Replacing Furniture Cushions Yourself

Replacing your own furniture cushions is a simple way to refresh your furniture with new support and a fresh look. Cushions that are made of foam are especially easy to replace, but stuffed cushions can be replaced as well. It is important to preserve the cover so it can be reused or used as a pattern to create a cushion replacement.

Measure Carefully

The key to successfully replacing your furniture seat cushions is to measure carefully and create new cushions that are the exact dimensions of the cushions you are replacing. It is also important to select new foam that is the same thickness and density as the old cushions; if you are wishing for more support, you can choose a foam that has a higher density.

The End Result

When you measure and cut your new cushions to the correct size, you will be rewarded by easily slipping them into the cushion covers. They should fit smoothly with no wrinkling or twisting, and they should make your furniture look less worn and saggy. The shape of the new foam cushions may be more square, so your furniture may have a boxier look as well.

Replacing your own furniture cushions is an easy way to improve the look and comfort of your furniture. Plus, when you order online from The Foam Factory, you save money too. You’ll be able to enjoy your furniture for many more years when your cushions are replaced.

Five Ways to Lower Your DTI

dti ratioYour debt-to-income (DTI) ratio is one of the three most important factors that lenders look at when deciding whether or not to approve you for a mortgage (the other two? Your FICO score and the loan-to-value ratio, which varies with the price of the house you plan to buy).

DTI is considered especially important in determining your ability to repay the mortgage.

It is computed with your total monthly debt payments and gross monthly income (before taxes are taken out). It is expressed one of two ways, either including your estimated monthly mortgage payments (”back end”) or your debt obligations before you take out the mortgage (“front end”).

In 2014, an important new rule promulgated by the Treasury Department had a major impact on DTIs. Known as the QM Rule and designed to toughen ability-to-repay requirements, it had the effect of limiting DTIs to 43 percent. That means borrowers with DTI’s above 43 won’t get loans.

In practice, lenders are actually even more conservative; the median back end DTI is about 37 percent for approved mortgages. That means most monthly debt payments including mortgage payments total no more than 37 percent of total monthly gross income.

DTI can be a killer for young adults making sizable student loan payments or for consumers who have run up debt. However, even those with long term debt payments like student loans, auto loans, or back taxes can get a mortgage if they improve their DTI.

Here are five steps anyone can take to lower their DTI.

1. Pay off your smallest debts first. Even a hundred dollars on a credit card requires a minimum monthly payment, which will increase your DTI. Pay these off in full. Dollar for dollar, you will get more debt reduction with this tactic than any other.

2. Refinance high APR credit card debts with a low APR card. APR means annualized percentage rate—the actual interest you pay over a year. It’s a way to look at the interest you are paying without focusing on special introductory rates, which can be misleading. Many lenders offer cards with very attractive APRs to customers who have good credit ratings.

If you have cards that are past their introductory period, though, you may be paying a higher APR than you need to. Contact one of the major credit card lenders to see what they will offer in the way of a lower APR card. When you find one, consolidate your high APR debts under your new low APR card. You will reduce your monthly debt load and pay at a lower rate of interest. In a year, review where you stand. If the marketing rate that made your new card attractive has expired, consider finding a new one and consolidating again.

3. If you thought you outfoxed the dealer and got a great deal on a new or used car, check again. You might be paying interest at a rate much higher than you need to. The median APR for car loans today is 4.38% for a 60-month loan (five years) on a new car and 5.2% on a 36-month loan a (three years) for a used car[1]. Refinance your car with the most competitive rate you can find from an online lender.

When you refinance, you can increase the length of time of the loan if you have had your car for a reasonable length of time. Lowering the interest and stretching out the principal over a longer period of time could significantly reduce your monthly payments.

4. Refinance long term debt to lower your monthly debt payments by stretching out the term of your loan and take advantage of lower rates. If you graduated more than three years ago, chances are good you can find a better interest rate today, depending on your credit rating. Remember, if the interest rate is the same, when you refinance a loan to lengthen its term, you will be paying more in interest over the long term than you would have if you had not refinanced.

