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How Your Septic System Works

Septic systems are underground wastewater treatment structures, commonly used in rural areas without centralized sewer systems. They use a combination of nature and proven technology to treat wastewater from household plumbing produced by bathrooms, kitchen drains, and laundry.

A typical septic system consists of a septic tank and a drainfield, or soil absorption field.

The septic tank digests organic matter and separates floatable matter (e.g., oils and grease) and solids from the wastewater. Soil-based systems discharge the liquid (known as effluent) from the septic tank into a series of perforated pipes buried in a leach field, chambers, or other special units designed to slowly release the effluent into the soil.

Alternative systems use pumps or gravity to help septic tank effluent trickle through sand, organic matter (e.g., peat and sawdust), constructed wetlands, or other media to remove or neutralize pollutants like disease-causing pathogens, nitrogen, phosphorus, and other contaminants. Some alternative systems are designed to evaporate wastewater or disinfect it before it is discharged to the soil.

Specifically, this is how a typical conventional septic system works:

  1. All water runs out of your house from one main drainage pipe into a septic tank.
  2. The septic tank is a buried, water-tight container usually made of concrete, fiberglass, or polyethylene. Its job is to hold the wastewater long enough to allow solids to settle down to the bottom forming sludge, while the oil and grease floats to the top as scum.
    Compartments and a T-shaped outlet prevent the sludge and scum from leaving the tank and traveling into the drainfield area.
  3. The liquid wastewater (effluent) then exits the tank into the drainfield.
  4. The drainfield is a shallow, covered, excavation made in unsaturated soil. Pretreated wastewater is discharged through piping onto porous surfaces that allow wastewater to filter though the soil. The soil accepts, treats, and disperses wastewater as it percolates through the soil, ultimately discharging to groundwater.
    If the drainfield is overloaded with too much liquid, it can flood, causing sewage to flow to the ground surface or create backups in toilets and sinks.
  5. Finally, the wastewater percolates into the soil, naturally removing harmful coliform bacteria, viruses and nutrients. Coliform bacteria is a group of bacteria predominantly inhabiting the intestines of humans or other warm-blooded animals. It is an indicator of human fecal contamination.

View an animated, interactive model of how a household septic system works Exit created by the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority.

Do you have a septic system?

You may already know you have a septic system. If you do not know, here are tell-tale signs that you probably do:

  • You use well water.
  • The waterline coming into your home does not have a meter.
  • You show a “$0.00 Sewer Amount Charged” on your water bill or property tax bill.
  • Your neighbors have a septic system.

How to find your septic system

Once you have determined that you have a septic system, you can find it by:

  • Looking on your home’s “as built” drawing.
  • Checking your yard for lids and manhole covers.
  • Contacting a septic system service provider to help you locate it.

Failure symptoms: Mind the signs!

A foul odor is not always the first sign of a malfunctioning septic system. Call a septic professional if you notice any of the following:

  • Wastewater backing up into household drains.
  • Bright green, spongy grass on the drainfield, especially during dry weather.
  • Pooling water or muddy soil around your septic system or in your basement.
  • A strong odor around the septic tank and drainfield.

What Does the Color of Your Front Door Say About You?

What Does the Color of Your Front Door Say About You?

Let your personality shine through with the help of these colorful coats of paint.

Your front door is a place to greet visitors, welcome friends and invite outsiders in. A cheerful color can illuminate your front porch and turn a drab setting into a charming spot. Choosing the right color for your front door can be tough, as there are more than plenty of hues and tones to pick from. Different colors represent different meanings, so while some of you may go for bright and bold, others may prefer warm and soft. What do you want your front door to say about you?

Check out these 12 colorful front doors for inspiration!

1. Modern Red

Red doors have been symbolic throughout history to mean “welcome”. This modern home takes a spin on the classic hospitality approach by painting the door a bold red.

2. Elegant Eggplant

Purple palettes are full of grace as this colored door represents privilege, royalty, and wealth.

3. Sunny Yellow

For those of you who don’t mind standing out, a bright yellow door will bring energy, positivity, and joy to your front steps!



4. Deep Blue

This dark blue door color has a calming effect associated with stability and trust.

5. Rustic Orange

This pumpkin orange door is charming in color as it radiates warmth and wisdom.

6. Seasonal Green

An inspiring color like green is a popular choice for front doors. Green can be associated with money, ambition, and growth.

7. Bright Aqua

Such a fun color like this Simply Aqua Valspar Paint at Lowe’s can bring an uplifting sense of friendliness to your front steps.

Coastal Living

David Hillegas via Coastal Living

8. Vibrant Lime

A color so “out there” like lime green may seem far too lively for your front door, but this outgoing color is sure to attract visitors and step up your curb appeal.

9. Soft Teal

A sweet serene color such as teal promotes emotional healing and creativity.

10. Cool Gray

A sophisticated color like grey is both neutral and dignified. Grey is typically a background color, letting your front porch decorations stand out.

