Five Interior Design Disasters to Avoid

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and that saying rings true for how one chooses to decorate one’s home. Therefore, one person’s love of leopard print could be another person’s decorating disaster. If you are looking to sell your home this year, change up or avoid these top five no-nos.

Wall-to-wall carpeting. Having wall-to-wall carpet is the number one no-no. According to Jonathan Scott of the famed Property Brothers, no one is looking to buy a house with carpet – which can hold many of life’s unsavory side effects like dirt, stains, and hair.

Mirrored walls. In theory, this decorating idea should make a small space appear larger. However, according to Scott, the effect can actually make your room look like an “’80s dance hall.” Let the dance hall die and opt for full-length mirrors instead.

Clutter. When it comes to decorating to sell, less is almost always more. Be particularly picky about the foyer, since this provides the initial impression of the interior. Keep shoes, winterwear, bags, and other daily-use items organized and out of sight. Rearrange or remove furniture and décor throughout the home to make each room appear as spacious and inviting as possible.

Loud wallpaper. Although wallpaper can add that pop of color that a room desperately needs, a loud or dizzying pattern can turn off buyers. If you want to add appealing hues, stick with paint.

White on white. Although beautiful, the color white is not realistic when it comes to life’s many mishaps. Realtor.com recommends that homeowners gravitate toward rich shades such as rust browns, black, and forest green.

Could Driverless Cars Drive Real Estate Values?

Imagine a world where humans never have to worry about wasted commute times. Imagine being able to use that time to work, spend quality time with your kids, plan dinner, or catch up on some much-needed z’s.

Sounds magical, doesn’t it? That magic could be coming to a street near you, as driverless cars are poised to become mainstream technology worldwide.

As Tesla, GM, and BMW clamber to get their fleets on the streets, these autonomous cars could have a far-reaching effect on industries other than auto.

When the human is removed from behind the wheel, the potential for error diminishes. Therefore, safety precautions such as auto insurance, parking tickets, speed traps, and law enforcement may no longer be needed.

These vehicles could also have a significant impact on the real estate market. When autonomous cars become the new norm, public transit will no longer be the go-to for those who are unable to drive.

The loss of public transit could have a domino effect on the real estate industry, since cities would no longer be built around transit systems. What was once considered less desirable residential real estate may become more popularbecause of the distance from transit hubs. According to an article in Forbes, these areas could offer a “greater appeal [that] could translate into increasing demand and rising property values.”

The long-reaching impact these cars will have on society is still being mapped, but it should make for an interesting ride.

Increase Property Value by Avoiding These Landscape Blunders

Everyone knows the importance of making a good first impression. It’s no different when it comes to your home’s curb appeal, which refers to your property’s overall appearance from the street.

To make your home’s “frosting” as appealing as possible, you’ll definitely want to think about planting stunning blooms and making sure your landscaping is well manicured and maintained. Implementing a long-term landscaping plan can help increase your property value when it comes time to sell.

When you go to plant, make sure to avoid the below common landscaping mistakes that homeowners make when planting trees and shrubs.

First, avoid planting invasive tree species. Some such species, like bamboo, grow quickly and actually push out native plants, which does tremendous damage to an area’s biodiversity.

Another no-no is planting too much and too close together. When too many trees and plants are crammed together, the greenery doesn’t have enough space to grow bigger, stronger, or healthier. While aesthetically this could look good for the first few years, the plants will eventually mature and fight each other for light and nutrients. So, unless you want a property covered in dead leaves and branches, it’s best to save your coins and plant less.

When planting anything, you’ll want to make sure you’re not too close to home. This, professionals warn, is a nightmare in the making. Trees planted too close to the home will, over time, get woody and grow too close, which will bring bugs and moisture inside. The resulting dampness could actually lead to rot inside your house, and the tree’s big roots could damage your property’s foundation or basement.

When it comes to planting and maintaining your home’s green exterior, do your research and exercise restraint. While trees and shrubs certainly boost your home’s value and curb appeal, some green mistakes could cost you.

