How I Furnished My Entire Home for Less Than $3K: 6 Thrifty Tips

Furnishing a home—whether you’re a new homeowner or you’ve moved to larger digs—can be a time- and budget-consuming struggle, especially if you want quality pieces that aren’t made of plasterboard and glue. But finding great furniture doesn’t have to swallow you—or your salary. In fact, I furnished my house for less than $3,000.

A year ago, my partner and I traded our life on the road for a cabin in the mountains. But, as romantic as settling down sounds, there was a major downside: We didn’t own a stick of furniture.

While being as thrifty as possible wasn’t initially one of my furniture goals, the game was on once I scored a like-new glass and metal patio table set online for $75. And how little I could spend on furnishing our home—with quality furniture—quickly became a challenge that had my total commitment.

The result was beyond rewarding when I realized I’d spent just under $3,000 for all my furniture. Bonus: The only new things I purchased were two mattresses. Here’s what I learned on this journey—and how you can decorate your home on the cheap, too.

1. Join local thrift groups

Buy Nothing or “garage sale” groups on Facebook Marketplace are networks of buyers and sellers that are local online thrift collectives. “Spend nothing” groups are specifically for people who want to get rid of things without charging a dime.

Facebook Marketplace is one of the best online forums for scouting used furniture. When using Marketplace, you can customize your search results by expanding the radius of your location and trying different categories or keyword searches. For example, when I looked for a patio table, I searched for both “outdoor table” and “patio set.”

2. Visit consignment stores

Your local consignment stores may be pricier than what you’d find online, but you can find quality used furniture and closely inspect what you’re buying. You’ll want to see whether or not some essential items for your home—like a sofa or area rug—are clean and in good condition.

3. Splurge selectively

If you’ve spent weeks searching for specific items, it might make sense to spend a little more to get the perfect piece of furniture—even if that means paying full price. And once you’ve bought some furniture, you might need to shell out more to match a style or aesthetic you want to maintain.

Similarly, you might want to splurge on certain items to guarantee their quality and cleanliness. (For example, buying a new mattress rather than a cheap used one.) The key is to know when it’s worth shelling out the bucks. If it’s an item you desperately need and won’t find for less, spending more might be the answer.

4. Keep an eye out for freebies

Depending on where you live, you might be able to find some quality furniture on trash night. And if you see a dumpster outside someone’s home, don’t be shy—slow down and keep your eyes peeled for anything that might be worth taking and restoring. A coat of paint can revive just about any piece of furniture.

5. Watch for sales

If you’re patient, you might catch a furniture sale in one of your local stores or malls. Keep an eye open for deals after holidays and whenever the seasons change. For example, fall can be a great time to find bargain outdoor furniture. Why? Because no one else is shopping for a patio set at the end of the season.

6. Come up with a plan

Furnishing an entire home (or even just a room) can be incredibly stressful. That’s why it helps to have a plan. Sit down, develop a numbered list of the furniture you need, and prioritize. That way, you’ll know what’s worth splurging on or if you should wait a bit longer for a better deal.

And get comfortable with haggling: Bargaining has never been my strong suit, but learning the skill is a must if you’re trying to furnish your entire home on a budget.

I found out that most sellers expect you to bargain. And it turns out that bargaining is why some sellers set prices higher in the first place: When you bargain with sellers, they’ll still be getting a fair price—and you’ll be getting the deal of a lifetime.

By Larissa Runkle Jan 3, 2022 in realtor.com

San Antonio named in top 10 ‘hidden gem’ housing markets for 2022, meaning home prices expected to go up.

The National Association of Realtors named San Antonio among its “hidden gems” for 2022 — meaning home prices here are expected to appreciate at a higher rate than most other markets.

That’s good news for realtors and sellers, but it might not be for many buyers.

Home prices in San Antonio are up nearly 20% over one year ago and in October, the median price of a home exceeded $300,000 for the first time ever.

The NAR predicts housing prices across the country will climb 5.7% next year — significantly less of an increase than in 2021 — but believes San Antonio will experience stronger price appreciation relative to other markets.

Here’s a list of their “hidden gem” cities in alphabetical order:

  • Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas
  • Daphne-Fairhope-Farley, Alabama
  • Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers, Arkansas-Missouri
  • Huntsville, Alabama
  • Knoxville, Tennessee
  • Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville, Florida
  • Pensacola-Ferry Pass-Brent, Florida
  • San Antonio-New Braunfels, Texas
  • Spartanburg, South Carolina
  • Tucson, Arizona

The hidden gem designation from NAR was based on the following two categories:

  1. If the market’s ratio of median home price to median family income is in the lower half of the 379 metro areas analyzed.
  2. If the following seven indicators reflecting the strength of housing demand for that market are in the upper half of metro areas – wage growth, job growth, ratio of the change in population to the sum of housing permits, population growth, net domestic migration, percentage of the population ages 25 to 44, and the percentage of households with broadband service.

“The housing sector performed spectacularly in 2021 in many markets, with huge gains achieved in places like Austin, Boise and Naples,” Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist and senior vice president of research said in a press release. “Several markets did reasonably well in 2021, but not as strong as the underlying fundamentals suggested. Therefore, in 2022, these ‘hidden gem’ markets have more room for growth.”

It’s also expected to be more expensive to finance a home in 2022 compared to this year. The NAR said top economic and housing experts are predicting two quarter-point interest rate hikes by the Fed in 2022.

A 30-year fixed mortgage rate is predicted to increase to 3.5%, which would still be lower than the pre-pandemic rate of 4%.

Published: December 16, 2021, 12:30 PM Julie Moreno, Executive Producer/Digital Content

By the Numbers: The Biggest Winners and Losers in Real Estate in 2021

By Elena Cox

Dec 15, 2021

From the highest of high prices to the lowest of low numbers of homes for sale, there’s no denying that the COVID-19 pandemic upended the nation’s real estate market. And while 2020 was the year that seemed to never end, 2021 appears to have gone by faster than you can say, “Sorry, I didn’t realize I was muted” on that Zoom call.

Now that 2021 is nearly behind us, and we can catch our collective breaths, we decided it was time to take stock. We wanted to know: Over the course of this twisty, unpredictable, whipsaw year in real estate, who were the real winners and losers? Sometimes it seemed hard to tell. So the Realtor.com® data team took a deep dive into the numbers to find out who were the real housing market victors this year, and who got the short end of the “For Sale” sign stick.

To come up with worthy contenders, we looked far and wide, from cities to states to entire generations. Some entrants could have winded up on either list, but at least one key metric tipped them over the edge.

In a continuation of what we saw last year, the demand for housing in 2021 shot up while the inventory of homes for sale shrank. The number of home listings is down 41% so far this year compared with the same time a year ago, while listing prices rose 11% nationwide, Realtor.com data shows. Those extremes resulted in the perfect storm that left our heads spinning.

“After 2020’s roller coaster of a housing market, people expected 2021 to be smoother, but the ride wasn’t over yet,” says Realtor.com Chief Economist Danielle Hale.

So who won the residential real estate skirmish of 2021 and who will need to spend 2022 tending to their wounds?

