2021 Mortgage Loan Limit Increases

The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) has announced the 2021 conforming and high balance loan limit increases. Starting Nov. 24, 2020, you can lock Conventional loans in H2O with the new loan limits.

2021 Conforming and High Balance Loan Limits

The base conforming loan limit will increase from $510,400 to $548,250.

Conforming Loan Limits
Number of Units Maximum base conforming loan limits for properties (excludes Alaska and Hawaii) Maximum base conforming loan limits for properties in Alaska and Hawaii
  2021 2020 2021 2020
1 $548,250 $510,400 $822,375 $765,600
2 $702,000 $653,550 $1,053,000 $980,325
3 $848,500 $789,950 $1,272,750 $1,184,925
4 $1,054,500 $981,700 $1,581,750 $1,472,550


The high balance loan limit will increase to $822,375 (150 percent of $548,250) for one-unit properties in the contiguous U.S.


High Balance Loan Limits
Number of Units Maximum base conforming loan limits for properties (excludes Alaska and Hawaii) Maximum base conforming loan limits for properties in Alaska and Hawaii
  2021 2020 2021 2020
1 $822,375 $765,600 Alaska and Hawaii don’t have high cost areas Alaska and Hawaii didn’t have high cost areas
2 $1,053,000 $980,325
3 $1,272,750 $1,184,925
4 $1,581,750 $1,581,750


There are no counties in Alaska and Hawaii considered high cost with higher loan limits than the applicable base conforming limits for 2021. As a result, there are no high balance limits specific to Alaska and Hawaii.


How Much Do Septic Tanks Cost? The Stomach-Churning Price Revealed


How much do septic tanks cost? Septic tank installation costs can head up into the tens of thousands of dollars, but if you’re thinking of buying or building a home in a rural area or some other place that’s not connected to a public sewer system, you may just have to spend the cash. Installing your own septic tank means the water going down the drain of your bathtub, toilet, and sinks has someplace to go!

In fact, about one-third of Americans have their own septic system, according to the American Ground Water Trust. If you’re breaking ground on a new home or, say, converting a cabin with no running water, you will have to install one. But how much does a septic tank installation cost? Answers ahead to keep you from flushing good money down the drain.

How much do septic tanks cost?

For a three-bedroom home, you can expect to need a 1,000-gallon tank, which will range in price from $8,000 to $15,000, according to AngiesList.com. For a five-bedroom home, you’ll probably need a 1,500-gallon tank, which will cost between $15,000 and $25,000.

The cost of a septic system depends on its size, and its size will hinge on how much water you use. You can estimate both of these by using the number of bedrooms in your house as a rule of thumb.

In addition to the septic tank installation cost, you will also be on the hook for a few other expenses—namely permits, soil tests, and the excavation equipment needed to dig the hole in your yard where the tank will be placed.

A local septic installation expert will have an estimate of those costs, which vary widely by area. As part of that cost, “An engineer will come out and perform all the necessary tests and design a system that will work for the home,” says J. Cook at Cortlandt Septic Tank in Montrose, NY.

Installing a septic system typically takes about three to five days—and ideally should be done after your home has been built but before you’ve installed a driveway or other landscaping features. Note: A septic tank will displace a decent amount of dirt onto your lawn, which you can use elsewhere (hello, landscaping!).

What are the septic tank maintenance costs?

Even when your septic system is safely in the ground, your days of dealing with it (and the costs) are not done. For one, a septic tank will need to be maintained—which mainly boils down to having it pumped every few years. This keeps the sludge at the bottom from rising so high that it spills into your yard (yuck).

This is why the Environmental Protection Agency recommends having your septic system pumped once every one to three years.

“The price range for pumping the tank is $300 to $400,” says Cook. At the very least, have your tank checked to see if it needs to be pumped. Trust us, this is not the kind of thing you want to let slide, unless you want a sewage plant in your backyard.

And there are ways to save on maintenance: Just use less water by installing low-flow toilets and not running the water more than necessary. And in addition to researching the costs of installing and maintaining a home septic system, be sure to review and understand all your local laws and regulations involving wastewater treatment and related issues.

For more information, visit EPA.gov.septic.