11. Sassy Green

Let your personality show through your front door by choosing a color like Sassy Green Valspar Paint that’s lively and refreshing.

This Old House

Deborah Whitlaw Llewellyn via This Old House

12. Apple Red

This timeless front door makes a statement with a classic crisp red color.

BHG Red Door

Your Toughest Lawn Questions Answered


Why You Should Sell Your Home in 2019

Housing markets may not be as hot as previous years, but selling now could be your best bet.

By Devon Thorsby, Editor, Real Estate |March 7, 2019, at 9:42 a.m.

Why You Should Sell Your Home in 20
Aerial view of a dense residential district

Homeowners looking to sell should consider 2019 a prime opportunity to cash in. (Getty Images)

Few people are predicting that 2019 will be a record-breaking year for home prices.

But relatively speaking, 2019 might be the best time for you to put your house on the market. Especially if you’re on the fence about selling this year or next, Nick Ron, CEO of House Buyers of America, recommends going with the devil you know rather than the devil you don’t.

“I think it’ll be better than 2020 and 2021 – who knows what’s going to happen in those years,” Ron says.

Home price growth slowed in the second half of 2018, with fewer buyers entering the market, at least partially due to rising interest rates issued by the Federal Reserve. In 2019, consumers shouldn’t expect homebuyers to flood the market again and drive prices through the roof, but it’s also unlikely to be a crisis for home sellers.

If you bought your house in the last year or two, still love it and don’t want to part with it, go ahead and wait another five years before revisiting the thought of selling. But if you’re weighing your options to sell, considering selling this year or maybe the year after, don’t play the waiting game.

Here are four reasons to sell your house in 2019:

  • New buyers are still entering the market.
  • Interest rates are still on the lower end.
  • You have high equity.
  • Selling now will be better than waiting till 2020.

[Read: 7 Online Tools to Help You Estimate Your Home’s Value.]

New Buyers Are Still Entering the Market

As interest rates rise, some buyers will hesitate to make an offer on a home or apply for a mortgage, so be ready to see occasional drops in buyer activity. And if your house is at the higher end of the price range in your market, you should expect less buyer interest than before. Ron notes the combination of rising mortgage rates and home prices exceeding buyers’ budgets are what has caused the slowing of homebuyer activity in recent months.

But with available housing inventory remaining low, even with rising interest rates, buyers who are ready to make a purchase will still shop for homes. The biggest wave of new homebuyers will be among millennials, who are mostly first-time buyers. In a Harris Poll survey of 2,000 U.S. adults commissioned by real estate information company Trulia, more than one-fifth of Americans between ages 18 and 34 said they plan to buy a home within the next 12 months. Already, millennials make up the largest share of homebuyers at 36 percent, according to the National Association of Realtors, which released the number in March 2018.

The bottom line: While houses may sit on the market for a few more days on average compared with 2017 when the market was white-hot, buyers remain active and it’s still possible to profit from your home sale.

[See: Best Home Security Systems of 2019.]

Interest Rates Are Still Low-ish

Mortgage interest rates have been on a bit of a bumpy road over the last few months. Interest rates for a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage reached their highest level in over seven years in November 2018, when they hit 4.94 percent, according to Freddie Mac. As of the end of February 2019, however, interest rates are down slightly to 4.35 percent, according to the mortgage loan company. While it’s reasonable to expect mortgage rates to continue to climb gradually throughout the next year, they’ll remain much lower than the historic high of more than 18 percent in 1981.

It’s important to keep in mind that while mortgage rates tend to mirror the Fed’s interest rate activity, mortgage rates are based on the market in that moment, your financial status and the property you’re looking to purchase.

[Read: How Moving to a New Home Affects Your Taxes.]

Just because the Fed raises rates at one meeting doesn’t mean mortgage rates will follow that exact pattern. “Not every Fed increase is passing on (to) a mortgage rate,” says John Pataky, executive vice president and chief consumer and commercial banking executive at TIAA Bank.

A sudden leap in mortgage interest rates is unlikely in 2019, though Pataky notes that you should be ready to see rates continue to climb. “We do expect over the next 12 months that mortgage rates will continue to drift higher,” he says.

If you’re looking to get the lowest interest rate possible on your next house, try to make a deal sooner rather than later.

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You Have High Equity

Homeowners who bought during the recession or shortly after benefitted from historically low interest rates and, up until around 2015, lower home prices that were still in recovery mode. If you fall into that category, your home equity has risen with nearly every mortgage payment, each renovation you made to the house and all the other houses on the block that sold for a higher price.

The higher your equity in your home, the more you net from the sale, which can easily go toward the down payment on your next house. The larger your down payment, the better you look to lenders and the lower your interest rate will be, and the less likely you’ll need to increase monthly payments with private mortgage insurance.

[Read: Is Your House Too Big for You?]

Selling in 2019 vs. 2020

If not selling your home in 2019 means putting your house on the market in 2020, the sooner option is the best one. In a survey of 100 U.S. real estate experts and economists by real estate information company Zillow, released in May, almost half expect the next recession to occur in 2020. Another 14 percent believe the recession will hold out until 2021, while 24 percent of panelists expect the recession earlier – sometime in 2019.