The biggest real estate winners of 2021

1. Florida

Key stat: More than 300,000 people moved to the state between April 2020 and April 2021  

This year it seemed like everybody and their grandmother was moving to Florida.

While that’s not entirely true, hundreds of thousands did make the migration in 2021, according to the most recent data from the state’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research. They were mostly lured by warm weather, gorgeous beaches, no income tax—and comparatively attractive home prices.

“Florida became a hotbed for people fleeing the Northeast and Midwest throughout the pandemic,” says Ali Wolf, chief economist of building consultancy Zonda. “The increased demand hit at a time that inventory was scarce, pushing both home prices and rents higher.”

While New Yorkers and other East Coasters continue to be hot for Florida, the pool of other out-of-state buyers expanded. In 2021, more people were coming from as far away as California as many workers went remote, something that was unheard of just a few years ago.

And it’s not just former hot spots like Miami getting all the love; it’s happening across the state. The median list price for homes in Florida overall was up 19% in November compared with last year, while rents in cities like TampaOrlando, and Jacksonville have also skyrocketed.

2. The suburbs

Key stat: The number of suburban shoppers spikes 42% 

Perhaps the biggest COVID-19 wake-up call was for city folks who were no longer able to justify soul-crushing rents when the perks of urban life suddenly evaporated. Having more space for that home gym, a large backyard to safely entertain in, and a bit more space between neighbors suddenly became more desirable than a small apartment with shared elevators and laundry facilities.

As a concept, suburban living tends to go in and out of fashion with younger homebuyers. Let’s just safely say it’s currently in.

Buyers raced to the suburbs, resulting in heated bidding wars, wild offers over asking price, and folks willing to waive inspections and contingencies to secure a home. The number of suburban shoppers this year was 42% higher than before the pandemic, according to an analysis from the Realtor.com economic research team. And all that extra competition is sending home prices in the suburbs higher.

In 2020, suburban home prices grew faster than urban home prices for the first time since 2017. In September, the median price per square foot of a home in the suburbs was 28% higher than pre-pandemic levels, while urban homes were 25% more expensive, according to the Realtor.com economic research team.

Despite the price increases, suburban homes are selling more quickly, making an already bad inventory problem seem even worse. A typical home in the suburbs sold about three weeks faster this September compared with September 2019, while urban homes moved 16 days faster over the same time period.

3. Baby boomers

Key stat: Average profit margin on a median-priced home hits $100,178

OK, boomers, you win.

In an extreme seller’s market, older Americans who owned homes appeared to be the ones holding most of the cards in 2021. They were most likely to be the ones with big homes to sell, as many downsized or moved closer to family and friends. And in many cases, they were able to cash in big-time.

The pandemic led to lower mortgage rates, fewer homes on the market, and a crush of buyers looking for a new place. All of these factors meant homes have been selling fast for record-high prices. In most cases, sellers got what they were asking for (and sometimes significantly more) provided the home was in good shape.

In fact, this summer the average profit margin on median-priced homes reached $100,178—the highest level since the end of the Great Recession, according to real estate information firm ATTOM Data Solutions.

“Boomers are the most likely to own homes and be invested in stocks, both of which have gone up in value over the past year,” Zonda’s Wolf explains. “Boomers selling and moving into a smaller, less expensive home are commanding top dollar on their sale and are often in a place to put in a competitive offer on a new place.”

4. Wall Street investors

Key stat: Investors make up 5.5% of home purchases

Buyers competing for affordable, single-family homes in the suburbs in 2021 included deep-pocketed, large real estate investors as well as first-time buyers. Unlike most first-time home buyers, many of these investors were able to offer all cash for these homes en masse to turn into rentals.

The share of investors in the market hit the highest level since at least 2015, according to an analysis of deed records earlier this year by Realtor.com. Investors made up 5.5% of all home purchases in the first seven months of 2021. Many were capitalizing on the country’s massive shortage of homes, which isn’t expected to be resolved for the next few years.

“Investors saw a tremendous opportunity to leverage this imbalance,” says George Ratiu, manager of economic research at Realtor.com.

5. Homeowners who refinanced their mortgages

Key stat: Mortgage rates hit a record low of 2.65%

One of the few bright spots for homebuyers and homeowners this year was rock-bottom mortgage rates.

Low rates meant buyers could stretch their budgets further as prices escalated, but homeowners who were able to refinance their existing loans were definitely the big winners in 2021. People who already own homes were able to shave $100—or more—off their monthly mortgage payments—ultimately saving tens of thousands of dollars over the life of their loans.

Rates bottomed out in the first week of the year when they fell to an all-time low average of 2.65% for 30-year fixed-rate loans, according to Freddie Mac data. While they’ve since risen to 3.10% in the week ending Dec. 9, they’re still hovering around historic lows. (Two years ago, before the pandemic hit, they were around 3.7%.)

“Homeowners who refinanced this year had a once-in-a-generational opportunity to lock in a low rate for a long period of time,” Ratiu says. “Mortgage rates at the lows we saw are not likely to happen again.”

The biggest real estate losers of 2021

1. Millennials

Key stat: First-time buyers spent 9.6% more on their homes

It isn’t easy being a first-time homebuyer these days. As millennials entered their peak homebuying years in 2021, they found themselves in a housing market unlike any seen before.

Millennials, now aged 25 to 40, made up the largest share of buyers last year, at 34% of the market, according to the National Association of Realtors®. But even those who had done all the right things—making sacrifices to save up for a down payment and working on their credit scores—had a tough time finding the home of their dreams, let alone one in their price range.

And forget about any bargaining power. As more people than ever searched for homes, most buyers this year paid at least the full asking price for their home, according to a recent report from NAR. First-time buyers spent a median of $252,000 on their homes, up from $230,000 in the previous year, according to the NAR report. To do so, the majority told NAR they had to make financial sacrifices to save up for their purchase. And their homes, at a median 1,640 square feet, were nearly 400 square feet smaller than those of repeat buyers.

“First-time buyers are typically looking for homes in the most competitive part of the market,” says economist Wolf. “The lowest-priced homes are desirable to first-time buyers, move-down shoppers, lower-income individuals, investors, and even some move-up buyers.”

A massive shortage of inventory made homes this year less and less affordable, especially for buyers with crippling student loan debt. Meanwhile, they’re competing for the same homes against trade-up buyers who can bring their home equity to the table and investors who are able to pay with cash.

“Sellers typically choose the offer they deem most likely to go through. First-time buyers stand little chance when competing with high-wealth individuals,” Wolf says.

2. Austin, TX

Key stat: Rents have risen 30% 

Some old-timers may still want to “Keep Austin Weird,” but how weird can you stay when you become America’s fastest-growing and perhaps least affordable city?

The capital of Texas, already growing at a nice clip pre-pandemic, went on an unprecedented tear starting in 2020—and the growth accelerated in 2021, with new tech companies arriving at a steady clip. Austin became one of the most popular destinations for remote workers in 2021, thanks to its funky, youthful culture and home prices that are still cheaper than the San Francisco Bay Area.

