How to Modernize a Split-Level Home

What’s not to love about a split-level home? The interior spaces flow. And while the change in floor level creates a partial separation of spaces, they are visually connected from one level to the next. Split-levels are cool – on the inside.

The outside is often another story. Split-level exteriors tend to be a bit bland. If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. And that’s probably because so many of them were built during the 1970s. T1-11 siding (plywood sheets with vertical grooves spaced 8 inches apart) is common on the upper levels, and the upper floors tend to be cantilevered out over the structural walls below.

Split-level homes can feel dated. But a few simple modifications can transform them, making  them one of the best fixer-upper options.

Let’s take a look at a few of the primary changes you might make to create a modern masterpiece from the average split-level home.

Split-level remodel: siding

Modern home styles are generally made up of two surface types. The predominant surface is generally smooth and clean. Stucco is the most common material used to achieve this look, and thankfully, it’s not very difficult to stucco over many existing exterior siding products, such as T1-11. Any split-level modernization project should look very closely at ways to make those exterior walls smooth.

The second exterior wall surface, which can make a huge impact and is easily retrofitted, is a natural stone of some sort. Think of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, and take note of the contrast between perfectly smooth wall surfaces and the texture of natural stone used intermittently throughout the design. A split-level home already has the structural breaks that make this kind of mix look perfect.

Split-level remodel: windows

Single-hung windows, which feature bottom panes that slide up to open the windows, are common in split-level homes from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. And many of them are Colonial style, meaning that they feature grids that divide the window into 12 or more small “lites,” rather than larger panes of glass.

Replacing old windows with a more modern style can greatly modernize your home’s look. Consider casement windows, which feature cranks and swing out to open up. Horizontal sliders can also provide a more modern look. Fixed glass is another very modern type of window, but it won’t work for bedrooms that require an emergency escape and ventilation.

Split-level remodel: roof color and material

The roof is an oft-overlooked aspect of a home’s exterior, which is surprising given the size of both the visible surface area of the roof and the investment required to have a new one installed. A roof is far more than a utilitarian way to keep precipitation out of the house – it’s an important design element that can make or break an exterior remodel.

Some roof colors simply won’t work with a contemporary design – an old shingle roof usually looks anything but clean and smooth. Dark colors tend to work well with shingle roofs, and the potential to switch to a standing seam metal roof should also be considered.

If you want to go full-on modern, consider hiding the roof completely. This may involve a major structural overhaul, but it’s worth considering. Always consider even the most extreme ideas if you’re planning to be in the home for a long time.

Split-level remodel: exterior lighting

A very simple way of updating the look of a traditional split-level is to add some bling to the design. Exterior accessories such as light fixtures and house numbers can make a huge difference. Modern home designs tend to focus on lighting details. A split-level home has a few great places to start.

  • The pathway to the front door: Often sloped to reach the middle level, this pathway could be an ideal place for some interesting lighting.
  • The overhang of the cantilevered second levels: These existing spaces are great for recessed lighting that illuminates the wall beneath, which you might want to cover in natural stone.
  • Either side of the front entry: If the home design includes a forward-facing front door or a recessed entryway, some nice modern fixtures on either side can accentuate the welcoming nature of the entry. Larger fixtures are often better here.
  • The garage: See below about garage doors and consider a translucent door with interior lighting or some wooden doors with accent lighting.

Split-level remodel: garage doors

If your split-level features garage doors that face the street, they may represent your easiest and best option for modernization. Garage doors are often taken for granted. The original spec was probably a steel door with very little curb appeal. Most of the time, they are downright ugly.

But times have changed, and modern garage door designs can transform the look of the front of your home. Doors with glass-like, translucent flat panels are beautiful in daylight and at night, when interior light can turn them into giant night lights – all while obscuring the contents of your garage from neighbors.

Another great garage door style on a modern home is a wood-look door. If done properly, this can tie in wonderfully with the natural stone sections of wall mentioned above.

These are just a few ideas, and you can use them as a simple spark of design inspiration to get you going. Once you see the possibilities and start looking at the changes that can be made, you’ll realize that a split-level may have more potential to look great in decades to come than almost any other old-school design out there.