Should You Prepay Your Mortgage? The Pros and Cons

Should You Prepay Your Mortgage? The Pros and Cons

 | Aug 13, 2019

Should you prepay your mortgage? For some homeowners it’s a financially savvy move—but for others, beefing up their loan payments just doesn’t make sense. To help you figure out whether prepayment is right for you, here are the pros and cons cited by financial experts.

Pro: You’ll cut down on the interest you owe

Interest is the extra fee you pay your lender for loaning you the cash you needed to buy a home. After all, lenders don’t just hand out dough for free—they’re in the business to make money.

By increasing your monthly mortgage payments—also called “prepaying” your mortgage—you’ll effectively save money in interest charges. Those savings can add up big-time.

For example, let’s say you take out a $200,000 mortgage with a 4% fixed interest rate and a 30-year term. If you continue to make your minimum monthly payments, you’d be forking over $143,739 in interest over 30 years until the debt is paid off. But, by paying an extra $100 per month, you’d pay only $116,702 in interest over a 25-year time span—a savings of $27,037.

Pro: You’ll get your mortgage paid off sooner

By accelerating your mortgage payments, you’ll also be shortening how long it takes to pay off the loan, which would increase your cash flow in the future. That’s a huge incentive for some borrowers.

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“For families with young children, where the parents are concerned about paying for their children’s college tuition, sometimes we will recommend they increase mortgage payments so that when their kids head off to college their mortgage obligation is gone,” says Joe Pitzl, a certified financial planner for Pitzl Financial, in Arden Hills, MN.

Paying more money each month toward your mortgage’s principal can also give you peace of mind, says Marguerita Cheng, a certified financial planner at Blue Ocean Global Wealth in Gaithersburg, MD.

“Emotionally, it’s gratifying knowing that you’re paying your mortgage sooner than you originally planned to do,” Cheng says.

Pro: You’ll build equity faster

No matter how much money you put down on your mortgage, your home equity is the current market value of your home minus the amount you owe on your loan. So say your home is worth $250,000 and your mortgage balance is $200,000. In this case, you’d have $50,000, or 20%, in home equity.

Making larger mortgage payments toward your loan’s principal would enable you to build equity faster. Having more home equity can be a tremendous boon if you’re looking to get a home equity loan or home equity line of credit, such as to pay for home improvements, says Tendayi Kapfidze, chief economist at Lending Tree.

Pro: It helps your credit score

Showing that you have less debt—and that you manage your debts responsibly, by paying your mortgage off early—can raise your credit score. That can help if you’re planning to apply for a car loan or a second mortgage on a vacation home, since your credit score would affect the interest rate you qualify for.

Con: Prepaying reduces mortgage interest, which is tax-deductible

Because prepaying your mortgage reduces your mortgage interest, it may not make sense from a tax-savings perspective. Mortgages are structured so that you start off paying more interest than principal.

For example, in the first year of a $300,000, 30-year loan at a fixed 4% interest rate, you’d be deducting $10,920. (To find out how much you paid in mortgage interest last year, punch your numbers into our online mortgage calculator.)

Nonetheless, taking a mortgage interest deduction under the new tax law requires itemizing deductions—and itemizing may no longer make sense for many homeowners, since the standard deduction jumped under the new tax plan to $12,200 for individuals, $18,350 for heads of household, and $24,400 for married couples filing jointly.

Another thing to consider: In the past, you could deduct the interest from up to $1 million in mortgage debt (or $500,000 if you filed singly). However, for loans taken out from December 15, 2017, onward, only the interest on the first $750,000 of mortgage debt is deductible, says William L. Hughes, a certified public accountant in Stuart, FL.

Con: You could miss out on more lucrative investment opportunities

Every dollar you put toward your mortgage principal is a dollar you can’t invest in higher-yield ventures, such as stocks, high-yield bonds, or real estate investment trusts, Pitzl says.

That being said, “you’d be assuming more risk by investing your money in, say, the stock market instead of putting the money toward your mortgage,” Pitzl points out.

“You have to consider your risk tolerance before you decide where to put your extra cash,” says Cheng.

Con: You may miss paying off higher-interest debts

For many homeowners, paying off higher-interest debt—such as from a credit card or private student loan—is more important than prepaying their mortgage, Cheng says.