But how big is too big? While population growth is usually a good thing for local economies, this relatively small city didn’t have the available housing for sale or rent that was needed to take on the massive influx. This became further apparent after Elon Musk announced Tesla would be moving its headquarters to Austin, where the company is building a factory.

The influx of buyers and low home inventory have sent median list prices about 50% higher in this metro area than what they were pre-pandemic, according to Realtor.com data. Last month, the median list price for a home was an eye-popping $550,000, pricing out many would-be buyers.

Renters aren’t having much luck either. The overall median rent in Austin reached $1,700 in October, up about 30% from the same time a year ago, according to Realtor.com analysis.

“Practically any city in the world would find its infrastructure overwhelmed if it experienced this similar, fast pace of growth,” says Luis Bernardo Torres, research economist at the Texas Real Estate Research Center at Texas A&M University.

“It’s going to become very difficult to find a home in Austin with a price tag below $250,000 in the coming years that is considered a starter home,” Torres says. “Affordability will be an issue facing Austin’s housing market going forward.”

3. Home flippers

Key stat:  Flippers made 7 percentage points less profit per house

It may seem like flippers should have had their best year ever; but instead, it was both the best and the worst of times for these enterprising folks.

The number of home flips reached record levels last year, but profits shrank, according to a Realtor.com analysis of deeds records. From April to June of this year, flippers made the lowest profits since 2008. On average, a flipper earned about 43% after selling a flip, but that doesn’t take into account the cost of hiring contractors and paying for materials like lumber, along with appliances. Typically, flippers seek a return on investment of 50% or more.

Despite sky-high demand for homes and rising prices, flippers were often spending more to secure homes. A record-low number of homes for sale meant they often had to offer more than they had for homes just a year or two ago to beat out the competition from first-time buyers and other investors. Rising costs for construction and appliances, plus delays due to the global supply chain shortage, significantly ate into their bottom lines.

“Flippers got burned by the incredibly steep price jumps we saw over the past year and a half,” economist Ratiu says.

4. Renters

Key stat: Rents have jumped 9%

Rental prices cratered at the start of the pandemic in many of the larger, more expensive cities on the coasts. Many urban dwellers who suddenly no longer had to commute to their offices five times a week relocated to cheaper parts of the country or moved to the suburbs.

But data from Realtor.com shows rents haven’t just recovered, they’re reaching new all-time highs, and renters are losing out. So far this year, rents have risen about 9% across the country, and in some areas (ahem, Austin) rental prices are up more than 30%.

“For renters this year in particular there was really a one-two punch,” Ratiu says. The first was the expiration of eviction moratoriums earlier this year that had kept many struggling tenants in their homes, and the second was a steep rebound in rent prices.

This comes as buying a home becomes less affordable, too, leaving renters between a rock and a hard place.

“Landlords are in a position where they’re more than making up for the lost revenue and time by bringing rents to record highs,” Ratiu says.

5. The San Francisco Bay Area

Key stat: 31% of San Franciscans left the city

Shocker: The Bay Area may no longer be either the hottest or the coolest place in America to live.

When remote work became the norm for many tech workers, San Franciscans really began to rethink why they were paying so much to live in their prized City by the Bay. So they took off. Many looked for cheaper, nearby alternatives and made the move to places like Reno, NVSeattle; and Phoenix. Much of the reason that Tesla moved to Texas was that workers could no longer afford homes close to the office.

“Even before the pandemic, the Bay Area is a market that was chronically undersupplied of homes, especially those that could be considered entry-level,” Wolf says.

When renters realized they couldn’t afford to buy homes in the Bay Area, many expanded their home searches and moved elsewhere. San Francisco recorded a 31% increase in people leaving the city, according to a report from the nonpartisan California Policy Lab. Meanwhile 21% fewer people moved in to take their places.

But despite this mass exodus, home prices somehow still grew even more unaffordable. The median home appreciation in San Francisco proper grew 20% from spring 2020 to fall 2021, according to an analysis from real estate firm Compass. It was even more pronounced in counties outside the city limits as wealthy buyers looking for bigger homes sent home prices in those neighborhoods even higher. All these rising prices are putting homeownership even more out of reach for many locals.

“A flood of people became interested in homeownership during the year. That increase in demand, especially among higher-income individuals, helped drive home prices higher,” Wolf says.

SHOULD YOU WAIT UNTIL SPRING TO SELL YOUR HOME? NO WAY! WHY WINTER LISTINGS RULE TODAY

Winter is typically a slow time for home sales, when sellers might wonder if they have any hope of finding a buyer. But will that be the case this winter?

“Normally this is a boring question, but this year it’s anything but,” says Danielle Hale, chief economist of Realtor.com®. Although the housing market tends to freeze up once snow falls, Hale predicts that this post-pandemic winter season will be different: “Sellers can expect to see plenty of buyers.”

“Compared to other past winter seasons, this winter season’s sales activity will be stronger,” agrees Lawrence Yun, chief economist at the National Association of Realtors®. “This winter, there will be more sales compared to pre-pandemic winters going back all the way to 2006.”

This optimism stems back to (you guessed it) the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, which created a pent-up demand for homes throughout much of 2020 that completely swamped the usual spring rush, winter lull rhythm of the real estate cycle.

And that overwhelming demand for housing is still going strong today.

“We had unusual seasonality in 2020 due to the pandemic shifting timing around for many buyers and sellers,” explains Hale. “While 2021 had much more normal seasonality—homes sold fastest in summer and slower in fall and winter—this year has been a standout for its own reasons.”

So what makes 2021 so special? For one, consider that, from March all the way into October, “homes were selling faster than the fastest-selling months in any previous year,” Hale says. That demand won’t just suddenly dry up once the temperature drops below freezing, or even once the holidays kick into high gear.

“Although there are fewer buyers in the winter months than in the competitive spring and summer period, all signs suggest that housing demand remains high,” Hale says.

Another factor is that, with supply chain issues slowing new home construction, many buyers just couldn’t find their dream homes in the spring, summer, or fall—and will still be looking into the cold winter months.

Due to this high demand and limited inventory, “Winter is likely to be a better time to sell than winter typically is,” says Kelly Mangold, principal at RCLCO Real Estate Consulting. “Many sellers should not feel the need to wait until spring, especially in high-demand areas.”

So if you’ve all but written off the idea of selling your home until spring ’22, think again! Here are a few things to know about selling your home this winter.

Inventory is low—and homes are selling fast

Although the number of homebuyers house hunting this winter may be slightly lower than during the busy spring and summer seasons, these homebuyers mean serious business. As such, Hale says, “Sellers can expect to see homes sell quickly.”

How quickly are we talking about? In October, U.S. homes spent an average of 45 days on the market—eight days fewer than the previous year, according to Realtor.com data. In the 50 largest metros across the U.S., homes sat on the market for just 39 days. In the hottest and most competitive towns and cities, it was substantially less.

Home prices may have peaked

Another reason sellers may want to list their homes now is that prices are at an all-time high. According to Realtor.com data, median home prices in the U.S. now hover at $380,000, up 9% from a year earlier.

But there are signs that these high prices are leveling off.

