Entries in Houses (17)


Get Ready for the Spring Market

Kicking off with the last weeks of March, spring is the start of the homebuying season. With families often taking vacations in the late summer and fall occupied by the start of school, the months of April through July account for more than 40% of all housing transactions annually[1]. And in today’s competitive market, you want to do everything you can to put yourself in the best position to find (and secure) your dream home. But don’t worry—here’s everything you need to know to prepare and hit the ground running:

Get your finances in order

Buying a home is one of the most important purchases you’ll ever make, so you’ll want to make sure you’ve done your homework. Spend some of those cold winter days when you’re chased in-doors to gather the documents you’ll need to apply for a loan. Even if it’s just organizing digital documents on your computer, make sure you have bank statements, W-2s, tax returns and documents of your renting history. You’ll also want to order a credit report from one of the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) to make sure it syncs up with your records and that there’s no unexpected surprises. It's also important to remember that lenders will be reviewing your debt to income ratio when you apply for financing.

Narrow down your options

Before you start searching in earnest, do research and have conversations to identify what you’re looking for in your future home. What neighborhood or neighborhoods do you want to live in? If you know, take a drive to get a sense of the area, how to get around and the relative distance from different areas to shopping and entertainment centers. You’ll also want to get a sense of how different areas will affect your commute to work, and what public transportation options might be available. With home buying, it can also be important to identify what you don’twant. For example, what are ‘deal-breakers’ in any potential home? What are your ‘must have’s’ and what are you willing to look past for your perfect home.

Do your homework

Along with narrowing down your neighborhood and your ‘dream home wish list,’ you’ll also want to winnow down your price range before you start shopping. You can start at home by using an online mortgage calculator to determine your price range and what kind of loan is right for you. To get the best information, you’ll want to talk to a loan expert to get a broad understanding of all your financing options. He or she can help explain all your options, as well as help explore homebuyer assistance programs that might be offered at the state or local level. You’ll want to interview several real estate agents to find someone that feels like a good fit. They should be knowledgeable about the local markets where you want to buy and serve as a valuable guide in fast-moving markets.

Get pre-approved

Inventory in the market is tight. Once the spring season heats up, so will the competition for the best properties. When you do find that perfect home, having a pre-approval letter from a reputable lender shows buyers that you mean business and can help an offer stand out. With Guaranteed Rate’s industry-leading tech and automated underwriting, homebuyers can complete the Digital Mortgage and receive a pre-approval letter to help make a compelling offer on their dream home.

By Jared Fernley

[1] https://www.forbes.com/sites/morganbrennan/2013/04/11/what-you-need-to-know-about-the-2013-spring-home-buying-season/#10c3414f7330


Living in a Pajama Room

Designers, builders, and homeowners are looking to new secondary living spaces near bedrooms to provide a cozy secret getaway from the rest of the house. Sometimes called a “pajama lounge,” it’s a room where a family can comfortably gather without worrying about entertaining nonfamily members.

By its name alone, the living room sounds like a comfortable repose for all. But with open floor plans and busy lives defining factors for many Americans, this shared public space often epitomizes the struggle between enjoying real life and keeping a home prim and ready for visitors. A family room or even a kitchen with seating can be too large, open, busy, and associated with entertaining guests. That’s why many seek an alternative space in which to unwind together.

pajama room

© Courtesy of The Agency 

A large home in the Brentwood Park area of Los Angeles offers the ultimate in comfortable luxury: two pajama rooms, one in the basement and this one upstairs near all the main bedrooms. 


Chicago designer Rebecca Pogonitz, founder of GOGO Design Group, credits the Scandinavian appreciation for a simpler, more soul-nourishing lifestyle—often known by the Danish term ”hygge” (pronounced hue-guh)—for this move toward coziness and comfort. “My clients crave time for self-care and family,” Pogonitz says. “Many had this growing up but now find their family members aren’t together at home even for dinner. They want to recreate that human connection.”