Think about it: If you’re carrying a $400 debt on a credit card from month to month with a 20% interest rate, the amount of money you’re paying in credit card interest is $80 per month—that would be leaps and bounds higher than what you’d be paying in mortgage interest on a home loan with a 4% interest rate.

Con: Prepaying a mortgage could hamper achieving other financial goals

Building your retirement savings is crucial, of course. However, some people make the mistake of prepaying their mortgage instead of maxing out their retirement contributions, Cheng laments.

“At the bare minimum, I recommend my clients do a full 401(k) match with their employer,” she says.

Moreover, Pitzl encourages people to build a sufficient emergency fund—typically, a fund large enough to cover three to six months of their essential expenses—before they focus on prepaying their mortgage.

“If you get into a bind, you can’t sell off windows and doors to make ends meet,” Pitzl says.

Con: There may penalties for prepaying your mortgage

Some lenders charge a fee if a client’s mortgage is paid in full before the loan term ends. That’s why it’s important to check with your mortgage lender—or look for the term “prepayment disclosure” in your mortgage agreement—to see if there’s a penalty and, if so, how much it is.

The bottom line: If you don’t have enough money to pad your savings before you begin paying off your mortgage early, prepaying your home loan may put you in a financial hole if an emergency crops up.

Still not sure what direction to go in? Consider sitting down with a financial planner to discuss your options based on your personal finances.

The One Thing That Can Make or Break How People Feel About Your House

 | Jul 31, 2019

Considering the time and energy homeowners put toward making their house look great (particularly if they’re trying to sell), many make the critical mistake of neglecting another one of our senses that can be far more powerful: smell.

Even if you’ve decorated or staged your home perfectly, if potential buyers walk in and detect an unpleasant odor, they could skedaddle fast. Good scents, on the other hand, entice them to linger.

“One of the easiest ways to evoke pleasant feelings about a space is to enhance the way it smells,” says Ben Creamer, a managing broker in Chicago. “It’s often the first thing a person will notice upon entering a space—and it’s one of the things that, when done poorly, can kill a sale, no matter how beautiful the home.”

“The first step to a good-smelling home is to get rid of any odor,” says Barb Boehler, a real estate agent in Madison, WI. “Make sure to scrub all surfaces, wash all rugs, and have the carpets cleaned. Until this is done, you’ll only be masking smells.”

In addition, be mindful in creating a home scent that will be as universally appealing as possible.

“The definition of ‘pleasant’ when it comes to the olfactory senses can vary widely from person to person, so it’s best to keep the scent subtle and clean throughout, with a special emphasis on the kitchen and bath,” says Creamer.

With that in mind, here are 11 tips for making your home smell amazing before guests or home buyers arrive.

Scrub down the bathroom

It goes without saying that scummy showers and grubby toilets are major buyer turnoffs. Use Fabuloso liquid cleaner for bathroom surfaces, including tubs and showers, for a lovely lavender scent, recommends Lisa Jacobs, an organizing professional and founder of Imagine It Done.

Freshen the fridge

Yes, there’s a good chance people will open your refrigerator and take a peek inside. Toss any smelly leftovers or expired condiments, then leave a fresh box of baking soda on a shelf to take care of any lingering odors, says Jacobs.

Take out the trash

Obviously, get rid of any and all garbage before you welcome guests. If your trash cans still carry an odor, sprinkle baking soda in the bottom to absorb it, advises Lisa Molinari, a real estate agent in Morristown, NJ.

Get underfoot

Carpets and rugs can trap a ton of bad smells, especially if you wear shoes in your home or have pets—and warm weather can make them even worse.

An easy fix: Get them shampooed or steam-cleaned regularly, and especially before an open house, says Jennifer Snyder, owner of Neat as a Pin Organizing & Cleaning.

Don an apron

You know all of those hours you’ve spent watching bake-offs on reality TV? Put them to good use by whipping up something sweet that will do double duty making your home smell enticing and providing a snack for potential buyers.

Cedric Stewart, a residential sales consultant in Washington, DC, loves pulling a batch of pumpkin bread or banana bread out of the oven right before the open house begins.

