How to Stop Wasting Energy on Stuff You Already Turned Off

Whether you want to save the environment, or you just want to save money on your electrical bill, you probably turn off certain appliances and electrical products before you leave for work or go to bed. But you might not actually be saving as much as you think. 

In fact, 10% of residential electricity in the US is used by various products that have been turned off, according to the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab (LBNL). Their study showed that certain electronics like your TV, microwave, and air conditioner don’t actually stop using energy when you turn them off. Instead, many products and appliances go into what is known as “standby mode,” which means they cannot be completely switched off unless they are unplugged. 

Here are the biggest “energy vampires” in your home, and how much energy they use when they are turned off, according to the LBNL’s research. 

Television

One reason your TV is always using a small amount of energy is to be able to receive a signal from a remote control. When a television with rear projection is turned on it uses around 186 Watts, but when it is off it uses an average of 7W to as much as 49W. 

Unplugged TV

That means a person who leaves their TV off (but plugged in) for 1 year, uses as much as 425kWh, which would have the same greenhouse gas emissions as driving a car for 735 miles, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Cable Box

If you’ve ever turned off your cable box before a long trip to save power, you might have been wasting your energy. The average set-top cable box uses around 18W when it’s off, while a cable box with DVR uses an average of 44W when it’s turned off. 

If you have more than one TV that uses DVR, you can save energy by requesting a multi-room box that allows you to use the same DVR throughout the house. 

Computer

Turning a computer off saves a lot of energy. When they are on, the average desktop computer consumes 74W, while turning it off only uses 3W. But if you don’t like to shut your computer down too often, putting it in sleep only uses 21W. 

Computer monitors can also use a lot of energy when they are on (65W for CRT, 28W for LCD), but their consumption also goes way down they are in sleep mode (12W for CRT, 1W LCD) and it’s near-zero when they are off. That means you can save a lot simply by setting your computer to go to sleep after being inactive for a certain length of time. 

Note: Sleep mode is not the same as a screensaver, which does not save any more energy than having the computer on. 

Photo of a Young Teen sleeping in front of a laptop computer on a bed.

Game Consoles

The average game console uses 27W when someone is playing a game, and 23W when it’s off but ready. That might be why a Carnegie Mellon University study found that approximately 1 % of US residential electricity consumption comes from game consoles. 

According to the study, the most energy-efficient game system at the time was the Nintendo Wii, but the reason for that was because: “they are used one-third as much as the other consoles and have very low power consumption in active mode.”

Find Your Biggest Energy Hogs

There are many other devices, appliances, and products that the average person has plugged in and forgot about. You can find out which devices are energy hogs when they’re turned off with an electricity usage monitor. All you have to do is plug the monitor into the wall and then plug your device into the monitor. It will tell you how much power is being used by the device when it’s on or off, and some of them even tell you how much it costs to keep the device plugged in. 

Measuring energy cost.

Solutions

One way you can make things easier is by plugging several energy vampires into a power strip, which will allow you to turn several products off at once. However, you have to remember to turn the power strip off every time. Plus, when you turn this power strip on, all the devices will enter standby mode. To make things as easy as possible, you can get a smart power strip that will cut the power to an outlet when the device goes into standby mode. 

3 Tips on How to Hunt Down Real Estate Bargains

For Millenials, Gen z-ers, and beyond, the prospect of purchasing their first property is far scarier and seemingly unattainable than in previous generations. In the past, real estate was still a major purchase, but a typical household in which the father had a full-time job and the mother stayed at home had sufficient income to buy a home and raise a family.

In today’s reality, even with a dual income, couples are scraping by if able to buy a home at all. As a result, many of today’s young families are relegated to renting or squeezing into a condominium. The prospect of finding a real estate deal within their budget isn’t seriously entertained.

Unlike other industries, most people think there’s no such thing as a serious deal in real estate. But for those with good credit and solid employment that are just shy of affording a home, there is still hope!

Be diligent, follow these tips and if you’re patient, you will be able to finally make your dreams of homeownership come true.

1. For Sale By Owner

When homes are for sale by owner, you can get really lucky and find a listing that’s below market value because the seller accounts for savings on agents fees. Additionally, they are generally much more willing to negotiate, enabling you to explore terms with them to meet your budget. The trick is finding these real estate listings. The best way to be the first one with your foot in the door is by going to the big real estate websites, like Trulia and Zillow, and setting alerts for whenever a ‘for sale by owner’ property comes on the market in a desirable area.

