How to Buy and Sell a Home at the Same Time—Without Losing Your Mind

How to Buy and Sell a Home at the Same Time—Without Losing Your Mind


WB Digital/Getty Images

Ah, to be a first-time home buyer again: How easy it was to buy a home when you weren’t carrying another mortgage on your back!

If you’re looking to graduate from first-timer to repeat buyer, you know things are about to get much trickier. Unless you’re a bona fide house collector, you’ll have to sell your home in order to buy anew—adding a whole separate layer of anxiety to what you already know is a stressful home-buying process.

In an ideal world, you’d buy a new home, move, and then, and when all the dust settles, deal with the turmoil of selling. But for most people, that’s totally unrealistic. Not only does it cost significantly more, since you’ll be paying two mortgages, but sellers might be quick to judge if you’re holding on to your current home.

Drew Snyder, a Realtor® with Snyder Sutton Real Estate inTopanga, CA, says one of his clients had difficulty getting sellers to “take them seriously unless the house was on the market or in escrow. As soon as we put it on [the market], they were considered as serious buyers.”

You can do this! If selling and buying simultaneously is the only way to go, here’s what you need to know to make sure both processes go as smoothly as possible.

Know the market first

Before you start seriously searching for a new home—or put your current home on the market—make sure you have a solid understanding of the housing market in your area (and the area where you’re planning to buy). Is the market weighted toward buyers or sellers?

Only then will you be able to fully strategize. As is so often the case, the best plan of action may differ depending on exactly who has the power.

That doesn’t mean to find one house you like and call it a day: Find multiple suitable options. That way, you’re less likely to find yourself in trouble if your purchase falls through—your newly sold home won’t leave you stranded.

Similarly, make sure to hire an appraiser and price your old home fairly. Now is decidedly not the time for delusions of grandeur: Two extra months on the market because you couldn’t humble yourself to lower the price means two months you’ll be paying double mortgages. Two very long months…

Plan your schedule carefully…

Should you buy first, then sell—or vice versa? Both have their risks and rewards. Selling first makes getting a mortgage easier, but it also means you’ll need to find a temporary place to live. Buying first means moving will be easier, but it also skews your debt-to-income ratio, making it harder to qualify for a new mortgage—not to mention the difficulty of juggling two monthly house payments.

“It’s walking a tightrope,” says Gary DiMauro, a Realtor in New York’s Hudson Valley. And he’s not just talking about scheduling: Your finances will be on the highwire, too. When determining whether you should sell or buy first, think beyond “How can I make the move as easy as possible?” Instead ask: “Can I handle two mortgages? What if my home sells for less than its listing?”

Whichever option you choose, make sure you’re prepared to accept the consequences: having to store your stuff and rent temporarily, or undergoing the financial burdens of dual mortgages.

… but don’t rely on timing

When buying and selling a home simultaneously, “there are so many external circumstances,” says DiMauro. “I’ve yet to see it really work smoothly and efficiently.”

Remember: You’re not the only party in this equation. For every seller there’s a buyer, for every buyer a seller. While things might appear to be working smoothly when viewing your master plan from above, that doesn’t take into account the variabilities of other people. Closings are rife with delays. Your buyers might have difficulty securing their mortgage; your home inspector may bring up issues that need to be fixed before you can move in.

“You’re relying on the seller of the place that you’re buying to be ready to move in concert with the buyer of your house,” DiMauro says.

So even if you’ve planned to sell your home first and are prepared to rent while buying, know that even the best-laid plans go awry—and you might end up juggling both mortgages. Preparing yourself for this (however remote) possibility ahead of time will ensure a smooth transition.

Know your financial solutions

For those who choose to sell first, the process is relatively straightforward other than the additional cost of a rental between homes. However, there is the option of a rent-back agreement, where you negotiate with the lenders and buyers to be able to remain in the property for a maximum of 60 to 90 days—often in exchange for a lower selling price or rent paid to the buyers. This can relieve some of the pressure of finding a new home, giving you additional time to house hunt.

But if you’re buying first, talk to your Realtor about ways to decrease your financial burden and risk. Here are the two most popular options for buyers:

Contract contingency: Buyers can request that their new home purchase be dependent on the successful sale of their old home. If you’re looking in a competitive market, this may not be a good option; however, if the seller of your intended home has had difficulty attracting interest, this may be a good deal for all parties involved—assuming you can convince them that your home will sell quickly.

Bridge loans: Bridge financing allows you to own two homes simultaneously if you don’t have deep pockets for a second down payment. This option is especially attractive if you’d planned to sell your home first and use the proceeds to buy the second. It functions as a short-term loan, intended to be repaid upon the sale of your original house.

Don’t let fear rush you

If your home has sold but you haven’t found a new place to live, don’t let anxiety push you toward a bad decision. DiMauro usually recommends that his clients pre-emptively plan on a short-term rental “so they don’t feel stressed or pushed into something that they would not normally be interested in,” he says. “They shouldn’t make a purchase because they felt like they were pressured from the time constraints.”

Found the perfect home right on schedule? That’s great. But don’t feel like you have to compromise on things that are important to you just because you need to find a home. Conversely, don’t accept a bid that you feel is too low just because your finances are strained by two mortgages. If you have a temporary apartment set up, you’re less likely to compromise.