What You Need to Know before Becoming a Landlord

Thinking of becoming a landlord? While this can be financially and personally rewarding, you must do your homework before you take the leap.

To help you learn the ropes and avoid any costly missteps, here are some handy tips of the trade.

It cannot be overstated how important it is for landlords to do their pre-closing homework.

During the home inspection, remember to take a thorough look at the property to see what will need to be repaired or replaced.

For example, you might want to change the toilets to low-flow models. You’ll also probably want to invest in essential upgrades to three common areas: water, door locks, and flooring.

Don’t make the rookie mistake of underestimating the costs of fixing and maintaining the property, both before and after a tenant has moved in.

Most landlords account for insurance and taxes, but it’s easy to miss expenses like garbage, gardening, and regular maintenance.

According to Money, you should set aside at least 35 to 45% of your annual rental income to cover these costs. (And when you’re calculating this income, it’s a good rule of thumb to account for only 10 or 11 monthly payments per year.)

When it comes to finding a tenant, don’t be too relaxed. Interview prospective tenants on the phone first to find out if they meet your requirements. Then, it’s important to check your potential tenants’ credit and speak to their references. Confirm the source and amount of their income. It should be at least 2.5 times the annual rent. You should also learn what’s legal in your town. For example, can you ban pets?

Once you’ve found a great tenant, act fast to get the lease signed. From there, never forget that you’re running a business and your tenant is a customer. Treat your customer right, and success is more likely to come your way.

Prepping Your Home for Sale: Get the Most Bang for Your Buck

Every seller wants to maximize his or her profit. Partnering with a real estate agent is a great start. Homeowners can further increase their bottom line with a few simple steps. To get the most out of your house, complete the following before you list.

Hire your own home inspector. If a buyer’s inspector finds issues with your home, you can expect your profit to shrink. Stay one step ahead by hiring your own home inspector to unearth any potential issues.

Invest in repairs. In addition to addressing any trouble the home inspection reveals, it’s a good idea to have cosmetic issues addressed. Prospective buyers notice things like cracked tile, chipped baseboards, or a squeaky floorboard, and this will be reflected in their offer.

Upgrade where it counts. You don’t have to renovate your whole house to turn a healthier profit. Make small, impactful swaps, such as switching out lighting, cabinet hardware, or shower heads for cleaner, more contemporary options.

Add a few new accessories. Fresh flowers and potted plants go a long way in making a room feel inviting. For a cozier living room, drape a cable-knit blanket over the couch. String Edison bulb lights over a patio and put an Adirondack chair on the front porch. These small touches add major warmth.

Treat it like a model home. To sell your house quickly and for the most money, treat it like a house you’ve been hired to stage. Put personal effects into storage, declutter, remove artwork that could be seen as too loud, and make sure the house is absolutely spotless.

Closing Costs: It’s about More Than Your Down Payment

The first step in buying a home is deciding on a budget. How much house can you afford? Within what price range will you shop?

A down payment is, unfortunately, only one part of that budget. To correctly determine the affordability of a home, it’s essential that prospective buyers consider the costs that arise at the time of closing.

Closing costs vary from state to state. There are different kinds of closing costs, too: lender costs, including origination and document preparation fees, and nonlender costs, including appraisal and survey fees. Some of these costs are required in certain states, while others are not. It’s also important to note how the market can impact closing costs. In New York City, for example, home prices are higher, which can result in higher lender fees.

In today’s market, buyers seeking a conventional loan typically need a 20% down payment to receive optimal rates. As buyers plan their purchase, it’s important to factor in closing costs on top of this 20%.

The final total is dependent on the location of the property. Here’s a look at how approximated closing costs add up in a handful of cities across the country, assuming a loan amount of $200,000. Consult with your real estate agent about closing costs in your area – he or she knows the local market best.