Now, this desire is finding its way into home design by way of spaces that are sometimes called “pajama lounges,” a cutesy name that suggests a room in which to gather before bedroom, literally in PJs or sweats. This space is usually closer to bedrooms, often upstairs, as an intermediate area for intimate evening hours after dinner and before heading off to sleep. “It’s a place that has a totally different identity from a downstairs living or family room,” says Stephan Burke, a real estate salesperson with Cassis Burke Collection at Brown Harris Stevens in Miami.

Many existing layouts can accommodate this trend, as multipurpose, flex, or bonus rooms can easily be staged to this aesthetic. Madison, Conn.–based architect Duo Dickinson, author of A Home Called New England (Rowman & Littlefield), says it’s important for homes to keep evolving to better reflect how people today want to live. “Homes are just like our clothes. They need to move, grow, and shrink as we do,” he says.

Be aware that buyers may be looking for such spaces, even if they don’t yet know it as a trend or haven’t heard the “pajama lounge” term. While few listings will explicitly include this room as a feature, you can take cues from the examples below and apply them to extra bedrooms, oversized hallways, finished basements, or attic spaces. 

How New Construction Tackles the Trend 

pajama room

© Toll Brothers 


Like most home trends, the new-home construction industry can most easily incorporate this change, sometimes by paring the size of bedrooms. Industry groups such as the National Sleep Foundation and the Better Sleep Council suggest scaling back bedroom furniture and accessories to create a more dedicated space for sleep. Dickenson agrees, and says he’s seeing consumers shift away from bedroom designs that accommodate other functions such as homework, reading, and hanging out. “Our clients are increasingly asking that their bedrooms are sized to the beds, plus adequate space around them. The once typical 20-foot-by-20-foot floor plan is decreasing to 14 feet by 16 feet. Closets, however, never shrink,” he says.

Builder Ralph Ramirez, founder of ICH Builders in Coral Gables, Fla., has been including pajama lounges for several years and says they can be pretty small—as little as 10 feet by 10 feet. He often makes them larger, though, so they can serve other functions such as working out, paying bills, and doing homework.

Toll Brothers Inc., a national builder based in Horsham, Penn., has incorporated this type of space for years in its larger homes (6,000 square feet and up), though CJ Ametrano, vice president of national interior merchandising, says the company prefers to call them flex rooms. She adds that the company recently began to incorporate them in its smaller 2,500- to 3,000-square-foot houses by scaling back the size of other rooms.  

Another builder that focuses on large luxury homes takes the concept a step further by giving the pajama lounge some of the best views in the house. Architect Paul Fischman of Miami-based Choeff Levy Fischman puts the spaces near bedrooms on the second level so they overlook water views, as most of their houses face the ocean or intracoastal waterways.

And even when a site seems impossibly tight, Lexington Homes has found a way to squeeze in these spaces. The Chicago builder is adding pajama lounges to the three-story townhomes it’s constructing in the city’s Avondale neighborhood, on the third floor near the master bedroom suite. “The idea,” says co-principal Jeff Benach, “is that children whose rooms and bedroom are on the second floor will come up to the parents’ level so all can hang out together.” For those parents who don’t want to climb an extra flight of stairs, the master suite and flex room might be switched with the second-floor children’s bedrooms. The floor on which the flex space is placed is less important than ensuring that there’s a bathroom close by, Benach says.

Staging Existing Spaces

The key to furnishing a pajama lounge is a mix of comfortable seating upholstered in natural materials, a soft rug underfoot, some tables for games, a bookshelf or two, and good lighting—all in a soothing spa-like palette. Boston designer Frank Roop of Frank Roop Design Interiors put together this look in a second-floor room in a former fisherman’s cottage, which also takes advantage of water views. He custom designed an unusually large sofa that’s more like a big bed at 4 feet deep and 10 feet long. “Users can lie down and stretch out rather than sit upright,” he says. Other creature comforts: an ottoman with a flip top to store blankets and also a TV cabinet.

Because the pajama lounge is often used by children, more whimsical touches might be considered, as Chicago-based architectural firm Morgante Wilson Architects did in recent construction of a suburban house. Taking advantage of the 20-foot-high ceilings on the second level, the design team built a loft into one end of an extra bedroom, reached by a ladder, where the three children in the home can play. “It’s a place where the family can crash together,” says K. Tyler, the principal in charge of interior design at the firm.