5. Borrow from your 401K retirement plan at no interest to pay off smaller debts or pay down larger ones. As you make future monthly contributions to your plan, a portion will go towards paying off the amount you withdrew. You will also have to pay taxes on your withdrawal. Repay the withdrawal as soon as you can to keep your retirement savings on track.

The bottom line?

Take a hard look at your debt situation before you start applying for a loan. Compute your DTI. Count only income you can document with pay stubs or tax returns.  If you find yourself close to the 37 percent threshold, take steps now to reduce your monthly debt payments.

Did you land a new job? Don’t forget about that 401(k) plan

During the excitement that comes with taking a new job, make sure you don’t forget about the retirement money you socked away in your former employer’s 401(k) plan.

“People in their working years tend to switch jobs a lot and can lose touch with their [accounts],” said Kristi Sullivan, a certified financial planner and owner of Sullivan Financial Planning. “That can get messy after several job changes.”

401K

Although leaving the money in the legacy 401(k) might be possible, there are three other options for your nest egg: Move it to your new employer’s plan if permitted, move it to an individual retirement account, or cash it out and pay a penalty. Additionally, if you have company stock in your 401(k) plan, separate rules apply.

Financial advisors say that while each scenario comes with pluses and minuses, the ideal choice depends on your individual circumstances. Here’s a look at your options.

Leaving it behind

Workers these days spend fewer than five years at a job, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Moreover, about 29 percent of workers age 25 or older remain with the same company for at least 10 years.

So clearly, job-hopping is the new norm. But, say advisors, racking up a collection of 401(k) accounts should not become a standard.

“I’ve found in way too many situations that when workers leave [the 401(k) money] where it is, both employees and employers lose track of each other,” said Lenard Cohen, a CFP and investment advisor with CF Services Group.

Indeed, Cohen has a client who is struggling to tap a six-figure 401(k) account from a company he left 25 years ago.

Read MoreFinancial planning: More than 401(k) plans

The company went out of business, which means the 401(k) plan is no longer in existence. So while the account exists with a custodian, accessing the money is an aggravation for both Cohen and his client.

“We’ve received verification that the money is there — it’s been growing and has performed all right — but the [custodian] isn’t prepared to release the money, because we can’t find anyone who is authorized to release it,” Cohen explained.

Additionally, say advisors, there’s another downside: losing track of your asset allocation.

“It’s hard to know what your investment mix is if you have different accounts all over the place,” said Sullivan of Sullivan Financial Planning.

However, there is one time that advisors say it often makes sense to leave your money in the old employer’s 401(k): If you are not yet age 59½ — when legally you can tap a 401(k) or individual retirement account — but are at least age 55.

That’s because the so-called Rule of 55 allows you to take withdrawals from your 401(k) penalty-free if you leave the workforce in the year you turn 55 or later. If you move the money to an IRA, you lose that ability.

“If you’re going to retire early and you’re at least 55, it might make sense to leave the money there,” Sullivan said.

Rolling over

Moving your 401(k) plan money to a new employer’s retirement plan or to an IRA is called a rollover.

“These are generally the two good choices,” said Cohen at CF Services Group. “It works if you’re moving to a company with a robust 401(k) plan or to an IRA and can invest in [almost] anything, including low-cost index funds.”

If your new employer’s 401(k) plan accepts rollover contributions from an old plan, it can make sense to do it because you are consolidating your retirement assets and can better manage your investments.

Read More401(k) loans are a bad idea

You also can move your 401(k) plan money to a rollover IRA. If done properly, it’s a tax-free event.

But again, be aware of the different rules applying to 401(k) plans and IRAs.

One advantage to moving 401(k) money to an IRA deals with distributions if you are in retirement, Sullivan said. All 401(k) distributions include a 20 percent withholding for taxes whether or not you actually owe that much at tax time. With an IRA, she said, you can control the amount of tax withholding.