Whether you believe the recession is imminent or a long way off, current real estate patterns indicate a sudden upswing in activity or prices is unlikely in the near future. Real estate markets tend to operate on a cycle of their own, the length of which varies by market but can be between 10 and 16 years total and flow from a seller’s market to a buyer’s market with a period of balance in between.

“It doesn’t look like there’s anything on the horizon that’s going to cause a big spike in home prices or increase demand dramatically,”

42 Inviting Colors to Paint a Front Door

Try a splash of gorgeous color to boost curb appeal and make your front entry more welcoming.

Keep in mind: Price and stock could change after publish date, and we may make money from these links.
February 19, 2019

9 Things to Know About Homeowners Associations

9 Things to Know About Homeowners Associations

Restrictive rules and high fees are just some things to watch out for.

Buying a condominium, townhouse, or single-family home within “a planned development” pretty much spares you much of the responsibility for the upkeep of your home and its surroundings. It also allows you to enjoy the use of swimming pools, gyms, and any other amenities available only to residents of the development. Unsurprisingly, though, these potential pluses come at a price to both your finances and your freedom as a homeowner.

Moving into a planned development often requires you to join the community’s homeowners association (HOA) and pay its fees to help cover the upkeep of common areas, shared structures, and exteriors. Membership also binds you to the association’s covenants, conditions, and restrictions, or “CC&Rs,” Those rules could thwart your dream of having a purple front door, say, or of leaving your RV in the driveway, since the CC&Rs typically include stipulations about the appearance of your home and the vehicles you can park outside it.

Statistically speaking, Americans have a one in five chance of living in a home that’s part of an HOA, according to a data analysis by applied microeconomist Wyatt G. Clarke. Since Clarke’s estimate was drawn up (in 2017), properties with HOAs have further surged.

Is life in a planned development a good option for you? And, if so, which ones have HOAs that may suit you best? The answers to those questions depend not only your finances but your enthusiasm for shared amenities, tolerance for rules and regulations, and comfort with self-government—since most HOAs are overseen by volunteers who live in the development.

Before you buy a home that makes you part of an HOA, here’s what you need to know, and the questions you should ask both the association and you and your family.

1. Fees Range Widely

Trulia study which used American Community Survey records, found monthly HOA fees averaged $331 a month in 2015. Averages ranged from a low of $218 month in Warren, Mich., to a high of $571 in New York City. Trulia found dues to be generally higher in older buildings and complexes with more units overall.

The number and size of the development’s amenities also affect rates, according to Nate Martinez, a real estate agent at RE/MAX Professionals in Glendale, Ariz. For example, a development that’s guarded by a gate, and has a clubhouse and golf course is likely to levy higher fees than one that offers minimal security and only a modest common area.

Fees can differ even within a development, due to variations in square footage, location, and orientation, all of which can affect how much upkeep the property will require.

What to Ask

What are the home’s current fees and and what is it’s fee history?
Most multiple listing services (MLSs) include HOA fees in the property listing. That should ensure you can access the information through,,, and other listing sites, according to Martinez.

You should also find out how often fees have increased over time, and by how much. If you can, obtain a printed history of HOA dues by year for the past 10 years. Martinez says that the fees for an HOA are typically increased no more than annually.

Are future increases already planned?
In Martinez’s experience, HOA increases are customarily mapped out three to five years in advance, using estimates of the future costs of utilities, labor, maintenance, and more.

Examine these projections if they’re available. Since they’re only estimates, Martinez suggests you also check the the amount by which fees are permitted to increase every year under the HOA’s bylaws. In a new complex, that research can help determine whether initial HOA fees have been attractively, even artificially, underpriced in order to attract homeowners and are liable to increase significantly over time to cover the gap between revenue and costs.

Alternatively, the opposite can also be the case—that is, HOA fees for a new development may actually go down slightly over time as more homes are added to the development and more homeowners are available to share the HOA’s fixed costs.

2. What You Get For Your Money Varies, Too

When you buy a home in a managed community, you’re actually buying a bundle of legal obligations and entitlements in addition to physical living space, says John Manning, managing broker at RE/MAX on Market in Seattle. The precise rights, services, and amenities for which the HOA is responsible may range as widely as the fees being charged. “A gated community may have gate maintenance as the only agreement between homeowners, or there may be an HOA in place with a legal authority to manage much more,” he says.

What to Ask

What’s covered by the monthly dues?
Look at what is included (and not included) that will affect your household finances. Will you have to pay for garbage pickup, for example? Are utilities included? Which ones? What about cable and/or internet service?

How much are you likely to enjoy the amenities?
Keep in mind you’ll pay for perks, such as recreational facilities, whether you use them or not. Find out the hours for amenities, such as pools and tennis courts, to determine if they’ll work with your schedule. If you’d think you’ll want to share these facilities with friends or family, check the rules and fees that pertain to guest use.