Modern Suburban Home for Sale Real Estate Sign in front of modern home.

2. Rehab Loan

A lot of young buyers could swing purchasing a home, but often what they can afford is undesirable. Understandably, they’d often prefer biding their time in a non-committal rental unit than buying an old run-down home they can’t afford to front the cash to renovate. Luckily there’s a type of loan you can apply for that allows you to incorporate renovation costs. This gives you the opportunity to hunt down great real estate bargains without having to worry about the quality of your home in the short term.

Material for repairs in an apartment is under construction, remodeling, rebuilding, and renovation. Making walls from gypsum plasterboard or drywall.

3. Foreclosures

Banks focus on money management, not property management. For this reason, in the unfortunate scenarios when people’s homes get foreclosed on, banks are willing to give significant discounts just to unload the property. However, with foreclosures, they’re a mixed bag, there are a lot of run-down properties with issues the previous owners probably couldn’t afford to fix. Work with an experienced agent and make sure you have a thorough inspection conducted so you know exactly where you stand. As mentioned in number 2, rehab loans are a great way to make a foreclosed property a viable option.

Leaning foreclosure sign in front of a modern single-family home on a cloudy cold day

How to Price Your Home to Sell

When a house has been sitting on the market for too long, the price begins to drop. Buyers will think there’s a reason that no one is buying it, and they won’t add it to their list of houses they want to see. In fact, web traffic to a listing slows down by 65% after the first three days, according to a study from Redfin. 

That’s why it’s so important to make a good first impression with your listing price. If a house is overpriced, buyers won’t give it a second thought. But you don’t want to set the price too low and lose money either. Here are a few tips to help you find the right price for your home. 

Don’t Drop The Price

A home that comes on the market at $249,000 looks a lot different than one that was on the market for $350,000 for a while before being reduced to $250,000. Buyers will question why the seller dropped the price so much. Were they trying to trick buyers into paying more than the property is really worth? Does the seller know what the actual price should be? Will the seller drop the price even lower if buyers wait? 

Lowering your price might attract some buyers, but not nearly as many as if you had just set that price, to begin with. In fact, houses that have price drops only get about half as many views online as new listings, according to Redfin.

“Even if it’s objectively a good home, if it’s been on the market for a while, many buyers will wonder if there’s something wrong with it. Once that stigma is there, it is going to be hard for a seller to get full asking price,” a Redfin agent said in the study. “If there’s already a price cut, savvy buyers start smelling blood in the water. It’s not a good situation for sellers to be in.”

Think of it this way: if you are willing to reduce the price after it’s been sitting on the market for a certain number of days, just make that reduced price the initial price. Buyers have a lot of tools available to them these days, and they can see when you are overinflating the price of a house. 

Start A Bidding War

On the other hand, if a home comes on the market at a low enough price, it can attract more buyers. Those buyers might grow attached to the property and start a bidding war. In the best-case scenario, buyers can actually increase the price of a home beyond what you ever thought you could get out of it. 

However, setting the price below what you are comfortable selling it at could come back to bite you if you end up losing money on the sale. So make sure you feel comfortable with the price you set. 

Leave Some Wiggle Room

Most buyers will want to negotiate the price even if they are already comfortable with where it is now. If you set the price $5,000 – $10,000 higher than you want to go, you can allow the buyer to “win one,” which goes a long way. 

Think of it this way: would you rather buy a house that was priced at $250,000 and you were able to haggle the price down to $240,000, or a house that was originally priced at $240,000? Even though both houses turned out to be the same price, most people would feel like they saved money by haggling, even if it’s only a small percentage of the final sale price. 

Price For Search Ranges

Many buyers shop for houses online or through apps that allow them to set a price range. So they won’t be able to see houses that are just out of their range, even if it’s only by one dollar. That’s why it’s important to set your price within common ranges. Most of the time these ranges are between big round numbers, like $100,000 – $200,000, or $250,000 – $299,999. You’ll only be shooting yourself in the foot by setting your price at $301,000 instead of $299,000. 

Setting your price below one of these big round numbers puts you in a buyer’s price range, plus it makes the price seem a lot lower than it actually is. There’s a reason songs on iTunes are only 99 cents, it’s easy to justify spending less than a dollar on a song (even if it’s only a penny less than a dollar). 