Certainly, selling and buying a house simultaneously will be stressful—but carefully considering and planning for the risks and hurdles can mitigate the stress.

The Surprising Things Your Movers Won’t Move

The Surprising Things Your Movers Won’t Move

Items movers won't move

propane tank: NoDerog/iStock; nail polish: Ruslan Dashinsky
scuba gear: ridgers/iStock; plant: vspn24/iStock

Let’s face it: Moving companies can be lifesavers. They’ll carry everything you own, they can handle three flights of stairs, they don’t flinch at bad weather, and they’ll move you any distance. Hey, is there anything they won’t do?

Well, yes, actually. Movers draw the line on certain things, and if you don’t know about it ahead of time you might end up out of luck on moving day. So here’s a handy no-go list.

Hazardous materials

OK, it may not come as a surprise, but “federal law bans moving companies from transporting hazardous materials,” says Lindsey Schaibly, operations coordinator of Two Men and a Truck, a franchised moving company based in Lansing, MI. This is probably a good thing.

That list includes the obvious things like propane tanks, gasoline tanks, and ammunition, but it also includes some things you might not expect.

According to Atlas Van Lines, these items can’t go on the truck:

  • Car batteries
  • Charcoal
  • Darkroom chemicals
  • Batteries
  • Nail polish
  • Scuba tanks
  • Liquid bleach

If you do have anything hazardous—or even vaguely toxic—your best bet is to dispose of it properly before you move and restock once you’ve landed at your new place.

Household plants

If you’ve invested in potted plants, brace yourself—this might sting a little.

“Plants are tricky,” says James Sullivan, president of Humboldt Storage & Moving ofCanton, MA.

While a few moving companies might be willing to toss a plant or two on the back of the truck for a short move, most won’t allow any on local moves. And that goes double for intrastate and cross-continental moves. You may just have to bite the bullet and transport your cherished domestic vegetation yourself.

“Some states are really sensitive about plants,” Sullivan says. “Officials are afraid of bringing in bugs or other problems into the state.”

Food and pantry items

When it comes to all that stuff clogging up your pantry, there’s a simple rule: Nonperishable foodstuff can be transported but perishable items are a strict no, Schaibly says.

Keep in mind that anything open is considered perishable, no matter what the expiration date is. So it’s better to play it safe and pack only sealed food with a long shelf life—like canned vegetables, boxed cereals, and jarred spices.

Outdoor equipment

Lawn and pool equipment can quickly become a source of stress on moving day.

Generally, any pool paraphernalia  that could pose a danger—such as acid or other treatment chemicals—will have to be disposed of. Same goes for weed killer and other pesticides. However, you can move the actual equipment—such as your lawn mower or generator—as long as you plan ahead.

“We ask customers to remove as much gasoline from engines as possible before we can move the item,” Sullivan says (rather sensibly).

Rickety or scary stairs

Once you’re packed, there are still a few potential snags to watch for. Most moving companies will do anything they can to move you, but everyone has limits.

“Each mover is probably a little different,” Sullivan says. “But we do everything we can to get a customer moved in, even if we have to hoist furniture over the balcony.”

But don’t expect that to be the norm. Many moving companies won’t risk rickety stairs, tight spiral staircases, or narrow balcony walkways. Trust us, we know this from experience! If you know your new place might pose a problem, tell the movers about it ahead of time.

Remember: Companies can simply decline to move you, even if you’re scheduled to move that day. It’s better to play it safe and be honest about any potential problems beforehand than to be stuck without a mover on moving day. Come clean: You’ll thank us later.


We have even more moving tips—go on, check them out!

Trashy Love: Upcycling Your Garbage Into Something Great

Trashy Love: Upcycling Your Garbage Into Something Great

A municipal landfill


Your garbage might pile up faster than you think. In 2013, Americans created 254 million tons of waste, an average of 4.4 pounds per person every day, according to theU.S. Environmental Protection Agency. While some of that refuse—1.51 pounds per person, per day—is recycled, the majority ends up in landfills, adding to an ever-growing ecological nightmare.

But there is an alternative: upcycling. It’s easy! It’s good for the environment! And it’s fun. Really.

OK, hear us out on this one: Converting your used or unwanted junk into newer and infinitely more awesome stuff is a truly rewarding way to spend a weekend. And you don’t even have to be all that crafty to pull it off!

What you can upcycle

A broken vase, a carton of past-their-prime eggs, and even a stack of way-past-their-prime CDs from the ’90s can be repurposed into gorgeous and functional home décor.

Take those eggs, please (we’re here all week, folks!). The cleaned, empty eggshells can be turned into miniature planters for succulents, a project we found in “Make Garbage Great,” by Tom Szaky and Albe Zakes of the recycling company TerraCycle. And those deeply unwanted Limp Bizkit CDs can be used to supply some colorful pop to a room divider. More? You can even make orange peels into candles, a bicycle inner tube into a wallet, and a plastic bottle (and spoons) into a bird feeder.

DIY projects, clockwise from top left: Fork place-card holder, leftover-glass candlesticks, wine-cork board, eggshell planters


make garbage great


Our favorite projects

Some of our favorite DIY trash projects from “Make Garbage Great” are modern takes on furniture and home décor items that look remarkably similar to pricier pieces we’ve seen in places such as Restoration Hardware and West Elm.