How do the dues compare with other developments?
Line up the fees—and their inclusions and exclusions—against those of other developments in the area, especially those that are already on your shortlist. “If you want to know about HOA ranges for your region, the best resource would be through a professional real estate broker who’s knowledgeable about homeowners associations,” says broker Manning.

3. Monthly Fees May Not Be All You’re Charged

An HOA may adopt one of several approaches to financial management. These choices especially affect how it funds unexpected expenses and such capital investments as replacing an HVAC system.

According to John Manning, managing broker at RE/MAX on Market in Seattle, “Some associations prefer a large cash reserve on hand to meet maintenance, legal, or management obligations as they arise. Others have lower fees and rely on special assessments—funds levied outside of HOA fees­­­­­­­­—for repairs and maintenance.” These levies are smiliar to the tax assessments sometimes levied by local governments.

Here’s how the assessment route works: When a major expense, such as replacing a roof or elevator, comes up—and the HOA’s reserves lack the funds to pay for it—the association may charge each homeowner a special assessment. These levies can run into the thousands of dollars.

What to Ask

How large is the HOA’s reserve fund?
According to Manning, the size of the reserve fund will depend not only on the HOA’s approach but also on the building’s age, condition, and amenities. Developments often draw up multiyear plans for repairs and capital investments, including their annual costs and the expected balance in the reserve fund at the time the outlays will be required.

Ask to see those documents, paying special attention to how well the needed expenditures line up with the balance of the reserve fund. Professional help can be valuable when poring over these spreadsheets. His company’s, Manning says, is to “have the clients discuss the financial statements with a CPA [who is an] expert in analyzing [developments’] financials.”

Is there a record of any past special assessments?
The HOA should be able to provide such a list. Ask, too, if any special assessments are planned in future. Note that economies of scale may mean that special assessments for a certain capital expense may be smaller in HOAs that have many members and higher in smaller HOAs, where a similar expense will have fewer homeowners to fund it.

4. Fees Will Figure Into Your Mortgage Approval

When contemplating a property purchase in a planned development, you’ll of course factor the impact of its HOA dues into your overall finances. So, too, will prospective mortgage lenders.

As they do with property taxes (which, by the way, are not included in HOA fees at most developments), banks will consider your monthly HOA fees when deciding how large a mortgage you’ll be able to afford. As a result, you may wrestle with vexing tradeoffs as you decide among properties. Higher HOA fees could leave you with a smaller approved amount to spend on your house compared with choosing an alternative property with low or no fees.

Interestingly, the presence of fees doesn’t necessarily reduce the value of a property; if anything, there’s evidence of the opposite effect. The research by microeconomist Clarke found that, after equalizing for home size and location, properties that were part of an HOA sold for an average of about 4% more than those who weren’t in an association. The premium is highest, he found, when the house and development are new; it declines with age.

What to Ask

What will your overall monthly costs be, including HOA fees?
Your prospective lender can provide the mortgage-payment figure, and you should already have the property-tax and HOA-fee numbers. If you’re just starting on your home search—and don’t yet have relationships with any lenders—use a free online mortgage calculator (like this one from NerdWallet) to estimate the likely mortgage payment for the principal you’re seeking, and to enter other relevant information, including your planned downpayment.

What effect will fees have on your maximum approved mortgage?
Again, any lender you’re talking with can provide this. Alternatively, many online mortgage calculators, including the one we linked to above, also allow you to request quotes from mortgage lenders on rates and maximum approved amounts.

5. Your Comfort with the Covenants Counts

Since the rules and regulations of any particular HOA may be unique, don’t rely on second-hand information or past experience at other developments to learn what a HOA’s rules and covenants are. And think hard about whether you’ll be able to live with them.

What to Ask

What are the current rules and regulations?
If you can’t find the CC&Rs online, at the HOA’s website, ask your real estate agent to acquire them for you or obtain them through contacting the HOA directly. Be sure to check if the document is up-to-date before you proceed too far into the buying process.

Can you live with the provisions for exterior use and appearance?
You could find you’re restricted in more ways than you might assume. In addition to governing door color and the like, CC&Rs may limit how tall your grass can grow, whether you can plant or remove trees, which types of vehicles you can park on the street or in your driveway (bans on parking RVs are not uncommon, for example), how high fences can be, and which types of coverings you can use on street-facing windows.

Is the development sufficiently “green” for you?
If environmentally friendly living is a personal priority, check the HOA’s green provisions, beginning with what can be planted around your home, and how that vegetation may be maintained.

For example, some HOAs do not allow xeriscaping, an environmentally friendly form of landscaping for arid climates, and may limit the size and composition of any garden you plant. The rules may also dictate the use of particular fertilizers, pesticides, or sprinkler systems to maintain the yard and ban the likes of compost piles and solar panels.

