11 Hacks for Annoying Household Headaches

Cruddy bathroom fixtures? Sticky door locks? Fix those maddening nuisances fast.

A slow-draining guest bathtub, a squeaky linen closet door: Fixing routine household issues is très boring when you’ve got sexier projects on your mind, like building a kitchen that would make Ina Garten jealous.

Over time, though, those everyday annoyances will get. on. your. nerves. That’s why we rounded up 11 clever fixes for the tasks that float to the bottom of most homeowners’ to-do lists. You can knock them out in a single weekend and still have plenty of time to get back to looking up remodeling ideas on Pinterest when you’re done.

1. Remove Shower Drain Gunk with a Zip Tie

Retrieve a wig’s worth of hair by connecting three or four zip ties and notching them every half inch with a pair of scissors. Remove the drain catch and feed the chain into the drain. Swivel it around to catch as much clog-causing hair as possible, pull out, remove gunk, and repeat as necessary. Rinse off the makeshift chain and stash it for your next clog. In the meantime, use a drain plug to catch some of the hair.

2. Un-Stick Door Locks

Artfully wiggling your garage key works for getting to your lawnmower, but it won’t do in case of an emergency. Save yourself a trip to the home center for powdered graphite lubricant and DIY your own to oil up tumbler locks.

Twist a mechanical pencil or whittle away a traditional pencil’s wood to expose a few inches of graphite. Slip the exposed graphite into the sticky lock. You can force it if needed, as it will become powder anyway. Slide the key in and out to break up the graphite and turn it in the lock cylinder to lube it for loose unlocking.

3. Refinish Cruddy Bathroom Fixtures with Spray Paint

No matter how much you scrub, those polished metal fixtures that were supposed to look shiny and clean all the time just don’t. Most of the time, they just look gross. That’s why interior designer Lara Fishman of Storm Interiors in Los Angeles warns clients that polished metal can be tough to maintain. They’re magnets for dirt and fingerprints.

But if they work fine, replacing them is a waste of landfill space. So create your own do-over and spray paint them with a coat of matte, metallic paint. It’s easier than you think. Simply remove them from your bathroom sink, spread them out on a protected surface, and give them a sharp new coat of primer and the color of your choice.

4. Stop a Spewing Shower Head with White Vinegar

Your hair looking a little flat after a shower? Not able to rinse out all that deep conditioner? Could be the spray isn’t forceful or targeted enough because of sediment build-up in your showerhead. Fill a medium-sized freezer bag halfway with white vinegar and submerge your shower head in it. Wrap a thick rubber band around the bag to secure it to the shower head and leave it overnight. In the morning, remove the bag and let the shower run at least two minutes before showering (so you won’t smell like vinegar).

5. Silence Noisy Hinges with Olive Oil

Or grease. Seriously. Skip the commercial lubricants, which, according to internet lore, may or may not be the cause of your door’s horror movie sound effects. The point is, your hinges need lubricating. And the oils in your kitchen will do the job just as well, and probably better. Olive oil, veg oil, coconut oil, etc. Just be careful to clean first, and don’t overdo it. Leaving excess oil on a dirty surface can make the oil turn rancid.

6. Smooth Out Beaten-Up Wood Trim with Nail Polish

A nick on a gorgeous, shellac-ed windowsill that’s original to your 1955 bungalow may go unnoticed for now, but it’ll grow worse over time. Grab a bottle of clear nail polish topcoat and fill in the wood craters for an even surface. Let it dry completely and gently even out any resulting bumps with fine sandpaper.

7. Clean Gutters Without a Ladder

Clearing out the gutters gets a (deserved) bad rap for being a total pain. Cindy Stumpo, founder of C. Stumpo Development Inc. and an expert featured on HGTV’s “Tough as Nails,” has hacked the annoying task. She attaches a long PVC pipe to a leaf blower to avoid hauling out the ladder. Genius!

8. Fix a Vinyl or Linoleum Floor Tear with a Hair Dryer

The oddly placed floor mat hasn’t fooled anyone since you accidentally tore up a spot or two on your linoleum floor when you dragged in that (fabulous!) flea-market hutch find. Don’t fret, just pull out your hair dryer. Use the warm air to stretch out the material and reattach it to the subfloor as the glue melts. (Don’t worry. The material is malleable enough to stretch without causing burns to the skin.)

