will just cut the space in half, which does nothing for visually expanding the space.

How Your Debt-to-Income Ratio Affects Your Ability to Secure a Mortgage

There are plenty of factors that go into the approval of a home loan, including your debt-to-income ratio.

While your debt-to-income ratio doesn’t have a direct impact on your credit score, it’s an important part of your overall credit health. It’ll also play a key role in how well your application will fare when you’re trying to obtain a mortgage.

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What Exactly is a ‘Debt-to-Income Ratio’?

Lenders are not in the business of handing out large chunks of money to people who may not be able to pay the loan back in full. They have a set of criteria that borrowers need to meet before any money is loaned out. By setting up these requirements, lenders are able to hedge against any potential risks they may face.

In addition to your credit score, financial history, and collateral, lenders will also have a look at your debt-to-income ratio. This little number is basically calculated by dividing your monthly income by all your monthly debt payments. That includes any auto or student loans, credit card loans, and any other types of debt you may have. You’ll need to provide proof of income, since it’s not reported on your credit report.

Your debt-to-income ratio gives lenders the ability to judge how much more debt you’d be comfortable handling, and how much of a risk you might be for the lender. For instance, if your gross monthly income is $4,000, and your monthly debt obligations total $1,500, then your debt-to-income ratio is 37.5% ($1,500 divided into $5,000).

What Should Your Debt-to-Income Ratio Be to Secure a Mortgage?

The lower the number, the better. Ideally, your front-end ratio shouldn’t be any more than 28%. This specific ratio is the percentage of your income that would be dedicated to paying all your home’s expenses, such as your mortgage payments, property taxes, homeowner’s insurance, and HOA fees.

The back-end ratio shows what percentage of your income would cover all of your expenses, including your housing expenses and all other debt obligations you have. Ideally, this number should be less than 36%. It’s the back-end ratio that lenders tend to place the most weight on. Studies have shown that borrowers who have a higher debt-to-income ratio are more likely have problems meeting their monthly mortgage payment demands.

Lenders might accept slightly higher ratios depending on your credit score, down payment, overall amount of savings, and the exact type of loan you’re applying for. But generally speaking, anything over the 36% mark will raise flags for your lender.

Not only does calculating your debt-to-income ratio protect your lender, it also protects you from getting yourself into a potentially challenging financial position. If the money you make just barely covers all your expenses, you’ll essentially be left with nothing at the end of each month. Rather than being “house poor,” you might want to wait until your debts have whittled down somewhat, your income increases, or you’ve found a more affordable property that more closely matches your financial capabilities.

Even if you are approved for a mortgage with a high debt-to-income ratio, you’ll likely be slapped with a higher interest rate. Much like borrowers with low credit scores are offered high rates if they’re approved for a home loan, borrowers with high debt-to-income ratios will often be offered the same.

For lenders, it’s all about making the most on a return on investment. The main reason why they charge borrowers with a high ratio a higher interest rate is to offset the potentially greater default rate.

The Bottom Line

Your debt-to-income ratio is a critical component to the mortgage application approval process. Lenders want to make sure you’re fully capable of covering all of your expenses after adding a mortgage to the pile. The lower that number is, the higher your odds of being approved for a mortgage with a decent interest rate.

6 Ways to Protect Your Home From Wildfires

It’s prime time for wildfires in the west, especially with temperatures soaring into the summer. California’s already battling raging wildfires, putting homes and lives in danger.

The latest wildfire to hit the state has already claimed over 260 homes and 71,000 acres of land. And last September, over 1,000 homes were obliterated by two fires in California. Suburbs that are even remotely close to forests are vulnerable during hot and dry seasons.

Despite these dangers, there’s still a lot you can do to protect your home from wildfires. Proper preparation can mean the difference between saving your home or dealing with a pile of ashes.

Here are some steps you can take to prevent your home from being a casualty from a wildfire.

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1. Use Fire-Resistant Construction Materials

If your home is being newly built or you’re renovating your existing home at any point in the near future, consider using materials that are resistant to heat. The roof, in particular, is very vulnerable to fire, so using any cedar planks is definitely a no-go, even if you’re located in an urban center. Homes in California tend to have Class A-rated roofs, including asphalt shingles. However, steel or tile are preferred.

The same goes for the exterior walls of your home. Fiber cement or stucco tend to hold up well against fires, along with a non-flammable underlayment to boost fire resistance. Cover your attic and sub-floor vents with non-combustible screening with a small mesh size, and install small, tempered or thermal-pane glass windows to limit breakage or melting.

2. Hang Heat-Resistant Drapes and Shutters on Your Windows

Not only are the windows themselves venerable to intense heat, so are the drapes and shutters that surround them. If the fire causes the windows to melt or break, the embers will go right through and catch the drapes and furniture on fire.

For this reason, you should replace the window drapes with more heat-resistant fabrics. Installing exterior non-combustible window shutters can also help keep the flames and embers out when closed.

3. Clear Out Flammable Debris From Around Your House

One of the quickest ways to keep your home safe from a wildfire is to eliminate any combustible debris that is scattered around its perimeter. Things like piles of leaves, dead grass, and firewood stacks should be cleared out. Even structures like your fence or deck should be taken down and replaced if they’re made of wood.

Keeping open space around your home will also help make the job of fire crews much easier and more effective. Uncluttered space should stretch out a minimum of 30 feet from the home, if possible. The clearer the area, the better.