Are there occupancy restrictions?
Check for any language that might prevent you from, or even just complicate, renting out your property. What’s considered customary can depend on the jurisdiction. “In the Seattle area, it is common to find prohibitions on short-term [vacation] rentals. HOAs have an interest in limiting the percentage of non-owner-occupied units, as mortgage lenders may be reluctant to lend on buildings that have high rental occupancy,” says Manning.

6. Developments Differ in How They Handle Conflict

As in any community, disagreements arise within a planned development, sometimes over certain residents bending or breaking the rules. Before you buy, explore how rules are set and enforced and what penalties are imposed against rule-breakers.

What to Ask

Outline the penalties imposed for violating rules.
Sanctions can be strict. In some HOAs, the outcomes may include being fined or sued, or having the HOA place a lien on your home. Pay particular attention to whether the HOA can foreclose on your property for nonpayment of HOA dues or nonpayment of fines resulting from CC&R violations.

How are potential violations handled?
Ask about the process for resolving any conflicts, as well as how the HOA manages adding or amending rules.

What’s the recent history of violations and other conflicts?
Request a list or other accounting of conflicts and rule violations the association has had to resolve. If that information doesn’t detail lawsuits, ask about those. Has the HOA sued anyone? Been sued? If so, what were the outcomes of those legal actions?

7. The HOA’s staffing and reputation matter

Since the association essentially serves as a hyper-local government for the community, it pays to look into who runs it and how well those people function together.

What to Ask

Describe the structure of the HOA.
It’s very common for HOAs to be overseen by community residents who hold their positions as volunteers and are elected by association members. However, some associations are entirely managed professionally. If a private company manages the HOA, investigate its reputation before you buy. If the HOA has some employees, or companies to which it contracts out tasks, ask about these entities and the work they do.

How do residents view the association?
Talk if you can to some of the building’s current owners—preferably ones who are not on the HOA board and have lived in the building for several years. How collegially does the board function? Are differences in opinion usually handled civilly and constructively? Be alert for indications of frequent, even perpetual, drama. As with some other governing bodies, HOAs can be hampered by egotism, power plays, and petty politics.

What’s it like to serve on the board?
Schedule time to speak with the HOA president, to get a sense of whether you want this person making decisions on your behalf about the development. Ask the president, too, about interest among residents in serving on the board: Is there high motivation to do so, or relative indifference? This conversation may also motivate you (or not) to serve on the board yourself one day, a move that would require getting elected and giving up some free time for your new responsibilities.

8. The Property May Not Be in Compliance with the HOA

Don’t rely on being properly alerted to any lingering issues between the association and the current owner of a house that interests you. Failure to ask about these problems in a timely way could result in you inheriting them when you take possession of the property.

What to Ask

Does the home have any problem points with the HOA?
Some potential issues may be obvious, such as dead or overgrown landscaping or flaking paint. Conversely, has the owner made exterior improvements or other changes to the property without getting HOA approval? If these changes are not in compliance with the rules, what could happen to you if you owned the property?

How can these snafus be settled?
You may be able to force the owner to fix the problems as part of the sale agreement or provide cash at closing.

9. Insurance Responsibilities Are Often Divided

As with the ownership of property, insurance provisions within a planned development can be divided, too, with the HOA covering some perils or areas and the homeowner responsible for others.

What to Ask

What are the applicable insurance requirements?
These are often mandated by state law. In Florida, for example, a condominium HOA must insure all common property, which includes every part of the building up to a unit’s unfinished drywall. Meanwhile, the homeowner is responsible for insuring all personal property within their unit, including appliances, flooring, cabinetry, window treatments, and the like.

Check the law for the state you’ll be living in to for the precise division of requirements. Confirm the HOA for the property you’re considering is adhering to those requirements.

What additional protection may be wise?
Catastrophe insurance is particularly important if you’re considering a condo or townhouse purchase in an area prone to major natural disasters, such as floods, earthquakes, blizzards, wildfires, tornadoes, or hurricanes. “In the Pacific Northwest, earthquake insurance is very common [in planned developments], though not required,” says Manning.

Check whether the HOA provides additional coverage as a perk for owning within the development. “[A] forward-thinking HOA can make a condo building more attractive” in this way, says Manning. They might add “earthquake and other types of hazard insurance, [which] will be reflected in the homeowner’s HOA dues.” You should, of course, confirm if such additional coverage also extends to the areas that are the homeowner’s legal responsibility, or only to those under the HOA’s purview.

The Bottom Line

Living in a planned development—and being governed in part by the rules of an HOA—can be a mixed blessing. It offers the prospect of exchanging some control over your home for the reduced responsibilities of maintaining it, and for the benefit of enjoying shared amenities and security. It can, however, also trade the diverse look of a typical neighborhood for a more uniform appearance, albeit one with a lower chance of a neighbor’s decorating taste or sloppy maintenance habits becoming a problem for you.

How well you embrace those tradeoffs will contribute to how happy you’ll be in a condominium or other “planned home.” If you decide to proceed with a purchase, be sure to engage professionals, including a real estate agent, who are familiar with planned developments and HOAs since there are a number of unusual aspects to these compared with buying a single-family home.

