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How To Avoid Craigslist Scams: A Comprehensive Guide

For almost three decades, Craigslist has been the go-to online marketplace for a reason – it works. You can list just about anything for sale and no matter what it is, chances are, someone will be interested. As a buyer, you have the freedom to negotiate the price and you don’t have to pay shipping fees because Craigslist is local.

Most of the time, transactions go smoothly. But like any online marketplace, Craigslist also attracts scammers looking for an easy payday. Whether you’re a regular on the site or just thinking about trying it out, here’s a rundown of Craigslist scams to look for and best practices to use as you shop or sell, especially if you have a big-ticket item like a car or a home for sale in mind.

 

How Common Are Craigslist Scams? 

Craigslist is sort of a “Wild West” when compared to other sites of similar popularity. There isn’t much moderation or policing in comparison to the scope of the site. The actual number of Craigslist scams is hard to estimate, as many of them go unreported or the listings expire. 

A 2014 study by NYU estimated that 1.5% of real estate listings on Craigslist were fraudulent (29,000 listings out of about 2,000,000 in a 141 day period across 20 cities). This study only examined real estate, so site-wide figures are unknown.  

 

9 Essential Tips To Avoid Craigslist Scams

Even if you don’t detect anything suspicious (but especially if you do), follow these best practices whenever you buy or sell through Craigslist:

  • Never wire money in advance
  • Only accept cash
  • Evaluate listings carefully before agreeing to meet
  • Reverse-search photos in listings to make sure they weren’t stolen
  • Look for other red flags in the listing to save you time (see “How To Spot A Craigslist Scam” below)
  • Make sure the buyer or seller is willing to meet in person
  • Always examine the goods in person
  • Never give out more information than necessary
  • Trust your gut – if something doesn’t feel right, walk away immediately

 

Crucial Craigslist Safety Tips

Craigslist safety tips for physical safety and fraud protection

Any time you share information online or meet face-to-face with a stranger from the internet, it’s best to take a few precautions. You should carefully evaluate listings and the other party before agreeing to meet face-to-face. Check out Craigslist’s safety guidelines as a starting point. We go into more detail about these safety tips below. 

 

Trust Your Gut – Your Safety Is #1

While violent crimes and thefts aren’t a common occurrence for Craigslist dealings, they are a risk – as they are any time you’re meeting face-to-face with a stranger. Your personal safety is the first priority, items are replaceable. If you find yourself in an unsafe situation, get away as fast as you can and notify authorities when it is safe to do so.

      • Always bring your phone and a friend
      • Trust yourself, if you feel unsafe – leave

 

Meet In A Local Public Place 

At the very least, you should arrange to meet somewhere that’s well-lit and populated, like a coffee shop, diner or mall. Even better are SafeTrade Stations, which are designated areas at police stations or similar law enforcement buildings.

      • “Deal locally and face-to-face” is Craigslist’s number one tip to avoid scams
      • Don’t pursue offers that involve shipping, that’s not Craigslist’s M.O.
      • Meet at your local police station’s parking lot or a “SafeTrade” location.

 

Bring Backup 

It’s always a good idea to bring someone along like a friend or family member. There’s less likelihood of any shady business, and chances are you’ll feel much more comfortable with a familiar face around.

      • Bring a friend with you to a public meeting place
      • Let a third party know where you’re going and when you’ll be back, or check-in regularly

 

Deal In Cash – Carefully 

Most people know Craigslist is primarily for cash-only deals, which helps prevent sellers from getting scammed. With that said, you don’t want to bring a duffel bag of hundred-dollar bills somewhere. If you’re buying an expensive item, tell the seller you’ll go to an ATM after checking things out – or you could even meet at a bank.

Craigslist becomes riskier as the price of what you’re buying or selling goes up. Be even more cautious when dealing with high-value or rare items.

      • Never wire funds 
      • Be wary about selling or buying high-value items
      • Don’t accept checks (certified or cashier) or money orders – if you give the bank a fake, you’ll be held responsible. 

 

Protect Your Identity 

The key to avoiding identity theft is always safeguarding your personal details as much as possible. As a seller on Craigslist, be sure to use the site’s proxy email address feature so you don’t have to give out your personal email. As a buyer, you’ll need to use a disposable email service like Mailinator or Maildrop. 

Whether you’re buying or selling, you can also avoid giving out your phone number by using Google Voice, which lets you use a different phone number to receive calls and texts on your phone. One more thing if you’re a seller: many smartphones will embed data in the photo about where it was taken. Be sure to erase personal data before posting photos of an item for sale.

      • Never give out personal data (address, ZIP code, ID numbers, etc.) 
      • Never give out financial information (bank account, PayPal account, Social Security, etc.)
      • Avoid giving out your primary phone number and email
      • Never undergo “background” or “credit checks” without verifying the validity of the offer
      • Bonus tip: If you do decide to use personal contact info, spell out numbers and characters in your contact info to keep spam bots from picking it up (example: [at] gmail [dot] com)

 

How To Spot A Craigslist Scam

Signs of a Craigslist scam in a listing

There’s no surefire way to spot every Craigslist con, but knowing the most common red flags will make it a lot easier to avoid getting ripped off.

      • Communications from someone who isn’t in your area
      • Poor spelling or grammar
      • A seller who claims to be out of town or otherwise unavailable
      • Requests for wire transfers, cashier’s checks or money orders
      • Requests for personal details like a Social Security number, PIN code or password
      • A buyer or seller who’s anxious to get a deal done quickly
      • The person receiving the call is referred to as a “pickup agent”

 

These same red flags apply to communications as well. Often times, scammers will sound “off.” Keep an eye out for red flags throughout the buying and selling process.

Signs of a Craigslist scam in messaging

 

How To Report A Scammer On Craigslist

If you ever spot a suspicious listing, encounter someone trying to pull a fast one or fall victim to a scam on Craigslist, be sure to file a report with Craigslist, especially if the post is still active. Also notify your local authorities immediately – if it’s an emergency situation, call 911; if the situation isn’t an emergency, call your local police station office so they can direct you to the proper department. 

Craigslist has curated a list of who to reach out to (in addition to their internal team and local authorities), see those contacts below:

 

 

Common Craigslist Scam Tactics

common Craigslist scam tactics

Since 1995 when the site launched, con artists have tweaked age-old scams and created new ones to target both buyers and sellers. Here are a few of the most common Craigslist cons to watch out for.

 

Ticket Scammer

Whether you’re buying plane tickets or concert tickets, you need to be on the lookout for fraud. Even if you see photos of the tickets you think you’re buying, they might have been stolen, counterfeited, expired, canceled or might not even exist at all. And if you’re trying to get into a sold-out event, there isn’t always much time to make sure the tickets you get are legit. 

So, do your best to validate the tickets with the information you have. Ask for seller’s invoices stating the tickets have been paid for. Get the account number and call the ticket rep for confirmation. In every instance, research the tickets you’re buying as much as you can to make sure everything checks out.

      • Scammers posts sold-out tickets, stolen or fake “discounted” tickets
      • If you can’t verify the tickets with the event venue, don’t go through with the deal

 

How To Avoid This:

Avoid buying resale tickets on Craigslist. Verified resale sites might cost more, but you know they’re real. Facebook Marketplace or Groups are safer bets because you can better vet the seller, but they’re also not foolproof.