Talk To A Real Estate Agent

Happy financial advisor discussing with a couple their finances.

The best way to find the true market value of your house is by simply asking a real estate agent. They know the market conditions and how much buyers will be willing to spend on your house. Even if you’re not fully sure you want to sell yet, you can call up your local realtor and ask them how much your house would be worth if you did decide to put it on the market. You might be surprised how much they say your home is worth. 

How Much Homeowners Insurance Coverage Do You Need?

Imagine saving for a home downpayment for years, then working to pay off a mortgage, only to have the home burned down in a fire. How would you be able to get your life back to normal? 

The most common type of homeowner’s insurance (HO-3) protects you in case your home or belongings are damaged, stolen, or destroyed by fire, hurricane, hail, lightning, and all other disasters that are not specifically excluded in the policy.

Most mortgage companies require borrowers to have insurance coverage for the value of their house when they buy a home. While an insurer may recommend a coverage limit for your home, it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with what homeowner insurance covers, and how much coverage you should have. 

Dwelling Coverage

In the event that your home is totally destroyed by a fire, you want to make sure your dwelling coverage is enough to pay for all the costs associated with rebuilding your house from the ground up (this is not the same as the price that you paid for the property). 

To calculate how much it would take to rebuild your house, multiply the square footage of your home with the local construction costs. You can find this information on the websites of most construction companies or by asking your real estate agent. You would also have to include any attached structures, such as a deck, built-in appliances, like a water heater, and any improvements you make to the house, such as new floors or marble countertops. 

Keep in mind, the cost of rebuilding your home will be higher if you are rebuilding at a time when construction costs are high. If your whole neighborhood was hit by a massive fire, and all your neighbors are all rebuilding at the same time, it could drive construction costs up a lot. 

House burnt down interior.

Personal Property Coverage

Most homeowner insurance policies also cover personal belongings both inside and outside the home, such as furniture, computers, appliances, clothing, and other belongings that have been stolen or destroyed (except your car). You want enough personal property coverage to replace all of your belongings in case they are stolen or destroyed. 

Generally, insurance companies will set the default personal property coverage limit at 50-75% of your dwelling coverage, but the amount of coverage you need depends on how much stuff you have and how valuable it is. The best way to accurately assess the value of your property is to take a home inventory. There are many apps that allow you to take a detailed inventory of your things, along with notes about their value. Having a regularly-updated inventory will make it much easier when you submit a claim to the insurance company. 

TIP: It is easy to take an inventory of your things while you are packing them up before you move. 

Beautiful woman writing in a notebook while moving in a new home.

Liability Coverage 

Personal liability coverage will pay for any legal and medical bills that occur if someone gets hurt on your property. So if your dog bites the neighbor, your insurer will pay any of their medical expenses. Also, most insurance companies will pay your medical expenses if your neighbor’s dog bites you, so make sure to ask your insurer what they cover. 

While most insurance companies will provide a minimum of $100,000 worth of liability coverage, experts at the Insurance Information Institute recommends that homeowners purchase at least $300,00 – $500,000 worth of liability coverage. 

A male German shepherd bites a man by the hand.

Additional Living Expenses Coverage

If your house burns down, you are going to need a place to live while you are rebuilding it, that’s where additional living expense insurance (ALE) comes in.  ALE covers hotel bills, restaurant meals, and other living expenses you may incur while you are not able to move back into your house. 

Man pulling a suitcase and entering a hotel room.

Supplemental Insurance

A standard insurance policy will not pay for damages caused by a flood, earthquake, or routine wear and tear. In order to get coverage to protect against these and other damages, you may have to get supplemental insurance. 

If you are unsure of how much homeowners insurance to buy, talk with insurance companies, mortgage lenders, and real estate agents. They can help you get the proper coverage to protect you, your belongings, and your house from whatever life throws at you. 

4 Kid-Friendly House Hunting Tips

When house hunting, there are a lot of factors to consider: Are you close to work? Do you like the neighbourhood? Are our friends and family nearby? However, the most important factor is probably the reason you are moving in the first place, a growing family.