“This provides a great smell, and treats seem to stick in the buyers’ mind after they leave,” he says. (It’s also not a bad idea to brew a fresh pot of coffee to go with the baked treat.)

Just add soap

Round up all of those unused bars of fancy soap you’ve been gifted over the years, and place them in a pretty bowl on a bathroom counter. Dove brand soap also works great for this.

“It can fill a room with a remarkably clean, fresh scent for weeks,” says Creamer. “You can even hide a bar or two in a walk-in closet to freshen the space.”

Play with matches

Tried-and-true candles can make a room feel peaceful, as well as fill it with a pleasant scent—provided the scent isn’t overpowering.

Jacobs loves Apotheke’s bamboo three-wick candle, while Los Angeles–based real estate agent Melissa Okabe always turns to Diptyque’s baies candle, which smells fresh and fruity.

Light the candle 10 to 15 minutes before the open house begins and, of course, keep it in a well-ventilated area away from anything flammable.

Focus on essentials

Oils, that is. If you’d rather stay away from open flames, you can opt for essential oil diffusers for a similar effect.

Okabe recommends fresh, neutral scents such as lemon or lavender, to add to a high-quality diffuser such as this one from West Elm. (It will be a gadget you use long after you sell your home, too.)

If you don’t want to invest in a diffuser, you can use essential oils in a few other ways.

Tangela Walker-Craft, a home and family blogger, recommends dabbing a drop of oil on cold lightbulbs before turning them on—it’ll give off a subtle fragrance as the bulb warms up. You can also add a few drops to cotton balls and hide them strategically around your home, then simply toss them after the open house concludes.

Raid your laundry room

Face it: Potential buyers are likely going to be peeping through your drawers and cabinets, so you’ll need to consider how they smell, as well. An easy way to freshen up confined spaces like these is to add dryer sheets a few days before the open house, says Ben Mizes, a real estate agent in St. Louis.

“These places don’t see a lot of light, so they can have some funky smells—but dryer sheets make them smell like fresh laundry,” he adds.

Simmer down

If you don’t have time to bake, you can create a similarly appealing sweet scent by simmering vanilla extract diluted in water on the stove.

Molinari makes a natural potpourri by adding five cinnamon sticks, 1 teaspoon vanilla, 2 tablespoons cloves, three bay leaves, and an orange rind to a pot of simmering water.

Catch air

High-efficiency particulate air, or HEPA, purifiers can be a little expensive, but they’re extremely effective in removing any lingering strong, strange odors from the air, says Mizes. Combining an air purifier with another method, such as baking cookies, can make a big difference in how your home smells.

At the end of the day, remember to not overdo it. Avoid having multiple scents competing with one another in various rooms.

Instead, “find one neutral, mild scent and let it breathe,” says Molinari. “A scent throughout helps give your home flow and connectivity—so allow it to become the background of the experience.”

Kelsey Ogletree is a writer and editor covering travel, fitness, food, culture, weddings, agriculture, and more from her home base of Chicago. Follow @kbogletree on Instagram. Follow @kelseyogletree

Trump Administration to Take on Local Housing Barriers

 | Jun 25, 2019

The Trump administration will explore using federal programs to push local governments to soften or eliminate rules that block housing construction, an issue that has stymied officials at all levels of government for years.

President Trump is expected to sign an order Tuesday creating the White House Council on Eliminating Barriers to Affordable Housing Development, which will include members of eight federal agencies.

“These are things that can be solved. A lot of [these rules] have been on the books for excessive amounts of time. They’re not particularly relevant any more,” said Ben Carson, secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, in an interview Tuesday with The Wall Street Journal.

Home construction per household is near the lowest level in 60 years of record-keeping, creating a shortage of everything from starter homes for young households to rental apartments for retirees on fixed incomes.

A study released Tuesday by Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies found that the U.S. built about 260,000 fewer homes than it needed in 2018 to keep up with population growth and an aging housing stock.

As a result, homes are getting more expensive relative to incomes. The ratio of the median home price to median household income rose from a low of 3.3 in 2011 to 4.1 in 2018, according to Harvard.

The ratio hit its peak of 4.7 in 2005 when loose lending stoked demand, causing prices to soar. This time the index is rising more due to supply shortages, the Harvard report said.