Related:

  • 10 Things You Need to Do When Buying A Home
  • 3 Reasons to Live in a New Home Before Renovating
  • DIY Backyard Fire Pit: Build It in Just 7 Easy Steps

10 Things You Need to Do When Buying A Home

A home is often the biggest financial investment you’ll make in your lifetime. In fact, a recent Zillow analysis reports that the typical American homeowner has 40% of their wealth tied up in their home.

Several years ago, I wrote a complete guide to financial planning on one index card, which went viral and later became a book: “The Index Card: Why Personal Finance Doesn’t Have to Be Complicated” (co-written with Helaine Olen).

Now, following up on my original index card, I’ve written a guide on buying a house. Below is the housing index card – a handy resource to print and take with you as you look at houses or think about buying one – plus some additional advice as you contemplate making the big decision.

Photo by Harold Pollack.

1. Buy for the long run

A home is a significant investment, not to mention a linchpin of stability. According to the Zillow Group Consumer Housing Trends Report 2017, the majority of Americans who sold their homes last year had lived in their home for at least a decade before selling.

Some are even staying for the long haul. Almost half (46%) of all homeowners are like me – living in the first home we ever purchased. In short: Buy a home you want to live in for at least five years – one equipped (or ready to be equipped) with the features and space you need, both now and in the future.

2. Buy to improve your life, not speculate with money

Your home is more than a financial investment; it’s where you sleep, eat, host friends, raise your children – it’s where your life happens.

The housing market is too unpredictable to buy a (primary) home purely because you think it will net a big short-term financial return. You will most likely be living in this home for several years, regardless of how it appreciates, so your first priority should be finding a home that will meet your needs and help you build the life you want.

3. Focus on what’s important to you

Today’s housing market is short on inventory, with 10% fewer homes on the market in November 2017 than November 2016.

So, focus on finding a home you can afford that meets your needs – but don’t get distracted by shiny features that might break your budget. Nice-to-have features often drive up the price tag for things you don’t particularly value once the initial enjoyment wears off.

Make a list of your basic needs, both for your desired home and for your desired neighborhood. Stick to finding a home that meets these needs, without buying extra stuff that adds up.

4. Set a budget and stick to it

It’s important to set a budget early – ideally before you even start looking at homes. In today’s market, especially in the more competitive markets, it’s incredibly easy to go over budget – 29% of buyers who purchased last year did.

The most common culprit? Location. Zillow’s data indicates that urban buyers are significantly more likely to go over budget (42%) than suburban (25%) or rural (20%) buyers.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. Local schools matter, and psychologists tell us that a short commute improves your life. But be realistic about your local market and about yourself. Know what you’re willing to compromise on – be it less square footage, home repairs or a different neighborhood.

5. Aim for a 20% down payment

If you can afford it, a 20% down payment is ideal for three reasons:

  • Buyers who don’t put a full 20% down pay a premium, most commonly in the form of private mortgage insurance (PMI). This is less financially punishing than it used to be, given today’s low mortgage rates. A monthly mortgage payment (with PMI) may be lower than a monthly rental payment in many markets – but still.
  • Buyers who put more down upfront typically make fewer offers and buy faster than those who put less down. Zillow research found that buyers with higher down payments make 1.9 offers on average, compared to 2.4 offers for buyers with lower down payments (after controlling for market conditions).
  • A higher down payment reduces your financial risk. You don’t want to owe more money than your house is worth if local markets dip when you need to sell.

6. Keep a six-month strategic reserve

While a down payment is a significant expense, it’s also important to build up a strategic reserve and keep it separate from your normal bank account.

This reserve should cover six months of living expenses in case you get sick, face an unexpected expense or lose your job. A strategic reserve will not only save you from financial hardship in an emergency but also provide peace of mind.

When we accumulated a strategic reserve, my wife and I finally felt ready to build for our future. Without it, we were living from paycheck to paycheck, anxiously managing our cash flow rather than saving or budgeting.

