My House Is Literally ‘Making Me Sick’—What Can I Do?


At®, we love to hear from our readers, take their thorniest questions about home buying, selling, and owning, and then tap into our deep pool of industry experts for definitive answers. It’s fun and informative!

One of you recently emailed us the following frequently asked question:

Q: I have been living in my townhouse less than one year and have recently found out that I have a high level of mold in the house. I had the property inspected by a professional building inspector before purchase and there was no indication of this problem on his report.

The house is literally “making me sick” and I have been advised (by doctors) to move out.  My questions are:

How can I put this home up for sale?

How much can I expect to pay to have the mold removed?

Should I pursue litigation with an attorney to recover my losses?

A: This is unquestionably an alarming situation to be in. But before you make any decisions regarding litigation, make sure to get a second opinion on the mold. Bring in a third home inspector—yes, a third—and make sure you know exactly how much mold you have and where it’s originating.

But keep this in mind: The fact that your initial home inspection didn’t indicate mold isn’t necessarily indicative of an unreliable home inspector. Inspectors are trained to look for conditions surrounding mold, but not mold itself, says Kevin Minto, president of Signet Home Inspections in Grass Valley, CA.

A routine inspection might indicate that a home has the proper conditions for mold growth such as waterlogged areas or spots with high cellulose content.

And, if mold was found, the inspector should have referred you to a qualified mold professional for assessment and remediation options. Bottom line: If the mold isn’t presenting visually, your inspector might miss it. But that also means it’s probably not a serious mold problem.

How to determine who—or what—is to blame

Unfortunately, there’s no good way to determine if the mold was present before purchasing your home—meaning litigation is unlikely to be a fruitful avenue. Plus, in the right conditions, mold takes just 48 hours to propagate.

“What is to say this mold infestation didn’t occur after the home inspection was completed?” Minto asks.

And another caveat to keep in mind: Even if the problem is as old as the house, it simply might not have affected the previous homeowners.

“All homes have mold to some degree,” Minto says. “Acceptable levels of mold are not the same for everyone as some people are far more sensitive than others.”

Unless you can uncover direct evidence the previous homeowners knowledgeably hid the mold problem, there’s not much you can do.

Since you live in a townhome, your neighbors may offer some clues. They may also be suffering—or even causing the mold.

Neighbors who cook with a lot of steam and don’t vent their kitchen properly can add significant moisture to the home, according to Larry Stamp, owner of Cameo Home Inspection Services in Olympia, WA.

Options are ‘limited’

We also recommend getting a second opinion from another doctor.

“You have to kind of be a little skeptical of the diagnosis as well,” says Stamp, who’s also a former nurse. “Mold illness is a very difficult thing to diagnose.”

But assuming you do have mold—and it is making you sick—your options are still, unfortunately, limited: Anything you do will require removing the mold, which can vary widely in cost depending on your location and the extremity of the infestation. You might be able to get away with simply cleaning the area, which can cost under $200.

But if it’s traced to a fundamental problem in your roof or foundation, removal costs can quickly climb into the thousands of dollars.

Even if you want to sell the house, you’ll be forced to remove the mold beforehand—or risk selling at a loss.

But there is some (sort of) good news.

“Keep in mind that everyone is not equally sensitive to mold and the problem may not be as bad as perceived,” Minto says.

Sin City sees high-rolling home prices again

Strong demand and tight supply has one of the nation’s hardest hit housing markets of the recession getting back on its feet again. Las Vegas home sales surged 14 percent in September from a year ago, according to the Greater Las Vegas Association of Realtors (GLVAR).

“At this point, we’re well ahead of last year’s sales pace, which is good news for local homeowners and the housing market,” said 2015 GLVAR President Keith Lynam, a Las Vegas real estate agent. “It remains a fairly balanced real estate market, which is solid news for both buyers and sellers.”

A time exposure of traffic along the Las Vegas Strip is viewed from Caesars Palace on May 19, 2015.

A time exposure of traffic along the Las Vegas Strip is viewed from Caesars Palace on May 19, 2015.