Local zoning and land-use regulations have swelled since the 1970s and cannot be eliminated in one stroke of a pen by the federal government. Expensive U.S. cities and suburbs in California and the Northeast have long been difficult places to build. But housing shortages have grown widespread in recent years, extending from Grand Rapids, Mich., to Austin, Texas.

The Obama administration produced a tool kit in September 2016 that was designed to help local governments pare back zoning regulations, to little effect.

Local regulations that require developers to address such issues as environmental protection and road, school and sewer capacity often have strong support among residents and politically powerful advocacy groups. Also, many municipalities stepped up land-use regulation following the housing bust in 2008, when developers overbuilt leaving hundreds of unfilled homes that decimated home prices and created blight in many communities.

The new Trump council will produce a study quantifying the effect of regulations on the housing market and the U.S. economy as a whole. Its members will include representatives of the Treasury Department, the Labor Department, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Agriculture Department, which will also examine ways to roll back federal regulations inhibiting housing development.

Mr. Carson has made easing barriers for the private sector to build housing the signature issue of his tenure as HUD secretary. He has toured a factory that uses a 3-D printer to build homes faster and cheaper and most recently hosted an event that showcased affordably priced manufactured homes on the National Mall.

Critics say the HUD secretary is focusing attention on local governments and the private sector while neglecting his agency’s responsibility to enforce the Fair Housing Act, which forbids practices such as concentrating affordable housing in poorer areas.

Mr. Carson said the housing shortage creates de facto segregation.

“The thing that creates segregation is not George Wallace-type people standing at the door saying you can’t come in here,” he said. “It’s cost. People tend to congregate in places that they can afford to live.”

The Weird but Totally Natural Way You Can Kill Germs in Your Home

| Jul 25, 2019

Think about this for a second: The average house collects a staggering 40 pounds of dust each year. And let’s take a moment to remember what makes up dust: Pet dander. Dead skin cells. Dust mites. Insect droppings.

The surprising answer: Open your blinds.

How sunshine fights germs

In a study published last year in the medical journal Microbiome, researchers at the University of Oregon described setting up a series of miniature (and very dusty) rooms. For 90 days, some of these dollhouse-size areas were kept in total darkness while others received UV light. Then, the dust was collected and the bacteria within it sampled.

“We found that household dust exposed to ordinary daylighting contained smaller loads of living bacteria, compared to dust bunnies experiencing darkness,” explains Ashkaan Fahimipour, the study’s lead author and now a postdoctoral scholar in computer science at the University of California, Davis.

The researchers also saw shifts in the types of bacteria living in those dust bunnies.

“Bacterial communities from daylit dust resembled those found in outdoor air, in contrast to dust experiencing darkness, which more strongly resembled the microbiome of human skin,” Fahimipour explains.

While some of the germs we’re exposed to in our daily lives are harmless or even beneficial, others are potentially harmful.

“Which of these are being impacted by light exposure is still an open question,” Fahimipour says.

That means it’s too early to say that sunshine definitively has sanitizing superpowers, but “based on our current understanding, I think we can say that ordinary daylighting has the potential to inactivate living bacteria,” Fahimipour says.

It’s really not a stretch to believe that throwing open your drapes is good for you. Sun-loving scientists have already amassed plenty of research that supports the benefits of natural daylight. Read on for what sunlight can do for you.

Sync your body clock

“Natural light is a primary consideration for a healthy and happy home, because sunlight is a crucial modulator of our circadian rhythm, a cycle which encompasses brain wave activity and regulates hormone production, cell regeneration, hunger, and sleep cycles,” explains Nora Bouz, a well-being design consultant. “That in turn influences our mental, emotional, and physical health.”

Our bodies are designed to be in sync with nature, Bouz points out.

“We wake up when the sun rises, reach our highest level of energy when the sun is at its highest point in the sky, and wind down and go to sleep when it’s dark,” she says.

Boost your mood

“When we’re exposed to sunlight, serotonin, one of the hormones responsible for our high energy and feeling good, is produced,” Bouz says.

You can think of serotonin as your body’s natural antidepressant. If your brain doesn’t make enough, you’ll start to feel irritable and fatigued. In some people, this can lead to to seasonal affective disorder (appropriate acronym: SAD).