“My favorite is the pallet table,” says Zakes. That’s a side table made out of a wooden shipping pallet. “Pallets are really easy to get your hands on, and you can make these cool tables yourself for next to nothing.”

Zakes’ wife, who isn’t quite the environmentalist he is, loves the fork place-card holder, a project that turns unwanted silverware into kitschy table décor.Us? We love the simplicity and beauty of the glass candlestick. The project takes bits of broken or unwanted glass items to create a modern-looking, shabby-chic candlestick with very few tools or know-how required.

Keep on dumpster diving

If you find a project you love but don’t have the materials to make it, don’t let that stop you. Zakes recommends looking beyond your own garbage bin to what you can collect from friends, neighbors, co-workers, or even nearby businesses.

“A lot of times you see a project you want to do, like making a room-dividing screen from old CDs, and you wonder, ‘Where am I going to get 100 CDs from?’ But if you think a little bit outside of the box, all of these things are pretty accessible. You could go to a flea market and pick up a crate of unwanted CDs, or even send out an email at the office,” Zakes says.

Upcycling can be educational, too.

“You can learn a lot about the history of mankind by looking at garbage over the years,” Zakes says.

All photographs from “Make Garbage Great.” Published by Harper Design; © 2015 by Tom Szaky and Albe Zakes.

7 Common Lies That Can Totally Destroy Your Home-Buying Chances

7 Common Lies That Can Totally Destroy Your Home-Buying Chances

Liar with fingers crossed

Dori OConnell/istockphoto

Let’s start with the (blatantly) obvious: Getting a mortgage and buying a house involves a lot of money. And the answers you give on your mortgage application have a direct impact on how much money you’ll get approved for—or whether you’ll be able to get the loan in the first place. So it’s not surprising that some people may be tempted to fudge the facts just a bit.

After all, it’s just paperwork, and a little white lie. What can it hurt?

A lot, actually. In fact, it can make the process downright excruciating.

To begin with, the phrase “little white lies” is a bit of a misnomer as far as mortgage applications are concerned. If you’re fudging the facts in a way that affects your costs or ability to get the loan, that small untruth is likely to turn into a whopper. And since lenders verify most of the key information on your application, your chances of getting away with it aren’t very good to begin with.

What are the possible consequences? Getting turned down for the mortgage is the least of them. If your falsehood is discovered after you get the loan, your lender could boost your interest rate or even demand immediate repayment in full. Tax-related falsehoods could get you in trouble with the IRS.

In addition, penalties for mortgage fraud—which is what lying on a mortgage application is—range as high as 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine. You likely won’t face a penalty like that for a small exaggeration or omission, but you could still end up with a fine and a conviction.

The following “white lies” might seem fairly harmless but could get you into hot wateronce the truth comes out.

1. Who will live in the house

This is one of the most common. A person applies for a mortgage to buy a home as their primary residence when they actually plan to rent it out as an investment property. The benefit is that lenders charge higher interest rates on loans to buy investment properties than they do for a primary residence.

The borrower might think, “What difference does it make? A loan is a loan. I’m responsible for it either way.” But lenders know that default rates are higher on investment properties than they are on primary residences—people try harder to keep up the payments when their own homes are on the line—and that’s why they get lower rates than investors do. Minimum down payments are significantly larger on an investment property as well.

From the lender’s perspective, you’re stealing money from them by making them take on more risk than they agreed to. And risk costs money.

And don’t assume your lender won’t find out. There are several red flags that can tip them off. Buying a home in a neighborhood that doesn’t fit your socioeconomic profile is one. Another would be if your mortgage statements are being sent to a different address than your new “primary residence.” Either might cause your lender to send someone to investigate.

2. How much money you make

It’s really hard to exaggerate your income on a mortgage application. For one thing, your lender is going to verify all of the financial information you provide on your application, so if your tax returns, bank statements, W-2 forms, and the like don’t support your income claims, you won’t get the loan.

The tax return is the big one. Your lender is going to request copies of your two most recent ones, and will obtain them directly from the IRS—you can’t simply alter your own copies and try to submit them. If you do, your lender is going to wonder why your copy and the one from the IRS don’t match.

People who are self-employed sometimes feel they have a bit more room to fudge things, since they’re reporting their own income. But again, your tax return is going to tell the tale. You might exaggerate your earnings on the profit-and-loss statements from your business, but unless those also match up with your tax returns, you’re going to have a hard time getting your lender to buy those figures.

3. The origin of your down payment funds

Here’s one that many borrowers think is harmless: You’re short of cash for a down payment, so you ask a family member to front you the necessary funds, and pay them back later. What’s the harm in that?

The problem is that when you apply for a mortgage, you need to disclose all your other debt obligations on the application—and that loan from a family member is one of them. It represents part of your financial burdens that will compete with your mortgage payments for your financial resources. So your lender will want to know about it.

If you receive down payment assistance from a relative or anyone else, most of the time your lender will want you to provide a letter from them stating that the funds are a gift and do not need to be repaid.

4. Undisclosed incentives/rebates

In some real estate transactions, borrowers and lenders are tempted to “sweeten the pot” by making a side deal apart from the declared sale price of the home itself. Often, this is in the form of a rebate or kickback from the seller to the buyer when the asking price is greater than the buyer is willing to pay.