 

The Overpaying Buyer

This involves a scammer posing as a buyer who sends you a check or money order that exceeds the agreed-upon price. The fake buyer will apologize for sending too much and request that you send back the difference. Only trouble is, the check or money order is fake. Oftentimes, sellers won’t realize this until they’ve sent a check of their own to the scammer and it’s too late.

Also, look out for buyers who don’t ask enough questions about the product, don’t try to negotiate or offer to pay for shipping. Scammers will pay you for what you’re selling and pay with a check and then request the item. It’s usually too late after you’ve sent the item when your bank lets you know the check you deposited is fake.

      • Scammers will “buy” your offer and send a fake check for over the asking price then request you send back the extra balance  
      • Scammers will “buy” your offer, pay with a fraudulent check and then request the item

 

How To Avoid This:

Do business in-person and with cash. Don’t deal with people who want you to ship items, ask them to go through eBay or a different shipping service if they’re truly serious.

 

Spoof Sites And Social Engineering

As the public has grown wary of phony websites and giving out personal information, con artists have upped their game when it comes to creating phony sites. Crafty web designers can create sites that look almost identical to Craigslist pages, with words like “Certified” and “Official” sprinkled throughout as you’re asked to submit personal information. 

Another common fake-out involves escrow services for big money sales. In escrow scams, a supposedly legitimate third-party company holds on to payment until a buyer gets what they’re paying for. Many of these sites look legit, but as soon as you deposit any money, it’s gone.

Craigslist also warns that they never leave voicemails or request information or payment from users. If “Craigslist” reaches out to you, contact Craigslist on their official site with a screenshot of the request you received. From there, they can verify the validity of the original request. Craigslist doesn’t offer protection or verification fees or services; these are fake, too:

      • Phony pages crafted to look like Craigslist
      • Third-party scam sites that will “hold” your payment
      • Phishing (fake) emails or voicemails from “Craigslist”
      • “Craigslist” purchase protection fees and services

 

How To Avoid This:

Visit the real Craigslist site for any offers, don’t click links in emails and don’t send money to any third-party sites or people claiming to work for Craigslist. 

 

Dream Job Offer

There are many legitimate job postings on Craigslist every day, but scammers and identity thieves will use this to their advantage. They’ll post a job that’s too good to resist, with great pay, minimal requirements, and possibly work-from-home benefits. Once you’ve applied, they’ll request personal information for “background checks” so they can steal or sell your identity.

In another example, the scammer will ask you (the job applicant) for application fees or some other dubious payment. Then when it comes time for an interview, the scammer will go silent and get away with your money.

      • The scammer will lure applicants in and then steal their identity when the applicant agrees to a fake “background check”
      • The scammer poses as a company and posts a job that doesn’t exist to convince applicants to pay for fake application fees

 

How To Avoid This:

If you see a job that piques your interest, go to the company website and check it out. Sites can be faked as well, so look for reviews of the company online, and check out their social media and employee ratings (Glassdoor). Once you’ve determined the position is real, then you can apply.

Real job applications or interviewers will never ask for any type of payment, steer clear of anything that does.

 

The Real Estate Deal You Can’t Refuse 

A common Craigslist scam in the rental section involves a “homeowner” listing a home for rent, complete with all the details and plenty of photos. After you express interest, the scammer will explain that they’re out of town or dealing with a messy divorce, and as a result, they’re looking to rent the place out fast but unfortunately aren’t available for a showing. 

You’ll be asked to wire a deposit and first month’s rent in advance if you want to take advantage of the bargain, after which you’ll never hear from the fake seller again. In some cases, scammers rent out a place and list it as if it were their own. This allows them to show the place off and collect deposits and down payments before skipping town.

      • The “homeowner” will post a property that they don’t have the right to rent
      • The posting is completely fake, stolen from another site or created using stock images 
      • There are extenuating circumstances as to why they’re rushing to rent the place 
      • They push for payment without you seeing the property first

 

How To Avoid This:

Never wire money. Never put a payment down for a rental without seeing the place and receiving legitimate legal documents (i.e. the lease). Reverse search listing images and look up the property on other sites.

See more tips relating to real estate in the section below.

 

 

Real Estate And Craigslist Scams

Craigslist safety tips for home sellers and home buyers

Sections that feature big-ticket items like cars and homes are immensely popular on Craigslist, but they also attract a significant amount of spam and scams. Most fraudulent postings and inquiries are obvious and easily ignored – though still a pain to sift through. Others are far more sophisticated, which means you always need to stay alert.

When it comes to homes, many real estate agents and for sale by owners use the site primarily before open houses. Because there’s no fee to use it and it reaches so many people quickly, Craigslist is a great way to drum up a lot of interest. See some tips specifically for buyers and sellers below.

 

Safety Tips For Home Buyers

As a buyer, you can see a lot of homes for sale in one place on Craigslist and use it before setting out to do some FSBO house-hunting. Before visiting a listing as a buyer:

      • Contact the seller for more details
      • Ask for additional photos not shown on Craigslist
      • Cross-reference with other home listing sites – serious sellers will list on other sites
      • Reverse image search the property images
      • Bring someone with you, preferably during a public open house
      • Ask a friend in real estate if the listing looks legitimate
      • Trust your gut and don’t go into a situation that you don’t feel comfortable with

How To List Your Home On Craigslist Safely

The most important aspects of an attention-grabbing listing that drives visibility include your headline, property images, proper pricing and how frequently you give the listing a refresh. But optimizing your listing isn’t the most important part when posting on Craigslist – safety should be priority number one. 

 

Headline

When you write your headline, avoid using your home’s address or the number of bedrooms and bathrooms. In most cases, a blur of numbers won’t stand out and draw a buyer in. Instead, make sure your headline has at least a little appeal and is location-specific – something like “Beautifully Furnished Springfield Home for Sale.” The same goes for your property description, don’t give away any personal information. Keep it just vague enough that it still drums up interest.

 

Photography

It’s always important to protect yourself and your belongings when you show your home to prospective buyers, and even more so when you publicize it to the kind of massive audience Craigslist attracts. It’s best practice to remove photos of your family, valuable decor pieces and jewelry from view in your staged home photos.

 

Remove Valuables

Be sure to remove all valuables, keys, personal photos and prescription drugs from the property. Ask a neighbor to keep an eye out as people come and go. Also, check with your insurance carrier so you know what your policy covers, just to be safe.

 

Bottom line: Craigslist is a highly beneficial tool to buy or sell anything, as long as you’re aware of the risks and how to avoid the dangers. This goes double for buying or selling something that can have a major impact on your financial future, like a car or a home. Click the button below to save essential Craigslist tips.

 

download safety tips button

Craigslist is great for generating and providing visibility if you are selling your own home. But when it comes to big-money deals, it’s typically best used as one marketing tool among many other tools like social media to broaden your buyer audience. It’s also important to house your listing on a more sophisticated for sale by owner platform. Looking to get started? We’re happy to help you optimize your listing and home pricing for a maximum return.

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Selling a Home During a Divorce: What You Need to Know

Getting a divorce and selling a home can be stressful events on their own. When you need to navigate both at the same time, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.

The good news is that this process can be made easier after making some key decisions early on. In this guide, we’ll answer some of the biggest questions you may have so you can take the right course of action for you and your family.