Are Closing Costs Tax Deductible Under the New Tax Law?

Are closing costs tax deductible? What about mortgage interest? Or property taxes? The answer is, maddeningly, “It depends.”

Basically, you’ll want to itemize if you have deductions totaling more than the standard deduction, which is $12,000 for single people and $24,000 for married couples filing jointly. Every taxpayer gets this deduction, homeowner or not. And most people take it because their actual itemized deductions are less than the standard amount.

But should you take it?

To decide, you need to know what’s tax deductible when buying or owning a house. Here’s the list of possible deductions:

Closing Costs

The one-time home purchase costs that are tax deductible as closing costs are real estate taxes charged to you when you closed, mortgage interest paid when you settled, and some loan origination fees (a.k.a. points) applicable to a mortgage of $750,000 or less.

But you’ll only want to itemize them if all your deductions total more than the standard deduction.

Costs of closing on a home that aren’t tax deductible include:

  • Real estate commissions
  • Appraisals
  • Home inspections
  • Attorney fees
  • Title fees
  • Transfer taxes
  • Mortgage refi fees

Mortgage interest and property taxes are annual expenses of owning a home that may or may not be deductible. Continue reading to learn more about those.

12 Tips for Selling Your Home for a Better Price

Building Prosperity: 12 Tips For Selling Your Home For A Better Price

Are you planning to sell your home in 2019? A lot has changed about the real estate market in recent years, and if you want to get the best price for your property, there are a few important things you’ll want to consider.

The experts at Forbes Real Estate Council have an inside look at market trends and understand what it takes to make a profitable sale. We asked a panel of members to share their best tips for homeowners looking to sell this year. Here’s what they had to say.

Members share a few ways you can sell your property for a better price.Photos courtesy of the individual members

1. Speak To An Agent Before Fixing Up The Home

Many homesellers spend a lot of time and money fixing up their home to sell — but it’s critical to speak with an agent before you do any work.  An expert agent familiar with your neighborhood and market can provide you with recommendations that will generate the best return on your investments and highest sales price. In many cases, agents can also recommend reliable and trustworthy vendors. – Lisa FettnerReferralExchange

2. Think S.M.A.R.T.

Selling your home in 2019 will be different from years past. Consider adding Smart technology to the house. Next, Market the property at a fair price with high-quality media and collateral. Then Add value to the buyer by offering unique incentives. Repair the obvious defects pre-listing, and Time your listing properly. Thinking S.M.A.R.T. in 2019 will help sell the home in a changing market. – Christopher LazarusSellect Realty

3. List Your Home For Slightly Less Than You Want

In a buyer’s market, I find that it’s often best to slightly underprice your home in order to get top dollar. By underpricing, you will create a sense of urgency and competition for your property that very well could result in multiple bids or even a bidding war. You never want to chase the market down, so even if you don’t get multiple bids, you will still attract interest while others adjust. – Stephen Glen KliegermanHalstead Property Development Marketing

Forbes Real Estate Council is an invitation-only community for executives in the real estate industry. Do I qualify?

4. Have Your Realtor Act As A PR Agent For The House

Armed with high quality, professional photos, your realtor can showcase the listing across online social media platforms, and possibly even pitch the home to major online publications. Getting the maximum exposure on your listing will garner the most interest and may even sway buyers who weren’t specifically shopping in that neighborhood. – Beatrice de JongOpen Listings (YC W15)

5. Research What Current Buyers Want

We’re late cycle and at peak prices, so the buyers shelling out top dollar have equally high expectations. I’d review online publications like Houzz, which releases yearly market data on what resonates the most with buyers. Everything from materials, color schemes, layouts and which fixes yield the highest ROI are included. If you’re a seller, this should be on the top of your to-do list. – Ari AfsharCompass

6. Price Your Home Ahead Of The Market

Price, market reach and negotiations will be key in 2019. Buyers are becoming more price-sensitive as the market shifts. Homes must be priced ahead of the market. Our jobs as agents will be to get the property in front of the buyers for whom it’s right for. Proactive marketing and strategic deal making will be key. Finally, savvy negotiations will get homes into escrow and keep them there. – Kofi NarteyThe Nartey Group – Compass

7. Stage Your Property

Staging a property is one of the most important things a homeowner can do when selling their home. It’s often difficult for a prospective homeowner to visualize a home’s potential without proper furniture placement and a modern design aesthetic. Getting your home staged will give it that extra “wow” factor. – Hillary LegrainFirst Savings Mortgage Corp.