The seller may offer to cover the buyer’s closing costs above and beyond what is normal and declared. In some cases, the seller may even cover the buyer’s down payment. Such arrangements may be allowed in some situations, but what makes them fraudulent is when the lender is out of the loop—when they’re done separately from the official sales transaction and without the lender’s knowledge.

The harm here is that the lender is being tricked into financing more than the actual sale price of the home—so the lender is taking on more risk than expected and would have a harder time recovering the money in the event of a default.

5. A bogus co-borrower

In some cases, a borrower who doesn’t earn enough to qualify for the desired mortgage may seek to enlist a bogus co-borrower. The co-borrower, often a relative, falsely states that he or she plans to occupy the residence and contribute toward paying the mortgage, and so his or her income is counted toward qualifying for the mortgage.

The party who really gets hurt with this one are the co-borrowers. Even if they aren’t actually contributing toward the mortgage, it’s listed as an obligation on their credit report. So if they later decide to buy their own home or take out some other large loan, it’s going to hurt their debt-to-income ratio.

In addition, they could get stuck with the loan itself if you’re unable to keep up with the payments, since they also signed off on the loan. Not only that, but any payments you might miss will damage their credit as well, since both of you are equally responsible for the mortgage.

6. Your employment status

People will sometimes be tempted to stretch the truth a bit when it comes to reporting their employment on a mortgage application. For example, claiming you’ve been working for a company for three years when you’ve been there for only one—because lenders want to see at least two years of steady employment before approving a mortgage (changing jobs in the same field is OK).

In other cases, they may claim to own a nonexistent small business or get a friend to pose as an employer for whom they work at least part time. But neither of these will help unless your tax returns support the income you claim.

7. Hidden liabilities

One of the keys to getting approved for a mortgage is your debt-to-income ratio. That is, how much of your earnings you have to pay out each month to cover all your debt payments. So some borrowers will omit listing certain debts on their mortgage application to try to make it look like they owe less than they do.

This rarely works. For one thing, just about all established creditors—banks, credit card companies, auto lenders, medical services, etc.—are going to report your debt and payment history to the credit-reporting agencies. Your lender is going to pull your credit history when you apply for a mortgage, so it’s going to find out about it.

This is also a great reason to check your credit reports before you apply for a mortgage, too—to know what a lender will see. You can get a free credit report summary every month on to watch for important changes, and you can get free annual credit reports from

Similarly, some borrowers may try to game the system by taking out a large loan just before the mortgage closes—perhaps by using a cash advance on a credit card—and hope it doesn’t show up in the credit-reporting system before the mortgage is closed.

However, when you sign off on a mortgage, one of the things you sign is a statement that the information you’ve provided is accurate to the best of your knowledge. If you took out a big loan the day before, the information on your application is no longer accurate—and that’s mortgage fraud.


This article was written by  and originally published on


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5 Unexpected Lessons When Buying a Home (From People Who’ve Done It Before)

5 Unexpected Lessons When Buying a Home (From People Who’ve Done It Before)

Around here, I’ve developed a bit of a reputation. As “Rachel the Renter” I entertain my co-workers (and you!) with a variety of renting anecdotes and horror stories. But the truth is, I do want to eventually break up with my landlord and explore a monogamous relationship with a mortgage broker. I know “Rachel the First-Time Homeowner” doesn’t have the same alliterative ring, but I’m sure we’ll all survive.

Thing is, there’s lots more at stake than just a change in status from renter to homeowner. Like so many (if not all!) first-time home buyers, I have no earthly idea what I’m doing. Sure, I can read up on all the buying and finance advice we offer here at®. Of course, I can consult with my real estate agent and my mortgage broker. But if there’s one thing I keep hearing from those who’ve forged the path ahead of me, it’s that when you buy a home for the first time, you’re constantly faced with things you didn’t know you didn’t know.

So, before I embark, I thought I’d minimize some of those surprises and take advantage of my home-owning co-workers’ experience. They shared these personal anecdotes of surprises they encountered on the road to homeownership. I hope this will help prepare you—and me—for what lies ahead:

Mortgage meltdown

Mortgage uncertainty

Ashley Walker


“I thought our mortgage loan was approved and ready to go, but at the last minute the originating bank balked at the purchase price of our home—they thought it was too high. This was in 2008 in Silicon Valley—we thought we were getting a bargain! The bank was based somewhere in the Midwest, though. They assigned an assessor to come check it out, but fortunately the assessment supported our purchase price. It was a suspenseful few days, though.” —Cicely Wedgeworth, senior editor.

Takeaway: Don’t count on your mortgage until it’s signed. And make sure you double-check your property assessment.

Count your costs

Keep track of your mounting costs

Ashley Walker

Keep track of your mounting costs

“I might have experienced short-term memory loss during my loan approval process. All the closing costs were a mystery to me, and my loan officer or Realtor had to explain each expense every single time I saw them in updated loan docs.” —Oie Lian Yeh, copy editor

Takeaway: Go over the closing costs with your real estate agent and take notes on what to expect. You’ll see these costs itemized again and again, so best to get familiar fast.