    • Denver, Colorado: $1,980
    • New York, New York: $6,843
    • Minneapolis, Minnesota: $2,417
    • Portland, Oregon: $2,122
    • Los Angeles, California: $2,197
    • Birmingham, Alabama: $2,112
    • Anchorage, Alaska: $2,138

Closing Costs: It’s about More Than Your Down Payment

The first step in buying a home is deciding on a budget. How much house can you afford? Within what price range will you shop?

A down payment is, unfortunately, only one part of that budget. To correctly determine the affordability of a home, it’s essential that prospective buyers consider the costs that arise at the time of closing.

Closing costs vary from state to state. There are different kinds of closing costs, too: lender costs, including origination and document preparation fees, and nonlender costs, including appraisal and survey fees. Some of these costs are required in certain states, while others are not. It’s also important to note how the market can impact closing costs. In New York City, for example, home prices are higher, which can result in higher lender fees.

In today’s market, buyers seeking a conventional loan typically need a 20% down payment to receive optimal rates. As buyers plan their purchase, it’s important to factor in closing costs on top of this 20%.

The final total is dependent on the location of the property. Here’s a look at how approximated closing costs add up in a handful of cities across the country, assuming a loan amount of $200,000. Consult with your real estate agent about closing costs in your area – he or she knows the local market best.

    • Denver, Colorado: $1,980
  • New York, New York: $6,843
  • Minneapolis, Minnesota: $2,417
  • Portland, Oregon: $2,122
  • Los Angeles, California: $2,197
  • Birmingham, Alabama: $2,112
  • Anchorage, Alaska: $2,138

The Best-Laid Plans: Things to Consider in Your Kitchen Remodel

If a kitchen remodel is on your agenda for spring, be sure you have a comprehensive plan in place.

Here are some issues to address in your plan. (Your New Kitchen: 7 Tricky Questions You Didn’t Know You’d Ask, published recently on Houzz.com, identifies other factors to consider.)

Research your local building code: In the Houzz article, designer Yanic Simard notes that some building codes have rules around venting and the type of hood fan you install. And, if you’re renovating an apartment-style condominium, you may not be able to relocate the plumbing. Check with your association.

Outlets: Early on, decide where your electrical outlets should go. If you’re adding an island, consider outlets at the outset.

Flooring: This decision should also be made early, as everything else will depend on it.

Appliances: Your kitchen needs to work for you; where you put your appliances will affect everything from cabinets to countertops.

Sink: Before you consider finishes or backsplashes, decide what sink style you want. These range from undermount, with no edges, to drop-in, which offers the easiest install. Apron or farmhouse sinks have a deep basin for washing big pots.

Cabinets: Making a mistake here can be expensive. Decide the function and location of each cabinet before thinking about hardware. If it’s a DIY, online 3-D software can help you envision cabinet placement so two cabinet doors don’t open into each other.

Once the tough decisions are made, you can relax and consider the “jewelry,” such as cabinet hardware and backsplash. Enjoy. You’ve earned it!

‘Curb Appeal’ Remodels a Growing Trend

As the winter thaw begins, and spring buying and selling fever heats up, there are certain renovations you can make on your home to ensure you get an optimal return on investment (ROI).

Whether you’ve been waiting for that perfect time to list, or are looking to flip fast, being strategic with your home renovations can make the difference between losing money and having extra cash in your pocket.

As a Houzz article points out, when it comes to home renovations, the “size of your space, the scope of work involved, your DIY abilities, the quality of materials you choose and even your geographic location all play a part.”

Invest in curb appeal

However, your renovations don’t have to be earth-shattering. According to Remodeling magazine’s 2017 Cost vs. Value Report, the trend of making “curb appeal” renovations to your home scored a higher ROI than larger renovations.

Boost energy efficiency

Surprisingly, installing loose-fill fiberglass insulation in the attic came in as number one on the report. Although it doesn’t seem as exciting as other home remodels, it makes your home more energy efficient, and it can be accomplished yourself, inexpensively. Plus, it returns an estimated 107.1% on your investment.