The median price of a home sold in September was $220,000, up 8.6 percent from one year ago, according to GLVAR. Condominium prices were up about 5 percent.

As with much of the nation, the inventory of homes for sale is down from a year ago, and the same is true in Las Vegas with September supply 3 percent lower than a year ago. Homebuilders are starting to ramp up again in the area, and with solid demand returning and distressed homes leaving the market, supply should increase in the coming months.

“Demand is still outpacing inventory in housing that’s listed for sale under $300,000, but when you get above that mark that’s where we’re seeing the softening in demand,” said Cynthia Silver, a real estate agent with Century 21 Martinez and Associates.

Pending sales were lower in August, but Silver says that is normal for the season. She is concerned some sellers are being unrealistic in their pricing. The Las Vegas housing market is improving, but it is still has a ways to go.

“As long as the seller lists for current market value, the days on market are still very reasonable,” added Silver.

Zombie foreclosures lurk locally but largely vanish

They were one of the worst blights of the housing crisis.
Zombie foreclosures –abandoned homes in some state of foreclosure but not yet repossessed by banks and put up for sale.

In some neighborhoods there were so many, they took up half a block. In others, they stood out, grass un-mowed, trash in the yard, glaring, often dangerous reminders of the worst housing crisis in history.

Now, thanks to rising home prices and streamlined foreclosure rules, they are half of what they were just a year ago.

Foreclosure house

Zombie foreclosures now account for just over one percent of the 1.5 million vacant homes in the United States, according to RealtyTrac.

States with the most vacant “zombie” foreclosures were New Jersey (3,997), Florida (3,512), New York (3,365), Illinois (1,187) and Ohio (1,028), and some markets, such as Boston, St. Louis and Philadelphia, have seen an increase in their zombie population.

That increase is likely due to an increase in default notices in states with a very slow foreclosure process that can drag on for years; with backlogs so big for so long, banks waited to file.

Now, as those backlogs ease, the banks are filing, but the new default notices are on homes that have been delinquent possibly for years, so they are more likely to be vacant when they finally get to foreclosure.

“The overall inventory of homes in the foreclosure process has dropped 36 percent over the past year so it’s not too surprising to see a similarly dramatic drop in vacant zombie foreclosures,” said Daren Blomquist, vice president at RealtyTrac.

“What is surprising is there are so many vacant homes where the homeowners do not appear to be in financial distress.”

The majority of vacant homes, 63 percent according to RealtyTrac, are owned outright with no mortgage.

“The fact that the homeowners are not selling, given the recovering real estate market in most areas, indicates that many of these properties are in poor condition and in neighborhoods that have been left behind by the housing recovery,” said Blomquist.

The problem is particularly prevalent in cities such as Chicago and Detroit, where distressed homes are highly concentrated in certain neighborhoods. 5.5 percent of Detroit homes are currently vacant, according to the report.

“Some single family homes stay vacant because they’re in the wrong place, in markets where population isn’t growing and demand is weak. But the big question is whether some owners are holding vacant houses in strong-demand areas off the market, hoping to sell higher if prices keep climbing,” said Jed Kolko, Senior Fellow, at the TernerCenter at UC-Berkeley.

Nationally, the supply of single-family homes for sale is extremely tight, and yet a lot of single-family homes remain vacant and off the market. The overall vacancy rate for single-family homes is still near its recession-level high, when you include homes held off the market, according to Kolko.

The Ultimate Open House Checklist

We know—selling your home is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s a big decision that can take years of dreaming, years of waiting for home values to return all while second-guessing yourself, your life choices, and the market. You’ve been patient. The house you expected to live in for a few years has turned into a 10-year hold. Rejoice! The housing market has rebounded, and the time to sell may be now: Home prices are up, interest rates are still low (but rising), and inventory is tight.

Of course, the first thing a potential buyer sees is your front yard and your home’s exterior. Is your house as attractive as it could be? According to the 2015 Remodeling Cost vs. Value report by the National Association of Realtors®, home buyers are big on curb appeal. So here’s our checklist of everything you need to do to get the outside of your home looking as good as the inside.