Cashing out

It’s a rare circumstance where a financial advisor would recommend taking an early distribution from your 401(k).

Be aware that companies are permitted to kick you out of their 401(k) if your account’s value is below $1,000. If they cut you a check, they automatically will withhold 20 percent of it for taxes. If you cash the check, you will also pay a 10 percent penalty for accessing the money before age 59½.

If between $1,000 and $5,000 is in your former employer’s 401(k) plan, the company can still give you the boot. But it must put the funds in a rollover IRA for you.

Read MoreRetirement plan portfolios explained

For the majority of people, taking the distribution early rarely makes sense. Not only will you pay taxes on the money and the penalty (in most situations), you will also lose out on letting that pretax retirement money grow.

“The fourth choice — withdrawing the money — is almost always a bad decision,” Cohen said.

Company stock

If you have company stock in your 401(k) and leave your job, you can take advantage of what’s known as the net unrealized appreciation strategy.

Say you paid $1,000 for shares of your company’s stock and the value is now $5,000. The difference — $4,000 — is the gain.

Investment gains are taxed either as short-term (held less than a year) or long-term. Short-term gains are taxed at your regular income-tax rate. Long-term gains are taxed differently.

If you roll over your company stock to an IRA, be aware that all distributions from an IRA will be taxed as ordinary income, whether they involve company stock or not.

“For most people truly saving for retirement, I believe in consolidating assets in one account. That’s how they will know where all their assets are.”-Lenard Cohen, investment advisor with CF Services Group

Alternatively, say financial advisors, you can move your 401(k) company stock to a taxable brokerage account and take advantage of long-term-gain tax rates, which generally are lower than ordinary income-tax rates.

If you do this, you immediately pay income taxes on the original cost of the shares — the cost basis — which in the above illustration is $1,000.

The gain, however, is not taxed until you sell the shares, whether it’s the next day or years later. And then the gain is taxed as long-term. That means you pay less in taxes on the gain than you would if you had put the company shares in a rollover IRA.

“It only makes sense to do this if you’re invested in company stock that has increased substantially,” said Joel Gemmell, a CFP and vice president of wealth management for McLean Asset Management.

Regardless of your situation, the most important aspect of taking care of your old 401(k) accounts is making sure don’t lose track of them.

“For most people truly saving for retirement, I believe in consolidating assets in one account,” said Cohen. “That’s how they will know where all their assets are.”

Mortgage applications surge 25% on regulation worry

Another roller-coaster interest rate ride, combined with anxiety over new mortgage regulations, caused borrowers to rush to their lenders last week.

Total mortgage application volume surged 25.5 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis for the week ending October 2nd compared to the previous week, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA).

An ad for mortgages at a Citibank branch in New York.

Both applications to refinance and to purchase a home were almost equally juiced. Refinance applications rose 24 percent, seasonally adjusted, and purchase applications were up by 27 percent. Purchase applications, which are usually less rate-sensitive week-to-week, are now 49 percent higher than one year ago, an astonishing jump given that the latest reads on home sales show the market appears to be weakening. They are now at the highest level in five years.

“The number of applications for purchase and refinance mortgages soared last week due both to renewed rate volatility and as many applications were filed prior to the TILA-RESPA regulatory change,” said Lynn Fisher, the MBA’s vice president of research and economics.

The change is part of a move by federal regulators to further protect borrowers by forcing lenders to disclose all details of a loan at least three days prior to closing; it went into effect October 3rd.

The average loan size of applications in the weekly survey increased by 6.9 percent, driven by a 12.1 percent increase in the average size of refinances.

The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($417,000 or less) decreased to 3.99 percent, the lowest level since May 2015, from 4.08 percent, with points increasing to 0.46 from 0.45 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans. This average reading, however, does not show how low rates got on certain days last week, with some lenders quoting as low as 3.625 percent.

While the weekly jump is significant, mortgage application volume is still running historically low, especially on the purchase side, given population growth and pent-up demand from the recession. Purchase application volume is less than half of what it was during the housing boom from 2005-2007, and is now back to levels comparable to the late 1990s.