Deciding Whether To Sell Or Keep The Home During A Divorce

One of the most complex matters during a divorce is simply deciding when, or if, the home should be sold. There are several financial and emotional considerations woven into the decision that can be tough to balance. On top of that, each spouse may have strong opinions that don’t always align. Here are answers to some of the most common questions people have when thinking about the best way to proceed.

Is The Home A Marital Property Or Separate Property?

Knowledge of who owns what is crucial during a divorce. That’s why the first thing to determine is if the home is marital property (meaning it was acquired during the marriage and therefore is typically owned by both spouses) or separate property (meaning it only belongs to one spouse).

Separate property could be something owned before the marriage or acquired in one spouse’s name such as a gift, inheritance or something obtained with the intention of keeping it separate. Laws vary by state, so if you’re unsure about the ownership of your residence it’s best to consult with an attorney to make sure your home is marital property.

Should You Sell The Marital Home Before Or After A Divorce Is Finalized?

There are often financial benefits to selling a home before a divorce is finalized. Depending on your situation, however, it might make sense to wait or not sell the home at all. There’s no right or wrong answer, so it’s important to explore both options and figure out what’s best for you.

Reasons To Sell Before A Divorce Is Finalized

Potential tax savings: Selling an investment often means paying a capital gains tax, which can be as much as 20% of your total profit. Moreover, if you happen to have a rental property that you’ve been claiming depreciation on in order to lower your income, you could be taxed at a higher rate. However, when you sell your primary residence you can receive a capital gains tax exemption of $250,000 per person. For a married couple, that exemption amounts to $500,000. Depending on the value of your home, you might need to sell before a divorce is finalized to get the full exemption and maximize your profits. The best thing to do is speak with a tax professional.

Money to move on: Selling the home is typically the best way for each spouse to raise the funds needed for a new home. If you’re looking for a clean break and a fresh start, getting half of the profits of your home sale can help you achieve both goals.

Escaping the mortgage: Many homes are purchased with a joint mortgage because one spouse generally can’t afford the payments alone. In this situation, there’s often little choice but to sell the home unless both parties agree to share ownership after the divorce is complete.

Reasons NOT To Sell Before A Divorce Is Finalized 

Rising home value: Most homes increase in value over time. If you live in a neighborhood that’s trending up quickly, it might be wise to hold off so you can sell for more. Just be sure to consult with an attorney and/or financial advisor if this is your reason for keeping the home. You might need to pay additional taxes if you sell after the divorce is final.

A spouse wants to stay: Whether it’s for the sake of children, affection for the home or any other number of reasons, it’s common for at least one spouse to want to keep the family home. Going this route typically means the remaining spouse will need to qualify for the mortgage alone and buy out the other spouse, or both parties will need to agree to share ownership.

What Happens If One Spouse Wants To Sell And The Other Wants To Stay?

This isn’t uncommon. The simplest way to resolve this issue is for the remaining spouse to buy out the other. If insufficient funds are an issue, the spouse who wants to keep the home will often refinance the mortgage and use the equity for the buyout. In situations where an agreement can’t be reached, a family law judge can be asked to compel the sale.

However, there usually needs to be a very good reason to compel a sale such as the imminent threat of foreclosure. If there’s likely to be a custody battle, the house may be sold to help cover attorneys’ fees.

It may be the case that one person wants to keep the house and the other person is perfectly happy to give it to them, assuming they can agree on financial terms. The problem is if there’s a mortgage. What you could afford as a couple you may not be able to qualify to refinance on a single income. In that case, you may have to sell the house or find a way to share ownership.

Can A Divorced Couple Own The Same Home?

It’s not unusual for both spouses to continue owning the marital home after a divorce, especially when children are involved or when one spouse can’t afford the mortgage payments alone.

Divorced couples typically become “tenants in common.” This means each spouse owns half of the home as opposed to each spouse having 100% interest in the home while married. Sometimes only one spouse will live in the home. In other situations, which typically involve children, spouses will take turns staying in the home.

There are risks involved with a divorced couple owning the home, even beyond the potential tension that can exist between a former couple. If both spouses agree to pay toward the mortgage, either party making a late payment will harm the other’s credit score.

You’ll also need to make plans to avoid potential disagreements or manage unexpected events. For example, it’s recommended that you have a settlement agreement that dictates when the home can be sold, what happens if a spouse dies and how to proceed if a spouse goes bankrupt.

Are The Profits From A Home Sale Split Evenly?

In most states, the division of proceeds is usually split down the middle. Ultimately, this will be decided by the terms of the divorce. Sometimes one spouse will receive more if they invested more in the home or handled more of the mortgage payments during divorce proceedings.

Working With A Real Estate Agent To Sell A Home During A Divorce

Choosing the right real estate agent to sell a home is always important. When there are two homeowners who don’t always see eye to eye, this choice is even more significant. There will be many decisions that need to be made throughout the home selling process, and having an agent who can explain things calmly, clearly and without bias can make the process much easier.

How Do You Decide On A Real Estate Agent?

A real estate agent must often serve as a mediator when selling a home during a divorce. Disagreements happen and emotions can run high, so finding an agent who is patient and skilled at communicating can ease a lot of stress.

Asking your attorney for a recommendation can be a good way to find a qualified agent for your situation. Do some research to make sure any potential agent has several years of experience selling homes during divorce. Look for an agent certified through organizations like the Divorce Real Estate Institute or programs like Professor Kelly Lise Murray, J.D.’s specialized training for brokers and agents.

Keep in mind that if the home is marital property, both you and your former spouse will need to sign the listing contract. This means you’ll need to agree on the agent who helps sell your home. If you can’t agree on an agent, each party’s attorney may need to negotiate how to proceed. It’s best to avoid this for several reasons, the main one being that many top agents will be reluctant to sign on when two spouses can’t even agree on who to hire.

The entire home sale process might be governed by an agreement that’s set out in the divorce in order to keep forward disagreements to a minimum. If you can agree on a process for hiring a qualified agent up front, it will help. For example, maybe one spouse will compile a list of qualified agents and the other spouse will make the final pick.

Make sure the agent understands your communication preferences. Will there be one spouse taking the lead, or should both spouses be informed at all times?

What Decisions Need To Be Agreed Upon During The Home Selling Process?

Selling a home means making several important decisions. When two people disagree and get stuck, referring to an unbiased expert can be a way to move forward. That’s where your agent comes in.

At the start of the home selling process, it’s a good idea to sit down with your agent and discuss matters that will require mutual agreement between you and your former spouse. Whether you consult your agent separately or meet as a group, answer the following questions at a minimum and consider trusting your agent’s expertise if you reach an impasse.

How Much Should The Home Be Listed For?

The goal is to set a competitive price that doesn’t leave money on the table. Your agent should be highly knowledgeable about your local market and how much similar homes in your neighborhood are selling for, so it’s wise to lean on that knowledge as you settle on the final number. As an alternative, you can choose to have a professional appraisal done in order to give you a starting point for the price.

What Is The Lowest Offer You’d Be Willing To Accept?

It’s wise to establish the minimum amount you’ll accept for your home right from the start. This will help your agent negotiate with potential buyers as well as help you and your spouse avoid indecision or debates down the line.