7. Get pre-approved, and stick with a fixed-rate mortgage

The pre-approval process requires organizing all your paperwork; documenting your income, debt and credit; and understanding all the loan options available to you. It’s a bit of a pain, but it saves time later. Getting pre-approved also shows sellers that you’re a reliable buyer with a strong financial footing. Most importantly, it helps you understand what you can afford.

There are a variety of mortgage types, and it’s important to evaluate all of them to see which is best for your family and financial situation. Those boring 30- and 15-year mortgages offer big advantages.

The biggest is locking in your mortgage rate. In short: A 30-year fixed mortgage has a specific fixed rate of interest that doesn’t change for 30 years. A 15-year fixed mortgage does the same.

These typically have lower rates but higher monthly payments, since you must pay it off in half the time. Conventional fixed-rate mortgages help you manage your household budgeting because you know precisely how much you’ll be paying every month for many years. They’re simple to understand, and current rates are low.

One final advantage is that they don’t tempt you with a low initial payment to buy more house than you can afford.

8. Comparison shop to get the best mortgage

Though a home is the biggest purchase many of us will ever make, most home buyers don’t shop around for a mortgage (52% consider only a single lender).

I certainly didn’t. This did save me some annoying calls and hassle, but it cost me $40 or $50 every month, for years. The difference of half a percentage point in your mortgage rate can add up to thousands of dollars over the lifetime of the loan. It’s important to evaluate all the available options to make sure you’re going with the lender who meets your needs – not just the first one you contact.

The three most important factors are that the lender offers a loan program that caters to their specific needs (76%), has the most competitive rates (74%) and has a history of closing on time (63%).

9. Spend no more than a third of your after-tax income

It’s better to regret spending too little on your home than spending too much. One-third of your after-tax income is a manageable amount. This isn’t always possible if you live in a place like San Francisco or New York, but it’s still a good yardstick for where to be.

10. Be willing to walk away

Buying a home is a time-consuming, stressful but ultimately rewarding endeavor – if you end up closing on a home that meets your needs. But it’s important to manage your expectations in case you don’t immediately find a home you can afford with the features you need.

Always be prepared to walk away if the sellers don’t accept your offer, the home doesn’t pass a rigorous inspection or the timing isn’t right. Hold fast to your list of must-haves, stick to what you can afford and don’t overreach or settle.

It’s no tragedy to miss out on any particular house. Remember that you’re playing the long game. You want to be happy 10 years from now.

 

Related:

  • 6 First-Time Homebuyer Mistakes to Avoid
  • Why Is 20% Ideal for a Down Payment?
  • 5 New Year’s Resolutions That Can Help You Buy a Home in 2018

Originally published January 2018.

Your Zestimate is now smarter – and more accurate

The Zestimate is now more accurate than ever, thanks to new technology that identifies and values home improvements you’ve made based on photos. Plus, we now incorporate even more data into Zestimates for homes on the market, and we update those Zestimates in real time. That’s in addition to the millions of data points that the Zestimate’s complex machine learning models examine for more than 100 million homes across the country.

Here’s the rundown of what’s new.

‘Seeing’ your home features

We can evaluate photos of a home to, in a sense, “see” and value the home features you’re most proud of. Think of the bathroom you remodeled, the new quartz countertops in your kitchen or the beautifully landscaped backyard. Those features now factor directly into your home’s Zestimate, making it the first time the Zestimate can understand not just a home’s facts and figures, like number of bathrooms or bedrooms, but also its quality and curb appeal.

We heard from homeowners over the years that when it comes time to sell, they want to make sure all the work they’ve put toward upgrading it is reflected in its Zestimate. Yet before recent advances in technology, there was no way for computers to look at photos of a home and get the same information that people do. The Zestimate now incorporates advanced technologies that make this possible.

Homeowners can claim their home on Zillow to edit, add or remove photos at any time in just a few simple clicks.

Listing info added in real time

On homes listed for sale, the Zestimate now incorporates data from the home’s listing itself – including listing price and how long it has been on the market – in its calculations. These factors provide important insight into a homeowner and agent’s listing strategy and what the homeowner believes their home is worth, both key variables in how much a home ultimately sells for.