Replace the entry door. Buyers are looking for safety and energy efficiency. Replace your dingy old door with a new steel entry door for a 102% return on investment, according to NAR. It is attractive, comes in different colors, and won’t break the bank (price range is $99 to $500). This, however, is good only for median- to lower-priced homes (those priced below $200,000). For high-end homes, be sure your front door reflects the grandeur of the price and neighborhood.

Replace the garage door. Sometimes it’s the first thing potential buyers see when they drive up to your house. If the garage door is dirty, worn, and hanging from a hinge, replace it. A new door can add pizzazz and, according to NAR, return about 89% of its value.

Wash the windows. If you don’t do windows, hire someone who does. Clean windows show potential buyers you take good care of your house. This attention to detail makes them want to see the inside.

Repair/replace the roof. This is a big one. Roofs are expensive; we know that. But a leaky roof can end up costing even more. Buyers always, always ask their agents how old the roof is. They want to know that they won’t get stuck with your postponed repairs. If you can’t replace it, have a roofer patch spots that show wear. It’s best to get this big-ticket item done before the inspector finds it and potentially destroys your sell.

Clear the gutters. If your gutters resemble potted plants, it’s time to clean them. If they hang lower than the roofline, reattach them. A cluttered gutter signals to potential buyers that you’ve given up, and they likely will, too.

Replace the siding. Buyers place a premium on fiber cement siding, according to NAR. If your home is sagging from warped siding, upgrade from vinyl to cement. Make sure your agent tells buyers about your recent investment.

Tuck-point the bricks. If you live in a brick home, be sure to have it tuck-pointed. Not only does a freshly tuck-pointed house look better, it is also sealed against water damage.

Replace the windows. Yes, this is another big-ticket item. Replacing windows can cost thousands of dollars. A quick hack: Replace the windows seen from the curb. New energy-efficient, double-paned windows are high priorities for buyers. You may not be able to afford all new windows, but some are better than none.

Paint the exterior. If you live in a painted house that used to be yellow but now looks beige, it’s time for a fresh coat. Don’t underestimate the value of a freshly painted house.

Mow the lawn. Do we have to say this? And while you’re at it, edge it, too.

Trim the hedges. There’s no need to get fancy—just trim the outgrowth.

Plant flowers. Adding pops of color with flowers and ornamental grass can boost curb appeal while making buyers feel welcome. If you want to landscape, try adding low-maintenance, drought-tolerant plants to entice the eco-conscious.

Trim trees. Don’t make buyers duck down while walking to your front door. If the tree branches are hanging too low for the average person, trim them back. There should always be a clear path to the front door.

Powerwash the porch/deck. Buyers will always check out the backyard. If you have a deck, make sure it’s washed, sealed, and ready for entertaining.

Check the doorbell. While it doesn’t affect your curb appeal, a working doorbell matters. Sometimes open house visitors ring the bell before walking in. Make sure yours works!

Leave a light on. You can bet buyers are driving by your house at night, checking out the neighborhood. Sometimes they will drive by to make sure they want to attend the open house. To attract them, add strategically placed solar lights around your yard. Highlight your newly planted mums, your blooming roses. Make the house look as good at night as it does during the day, then watch (from a distance) as buyers line up to attend your open house.

The Ultimate Open House Checklist


If you’ve been following our Open House Checklist series, you’re probably well on your way toward converting your home into a high-profit-margin asset that generates a furious all-cash bidding war. (We can all dream, can’t we?) So far, we’ve shown you how to stage your master bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, and dining room—the shining stars of the home. Today, we turn the spotlight on the supporting players, from the mudroom to the attic.

Show off your foyer. If you have one, be sure to stage it. Install coathooks for guests, provide a bench for removing shoes (if you swing that way), and set the tone with something fresh—a potted orchid, a vase of flowers, or a table with bottles of water. This room is for receiving guests. Be sure it makes everyone feel welcome.