Chinese money flows into US housing

Asian couple and house

From sunny suburban developments in Irvine, California, to shiny new condominium towers overlooking Manhattan’s skyline, Chinese buyers are sinking cash into U.S. residential real estate. Chinese are now the top foreign buyers of domestic properties, according to the National Association of Realtors, and nearly half of them are paying cash, according to RealtyTrac, a real estate sales and analytics company.

Forty-six percent of Chinese buyers paid cash for their U.S. homes so far in 2015, up 229 percent from a decade ago. Compare that to a 33 percent cash share for buyers overall, up 65 percent from a decade ago.

“Cash buyers across the board are playing a much bigger role in the housing market now than they were 10 years ago, and that is particularly true for Chinese Mandarin-speaking cash buyers, who are more likely to be foreign nationals,” said Daren Blomquist, vice president at RealtyTrac. “Foreign cash buyers have helped to accelerate U.S. home price appreciation over the past few years given that these buyers are often not as constrained by income as local, traditionally financed buyers.”

Recent instability in China’s economy and stock market has driven even more buyers to the U.S. — so much so that Long & Foster, a Virginia-based real estate agency, recently began working with Juwai, a China-based real estate listing site.

“We’re seeing demand from Chinese buyers with children of all ages — some as young as 1 year old — and they’re relying on our team for insight into the local areas and their educational offerings, from elementary to university level,” said Pandra Richie, president of Long & Foster’s corporate real estate services. “Access to quality education is one of the top priorities for Chinese buyers, and from Philadelphia to Richmond, our market areas offer some of the best school districts and universities.”

Asian buyers accounted for 35 percent of all international purchases of U.S. real estate for the 12-month period ended in March 2015, spending more than $28 billion. They have been very active in high-end markets, especially in California and New York City.

Kathy Sloane, a real estate agent with Brown Harris Stevens in Manhattan, recently returned from a real estate conference in China.

“Many Chinese signed up to come. Many New York developers signed up to find out what these Chinese buyers wanted,” said Sloane. “The Chinese buyer that was there, often brought their children. They are affluent. They want to know how to get their children into school and how to get health care for their parents. It’s a package.”

Some want trophy apartments in New York, but certainly not all. There is an appetite for everything. They do tend to like new construction, as is evidenced in Irvine, California, where homebuilders are selling and even designing for Chinese buyers.

“These people are not about flight capital. They are about changing their lives and moving out of China for a variety of reasons,” added Sloane.

Education, health care and the promise of price appreciation are all enticing to Chinese buyers. While demand has been on the higher end until now, it is likely that more affordable markets like the mid-Atlantic will start to see increased demand. Cash is a distinct advantage in today’s tight housing market, and clearly Chinese buyers know that.

How to Protect Your Home From Wildfires

wildfires

Great Art Productions/Getty Images

As the West gets drier and hotter, the past few years have been some of the most destructive on record for wildfires. Homeowners who previously thought their property was safe from the embers might find themselves too close to the inferno’s edge—with no idea how to protect their house and belongings in the case of an emergency.

Fireproofing your home begins long before the fire spreads: Start well before the beginning of fire season and continue throughout (roughly late spring to early fall). Use a two-pronged approach: Address your home and its surrounding vegetation to create a 100-foot barrier of defensible space around your property, advises Steve Quarles, the senior scientist for fire protection at the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety. Here’s how, according to Quarles:

Prepare your noncombustible zone

Make sure there’s nothing combustible in the 5-foot zone surrounding your house. Remember, you’re trying to avoid flames as well as the windblown sparks and firebrands that a raging wildfire emits.

Swap decorative bushes and piles of firewood immediately adjoining the home with a “nonwoody kind of plant.” Think low-growing flowers, or consider swapping the plants for sidewalk or rock mulch (never a combustible mulch like bark or pine, which are “easily ignited by windblown embers,” Quarles says).

