The Secret to Kitchen Envy: A Stylish Island

By Melissa Dittmann Tracey, REALTOR® Magazine

Home buyers love kitchen islands. It’s become a gathering spot for not just cooking but also eating, working, and socializing. As the island continues to gain stature in kitchens, homeowners are finding ways to spotlight it with contrasting shades or even different countertops to make it the focal point.

Check out some examples from designers featured at Houzz, which show how the kitchen island can become the showpiece of your space.

An island of a different color

Furniture-styled islands

Contrasting countertops

Lighting it up

Plenty of seating

from Styled, Staged & Sold

This School Bus Is a Tiny Home … to a Family of 6!

The wheels on the bus go round and round – and then might stop for family dinner, if you’re Gabriel and Debbie Mayes.

It may not be the dream for every family, but it’s the one Debbie envisioned after seeing a video on Facebook a few years ago. It featured a couple who had converted a school bus and spent all their time on the open road, exploring the country.

“I immediately thought, ‘Hey, we can totally do this with our kids. Why not?'” she recalled. “And so I brought the idea to Gabriel. It took a while to convince him.”

“Definitely took a while,” Gabriel chimed in.

Photo by Marcus Ricci.

But the more the duo thought about the idea, the more it made sense. They felt disconnected as a family in a 5,000-square-foot home; downsizing would bring the family closer.

4,752 square feet closer, to be precise. 

“We were talking about that disconnection in our marriage, in our family as a whole, and just thought, man, if we’re gonna do anything adventurous, now would be the time,” Gabriel said. “We were looking to reconnect, to do something crazy exciting with our kids, and just to take life and flip it upside down.”

So they bought a school bus to live in.

Photo by The Mayes Team.

The family of six – two adults, four kids – sought the help of an outside company when it came to finding the bus and designing the features.

Their priorities: separate sleeping areas for the kids and the adults (the master bedroom has a door that closes), space to entertain guests, and a kitchen with ample countertops. (They pulled that off by installing an under-the-counter fridge. It holds enough food for a week!)

Photo by Marcus Ricci.

“We even went and taped out the design on the floor so we could walk through and see,” Debbie said. “We did things like reduce the depth of the couch, reduce the depth of the [kids’] bunk beds. We knew aisle space would be way more important than them having that extra bed space. I was very intentional in designing all of the little areas to be functional. It’s down to the inches.”

Gabriel’s only ask: a rooftop deck.

“I just had this vision of taking the bus, backing it up against the lake, opening up the skylight out of my bedroom, going up to the roof deck, and then sitting in my chair and just chilling,” he said. “I just wanted this place where I’m secluded from the rest of the world and I’m overlooking just beautiful scenery.”

Photo by Marcus Ricci.

Buying and renovating the bus cost about $38,000 and took about five months. During that time, the family sold or donated much of what they owned and put the rest in storage. They hit the road in August 2017.

Photo by The Mayes Team.

On their first trip, the road hit back.

“I remember the day that I got in the bus. We had spent the whole day packing. Last thing goes on, the kids get on, we close the door, and I put it in drive and our home starts moving. I can’t fully explain how exhilarating that feeling was,” Gabriel said.

“It was amazing but also did not go exactly how we had planned,” Debbie added. “We got 300 miles into the journey, and the bus broke down on the side of the road. It was like, ‘wah-wah.'”

Photo by Marcus Ricci.

The school bus – which they affectionately call “the Skoolie” – picked a patch of desert land in Oklahoma to break down.

(Turns out it was also a piece of private land.)

“We fed the kids lunch and tried to figure out what the heck we were gonna do, and a random stranger pulls up after we’d been there for a few hours, and he was like, ‘You’re actually on my land.'” Debbie said. “But he had been a diesel mechanic.”

The stranger ended up building a part to get the bus moving. It’s been pretty much smooth sailing ever since, from the mountains of Wyoming to the Bonneville Salt Flats of Utah.