No mud in the mudroom. The mudroom, sometimes called an enclosed back porch, should always be staged to show how organized life here can be. Add hooks to the wall to hang wet coats, and cubbies to hold stinky running shoes. Place a colorful outdoor rug to catch dirt and grime before entering the house. Liven up the room with a fresh coat of paint. While we encourage neutral colors elsewhere, this is the place to have fun. The mudroom craves color!

Create a dreamy laundry room. First of all, I’m jealous! Laundry rooms are one of the most desirable rooms in a house. Don’t believe me? Take a look at Pinterest. Across the country, we’re fantasizing about organized shelves, quartz countertops for folding clothes, and a place to house a professional steamer. Take a cue from these boards and trick out your laundry room: paint the walls, stock the shelves, display perfectly folded towels. Like the old saying goes, if you got it, flaunt it!

Reimagine the basement. Unfinished basements are the blank canvases of real estate. While you might use your basement solely for storing off-season clothes or old toys and keepsakes, just remember:It can be so much more. Get a good contractor to estimate the cost of finishing the space as a TV room or a lower-level master suite. Show buyers what they can expect.

Declutter the garage. No one expects your garage to look like Jay Leno’s, but it should be accessible. There’s no need to stage it—just declutter it to make sure buyers can get in.

An office in the attic. If the attic is unfinished, show it to your agent, who can envision its highest potential. Maybe, with a minimal investment, it could be a new master suite or home office. That’s a selling point that should be pointed out to potential buyers.

Check the crawl space. Of course we know no one is going into your crawl space at an open house. At least, we hope not. But this often ignored space is important to the overall health of your home. If you have the funds, encapsulate it. At least have a professional check it for foundation issues, infestations, or trapped animals. You don’t want any surprises, and neither do buyers!

Relax on the porch. There’s a movement to bring porches back to new-home design. If you’re lucky enough to have one, stage it to welcome buyers. Place an outdoor rug, a few colorful lanterns, and a comfy chair next to a table with a pitcher of lemonade. Buyers will remember the house with the lemonade!

A blooming balcony. Glam it up! Show off the Weber grill, a bistro table and chairs, potted plants, or a potted garden. Even in the coldest locales (like Chicago), balconies are high priorities for buyers.

Brighten the hallways. Make them bright. Replace lightbulbs, paint the walls (a neutral color!), and generally keep people interested  as they walk from one room to the next.

Check the staircase. If the railing is loose, tighten it. Remember, lots of people will be walking through your house—it’s a liability issue.

Don’t stress about the kids’ room. We know it’s hard enough to get your kids to clean their rooms, so we’re not asking that they clean it for every open house and showing. Buyers understand that kids will be kids and few people actually live like the princesses featured in this Wall Street Journal article. Here’s a compromise: Clean it, organize it, and stage it for the professional photos your agent will arrange. But for the open house, just tell your kids to make their beds.

The Ultimate Open House Checklist: Living Room Edition


In my parents’ house, the living room was just for show. White carpet, plush sofa, overstuffed pillows fluffed and karate-chopped to reveal the perfect indentation. It was beautiful—and it was off-limits. That was, however, a different era. These days, home buyers are looking for a living room where they can relax and entertain, not a showroom. At an open house, you want yours to exude comfort. Here’s everything you need to make strangers feel comfy in it—comfy enough to want to buy your home:

Rearrange the furniture. If you have to squeeze past your sofa to get to the kitchen, either you have too much furniture or your furniture is too big for the room. It’s time get rid of it! (Some of it, anyway.) Pick the clunkiest and least attractive pieces and either donate them or throw them away. (How do you know whether a sofa is salvageable?This will tell you.) If you can’t bear to part with, say, that cracked-leather club chair, move large pieces into storage. Remember, you’re moving anyway. The sole purpose of your house at this point is to attract a buyer.

Cover stains. If your sofa and chairs are stained and there’s no time to rent a steamer, try a slipcover. Stick with a crisp, natural linen color scheme for a pristine look.