To top it off, Zestimates on for-sale homes update with new information in real time. That means home shoppers get an up-to-the-second snapshot of what’s going on in the local housing market. When the Zestimate launched in 2006, it was updated monthly, so this is a big leap forward as both buyers and sellers navigate dynamic and ever-changing housing markets.

The results of all these upgrades? The Zestimate’s error rate on homes listed for sale is now less than 2%, meaning half of all Zestimates fall within 2% of the home’s eventual sale price.

Just as you look for new ways to refresh your home, we’re always working to improve the Zestimate. This most recent Zestimate refresh is another milestone along that journey, all to provide a more accurate look at the value of the place you call home.

Creative Ways to Add Color to Your Rental

Living in a rental can dampen your design options. With unchangeable fixtures and cabinets, bland paint colors, and the threat of losing your security deposit if you make changes, a lot of renters suppress their personal style and settle for builder-grade basic.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. By getting creative with your furniture and accessories, you can have a colorful and inviting home without sacrificing your deposit or infuriating your landlord.

Wall to wall

Many homeowners paint the walls as a relatively easy way to bring color to a space. But landlords and property managers often forbid changing a rental’s interior paint color.

Think beyond paint, and you’ll discover a multitude of ways to dress up your walls without touching a paintbrush. The key is to think big.

Find large-scale art pieces that speak to your style and feature punchy colors. Collect snapshots in ombre frames of your favorite hue (instead of traditional black or white) and assemble a gallery wall.

Have an artistic streak? Paint a mural on a large piece of canvas and tack it over an entire wall.

For the less artistically inclined, removable wallpaper or decals in bright shades and eye-catching designs provide an instant pick-me-up. You can also cover entire walls or awkward spaces with a pretty patterned curtain or piece of fabric for a cozy bohemian vibe.

Punch it up

Rentals often come with outdated cabinets, fixtures, and flooring that can’t be altered. Beige, brown and off-white are the norm for these spaces, but that doesn’t mean you have to let it restrict your style.

Add visual interest and draw attention by bringing in splashy pieces of furniture and decor. Look for pieces in your favorite color or choose a theme, like sunny yellow and coral, to drown out the drab.

Vibrant painted wood chairs can give your dining space some zing. Or purchase a couch or chair in a daring tone like emerald or sapphire.

Don’t have a ton of cash to spend? Go DIY. Find furniture with good bones at your local thrift shop or garage sale, and give it a makeover. Use spray paint for smaller decor pieces and latex or chalk paint for dressers and side tables.

Add extra flair with stenciled details and paint-dipped legs. Line the backs of bookshelves with decorative paper, and temporarily replace boring kitchen and bathroom pulls and knobs with vibrant versions.

Soft goods, bold tones

Textiles in assorted colors will be your best friends for dressing up your outdated or dull apartment. Start with an inviting rug in a rich jewel tone or a trendy overdyed hue. And stay away from traditional white and beige curtains – instead, opt for a bright color or lively pattern.

The same goes for bedding. White may be a traditional go-to for duvet covers, but in the case of a blah apartment, pick a print or hue that will make your bedroom an energizing getaway or relaxing retreat. If you’re looking for a calm feel, search for a bed set in cool indigo, lavender or sage. Want to make it upbeat instead? Try poppy colors like coral, tangerine or sunflower.

Fun throw pillows and blankets will spice up your bed, couch, lounge chairs and more. Keep the color trend going into the bathroom and kitchen by choosing pretty hand towels and bathmats.

 

Make it yours

By punching up the walls with custom artwork, bringing in attention-grabbing furniture, and using pretty textiles to boost the style factor, you can have a colorfully custom home without ever touching a drop of paint.

The key is moderation and intention. Stick with a few favorite shades and mix it up by using variations of those hues instead of pulling in every color in the rainbow. Choose a few important focal points to infuse with color and let the rest blend in.

You’ll be happier for the design boost, and your landlord will be glad you haven’t made any big changes. That’s a win-win situation for everyone involved.