Budget time and money for repairs

Repairs will cost you time and money

Ashley Walker

Repairs will cost you time and money

“I was surprised and worried about the problems that the home inspector found. How serious are termites? How about mold? Can these things be fixed and will the house be safe? Or will we regret buying a house with possible structural and health-related issues?

“And how much money will it cost for us to do roof repairs ourselves when the seller is selling “as-is” and it’s a competitive market where we lost out on two previous houses we bid on? Related question: How long could we put off doing roof repairs, since we were raiding our savings to fund the down payment for the house?” –Kim Moy, managing editor

Takeaway: You can’t foresee problems that might arise during the inspection. You might be able to negotiate with the sellers, but you’ll want to have enough money left over after closing for any unexpected repairs. Be prepared to walk away from your dream home if needed.

Multiple visits are OK!

Don’t be shy about visiting and revisiting the house

Ashley Walker

couple visits home for sale

“When we were buying our first house, I didn’t know I could go back to look at the house again before we placed a bid. I was also shocked that I was able to meet the sellers, which ultimately put our bid over the edge and got us the house.

“We saw the house on a Saturday and bids were due on Monday. The open house was full of potential buyers and I felt like I hadn’t spent enough time really seeingthe entire house. Our agent arranged for us to go see the house one more time on Sunday afternoon. I assumed the house would be empty, but the sellers were home and welcomed us in to take another look around.

“They were so friendly and walked us through the house, explaining little nuances along the way. We submitted our bid the next day and found out the house was ours a few days later. Our agent told us there were seven bids and ours was the same price as another couple’s, but because the sellers met and remembered me, our bid won. I firmly believe it was meant to be, but I’m glad I went back for another peek.”Erik Gunther, senior editor

Takeaway: Look as many times as you need. This is the place you’ll call home, after all. Even in a competitive market, a second look could end up giving you the edge. (And while you certainly don’t want to harass the seller, don’t be afraid to personalize your offer with a letter describing any details about you, your family, and why you love their home. It could be enough to sway the seller in your favor.)

Learn (and love) thy neighbors

Neighbors can make or break your living situation

Ashley Walker

Neighbors can make or break your living situation

“Maybe this is a very urban issue, but I didn’t realize how neighbors can make—or break—a home. When my wife and I moved to our small co-op in Brooklyn, we knew we could get along with the three families living on the floors below us, but over the years they’ve become more than just neighbors. They’re good friends: We all had children together at about the same time, so our kids have grown up together, we babysit for one another, and we regularly get together for barbecues in our common space.

It’s what people always say about “community”—you really do want to be in a place that not only welcomes but embraces you, that you look forward to being a part of. Maybe I was just a cynical New Yorker before my wife and I bought this place, dismissive of the idea of community in a city where people cherish their anonymity, but once it happens, you realize how good it is. If I’m ever foolish enough to move away from here, I’ll definitely consider my potential neighbors on equal (or greater!) footing with the bathroom fixtures and the price per square foot.” —Matt Gross, former editorial director

Takeaway: Your community is often as important as the home you’re living in. Take a good look at the neighborhood, and don’t be afraid to ask the neighbors questions. These people could become your babysitters, your carpool buddies, and your closest friends over the years.

Think Energy-Efficient Features Save You Money? Think Again, Study Says

Think Energy-Efficient Features Save You Money? Think Again, Study Says


photo: Tuomas Kujansuu/iStock
graphic: Greg Chow

Going green at home usually comes with a hefty price tag—new windows, a geothermal heating system, and Energy Star appliances cost thousands. Most homeowners justify the cost by factoring in potential monthly savings on their utility bills.

But according to a surprising new study by the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago, those savings might be overblown. Its conclusion: The initial costs of retrofitting a house with energy-efficient features far outweigh the eventual savings.


The study evaluated a sample of 30,000 low-income Michigan households that participated in the nation’s largest residential energy efficiency program. Each household was  given about $5,100 worth of energy-efficient improvements—new furnace, attic and wall insulation, and weatherstripping. Over the lifetime of the upgrades, the researchers found that the homeowners saved an average of only $2,400. That’s half the cost of the renovations, and less than half of the projected energy savings.

While the researchers did find that the homeowners saved about 10% to 20% each month on their energy bills, they decided that the savings did not justify the cost.

But the report stops short of telling consumers to ditch the idea of energy-saving refurbishments entirely.

Here’s what the researchers didn’t delve into: whether or not the upgrades were installed properly, whether the upgrades were installed all at once or over a period of years, or even whether there was any sprucing up beyond the furnace and insulation. Most Realtors® with the National Association of Realtors® Green Designation (and I once was one) know that it takes several levels of energy efficiency retrofits to make a substantial difference. Old appliances would need to be swapped out with Energy Star models. Single-pane windows would need to be replaced with double-pane low-emissivity windows, preferably with an argon core. Rooftops would need to be silver-coated, and insulated doors would need to be installed at every entry. And that’s just for starters if you want to get really serious.

Brian Wheeler, spokesman for Consumers Energy, a Michigan utility company, disagrees with the study’s findings.

“It is not an accurate reflection of the energy efficiency work we do,” he said. “Since 2009, we’ve helped Michigan homeowners and businesses save over $850 million in energy costs. That’s a significant difference.”