Photo by Jen Hammer.

Their biggest advice for others considering a home on wheels: Do the research. Find a builder or designer you can trust. In retrospect, they probably would’ve chosen a washer and dryer over installing a shower, but they have few other regrets.

Photo by Marcus Ricci.

“To be able to have everything that you own as a family of six inside 248 square feet, knowing everything that you own is where it’s supposed to be – the amount of stress and anxiety really goes out the window,” Gabriel said.

“Whenever you rid yourself of this desire to have things, it’s not that the desire goes away, it’s just that you just don’t have the space for it anymore,” he continued. “It causes you to start thinking on different levels. Now I just want to be intentional with my wife and be intentional with my kids. This massive weight is just gone.”

Photo by Marcus Ricci.

The kids were in public school in California during the year; this summer’s adventures include plans to take the home down California’s famous Highway 101 for a month. On tap: surfing, hiking and cycling as a family.

Eventually, the Mayes plan to park the bus and turn it into a short-term rental. They hope to find a forever home in the summer of 2019 and allow others to explore their tiny home on wheels.

“The kids feel like they’re on this massive adventure. Whenever you pull up to a location that’s surrounded by mountains or there’s a new waterfall to go explore or some trail just to go run down, you put the bus in park, and you open the door,” Gabriel said. “Just to see their excitement … I’ve never experienced anything like that.”

Photo by Marcus Ricci.

Top featured image by Jen Hammer.


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How to Replace a Ceiling Fan

Some people love ceiling fans – others don’t care for them. But we can probably all agree that they’re incredibly functional, especially in the heat of summer.

If you don’t love the look of your ceiling fan, try updating to a more modern, sleek option. That way you get both function and fashion in your space, which is a win-win in our playbook!

There’s no need to call an electrician for this project – installing a new ceiling fan is something you can do in less than an hour.


  • New fan
  • Screwdrivers (flat and Phillips)
  • Voltage tester
  • Ladder
  • Wire cutters
  • Wire caps
  • A buddy

1. Turn the power off

This is by far the most important step for this project. To stay safe when working with the electrical wires, turn off the power to the ceiling fan.

Turn the switch on and off, and use a voltage tester to confirm that there’s zero power running to the ceiling fan before you proceed.

2. Remove the old fan

You’ll need your screwdriver for this one – and a buddy to hold up the fan while you work. It’s an arm workout, so make sure your helper is ready to hold it as you quickly remove it.

The process will depend on your fan’s model, but you’ll most likely start by removing the light fixture, the fan blades and then the base.

Basically, start unscrewing pieces of the light and fan until you get it all off – just remember to snap a picture of how the wires were connected. Are they red to red? Black to black? Take a photo to help you translate those same wire connections to the new fan.

3. Install the ceiling bracket

Now it’s time to install pieces of the new fan. First up is the ceiling bracket. Use the screws that come with the new fan, and secure it into the holes on the electrical box.

Bring the wires from the ceiling through the center hole. In our case, that was one white wire and one yellow wire (plus the green one on the ceiling bracket).

4. Prep the fan

This next step will depend on the make and model of your particular fan, so follow the directions to assemble it correctly.

For ours, we installed the canopy and download assembly, making sure to bring the wires all the way through. You may also need to grab your wire cutters and cut the wires a bit shorter at this point.

5. Attach canopy and wires

Bring your assembled fan base up to the ceiling, and hook it into the ceiling bracket. Most new fans have a feature that allows you to rest the fan on the bracket so you don’t have to hold the weight while connecting the wires. This will save you some serious arm pain!

Once the fan is secure, connect your wires. We had three sets of wires to account for: wires from the ceiling, wires from the fan, and wires from the receiver inside the fan (which lets us use a remote control).

First, we connected the ground wires from the ceiling, fan and ceiling bracket. Next, we connected the wires for the remote control – yellow to black, blue to blue. Finally, we connected the neutral wires (white to white) and hot wires (black to yellow).