Related:

  • What to Unpack First in Your New Home
  • ‘You’re Throwing Money Away’ and Other Myths About Renting
  • 10 Ways to Make Sure You Get Your Security Deposit Back

Originally published June 13, 2016.

 

Boho and Minimalism Top Our List of 2019 Outdoor Living Trends

It’s easier than ever to create an outdoor oasis that’s an extension of your home, and this summer’s biggest trend is creating a backyard space that is as comfortable as your indoor one. Design styles like bright and bold boho and Scandinavian minimalism are heading outside, according to our 2019 Outdoor Living Trends Report.

“The lines have been blurred between what’s indoor-only and what you can use outside, which means it’s never been easier to create an outdoor space that’s cohesive with your indoor design,” says Kerrie Kelly, design expert and founder of Kerrie Kelly Design Lab.

Here’s her rundown of this year’s five hottest outdoor trends:

1. Mixed materials

This summer, design elements that were once considered indoor use only – brass, rope, textured upholstery and webbing – are combining in new, unexpected ways for outdoor spaces. Chandeliers, soft rugs and cozy floor cushions are now popular for outside, and new fabric options now include outdoor-safe velvets, leathers and nubby chenilles.

2. Minimalism to the max

Scandinavian minimalist design is now showing up in outdoor furnishings. Lounge chairs, love seats and bistro tables are trending this summer in lightweight, powder-coated aluminum. Finish the look with neutrals like black, white and gray, or mix-and-match with a natural material like teak.

3. Some like it hot

This summer it’s all about elevated outdoor spaces that feel as stylish, comfortable and functional as interiors – with all the amenities. Fire features and outdoor kitchens continue to be extremely popular, providing a sense of “indoor cozy.” Beyond adding ambiance, Zillow research found home listings mentioning outdoor kitchens and outdoor fireplaces sold for significantly more than expected.

4. Pops of color

Splashes of bold color are brightening up neutral upholstered furnishings. This summer’s top color trend of citrus-bright oranges, reds, yellows and pinks are lively and vibrant outside. Think about adding a touch of Living Coral, Pantone’s Color of the Year, or play with newly trending emerald green in your accessories.

5. Go green outside

Eco-conscious landscaping, outdoor furnishings and fixtures have gained traction this year. Living walls make a design statement and reduce your carbon footprint, and solar-powered LED accent lights provide upgraded illumination without complex wiring or tricky installation. When it comes time to sell, listings mentioning outdoor lighting were associated with homes selling for 19% more than expected.

Outdoor trends to leave behind in 2019

Matching patio sets

With more options than ever, there’s no need to rely on matching patio sets for a pulled-together look. Instead, curated, eclectic outdoor spaces continue to rise in popularity. Own a patio set? Add mix-and-match, multi-patterned outdoor pillows, a textured ottoman and a vintage rattan side table for a unique look.

Rustic farmhouse

Weathered barnwood dining tables and industrial metal chairs are getting a 2019 makeover with a sleeker combination of teak and aluminum. Take your existing farm table and give it an upgrade with a set of bright, cheery mesh aluminum dining chairs.

Related:

  • Spectacular Solariums and Sun Rooms Let in the Light
  • Quiz: Which Perfect Pool Is Cool for the Summer?
  • Summer Smackdown: Which Home Is Your Favorite?

What to Unpack First in Your New Home

So you’re finally in your new home, surrounded by piles of boxes, tired and glad that your relocation is about to end.

To fully complete your moving adventure, however, you need to unpack your belongings and make your new place feel like home. But where do you even begin?

First things first

No matter how much you want to get it over with, there are three important things to do before you can actually start unpacking.

  1. Clean and prepare your new home. It’s easier to wipe down shelves, clean windows and mop floors before your belongings are in place. Make sure your home-to-be is spotless when your items arrive. If you can’t get to your new place early enough to do a thorough cleaning, consider hiring professional cleaners to do the job for you.
  2. Inspect and organize your belongings. Check all the delivered boxes and household items against your inventory sheet to make sure nothing is damaged or missing. Then have each of your possessions taken to the room where it belongs. If everything was properly marked and labeled, sorting your items will be a piece of cake.
  3. Set major furniture and appliances. Position your large furniture pieces and bulky household appliances first. Then you can put any smaller items you unpack later directly in their rightful places. Plan your interior design well in advance so you don’t end up moving heavy pieces around several times.