Interestingly, something as subtle as replacing your garage door could yield you as much as an 85% ROI. Landscaping is another tried, tested and true improvement that can return as much as 105% on your investment. Installing new windows, adding high-efficiency appliances and repainting the exterior and interior of your home can make a huge impact for little cost.

Key to success

Craig Webb, the editor of Remodeling, offers this advice: “If you see yourself keeping the house for at least five years, you shouldn’t worry about value at all … Housing trends and fads can change dramatically … If you plan to stay put, renovate however will make you happy, period.”

Why Americans Are Now Buying into the Small Home Trend

Call it the tiny house effect, or perhaps it might be considered a change in attitudes after the 2008 housing crash. Whatever the reason, small houses are continuing to gain in popularity with home buyers. As pointed out in a recent article by real estate industry news site RISMedia, some in the industry see smaller houses beginning to sell faster than larger properties. They’re not just a fad. Small houses are an increasingly attractive option for many buyers. Here’s why:

Affordability

In many hot markets with rocketing prices, prospective homeowners have had to reevaluate what they can afford. Other buyers have decided it’s not worth it to go house poor, and have sacrificed space for cash in their bank accounts. Many consider a small home a smart investment.

Less maintenance

The upkeep of a larger home can result in stress, especially for young families or aging owners. A smaller footprint requires less upkeep and outdoor maintenance, reducing stress and freeing up time.

Location vs. square footage

Location, not square footage, has become the marker of desirability in many of today’s real estate markets. Homebuyers now would rather buy a smaller house in a hip, vibrant, well-served neighborhood than go bigger in a less desirable part of town.

Trends

TV design shows where well-functioning and beautiful small spaces are created have become just as popular as those on multimillion-dollar properties. Maybe more so. Instead of thinking of a house as cramped, buyers are now just as likely to see the creative possibilities of a smaller property.

Make Your Home Buyer Friendly with Focused Staging

With the move to buyers’ markets in many areas, you’ll want your for-sale home to look its best. And that requires focus. Focused staging, that is.

Staging your home can increase the offer amount by up to 10%, according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR) 2017 Profile of Home Staging. But what if you haven’t the time or cash to stage the whole house?

You focus on the rooms that push buyers’ buttons. A messy mudroom may not kill your sale, but an unusable kitchen or master bedroom may be a deal-breaker.

Few buyers can see beyond your personal style, particularly in hot-button areas like the living room, kitchen and master bedroom. So concentrate on staging these.

This article – from RISMedia – may help:

According to the NAR Profile, the living room is one of the most popular to stage. Make it feel larger by replacing bulky furniture with smaller pieces. Help buyers to imagine their things here; leave lots of space on shelves and around furniture.

In the kitchen, declutter countertops, the fridge and inside cabinets (yes, buyers willlook). Add color with a bowl of fruit.

“Most bedrooms don’t need much more than the bed, dresser, end tables, and a mirror,” the article suggests. Make the bed the focus with beautiful, but not necessarily expensive, linens.

A clean bathroom is a saleable bathroom. The master bath, especially, should gleam. Add attractive towels and battery candles for atmosphere.

And don’t forget to tidy the outside. You know what they say about first impressions.

Down Payments Depend on Your Mortgage Type

A question from home buyers, particularly first timers, is: “How much do I have to put down to buy a house?” The answer is: It depends. The most important of those factors will be your credit, followed by income.

Conventional loans 

These mortgages are loans obtained through Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. If you have really good credit, you may be looking at a minimum down payment of 3%.

This is definitely something that first-time home buyers should be looking into when they start the financing process. With a down payment this low, you will require mortgage insurance, which, when certain conditions are met sometime in the future, can be removed.

Also, ask your mortgage professional about what is called the HomeReady mortgage program, obtained through Fannie Mae. This program caters to low-to-moderate-income borrowers and those purchasing in lower-income areas.