When it’s just you and your spouse, a two-bedroom apartment suffices. In fact, you can get away with having your first kid there, however, you quickly realize your spatial limitations when you discover how much baggage comes with baby, you’ll soon be scrambling for storage. Once they’re a little older or you’re planning another addition to the family, you’ll likely be looking to relocate somewhere larger, but are you factoring a kid-friendly environment when engaging in your house hunt?

Most of us only factor the extra space without considering other kid-friendly factors. Since you’re likely making this move to improve your growing family’s quality of life, go the full mile and ensure you incorporate as many kid-friendly features as possible.

1. Neighbourhood Demographics

When selecting a neighbourhood to target, we often take the demographics into account. When doing this, ensure the demographics are kid-friendly. If 90% of the neighbourhood is retirement age or childless, it will not be the best environment to raise your kids. It’s vital that your kids have plenty of other kids to connect with on the block so that they can be out socializing instead of hibernating with their smartphones or tablets.

Three pre-teen girls playing in street on scooters and bike.

2. Bedroom Placement

If your kids are very young, you’re likely going to want all the bedrooms to be close together and on the same floor. It just doesn’t seem right to be asleep upstairs while your nursery is isolated on the main floor forcing you to constantly go up and down the stairs to tend to your babies’ needs. 

On the flip side, if you have noisy teens, you may want the bedroom placement to be more spread out so they don’t disturb you when you’re trying to unwind.

House plan.

3. Unobstructed View of the Backyard

When you have kids you’re on supervision 24/7; whether you are literally at work or at home cleaning up after them and prepping them meals, you’re constantly working. Despite this reality, you still want your kids to be outdoors getting fresh air, not cooped up in the house, but it’s not always possible to take them out and maintain a good environment in the house. Ensuring you buy a house with an unobstructed view to the backyard (preferably from the kitchen), allows you to complete choirs while your children are playing in the backyard in full view.

Living room overlooking the garden with a small pool.

4. Amenities Within Walking Distance

Restaurants, cafes, and parks are desirable amenities to have in any situation but are especially valuable with kids. When they’re in the baby or toddler phase, packing and unpacking the car is a huge hassle, you want to be able to just walk out of the house with your stroller and access amenities. 

When they’re in the pre-teen to teen stage, you likewise want your kids to have access to amenities without them having to nag you for a ride all the time. It allows them to be more independent and you to maintain your sanity.

Family taking a walk down the street.

3 Tips on How to Transition From the City to the Suburbs

When you’re a kid and venturing out of your parent’s home for the first time, the city is generally regarded as the preferred area to live in. When you’re young, you want to be close to other young people and be where the action is. Cafes, bars, clubs, and the trendiest restaurants are all high on the priority list.

Eventually, if you haven’t already, you’ll find the person you envision settling down with and move in together. At this point, city life is still ideal. That is, of course, until marriage and children enter the picture.

Once you have your first child every city noise seems louder, choosing the car over walking in the crowded streets becomes the norm, and getting all the groceries and supplies you need turns into a huge hassle. This is the point where most city dwellers opt to transition to the suburbs where it’s quieter, there’s ample parking and you can get anything you need relatively easily.

If you’re in a scenario that compels you to make this transition, it’s more complicated than just picking out a spacious home in any suburb. Follow these tips to eliminate as much stress as possible during this difficult transition.

1. The Right School District

When surrendering to suburban living, you at least want to ensure you get the most out of it and that starts with sourcing the best school for your children. While this is a reasonable endeavor, it’s important to define “best.” People tend to go for the district that has the highest-ranking schools, but does that mean the school is right for your children? Whether you value big or small class sizes, specialized education, or other important factors, it’s important to research and tour prospective schools before deciding on a district that is right for your family.

A Mother taking her daughter to school, saying her goodbye for the day.

2. The Right Neighbourhood

People transitioning from the city to the suburbs often prioritize the house over the neighborhood. The suburbs are mistakenly viewed as all the same and after being constrained to a one-bedroom apartment or studio all that time in the city, it’s natural to want to stretch out and get comfortable in your ideal abode. 

The truth, however, is that suburban neighborhoods vary greatly in terms of their communities. Is it a religious community or secular? Is it dominated by young families or families on the brink of retirement? It’s important to vet each prospective neighborhood and ensure your comfortable with the demographics.

Round Rock, Texas, USA aerial drone view high above Suburb Neighborhood with Vast amount of Homes – Summertime in the best place to live in America.