Use secret storage. Find an ottoman, decorative boxes, a coffee table that does double duty as storage. Sure, you’re thinking I’m asking you to buy a lot of furniture while also advocating that you eliminate your own, but the goal is to stage your home for sale. Besides, this will be useful if you have a last-minute showing and need to clear the deck in a hurry.

Buy glass-top tables. Make rooms feel lighter and brighter by replacing those wooden side tables with a couple of glass-top tables. Glass allows the eye to see past hard surfaces, and the more floor space you can see, the bigger the room will appear. Sound too ambitious? Again, sometimes you have to spend money to make money.

Declutter! Surfaces free of junk convey a sense of space, so remove those magazines, remote controls, and other detritus. A decorative vase is all that’s necessary on a tabletop.

Three-color limit. Ideally, your furniture is all neutral hues, with throws and pillows to add pops of color. If you can match your pillows, your art, and any vases, all the better. If you can’t, eliminate as many items as possible in the room to make it look bigger. Less is best so buyers can picture their own furniture in the room, rather than be distracted by your beer bottle collection.

Paint. Dark walls make rooms look and feel smaller. Try painting walls a neutral cream color to open up the space and make the room feel more spacious than it is.

Light strategically. Amplify the best features of the room and downplay the negatives. If your living room has architectural alcoves, built-ins, or large walls for art, place a light fixture there to draw the eye. You can buy inexpensive ones at Ikea that don’t have to be permanent fixtures. Use low-voltage table lamps to define a separate seating area, if you have the space. Also, if you’ve invested in dimmers, show your agent how to use them (they can be complicated!), then ask the agent to show off different settings as the buyers tour the house.

Replace dated light fixtures. Unless your home features period fixtures of a definitive architecture style (think Frank Lloyd Wright), you might consider replacing them. Big-box retailers sell lighting multipacks to replace overhead chandeliers, pendants, sconces, lamps—all in one fell swoop. You may be thinking this is going too far for an open house, but it’s a worthy investment (and tax-deductible).

Open the blinds. Did we mention light is essential? If your view is less than stellar, install sheer panels to hide it and maintain privacy, while still allowing light in. If you’ve got a view, flaunt it.

Discover the power of mirrors. Place mirrors opposite windows to draw in more natural light, and behind table or floor lamps so light bounces and fills the room.

Add plants. Indoor plants oxygenate the air, but certain types such as aloe and peace lilies also rid your home of toxins. Place a few on stands in the corners of your living room.

Remove personal photos. Do we really need to tell you this?

Remove wallpaper. Yes, it takes a lot of time—and that’s precisely why you should do it. Buyers don’t want to bother doing it, either.

Light a fire/cool it off. If it’s winter or fall, light the fireplace. In the summer, stage it with birch logs and some unlit candles, but turn on the air conditioning. You want to provide a cozy environment that is seasonally appropriate.

Electronics. Make sure all TVs and stereos are turned off. There is no need for ambient sound—or the Sunday game.

Vacuum/sweep/dust. Yes, you know it should be clean, but how clean? The carpet should show fresh vacuum lines, wood flooring should shine, and all surfaces should be free of dust.

The Ultimate Open House Checklist: Master Bedroom Edition

486 Panorama Drive, Laguna Beach, CA

You know what they say about the master bedroom: “This is where the magic happens.” It’s certainly a top priority for buyers—after all, this is where they’d spend a solid eight hours of their day. So, for your open house, make sure your master bedroom is a peaceful place that makes buyers wish they could snuggle up and take a nap right away.

Here’s our checklist of everything you need to do to get your master bedroom open-house-ready.

Make the bed. You’d be surprised how many homeowners leave without making the bed. This is not your real estate agent’s job. (Unless you’re 13 years old and you hired your mom as your agent, but even then, come on!) Your bed should be made for every open house and every showing.

Make the bed beautiful. Now’s the time to match your sheets, pillows, blankets, and duvet. Think Pottery Barn or West Elm. And fluff those pillows!

Create a seating vignette. If you have the space, try staging a plush chair with a small side table and reading lamp. It will allow buyers to picture themselves there, taking a much-needed timeout.