“The days of fast price gains are over,” Yun says. “There will be few pockets of the market where bidding wars do occur, but sellers should expect much less than what was occurring the past 12 months. Home prices generally will be higher price compared to one year ago, but maybe a bit lower compared to what occurred in the summer.”

Given that prices seem to be softening, Yun advises sellers to check their local market to see if other homes are lingering on the market a little longer than in previous months, and to talk to their real estate agent about adjusting their price accordingly.

Hale agrees: “A greater share of sellers may find that they have overreached on their initial asking price and need to adjust lower.”

Interest rates are creeping up

The all-time-low interest rates of the past 20-plus months inspired many buyers to shop for real estate. As of Nov. 10, interest rates were 2.98% for a 30-year fixed-rate loan, according to Freddie Mac. But these rates may be going up.

The Mortgage Bankers Association estimates that rates will rise to 3.1% by the end of 2021 and 4% by the end of 2022.

These increasing interest rates could discourage buyers from being as bullish going forward.

“Sellers should be aware that higher mortgage rates mean reduced purchasing power for buyers and may eat into potential buyers’ ability to offer top dollar,” Hale explains.

More homes should hit the market by spring 2022, Yun says, but buyer demand will partly depend on where interest rates go next. If they’re up, that “spring rush” of buyers may have their hands tied in terms of how much they can pay for your home.

But wait, where will you live?

According to a recent Realtor.com survey, 36% of home sellers plan to buy a new home after they’ve sold the one they have. Yet if this is your plan, be warned that you may find yourself in the same hot seat: scrambling to buy a home amid limited inventory and high prices.

So you’d better have a game plan of where you’ll move once your home sells.

Yet here’s some good news on this front: “Inventory will still be lower this winter compared to one year ago,” says Yun, “but down around 10% rather than the 20% or 30% declines we have witnessed since the onset of the pandemic.” In other words, the homes are out there, which should give you options.

Another strategy to avoid selling your home without a place to live is to add a “home of choice” contingency, also known as a “suitable property” contingency. This where your sale depends on your ability to find a new home within a certain time frame. If you can’t, you can call off the deal. Just know that this contingency isn’t used that often, since few buyers may be willing to be left hanging like this. Still, in a strong seller’s market—particularly during winter when no one may feel like moving in a blizzard—you might just have a chance.

Erica Sweeney is a writer whose work has appeared in the New York Times, Parade, HuffPost, Business Insider, Money, and other publications.

6 Tasks Every Homeowner Should Do in November

It’s the spring cleaning of fall, so to speak.

Illustration of an arm with a watch
Image: Simone Golob/Offset

With THE HOLIDAYS coming at you fast and furious, you want to be sure your home is cozy, but with that fresh-as-spring feel — as opposed to that musty-damp-winter feel.

Here’s how to make that happen (along with a few other timely tips):

#1 Wash Bed Pillows

A bed with white lines and fluffy blue-green pillows
Image: Laura W.

You love your trusty, old, perfectly-snugged-to-your-head pillow. But guess what’s also snug against your head? Fungus — 4 to 16 species to be precise. Gross!

With fall being the height of guest season, you’ll want your pillows fresh, too. Pop them in the washing machine and dryer for an all-over clean feeling. (But check manufacturer advice, too. Some pillows shouldn’t be washed, but replaced instead.)

#2 Clean the Mattress, Too

A pink note attached to a mattress
Image: Anne Arntson for HouseLogic

Sleeping soundly gets even better when you know you’re lying on a clean and fresh mattress. The yuck factor: Skin cells and sweat get into the mattress, then dust mites show up for a dinner party featuring those tasty skin cell morsels.

You’ll want your mattress to be at it’s freshest. It’s easy to do: Vacuum it and then wipe it down with a cloth dampened with an upholstery shampoo. But be sure to let it dry; otherwise, you’re inviting mold. Also, be sure to rotate it 180 degrees to help keep it lump-free.

(Another option: If you’ve got a flippable mattress, go ahead and flip it. That, too, can help kill the yucky mites.)

#3 Insulate Windows

A living room with couch and blue roman shades on window
Image: Nick Smith, photographer | Clare Gaskin Interiors, designer

Bone-chilling drafts seriously detract from the cozy vibe you want. Keep it cozy by hanging drapes as close to your windows as possible to help you keep the heat inside.

You can even add clear Velcro strips or dots to the back of the drape and attach to fasteners on the wall to help insulate. Be sure to cross one drape over the other when you close up for the night. Insulating shades can do the trick, too.

#4 Stock Up on Snow Supplies

A man in a blue coat using a snow blower in a neighborhood
Image: Chiyacat/Getty

If snow is a given where you live and you’re lacking supplies, take advantage of seasonal sales now to make sure you’re not the one rushing to the hardware store at the last minute — only to find out they just sold out of ice melt.

If you have a snow blower, be sure to have it serviced and fueled up before the first winter storm arrives — and with it, price hikes on all the snow stuff.

Related: 3 Brilliant Hacks to Make Snow Shoveling a Snap

#5 Trim Tree Branches

A woman with a green short-sleeved T-shirt trimming branches
Image: Michele Constantini/PhotoAlto/Getty

The last thing you need is a winter storm loosing the wrath of that mighty tree whose branches are angling over your roof. Long limbs invite pests to explore your roof and allow excess water to seep into cracks in the roof or siding.

Keep limbs and branches at least 3 feet from the house. Plus it’s easier to trim branches after leaves have fallen. (If it’s an evergreen, well, sorry about that. It’ll be a prickly job, but the bonus is you’ll have greenery for the holidays!)

Related7 Dirty Places Your Guests See, But (Shock!) You Don’t!

#6 Get a Chimney Sweep to Inspect the Fireplace

A woman sitting on a couch with two dogs by a fireplace
Image: Wellness Through Movement Pilates Studio

It’s time to dust off and sweep the chimney! Best to hire someone who knows wood-burning fireplaces. A professional chimney sweep will ensure your wood-burning fireplace burns more efficiently and will help prevent chimney fires and carbon monoxide poisoning during the winter. So, yeah, it’s pretty important. 

Tip: If you don’t already have a chimney cap, this is also the time to add one to stop wild outdoor critters from crawling down it — and (yikes!) into your house.

Author photo of writer Stacey Freed

STACEY FREED

Stacey Freedwrites about homes, design, remodeling, and construction for online and print national trade and consumer publications, including “Better Homes & Gardens.” Previously, she was a senior editor at “Remodeling” magazine. Follow Stacey on Twitter.

© Copyright 2021 NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®

What You Need to Know About Buyer Love Letters to Home Sellers

Think twice before you write or receive a home love letter.

fair housing act buyer love letters to home sellers envelope with heart
Image: Carol Yepes/Getty

Did you hear the one about the dog who wrote a love letter? Not to his owner, but to a home seller. Well, actually the dog’s owner wrote the letter in Buddy’s voice, describing how wag-worthy the house was and how much he craved a game of fetch in the backyard. 