4. Keep the Lawn Short and Hydrated

Grass that’s dry, brown, and overgrown is a fire hazard. Not only will dead grass catch fire more easily, its length will also help it spread faster. This is especially true if the dry grass reaches low-hanging branches on trees. Keep your lawn well-hydrated and mowed short (no more than 3 inches). Short, moist grass is much less likely to carry a fire. 

5. Clean and Properly Screen Your Eavestroughs

Your home’s eavestroughs are the ideal places for embers to land in and start a fire in the interior of your home. Make sure that your eavestroughs are cleaned out on a regular basis and properly screened. Dry leaves in the gutters are a sure-fire way to get a fire going, so make sure these spots are regularly maintained and covered as necessary.

6. Keep Adequate Space Between Trees on Your Property

If you’ve got multiple trees on your property, make sure the branches between each are at least 10 feet away from each other. This will help minimize the chances of a fire jumping through the branches and spreading quickly. You should also maintain the same distance between the trees and your home, and make sure that any branches don’t extend over your home’s roof or chimney.

Considering the vulnerability of homes to wildfires in many parts of California and the incredible devastation that can result, taking a few steps to protect your home is a no-brainer. It can even help slow the spread of the fire, and help it extinguish sooner to keep destruction to a minimum.

How to Make Sure You’re Getting a Fair Deal on a Flipped House

Many homebuyers are looking for a turn-key property that’s move-in ready. Buying a home with little to do to it is very attractive, especially for the millennial demographic.

But many of these newly renovated homes are being sold by investors who gutted the home in an effort to make a profit off of buyers. In 2015, the average gross profit on flipped homes was $55,000.

In many cases, flippers will just make simple cosmetic changes to make the home look newer and more up-to-date. A fresh coat of paint, sanded and re-stained hardwood floors, and refaced kitchen cabinets can go a long way in improving the esthetics of a home. In other cases, structural changes and major renovations are tackled, which is a good thing, but only if these jobs are done properly.

House flippers are in the business to make a quick buck, but that doesn’t mean you have to overfeed their wallets, nor fall for the dreaded “money pit.”.

Here are some ways to make sure you’re getting a good deal on a good home.

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Identify a Flipped House

If you want to make sure you’re getting a decent deal on a home purchase, you want to know if the home is being flipped in the first place. There are a few telltale signs that you’re looking at a flipped house. A vacant home that’s been professionally staged is one sign, as is brand new landscaping. Other common signs of a flipped home include the presence of trendy yet cheap finishes, as well as the installation of new laminate floors.

Other than these physical features, you’ll also be able to identify a flipped home by looking at the property records. Your real estate agent will be a big help in this department. Checking the previous listings on the home will show you how long the seller owned the home, and what the previous sale price was. If the property was purchased less than a year ago, it’s probably an investment for the seller.

Pay Close Attention to Details

Cosmetic updates might look nice, but who knows what they’re potentially covering up. Don’t just assume that because the place looks good, the guts are in perfect condition.

Don’t be afraid to root around in the home to see if there is anything questionable being covered up. Look under sinks at the plumbing and check for any wet pipes or mineral buildup. Check out the foundation to see if there are any structural defects that have not been addressed, such as sticky doors and windows, slanting floors and walls, or major cracks in the foundation.

Identify if any of the work was done on the cheap and rushed through. Nice finishes may seem legitimate, but they could just be steering your attention away from any sloppy work. Signs of shady workmanship can include gaps between tiles, electrical outlet plates that aren’t flush with the wall, or baseboards that don’t completely meet at the corners.

Find Out if the Work Was Done With Permits

Just about every type of work being done in a home needs to be done with a building permit in order for it to be deemed legal. If the listing claims that everything in the home is ’new,’ you’ll want to see the paperwork to support the fact that the work was done with permits.

If no documents can be shown, you might be asking for trouble. If any of the work was done without a permit, it could be unsafe. And if the house doesn’t meet code, you might even have a tough time getting financing or home insurance.

Order a Home Inspection

Never skip a home inspection. Even if the home seems brand new, it’s still not a good idea to forego this crucial step. While you may have done your due diligence to check out all the details of the home, professional home inspectors have the training and experience to find issues that you may have missed. They’ll check the quality of the contractor’s work, and will be able to tell if any corners were cut.

It’s worth paying a few hundred bucks for some peace of mind.

Assess the Home’s Fair Market Value

This is again where a qualified real estate agent is an invaluable part of your team. Sure, today’s homebuyers tend to be very well-informed, but there are some details involved in determining the market value of a flipped home, and therefore coming up with a fair price.

While the previous sale price is an important factor to look at, don’t place too much emphasis on it. Flippers are obviously in the business to make money, but it’s tough to pinpoint exactly what their margins are just by finding out how much they paid for their properties. You’ll need to factor in how much the renovations cost, the closing costs, and if the property has appreciated in value since that last sale.

Your real estate agent will be able to pull a list of comparable homes in the area that were recently sold, and have many of the same features that the property in question has. The sale price of comparable homes in the current market will help you figure out if you’re getting a good deal or not. A realistic assessment of the prices of other flipped homes in the area is necessary.

Buying a flipped home can turn out to be a good deal for both you and the flipper. But, as always, due diligence on your part is necessary. Taking a few steps before signing on the dotted line could land you a great house at a fair price.