Paint a neutral color. Your real estate agent will always urge you to paint your whole house a neutral color—and this tip is more important in the master bedroom than anywhere else. Add pillows, throws, and rugs for pops of color.

Spin it to win it. A slowly rotating ceiling fan helps create a relaxing mood—but make sure to clean the blades first.

Breathe deeply. The only scent in the air should be that of a clean, fresh room. We’re not big on air fresheners, but a simple diffuser can add a subtle fragrance. A potted orchid can also add a sophisticated touch.

Light it up. Yes, you sleep in the dark, but don’t greet buyers with a dull, dim space. That single overhead light is not enough. Put a lamp in the corner and a couple next to the bed.

We said: Light it up! It’s great if you’ve got serious drapes, but please open the blackout shades before leaving the house. Buyers love natural light.

Stage the bedside tables. Ditch the unread US Weekly and tangled iPhone cables, and replace them with a simple clock, a decorative vase, and a book or two. Reading “The Liar“? Set it next to the bed. It might be that one thing that helps you connect with your buyer.

Sweep/mop/vacuum/dust. Basically, clean the bedroom from top to bottom.

Do the laundry. An overflowing hamper is unacceptable, as are (do we really need to even mention this?) dirty socks lying on the floor. Seriously: Do the laundry!

Pimp your closet. Spacious, organized closets sell homes. Make a budget to add shelving, hanging racks, and drawers—they will pay off. And if your closet is overflowing with clothes, it’s time to purge curate. Donate unused garments, consign a few items with TheRealReal, put out-of-season clothes in storage, or even start packing for your move.

Show your bedroom who the master is. Furniture crowds a room and makes it look smaller—and buyers want large master suites. Pick out the biggest and least necessary pieces and put them in storage.

Be art smart. Decorative art helps make a room memorable. Find something that connotes relaxation, and hang it either above the headboard (if there’s space) or on a wall opposite the door to make a statement. (Note: Personal photos don’t count—tuck them away.)

Use an area rug. In rooms with hardwood floors, a large area rug adds another texture, gives visual interest, and creates a sense of warmth. Decorator’s note: The rug should flow from beneath the bed, not as an island in the middle of the room.

Hide jewelry. If you’ve been following this Open House series, you know we’re keen on safety. While your daily routine may include removing your watch and resting it on the dresser, remember, strangers will be walking through your home, sometimes unattended. Stash jewelry in a safe or take it with you when you leave for the open house.

The Ultimate Open House Prep Checklist: Kitchen Edition

Get that kitchen clean!

When you’re selling your home, the kitchen is the single most important room—so when you hold an open house, you want it to shine. Literally. You’re going to have to deep-clean, declutter, and touch up whatever you can. Luckily, we’ve put together this pathologically complete checklist to help make sure you forget nothing.

Don’t make it hard on yourself: The night before, don’t fry fish, don’t whip up a new batch of kimchi, and don’t cook bacon the morning of the open house. Go out for dinner! Order takeout! Please?

Clean out the fridge! We all know that buyers will look in your refrigerator. They’re just nosy that way. Give them something to look at—a spotless interior. Then wipe down the outside, too.

Clean those floors! Nothing says turnoff like a trail of crumbs on the kitchen floor. If you have hardwood or tile flooring, vacuum and damp mop, making sure to get in all the dark corners. If you haven’t yet replaced your linoleum, sweep, mop, and wax it.

Make it shine. If you have stainless-steel appliances, take care of them properly. Wipe them down with the proper cleaning supplies. Honestly, one spray and a little elbow grease, and they’ll look brand-new.

Clean those stovetop drip pans—or better yet, replace them! A rusty, crusty drip pan can make your stove look older than it is. If you don’t have time to scrub them clean, spend a few bucks to replace them.

Degrease that hood. Those vents are grease magnets. Clean the filter before the open house. You may need to dig out the user manual to learn how to remove it, soak it, and make it make shine.

Clean the light-switch plates. Those switch plates can get splattered with grease or, worse, show years of fingerprints and dirt. If they can’t be freshened up, replace them—all of them.