8. Consider Your Timing And The Cost Of Waiting

Before locking into a long-term listing contract with a traditional real estate broker, test what the market will give you cash today. Do the math carefully on what it will cost you to wait to sell for three or six months on a traditional listing, and factor in weather and market direction risks. You might find selling sooner to an all-cash buyer is more profitable. – Kent ClothierReal Estate Worldwide

9. Update The ‘Money Rooms’

With the market shifting, buyers are more selective on the homes they make offers on. Most of them want a home that is turn-key, so focus on what I call the “money rooms.” They’re the rooms people spend the most time in: kitchen, family room, master bed and bathrooms. Updating those rooms, whether it be a major remodel or fresh coat of paint, will produce a higher ROI than other areas of the home. – Brad LeCompass

10. Justify Your Price Tag

Be thoughtful in the home you’re selling. Today’s buyers are looking for intelligence, and they want a much more holistic understanding of how their home is juxtaposed within their micro-market. People are willing to pay for better quality locations, unique yield on properties, construction, design, team, etc., but the price tag on everything has to be justified. – Cody VichinskyBespoke Real Estate

11. Consider Whether Your Home Can Be Divided And Rented Out

What will make your home stand out in a crowded marketplace?  Today, home buyers and property investors alike are seeking out the “unicorn property,” which is a home that is (or can be) divided to accommodate a secondary living space for the new revolution of shared-economy travelers. Put in a bit of work and investment and create a second unit that will help pay the new owners’ mortgage. – Garratt Hasenstab, The Mountain Life Companies™

12. Price Fairly For A Buyer’s Market

This year it’s not necessarily going to be a seller’s market because interest rates are going up and so is inventory. That means more product on the market than prior years. So if you don’t want your house sitting for a long time you should probably price it fairly. You don’t want to find a property that you want to buy but haven’t been able to sell. – Engelo RumoraList’n Sell Realty

Forbes Real Estate Council is an invitation-only, fee-based organization for senior-level executives in the real estate industry.

Forbes Real Estate Council is an invitation-only, fee-based organization for senior-level executives in the real estate industry.

Harvest Home Fair Looking to New Generation to Keep Fair Alive

Harvest Home Fair looking to new generation to keep fair alive

Posted: 9:54 PM, Feb 17, 2019
Updated: 12:54 AM, Feb 20, 2019

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CHEVIOT, Ohio — Last year’s Harvest Home Fair was declared a wash after rain drenched the area over the entire weekend.

The event is normally attended by tens of thousands of people from all over Greater Cincinnati, and it’s the primary form of fundraising for the Kiwanis Club of Cheviot-Westwood. After the fair concluded in September, the organization ultimately lost money.

That’s not its only problem. The average age of a Harvest Home Fair volunteer is 69, and leaders worry the 159-year-old event will disappear with their generation.

“People nowadays are really busy and they don’t join service clubs like the used to,” fair chairman Peter Rebold said. “We need new blood in the fair to keep it going.”

As the Kiwanis Club deals with waning membership numbers and increased strain on the organization after last year’s fair left them in the lurch, they hope newer members will help step up and take on some of the challenges of putting on the 2019 fair.

“We’re walking kind of a fine line because people say, ‘Well, we need to change the fair because it’s been the same thing forever,'” Rebold said. “The other side says, ‘Well, that’s why it’s so cool. It’s been the same thing forever. It’s the one thing that doesn’t change, man. We have the fair.'”

Aging members are in need of help from younger members to take on many of the jobs associated with planning and executing the Harvest Home Fair. Rebold also said members want to see the fair continue, but the organization will need a boost in membership and volunteer recruitment to pull it off.

It’s also important to bring in new blood to help innovate and make necessary changes to keep the fair relevant.

“We have to preserve what’s there, but we need to keep up with what’s current to keep people interested too,” said Rebold.

After the funding hit the Kiwanis Club took from last year’s fair, a Gofundme was established to help recoup some of the losses. Without the help from the annual fundraiser, the Kiwanis Club has not been able to provide many of the services and community donations it would normally.

5 Ways Sellers Can Prepare to List a Home in January


Keeping your home off the market until the new year might be the right move. Here’s how to take advantage of that extra time.

By Devon Thorsby, Editor, Real Estate |Nov. 30, 2017, at 10:49 a.m.

5 Ways Sellers Can Prepare to List a Home in January
Brand new modern construction. warm and inviting.

Putting in a little work now may ensure a quick home sale when 2018 rolls around. (Getty Images)

Thanksgiving has passed, the weather has turned cold and everyone has their mind on the holiday season as the year comes to an end. For the residential real estate industry, that means sales go quiet.

The seasonal real estate cycle typically sees a decrease in buyer demand during the last couple months of each year, as people turn their attention to family gatherings for the holidays and wrapping up projects at work before the new year.

Where you’ll see the biggest change in sales over the ebb and flow of the seasons is the number of days a property is on the market. reports the U.S. housing market hit its lowest median days on market in June 2016 with 65 days, climbing to 89 days in December 2016 and hitting its peak in January 2017, with a median of 96 days on market. The trend appears to be repeating itself. The housing market hit its low for this year again in June, at 60 days, and is now climbing up, with the most recently reported number being 73 days for October.

But fewer active buyers and more days on market doesn’t mean you can’t sell your house during the winter months. Especially if you’re pressed for time and need to sell quickly, particularly hot markets see many eager buyers looking to snatch up available properties while the competition is still recovering from Thanksgiving dinner.