Note: The wire colors may be different depending on your fan model and the wires in your ceiling.

Use the wire caps to create secure connections. You don’t want any wires slipping out when you push it all up into the ceiling, so it’s important to really twist on those wire caps.

We then tucked the wires neatly into the ceiling and screwed the canopy’s base into place.

6. Attach blades

Time to make it look like an actual fan! Take your fan blades, and screw them into the canopy, following the directions for your particular model. We suggest placing a towel beneath the setup in case you drop any screws.

7. Add the switch housing

You’ll most likely put your switch housing into place using screws. There will be a wire plug that goes from the upper to the lower switch housing. Make sure this connection is secure, because it’s what turns the fan on.

8. Add cover plate and turn on the power

We’re in the home stretch at this point. Simply put the glass cover over the housing kit until it clicks into place. Now it’s time to turn on the power and test the fan to make sure your hard work paid off.

Removing the old fan left us with a bit of damage on the ceiling. A simple patch and paint will make your ceiling look like new, and your updated fan will fit in seamlessly with your home decor.

If you can change a light fixture, you can easily change a ceiling fan. All it takes is a free afternoon and a patient helper to get the job done!


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Tour These Whimsical Cabins Made From Recycled Materials

If you’re going to build cabins inspired by, salvaged from and built around old-growth trees, it is perhaps only fitting to do so in the aptly nicknamed Evergreen State.

Every summer, Jacob Witzling, a second-grade teacher near Boston, flies the 2,400 miles from Watertown, MA, to Olympia, WA, to build whimsical cabins out of old-growth cedar, fir and hemlock.

He salvages lumber from demolished buildings, upcycles appliances and incorporates fanciful geometric shapes along the way, giving the cabins an imaginative, Seuss-like appearance.

“I always like the notion of sculptures that people can live in, like homes being more than just a place to live. Maybe something like art,” Witzling said. “I’m an artist.”

It makes perfect sense, then, that Witzling’s love for fanciful homes started with a book called “Handmade Houses: A Guide to the Woodbutcher’s Art.” His father owned the early ’70s tome that Witzling fell in love with. That – and the classic childhood inclination to simply build a fort.

“I always made forts as a kid, you know, out of blankets and pillows and in the couch and stuff like that,” he said. “I guess that’s where it all started.”

When Witzling moved to Olympia to attend college, a friend was living in a fantastical cabin in the woods. He saw it and was immediately hooked.

Shortly after, Witzling decided to make a go of building similar homes. Without a budget, he rescued materials: old floors from a bowling alley that eventually became a cabin deck and granite countertops that were discarded from a construction site, among other things. He taught himself the basics along the way.

“I didn’t know what I was doing, and then when I built my first cabin, it was all recycled materials that I scavenged like a vulture,” he remembered. “I built it. It was so tall and rickety and was going to fall down, I thought. But by the time I built my second cabin, I had a stronger grasp on what to do.”

In the decade since then, Witzling has built a number of tiny cabins in the woods, with each home having a footprint under 200 square feet. Some are completely off-grid – all honor the natural environment by using reclaimed or local wood.

A few are even covered with moss, making them living, breathing works of art.

“I want them to meld into the environment. They’re kind of like sculptures in a way – livable sculptures,” he said. “I want them to accent and honor their environment. That’s why I like to use the moss and the local wood, cedar and whatnot. It’s your home, and it’s in its home.”

Being calculated about sourcing the building materials also forced Witzling to think about his environmental impact. (He’s lived in all of his cabins at some point.)

“It forces you to be more intentional about stuff. I can’t have dishes all over the place. There’s no space for it,” he said. “So you use your bowl, you clean your bowl, you put your bowl away. It’s really rewarding to have to be intentional about stuff. I have to keep my two pairs of shoes in their little nest in the corner, because otherwise they take up too much space.”