Debug your light fixtures. See those dark spots in your overhead light fixture? Those are dead bugs! Clear the carcasses and wipe the glass clean.

Granite should sparkle. Most people wipe their countertops clean with the same dish sponge they use to wash their dishes. Let’s take it a step further. Use granite polishto wipe on a shine that will make buyers think you spent thousands of dollars on new granite just for them.

Countertops should be spotless. Nothing impresses buyers more than endless stretches of pristine countertop. So it’s time to stow the toaster, the Vitamix, the burr grinder, the rice cooker—all those appliances that take up valuable real estate.

Clean the microwave. You’ve already polished the stainless steel, now clean the inside. Few buyers will open the microwave and check inside, but for those who do, let’s not greet them with years of caked-on food splatters.

Clean the cabinets, inside and out. No one really cares if your canned peas are next to your canned tomatoes, but buyers do care about space. Now’s the time to purge: Do you really need that tin of Spanish octopus? A buyer should be able to open the cabinet door and see the back of the cabinet wall. And while you’re at it, get a pail of water and Murphy Oil Soap and wash your cabinets.

Update your knobs. Cabinet knobs installed in the 1980s can make a kitchen look dated. But upgrading them is easy: Just buy new ones, then install them. Presto! Your kitchen is awesome(ish).

Don’t bake cookies! Baking cookies seems like a nice gesture for buyers, but the trend has run its course. Just have a clean kitchen—everyone appreciates that.

No need to set the table. The kitchen is all about space. If you’re lucky enough to have an eat-in kitchen, let it speak for itself. A clutter-free kitchen with clean, expansive surfaces will do way more than a set of fancy dinner plates.

Flowers are always nice. The one exception to the clutter-free countertop rule is a vase of fresh flowers. Who doesn’t love a pleasant smell ?

How to Get Your Home Ready for an Open House

Holding an open house is an act of faith. You clean, declutter, and prepare your home to look its best, hoping at least one of the visitors will fall in love enough to make an offer, preferably all-cash. At the same time, open houses are invitations to strangers to walk among your most prized possessions, often with only a single real estate agent present—and so there are very real security concerns, for agents and homeowners alike.

At least 40% of the agents surveyed by the National Association of Realtors® for its 2015 Member Safety Report say they have experienced a situation that made them fear for their personal safety: Vacant houses, model homes, properties in remote areas, and open houses all caused trepidation. The study found that many now carry weapons for self-defense—no wonder when agents have been killed in the past.

For homeowners, however, self-defense takes place long before strangers show up at the door—and start looking in the refrigerator, the cabinets, the pantry. (A Maryland woman recently went to jail for stealing jewelry from open houses.) You probably know to lock up or take away valuables, but here are a few more things to remember:

Say ‘No’ to drugs

Remove all prescription drugs from your medicine cabinet, even the ones you think are harmless. There are so many tales of open house visitors rifling through medicine cabinets and taking a few pills, or even whole bottles. In comments on our site, a user calling himself Larry Kean described this very thing, saying people are looking for “abusable” drugs. Likewise, another user, Rose Eneri, wrote that her friend “found a guy looking through her medicine cabinet” at an open house: “Easy pickings for a drug addict or dealer.”

Control your remotes

Most people don’t think about the extra garage remote they leave dangling from a hook near the back door. It’s small and easy to slip into a pocket, so take it with you when you leave for the open house. One commenter wrote that an open house visitor may have taken the garage remote, then returned later to steal the homeowner’s Lexus! All keys, remotes, and fobs should either be locked away or in your pocket.

File this under ‘Lock & Key’

There’s a trend in home office decor to make file cabinets pretty and portable—but portability and security are not always compatible. Buy a heavy, nonrolling commercial-grade filing cabinet that locks—and into it put your important documents: birth and marriage certificates, financial statements, basically any legal, medical, or personal information you wouldn’t want falling into someone else’s hands. Identity theft is real and should be taken seriously.

What about my 50-inch flat-screen?

