The Home Column

Home is where the heart is, right? I bought a home in 2005, about six months before the peak of the housing market boom, and chronicled the entire home buying journey. Since then, I’ve kept up to date on all things related to housing, mortgages, and taxes in this column.


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10 home repairs to tackle this spring

Home repairs

Spring presents a dual opportunity when it comes to houses and home repairs:

  1. In areas where winter temperatures are subsiding, you’ll be able to get outside and survey any damage that storms and wind may have caused in the last months.
  2. By giving an in-depth look to your residence, you’ll have the chance to make any repairs needed early on, before they turn into major, expensive fixes.


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Hire a mover who won’t break the bank

movers-unloading-a-moving-truck
February 23, 2016
Let’s face it, sometimes you have to pay professionals to get your household goods to your next residence.

You simply may not have the time, ability or inclination to do it yourself.

No matter what the reason, don’t think you have to pay top dollar just because you’ve contracted a professional mover. There are ways to cut your costs.

If you can plan the date of your move, experts say that mid-month sometime between September and April will be the least expensive times.

Summer is very popular for moving because the kids are out of school so because of supply and demand movers can get the best rates then.

Also, if at all possible schedule the mover ahead of time. Some charge more for last minute bookings.

Bargaineering.com has some other tips to not only save you money, but also get your belongings to their destination unscathed.
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I’ve got to stop watching HGTV … It creates unrealistic expectations that make me hate my home

Want to enjoy your home more? Stop watching HGTV

I’ve been an HGTV addict for years. From House Hunters to Property Virgins and Rehab Addict to Property Brothers, I couldn’t get enough.

For the last few months, though, episodes of what used to be my favorite shows have been piling up on my DVR. When I try to watch an episode, I find myself shutting it off after a few minutes.

What’s happened?

I’ve realized that the shows I thought were light, easy-to-digest morsels that don’t cause me any stress — in contrast to the shows my husband enjoys, like Walking Dead and American Horror Story — are actually making me unhappy.

Every time I see a beautifully designed renovation on Property Brothers, I get depressed that my home doesn’t look like that and probably never will.

When I watch buyers tour turn-of-the-century craftsman homes with exquisite woodwork and coffered ceilings, my mass-produced box home seems so boring.

What’s more, these buyers are usually in their late 20s to early 30s, and they’re already getting their dream homes.
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The ultimate tips for holiday tipping on a budget

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, they say, unless you’re talking about your finances.

From a money perspective, the holidays put a huge strain on family bank accounts, especially when all of those extras – like year-end tips – push your budget past its breaking point.

It’s so easy to get caught up in the holiday spirit of giving, or feel pressured into having to financially reward everyone with whom you’ve come in contact.

But while you want to find a way to thank everyone at holiday time, you shouldn’t have to deplete your limited cash reserves to do so.

January (and its fearsome pile of bills) is right around the corner.

That’s why I’ve learned to set aside extra funds to cover all of the holiday tips I want to give and to be a little stingy about who I reward.

Well, put in a more positive way, I’ve become more selective about who gets end-of-year tips or thank-you gifts, and to place reasonable limits on the presents I bestow.

Here’s how I suggest you do that.
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Right now is the best time of the year to buy a home … No really, real estate data says it’s today

If you’re in the market to purchase a home, mark October on your calendar as the best month to buy.

That’s when you’ll get the biggest discount, according to a new study from RealtyTrac, a company that tracks real estate data and trends.

RealtyTrac analyzed more than 32 million single-family home and condo sales across the nation dating back to 2000. The average sales price in October over that 15-year period was 2.6% below the average estimated full market value at the time of sale – better than any other month.

On a $200,000 home, that’s more than a $5,000 discount — more money toward your down payment and more equity in your home.

When you buy, as this report demonstrates, can play a major role in how much home you can afford.

“The start of the school year and the holidays influence our buyer decisions and serve as a strategic indicator of the most advantageous times for buyers to land their lowest-priced deal,” Mark Hughes, chief operating officer with First Team Real Estate, told RealtyTrac.
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I’m into serial refinancing … You should be, too


My husband and I bought our house in 2008, and we’ve refinanced the mortgage three times since then.

Sounds crazy, right? Who would want to go through the cost and hassle of taking out four home loans in just seven years?

We would, and you should consider it, too.

Refinancing doesn’t take much of your time and it can save you a couple of years’ worth of income. You could take that huge savings and retire earlier or put the money toward other major goals.

There’s no reason not to refinance repeatedly as long as you calculate the break-even period and it shows that you’ll likely come out ahead each time.

I say “likely” because it’s never a sure thing.

Your job could get transferred the day after you refinance, and you could end up selling your home unexpectedly.

That’s life, as my dad would say. The best you can do is make an educated guess about how long you’ll keep the new loan.

We were able to go from a 30-year, fixed-rate FHA loan at 6% to a 30-year, fixed-rate FHA loan at 4.5%, then to a 15-year, fixed-rate conventional loan at 3.375% and finally to a 15-year, fixed-rate conventional loan at 2.875%.
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A YouTube video taught me how to fix my oven, saving $1,000 in repair bills and boosting my confidence

My old oven

When my oven went out a few months ago, I put off dealing with the problem.

The appliance looks about 30 years old, so I assumed it was beyond repair and that replacement parts wouldn’t be available.

Because it’s a wall oven, not a freestanding range, my research revealed that it would cost at least $1,000 to replace it with a bottom-of-the-line model.

How depressing.

I only use my oven about once a week, so the payback period seemed too long. There are other things I’d rather spend $1,000 on.

I made do by learning how to cook the things I used to make in my oven on the stove, in the toaster oven or on the grill. I even found recipes for baking bread in a crock pot.

I decided that when my husband and I finally undertook the kitchen remodel we’ve been coveting since we moved in, we would get a new freestanding range and solve the problem.

But that’s about five years off.

Then I decided to research my oven’s symptoms online.

I found information on common oven problems at Appliance411.com. I knew from having my father-in-law and the gas company examine my oven that even though the electric starter was glowing, it was probably too old to create enough heat to ignite the gas burner.
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Some surprising help turned my long search for new windows into a low-cost (or lower-cost) reality

I was clicking around the Groupon app one evening on my iPad when I ventured beyond the food and drink deals I normally scout to ones for home services.

I expected to find discounted housecleaning, not a significant savings on windows and installation.

But two months later, five new vinyl replacement windows graced our condo — purchased in part with a $1,999 Groupon.

My husband and I had been eyeing new windows for the rear of our home for some time.

When our century-old Chicago home was rehabbed in 1984, the majority of its windows were “updated” with aluminum windows.

Thirty years later, they were a struggle to open. If you did manage to push one up, it wouldn’t stay up.

The pane would come crashing down the second you let go of it. On every aluminum window, the balance — that handy mechanism inside a window that keeps it open — was kaput.
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