Doggie ghostwriting, which happened IRL, is just one example of how home buyers are using creativity to try to get their offer accepted. It sounds harmless enough. But buyer letters to home sellers can unintentionally create Fair Housing Act discrimination and risks for buyers, sellers, and their agents.

How Love Letters to Home Sellers Work

“A love letter is any communication from the buyer to the seller where the buyer is trying to set themselves apart,” says Deanne Rymarowicz, associate counsel at the National Association of REALTORS®. “ It could be an email, a Facebook post, a photo. Some buyers send elaborate packages with videos and letters. The communication has the intent of ‘pick me, and here’s why.’” 

Buyers who write the letters typically send them to the listing agents, along with their offers, says Paul Knighton, CEO and cofounder of MORE Realty in Tigard, Ore. “They ask, ‘Would you please pass this along to the sellers?’ They’re trying to do what they can to get their offer accepted, especially in a competitive market.”

Letters Can Risk Violating Fair Housing Act

While these love letters may seem harmless enough, they can create a problem if buyers accidentally reveal information in one or more of the seven areas protected by the Fair Housing Act, Rymarowicz explains. Those areas are race, color, religion, sex, disability, familial status, or national origin. “Buyers could say something like, ‘this is down the street from our temple,’ or ‘the hallways are wide enough to accommodate my wheelchair.’ Anything that provides personal information related to one of the prohibited bases for discrimination could result in a violation if a seller makes a decision based on that information.” 

Do Love Letters to Home Sellers Work?

In addition to creating potential risk, love letters to sellers aren’t all that effective, Knighton says. A case in point: Several years ago, one of his clients got 14 offers overnight, ranging from $219,000 to $250,000. “A person who offered $225,000 wanted to send a love letter. I said to him, ‘You’re writing an offer that’s $25,000 under the highest offer. A letter’s not going to help.’ He wrote it anyway, but the seller didn’t even read it and took the higher offer. The offer needs to stand on its own.” 

Beyond ignoring the letters, some sellers may be completely turned off, Rymarowicz says. “They may think, ‘This is a financial transaction.’” 

Even the circumstances can suggest Fair House Act discrimination, she explains. Say that an offer with a love letter got the house but was less attractive than an offer without a letter. “If the losing buyer doesn’t share characteristics of the seller and the winning buyer does, you could potentially have a situation. If sellers accept love letters, it’s more important that they document the basis of their decision when selecting a winning offer.”

Tips to Avoid Violating the Fair Housing Act

Here are five tips to avoid risk of violating the Fair Housing Act:

  1. Keep the contract in mind: Knighton says real estate pros at his firm talk to buyers and sellers about contract boundaries. “We say, ‘Please don’t communicate with the other party, because we are in contract negotiations and need to manage time frames.’”  
  2. Focus on objective information: Find ways to differentiate yourself on objective terms. And talk to the agent about how to improve the substance of your offer, Rymarowicz advises. “Can you make a larger earnest money deposit? Can you give them a longer closing date?” 
  3. Proceed with caution: The NAR discourages buyer letters to home sellers and advises caution, according to Rymarowicz. 
  4. Talk to your agent: Don’t be surprised if your real estate agent brings up the subject. “If you’re the seller, the listing agent may talk to you about the potential for Fair Housing violations. They may ask if you want to accept the risks,” Rymarowicz says. If the agent doesn’t raise the subject of buyer letters, the buyer or seller can do so. 
  5. Know your state law: Oregon passed a law governing how letters to home sellers are used. “Effective January 2022, a seller’s agent must reject any communication from a buyer other than customary documents,” Knighton says.

Even if a buyer letter to a seller focuses on the property and not the buyer, there’s little to be gained, Knighton says. “There’s risk, but the reward isn’t there. Instead, focus on writing a really strong offer. That’s what has to stand out.”   

LYNN ETTINGER

Lynn Ettingerwrites about buying, selling, and financing homes. She previously created real estate special reports at a regional newspaper and wrote about tax and real estate for large accounting firms. She’s also a landscape enthusiast who transformed her deck in Chicago into a mini rainforest — minus the toucans.

© Copyright 2021 NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®

Here’s How You’ll Know You’ve Found the Right Agent

A great real estate agent is like an Oprah for living your best real estate life.

Find the right REALTOR illustration
Image: HouseLogic

For every journey, there is a guide. To navigate his magical powers, Harry Potter had Dumbledore. And to channel the Force and save the galaxy, Luke had Yoda. A great real estate agent is like the Force.

Your agent is a licensed professional who’s familiar with local home values and neighborhood perks, understands real estate trends, can write an offer on your behalf, and who negotiates with home sellers so you don’t have to.

Think of your agent as a therapist/consultant for your home search. A collaborator. A co-conspirator. A mentor. Someone who amps up your confidence and counsels you through big decisions (teamwork makes the dream work, after all). And someone who wants you to find a house you can be happy in because they’re invested in your happiness. 

If the housing market doesn’t line up with your needs and budget, your agent will go back to the drawing board with you. They interpret raw housing data through the filter of your unique search, then tell you what’s important and why. They help you map the path to your goal, and connect you with trusted experts who can get you into your dream home. (Cue selfie of you drinking wine in your new living room. First like on Instagram? Probably your agent.)

That’s a lot of responsibility. And a lot of pressure. There’s obviously a lot at stake: money and time, of course, but also your happiness. So reach out to an agent sooner in the process rather than later, and you’ll be on the fast track to picking out paint swatches for your new kitchen.

Agents, Brokers, and REALTORS®: What’s the Difference?

“Agent” is a catchall phrase that is used, in casual conversation, to describe the three types of professionals who buy and sell real estate: agents, brokers, and REALTORS®.

No, they’re not really the same. Yes, you should care about what makes them different. Here’s a breakdown:

real estate agent is a licensed professional who helps people buy, sell, rent, or invest in homes. To become an agent, a person must take pre-licensing training from a certified institution (these vary from state to state) and pass their state’s real estate licensing exam. Once they have their license, an agent must affiliate themselves with a real estate brokerage. 

Some agents specialize in representing buyers, some specialize in representing sellers. Some do both. An agent who represents both the buyer and the seller in the same real estate transaction is called a dual agent. By law, a dual agent must disclose dual agency to both parties. (If an agent is seeing other people, you obviously need to know.)

real estate broker is a professional who has additional education beyond the agent level, as required by state law, and who has passed a broker’s exam. In some cases, brokers also have more years of experience than agents. The biggest difference between a broker and an agent is that a broker may work independently. An agent must be overseen by a broker. 

REALTOR® is a broker or agent who belongs to the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR), the largest trade group in the country. (Full disclosure: NAR publishes HouseLogic.com). A REALTOR® commits to following a strict Code of Ethics intended to protect buyers and sellers; for example, REALTORS® pledge themselves to protect and promote the interests of their client. Agents and brokers who are not NAR members can’t call themselves REALTORS®. There are more than 1 million REALTORS® in the United States. You can use realtor.com®’s Find a REALTOR® tool to connect with one in your area.