If the home is on the market for a while, you may need to drop the price. It’s a good idea to agree in advance on how much the price will be dropped and when so you’re not having to go back and forth on these decisions as the process moves forward.

Does The Home Need Cleaning, Repairs Or Staging?

Your agent should advise you on what could raise your home’s value or help you sell quicker. It’s important to determine how much work will be done and who will handle the cost or put in the time to make it happen.

Is There A Deadline To Sell?

As you adjust your living arrangements and handle financial matters, there may be some urgency to sell within a set timeframe. Try to be transparent about your situation and communicate all time-related needs to your agent as soon as possible.

However, you should also develop a cohesive story. If people know you’re divorcing, potential buyers may decide that you really want to get rid of the house quickly. As a result, they might lowball their offer. You can say you’re downsizing or whatever you want – just make sure you stick to your story.

Making The Home Selling Process As Smooth As Possible

It’s tough to anticipate every issue that may come up, but there are some steps you can take early on in the selling process to avoid stressful situations down the road.

Should One Spouse (Or Both Spouses) Move Out After A Home Is Listed For Sale?

Your personal circumstances will be the most important factor to determine if one spouse should move out before a divorce is finalized. In some cases, a spouse will get a court order that provides exclusive rights for use of the property during the divorce. So long as both spouses’ names are on the mortgage and title, each will be entitled to their fair share of proceeds after selling the property.

In terms of getting the best offers for your home, it’s usually best if one spouse remains living there for a couple reasons. If both spouses move out, it’s more difficult to sell an empty house. Renting furnishings is an option, but it can get costly and will create yet another task to be sorted out. If both spouses stay, it can get complicated to schedule home tours for potential buyers due to conflicting schedules or disputes about how to show the home.

What Are Some Tips To Make The Home Selling Process Easier?

No two situations are identical. Local laws, housing markets, home values and even the season you sell in can affect how smooth your home sale is. At the same time, the dynamics of your relationship with your spouse, your family, your career and your finances also factor into the home selling process. While there isn’t a universal guidebook to navigate selling a home during a divorce, there are a few things most homeowners can do to make the process a little easier.

Consult With An Attorney First

Before you sell the home, you’ll need to decide who gets what inside the home. These decisions can affect how much you get from the sale and how the selling process is handled. Consult with an attorney who can mediate the division of assets, advise you on getting a real estate agent and walk you through your local laws and best options.

Get Input On Staging The Home

Staging a home involves removing clutter and arranging furnishings to maximize the home’s appeal. Studies have found that staged homes often sell faster and for more money, so it’s worth asking your real estate agent for recommendations. Even implementing small changes can make a big difference, like adding a lamp to brighten a space or moving a couch away from a wall to make a room bigger. Staging also gives you a reason to remove unwanted items and pack up personal property like family photos.

Keep Your Emotions In Check

Saying goodbye to a home is deeply personal – and even more so during a divorce – but it’s important to remember that selling the home is a financial transaction. Try to lean on your agent for advice and mediation between you and your spouse when emotions run high. You and your spouse are both likely to benefit from a sale that nets you the largest profit possible. Remaining calm and rational typically speeds up the process so you can start the next chapter of your life.

Remember That You’re Not Alone

Going through a divorce and selling a home can make people feel like they’re suddenly on their own. The truth is, millions of people share many of the same struggles, and there are dedicated professionals who specialize in helping divorcing couples reach the best possible outcome. Do your best to seek out others who can relate to your situation or who can guide you through it. Once you reach the finish line, you should be ready to start the next chapter of your life with a clean slate.

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The Cost of Utilities – and How to Pay Less

As you shop for a home, you probably know there will be monthly costs for things like water and electricity after you become a homeowner. Sometimes, though, it’s easy to overlook how those expenses can add up. In this guide, we’ll look at average utility costs so you can be aware of what to expect and budget accordingly. We’ll also share some easy tips to keep your monthly bills in check.

What Are Utilities?

The main utilities you’ll have to pay for as a homeowner are natural gas, water and electricity. Cable and internet services are being referred to as utilities more often as well.

Factors That Impact Utility Bills

Most utility costs vary due to a wide range of circumstances. The amount you pay often depends on your surroundings, the type of home and appliances you choose, and simply how much you use your utilities each month.

Location

Your home’s location has a huge effect on how much you’ll pay for each utility. For example, the climate will impact your heating and cooling bills, while local infrastructure can affect things like internet and cable services. As you inquire about a home, be sure to ask about the average cost and availability of basic utilities based on where the home is situated.

Energy Efficiency

Some homes are more efficient than others. Drafty windows and uninsulated attic space can squander heat or cool air, which forces a furnace or AC unit to keep running. Older HVAC units can also cause payments to go up compared to the energy efficient models you can buy today. To ensure a home is energy efficient, evaluate the appliances – including the washer, dryer, refrigerator and dishwasher. Check each one for an Energy Star rating, which typically equals 10 to 20 percent more energy efficiency than non-rated models.

Home Size and Layout

The larger the home, the more it costs to heat or cool. This is especially true with homes that have open floor plans. Homes that feature more rooms or contained spaces do a better job of trapping heat or cool air. This also allows you to close the vents in unused rooms, directing more heat or cool air to where it’s needed most.

Lifestyle

It’s wise to research a home’s energy efficiency and average utility costs, but ultimately your daily habits determine if you pay more or less than the average amount. Want a lush green lawn in a hot climate? Your water bills are likely to be higher than most. Do you wear extra layers to stay warm during cold seasons? You can probably keep your temperature below the norm to save on natural gas or electricity. At the end of the day, how much you lean on utilities in your day-to-day life typically has the biggest effect on how much you pay for them.

Natural Gas

Natural gas is mostly used for heating up your home and the water you use. If you live in an area that’s warm year-round, your gas bill can be less than ten bucks a month.

Average Cost Per Month:

Approximately $11 per thousand square feet

(Energy Information Administration: https://www.eia.gov/naturalgas/monthly/pdf/table_03.pdf)

How to Save on Costs

  • Upgrade your furnace. If you have an older furnace (say 15 years or more in age), replace it with an Energy Star unit that should be about 15 percent more efficient.
  • Stay below 70 degrees. If the temperature turns cold in your area, try to keep your thermostat below 70 degrees. Every degree you lower your temperature can save 5 percent on costs.
  • Adjust your water heater. The Department of Energy recommends a setting of 120 degrees. Since most tank-based water heaters come with a default setting of 140 degrees, see if you can drop your temperature to save on monthly payments.

Electricity

The amount of power a household consumes depends on how many appliances there are, how efficient they are, and the length of time they are in use. In most cases, the key to keeping your electric bill down is to ensure devices aren’t drawing power when they aren’t in use.

Average Cost Per Use:

$0.12 per kWh

Check out the Department of Energy’s Appliance Energy Calculator to get an idea of what your yearly cost might be.