That doesn’t mean he skimps on details. A recent build included an unusual cabin with an octagonal pyramid roof. The geometric space holds the lofted bedroom.

“I like it because no matter which way you wake up, you’re looking outside,” he said. “I always tell my students you can do things with math and that math is real. The world is built out of math. It’s very fulfilling.”

In addition to his students, Witzling has inspired an even larger audience of dreamers along the way, building a massive following on Instagram. He chronicles his projects and methods and shares insights and tips.

“Building things is really human. It’s something people have been doing for thousands of years,” he said. “I have ideas, and I just want to get them out there.”

Photos by Erik Hecht. 


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A Treehouse Trio for Grown-Ups – House of the Week

A trio of treehouses in Meadows of Dan, VA, combines the nostalgia of your childhood treehouse with the sophisticated log cabin you’ve always wanted.

Perched on treetops that overlook the Kibler Valley and North Carolina Piedmont, these warm, intimate spaces for two boast a private deck for savoring the exquisite views. All three treehouses offer rustic-chic interiors, but each is built to fit into its respective tree branches.

The Barn Owl treehouse, aptly named for its bird’s-eye view 2,700 feet off the ground, is built of aromatic cedar and features exposed beams, cedar-plank walls, and a cozy loft-like space with more than enough room for sleeping quarters and a small living area.

The Cooper’s Hawk treehouse spans two trees and overlooks the confluence of Roaring Creek and the Dan River from 1,300 feet aboveground. The wood-planked bedroom opens right up to the scenic deck via glass doors, allowing natural light to pour through.

Finally, the Golden Eagle treehouse was prefabricated in France by the famous treehouse architectural firm La Cabane Perchée. Built on the strong limbs of an old oak tree, Golden Eagle has an A-frame roof and exposed beams, and it even has enough space for a writer’s desk.

The treehouses are part of the Primland luxury mountain resort and are available to book on a nightly basis.

Photos courtesy of Primland.


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Staged to Sell: A Country Estate in Gaithersburg, Md.

Home stager: Libby Paulson with Preferred Staging

The home: Paulson staged this remodeled, single-family country estate in Gaithersburg, Md., which featured cathedral ceilings, a two-story stone fireplace, gourmet kitchen, formal living and dining room, two staircases, and a walkout basement with full kitchen and bath. The home is listed at $709,500.

Photo credit: Libby Paulson, Preferred Staging

Photo credit: Libby Paulson, Preferred Staging

Photo credit: Libby Paulson, Preferred Staging

Photo credit: Libby Paulson, Preferred Staging

Photo credit: Libby Paulson, Preferred Staging

Photo credit: Libby Paulson, Preferred Staging

Paulson’s tips:

1. Greenery is a Must:Greenery is considered natures neutral. It provides a space harmony, freshness and energy. Greenery can be incorporated into a staging as an accent color or as a way to soften and welcome someone into a room. Some great examples are fiddle fig plants or ferns of all types as well as large leaves arranged in a vase.

2. Pillows are required: If you are looking for an easy, affordable way to make your home ready to sell try adding some throw pillows. Using some trendy pillows you can transform any space. They also help large furniture stand out and complement and highlight the home’s structural features. So choose pillows that complement the home’s aesthetic and style, and don’t be afraid of adding color as long as it adds style. A quick tip is use solid color pillows if furniture has a busy print or patterned pillows when working with solid color furniture. For an upscale look use pillows with subtle texture such as linen or tweed.

3. Bookshelves are not just for books:The first thing to remember is you don’t need to fill each self. When staging bookshelves try to add items to make the eyes look across, around and down. Limit the amount of books and use pairs of items.


Have a home you recently staged that you’d like to show off here at Styled Staged & Sold? Submit your staging photos for consideration, along with three to five of your best spruce-up tips. Contact Melissa Dittmann Tracey at

from Styled, Staged & Sold

This Converted Van Is a Tiny Home on Wheels – House of the Week

In 2016, Jace Carmichael and Giddi Oteo upgraded from their first van home to a 2005 Freightliner Sprinter. The new van’s from-scratch build-out allowed them to add a safe seat for their new baby, Juniper.