The Best Agent for You Depends on … You

Before you seriously partner with anyone, you’ll probably survey family, friends, and trusted acquaintances for at least some input. Finding a real estate agent is no different: A great starting point is to ask your inner circle and neighbors for recommendations. According to recent NAR research, 52% of buyers 36 and younger found their real estate agent through a referral.

Then there’s the internet.

Each of the major property listing websites — realtor.com®, Zillow, Redfin, and Trulia — has an agent-finder tool that lets you search for agents in your area. These property sites also collect reviews and ratings from an agent’s past clients, which gives you insight into an agent’s reputation. Keep in mind, though, that the sites vary in their policies about whether agents can edit or remove reviews. (Like with Yelp, use your own discretion.)

The sites also show an agent’s sales history, so you can see how many homes a person has sold. In general, it’s best to choose an agent who has a large number of sales under his or her belt (a sign they’re committed to real estate work). Perhaps even more important: an agent who has sold homes at the price point and in the neighborhood where you’re looking to buy — a sign they understand the local market.

Whatever you do, don’t rely on online listings alone. Always interview prospective agents — at least three — in person. A meet-and-greet will give you the perspective you need on the agent’s personality and style. Is this someone you’ll like working with? Who has a sense of humor? Who has your back? Who communicates in the ways you want to be communicated with? Best to find out in person.

How to Know If An Agent Is Knowledgeable

Once you’ve gathered all the information, listen to your gut: It won’t steer you wrong about who’s the best agent for you.

But, that said, there are a few qualities you’ll want to look for in any agent (your gut would agree):

  • Local expertise. Does this person know their stuff about neighborhood home value trends, shops and restaurants, schools, commute times, and geographic factors such as floodplains? These things are important, especially if you’re looking for a home in a new city or town. If the agent seems lost or like they’re winging it, keep looking.
  • Responsiveness. You’ll have a lot of questions, and will be asked to produce documents at certain steps during the buying process. Think about how available you want your agent to be, and how quickly you want him or her to respond. One way to figure that out? Contact a prospective agent online or by phone and see how long it takes them to reply. If you don’t hear back within a timeframe that works for you, it’s probably best to move on.
  • Reputation. This is when to consult your inner circle again. The agent-finder tool mentioned above can also help. In addition, you’ll want to verify the agent’s license; search “[state] real estate license lookup” in your browser to find a resource for your state. If you want to confirm whether an agent is a REALTOR®, you can call NAR at 1-800-874-6500. 

There are a number of professional designations that indicate an agent has obtained additional education beyond their licensing work. An accredited buyer’s representative (ABR®), for instance, is someone who specializes in working with home buyers and has taken a course on buyer-client relationships. You can search the different types of designations here.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask a Lot of Questions

Congratulations! You now have a list of agents you like based on their stats, and you’re ready to get to know the finalists. Binge a few episodes of “The Bachelor” for pointers — just kidding, don’t do that.

What to really do: Schedule interviews with the top three agents, at least. During each conversation, your goal is to understand the agent’s experience, personality, and working style. 

Here are 14 questions that will help the vetting:

One on One or Team?

Some agents who close lots ‘o deals have a team — assistants who specialize in parts of the transaction. It’s like having multiple agents working for you. But it’s up to you to decide if that’s your jam or you prefer your agent be your one and only.

  1. How many years have you been in the business? Having more experience doesn’t guarantee that someone is a great real estate agent, but a lot of the business is learned on the job. 
  2. How many homes have you sold in the last year? Volume isn’t the most important factor when choosing an agent, but you want someone who is active in the industry. Also, the more transactions an agent has under their belt, the more adept the person should be at solving complicated problems that can crop up during a home sale. Remember: Your transaction is unique.
  3. How will you help me determine my needs and priorities? The agent’s first task is to help you identify your list of “musts” and “wants” — the home features that you need, versus the features that you’d like to have but can live without. 
  4. Is your real estate license in good standing? You can also check with your state’s Real Estate Commission to confirm the agent has no disciplinary actions.
  5. How will you stay in touch with me? Your agent’s communication style should align with yours. If you prefer to be contacted via text when new listings crop up, make sure your agent is able to do that. 
  6. What neighborhoods do you specialize in? You want an agent who’s intimately familiar with the neighborhood(s) you’re interested in. Another way of framing this question is to ask, “How many homes have you sold in this neighborhood in the last year?”
  7. What price range do you typically work in? In addition to being a neighborhood expert, your agent should do a large portion of their business with home buyers in your price range. It’s important because challenges and negotiation strategies can vary based on what type of home you’re buying.
  8. How many other clients are you working with? You want someone who can give you quality, one-on-one customer service when you buy your first home. If the agent seems spread thin, it’s probably because they are.
  9. How are you a good agent for first-time buyers? First-time home buyers face specific challenges. Every buyer has a unique transaction. Good agents can explain what you should expect and how they’re going to help you navigate your special circumstances.
  10. How will you find homes that match my criteria? Seasoned real estate agents don’t just use the local Multiple Listing Service (MLS) — a regional database of registered property listings — to help home buyers find homes. They also keep track of listings through colleagues, door-knocking, and canvassing neighborhoods to find the right properties for their buyers. They’ll also work their industry connections. 
  11. Have you ever recommended that a buyer not buy a property? Why? An agent should work in your best interest, which means being honest with you about when to pass on a house that will not meet your needs — even if you’re starry-eyed about it. It’s your choice, obvs, but they should empower you to make a sound decision.
  12. Do you have a list of recommended vendors who can help me get a mortgage, inspect a home, and so on? To buy a home, you’re going to need other important players on your team — specifically a mortgage lender, home inspector, settlement/title company, and attorney. An experienced agent has already developed relationships with reputable pros, and should provide you with several references for each; though it’s ultimately your decision to choose who you want to work with.
  13. Can you provide contact information for your three most recent buyers? Past clients can offer valuable insight into an agent’s skills. Don’t just ask an agent for references, or you’ll get three pre-vetted clients who are guaranteed to sing their praises. Instead, ask for phone numbers and email addresses of the agent’s three most recent buyers. Contact those people directly to learn about their experiences.
  14. What is a REALTOR® and why should I work with one? REALTOR® is a broker or agent who belongs to the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR), the largest trade group in the country. (Full disclosure: NAR publishes HouseLogic.com). A REALTOR® commits to following a strict Code of Ethics intended to protect buyers and sellers. And REALTORS® pledge themselves to protect and promote the interests of their client. Agents and brokers who are not NAR members can’t call themselves REALTORS®. You can use realtor.com®’s Find a REALTOR® tool to connect with one in your area.

Whew, you made it through the interviews. (Are you thirsty? We could use a glass of water.)

By now, there’s likely one agent left standing. Someone you can trust. Someone who listens. Someone who knows more about real estate than you, but who also really cares about finding your house.

Now that you’ve got a partner in buying a home, it won’t be long before you own it.

HouseLogic logo

HOUSELOGIC

HouseLogic helps consumers make smart, confident decisions about all aspects of home ownership. Made possible by REALTORS®, the site helps owners get the most value and enjoyment from their existing home and helps buyers and sellers make the best deal possible. 