[Read: 6 Do’s and Don’ts for Selling Your First Home.]

In New York City, for example, many international buyers looking for property in the city use the holiday season as an opportunity to tour a few available listings to “scout the market,” says Ross Evangelista, a licensed real estate salesperson with Stribling & Associates in New York.

Even with some potential out-of-town buyers shopping the area, listing your property during the winter months means you’ll need to be more flexible with the sale price. With fewer buyers stopping by, demand is lower.

For those who aren’t in a rush, taking your property off the market or waiting to list it until after the holiday season can lead you to more interest, more offers and – hopefully – a higher final sale price, says Timur Loynab, a real estate agent and principal at CondoNest, the condo resales division of the District of Columbia-based brokerage McWilliams Ballard.

“I believe strongly that it is not only a good idea to go dormant during the holiday season and the winter market in general, I think it’s a strategic move to make,” Loynab says. “Because, in general, the holidays and the winter real estate market is a time of doldrums in our industry – your pool of buyers shrinks considerably.”

If you’re not pressed for time, the combination of your holiday schedule, your agent’s possible vacation time and the reduced number of buyers can make waiting to list until after the new year the right move. “If the logistics aren’t there, don’t push the issue,” Evangelista says.

With your home off the market for the holiday season, here are five things you can do now to make a splash when you list the property next year.

Boost your curb appeal. While working on your property’s exterior appeal during the winter may not be the first thing that comes to mind, it may have something to do with why buyers haven’t been eager to make an offer on your property.

“If your lawn is lackluster and there isn’t any curb appeal, you’ve lost your buyer already,” Loynab says.

There may be no leaves on the trees and the grass may not be the vibrant green it is in spring, but a manicured lawn, some landscaping with flowers or plants that will continue to look nice in the colder weather and maybe even a fresh coat of exterior paint on your house can make a big difference.

“You want to always make a good first impression, and it starts the minutes the prospective purchasers enter your property,” Loynab says.

[Read: 8 Projects to Bring Your 1950s Home Into the Modern Age.]

Remodel where it will help. Another problem area may be one of the key rooms buyers pay the most attention to when touring a property. If your kitchen, living room, master bathroom or master bedroom need a lot of work, buyers may rule out buying your house because it will be too much work.

If that’s the case, Loynab recommends weighing your options to update one or more of those rooms in the most cost-effective way possible – replacing fixtures and repainting cabinets, for example. The plus side of off-season renovations is that contractors are less in demand during the winter.

“Those contractors are not only readily available, but their services are often a little less expensive because there isn’t this feeding frenzy for their services,” Loynab says.


Why Winter Can Be an Excellent Time to Sell Your Home

Don’t delay. If you have a house to sell, put it on the market now.

Remove the holiday decor. A winter wreath can be a nice touch, but if your property is going back on the market in January, take down your holiday decorations before any would-be buyers walk in your door.

“As a general rule, the tidier the better. You don’t know what [type of background] your buyer is coming from,” Evangelista says, noting that a lot of religious or cultural decorations can distract from the rest of the home. Once the holidays have passed, pack up your holiday decorations and put them back in storage.

Keep winter scents around. You can, however, keep your seasonal scented candles out. “If it’s right after the holidays, you might want to keep some of the nice smells if you’re going to list in January,” Evangelista says.

The smell of evergreen, chestnuts and peppermint can help buyers connect their own fond memories of home with your property. Diffusers, sprays and plug-in air fresheners can serve as a substitute for candles, but be sure that no scent overpowers the space.

[See: 7 Things to Consider When Picking Out Paint Colors for Your Home.]

Keep it off market for a reset. A big reason you’re opting to take your property off the market is to keep it from looking like it’s been sitting on the market for an extended period of time with no interest. “Many buyer agents simply will not show listings to their clients with high days on market,” Loynab says.

Some local multiple listing services – where your real estate agent markets the property to other professionals – require a property be off market for a minimum period of time before the days on market counter can reset. Strategize with your agent to determine when will be the best time to bring your property back on the market.

In the Washington area, for example, Loynab notes a property has to be off the market for 90 days. After that, “Your days on market are reset back to zero,” Loynab says, making it a fresh, new listing.

The Little Things: Small Decisions That Can Impact Your Home’s Sale Price

A young woman tidying her house

(Getty Images)

Minor moves for a bigger payoff.

A lot of thought goes into preparing your home for sale, and most decisions depend on the amount of investment you’re willing to put in before the house goes on the market and how big your return will likely be. So it may come as a surprise that many seemingly minor changes can make a significant difference on your house’s sale price. Small updates won’t fix every problem spot, of course – as Andrea Di Giuseppe, founder and CEO of TREND Transformations puts it: “If you still have your kitchen giving you the vibe of the ‘Golden Girls,’ well, maybe you need to refresh it completely.” The following little decisions may help you appeal to potential borrowers.