While it’s unlikely that anyone could walk out of your open house with your TV or other large electronics, they could come back for it. That’s why the next item is so important:

It ain’t over till you check your doors & windows

While agents will go through to make sure all lights are off and the house is in good condition after an open house, they might not check the doors. Unscrupulous people have been known to unlock a window or basement door with the thought of returning later. After the open house, walk through your house and check every window (even on the second floor), gate, and door to be certain that they’re all locked.

5 Essential Questions to Ask Before Buying a Mid-Century Modern Home

Eichler house

They’re those much-discussed, much sought-after, in some corners much drooled-over striking, iconic wood-and-glass structures with open floor plans, seamless integrations with their natural surroundings, and pedigrees from world-class architects whose very names—Eichler! Neutra! Wright!—send spasms of envy into the hearts of many home seekers.

Owning an architecturally significant home from what’s become a visually fetishized era, the middle of the past century, can be the culmination of a lifelong dream—or a total rehab nightmare.

For home buyers considering a Mid-Century Modern residence, it’s important to go in with your eyes open, and that means asking the right questions. We checked with some experts on the top things to ask before taking the mid-century plunge.

1. Is minimalism for you?

A typical home in an Eichler development, for example, is usually well under 3,000 square feet. There could be some built-in cabinet and closet storage. But with no basement or attic, there’s not a lot of room for tons of extra stuff.

So if you’re someone with a collection of every Playboy ever printed, or you like to display your troll collection, this may not be the best home choice for you.

“There’s nothing worse than a great Mid-Century Modern home cluttered with tchotchkes,” says Brian Linder of The Value of Architecture website. “It can get a little busy.”

2. Is it possible to add on?

If you plan to enlarge the small footprint of your home, check if there are building restrictions. Some Eichler developments in Northern California don’t allow second-floor builds.

“There may be design review guidelines,” San Francisco–based architect John Klopf says. Another point to keep in mind: “Some neighborhoods can be considered historic landmarks.”

Those communities may limit your dreams of a mid-century McMansion.

3. What’s the history of the home?

When you close, you’re not just getting a home, you’re investing in a work of art, notes Linder: “It’s an asset that maintains value and maybe appreciates.”

So if you plan to do any kind of renovation or restore the place to its original look, it’s helpful to see the initial plans for the home, and find out if the original architect is still alive to do the work. Or else you can hire a “building biographer” who will do this research for a fee.

It could be worth it.

“There is an idea of stewardship. Owners like to pass the baton to the next person who’s going to care about the place as lovingly as they have,” Linder adds. Plus, “it’s neat to know the history.”

4. Is all that glass safe?

Indoor-outdoor living, especially on the West Coast, is a signature feature of Mid-Century Modern homes. That means walls, windows, and doors of floor-to-ceiling glass. The look is inspiring. It can also be deadly. When they were built, many of these big windows and doors were made of plate glass—and they still may be. If so, an earthquake, falling tree, or even wild party antics can result in dangerous shards and exposure of your home to the elements.

“Today, codes are different,” Klopf says.

So be sure to ask, “Has the glass been replaced with tempered glass?” For energy efficiency and safety, double-pane glass replacements are typically the way to go. Otherwise, opt for a cheaper fix: safety film over the window.

5. Do we really need to renovate?

A home that’s 50 or 60 years old may be ready for some renovations. But be careful not to fall into a “remuddle” of a remodel. One mistake is to make updates that lose the details that make the property special.

“The architecture is what brings everybody in. It’s got all the right lines and angles,” explains Drew Marye, a Realtor® in Austin, TX. “So if your house has amazing original features, you’ll want to make sure you keep those because they have architectural value.”

He notes that when choosing architects or contractors, pick one who speaks Mid-Century Modern.

“I’ve seen horror stories,” he says, recalling Home Depot finishes and cabinets that don’t match.

Buyers of these homes, he adds, still “want the modern amenities. They want the high-efficiency HVAC; they want the dishwasher. You have to make sure you’re putting together those pieces in the right way.”