How to Save on Costs

  • Unplug devices. Many electronic devices use power even after being turned off. These include TVs, computers, kitchen appliances and even phone chargers. Avoid wasting electricity by unplugging devices before you head off to work or turn in at night. Or, instead of plugging devices directly into wall outlets, use power strips that can easily be switched off.
  • Stay cool for less. AC units can be power hogs, so it pays to use them as efficiently as possible. A programmable thermostat can save you thousands over the long run, because it will cool your home gradually while you’re away rather than launch into overdrive when you return. Also, be sure to clean your filters once a month so your unit isn’t working harder than it needs to.
  • Go non-electric. Take advantage of all the little ways you can save on power by using “old-fashioned” methods. For example, use natural light instead of lamps whenever possible. Hang your laundry instead of using the dryer. Keep the blinds closed during hot days to keep the sun out, and when it’s cold, open them to let the warmth in.

Water

The average American uses around 88 gallons of water per day. It might sound like a lot, but think about all the ways we use water: washing clothes, taking showers, flushing toilets, running faucets, and the biggest usage of all – maintaining lawns, trees, shrubs, etc. We need a substantial amount of water in many of our daily activities, but we can always find ways to conserve and keep costs down.

Average Cost Per Month:

$15-$77 per month

(Circle of Blue survey: https://www.circleofblue.org/2016/water-management/pricing/infographic-average-u-s-household-water-use-bills-2015-16/)

How to Save on Costs

  • Use less water to wash. Filling a bathtub can take upwards of 50 gallons of water, so showers are typically much more efficient than baths. Pick up a low-flow showerhead and you can cut your water usage by half. Also, avoid running the faucet while brushing your teeth or shaving. Just fill up a cup of water to rinse or clean your razor.
  • Don’t let water go to waste. Speaking of showers, consider bringing a bucket with you! You can use the water you catch for cleaning or watering your sustainable yard. You can also put a bucket or two outside to collect rainwater for the same purpose.
  • Maximize the water you use. Be sure to always fill up your dishwasher or washing machine before running a cycle. When you wash your clothes, avoid the permanent press cycle when you can as it uses up an extra five gallons of water. One more tip – add an aerator to all your faucets. Not only will it reduce the amount of water wasted, it will increase the pressure and improve your faucet’s performance.

Internet and Cable

Internet costs can be a hefty expense. If you want internet and cable service, the cost can climb above $200 a month. Sometimes your options are limited because only one or two service providers are available. Assuming you do have some options, here’s how you can save on costs.

Average Cost Per Month:

Internet: $50 during promotional period / $60 after promotion expiration

(HighSpeedInternet.com: https://www.highspeedinternet.com/resources/how-much-should-i-be-paying-for-high-speed-internet-resource)

Cable: $107

(Fortune, per Leichtman Research Group: http://fortune.com/2018/11/15/average-cable-tv-bill-cord-cutting/)

How to Save on Costs

  • Shop around and bundle up. If you have a choice of providers, write down your must-haves and compare offers. For example, maybe you only want basic cable channels but need blazing-fast internet. There are many cable/internet bundle packages that can be customized to your needs and spare you unnecessary costs.
  • Keep an eye out for sneaky fees. As most internet/cable customers know, monthly bills tend to gradually creep up over time. The upticks are usually small, but they add up fast. As soon as you notice your payment go up, call your provider to go through the list of fees on your bill and see what you’re comfortable with removing.
  • Negotiate – and don’t be afraid to bail. Most internet and cable providers will play ball to keep you as a customer. Watch for special promotions by competing providers, and if you see an offer that costs you far less than what you’re paying, call your current provider to ask for a similar deal. As long as you have other options, you have leverage to lower your bill. If your current provider doesn’t budge, it might be worth it to make a switch.

Keep Utilities Top of Mind, Keep Money in Your Pocket

Most utilities aren’t outrageously expensive on a per-use basis. Taking a hot shower or running the AC on a warm night might only cost a few cents, but over weeks, months and years, those tiny costs add up to thousands of dollars. In many cases, people end up spending thousands more than they need to. The good news is that it doesn’t take much effort to reduce utility costs. Take some simple steps to develop cost-saving habits now, and you’ll have a lot more money to work with later.

 

Download our Checklist of Utility Cost Saving Tips

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How to Find a Fix-and-Flip Investment Property

Fixing and flipping is one of the most popular ways to make money in real estate. It sounds easy enough – buy a house that needs some work, fix it up and sell it at a profit. The concept is simple. The biggest challenge – assuming you’re already comfortable renovating or working with contractors – is finding the right house to flip.

Read up on how to evaluate potential investment properties and find a gem that nets you a nice profit.

What to Consider as You Look at Properties

Before you start house hunting, it helps to know what you’re hoping to find. Here are the most important aspects to focus on and how to identify premium fix-and-flip opportunities.

Comparable Floor Plan

Start by looking for a home that resembles most of the other homes in the neighborhood. It can be tough to sell a home that has fewer rooms and square feet than the competition. On the other end of the spectrum, you may struggle to get offers for a 3,000 square foot two-story home if it’s surrounded by 1,800 square foot ranches.

Try to find homes with the same number of bedrooms and bathrooms as most of the homes nearby. The same goes for square feet (give or take a couple hundred). Another advantage of doing this is that you can check out what similar homes look like and how much they’re selling for. This can give you an idea of the work you’ll need to do to get a comparable price and help guide your renovations.

Condition

When you evaluate the condition of homes, start by looking for issues with the plumbing, electrical system, foundation and roof. These are generally the most difficult and costly to fix. Unless you have experience in those areas, it’s typically best to pass on homes that require such massive projects.

In most cases, your goal should be to find homes that need a cosmetic rehab. This includes new flooring, paint, fixtures, doors, landscaping, and kitchen and bathroom remodeling. To complete a full cosmetic rehab on a starter home, experts advise that you can expect to pay about $20 per square foot.

The most profitable flips are often the ones that need the most work. Just be sure that you have the skills and/or contractor connections to complete the work within your budget.

Cost

If you’re like most flippers, your goal is to turn a profit quickly. That means you need to find a property that is priced below its potential market value while giving yourself some financial wiggle room in case a project expands in scope. To do that, use the “70 Percent Rule.” This is especially helpful for first-time fix-and-flippers trying to figure out how much to invest in a home.

The rule (which is really more of a guideline) is that you should pay 70 percent of the After Repair Value (ARV) of a home, minus the cost of repairs needed. Here’s how it works:

Say a home’s ARV would be $100,000 after you make $20,000 worth of repairs. Multiply the ARV by 70 percent and you get $70,000. Subtract the $20,000 for repairs and you get $50,000. This is the recommended amount you should spend on the home to help protect yourself against unforeseen expenses, cover the home selling costs, and pave the way to a profit well worth your time and effort.

Location

A home’s location has a major impact on how much you can sell for and how quickly. Regardless of price point, you’ll have a much easier time if you find a home in a neighborhood where residents show pride in keeping up their homes. Look for well-kept lawns and porches, nicely paved sidewalks and streets, and working street lights that illuminate the neighborhood. Boarded-up homes, litter, and overgrown landscaping are red flags that you may struggle to flip the home you fix.

It’s also wise to do some research on the local housing market and surrounding area. Are home values in the neighborhood rising or falling? How quickly have homes been selling? Is there a growing downtown area nearby? Positive market trends and amenities are a huge plus because you should see plenty of attractive offers when it’s time to sell. Only trouble is, other investors are likely to be aware of these factors too. To snag a bargain in an area poised for growth, you’ll need to act fast with a strong offer.