9. Silence Squeaky Floorboards with Talcum Powder

The spot in the hallway you’ve trained yourself to avoid is actually a super simple low-maintenance fix. Sprinkle talcum powder over the trouble boards, then sweep the powder into the cracks between the boards with a makeup brush. Because it’s actually moisture that causes the creaks (who knew?), and the powder will soak it right up.

10. Stretch Out Light Bulb Switches with LEDs

You’d rather endure a dark driveway for weeks than go through the hassle of dragging out a ladder to reach the security light. Sean Dore, owner of Mr. Electric of Baton Rouge, La., says invest in LEDs already. You’ll get bright light and not have to change them for years and years!

11. Stash Paint Samples for Quick Touch-Ups

Those wall scuffs from the backs of your chairs, furniture rearrangements, and trying to cram a dining room table through a doorway without taking it apart first give your walls a sad, dingy look. Forgo the drop cloth and white overalls for big paint jobs by stealing this trick from Monica Mangin, DIY expert and host of the new Lowe’s original series “The Weekender”: Keep small containers of your paint colors and a small brush handy. Covering up knicks and dings will take five minutes flat!

Credit: ELIZABETH LILLY is the site editor for “This Old House,” where she’s written about paint colors, chicken coops, and nearly every home improvement project in between. She uses her New York City apartment as a laboratory for executing her latest DIY ideas.



6 Advantages to Selling Your Home In the Off-season

Selling your home in the off-season may be a better idea than you think: OpenHouse brings you 6 advantages to selling your home in the autumn.

Fall may not seem like the optimum time to sell your home, with a slower market, cooling weather, early sunset and more apparently working against you. But believe it or not, some of these factors may actually work in your favor, if you know how to take advantage of them. Here are 6 advantages to selling your home in the off-season.

1. Less competition

The market may be a little slower in the fall, but a smaller pool of homes for sale can actually mean a seller’s market: if you find a motivated buyer, there are fewer homes to choose from, and your property will be in higher demand. You may be in a better bargaining position than you think. It will be easier to schedule a showing, and appraisers and inspectors will be more flexible as well.

2. Realtors have more time for you

In the slower off-season, realtors may have more time to devote to you and your sale, giving you a better, more personalized experience. With more attention from your realtor, you have more chance of selling your home quickly, and more chance of getting asking price or better. A realtor with more time for legwork and paperwork means a better all-around experience for you, the seller.

3. Motivation

A buyer in the off-season probably has a strong reason for buying now, and is highly motivated. If they need to move quickly, you have the advantage when it comes to making a deal. A smaller, more motivated pool of buyers means fewer “tire-kickers” and more great prospects for a sale.

4. Staging

Colonial style New England Home - House Exterior

A little outdoor staging goes a long way in the autumn. If you have deciduous trees around your house, the colorful leaves can make a fantastic impression. Any outdoor improvements (paint touch-ups, decorations, lighting) will stand out immediately against the lawn and garden as they fade with the season. Fewer distractions means more chances for your home to make a great first impression.

5. Shorter days

Selling in the off-season: Suburban house with garden at dusk

Use lighting to your advantage. As the days get shorter, more of your showings will take place in the dark of the evening. Beautiful lighting can make for a comfortable, homey feel indoors, and judicious outdoor lighting can do amazing things for your curb appeal.

6. Cooler weather

Cooler weather can actually enhance the buyer’s experience when you’re showing your house. While the summer months are busier, the fall weather may be more comfortable for potential buyers – and a more comfortable buyer is a more agreeable buyer.

Bonus tip: Photos

Luxury house in autumn

Selling in the fall? Make sure to take up-to-date pics of your home. Use this to your advantage and bring some colorful fall foliage into the picture, or light your home beautifully to contrast with the subdued autumn hues.


Beware of the Flip

Sparkling new quartz countertops, polished hardwood floors, stainless steel kitchen appliances. Aren’t your buyers lucky? But when sellers are flippers, a good buyer’s rep should help clients engage in some old-fashioned sleuthing.

looking at house with magnifying glass

Before the Great Recession of 2008, housing prices climbed dramatically, and homes sold faster than buyers could gush, “I love that spa bathroom.” Contractors and even handy DIYers got in on the uptick by buying fixer-uppers and improving them in the quickest ways possible, selling them, and reaping the profits. Enter the real estate phenomenon of flipping.