Clearing trees might keep the fire itself off your property, but the wind has other ideas. The goal of a noncombustible zone is to remove any materials that might catch fire by ember alone.

Take a walk around your house and eliminate any visible debris—but also take a good look at your siding. If it comes within 6 inches of the ground, Quarles recommends trimming it to provide separation, which is an “effective way to resist ember exposure.”

Keep your trees in check

“You cannot expect the house to survive if you don’t have a good defensible space,” Quarles says. And fire protection doesn’t stop at the end of your 5-foot noncombustible zone—for the next 25 feet, guidelines indicate tree branches should always be at least 10 feet from other trees.

Separate trees and shrubs from each other and other yard items that might catch fire (such as a play set) in order to prevent a crown fire, defined as flames erupting at or near the top of a tree. This “burns longer and hotter and causes radiant heat exposure, which can cause problems with windows and siding,” says Quarles.

Limb up your trees (translation: prune their lowest branches) in order to prevent this outcome, and ensure shrubbery is maintained and regularly watered.

Select materials with fire in mind

If your home lies in prime wildfire territory, now might be the time to remodel. And we’re not talking about putting in a new designer kitchen. “It’s really important that a house be able to resist ember exposures,” says Quarles. Before selecting any materials for renovating or adding to your home, make sure they’ll be a help—not a hindrance—if a wildfire occurs.

Replace any wood shake roofs with a Class A fire–rated roof covering, which is incredibly fire-resistant and comes in a number of styles. Quarles says that is his No. 1 priority. Surround it with a metal drip edge, which “adds an added measure of protection,” he says.

True, no material is fully fireproof, but you can decrease your risk by beginning every construction project with fire protection in mind: Choose noncombustible decking for your porch, dual-pane glass windows, and brick.

Fireproof your exterior

Reality check: Not everyone can afford to renovate their entire house, no matter how dire the wildfire risk. In that case, Quarles has a few recommendations that require only sweat equity.

Clear your gutters regularly and remove debris such as leaves and pine needles from the roof and under decks.

Speaking of those decks—don’t store anything under them, not even a broom, and especially not a gas can or firewood. “Once the deck ignites, you have a flaming exposure to many things,” says Quarles. Like your glass doors: “If the glass breaks on the door, the fire can easily enter the house.”

Check out the vents to your attic or crawl space, which should be covered by a metal screen with a mesh of an eighth of an inch or less—any larger and you risk embers slipping into your home. You’ll want this to be clean and in good condition, so examine it at least once a year to make sure it’s still free of dirt and grime.

5 Tips for College Students Filling Out Rental Applications

What do you need to know before you fill out a rental application for the first time?

You’ve gone away to school and you’re ready to embark on a new adventure—namely, renting your own place.

What do you need to know before you fill out a rental application for the first time? We have five tips to help you with the process.

1. Make copies

Many apartment complexes use a generic renter application form that doesn’t vary much from place to place. Make a few copies of a completed application to avoid filling out the same information every time you go look at an open house.

2. Don’t give out your Social Security number

Many applications have a blank space for you to enter your Social Security number. It’s best to wait to do this, because you might not get the place you’re applying for or the apartment manager could misplace or lose your application, which could expose your personal information. You can protect your identity by waiting to supply your SSN until you’re actually in serious consideration for the place.

If you like, you can add a note to your application form explaining that you don’t want to disclose your SSN just yet.

Most landlords will understand, and you’ll feel secure knowing that your identity is safe.

3. Contact the housing office at school

If you lived in the dorms, many landlords will ask your university to confirm this. They’ll want to check your record from dorm housing, to see if there are any red flags.

Because dealing with the university can take time (lots and lots of time), it would be wise to contact your school ahead of time and have your files ready to send to any landlords requesting the information.

Some landlords won’t even consider you until they’re able to see your records. This can lead to a missed opportunity if your school can’t produce the paperwork in a timely fashion.