FHA loans

The minimum down payment with FHA programs is 3.5%. This program is ideal for borrowers whose credit scores may be on the low side.

While FHA is good for people who may be unable to qualify for conventional financing through Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, the challenge here is that these loans are generally more expensive to own. This is due to the fact that you will be required to have two kinds of mortgage insurance, and, unlike in conventional mortgages, the mortgage insurance will be in place for the life of the loan.

Keep in mind that, in addition to the down payment on both of the loan types listed above, you can expect to have other outlays of cash associated with the purchase, including closing costs and some type of escrow account.

You will still be able to get seller credits to help you with these other outlays, but note: seller credits can’t be used to help you with a down payment.

Downsizing Happens at All Ages Now: Here’s How to Ace It

Downsizing is often associated with empty nesters and retirees, but as it turns out, more and more homeowners of all ages-including millennials-are looking for smaller residential footprints.

As New York Real estate agent, Tyler Whitman, points out in a recent article inuexpress.com: “Downsizing isn’t just for empty nesters. To meet their goals, many millennials must go through this challenging process too.”

Downsizing dilemmas

Getting rid of belongings that won’t fit in your smaller space is challenging. The upside-of particular interest to millennials-is the opportunity to dump old inherited pieces for trendy modern furniture.

Measure your new home before moving day, and decide what to take before you start packing. If there’s a too-big item that you can’t bear to part with, store it. But not at mom and dad’s, say experts; they may be downsizing soon themselves.

Emotional attachment can make it hard to decide what you should throw out. Ask a straight-talking friend or family member to help with an unbiased second opinion on tough decisions-like whether your bookcase or king-sized bed is way too big for your new digs.

Once you’ve rounded up everything you won’t be taking, have a garage sale. You’ll feel less guilty about parting with so much, and you can make a surprising amount of money to help with moving expenses.

Trying to dispose of all the items you can’t sell can be overwhelming. Hiring a pickup service for junk removal or to take to a charity can be well worth the expense.

Home Alone: More Women Are Buying Homes on Their Own

“Skip the spouse, buy the house” was a line from a recent Bloomberg news story about single women buying homes on their own. It’s catchy, but also true: as the article reported, single women currently account for approximately 17% of new homebuyers in the U.S., versus 7% of single men.

Why? Despite the wage gaps that remain between men and women in the workforce, many millennial women appear to value homeownership more than their male counterparts do, and are adjusting their lifestyles accordingly to make it happen.

In the Bloomberg article, Daren Blomquist, senior vice president of ATTOM Data Solutions, noted that single women typically buy at a lower price point ($173,000 compared with $190,600) and have a slightly higher foreclosure rate than men (73 per 10,000 vs. 70 per 10,000). This may be a result of the aforementioned gaps in wages, or possibly because more women raise children on their own than men do – a scenario with major financial implications.

Single women homeowners say there’s a sense of independence and a comfort level that comes with owning your space, and that despite the need for often-expensive home maintenance and other costs, homeownership can be personally fulfilling.

For both single men and women, buying one’s own home requires more financial independence than does buying with the support of a partner. It’s essential not only that prospective buyers have a down payment and months of mortgage payments saved, but also that they’re emotionally prepared for the stresses that come with homeownership – and are ready to take them on alone.

Second Mortgages: Make Your Dreams Happen – Carefully

RateHub defines a second mortgage as “an additional loan taken out on a property that is already mortgaged.” Sounds risky – and indeed it comes with plenty of risks. But it also comes with rewards.

There are two major kinds of second mortgages: The home equity line of credit (HELOC) has a variable interest rate and acts much like a credit card, allowing you to withdraw the cash you need, when you need it. And the fixed-rate home equity loan allows you to borrow a lump sum and make set monthly payments.

Second mortgages provide speedy access to money at a generally favorable interest rate – and the interest you pay on mortgages may also be tax deductible. Compared with money borrowed on a credit card or a standard consumer loan, a second mortgage may be easier to obtain, and you can use the money for whatever you want: home remodels, tuition – even a dream trip.