3. Commute Time

One of the most frustrating things about moving to the suburbs is the likelihood of long commute times to work, often back to the city. The goal is to minimize the time as much as possible if you spend 2 hours a day commuting plus 8 to 9 hours at work, that leaves very little quality time, if any, to spend with your children (the primary reason for this sacrifice). When mapping out commute times, don’t be deceived by google maps and focus on distance alone. While some places maybe a little farther, there may be less traffic. You should test out various areas at rush hour and strongly consider your options when selecting a neighborhood.

Traffic is seen slowly moving on the Montrose Ave overpass at the 1-90 Kennedy Expressway and the I-94 Edens Split the day before Thanksgiving on November 22, 2017, in Chicago, Illinois

When It’s a Good Idea to Accept the First Offer

The art of negotiation is fickle and nuanced. A lot of the time it’s important to use your gut instincts and get creative in order to get what you want. Like with anything, however, there are certain principles that are sacrosanct and need to be employed, such as “never accept the first offer.” 

Anyone who knows anything about negotiating knows that the first offer is usually a lowball offer. Whoever is making the offer knows that no matter what number they put out there, there’s very little reason to expect the seller to accept it. This forces them to purposely make an offer below what they think is fair in order to eventually get close to something realistic.

While real estate negotiations are similar to other forms of negotiating, there are many aspects that set it apart, as any good real estate agent knows. One such aspect is when to accept the first offer.

Generally, unless the first offer is irrationally high, the best thing to do is field offers from other potential buyers to better gauge what the market dictates you can get for your home and in ideal scenarios, precipitate bidding wars. However, because the real estate game is unlike any other game, there are scenarios in which accepting the first offer is a good idea.

1. After Finding Your New Home

In real estate, most purchases are made with contingencies that the buyer sell their house first, as not to be forced to carry two mortgages and a whole host of other potential complications. If you’ve already found your new home and you’re not getting a lot of bites on your current home, this is a scenario in which it may be a good idea to accept the first offer, provided it’s reasonable. The last thing you want to do is put the deal on your new home in jeopardy, finding the right home isn’t easy.

Portrait Of Family Holding Keys To New Home On Moving In Day

2. Relocating For Work

Relocating for a new job opportunity can be exciting, but is generally very nerve-racking. It’s not easy leaving your hometown for somewhere unfamiliar and coordinating all the necessary logistical aspects for a smooth transition. Compounding that stress with a complex home sale is not a good idea. Provided the first offer is reasonable, take it. There are many other things you’ll be inundated with during this stressful chapter in your life.

Happy businessman holding a cardboard box with stuff at the office

3. Cash Offer

Did someone say cash? Accepting a cash offer circumvents many of the issues associated with a complicated closing, like not having to wait for the loan to be approved. Additionally, if someone has that much money on hand, they’re likely not buying on the contingency that they sell their old residence, eliminating uncertainty and complications associated with them selling their current home. As long as the offer is reasonable, accept it, it will make your life easier by simplifying an already complex transaction.

Portrait girl having a lot of flying money around her.

How To Keep Your House Sparkling Clean While Showing It

So, you did a deep clean of your entire house before the first buyer came to see it. You scrubbed and swept and even got on your hands and knees to wipe behind things that no one will ever see. Now comes the hard part: keeping it that way. 

Anyone who has ever sold their house will tell you there is a big difference between “clean” and “show-ready clean.” A show-ready home is supposed to sparkle. And if you are looking to sell, your home might have to sparkle for several weeks or even months.

Don’t worry, here are a few simple ways to ensure your house is always show-ready without driving yourself too crazy.

Pare Down What You Don’t Need

It will be much easier to clean your house when it’s not full of a bunch of junk you don’t want anyway. If you haven’t used something in the past year, what are the chances you will use it next year? If you can’t stand to part with it, find a place to store it where buyers can’t see it. 

Pro tip: Since you’re about to move soon anyway, try to get as much packing done as you can. Buyers will appreciate seeing a closet full of boxes more than a room full of clutter. 

Clean Smarter, Not Harder

The easiest way to keep a house clean is to create a routine and stick to it. Split the week up into chunks and do small cleans every few days and a big clean just before the weekend. You can focus on 1 room for a few days or spend 5 minutes cleaning each room every day. 