Tackle the necessities

What matters most when unpacking your items after a move is ensuring that your essentials are immediately accessible. So prioritize your belongings, and unpack only the necessities first.

Bedding

You may not be able to unpack the entire bedroom right away, but you’ll definitely need at least the bed the day you move in. Reassemble the bed frame (if necessary), lay down the sheets, unpack the pillows and spread the blankets so you can get a good night’s rest – you’re going to need it!

Provided that you have a change of clothes and some comfortable indoor shoes (as well as curtains on the windows to ensure your privacy), the rest of your bedroom items can wait until you find the time and the energy to deal with them.

Bathroom items

Without a doubt, your personal care items, toiletries and medicines should top the list of the most important items to unpack after your move. Put out toilet paper and soap, find your toothbrush and toothpaste, hang the towels and the shower curtains, and unpack any other bathroom essentials you’ll need to wash away the weariness and stress of moving.

Kitchen necessities

Kitchens tend to take a very long time to unpack and organize properly due to the large number of items that need to be sorted and carefully arranged.

As soon as you’ve hooked up the large appliances, such as the fridge and the stove, move on to your smaller kitchenware. Plates, silverware and glasses should be the first to find their places in cupboards and kitchen cabinets, closely followed by cooking utensils, pots and pans, and pantry items.

Kids’ and pets’ items

If you have young children, unpack some of their favorite toys, books, games and blankets during the first few hours in your new home. Keeping your young ones happy and occupied will let you concentrate on your work and finish it faster.

Of course, you should also take care of your pets’ needs immediately upon arrival. It’s a good idea to pack adequate pet food and some of your animal friends’ favorite toys in your open-first box.

Finishing up

When you’ve unpacked the three most essential rooms in your home (bedroom, bathroom and kitchen), everything else can wait a bit. There are no deadlines to meet, so you can set your own pace when unpacking and decorating your new place – just unpack in order of priority without procrastinating.

If you stay organized, set reasonable goals, clean after every unpacking phase, and dispose of the packing materials in a safe and eco-friendly manner, your new surroundings will soon stop looking like a warehouse full of boxes and start feeling like home.

Related:

  • Picking a Moving Company: How Do Your Choices Stack Up?
  • The Hidden Costs of Moving: 11 Extra Fees to Watch For
  • 3 Common Moving Nightmares (and How to Prevent Them)

Originally published February 5, 2016.

5 Things to Do Before and After Closing

You’ve been house shopping for months or even years. You’ve endured a series of offers, property disclosures, inspections and reports. Finally, after so much excitement, stress and anxiety, the house hunt has come to an end.

But the story isn’t over yet. Here are some next steps to consider before you actually move in.

1. Plan renovations well in advance

Rarely does a buyer get a place that’s move-in ready. By the time you’ve signed a contract, you have lots of ideas about how you’ll live in the home, how you’ll customize it and what work needs to be done.

If the place needs work, don’t wait until you’ve closed to engage a professional. Either at your final walkthrough or during a private appointment, get the proper contractors in the house and start collecting bids for necessary work. If possible, have floor sanding, painting or small fix-it work done before you move in. Real estate agents work with all kinds of tradespeople, so they’re often a great resource for referrals. 

2. Set up the utilities

Some people assume the utilities will work once they walk in. While many utility companies have grace periods (the days between when the seller cancels service and the new owner calls), you can’t always assume this will be the case. If you have an out-of-town seller, they may have canceled services the day they knew all contingencies were removed. In this instance, the grace period likely lapsed, and you may be stuck dealing with the electric company, waiting for an appointment or just being without power when you really want to start painting, fixing or cleaning.

The best plan is to call the utility companies and get service set up well before closing. If they haven’t received cancellation notice from the seller, let the seller know to take care of that.