Keep you healthy

Your body relies on natural sunlight to make vitamin D, which regulates over 1,000 different genes in your body. This form of vitamin D isn’t really a vitamin, per se, so much as a hormone that may help prevent health issues ranging from osteoporosis and diabetes to heart disease and arthritis.

Help you be more productive

Next time you have a ton of work to plow through, sit by a window. A typical sunny day has a “color temperature” that’s been shown to increase alertness and efficiency. Natural daylight can also lessen eye strain, which may slow you down at your computer.

Heal your skin

Blistering sunburn from hours in the sun? Obviously bad. Low levels of UV radiation—like you get from light streaming through your window? Not bad at all. Research shows that a small amount of sunlight triggers the release of a compound in your skin that quiets inflammation. That could be helpful if you have a skin condition like eczema.

Save you money

“If you have sunlight illuminating your whole house, why would you ever turn on the light?” points out Brad Roberson, president of Glass Doctor, a Neighborly company.

In a recent study to see how much natural light can save on energy bills, Roberson says, experimenters found that in addition to energy, they saved on cooling and heating. The total annual savings? 22%.

If you do decide to let more light into your home, choose sliding glass doors with UV-blocking glass. Old windows can be replaced with insulated glass units, or IGUs.

“IGUs prevent heat transfer from the summer sunshine, while also keeping cool air from escaping outside,” Roberson explains.

You’ll maintain your desired house temperature—and you just might eradicate some germs and acquire a sunnier outlook.

Stephanie Booth’s stories have appeared in magazines such as Real Simple, Cosmopolitan, Glamour, and Psychology Today.


Sunbaked? 9 Shade Ideas for Your Porch, Backyard, and Beyond

Sunbaked? 9 Shade Ideas for Your Porch, Backyard, and Beyond

 | Jul 26, 2019

With the dog days of summer upon us, seeking relief from the blazing sun is a must—but if you lack natural shade from large trees, what then? Don’t sweat it! Here are nine smart shade options for your deck, backyard, and other sunny spaces.

1. Patio umbrella

Photo by Jason Jones Photography


Karen Gray-Plaisted of Design Solutions KGP likes the Tuuci collection from Design Within Reach for its clean lines and uncanny ability to hold up to the elements.

Drew Henry of Design Dudes votes for an umbrella because you can select a color to accent your outdoor space and store it in the offseason. Try one that’s cantilevered so you can angle it to beat back the sun’s rays wherever they land.

2. Retractable awning

Photo by J Cohler Mason Design 

Free-standing or retractable awnings are possibilities if you need more coverage.

“We’ve had awnings in the past that we put up every spring and took down before the snow fell, which was a bit of work, but having them was nice because if it started to rain you could still sit outside and relax,” notes Gray-Plaisted.

3. Arbor

Photo by TerraTrellis 

An arbor is a stand-alone pick that’s usually designed with lattice along each side and a curved or arched top. This shady delight works well on a pathway or to signal a garden entrance.

“An arbor adds an architectural detail, defines your outdoor living space, and they’re ideal for vines and other plants to grow on and create natural shade,” explains Henry.

4. Pergola

Photo by Neumann Mendro Andrulaitis Architects LLP 

It’s easy to mix up arbors and pergolas, so here’s a tutorial: An arbor is a free-standing structure, while a pergola can stand alone but is typically attached to a house or other  building in at least two places. Pergolas are also larger and have a roof grid or latticework above, which creates dappled light.

As with arbors, pergolas can accommodate creeping vines and flowers (Gray-Plaisted has wisteria growing on hers) or they can be draped with fabric for more sun protection.

“A pergola also stands out when you string cafe lights on it, which makes a great light source at night that really sets the mood,” says Henry.

5. Pavilion

Photo by American Landscape Structures 

The hallmarks of a pavilion include a hutlike roof with open sides—but no actual floor. You’ll usually see this structure on a patio or concrete platform with chairs and a table arranged in the shade underneath.

6. Gazebo

Photo by Creative Gazebos 

A gazebo can be confused for a pavilion, but you’ll know this shade option right away by its rounded or oval shape (a pavilion is square or rectangular). A gazebo has a semblance of sides, with a railing and slats at the halfway mark, and it’s also set on a platform or built-in floor.