The folks at the Energy Policy Institute did not return repeated requests for an interview. But in a prepared statement, Michael Greenstone, the group’s director, said, “Energy efficiency investments hold great potential as a means to fight climate change. However … the projected savings overestimate the reality on the ground.”

But in reality, a low-income family that pays about $2,000 a year in utility bills would probably welcome a 20% savings. Maybe to the economists conducting the study that’s an insignificant amount of money. But in the real world, that’s $400 that a family could use to buy food, pay down debt, or go to the dentist. Reality check!

Is Your Dog a Good Citizen? You’d Better Hope So, for Insurance’s Sake

Is Your Dog a Good Citizen? You’d Better Hope So, for Insurance’s Sake

Dog graduation


A good friend of mine was in tears when her insurance agent told her he would not renew her homeowner policy. The reason? Her newest family member, a German shepherd named Moxie, whom the company had deemed a “dangerous breed”—the dogs can potentially be territorial and overly protective (hey, they’re shepherds, right?). To solve the problem, the agent laid out a couple of crazy suggestions: Bring the dog to an animal shelter or—this is true—have the animal put down.

Thankfully, those weren’t her only options. While we know that some insurance companies discriminate against what they think of as dangerous breeds, like Rottweilers, Dobermans, American pit bull terriers, and mastiffs, some savvy homeowners have found ways around the problem. They might look for different insurance companies, hoping—usually in vain—that they’ll say yes and offer a reasonable rate. Others will find companies that require homeowners and renters with breed-specific dogs to purchase liability insurance in addition to homeowner insurance. But there is another way.

Get that doggie a diploma, save some dough

A less costly option is to get your canine certified as a good citizen, by way of enrolling it in obedience training classes that prove you’ve got a well-mannered pup at the end of your leash. The American Kennel Club started its Canine Good Citizen Program in 1989 to reward dogs that had good manners in their homes and in their communities. The dogs go through a six-week training program, then take a 10-step test, showing they can be polite to strangers, come when called, and play nice with other dogs, among other fine behaviors. There is no official test for peeing on the rug, alas, but your dog passes only if it refrains from barking, whining, or pacing nervously.

This seems to be particularly favorable with homeowners association, co-op, and condo boards, according to Loretta Worters, vice president of communications for theInsurance Information Institute. “Many insurance agents will accept certificates from AKC’s Canine Good Citizen Program and other dog training programs,” says Worters.

Andrea Arden of Andrea Arden Dog Training in New York City has seen an uptick in clients requesting diplomas or letters that they give to their co-op or condo boards (she can’t explain the uptick, but maybe it’s because of a savvier dog-loving constituency). Arden and her staff meet with clients to tailor the training around specific behaviors that need correcting—like barking, separation anxiety, or destroying stuff in the house. There won’t be any fighting, biting, growling, or taking food from your hands (without an owner’s blessing, that is). And: no barking.

In fact, some buildings won’t let a dog in without the CGC certificate. “Some rental agencies are requiring that dogs in apartments receive CGC training and pass the test,” says Mary R. Burch, director of the AKC’s Canine Good Citizen Program.

Tanner Place in Portland, OR, requires pet parents to present a copy of the CGC certificate showing that the dog has passed the test. According to Burch, it also shows the dedication on the part of the dog owner. “Insurance companies tell us Canine Good Citizen training is as much of a screening tool for owners as it is for dogs,” she says. “When someone takes the time to attend training classes, train the dog, and take a test, they are usually someone who cares about that dog and will behave responsibly to protect it.”

Though your insurance rates might not skyrocket as much, there is a fee. On average, CGC classes are about $100 for six weeks of training, though the cost varies across instructors and geographical areas. Other dog training programs vary in cost and training time. Private lessons, tailored to the owner and the dog, cost more, of course.

Not every canine needs a diploma

Lest you think all pit bulls and German shepherds have to be certified or sent to a shelter for you to save money, there are some exemptions. According to Rebecca Huss, professor of law at Valparaiso University in Indiana, insurers are not allowed to discriminate against specific breeds—if that dog works as a service animal.

“In 2011, the Department of Justice revised the Americans with Disabilities Act to cover dogs considered service animals,” Huss says. A service dog is trained to help people with disabilities—seeing-eye dogs, those who help the deaf and hearing-impaired as well as people who use a wheelchair.

Still it’s a confusing issue for many people, because not everyone knows what a service dog looks like. It used to be a golden retriever, Labrador retriever, and German shepherd. Today, service dogs can include mixed breeds, American pit bull terriers, Dobermans, Rottweilers, and other breeds that fall under the list of dogs that are often discriminated against.

To complicate matters further, the number of emotional support animals, which can range from alpacas to turtles, has grown immensely. Anyone can get papers stating his pet is an emotional support animal, with no proof, no imprimatur of a reputable organization. The animals don’t have to go through any training (try training a turtle); though, for many people they perform an invaluable service. And for others, well, they just want to bring their llama to the cafe. Similarly, any pet owner can go online and purchase a “service dog” vest and papers, stating he has a need only his canine friend can fill.

And guess what? You can be fined more than $1,000 or serve a few days in jail for lying to your landlord about your pet’s real status. Perhaps worse: Your dog could be taken away.

Even if your insurance company accepts such certificates, a landlord may not. “If you are renting, landlords can argue that they can’t accept tenants with emotional support dogs because it will make their insurance rates go through the roof,” says Huff. According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, though, landlords have to prove that their insurance rates would rise.