The trend waned a bit as the housing market hit the skids, but then returned with some significant differences. Today’s flippers are more often professional investors with access to cash as banks tightened mortgage loan guidelines and available work crews, says Seth Captain, managing broker of Captain Realty in Chicago.

But now, Captain notes changes: “Low inventory and many buyers’ eagerness for new construction and remodeled homes has caused some buyers not to do enough checking,” at least in Chicago, he says. And some buyers don’t insist on an inspection if sellers won’t permit it as a contingency, adds Frank Lesh, owner of Home Sweet Home Inspection Company in Indian Head Park, Ill., and executive director of the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI), a national organization based in Des Plaines, Ill.

Your job is to guide buyers through this rough terrain. The first thing to do with a remodel is to look at the public record and see when the property your buyers are interested in last changed hands. If it’s less than a year ago, the property may require a more thorough examination. While not every flip represents a potential landmine, you can help clients by asking for information about who completed the work, says broker Mark Ferguson with Pro Realty Inc. in North Greeley, Colo. Ferguson, also a real estate investor and blogger at InvestFourMore, says most problems arise with work done by DIY owner-flippers, who lack the skills of licensed contractors.

Here are more ways you can be an advocate for buyers who plan to purchase a house that’s being flipped. Many of the caveats reflect the same type of thoroughness that should be undertaken with any sale.

1. See it yourself

Don’t buy at auction or without seeing a house in person, says Eric Workman, senior vice president of marketing at Chicago-based Renovo Financial, a private lender. Buyers should inspect the structure so they see firsthand if visible problems exist that may be red flags for deeper trouble. This is the first step before they call in experts.

2. Learn the history of a home

Workman suggests asking officials in your community and real estate salespeople if they know how long a home may have been vacant. The number of seasons a property goes through while being empty of occupants can help predict whether its plumbing and other mechanical systems may have been neglected or damaged.

One of the most important reasons to trace a home’s lineage is that if no one has lived in the remodeled house yet, it’s hard to know how well the systems work, Captain says. “There may never have been a heavy rain to know if the home’s drainage system will stand up, or if termites are chewing away at support joists and not visible,” he says. He suggests buyers ask for names of others who’ve bought from the same flipper to learn how well their houses have fared over time.

A buyer can also request to see the permits that the flipper pulled to perform work, especially important in cases where the floor plan was changed or a load-bearing wall was removed, Ferguson says. Or, if mold was a problem, a buyer can ask if the work was done by someone licensed to handle mold remediation, he says. They can also check the area’s Better Business Bureau to see if complaints or lawsuits have been brought against the seller by a prior buyer or real estate commission.

3. Understand the flipping process

Is Your Buyer a Flipper? 

Mark Ferguson, a real estate broker at Pro Realty Inc. in Greeley, Colo., cautions wannabe flippers about the difficulty of making a sizable profit. “You may see flippers on TV shows appear to make a lot of money, but it is extremely rare to make $100,000 or even $50,000 unless you are dealing in high-value, high-risk properties.” Most shows leave out the costs associated with a flip such as financing, real estate sales commissions, closing costs, homeowners’ insurance, property maintenance, taxes, and possibly homeowners’ association dues. These additional costs can be 15 to 20 percent of the sales price. “A $100,000 profit on TV may only be a $50,000 profit in real life,” he says. Ferguson, an experienced flipper, has found his average profit ranges between $20,000 and $40,000 on a purchase that cost him between $75,000 and $150,000. In addition, many buyers don’t understand the time frame, he says. “It can often take me six months or more to sell a flip once I buy it,” he says. But it may be worth it if you’re motivated by more than money, he adds: “It can be fun, done on a part-time basis if you do the repairs yourself, and you can make money with realistic ideas of costs and profit margins.”

Because a flipper’s goal is to make a profit in a relatively short period, many changes are cosmetic, such as refinishing hardwood floors and painting kitchen cabinets. Captain notes flippers often replace countertops, appliances, and fixtures in what tend to be buyers’ favorite rooms: the kitchen and bathrooms. They may forgo fixing the more expensive, time-consuming, and less visible problems. For example, a rotted subfloor may be deemed not worth fixing if it’s underneath gleaming boards, and dated plumbing may be left as long as faucets work and water pressure seems okay, Captain says: “They don’t want to kill the deal, but won’t go above and beyond. They also know that most buyers reach a point where they want to be done looking and are happy to focus just on what’s new and pretty.”