If you are struggling to keep the whole house sparkling, focus your energy on the kitchen and bathroom. These are the most important rooms to keep clean because buyers will consider any mess to be unhygienic. Remember, buyers are already anxious about being in a stranger’s house, and the whole point is to make them feel at home. 

Pro tip: Make sure all the visible garbage cans have lids. Hiding your trash is one of the easiest ways to make your place look and smell cleaner.

Close-up of hair clogging a sink drain.

Designate “Dirty Rooms” & “Clean Rooms”

The more space you need to clean, the longer it will take. So, don’t use a room unless you have to. Then, all it will take to make these “clean rooms” sparkle is a light dusting, sweeping, and maybe a quick wipe with a rag. 

If you have more than one bathroom, designate one to be a “dirty room” that everyone uses. If you have kids, make them keep their toys in their room. Also, try to pack certain toys like Legos away for a while if you can. If you have pets, keep their dirty paws out of as many rooms as possible. 

Pro Tip: Place bins or bags at the entrance of every “dirty room.” This way, if a buyer wants to see the place on short notice, you can gather up all the clutter in that room and store it away instantly. 

Messy room with toys spread around everywhere.

Make Cleaning Fun

If Marry Poppins was able to make those English kids clean their room with a spoonful of sugar, why can’t you do the same? Go ahead, blast your happy music, and turn your cleaning routine into a dance routine. Keeping your house clean is only a chore if you make it that way. 

You can trick a competitive partner into cleaning by making it seem like a game. See how quick you can clean a room, then challenge them to beat that record. Or start the first annual “cleaning Olympics,” with special prizes for the winners. 

father with daughter holding vacuum cleaner while mother sitting at sofa at home

Pro Tip: You might not need to give your kids much of an incentive to help out. Often times you can get your kids to clean up after themselves just by making them feel needed and appreciated for their efforts. 

Stay Somewhere Else

When all else fails, and you need a break, you can always pack your bags and stay somewhere else. You can take a real vacation and get some much-needed relaxation, or you can book a night at a local hotel where you don’t have to clean up after yourself for a little while. 

In the end, you’re probably not going to have your house as clean as you expect, but the longer you can get the buyer to focus on the space and not your mess, the quicker you can make the sale. 

How To Hire A Great Home Contractor

So, you’ve decided that you want to renovate, but it’s too big of a job for you to DIY. So you need to hire a contractor, but how do you find the right one? While a good contractor can turn your dream home into a reality, a bad one can turn your life into a nightmare. 

An inexperienced contractor can get in over their head and create a dangerous situation for you and your family. Or a scam artist can steal your money and leave without a trace before doing any work. These are very common situations that you can avoid if you hire the right person. 

Here are some tips to help you pick the contractor that is just right for you. 

Search & Research

Before you decide to hire someone, doing your homework is a must. Most people will start by looking at reviews online, which is a good idea. Go ahead and read reviews from several different sites like Yelp, HomeAdvisor, Google, and more. 

This will allow you to start making a list of contractors in the area, but you shouldn’t trust all online reviews, and you shouldn’t stop there. Ask your friends and family for referrals. If you are friendly with the neighbors, ask them too. If you hear people say positive things about a contractor, add him or her to the list. 

But you’re not done yet. Ask the fine people who work at your local hardware store or lumberyard for referrals too. They can give you the inside gossip about which contractors buy cheap materials and which ones always pay their bills on time. 

Interview & Review

With your list of top candidates in hand, give each of them a call and pay attention to how easy it is to communicate with them. While you are talking to them about the project, make sure to ask them the following questions:

Contractor working.
  • What are your credentials and experience (and your subcontractor’s)?

Even if you already found out a bit about a general contractor from your research, you may not know how long they have been working with their employees and subcontractors. You don’t want a contractor that just hires subcontractors off the street and leaves the work to them. 

  • Are you licensed & insured?

It is essential to ensure a contractor is licensed and insured before you let them start working on your house. You may know someone with a truck full of tools, who tells you they can do whatever a licensed contractor can do, but you won’t have the same legal protections with them as you would with a licensed contractor. 

Specifically, make sure they have workman’s compensation and general liability insurance. Also, make sure they don’t have complaints filed against them or a history of disputes with clients. And don’t just take their word for it, verify they are telling the truth with the state license board, the state’s consumer protection agency, and your local Better Business Bureau.

  • Are you able to take on a project of this size now?