Their goal isn’t to live in the van – it’s to live out of it. An 84-square-foot house that travels with them means this family can live sustainably on a small budget and spend quality time in places like Mexico, Big Sur, and Yosemite and Zion National Parks.

Lightweight solar panels on the van’s roof provide off-grid electricity, and multiple windows let in sunlight. Indoor-safe propane heaters keep the van warm on chilly nights.

The kitchen is equipped with  an inset cooktop, a fridge and freezer, and woodblock countertops for meal prep.

Across from the kitchen is a workbench where the couple make jewelry for their online business, Carteo Handmade.

The sleeping area boasts a king-size mattress with storage underneath, and pale wood closets line the walls. Bright white textiles and interior paint make the space feel light and airy.

The van has water storage tanks and a 12-volt water pump for the kitchen sink. A composting toilet slides out from under the bed, and hot outdoor showers come courtesy of a solar tank on the roof.

Keep up with this rolling home via Our Home on Wheels, where Jace and Giddi share their build book, along with van listings for other people who dream of making #VanLife their real life.


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What You Need to Know About the Fair Housing Act

If you’ve searched for a new place to live recently, you’ve likely seen the Equal Housing Opportunity logo (an equal sign inside a house) on a landlord’s, real estate agent’s or lender’s paperwork.

But the Fair Housing Act is more than just a logo. It’s a federal law designed to protect renters and buyers from discrimination.

Here are some key points to know about the Fair Housing Act when you’re searching for a place to live.

What is the Fair Housing Act?

Also known as the Civil Rights Act of 1968, the Fair Housing Act was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson just days after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., who had championed the cause for many years.

The act prohibits housing discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability and familial status (sex was added in 1974, and disability and familial status were added in 1988).

At the time the act was signed, overt housing discrimination was a huge problem throughout the country, including the attempted segregation of whole neighborhoods and the outright rejection of qualified renters based on race and other factors.

Today, much of the discrimination in the housing market is less obvious, but it’s still an unfortunate reality.

According to the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA), over 25,000 housing discrimination complaints were filed with the federal government and local and national fair housing agencies in 2017. Over half of the complaints were based on disability, followed by race at 20 percent.

But these numbers reflect only reported incidents. The NFHA estimates that over 4 million instances of housing discrimination occur annually, but many people don’t realize they’ve been discriminated against – or know what steps to take when it happens.

What does housing discrimination look like?

Most of the people you encounter in your home search, including real estate agents, sellers, landlords, property management companies and lenders, are bound to Fair Housing Act regulations and additional state and local laws, based on where you live or are looking to live.

Fair Housing Act violations can occur in all phases of buying and renting, including in advertising, while you search, throughout the application process, in financing or credit checks, and during eviction proceedings.

Here are a few examples of discrimination people in protected classes have encountered:

  • A real estate agent tries to “steer” a buyer away from a certain neighborhood
  • A landlord tries to avoid renting to someone by saying the unit advertised has been rented when it hasn’t
  • A property management company refuses to rent to a family with children or requires a higher deposit
  • A landlord evicts a person of color for a reason they wouldn’t evict a white tenant for
  • A mortgage broker asks questions or requests excessive documentation from an immigrant couple that they wouldn’t request from another buyer
  • A lender charges a single woman a higher interest rate than what her credit score should dictate
  • A landlord refuses to make reasonable accommodations for a tenant who is disabled

What do I do if I’ve been discriminated against?

If you’ve been discriminated against in any of the ways above, or if you suspect that other actions taken by a property manager, landlord, real estate agent, broker or lender may be discriminatory, there are many resources at your disposal.