4. Hire a certified home inspector

Even if the flipper says the home was preinspected, advise buyers to bring in their own expert to avoid surprises later. But even home inspectors can miss signs of problems beyond the surface, Lesh says. “Perhaps water wasn’t run long enough during the inspection to find out that pipes hidden behind newly tiled walls are corroded,” he says. A good inspector will follow up on possible trouble spots — say, a wall that sounds hollow and may be lacking solid backer board and studs — with requests for more information. “We might ask, ‘What’s going on here?’ We won’t rip off the wall, but will request receipts to show work was done properly.”

Inspection fees typically vary by a home’s price, size, and age. Lesh charges between $650 and $700 for a 15-year-old $500,000 house. Cultivate a list of inspectors you trust, and give it to buyers so they can choose the one they want to work with.

5. Bring in additional specialists

Certain systems warrant calling in a skilled expert. Glen Gallas, vice president of operations for the Mr. Rooter franchise based in Waco, Tex., advises having a plumbing inspection even if all seems perfect. “With today’s technology, a licensed plumber can do a video camera inspection of the main sewer line to see if there are mechanical defects in the pipe, which most home inspectors don’t see,” he says. “There might be a small leak in the line from roots growing, but it could take several seasons for them to be large enough to cause problems, and that could be long after the purchase. By then, [repairs would] also be more expensive,” he says. An average plumbing inspection ranges from $150 to $400.

In the case of electrical work, a new junction box may suggest all’s well, but that doesn’t mean wiring was brought up to code, says Keith Pinkerton, owner of a Mr. Electric franchise in Huntsville, Ala. “Houses built in the late 1960s and early ’70s often were wired with aluminum, which was outlawed, and copper was required. But some might not know because they’re behind walls. We pull off the panel cover and look,” he says.

Some buyers may be content waiting to hire an expert only if the general home inspector picks up on problems such as foundation cracks that could reflect structural defects. At that point, a structural engineer can determine the seriousness of the problem. And many home owners find that it helps to bring in a structural engineer in cases where a house is very old since more problems may lurk beneath floors, below floors, between walls, and above ceilings.

6. Avoid legal glitches

Before buyers sign on the dotted line, be sure a lawyer has checked that there are no legal problems with the transfer of ownership, advises Alan Doran, executive vice president and general counsel with OneTitle National Guaranty in New York. All kinds of issues may arise when buying a property that has been flipped, he warns: “For example, if sellers acquired a property through a short sale, they need to obtain detailed information on the short sale to ensure that both transactions comply with state regulations and the original lender’s short-sale requirements,” Doran says. There may also be a requirement that the flipper owned the property for a minimum amount of time before selling, and proofs of payment of liens must be verified, he says.

With all this information in hand, your buyers can decide whether a flip is still worth buying, particularly if the seller won’t deduct estimated repair costs or fix problems. But, as Captain notes, if a flip passes muster, it may be just as desirable as any other purchase: “What difference does it make if a flipper made money in a short time if the buyer finds a wonderful home?”


5 Money-Saving Tips for Spring House Projects


Spring is a common time of year to begin work on a home. The following five project ideas from are designed to not only help a home look its best, but to also save your clients money:

1. Siding repair

A home’s siding is important both for its optimum function and for curb appeal. But repairing the siding in a timely way can help home owners save money too. The longer a home owner waits to repair their siding, the more likely it is that water can infiltrate, rotting the wood beneath and causing problems like black mold. At the same time, the home could be losing value if the curb appeal is going down.

For the latest information on the value of remodeling, check out our Remodeling Impact Report.

Costs: The average cost to repair siding of nearly any type is about $300, with a full range of up to $1,000 for more invasive types of repairs.

Money-saving tips:

  • Do your best to color match the new siding to the old. If you’re able to do this, it can save you a lot of money on painting the section to match.
  • Remember that it’s always possible to paint any material from aluminum to fiber cement to help it match better and enable you to replace a smaller section.