If you have proof—a letter from a physician and papers stating your pet provides a service or emotional support—and your landlord still refuses to let you have a service or emotional support dog, you can hire an attorney to represent you. Usually, landlords won’t go this far, and for those who have, Huss has not heard of any landlord winning a case against a tenant having a service or emotional support dog.

And my friend with her German shepherd? Her insurance didn’t go up. She took her dog to obedience training classes and, yeah, that was enough.

And listen—if you ensure that your dog is a good citizen, even if you don’t get the apartment or the affordable insurance, at least you get the dog that’s a joy to live with.

I Hate the Open-Plan Kitchen—and Amazingly, I’m No Longer the Only One

I Hate the Open-Plan Kitchen—and Amazingly, I’m No Longer the Only One

Open kitchen, no thanks

gerenme / Getty Images

A few years ago, my husband and I moved into a gorgeous Craftsman-style house in the Pacific Northwest. It was chockablock with original details like dark wood paneling, stained-glass transom windows … and a 100-square-foot, totally enclosed kitchen in a faux country style—think yellow oak cabinets paired with linoleum countertops. And though we found most of the historical elements quite charming, the kitchen needed a complete overhaul.

So we hired an architect who hatched a plan to steal some space from the nearby office area. But he didn’t want to stop there. He also wanted to knock down the wall between the kitchen and the formal dining room, to give us the open-concept kitchen that it seems just about everybody else has these days.

We balked. Lose the cool, old-fashioned swinging door? And the opportunity to leave my kitchen a mess during dinner parties?

Heck no. Because after having grown up in a New York City apartment where public and private spaces were blurred—both bathrooms were en suite, so guests had to traipse through our bedrooms to use the loo—I loved the idea of an older house’s separate rooms. (Remember Julia Child’s famous quip: If you drop something, “you can always pick it up if you’re alone in the kitchen. Who is going to see?”) To me, they aren’t isolated and inconvenient, but rather refined and gracious. Though open kitchens may be all the rage, let me dare to say right here: I’m anti-open kitchen.

For much of domesticated human history—until mid-past century—I wasn’t alone in the enclosed-kitchen camp. Walk into an American home built before the 1950s, and you’ll most likely find the kitchen tucked away in a far-off corner of the main floor. Rarely visited by guests and not a place where the family spent much time, the kitchen was separate and functional, not designed for hanging out.

“The equipment was usually along the periphery,” explains Virginia McAlester, author of “A Field Guide to American Houses,” “meaning that anyone who entered the kitchen was most likely greeted by the cook’s back.” Or they wouldn’t see the cook at all—how often does Lord Crawley visit Mrs. Patmore on “Downton Abbey”?

Only that wasn’t thought of as hugely rude or anything, because most social interaction occurred either in front parlors (for welcoming guests) or in dens (primarily just for family). Not having to touch a hot pan was a sign of status.

These days, the kitchen is the place to entertain, thanks in part to mid-20th-century technology that made appliances fit into the cabinetry, not stand freely and hoard all the free space.

“The kitchen was becoming quieter, cleaner, better organized and easier to work in,” writes “In essence, the kitchen was becoming a source of pride.” These days, you flip on HGTV or pick up a flier for an open house in your neighborhood and chances are they’re heralding an open-concept kitchen. They’re great for wooing guests while cooking, or so goes the current real estate lore.

“Food preparation is central to how we entertain and socialize,” says Erin Gallagher, chief of insights for the Research Institute for Cooking & Kitchen Intelligence. “It’s how we live today.” Nine out of 10 kitchen designers, she says, report that their clients want their living, dining, and cooking spaces to flow together.

There’s a practical reason for their popularity, too. In an age when houses are getting smaller for the first time since 2007 (the median size of a new U.S. home in 2010 was 2,169 square feet, up from 1,525 square feet in 1973 but down from the 2007 peak of 2,277 square feet) and house prices are rising like never before, open kitchens maximize space and minimize cost. In a closed-plan house, there are more doors and walls, more trim and details needed to delineate various rooms. And to build all that requires more tradespeople, like electricians and carpenters. Consequently, open-plan kitchens have become the new normal. There’s more natural daylight in an open kitchen, too.

And here’s another bitter pill for the fan of the closed-off kitchen to swallow: Open-concept kitchens might help boost a home’s resale value.

“The most common conversation I overhear when showing a property to potential buyers is ‘Is this wall load-bearing? Can we knock it down to open things up?’” saysArthur Jeppe, a principal Realtor® with Read & Jeppe in Newport Beach, CA. “So no matter how gorgeous a home is, it will most likely sell for less if the kitchen is separate.”

OK, so those are compelling reasons, but I remain unconvinced. In part it’s because I find it beyond challenging to turn out culinary masterpieces (or even just a nice meal) while guests are chatting around me in the kitchen, and also because I just don’t believe it’s a good time to “entertain” anyone while I’m wielding a knife and managing fire. Plus, I’m happier when my whole world—especially my living room furniture—doesn’t smell of bacon grease.