  1. File a report: File a complaint with your regional Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) office – find yours at You can also file a complaint on the national HUD website or with local housing resources found through the NFHA.
  2. Get more info from local housing agencies: You can find a list of local housing counselors at Besides answering questions about discrimination claims, these agencies provide home buyer education workshops, pre-purchase counseling and rental housing assistance.
  3. Talk to an attorney: Like any other legal issue, when pursuing a complaint under the Fair Housing Act, it’s smart to consult a lawyer.
  4. Find people you can trust: If you experienced housing discrimination from your real estate agent, mortgage broker or lender, it’s time to find a new professional to help you in your home search. Ask friends, family members and colleagues for referrals they know, like and trust. Remember – these real estate professionals are working for you, so their only concern should be finding you the home that’s right for you.


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Report: The Buyers and the Design Trending in 2018

Article Submitted by

Whether you’re selling your own home or staging a home for your seller, paying attention to industry trends can go a long way toward ensuring a fast and successful sale.

Each year, Fixr—a company that creates remodeling cost guides–polls industry influencers to find out what the top trends are within the building industry. Following up on our 2018 Home Trends to Guide Your Staging post, we’re bringing you the highlights of the full report that includes the complete results from Fixr’s single-family home trends survey.

By incorporating any of the following trends into the home you are selling, you can help ensure that it will appeal to a wider audience and help increase the chances of a fast sale for maximum ROI.

Gen Xers Lead the Shift Toward the Higher Income Group

When it comes to whom is driving the market right now, most of the influencers responding felt that Gen Xers are leading the way, while Millennials follow with the second largest share at 34 percent. And of those buyers, respondents feel that the most common income brackets will be in the $75,00 to $99,999 range and the $100,000 to $149,999–with both coming in at 27 percent.

Home Size Trends and Location
Current home size trends are falling according to U.S. Census data, and 21 percent of respondents also feel that people may begin downsizing as well. Homes measuring at about 1,100 square feet are beginning to surge in popularity. However, at the same time, 61 percent of respondents agree that the most popular size of home that people are looking for remains in the larger bracket at around 2,150 square feet.

This shift toward downsizing in properties may correlate to a trend in location, as 50 percent of influencers felt that homebuyers are looking at properties in urban areas.

Suburbs also get a moderate percentage of buyers, which lines up with the National Association of REALTORS®’ Buyer and Seller Generational Trends Report (the report shows results for purchase and sale of existing homes).

Keep in mind, though, that while more average sizes for homes are the most popular, many influencers feel that there will be an increase in the tiny house movement as well. More than half of respondents report seeing an uptick in homeowners wanting a smaller home. Minimalist lifestyles and a focus on travel were the two most common answers given as to why.

Open Floor Plans Continue to Grow in Popularity
While there isn’t a lot you can change about a house’s location or size to appeal to a wider audience, one thing that you can do to increase appeal is to open up the floor plan. Open floor plans have been trending for the last few years, and they are only continuing to grow in popularity, with 76 percent of influencers responding that they see it as a popular option for the years ahead.

To confirm this, the National Association of Home Builders has reported that more than 80 percent of new home builders are creating at least a partially open floor plan as well. An open floor plan automatically includes wider passageways and turning radiuses, which can open the home up to more potential buyers too.

Green and Energy Efficient Design
Green and energy efficient homes rank very closely to one another at 21 percent and 18 percent of respondents, respectively. Combined, nearly 40 percent of respondents say these are the features more buyers would like to see, coming in just behind more smart home tech.

Green building designs are continuing to increase in popularity, particularly those that can decrease energy bills over the long term. This includes solar energy, which has a current growth rate of nearly 105 percent, increased use of natural light in home design, and the use of recycled materials in any upgrade or design feature added to the house.

Homeowners most want to see Energy Star Rated appliances and home automation to help lower energy bills and increase the sustainability of the home.