© Copyright 2021 NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®

4 Things Proactive Homeowners Do in September

Fall’s cooler temps are perfect for deck and yard improvements.

Do This Now September illustration
Image: Simone Golob/Offset

Ah, September. The weather is changing, and we’re getting back to our normal, post-summer routines.

It’s also a great time to give the house a little extra love and maintenance.

Stain the Deck

Resealing a deck in September
Image: Mark and Luzy Gunter-Smith

Help your deck field what winter throws at it by re-staining it this month. September’s cooler temps and lower humidity make it the ideal time for this project.

Check Fire Extinguishers

Illustration of fire
Image: CSA Images/Mod Art Collection/Getty

According to the Red Cross, fires increase in the fall and winter. Keep your home fire safe by getting your fire extinguishers checked by a certified professional. Fire extinguishers do break down and malfunction. In fact, after six years they need to be emptied and reloaded. If you haven’t already, buy one for each floor — and the garage.

Spruce Up the Yard

Garden path lined with bushes alive with fall colors
Image: Kate McMillan of Cultiverity, LLC

Aerate your lawn, reseed or fertilize it if needed, and plant perennials and shrubs (often on sale now). Your lawn will green up faster after winter, and the shrubs and perennials will have a chance to establish roots before the first freeze.

Inspect Your Home’s Exterior

Black roof on stone brick home with copper gutters
Image: Photo by Merrill Interior Resources, roof by Tile Pro Roofing, Inc.

Spending money on roof repairs is no party, but neither is handing out buckets to the family to catch leaks in a winter storm. Inspect your roof — and other big-ticket items, like siding, grading, and gutters — before you’ve got problems. You’ll cut costs by fixing them now and stay dry and warm all winter long.

Kelly Walters headshot

KELLEY WALTERS

Kelley Waltersis a Southern writer and editor. She focuses on interior design and home improvement at outlets from HGTV to Paintzen. She lives in Italy a month every year, drinking Negronis and writing in internet cafes. 

How to Prevent (Home) Buyer’s Remorse

You can make a successful offer on a home even in a competitive market — with the right information and help.

Image: Marko Geber/Getty

When you’re house hunting, the pressure of competition can move you from “Hmm, I like that, but it’s too pricey,” to “I have to have that!” You think, so what if paying for this house will put me way over budget? I can cut back somewhere else, right? But that kind of thinking can get you into trouble. Trouble that’s totally avoidable.

Whether you’re in the middle of a home bidding war or facing down a list of must-haves, don’t lose sight of your budget and the risks. That way, you can own a house without home buyer’s remorse. And you’ll have money left to enjoy things like new furniture, entertainment, and just plain having fun. 

Who Has Home Buyer’s Remorse and Why?

A competitive real estate market can set buyers up to purchase a home that’s either beyond their budgets —sometimes hugely beyond — or doesn’t meet their needs, according to a 2021 survey by Bankrate and YouGov. The survey found that recent home buyers, including 64% of millennials, had regrets about their home purchase. The top reason? They were unprepared for maintenance and other home ownership-related costs. On top of that, 13% percent of millennials said they think they paid a higher sales price than they should have. 

“Things in homes always break down, so people should put aside a budget for anything that will need fixing,” says Lawrence Yun, chief economist at the National Association of REALTORS®A rule of thumb is to anticipate 1% or 2% of the home price for potential maintenance,” he explains. “So, for a $300,000 home, that means setting aside $3,000.” 

One reason home buyers may be tempted to go over budget is they’ve been influenced by the beautiful homes on TV, according to an NAR report on home staging. “The shows can create unrealistic expectations for the home buying process and how homes should look,” says Brandi Snowden, NAR director of member and consumer survey research. In time, buyers can view features that used to be luxuries as necessities. They believe everyone has them and they should too. One solution: Work with a REALTOR as early as possible in the process. “Make sure your agent knows your budget, so they can help you set expectations and stick to them,” she advises. 

How to Navigate House Hunting in a Competitive Market

In addition to pressure to exceed their budgets, buyers are facing hurdles like these five: 

1. Requests to Waive Contingencies

Tamara Suminski, a real estate agent at Beach Real Estate Group in Manhattan Beach, Calif., is seeing not only bidding wars but also sellers wanting buyers to waive contingencies. “With an appraisal contingency, if the appraisal comes in low, the buyer has choices. They can choose to try to renegotiate with the seller, bring in the difference, or cancel. When they remove that contingency and its protection, and if the home doesn’t appraise at the right level, the seller is not very likely to renegotiate with them. And the buyer has waived their right to cancel. If they cancel anyway, they’re risking their deposit.”

Some buyers are also waiving contingencies related to home inspections. These investigations are an opportunity to have a home inspector view the home based on disclosures and for the buyer to use findings as a bargaining tool, Suminski says.

Eliminating these protections can end up costing money for buyers. And the more offers the buyer writes and loses, the more risk they will tolerate. So, they may waive contingencies and regret it later, says Suminski. Talk to a buyer’s agent who will guide you through this and explain the risks of removing protections and unknown variables, she advises. 

2. Speed Showings and Decisions

Bryan Yap recently bought a home in an expensive and highly competitive market — Orange County, Calif. He found that with the pandemic, each showing lasted only 15 minutes. That was one of the biggest hurdles. “We’d see three, four, or five homes in one day. It’s hard to keep track of what you like and don’t like with each house. What I would do differently is take notes immediately after viewing a home. If you’re able to prepare beforehand, create a list of wants and requirements in priority order. Immediately after seeing each home, rank it based on the list.”

3. Focusing on the Top of Your Price Range

“If you’re looking in a micromarket where listings are achieving multiple offers and homes are going above asking price, don’t set your on the houses at the top of your price range,” Suminski says. If $300,000 is your upper limit, look at houses priced at $250,000 or $275,000. Otherwise, you’re going to be outbid from the gate every time.”

That was the process Yap used when he was looking. “I would look for homes $25,000 under my max budget. I went on Zillow and looked at homes that were sold recently and tried to calculate the average over-listing price those homes were being sold for and factor that into my offer price.”

4. The Need to Compromise

Yap’s must-haves were three bedrooms, two baths, and being closer to the city center of Anaheim. “I was able to get three beds, two baths, but I did have to compromise on location. I also had to compromise on price, which was doable because I could still afford it. To compete with all the potential buyers, I knew that we had to either offer an over-list price or remove some contingencies.”

Suminski advises adjusting your search outward geographically, even if it means a longer commute. Buyers might also have to compromise on property types and features. In addition, they should consider doing some DIY projects instead of wanting everything to be move-in ready. “They may have to be willing to look at townhouses instead of single-family homes or install carpet and paint on weekends.” 

5. Information Overload

In the two years before he started searching for a home, Yap did a lot of reading. “It was a massive plan I had to come up with and stick to so that I’d be able to afford buying a home.”

Because of how hot the Orange County market is, agents scheduled showings as soon as a house was listed or showed “coming soon” status. Yap treated the home search as “almost a second job,” using lunch breaks and evenings to check emails, do online searches, and text his real estate agent about what he wanted to see. “I had to make a lot of sacrifices. People wanted to set plans with me for the weekend, but I said, ‘Sorry, I have to go view homes that day.’” 