3. Change the locks

Assume that everyone has a set of keys to your new home. The seller’s real estate agent likely gave copies to their assistant, a painter, a stager or even another agent at some point during the listing period. That’s why the first person you should call after getting the keys is a locksmith.

4. Hire a cleaning crew

There’s nothing worse than showing up with the movers, dozens of boxes and your personal belongings only to discover the seller hasn’t had the place cleaned.

Assume the worst and get a professional cleaning crew in there the minute after closing. Even if the seller did clean, they may have done a poor job. You want to start life in your new home with a clean slate. The bones of the place will be sparkling clean, and you won’t be scrambling to get cleaners in while the home is in a state of unpacking disarray.

5. Have a handyperson, contractor or designer on call

Moving involves the kind of stuff you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. Things like aligning your framed artwork, centering the couch in the living room or getting the large rug set up in the master bedroom can drive you crazy.

While it may seem like a luxury, investing a few hundred dollars in hiring someone to help with these tasks will save time and potentially relieve you of a giant headache.

Thinking ahead is the way to go

As your closing date draws near, you’re probably exhausted. But taking a little extra time to plan ahead will save you time, money and stress – and make the move into your new home so much more satisfying.

Related:

  • 3 Reasons to Live in a New Home Before Renovating
  • 3 Common Moving Nightmares (and How to Prevent Them)
  • How to Move Cross-Country: See How These Renters Made It Work

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 2013.

3 Reasons to Live in a New Home Before Renovating

In today’s market, many buyers forego fixer-uppers for move-in ready homes. As a result, significant opportunities abound in prime locations as homes that need work linger on the market.

In competitive markets, savvy consumers gravitate toward these homes that nobody else wants. Why? They can customize the home to their requirements and build equity along the way.

That said, I often recommend that buyers live in a new home for a while before undertaking any major remodeling or pricey home improvements. I’m not talking about lighting or plumbing repairs necessary to make the house habitable. Rather, I’m referring to discretionary remodeling, expansions and other improvement projects.

Here are three good reasons to at least consider holding off on the big home improvement projects until you’ve had some time to settle in.

1. Living in the home can change your mind

You may have grand visions for what you’d like to do to a home, based on its condition and your priorities at the time you buy it. But until you’re actually living there, it’s difficult to know exactly how you’ll use the house, what will work for you and what won’t.

Ultimately, it’s this day-to-day experience that will inform your home improvement decisions, instead of early notions of how you want your everyday experience to be.

2. After buying a home, you deserve a break

Buying a home is a massive project, an enormous change in your life and a shock to the system – if not your finances. I’ve seen buyers jump through hoops, spending months on end looking for a home. In some situations, it becomes a part-time job.

A home renovation can be yet another big and stressful project, what with all the decisions to make and contractors to deal with.

My recommendation: Take a break from the stress of buying your new home.

3. You need time to plan

Any renovation, no matter how small, should be designed with care. That means speaking to multiple architects, contractors or designers to get their take on your ideas and options – a time-consuming process.

An hour with a well-qualified contractor can uncover opportunities where you least expected them. For instance, even though it may be an added cost now, moving the laundry machines from the garage to the top floor during a larger renovation may save you time and money down the road.

Conversely, hiring architects and contractors while under the constraints of an escrow period is likely to cause problems for you later.

Some buyers want to jump into renovations because they don’t want to live in a construction zone or pay rent and a mortgage at the same time. While this may make some economic sense upfront, it can still cause costly problems later.

Often, buyers who said they don’t want a home that requires any work end up buying a home that needs at least some. It’s the natural evolution of the buying process. Rarely does someone end up buying the home they started off thinking they wanted.

While you should be open to doing work on a home, don’t feel stressed about getting it all done at once. Live as-is for six months to a year. Take the home for a test drive and see how it runs. You may be surprised at how your perspective and priorities change once you settle in.

Find out which home renovations DIYers most regretted tackling themselves.

Related:

  • Are You Overimproving for Your Neighborhood?
  • Quiz: Should You Renovate Your Home or Sell?
  • How to Build a Home Renovation Team You Can Trust

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 August 2016.

