Is Remodeling Worth the Effort for Resale?

At some point during the chaos of every remodel, one question is asked. “Is it worth it?” Is it worth the upheaval? Is it worth the cost? Most important, is it worth the effort when it comes time to sell?

The answer: it depends.

It depends on where you live and what you choose to remodel. For example, the West Coast sees a higher return than does the Mid-Atlantic, according to CNBC.

With regard to specific projects, the 2018 cost-vs.-value report from Remodeling Magazine shows that smaller upgrades vs. larger remodels get you the most bang for your buck.

According to the report, those who remodel on a massive scale should expect a return of 56%. This is less than the steady return of 64% over the past two years.

Why the drop? Craig Webb, editor of Remodeling Magazine, believes it is because some real estate professionals suspect their local market may be reaching its peak. He explains, “Consequently, spending a lot of money does not automatically mean your house will just ride the escalator up and be worth a lot more.”

So, if you are planning a remodel in 2018, the rule of thumb is to keep it simple. Forgo a major kitchen overhaul for a simple upgrade that could recoup you 81.10% vs. 53.50%.

Instead of building that addition to the master suite (ROI 48.3%), consider something with more curb appeal, such as a new garage door (ROI 98.3%), manufactured stone veneer (ROI 97.10%), or a wood deck (ROI 83%).

When asking yourself if all the effort is worth it, keep your real estate agent in mind. This professional knows your market inside and out and can best advise you about whether your potential remodel will achieve the return you desire. Seek his or her input before starting your next project.

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.

“Is It Done Yet?” Home Remodeling with Kids

Spring home improvements can be stressful, especially when you’re living in the middle of it. Add children to the mix, and the tension increases.

But you don’t need to take a vacation while your home is being remodeled – even if walls are coming down. Here are some tips on how to continue to live as a family during a major renovation.

Your children’s space – and their routines – will be disrupted. To avoid comments like “When can we use the kitchen again?” share the construction schedule with them.

Prepare for disruptions: Kitchens and bathrooms are often the rooms being remodeled; unfortunately, they’re also the most used. If possible, consider completing one room at a time. Set up a temporary kitchen in another room and prepare meals in advance that can be quickly reheated. Get the kids to help you devise a bathroom schedule; they may be more inclined to follow it if they’re involved.

Make safety a priority: Know where your kids are during work hours. Make sure they understand the safety risks, and put lots of space between them and the work. Also ensure your contractor stores tools away safely at the end of the day.

Dust can be hazardous for anyone with allergies. Plastic sheeting should be used to seal off the area under construction from your temporary living space, but you also may want to consider closing the heating and cooling vents. As well, your contractor should use nontoxic paints and stains.

Choose your contractor wisely. Make sure the company has a reputation for completing jobs safely, and be prepared to pay more for contractors who are properly insured and follow regulations. Ask them how comfortable they are with children on site and make sure everyone agrees to and obeys the safety rules.

Finally, when it’s finished, have fun together in the new space. After all, you – and the kids – deserve it.

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.

Polishing the Crystal Ball: Real Estate in 2018

Whether you’re planning to become a home buyer in 2018 or hoping to sell your current property, it can be hard to forecast the way the real estate market will go. Here are some trend predictions, gathered from several sources, which maydominate in 2018:

A recent report from the Urban Land Institute and PricewaterhouseCoopers brings good news: the usual boom-and-bust cycle isn’t behaving typically, so what could have been a bust may be a gentle downturn instead.

Smartcitiesdive.com, which highlighted elements of the PWC/Urban Land Institute report, suggests the real estate industry has begun to take an interest in a new generation.

This is not to detract from the importance of millennials who, incidentally, are expected to become more interested in purchasing a home in 2018 than in previous years. A new generation, “Gen Z,” is indicating an even stronger interest in becoming homeowners at an earlier age than their millennial counterparts. Born after 1995, Gen Zers are enthusiastic about fixer-uppers and do-it-yourself projects and may lead the way in gentrifying distressed urban neighborhoods.

The Internet of Things is changing everything, so why not real estate? Smart home automation is driving the industry to incorporate the latest tech in new home builds and attract tech-savvy buyers by focusing on tech amenities in listings. The PWC/Urban Land Institute report suggests the industry has been lagging behind, technologically speaking, so 2018 may well be the year of the high-tech home.

Little is known yet about the economic and political factors affecting the industry across North America.

Notes Smart Cities Dive: “A number of other changes potentially arriving in 2018 – such as tax reform and interest rate hikes – also could affect the real estate market and cities’ development.

However, none of the known factors appear drastic enough to derail the market’s long glide and instead send it into a nosedive.”

‘Urbys’ Offer a New Approach to Housing Millennials

What do millennials want when it comes to housing? The answer: pretty much everything.