The most important disadvantage: because your home secures the loan, the second mortgage lender takes on less risk than with a personal loan, and may offer you more money than you need. Many borrowers are happy to comply, only to find themselves in trouble.

Ensure you can make your monthly mortgage payments easily, even when interest rates go up or personal circumstances change. And note that if interest rates increase, so will your monthly HELOC payments. Home equity loan payments aren’t affected by rate increases during the term of the loan.

So go ahead and make that bucket-list trip a reality – but plan carefully.

Is Lack of Space Cramping Your Green Thumb?

If your green thumb is out of joint thanks to limited (or nonexistent) outdoor space, try some out-of-the-yard thinking, and you’ll soon be digging in the dirt. You can garden anywhere if you’re resourceful.

Go vertical: If you’re in an urban setting, take inspiration from the high-rises that surround you. When there’s no room to spread out, go up. Use tiered planters and a trellis to create a living wall or a “room” divider on your balcony. Add wall pockets to grow small plants such as herbs. When you think of your outside walls as garden space, you suddenly have lots of room!

Think outside the window box: Who says plants only grow on prairies and in pots? Create a unique arrangement of washbasins, bowls, cookware, repurposed rain boots, previously loved furniture – nothing’s off limits for the innovative container gardener.

Automate it: If you have neither the space nor the green thumb, this solution may be for you. The recently invented Modgarden is a small indoor farm in a cabinet, and it’s fully automated. You simply fill the water reservoir, add seeds, and wait for your veggies and herbs to grow. Some restaurants in colder climes are trying it to grow off-season produce.

Redefine the fruit basket: Fit a large wicker basket with a plant-friendly container filled with potting soil, and add your favorite herb and edible flower seeds. Soon you’ll have a microgarden that’s useful, decorative, and different all in one.

Bring the outdoors in: If you love greenery but lack green space, why not bring the garden inside? Add small potted trees to sitting areas. Integrate potted plants into your décor. Fill your foyer with foliage. You may not have much square footage, but you can transform the space you do have into a garden that flows from room to room. Just remember to provide your plants with the right soil and lighting conditions, water regularly … and enjoy!

Second Mortgages: Make Your Dreams Happen – Carefully

RateHub defines a second mortgage as “an additional loan taken out on a property that is already mortgaged.” Sounds risky – and indeed it comes with plenty of risks. But it also comes with rewards.

There are two major kinds of second mortgages: The home equity line of credit (HELOC) has a variable interest rate and acts much like a credit card, allowing you to withdraw the cash you need, when you need it. And the fixed-rate home equity loan allows you to borrow a lump sum and make set monthly payments.

Second mortgages provide speedy access to money at a generally favorable interest rate – and the interest you pay on mortgages may also be tax deductible. Compared with money borrowed on a credit card or a standard consumer loan, a second mortgage may be easier to obtain, and you can use the money for whatever you want: home remodels, tuition – even a dream trip.

The most important disadvantage: because your home secures the loan, the second mortgage lender takes on less risk than with a personal loan, and may offer you more money than you need. Many borrowers are happy to comply, only to find themselves in trouble.

Ensure you can make your monthly mortgage payments easily, even when interest rates go up or personal circumstances change. And note that if interest rates increase, so will your monthly HELOC payments. Home equity loan payments aren’t affected by rate increases during the term of the loan.

So go ahead and make that bucket-list trip a reality – but plan carefully.

Is Lack of Space Cramping Your Green Thumb?

If your green thumb is out of joint thanks to limited (or nonexistent) outdoor space, try some out-of-the-yard thinking, and you’ll soon be digging in the dirt. You can garden anywhere if you’re resourceful.

Go vertical: If you’re in an urban setting, take inspiration from the high-rises that surround you. When there’s no room to spread out, go up. Use tiered planters and a trellis to create a living wall or a “room” divider on your balcony. Add wall pockets to grow small plants such as herbs. When you think of your outside walls as garden space, you suddenly have lots of room!