3 Common Moving Nightmares (and How to Prevent Them)

Moving may top the list of stressful experiences that can feel like a bad dream – one that can easily come true unless you take precautionary measures.

Problems can occur at every stage of the relocation process, but the most common moving nightmares fall into three categories. Here’s how they typically play out – and how to avoid them.

Bad movers

Many moving horror stories involve rogue or incompetent movers.

  • The movers are late or don’t show up at all. The agreed-upon time comes and goes, but you see no sign of an approaching moving truck. Regardless of the excuses you receive, the inevitable result will be lots of stress and wasted time.
  • The movers are careless or inexperienced. If your movers arrive late or lack the proper equipment to handle your items safely and efficiently, your relocation can quickly turn into a nightmarish experience.
  • The movers are scam artists. In the worst case scenario, you may fall victim to moving scams. Rogue movers will often request much more money than previously negotiated, based on alleged extra services. They may also hold your belongings hostage until you pay an extra “fee” as ransom or steal your more expensive belongings and discard the rest.

The good news is that there is an easy way to avoid such nightmares. All you need to do is carefully research your movers before hiring them to make sure you are dealing with licensed and experienced professionals you can trust. It’s also a good idea to purchase appropriate insurance for your belongings, just in case.

Traffic problems

Heavy traffic or road accidents can also turn your move into a real nightmare.

  • Traffic jams. The moving truck is delayed, and there may not be enough time to proceed with your move as planned. You may have to postpone the relocation to another day, or you may miss your flight.
  • Traffic accidents. If there has been an accident on the road, the moving truck will have to wait until the damaged vehicles are removed and normal traffic is restored. However, the scenario could get much worse: You may lose all your possessions or receive them badly damaged if the moving truck crashes, catches fire or gets trapped somewhere because of adverse weather conditions. It’s even possible that thieves could break into the vehicle and steal your goods.
  • Breakdown. If the moving truck breaks down on the road, you’ll have to wait for the moving company to send another vehicle. What’s more, your items can easily get damaged while being transferred.
  • Parking issues. The moving truck has to circle the neighborhood for hours until an appropriate parking space is vacated, or the movers have to park far away from your home’s entrance. In such cases, you’ll not only lose valuable time but also have to pay an extra fee for the delay or an additional long-carry fee.

Of course, there’s nothing you can do to prevent traffic accidents or breakdowns. But you can at least reserve a parking place directly in front of your old and new homes, and choose a moving company that has experienced drivers and several moving vehicles in good condition.

Poor organization

Moving involves a lot of loose ends, and even the smallest oversight can result in a disastrous move.

  • Packing chaos. You realize you’ve packed more items than previously discussed with the movers, and some items can’t be loaded onto the moving truck. Or maybe you don’t label the boxes properly. Worst of all, you may not be ready when the movers arrive. All these packing mistakes result in lost time and money.
  • Furniture troubles. If your large furniture doesn’t fit through the doors, you may have to leave treasured pieces behind or request hoisting services that will cost you dearly and delay your move.
  • Paperwork problems. If you forget to transfer the utilities, you won’t have electricity, gas and water on move-in day. If you forget to change your address, you won’t have your mail delivered to your new home. If you forget to update your driver’s license and car registration in time, you’ll be fined. Not taking proper care of your documents will most certainly get you in trouble.
  • Overspending. If you book your movers at the last moment, require too many extra services, fail to create a realistic moving budget or pack all your items without sorting them out first, you’ll end up paying much more than you expected.
  • Safety issues. Make every effort to prevent injuries and accidents on moving day, as getting hurt is one of the worst things that can happen during your relocation endeavor.

The only way to avoid problems when moving house is to plan each phase of your relocation adventure in meticulous detail and stay one step ahead all the time. Otherwise, you may find yourself facing any of these all-too-common moving ordeals.

Related:

  • The Hidden Costs of Moving: 11 Extra Fees to Watch For
  • Picking a Moving Company: How Do Your Choices Stack Up?
  • Maximizing Space in a Small Kitchen

Originally published April 15, 2016.