The “Urby” – a mixed-use residential development that brings a little bit of city, a little bit of community, and a little bit of entertainment to a little apartment – may be the answer. Emphasizing “New Urbanist” principles such as walkable neighborhoods and access to public transportation, Urby developments are designed to attract successful urban professionals.

New Jersey-based Ironstate Development Co. calls its Staten Island complex Urban Ready Life (URL), and describes it in a recent CityLab article as “an all-encompassing living experience for today’s urbanite.” Each apartment complex includes ultramodern living units, ground-level retail stores, and amenities that include fitness centers, heated outdoor pools, and keyless entry via a phone app.

Key to an Urby such as this is providing opportunities for social interaction. The goal is to use common areas to organize activities for millennial apartment dwellers; coffee shops in the lobbies, communal kitchens, and a cultural director offer many chances for interpersonal connections between residents. URL residents, for example, can gather for stand-up comedy in the café, flower arranging in the workshop, or stump-the-chef in the kitchen.

The apartments themselves are inspired by European design and use European techniques for making small spaces feel bigger. While planning, the developer considered what its millennial market would and would not live without. The result: built-in shelving, pocket doors, and kitchen and bathroom “stations.” Nonessentials included room to entertain, as the entertaining takes place in communal spaces. Sounds ideal for this work-hard, play-hard generation.

Redecorating Your Child’s Room? Start Here

Redecorating a child’s room is enjoyable. Figuring out creative ways to make your kids’ spaces whimsical yet functional is a fun design challenge. And watching their faces light up when it’s all done? Priceless.

Home design website Houzz conducted a survey of users who have “recently completed, are working on or are planning a home project with kids in mind.” The results provide an interesting look at what’s currently trending in the world of children’s rooms. If you’re about to embark on creating a special room for a child, keep the following in mind:

  • Close to 70% of respondents said their kids’ rooms have themes. The most popular looks, in order: nature, animals, sports, and princesses. But note: kids grow up quickly and tastes change just as quickly. Today’s trendy decor may look dated tomorrow.
  • Functionality and maintenance are top priorities. Seventy-one percent of respondents said they wanted a space that was easy to clean and maintain, and 64% said they needed a functional setup. Be sure to incorporate washable and durable materials, and include labeled storage boxes and bins.
  • Blue reigns supreme. Fifty-nine percent said blue is the dominant color for kids’ rooms, followed by white, gray, green, and pink.
  • The cost of redecorating a kid’s room varies. Of respondents who had completed their project, one-third spent $1,000 or less. Establish a budget before starting; it’s easy to get carried away with cute decor and playful features. And unlike adults, kids don’t notice the difference between the more expensive option and a more affordable one.
  • Nearly 70% of participants cited clutter as a challenge. Make toy management a priority in your kids’ rooms. Oversized bins in fun colors and/or closet storage systems are key to keeping toys and “stuff” out of sight and out of mind.

Finally, involve your kids in the decisions. After all, it is their room.

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.

Family Living in the Sky: North America’s Newest Reality

As land available for new construction shrinks in urban centers across North America, governments, builders, and families are looking upward. Living high in the sky isn’t how many young families would have envisioned the family home, but for many, it’s a reality.

This new reality is playing out in Toronto, Canada, where family-sized condo units are rare. Some 80% of new housing built in the past decade are buildings of five or more stories. Yet fewer than 10% of high-rise homes in the city have three or more bedrooms. And this is presenting a problem for young families who want to live and work there.

According to a recent story in Citylab.com, Toronto is on its way. Guidelines generated in a 2015 study by the city’s Planning Division were adopted this summer by its City Council and will be used in evaluating current and future projects. The guidelines, points out CityLab contributing writer Mimi Kirk, “are not only applicable to Toronto, but to cities across North America and beyond …”

Among the recommendations: 15% of units should include two bedrooms and 10% should include three, with these larger units located on lower levels, close to each other, and adjoining outdoor spaces.

Meanwhile, in New York City, where raising kids in high-rises is nothing new (but not particularly family-friendly), some existing buildings are currently updating and repurposing their amenities, thanks to the growing number of New Yorkers choosing to raise their families in the city.

Maybe life in the sky isn’t such a hardship after all.

NAR Poll: Home Affordability and the American Dream

Do you dream of owning a home someday? If so, you’re not alone. The desire to put down roots and invest in a home is a common one.

And this dream is still strong across North America. The problem is, many can’t afford it.

To many, the dream seems elusive as a result of the significant cost not just of purchasing a home but also in carrying it. Many who would like to and can pursue the dream never will due to fears associated with the lack of affordability (“Will I be in over my head?” “Will I lose money?”).

According to the 2017 National Housing Pulse Survey conducted by the National Association of Realtors (NAR), 84% of Americans view owning a home as “a good financial decision.” And 80% of respondents see homeownership as a way of building equity toward their retirement. As well, 50% believe homeownership is an avenue to a secure neighborhood and a stable family environment. However, the positive sentiments don’t necessarily mean all of these respondents will be home-shopping this year.