Not all contractors can take on every kind of project. You want to make sure your project is in the contractor’s wheelhouse. Just because they did a good job building your neighbor’s deck doesn’t mean they know how to renovate a full kitchen. 

Some contractors also have multiple projects going on at once, and you want them to focus on yours. However, don’t drop a contractor just because they can’t start right away, the best ones are usually busy. 

  • Can you give me a list of your previous clients?

This is especially important if you were not able to get referrals from lots of people you trust. However, it is a good idea to call a few of their previous clients even if you already have references from people you trust. Previous clients could have valid complaints about a contractor that you wouldn’t find out about otherwise.

Get Estimates

Now you should have your list narrowed down to a handful of contractors. You’re going to want to meet with them at the site and explain what you want them to do. Things will be easier if you have a clear idea about what you want, stand your ground, and only entertain the suggestions you really like. Remember: projects can get expensive when you start changing things.

Make sure to get multiple bids even if you already made up your mind about which contractor you are going with. This will allow you to compare their bids, which might come in handy when you are negotiating prices later down the line. 

Contract

Now that you picked the contractor that is just right for you, you’ll want to write up a contract that you feel comfortable with. This should include a payment schedule, proof of liability insurance and compensation payments, specific materials, and a start and end date for the project. 

The bottom line is: a contractor is going to spending a lot of time in your house, making noise and spreading dust. If the dust settles, and you’re left with nothing but an expensive pile of garbage, you’ll wish you had taken the time to find a better contractor. 

Take Better Listing Photos With These 7 Tips

The first time a buyer sees a house is usually in the listing photos. Good listing photos will stick in a buyer’s mind, increasing the chance they will want to see the real thing. It takes a lot to convince a buyer to take time out of their schedule to see a place based on a bad listing photo. Plus, a bad photo can make the realtor look less competent, depending on how bad they are. 

Here are 6 ways to improve your listing photos:

  1. Buy A Quality Camera

Your phone camera does not compare to a real camera. If you want quality pictures, you’re going to have to use a quality camera. Simply put, the sensor in your phone, which captures light, is not as big as the one in a real camera. So, no matter how many megapixels it has, it won’t capture as much. 

Digital single-lens reflex camera.

2. Add More Light

The whole point of a listing photo is to give buyers a chance to see what the property looks like, so you want to capture as much light as you can. As a rule, natural light always looks better in a picture than artificial light, so make sure to open the windows.

You can also capture some good outdoor pictures during what is known as the “magic hour” or “golden hour.” This is the first or last hour of sunlight when the light is softer and redder. Filmmakers often shoot during this time to get more romantic or emotionally heightened shots. Turn on all the lights in the house to make these pictures pop!

Home captured in the late evening.

3. Use A Tripod

One way to make a photo brighter is by reducing blur. When you are taking a picture by hand, any slight shake will cause a blur, which will make the image look dull and dark. A tripod can also help you make a dark room look brighter by allowing you to take a clear picture with lower shutter speed. 

4. Use Shutter Speed

You can make a room look much brighter by lowering the shutter speed on your camera, which increases the amount of time that light hits the sensor. However, be aware that any camera movements or movements in front of the camera will be amplified during this time (that’s why you need a tripod).

It is usually better to lower the shutter speed than to increase the ISO, which will add noise, or decrease the aperture, which will affect the depth of field. 

Blurred texture.

5. Keep It Horizontal 

The human eye is accustomed to horizontal (landscape) photos more than vertical (portrait) ones. Unless there is no other way to capture an image, you should always remember to keep the camera with the widest side parallel to the floor. 

6. Use a Wide-Angle Lens

A wide-angle lens will capture more of a room in one shot than a normal lens. A lens wider than 50-35mm (the smaller the number, the wider the lens) will also keep the whole room in focus. 

However, the wider you go, the more distorted the image will be. A really wide-angle lens, known as a fisheye lens, does not help a small space look bigger. In fact, a fisheye lens can make a room look so distorted that it becomes hard to judge the size of anything.

Fisheye effect.

7. Hire a Professional 

If you are having too much trouble getting the shot just right, hire a professional to come by. Then, follow them around as they take pictures and see if you can learn something about the way they shoot. 

The only way you’re going to get the best listing photos is by understanding how the camera sees a space. You will probably have to play with it for a while until you start learning, but if you put in the effort, your pictures could end up being worth more than a thousand words.