7. Shade sail

Photo by Turf World Co. 

This easy shade pick is fun because it comes in a variety of shapes and colors to stretch over a sunny patio. Shade sails attach to your house with D-rings and clips, though at least one end will likely need to connect to a post or tree in the yard.

8. Overhead screen

Photo by Phantom Screens 

Screens don’t offer full shade, but they’ll block some rays and heat. Rattan mats offer better coverage, and both can be laid over the top of a pergola. Free-standing screen room kits are available at home stores, and motorized screens can also be set up to retract over your porch.

9. Latticework

Photo by Chris DiSabatino 

If you love the look of a pavilion but want a more open feel, skip the roof part and install latticework. Vines can grow on top, or shade sail  material can be installed above for a pop of color and to block more sun.

Jennifer Kelly Geddes creates content for Livestrong.com, the National Sleep Foundation, Fisher-Price, and Mastercard. 

Investors Are Buying More of the U.S. Housing Market Than Ever Before

By Laura Kusisto | Jun 21, 2019

The share of investor purchases of U.S. homes have climbed to an all-time high, a sign that rising home prices have done little to dampen demand for flipping homes or turning them into single-family rentals.

Big private-equity firms, real-estate speculators and others that buy properties comprised more than 11% of U.S. home purchasers in 2018, according to data released on Thursday by CoreLogic Inc.

The investor purchases are the highest on record and nearly twice the levels before the 2008 housing crash. The investor interest poses a challenge for millennials and other first-time buyers who are increasingly looking to buy starter homes and are forced to compete with deep-pocketed cash buyers.

Big commercial property owners like Blackstone Group LP and Starwood Capital Group began buying thousands of homes out of foreclosure during the housing bust. Many economists credit investors with helping to stabilize the housing market in 2011 and 2012 by buying with cash when prices were low and mortgage credit froze.

But analysts expected those purchases to slow, as the market rebounded and properties could no longer be had for fire-sale prices.

Instead, demand for properties has intensified. While these purchases dipped slightly when the market started to recover in 2015 and 2016, they have rebounded to surpass the previous peak of six years ago.

Strong rental demand, technology that facilitates buying homes online and low interest rates that make other investments less appealing have fueled investor appetite.

Investors are an especially powerful force at the bottom of the market, where they often pay all cash. Investors purchased one in five homes in the bottom third price range in 2018, according to the CoreLogic analysis, up 5 percentage points from the 20-year average of less than 15%.

“These are the homes that first-time home buyers would logically be buying,” said Ralph McLaughlin, deputy chief economist at CoreLogic.

Shane Parker, a real-estate agent in metropolitan Detroit, said first-time buyers he works with are struggling to win bidding wars against out-of-state buyers. The locals he works with are becoming more aggressive, putting in escalation clauses and agreeing to pay the difference if properties don’t appraise.

One of his clients, Michael Burnett, a tech writer in Detroit, and his wife are looking for their first home so they can have a treehouse for their young girls. They have visited 25 properties and bid on half a dozen but keep losing out to cash buyers.

The couple recently fell in love with a property they thought had great potential. “It’s ugly on the outside, ugly on the inside, but it can be made beautiful,” said Mr. Burnett, 43 years old.

The house ended up getting a dozen offers, more than half of which were cash, and selling for $40,000 over the asking price of $150,000. “We write letters. You think you’ve composed this great heartfelt, ‘I have a family, see my family,’” he said. “Oh, please…Cash is king.”

Real-estate entrepreneur Gregor Watson’s business has helped boost investor participation. Following the housing bust, he and partners bought more than 6,000 homes across the country and turned them into single-family rentals.

Then he founded Roofstock, a company that enables investors to purchase properties online. The internet has made it easier for smaller investors and foreign buyers to purchase properties they may never have visited. Demand is also shifting toward former industrial cities in the Northeast and Midwest where prices remain low.

Mr. Watson said that many people in San Francisco and New York are priced out of buying homes where they live but are able to purchase an investment property in less expensive cities.

Michael Pickens, 31, who works in tech sales in the Bay Area, and his wife kept losing out in bidding wars to all-cash offers. “It was all cash, no contingency, seven-day close,” he said.