Affordability is a concern

Why? Some 60% of those responding to NAR’s survey identify affordability as one of the top five challenges of homeownership. Many also believe the myth that they need significant savings (more than 15%) for a down payment on a home. According to the survey, 69% felt a “reasonable” down payment was 10% or less, while more than 40% believe lenders require down payments of 15% or greater.

That said, the survey itself supports a willingness for people to learn, wait and save – if it means the culmination of their dream.

NAR President Bill Brown, quoted in an article in RISMedia, says: “Despite the growing concern over affordable housing, this survey makes it clear that a strong majority still believe in homeownership and aspire to own a home of their own.”

Millennials’ Homeownership Dreams Can Come True

For many millennials, the dream of homeownership feels far away, if not impossible. Salaries that haven’t grown with the cost of living, new mortgage rules, volatile housing markets, and a plethora of other reasons have made buying a home more difficult than it’s ever been for young people.

A survey by Apartment List of 24,000 American renters found that 80% of millennial renters want to become homeowners, but 72% are held back by affordability. Some 44% don’t have savings to put toward a down payment.

Many who find themselves in that position are trying to reach their homeownership goals with second and even third jobs in order to save extra money. Some are moving to smaller towns where housing is cheaper, while others are living with Mom and Dad in order to save on rent. But Fundrise, a Washington, D.C.-based start-up, has another, more creative solution.

Fundrise is a real estate crowdfunding start-up that sells shares in “eFunds” that build and/or remodel urban housing. An investor can be part of an eFund for $1,000, and the target audience is millennials.

Notes a recent Forbes article on the project: “(T)he goal is for a subset of the fund investors to become owners of the very places their money is helping build. Fundrise calls these ‘homebuyer investors’ or HBIs.”

So if a millennial could invest in a property today, he or she could be taking advantage of gains toward what might eventually become his or her home.

As well, says Forbes writer Samantha Sharf: “Fundrise’s effort is unique in tackling the dearth of affordable supply, which many economist [sic] agree is the biggest issue in the housing market today.”

The Fundrise project launched this past summer, so it’s too early to assess its success in encouraging new supply or in attracting millennials.
But this initiative may soon become one of many – millennials deserve their shot at homeownership too.

How to Cut Your Electricity Bill without Really Trying

It’s fall – a good time to take a fresh look at your bills to see if you can reduce them. For example, try these tips to cut your power usage and lower your electricity bills.

Switch to LED bulbs. About four times more energy efficient than incandescent bulbs, LEDs last for years. The “lumens” number indicates the amount of light emitted; use this to compare bulbs.

Install a programmable thermostat. With this device, you can automatically adjust the temperature to reflect where you are in your day – busy at home, away at work, asleep, etc. It keeps your home comfortable when you’re there and reduces energy use when you’re out.

Unplug unused electrical devices. All electronic devices sip small amounts of electricity even when they are not in use.

Use timers and power strips to turn electrical devices on and off. A power strip with an on/off switch can block the charge going into the strip itself as well as anything plugged into it.

Lower the temperature on your hot water heater. A hot water heater accounts for about 14% of energy usage in a typical home. Turn the temperature down when you’re not at home and up when you’re doing laundry or bathing. You can also install a water heater blanket to hold the heat.

Last but not least, air seal your home to prevent drafts around doors and windows, and ditch that old power-hungry refrigerator in your garage that’s only chilling a few cases of soda.

Now you can relax and enjoy saving!

Rules Differ in a Condo Remodel: Here’s How

You’re ready to renovate. Your creative juices are flowing, and you’re excited to create that perfect space.

But wait. Are you remodeling a condo? If so, this requires some special considerations. The game rules differ from those for a detached home. Here’s the playbook:

Read the regulations: Condos come with associations. These come with rules. The association has put certain standards in place to maintain the best possible conditions for your building. Before forging ahead with any plans, read through the regulations of your association and consult with your board or property manager for anything that will need the association’s approval.

Consider condo limitations: Your unit may be linked to others, so you may not be able to alter certain aspects of your home: plumbing fixtures might have to stay where they are; you may not be able to remove walls that support the structure, or install pot lights in ceilings. But don’t let these limits stifle your creativity or dash your renovation hopes. Just keep them in mind as you plan.

Plan ahead: If your renovations are extensive and the space small, your contractor and workers may require an extra space in which to work. Ask if there is a workshop or outside space they may be able to use.

Don’t fear the painter: One of the easiest (and cheapest) ways to transform a space is by painting it. However, many condo owners are concerned about personalizing their walls, especially with deep, dark colors. Unless you’re renovating for an immediate sale, go ahead and make the space your own. Enjoy it while it’s yours. When you are ready to sell, you’ll likely need to apply a fresh coat of paint anyway, and you can make it neutral then.

Get out: For your own sanity, stay with a friend or relative during construction, or treat yourself to a hotel.

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!