The biggest key is to find a home that is priced well below what similar homes in the neighborhood are selling for. As a general rule, look for the worst home in the best neighborhood. Start with that approach, and keep in mind that it will probably take some time to find the right property.

Where to Look for Properties

Once you feel confident in your ability to evaluate homes, where can you find properties at a discount? There are many places you can look, and the more tools and methods you use, the better your chance to spot a bargain. Check out as many homes for sale as you can. Over time, you’ll get faster at gauging the repair work needed and calculating what you can sell a home for when you’re done.

The resources below are simple to navigate, free to use, and should provide a wide range of homes to investigate.

The MLS

More than 90 percent of homes are bought and sold through the multiple listing service (MLS). MLSs are private databases maintained by real estate professionals to help clients buy and sell homes. Many of the listings you see online at home search sites are sourced from the MLS. Most of this information – but not all – is provided to the public free of charge by participating brokers. However, to get all of the information available, you’ll probably need to pay about $20 to $50 a month for access.

The biggest advantages of using the MLS – either directly or through home search sites – is that you can see the most homes for sale online and in one place. It’s easy and convenient to compare homes, view photos and record prices to get a sense of the local market.

Auctions

In many ways, auctions are a fix-and-flipper’s dream. The homes for sale are foreclosures, so they’re often underpriced and in need of renovations. You also won’t find nearly as much competition to buy the homes because they aren’t listed on the open market yet.

There are drawbacks, however. Many foreclosed homes come with tax liens that can cost thousands of dollars. There can also be ownership complications, so it’s wise to spend around $100 to have a title company run a report and uncover any issues. The biggest obstacle for many is that auctions often require cash upfront to win a bid. Not only will you need to have a large sum of money or cashier’s check on hand, you won’t be able to tour the home before committing to the purchase.

You can find foreclosed homes and auctions on sites like RealtyTrac.com and Auction.com, bank websites, and government organizations like Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Craigslist

Even though Craigslist remains one of the largest online marketplaces in the world, it’s easy to dismiss or even forget about when you’re searching for homes. As a fix-and-flipper, don’t make that mistake. It’s another free resource that can reveal deals you might not find anywhere else – especially if you get a little creative with it.

To start looking, just search with keywords that can lead you to distressed properties. “Bank owned,” “REO,” “Foreclosure,” “Cash sale,” “Short sale,” and even “Fix and Flip” can all reveal potential opportunities.

A more roundabout way to find bargain properties is by reaching out to landlords. Many homeowners are either losing money on rental properties or simply want to move on. What often stops them is that a home requires time, effort and repairs to sell. Fortunately for them, this is exactly what you’re willing to provide.

Search Craigslist for rental listings that look like they’ve been posted by independent landlords. When you find a home with potential, reach out and explain that you’re looking to invest in a fix-and-flip. The landlord might be willing to sell one of their properties or put you in touch with another landlord interested in selling.

Public Records

One of the best ways to find underpriced homes is by searching property records. These are filed by county courthouses, county recorders, tax accessors or various county or city departments.

If you want to find out about short sales, foreclosures and homes on the brink of foreclosure, start by doing some digging online. Use Google to search for your county’s websites or legal notices in your city. Not every local government does things the same way, so if you’re not having any luck, you can also try visiting the county courthouse or recorder’s office.

Take Your Time to Find the Right Property

Looking at homes and imagining the possibilities is exciting. So is thinking about making tens of thousands of dollars in a few short months. That’s why if you’re looking to fix and flip your first home, it’s especially important to be patient and do your homework before committing to a purchase. Even after you find a home that seems to check out, it’s best to consult with an inspector or professionals who specialize in repairs you’re not familiar with. Minimizing risk is the best way to maximize your profits!

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Tips to Prepare Your Home for an Appraisal

Many factors affect how much you can sell your home for, but perhaps the most important one is your home’s appraised value.

Appraisals are typically ordered by mortgage lenders after a purchase agreement is signed. The purpose is to ensure that a home is worth the amount they lend to a buyer. If your home is appraised at less than your agreed-upon price, you may need to lower the amount to complete the sale. Otherwise, your buyer’s loan could fall through and put you back at square one.

Check out the following home appraisal tips for a smooth sale that gets you your asking price when all is said and done.

How to Improve Your Home’s Appraised Value

An appraisal is an unbiased estimate of the fair market value for your home. That means your home’s size, location, condition and housing market will affect the results. An appraiser will evaluate your home inside and out, looking at everything from your landscaping and driveway to your roof and flooring. After scoping out your property, an appraiser will factor in the desirability of your location and how much similar homes are selling for in your neighborhood.

So, what can you do to elevate your home appraisal? You may not be able to change your location or housing market, but you can profitably improve your home if you know what to focus on.

Get your own appraisal first. It’s tough to look at the home you live in everyday objectively. That’s why it’s wise to have an unbiased observer do a walkthrough and make a list of what needs to be fixed. How much does a home appraisal cost if you order your own? You should be able to hire a professional appraiser for about $200-$400 – not a bad price to avoid costly delays in the future. Or, you could ask someone with a knack for home improvements to point out which areas of your home need some love.

Fix what needs fixing. After you have your list of squeaky doors and leaky faucets that need some attention, it’s time to get the toolbox out. Repair what you can on your own first. If you have any serious plumbing or electrical issues, however, it’s probably best to hire a pro to handle them. For more on what an appraiser will look for and which repairs to make, get the facts from the experts at Quicken Loans. Check out their blog, What is a Home Appraisal and How Can I Prepare for It?

Make cost-effective updates. The age and quality of your home’s materials and appliances will affect your home’s appraised value. However, that doesn’t mean you should pour money into making updates. Most renovations don’t yield a positive return on investment, so limit your updates to things that absolutely need replacing, like a busted AC unit, or inexpensive upgrades that are most likely to help you turn a profit, like a new front door. New flooring, fixtures and touch-ups in your kitchen and bathroom are also solid value-based upgrades.

Spruce up your yards. Curb appeal matters. If your yards are getting out of control, it could be worthwhile to have a professional landscaper work their magic. Assuming you do a decent job maintaining the outside of your home, you may only need to tighten things up a bit. Trim the trees and shrubs, rake the leaves, mow the lawn, and make any necessary repairs to things like a wobbly fence or cracked porch light. It also doesn’t hurt to power wash your home’s exterior to turn back the clock on your home’s appearance.

How to Prepare for the Home Appraisal Process

After you maximize your home’s value (being careful not to spend much more than you’ll get back), the next step is prepping your home for the appraiser’s visit. There are many things you can do that may not technically increase your home’s value but will present your home at its best. Appraisers are human beings, so creating a clean, functional environment can only help make a strong impression and tilt the odds of a strong appraisal in your favor.

Apply the following finishing touches and give the appraiser everything they need to see the big picture of your home value. This will help convince the appraiser to lean towards the high end of what your home could fetch on the market.

Do a deep clean. Walls and floors should be thoroughly scrubbed or shampooed. Wipe down the furniture, polish brass and get things as sparkling as possible. The newer your home appears, the better off your home appraisal is likely to be.

Ensure everything’s working. This includes all light bulbs, appliances, smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, home security systems, air conditioning – even the garage door opener. If an appraiser flicks any switch and nothing happens, it can make a bad impression. Do all you can to represent a functional, well-maintained home.