He primarily credits his real estate agents, including Sumiski, for keeping him informed. “They made all this possible. I learned a lot from them.”

Some agents, like Suminski, hold an accredited buyer’s representative designation but usually work with sellers as well as buyers. “An [agent with an] ABR has taken extensive buyer’s representation training,” Suminski says. “They’ll provide education to buyers so that they’re learning as much as they can about the market, including the risks involved with different negotiations. If buyers are going to shorten terms or remove protections, they need to be well informed about the pitfalls.”

Learn from Experiences

That access to information and guidance will help buyers making an offer on a home especially in a competitive market. “Today’s buyer has seen and written offers on many properties before they get their offer accepted,” Suminski says. “That’s common across the country. Each is a learning opportunity for buyers about what information they might need to be researching so they can move more quickly.” 

When you act on advice from recent buyers and agents, you can stay well informed and get good results even in a tough market. And that’s the best way to prevent home buyer’s remorse.

LYNN ETTINGER

Lynn Ettingerwrites about buying, selling, and financing homes. She previously created real estate special reports at a regional newspaper and wrote about tax and real estate for large accounting firms. She’s also a landscape enthusiast who transformed her deck in Chicago into a mini rainforest — minus the toucans.

The Right Way to Pick a (Gorgeous!) Color Scheme for Your Home

Because the wrong paint job can seriously wreck your home.

Brightly painted walls in a color expert's home
Image: Maria Killam, designer/Barry Calhoun, photographer

Picking a color for one room can be challenging enough. But picking a palette for your whole house?

That feels daunting. Coordinate your colors too much, you’ll end up matchy matchy. Don’t coordinate your colors enough, you’ll end up tacky tacky.

And that not only messes with your mojo, it can be bad for home value. Because ugly colors turn off buyers, and you may not get the best price if you ever sell.

But you can end up with colors you’ll love that’ll also enhance your home’s value — by following these tips from two designers who recently re-colored two different houses.

First, Find Your Inspiration

Rather than picking a palette from a big box store’s paint brochures or from whatever Pinterest’s algorithm serves you up, look into your own soul. Or, at least, into your closet or out your window.

“Designers always have a starting point,” says interior designer Maria Killam, who also writes the “Colour Me Happy” blog.

Pillows Are Perfect Inspiration

A gorgeous pillow is easy to find — and easy to take with you to the paint store.

It might be a favorite sweater or a photo of your favorite beach spot. Or a pillow, Killam says.

Or it could be a feeling you want your home to have: cheery, bright, dramatic, cozy … whatever feels right to you.

For Killam, it was a feeling of “fresh.” So she used a mix of flowers and foliage to come up with her inspiration:

Images: Maria Killam, designer

For HomePolish designer Melissa Mascara, wallpaper patterns inspired her palette.

Images: Melissa Mascara, designer/Jessica Issac, photographer

Learn (Just a Bit) About Undertones

Paint color undertones have the power to make or break your whole-house color palette — and you’re not alone if your response to that is, “Under-whats, now?”

If you’ve ever had a beige that looks just right in the can, but turns an ugly shade of pink on the wall, it’s a red undertone to blame. And it happens because undertones are almost impossible to see in the can.

How to See Undertones

Compare your color to its true color on a color chart. Or ask a pro in the paint aisle to find it. For an example, white. Place your white against a true white, and you’ll be able to see the other hue (blue, green, yellow, red).

But you need to find them because the undertones in your home’s cabinets and counters can bring out the undertones you can’t see in your palette — like that ugly pink beige mentioned above. White cabinets with a green undertone could be the culprit that changed it to something sickly.

Start With a Neutral And Two Other Colors

When choosing a palette, start with three colors. Three is a balanced number, and it gives just enough visual interest without overwhelming you.

Choose a neutral shade and add two more tones, all of which should come directly from your inspiration piece. As you put your palette together, keep in mind your neutral color should be in every room. That’s what helps pull the whole-house palette together.

Killam chose white (Sherwin-Williams Shoji White) as her neutral:

A white, bright kitchen with green curtains and accents
Image: Maria Killam, designer/Tracey Ayton, photographer

And Mascara chose shades of brown, which are reflected in the wood floors, doors, and trim on the built-in shelves:

A neutral colored living room with blue and pink furniture
Image: Melissa Mascara, designer/Jessica Issac, photographer

“The trend isn’t the one accent wall, like it was in the ’80s, or painting each room a different color like we did in the ’90s,” says Killam. “Now we’re choosing a main neutral to go throughout the house.”

Add More Colors

Of course, you don’t have to limit yourself to three colors.

Mascara ended up picking seven colors:

Paint color palette used by designer Melissa Mascara
Image: HouseLogic

While Killam went with six hues, including a customized color (yep, you can do that — most any paint store will help you):

Paint color palette used by color expert Maria Killam
Image: HouseLogic
A bright living room with pink shades, yellow furniture
Image: Maria Killam, designer

Repeat Colors From Room to Room

Designers create the coordinated look of a whole-house palette through repetition.

“Use any color at least twice,” says Mascara. “For example, the dominant wall color in one space might become an accent color in the next.” Mascara followed this rule by using turquoise paint in the home office and turquoise patterned wallpaper in the dining room.

Images: Melissa Mascara, designer/Jessica Issac, photographer

The 60-30-10 Color Rule

Your main color should appear on 60% of a room’s surfaces, your secondary color should cover 30%, and an accent color is the remaining 10%. Sure, your remaining colors may peek out from a throw pillow, but let them really shine in another room.

Note that having a six- or seven-color palette does not give you license to cram all the colors into every room in equal measure — or that each of seven rooms should be swallowed whole by a single shade. Yikes. Distribute your palette throughout the house in a balanced way.

Test Lighting and Sight Lines

Before committing to a palette, consider two more elements: lighting and sight lines (how the hues look when you see them from other rooms).

Rather than choosing paint by looking only at small swatches, buy sample-sized cans of your colors and paint them on poster boards.

Place your poster-sized paint samples so they’re visible as you walk through the house. Then look down the hallway and from room to room to see how the colors play off each other. And notice how the light affects the colors, too.

A yellow-painted laundry room
Image: Maria Killam, designer/Barry Calhoun, photographer

In her project, Mascara wanted to maximize the home’s light, so she chose paint accordingly. “Many of the spaces in our project didn’t have the best natural light,” she says, “so we brightened the walls in those spaces and kept the dark accent colors to a minimum.”

A close-up of a light gray wall with dark accent furniture
Image: Melissa Mascara, designer/Jessica Issac, photographer

You may need to relocate certain colors, or even choose another color from your inspiration palette, to find the right flow. But once you’ve done so, you’ll be all set to put your whole-house palette into play.

Kelly Walters headshot

KELLEY WALTERS

Kelley Waltersis a Southern writer and editor. She focuses on interior design and home improvement at outlets from HGTV to Paintzen. She lives in Italy a month every year, drinking Negronis and writing in internet cafes. 

© Copyright 2021 NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®