The Great Outdoor Design Improves Curb Appeal
Never underestimate the power of good landscaping. Not only does it account for as much as 28 percent of a home’s value, but most influencers say that adding a backyard garden or porch (34 percent and 32 percent, respectively) are what homeowners are looking for most.

Patios also rank highly when it comes to the popular use of existing outdoor space, with 39 percent of respondents answering that they feel this would be a popular addition to most homes. The infographic below shows influencers’ answers to the most popular use of existing outdoor space for single-family homes.

This makes particular sense when you consider that younger buyers–Gen X and Millennials–make up the biggest segment of the market. These buyers are most likely to have families that will need the outdoor space, while Millennials feel strongly that people need to spend time outside.

Home Safety and Automation
In the wake of so many natural disasters, more homeowners are taking safety into account when considering upgrades to their homes. Fifty percent of influencers feel that a backup generator will be a popular addition to most homes, while fire alarms and sprinkler systems come in second place.

When considering making safety upgrades, keep in mind that for every dollar spent, you will save $4 after the fact, according to the National Institute of Building Sciences. This makes safety upgrades a very worthwhile investment in any home.

As voice controlled automation continues to grow—like with devices such as the Amazon Echo and Google Home–a whopping 82 percent of influencers feel that artificial intelligence will be added to the majority of homes in 2018.

Making the home ready for smart home upgrades, such as including smart plugs, lights, and locks means that buyers can integrate their system right into the home on day one. It’s a growing feature that more buyers are finding attractive.

By paying attention to what most homeowners and home buyers are looking for, you can make more strategic decisions for selling homes in 2018. Use these and other data from Fixr’s 2018 trend report to get more out of every sale.

To learn about the cost of household remodeling projects, visit the Cost Guides.

from Styled, Staged & Sold

The Do’s and Don’ts of Home Equity Loans

Home equity is a valued resource, and if you have it, you might be tempted to tap that wealth for other purposes. A home equity loan, which allows you to use your home’s equity as collateral, is a great way to do this. But depending on your personal situation, it may not be the right thing to do.

Here’s when a home equity loan makes sense – and when it doesn’t.

DON’T: Fund a lifestyle

Remember when homeowners yanked cash out of their homes to fund affluent lifestyles they couldn’t really afford? These reckless borrowers, with their boats, fancy cars, lavish vacations and other luxury items, paid the price when the housing bubble burst. Property values plunged, and they lost their homes.

Lesson learned: Don’t squander your equity! Look at a home equity loan as an investment – not as extra cash when making spending decisions.

DO: Make home improvements

The safest use of home equity funds is for home improvements that will add to the home’s value. If you have a one-time project (e.g., a new roof), then a home equity loan might make sense.

If you need money over time to fund ongoing home improvement projects, then a home equity line of credit (HELOC) would make more sense. HELOCs let you pay as you go and usually have a variable rate that’s tied to the prime rate, plus or minus some percentage.

DON’T: Pay for basic expenses or bills

This is a no-brainer, but it’s always worth reiterating: Basic expenses like groceries, clothing, utilities and phone bills should be a part of your household budget.

If your budget doesn’t cover these and you’re thinking of borrowing money to afford them, it’s time to rework your budget and cut some of the excess.

DO: Consolidate debt

Consolidating multiple balances, including your high-interest credit card debts, will make perfect sense when you run the numbers. Who doesn’t want to save potentially thousands of dollars in interest?

Debt consolidation will simplify your life, too, but beware: It only works if you have discipline. If you don’t, you’ll likely run all your balances back up again and end up in even worse shape.

DON’T: Finance college

If you have college-age children, this may seem like a great use of home equity. However, the potential consequences down the road could be significant. And risky.

Remember, tapping into your home equity may mean it takes longer to pay off the loan. It also may delay your retirement or put you even deeper in debt. And as you get older, it will likely be more difficult to earn the money to pay back the loan, so don’t jeopardize your financial security.


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Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Zillow.

Originally published February 23, 2016.