He and his wife decided instead to rent a small apartment in Santa Clara County and buy investment homes on Roofstock in less expensive locales.

They now own homes in Georgia and Tennessee despite never having visited either state.

So-called iBuyers, such as Opendoor, Zillow Offers and RedfinNow, which snap up homes in cash for a fee to help sellers avoid the hassle of putting their homes on the market, comprised less than 2% of investor purchases last year, according to CoreLogic.

The biggest markets for investor purchases in 2018 were Detroit, followed by Philadelphia and Memphis, Tenn., where home prices are still low enough for investors to profit by renting them out. Investors bought nearly half the starter homes in Philadelphia last year and about 40% of lower-priced homes in Detroit, according to CoreLogic.

When Tawan Davis launched a business renting out single-family homes three years ago, he focused on Philadelphia because of the city’s slow foreclosure process and history of disinvestment, he said.

Mr. Davis typically purchases homes for about $75,000 to $90,000, puts an additional $50,000 to $80,000 into renovation and rents them out for around $1,300 a month.

He said he is often welcomed in these neighborhoods because his modestly priced rental properties help act as a bulwark against gentrification. Many of his renters are single and work as nurses or adjunct professors, he said.

“They’d much rather see us than a lawyer from New York,” he said.

Home buyer, Home Seller, and For Sale By Owner Statistics

Home Buyer Statistics

First-Time vs. Repeat Buyers:
First-time buyers: 33%

Median age of first-time buyers: 32
Median age of repeat buyers: 55
Median household income of first-time buyers: $75,000
Median household income of repeat buyers: $100,000
The typical home purchased was 1,900 square feet in size, was built in 1991, and had three bedrooms and two bathrooms.
Among those who financed their home purchase, buyers typically financed 90% of the home price.
87% of buyers purchased their home through a real estate agent or broker—a share that has steadily increased from 69 percent in 2001.
Buyers who would use their agent again or recommend their agent to others: 74%

Home Seller Statistics
The typical home seller in 2017 was 55 years of age, had a median household income of $98,800, and lived in their home for 9 years.
91% of sellers were assisted by a real estate agent when selling their home.
Recent sellers typically sold their homes for 99% of the listing price, and 23% reported reducing the asking price at least once.
The typical home sold was on the market for 3 weeks.
39% of sellers who used a real estate agent found their agents through a referral by friends or family, and 24% used the agent they previously worked with to buy or sell a home.
Sellers who definitely would use same agent again: 69%
Source: 2018 National Association of REALTORS® Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers

For Sale By Owner (FSBO) Statistics
FSBOs accounted for 7% of home sales in 2017. The typical FSBO home sold for $200,000 compared to $265,500 for agent-assisted home sales.
FSBO methods used to market home:
Yard sign: 22%
Friends, relatives, or neighbors: 18%
Online classified advertisements: 6%
Open house: 10%
For-sale-by-owner websites: 5%
Social networking websites (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, etc.): 12%
Multiple Listing Service (MLS) website: 4%
Print newspaper advertisement: 2%
Direct mail (flyers, postcards, etc.): 2%
Video: 1%
None: Did not actively market home: 49%

Most difficult tasks for FSBO sellers:
Getting the right price: 17%
Understanding and performing paperwork: 12%
Selling within the planned length of time: 5%
Preparing/fixing up home for sale: 8%
Having enough time to devote to all aspects of the sale: 3%

What ‘Move-In Ready’ Really Means

A “move-in ready” home may mean different things to different buyers—everything from having freshly painted walls to having window blinds included.

Bungalo, a real estate platform for buying newly renovated homes online, surveyed more than 550 home shoppers between the ages of 25 to 54 on what elements are required for a home to be considered “move-in ready.”

If you’re going to use the term to describe your listing, here’s what most buyers expect the home to have:

58% say it should be freshly painted
55% say it should have new flooring
54% say it should have new countertops
51% say it should have updated cabinetry
51% say it should have modern finishes (faucets, doorknobs, etc.)
49% say it should have modern light fixtures
45% say it should have blinds included
45% say it should have a renovated master bath
34% say it should have a furnished fridge
32% say it should have a furnished washer & dryer