4. Have references ready

Landlords can be persuaded to let you live in their place if you tell them a bit about yourself. Of course, you’ll be biased, so why not let others do the talking?

Procure letters of recommendation from your boss, your professors, or anyone else who can vouch for your goodness. Remember to ask people who will be honest and will ensure you shine.

5. Have co-signers

Have one of your parents be a co-signer for you, so your landlord knows that if you don’t send the check on time, he or she will be able to get the money somehow.

Some places won’t even let students rent without a co-signer, so make sure to talk it over with your roommates about which parents are going to co-sign. Each roommate could potentially add his or her parents on an individual application.

3 Tips to Prep Your Garden for Winter Right Now

snowman-gardner

The air outside is getting nippy, the leaves are changing, and though there’s still time to enjoy the warmer temperatures of fall, we all know that “Game of Thrones” adage to be true: Winter is coming. If you have a garden or even just a yard, it’s time to start thinking about how best to prepare your plants for winter. Much of how to care for your greenery during the fallow, cold months depends on the climate you live in, but here are a few general tips that all gardeners should heed to make the seasonal transition:

1. Prune to protect

Fall is time to think about protecting your garden—and one of the best ways to do that is to do a thorough pruning of the existing plants.

“You want to get rid of anything diseased or insect-infested, because those can, over winter, infect your other plants,” says Melinda Myers, a gardening expert and the host of the “How to Grow Anything” DVD series. So uproot those annuals and trim the perennials back to the ground. Find out the proper way to dispose of these things depending on your municipality, too—in most places, yard waste has a special disposal process.

If you’re dealing with more of a lawn than a garden situation, the trick is to keep mowing your grass. Why? It will increase its winter hardiness so you have a more lush lawn come spring.

2. Plant a few new things, too

Fall is actually a wonderful time to think about planting, and for looking at some of the seasonal plant sales for inspiration.

“The air is cooler but the soil is still warm,” notes Myers. “For Northerners, that warm soil promotes root growth, while the cooler air is less stressful for plants. We tend to think of bulbs this time of year, but it’s also a great time to put in shrubs and even perennials. For warmer climates, you may be transitioning from summer crops to fall ones.”

If you enjoy watching the wildlife in your yard, planting a few ornamental grasses, trees, or shrubs with berries, or perennials—anything that has seedpods and could provide food for birds—will increase the diversity of wildlife on the property.

3. Keep plants warm

If you have vegetables or herbs and want to continue reaping the benefits, Myers suggests protecting them through the first hard freeze. You can do this a couple of ways: First, bring in cuttings from nonhardy plants before the first frost, root them, and grow them in a sunny window. Second, cover up the plants in the ground outdoors.

“Sheets work great,” Myers says. “You can cover them up late afternoons or evenings to trap the heat. But my favorite solution is using floating row covers, which trap heat but allow in light, air, and water. You can cover them and leave them on until the snow falls. I threw them on shallots, radishes, and spinach, and harvested greens that spring. And I’m in Wisconsin! It was great.”

Who knows? With a few of these simple steps, you could be eating salad fresh from your garden again by April.

5 Easy Ways to Boost Your Home’s Appraisal

appraisals1A too-low appraisal can wreak all sorts of havoc on the sale of your home. Often, lenders and banks will back out of a purchase if the property is appraised for less than the offer, taking your buyer with them.

So what can you do? Generally speaking, unless you have the time and money to make major improvements to your home, you’re not going to see drastic increases. But that doesn’t mean that paying attention to the smaller things won’t give your valuation a boost. How much depends largely on you individual circumstances, but here are a few tips to get you started.

1. Consider your curb appeal. First impressions matter, and most appraisers will consider your outdoor spaces just the same as they consider any other room in your home. What’s more, it’s very easy for them to judge where you sit in the neighborhood with just a glance around.

While appraisers take things like lot size and location into consideration, there are a few things you can do to make a good impression. Make sure your land looks well-kept and usable, and that your plants are all trimmed.