A cozier, rustic kitchen

Astronaut Images/Getty Images

A cozier, rustic kitchen

As it turns out, others might be starting to see things my way. Hilarious andblasphemous blog posts detailing the difficulties of actually living with open floor plans have started to dot the Internet. (“‘Oh my gosh I dropped the chicken!’ In a perfect world, no one would know. Open floor plan?  Well, it’ll be tweeted in minutes.”)

Some architects are seeing an uptick in clients asking for separate kitchens.

“Many of the requests are from older clients, because that’s what they’re used to,” saysTimo Lindman, a New York–based residential architect.

But interest is also stemming from sophisticated younger clients rediscovering the value—emotional, if not financial—in drawing a line between public and private space.

“Many properties are designed for a mass market, and in order to appeal to as many people as possible, they include trends like an open-concept kitchen,” says Lindman. “But there’s also a market for interesting, well-thought-out separate spaces. It’s just that they appeal to a group with a more curated aesthetic.”

Tyler Merson, owner of Codfish Park Design in Chatham, NJ, and a former professional chef, is also with me regarding separate kitchens.

“People think they should love open-plan kitchens because they’ve been told to love them,” says Merson, who thinks galley-style kitchens are underrated. “They can be fine for low-impact prep like chopping, but real cooking is messy work and requires a great deal of concentration.” (Man, it feels good to be validated by a professional!)

So could it be a backlash against open-concept kitchens is emerging? Or maybe this is now just one of those things that you have to be either totally for or dead set against. Either way, I’m glad we bucked the trend and kept our separate kitchen. And if you ever come to my house for dinner and experience just how often we set the smoke alarm off, you’ll be glad we did, too.


So which kitchen is right for you? Here are a few concepts to consider as you decide:

What kind of cook you are

If you tend to do takeout or don’t mind your mess being visible, then an open-concept kitchen could work for you. But if you’re into preparing elaborate meals and prefer to concentrate while cooking, then consider a space that’s separate from your home’s main living areas.

Think things through

In most states, changing walls requires building permits—and structural modifications can affect your home’s resale value. So before making plans to knock down an existing wall or rough in another, figure out if your long-term plan includes staying put or needing to appeal to other homebuyers in the future.

Be realistic

It’s easy to be dazzled by professional photos of dream kitchens, but what works well in one space might not in another. Consider your own home’s ceiling height, amount of wall space, windows, and views when creating a plan to fit your kitchen and living space.

Work with someone who sees beyond trends

Some architects value separate kitchen spaces while others think they’re outdated. So if you’re considering closing off your cooking space or shopping for a house that features a closed kitchen, consider working with a builder or Realtor who has an eye for creative elements that make separate spaces feel airy (think a bank of windows, skylights, or glass doors).

You’ll Have to Take a Ferry to Get to Maine’s Most Expensive House

You’ll Have to Take a Ferry to Get to Maine’s Most Expensive House

Islesboro from above

Chris Pinchbeck

Each week, we look at the most expensive MLS-listed house in each state.

Maine’s priciest place is fit for a head of state. Listed for $9.5 million and located inIslesboro, the massive waterfront home sits on a tiny island surrounded by the waters of Penobscot Bay.

In our role as amateur house matchmakers, we thought it would be totally awesome if 2016 presidential candidate Jeb Bush splurged on the state’s most expensive home. Alas, the former Florida governor just settled for a guesthouse at the Bush family compound down the coast in Kennebunkport, ME. Our dreams dashed, this mansion will have to find another scion with stacks of cash.

Exterior of the Grace Estate


Exterior of the Grace Estate

Known as the Grace Estate, the 17-room mansion was built in 1918 in the up-island area of Islesboro. Constructed for the daughter of New York City’s then-mayor, William Russell Grace, the sprawling Renaissance Revival–style home was designed by architect Wilson Eyre on 9 acres of secluded land.

Eyre’s concept was to build a home that maximized the island’s views and, according to listing agent Terry Sortwell, the vision was a success. Sortwell says the home “has spectacular views to the south down the bay, west to the Camden Hills, and east over Seal Harbor.”

View of the Penobscot Bay from the entryway

Darren Setlow

View of the bay from the entryway.

There is, however, one possible hitch in your getaway plan: You have to take a 20-minute ferry ride to get to the estate. Once you disembark and drive off the boat, Sortwell says, the journey is worth it. “The home’s in a fantastic setting. You drive across a little spit of land to what’s basically your own island.”

The eight-bedroom home has been renovated over the years and features a modern kitchen that blends seamlessly with the old-world touches that abound throughout the 9,000-square-foot home. Out back, there’s a pool and a putting green surrounded by well-groomed landscaping. Of course, there’s also a deep-water dock for tooling around the inlets of coastal Maine.

Backyard pool in Islesboro with views of Penobscot Bay


Backyard pool in Islesboro with views of the bay.

Many rooms face toward the water, and you can admire the deep-blue waters of the bay from most places in the home. The ferry runs year-round, but Sortwell says he considers the Grace Estate as part of a “summer community” of folks who flock to the quiet beauty of Maine’s coastline during warmer months.

The agent adds that he’s just looking for a buyer who says, “This is a place I want to be.” He understands he’s selling a property that a buyer doesn’t necessarily need. But for a wealthy buyer who has many choices, he thinks exposure is key.

“This is a dramatic and historic property on the coast,” he says. “For someone who knows the Penobscot area, this is a landmark

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