Having the option of food close at hand rather than having to traipse downstairs is another worthwhile addition, says Santiago Arana, a real estate salesperson with The Agency in Los Angeles and owner of Cutting Edge Development Inc. A few features he recommends in this space are a minifridge, microwave, sink, and espresso or coffee machine.

The Screen-Time Question

Some families gather specifically to watch movies or favorite TV shows. But others may want to make these lounges tech-free to avoid disrupting family conversation, games, and relaxation. “It’s a place where [family] members might meditate and take a break from everyday life, talk, or read a book,” says broker-associate Carol Cassis, a colleague of Burke’s in Miami.

Cindy Graham, a licensed psychologist and founder of Brighter Hope Wellness Center in Clarksville, Md., considers it a matter of personal family preference and balance. “Many millennials who grew up with technology are now raising children and helping to push the pendulum back the other way. They are advocating to spend time together without as much technology as they may have had, and the results can be positive,” she says. “The family is the first place to learn to interact with others, and, in my work, we are seeing better language development [with less technology use] since there’s increased opportunity for conversations and social interaction.”

Graham and her husband, a Linux systems and software engineer, waited to introduce a Friday movie night routine until their younger child was two years old, since the American Academy of Pediatrics discourages screen media other than video-chatting before 18 months. She encourages adding blankets and other tactile objects to the room and allowing eating there. “Food becomes another opportunity to bond, learn manners, and talk about preferences,” she says.

However a pajama lounge is furnished and wherever it’s located, the goal should be to reflect the needs of the family who will be using it, according to Sherry Petersik, co-author of Lovable Livable Home. “You need things that will drive your family into the room,” says Petersik, who also manages the blog Young House Love with her husband, John. “If your family no longer includes young children, don’t make it a playroom.”

The couple furnished a room down the hall from all the family bedrooms in their two-story, colonial-style home in Richmond, Va., as a pajama lounge. However, they call it their “lazy room.” Says Petersik: “It works for us with tons of cabinetry for storage, window seat, and three chair lounges pushed together. A lot of people like to use updated bean-bag chairs.” Instead of spending evenings there, however, the family gathers in the morning before heading downstairs. Petersik says the timing doesn’t change their casual dress code. “We’re still in our PJs,” she says.

by Barbara Ballinger


March is here and the winds are howling. Make time to check these 4 items around your house.

March To-Do List for Your Clients

Homeowners who’ve been through multiple winters know that this time of year isn’t a time to be slacking in home maintenance. There’s more to March madness than just basketball—in housing, it’s the time to make sure owners are staying proactive in tending to their homes through these next few springtime months. 

HouseLogic shares four tasks all owners have to do in March:

  1. Patch up spots on the lawn. As spring showers start to arrive, be sure to cover any bare areas on your yard. This is a crucial task to take care of as snow and ice continue to melt away, and doing so will keep mud and water out of your house.
  2. Use binoculars to inspect the roof and siding. It’s important to look for signs of damage on your home’s roof and siding. To save time and as a safer alternative to a ladder, use a pair of binoculars to spot these signs: loose or curling shingles, damaged gutters, peeling paint, or cracks in the foundation. Stop these signs from turning into money-sucking problems and start setting up repairs before anything gets worse.
  3. Install window screens. Window screens last longer when removed and stored for the winter. Whether or not you removed your screens last fall, March is the time to fix any loose screens, frames, or holes. This way, windows can be opened up to let in a clean breeze and keep bugs out. 
  4. Replace smoke detector batteries. Smoke detectors should have batteries changed once a year, so why not now? Another tip: The “test” button on detectors is meant to see if the alarm sound works, not whether it actually detects smoke. To test its functionality, light a match and blow it out near the device to see if it goes off. 

Source: “4 Tasks That Veteran Homeowners Know You Gotta Do in March,” HouseLogic (March 1, 2018)


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.