Think outside the window box: Who says plants only grow on prairies and in pots? Create a unique arrangement of washbasins, bowls, cookware, repurposed rain boots, previously loved furniture – nothing’s off limits for the innovative container gardener.

Automate it: If you have neither the space nor the green thumb, this solution may be for you. The recently invented Modgarden is a small indoor farm in a cabinet, and it’s fully automated. You simply fill the water reservoir, add seeds, and wait for your veggies and herbs to grow. Some restaurants in colder climes are trying it to grow off-season produce.

Redefine the fruit basket: Fit a large wicker basket with a plant-friendly container filled with potting soil, and add your favorite herb and edible flower seeds. Soon you’ll have a microgarden that’s useful, decorative, and different all in one.

Bring the outdoors in: If you love greenery but lack green space, why not bring the garden inside? Add small potted trees to sitting areas. Integrate potted plants into your décor. Fill your foyer with foliage. You may not have much square footage, but you can transform the space you do have into a garden that flows from room to room. Just remember to provide your plants with the right soil and lighting conditions, water regularly … and enjoy!

Our Future Homes: Easy Care and Open Plan

Thanks to an exhibition organized by Japanese retailer Muji, we can peek into the home of the future. And according to a recent article in Houzz, we can expect to live with new materials, adaptable spaces, and open-concept floor plans.

The exhibition, House Vision 2, introduced the ideas underlying tomorrow’s homes as seen by companies in the housing industry, architects, and designers. Ten life-sized prototypes offered insight into the way housing may go in the future. Here are a few examples:

  • “Open House with Condensed Core” was a collaboration between architect Shigeru Ban and Lixil, a Japanese building materials manufacturer. Their prototype addressed the limitations of traditional plumbing, which make layout changes difficult. In their vision, the plumbing is installed in the ceiling, making it easier to reconfigure. The house also features glass windows that can swing up and out of the way for a truly indoor-outdoor space.
  • Commissioned by Daito Trust Construction, Sou Fujimoto’s installation explored new types of multi-dwelling residences in his “Rental Space Tower.” It rearranges both private and shared spaces of a typical apartment to reduce the square footage of private zones and maximize public areas, creating new shared amenities like libraries and theater rooms.
  • Airbnb and architect Go Hasegawa teamed up on “Yoshino-sugi Cedar House,” a wooden dwelling that brings a new meaning to house-sharing. It’s part community space, part temporary residence, which is used, maintained, and operated by the community, not a private individual. On the first floor are a meeting space and communal kitchen; upstairs are bookable sleeping quarters for guests.

Finally, it seems we don’t have to bid goodbye to open-concept living just yet; open floor plans were featured in many installations. They’ll just look a little different down the road.

Address Your Credit Score before You Start Home-Hunting

Your credit – including ensuring credit reports are correct, knowing your credit score, and acting to improve it – is among the most confusing topics related to personal finance. Yet it’s extremely important – particularly if you’re planning to buy a house, and especially if you’re a first-time buyer. Your credit score is one of the first things a lender will look at when you apply for a mortgage.

To cut through all that confusion, here are five tips you can act on right now to identify and address any problems with your credit:

  • Check your credit reports for free once a year through the three credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Why all three? Because the information in each bureau’s report can differ. If one or all reports include mistakes, your credit score may be negatively affected, and you may need to address the errors before going house-shopping.
  • Be strategic with credit card use: the percentage of your credit limit that you use every month can affect your score. Make sure your balance doesn’t come too close to your limit.
  • The simplest and most important tip? Pay off your balance each month. To maintain a healthy score, pay it off before the due date. Anything after 30 days post due date can spell very bad news for your score.
  • Be consistent: good credit behavior over the long term will keep your score high.
  • Don’t take on more credit. If you apply for several different credit cards, you’re sending a message that you may have maxed out your other accounts.