Stage your home. Piles of laundry, dirty dishes and scattered dog toys aren’t a good look. Make your appraiser’s visit a pleasant one by tidying up and creating a bright space with room to roam. Declutter by packing up personal items and possibly removing furniture if a room feels cramped. Look for any dark areas like the corners of rooms and consider adding a lamp or two to brighten the mood. A tidy, well-lit home will seem bigger, more appealing and more valuable. 

Prove your home’s worth in writing. It’s important to make sure all the investments you’ve made in your home show up in the home appraisal. Many real estate agents recommend creating a highlight sheet of upgrades you’ve made, so an appraiser can see what you’ve done at a glance. Be sure to attach invoices, permits and warranties. It’s also a good idea to be helpful and leave a copy of the floor plan, surveys and tax valuations.

How to Respond to a Low Home Appraisal

If your appraisal comes in significantly lower than your sale price, it can be frustrating for everyone involved. The buyer could lose out on their loan and the home, the buyer’s agent could lose out on their commission, the mortgage banker could lose out on the business, and you could lose out on the home sale. Not a great situation, but you have options to move forward.

Your best option will depend on several factors. Is selling quickly your top priority? Is the buyer willing to play ball to complete the deal? Read through the possibilities below so you have a Plan B. 

Negotiate with the buyer make up the difference. If you and the buyer are strongly motivated, you can each pitch in to make the sale happen. For example – whatever the difference is between the sale price and the appraisal, you could lower your asking price by half that amount. Then the buyer would need to cover the other half, either by adding money to the down payment or handling more of the closing costs. 

Lower the price to sell fast. If the buyer isn’t willing or unable to chip in more money upfront, the quickest way to ensure your sale goes through is by dropping the price to match the appraised value. The buyer’s lender should follow through with providing the loan and everything should stay on track. Only trouble is, this might mean leaving money on the table. If you don’t have the time to find another buyer and go through the selling process again, though, this is the only surefire way to proceed.

Challenge the appraisal if it’s off base. This is a bit of a Hail Mary. The buyer must request a review of the appraisal or ask for another one, and only the lender can make either option happen. You can try tipping the scales in your favor by supplying your own comparative market analysis of home values or providing an independent home appraisal that you ordered on your own. The success rate of this option is low, but in some cases an appraisal is completed in error or there are compelling reasons to reverse the original results.

Put home back on the market if it makes sense. Not in a hurry to sell? Only concerned with getting top dollar for your home? This might be your only option. Of course, the only way for it to work is by finding another buyer who can pay in cash or by getting a more favorable home appraisal the next time around. If you feel confident that the original appraisal was off but couldn’t get the lender to budge, rolling the dice by starting over might be the only way to nab the price you were hoping for.

Keep the Appraisal Top of Mind from Start to Finish

No matter how smoothly a home sale is progressing, a low home appraisal can bring everything to a halt. That’s why it’s important to keep the appraisal top of mind during every stage of the home selling process. From pricing to prepping your home, remember that you, a home buyer and the appraiser need to agree on the home’s value to avoid a stressful situation. If you want to sell but have doubts about getting started, make sure you’re ready with our 3 Step Guide.

 

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Make a Resolution to Be a Vegetarian? Visit any of these 5 Cities in 2019

So, you made the call. 2019 is the year you switch to a plant-based diet. Your timing is perfect – there are more vegetarian and vegan restaurant options across the country than ever. In fact, there are so many eateries springing up in certain major cities that it’s enough of a reason to plan a trip for the food alone. But before we get to our must-visit towns, let’s define the term vegetarian and clarify the difference between a vegetarian and a vegan for the purpose of our list.

What Does It Mean to Be Vegetarian or Vegan?

According to the Vegetarian Society, a vegetarian diet consists of grains, pulses, legumes, nuts, seeds, vegetables, fruits, fungi, algae, yeast and/or some other non-animal based food. Basically, a vegetarian does not eat anything created from any part of the body of an animal.

There are varying degrees of vegetarianism. One of the most popular is veganism, which excludes eating dairy products, eggs or any other animal-based product. There are several vegan restaurants and dishes mentioned throughout our list of top vegetarian cities, but not all fall under the strictly vegan designation. Now on to our list of the best cities in the U.S.A. for vegetarian food!

1.    Portland, OR

Portland has long been one of the best vegetarian cities in the U.S. But when Food Fight! Vegan Grocery opened in 2003, a sub-culture took root that has come to define Portland’s eclectic plant-based identity. Not only did the grocery spur a unique vegan mini-mall that has become a global tourist attraction – it sparked a vibrant vegan scene that inspired many local chefs to open restaurants throughout the city.

Whether you indulge in fruit-and-veggie packed smoothies and walnut flapjacks at Harlow, savor a Calabrese pizza made with artisanal nut-based cheeses at Virtuous Pie, or kick back with a cool coconut mojito and some beer battered avocado tacos at No bones Beach Club, you’ll enjoy some of the most innovative (and diverse) vegetarian cuisine the world has to offer.

If you have a sweet tooth, no trip to Portland is complete without a stop at Doe Donuts. The city’s first vegan doughnut shop offers a wide range of inventive flavors like sour blue raspberry and salted vanilla bean with each treat completely free of animal products.

2.    Los Angeles, CA

It’s no accident that Los Angeles has become synonymous with the vegetarian lifestyle over the last few decades. With no shortage of celebrities concerned about eating well and taking care of themselves, countless skilled chefs and eager investors have been willing to accommodate their plant-based tastes. Today, the city remains a must-visit for anyone seeking the finest vegetarian cuisine.

At PYT – launched by famed restauranteur Josef Centeno – you’ll find simple, locally farmed fare transformed into flavorful masterpieces. The restaurant’s baked turnip, for example, features a shell of kosher salt and egg white adorned with nettle chimichurri, feta cheese, pomegranate molasses and shaved walnuts. Their turnip is so tasty that it earned “dish of the year” honors from Los Angeles Magazine.

For Mediterranean-inspired cuisine as popular with non-vegetarians as it is with vegetarians, make a reservation at the serene Crossroads Kitchen in West Hollywood. Their chefs prefer small dishes to keep your taste buds firing, and they succeed with standouts like artichoke oysters with kelp caviar, almond cheese-filled tortelloni and Scaloppini with marsala-glazed morel mushrooms.

If you’re a sushi-lover, Los Angeles has you covered on that front too. Shojin Organic and Natural, the first all-vegan Japanese restaurant in Little Tokyo and Los Angeles, replaces tuna with spicy tofu to mouth-watering effect. From dynamite rolls to pumpkin croquette, Shojin offers the type of one-of-a-kind menu that makes L.A. one of the best cities for vegetarians.

3.    New York City, NY

New York has always been a culinary capital, so it’s no surprise that the city is a top vegetarian destination. With beloved plant-based standbys like Caravan of Dreams and Candle Café delighting guests since the early 90s, New York has long been ahead of the curve of foodie trends. Today, it fosters one of the world’s most diverse vegetarian communities. In 2018, WalletHub named the New York “Best City for Vegans and Vegetarians” thanks to the city’s diversity and accessibility when it comes to vegetarian eats.