2. De-clutter. Just because appraisers are supposed to be objective and only take the house itself into consideration doesn’t mean they always manage it. They’re human, too, and there’s a good chance they’ll influenced by the factors they notice unconsciously—like your mess. Excessive clutter and junk may lead an appraiser to question how well you have managed the upkeep of your house. Head off these thoughts by starting your packing early.

3. Fix the little things. You’d be surprised how the little problems–the dents in the wall, the cracks on the ceiling, faulty light fixtures, leaky faucets–add up when it comes to an appraisal. Do yourself a favor and fix as much as you can first.

4. Put up some fresh paint. Whether it’s inside or outside, a fresh coat of paint makes a big difference to buyers, which means it can translate into added value from your appraiser’s point of view. Of course, remember to stick to lighter, neutral colors that will appeal the the majority of buyers.

Meanwhile, if your exterior paint job is still in good shape, consider giving it a good power-washing. This can do wonders for the appearance of a house, loosening built up dirt and grime.

5. Point out improvements. If the updates you’ve made to your house aren’t as obvious as new appliances or freshly refinished floors, don’t feel bashful about pointing them out to your appraiser. Most will want to know this information.

Of course, you also don’t want to hover while your appraiser is trying to work. A good solution?Make a list, so he or she can peruse at their own pace.

Five Tips to Increase Your Home’s Value

Real estateLike most people, you’ll probably buy several houses over your lifetime. And with each sale, you anticipate walking away with a profit, but this doesn’t always happen.

Home values in the neighborhood can depreciate, and if your equity takes a hit, this affects the resale value of your property. Fortunately, there are several things you can do while living in the home to gradually increase your home’s value.

 1. Update the bathrooms and kitchen

An ugly, outdated bathroom and kitchen can pull down your home’s value. Additionally, since it takes more money to renovate these spaces, potential buyers might pass on your property. Rather than wait until you’re ready to sell to give these rooms attention, make gradual improvements over the years. You’ll not only make your home more attractive, but also increase your property’s value.

For a bathroom makeover, you can replace linoleum flooring with ceramic or porcelain tile. Replace vanities and outdated countertop, and update fixtures, faucets and redo the tub.

The same rules apply in the kitchen. Updated cabinets, countertops, flooring and fixtures, as well as newer, matching appliances will get a buyer’s attention and boost your resale value. On average, a kitchen or bathroom remodel offers 168 percent return on the investment.

 2. Increase square footage of the home

Increasing the square footage of your house also adds value. If you don’t have the cash flow for a room addition, make better use of the space you already have. For example, convert an attic to a bedroom or office, or finish your basement and transform this space into a family rec room, which offers a 75 percent return on your investment.

Even if you can’t add square footage, you can visually make your home bigger. Remove clutter and oversized furniture, or knock down a wall between rooms on the first level to create an open floor plan.

 3. Curb appeal

It’s important to make a first impression. If the outside of your house is dirty and cluttered, some buyers might refuse to step foot inside — despite the fact that your property might be the most beautiful home on the block. If buyers can’t see past your exterior, they might never know the treasure that lies inside. Plant bushes and flowers, mow and edge your grass, pull weeds, and make sure doors and shutters are painted and clean. Landscaping can increase your property value by as much as 20 percent.

 4. Make the home energy efficient

When an appraiser walks through your house, he’ll look at the quality of your appliances, windows and doors. And unfortunately, if your house isn’t energy-efficient, it’ll lose value. To add value, replace your windows and doors with energy-efficient alternatives so your HVAC system doesn’t have to work as hard. Also, look for energy-efficient appliances which use less water and energy.

 5. Neutral home decor

You might be comfortable with your home decor. However, if your personal taste is very unique, your home decor might turn off some homebuyers and lower the value of your property.

Before listing your house, redo any rooms that reflect too much of your personal style. For example, repaint colorful, bright walls with a neutral tone. These changes might turn your eclectic-designed home into something boring, but it’s important for potential buyers to see themselves living in the property, which might be hard if there’s too much of “you” in the space.