2. Gutter Cleaning

The gutters do a lot to help protect your home. They help carry away moisture that could back up beneath your roofing shingles, damaging the wood below and causing leaks. Things like pine needles and leaves can clog up your gutters, causing them to overflow, which can lead to more costly repairs. By keeping the gutters clean, home owners can help save money on things like roof and foundation repair later on.

Costs: The average cost of cleaning gutters is between $100 and $140 for a two-story home with a normal amount of debris. Total costs range from $60 for a one-story home with short gutters to $500 for a multi-story home with clogged gutters and downspouts.

Money-saving tips:

  • Install a gutter guard over your gutters to help prevent them from clogging. This will save you money year round as it eliminates the need for cleaning and helps prevent the damage that clogged gutters can cause.

3. Attic insulation

Most homes are under-insulated, particularly those that were built prior to the 1960s. And even those that did have adequate insulation installed may not have the right amount any longer. Insulation can degrade over time, or be moved by contractors or pests. Having the right amount of insulation in a home can save home owners a lot of money on energy bills each year. At the same time, a well-insulated attic can help protect a home from problems like ice dams in the winter, which are one of the biggest causes of the need for roof repair. Adding additional insulation to an attic will also help keep a home more comfortable as well.

Costs: The average cost for installing attic insulation is around $897 for blown-in insulation of R-19 in 1,500 square feet. Total costs range from $617 for roll in insulation of R-13 installed DIY to $1,501 for fiberglass roll insulation of R-19.

Money-saving tips:

  • Have insulation applied to the underside of your roof decking as well. This area is commonly under-insulated, but can save owners a lot of money on energy costs by preventing your attic from becoming super heated in the summer and letting your warm air escape in the winter.
  • Check for local subsidies or grants for energy improvements that may help offset costs

4. Pest control

Pests may seem like just a nuisance, but they can cost home owners lot in time, money, and health if they don’t take care of them in a timely way. Pests can spread diseases, contaminate food, and eat the structure and integrity of a home. By taking care of pest problems as soon as they’re detected, home owners can help prevent more serious problems and repairs in the future.

Costs: The average costs of hiring an exterminator to deal with pests is between $250 and $300. Total costs range from $50 to $1200 depending on your location, the type of pest, and how extensive the infestation.

Money-saving tips:

  • The sooner you deal with a pest problem, the less costly it will be to contain. Consider using things like traps or diatomaceous earth to deal with minor issues yourself, before they become larger.

5. Stain the deck

The deck is an important part of a home’s curb appeal and enjoyment of the space. After a long winter, the deck may have sustained damage such as peel stain, which could lead to further problems down the road. By staining the deck in the spring, home owners not only are helping to maintain its good looks, but also preventing future problems like rotting wood, which could cost a lot more to repair.

Cost: The average cost of staining a deck is around $2 a square foot, assuming a deck of around 500 square feet. In most cases the cost will not be any higher than $400 for the total job.

Money-saving tips:

  • Power wash the deck yourself the day before it’s stained to help save on labor fees.
  • If you’re comfortable doing the work yourself, staining the deck DIY could help save you between 4 to 5 hours of labor costs.

5 Home Fixes Not Worth It at Resale

Are you thinking about remodeling? Check out which remodels and additions offer the greatest bang for the buck when you are ready to sell.

Bathroom remodels and additions may offer some of the fewest paybacks at resale, at least when compared to 20 other popular projects.

The best remodeling projects? Download the 2015 Remodeling Impact Report

The National Association of REALTORS® and the National Association of the Remodeling Industry released a report showing some of the home renovation projects that offer the biggest and smallest returns when selling a home.

The report found that installing a new roof and refinishing hardwood floors was worth every penny of the cost at resale. But which of the 20 projects evaluated offered the smallest percentage back when home owners went to sell their home?

Bathroom addition

  • Average cost: $50,000
  • Recouped at resale: 52%

Master suite addition

  • Average cost: $112,500
  • Recouped at resale: 53%

Closet renovation

  • Average cost: $3,500
  • Recouped at resale: 57%

Bathroom renovation

  • Average cost: $26,000
  • Recouped at resale: 58%

New wood-frame windows

  • Average cost: $26,000
  • Recouped at resale: 58%

Source: “6 Worst Home Fixes for the Money,” (March 2016)

“Visit for more articles like this. Reprinted from with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®."

Follow us: @HouseLogic on Twitter | HouseLogic on Facebook