One of the best examples of accessibility is Avant Garden, which caters to anyone scared by phrases like “low-carb” and “low-fat.” You’ll find plenty of hearty, salty – and even greasy – options to savor, with delicious toasts loaded up with puree or spaghetti pomodoro with a rich sauce of fresh crushed tomatoes. For other delicious meat substitutes, stop by Superiority Burger in the East Village and enjoy a Sloppy Dave (tofu stewed with spices in a tomato base) or check out Narcissa for some carrots Wellington and the restaurant’s staple, rotisserie-crisped beets.

While New York’s vegetarian options are heavy on both quality and quantity, most can also be pricey. For a delicious meal on a budget, Govinda’s in Brooklyn treats customers to $12 lunch boxes with soup, salad and tasty entrees like eggplant parm, potato and cauliflower stew or spinach daal. At Peacefood Café, order a tempeh avocado sandwich or roasted potato pizza and you can fill up on some of Manhattan’s best vegetarian cuisine for under $15.

4.    Austin, TX

Vegetarianism might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of “Cattle Country”, but Austin’s burgeoning restaurant scene outgrew stereotypes years ago. Whether you head out to this year’s South by Southwest show, the Austin Food and Wine Festival or any of the exciting events that have made Austin their home, make it a point to experience the city and some of the hottest vegan and vegetarian cuisine anywhere.

Think fine-dining and food trucks don’t mix? Bistro Vonish begs to differ. Described as “elevated vegan cuisine,” the menu’s sophisticated offerings include southern-fried oyster mushrooms, sweet potato arepas and mousseline chocolate pie with pecan-raisin crust. Arlo’s – another food truck in East Austin – leans more toward late night comfort food but doesn’t skimp on flavor. Choose from tacos and burgers made with house-made, plant-based patties and sides like mouth-watering tater tots or fries. If you can’t decide, go with the fan-favorite Bac’n Cheeze Burger loaded up with seitan bac’n.

If you want to bring the family to a proper restaurant for breakfast, lunch or dinner, you can’t go wrong with Citizen Eatery. Their Citizen Scramble breakfast features a heavenly blend of scrambled eggs and farm fresh ingredients, while highlights like parsnip waffles and vegan Bolognese round out a broad menu of delicious organic fare. Want a cold one to go with your meal? Hit the Beer Plant – Austin’s first vegan gastropub – and you can enjoy tasty craft beer with some buffalo cauliflower wings, chicken-fried seitan or Hop’s n’ Chips (beer-battered hearts of palm).

5.    San Francisco, CA

With so much of California’s bay area dedicated to farming year-round, San Francisco offers an abundance of fresh fruits, vegetables and organic food. The city endorses farm-to-table eating perhaps more than any other major U.S. city, and that commitment is clear when you browse their plant-based eatery options. Vegan and vegetarian restaurants span every ethnicity, mood and palette, making San Francisco one of the most adventurous and satisfying destinations for any vegan or vegetarian.

Start with Greens, which has been an icon of vegetarian cuisine for over 30 years. The charming waterfront restaurant specializes in hearty dishes like shepherd’s pie stuffed with mushrooms, mashed potatoes and parsnips, or crepes overflowing with butternut squash and smoked cheddar. At another famous plant-based restaurant, the Nourish Café, you’ll find filling entrees just as satisfying. The menu emphasizes exotic “bowls” like the Warrior Bowl loaded up with zucchini, carrots, spinach and “Nourish Burger” or the Chimichurri-based Mission Bowl that blends brown rice, yams, avocado and tomatoes.

For an upscale dining experience, try Shizen – a zen sushi bar that produces egg-free noodles, savory broths and inventive rolls filled with rich tofu and imitation fish eggs made of tapioca. Millennium, featured as one of the Huffington Post’s “Top 25 Vegetarian and Vegan Restaurants in the World,” offers delectable entrees like seared sweet potato cassava and several renowned dessert options like chocolate bourbon pecan torte and pumpkin spice crumble.

How to Feel at Home with a Vegetarian Lifestyle

Taking a trip to a vegetarian’s paradise is a fun way to immerse yourself in a plant-based lifestyle. To really stick with it, though, it helps to make veggies a part of your day-to-day environment. If you haven’t already, try starting up a proper garden and creating a sustainable yard so you can whip up your own vegetarian concoctions. Check out the benefits that extend beyond a satisfying source of fresh food in our blog, Conservation Tips for a Sustainable Backyard.

If you’re looking for a change of scenery to go with your new lifestyle, browse homes for sale in our top vegetarian cities or anywhere else in the country today!

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Make These 5 New Year’s Resolutions to Sell Your Home on Your Own

As a DIYer, now is the perfect time to think about any projects that got lost in the shuffle during 2018. If you’d love to move to a new home, making a few specific new year’s resolutions can help you complete the ultimate DIY project: selling your current home on your own. Make the following five resolutions and chances are you’ll thank yourself this time next year.




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1. Understand Your Home’s Value

Before you go all in on selling your home yourself in the new year, make sure your home can fetch the price you want. To do that, use our Pricing Scout tool to get the estimated market value of your home and see what nearby homes are selling for. If the estimate comes up short of expectations, see if there are any DIY upgrades you can make to increase your home’s value. You may also decide to wait until your local housing market heats up.



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2. Set Your “Sell By” Date

Deadlines are great motivators and can help you create a timeline for your DIY home selling to-dos. Think about your ideal season to move – maybe it’s in the summer before school starts or during the fall after a long vacation from work. Also, evaluate your situation and decide which should come first: buying a new home or selling your own home first. After you consider all the logistics, circle a “sell by” date on the calendar and work backwards to map out all the milestones of the home selling process. Check out our Simple Selling Steps blog to create your roadmap and get some tips for selling your home.


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3. Fix What Needs Fixin’ Yourself

Most major upgrades won’t net a positive return on investment. However, there are several DIY projects you can take on to raise your home’s value and sell faster. In addition to repairing any small flaws like dents in the drywall or leaky faucets, painting the interior and exterior of your home is the obvious one. Think lighter colors and neutrals, which often help homes sell quicker.

Kitchens are a big selling point, but remodeling is pricey and time-consuming. Go for cheaper upgrades instead, like new laminate flooring, faucets, fixtures or appliances. Also consider installing a new entry door – one of the few projects that typically nets a nice return on investment.


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4. Do a Deep Clean

Making your home attractive to buyers will probably involve some decluttering. No need to start packing yet, but it’s a good idea to donate clothes taking up room in the back of your closet and retire unused items to the trash. When the time comes to show your home, you’ll want to remove personal photos and belongings, which can distract buyers trying to imagine the home as their own.

As for cleaning, you should go beyond weekly dusting and vacuuming. Wash the windows inside and out, wax the floors, replace dirty grout and clean or replace worn rugs and carpeting. It’s also a good idea to give the exterior of your home a thorough power-washing. Keep in mind: you don’t need to make your home look brand new. Instead, the goal should be ensuring it doesn’t look worn down.


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5. Start the Home Selling Process

After you check off each resolution to get your home sell-ready, your last new year’s resolution is taking the plunge. Solidify your asking price, take some photos to highlight your home’s best features (or have a professional photographer do it for you) and advertise where more than half of buyers find their home – online. Half the battle of selling your home on your own is simply getting it in shape and in front of potential buyers. From there, you can use online resources to help you stage your home, negotiate with buyers, get the real estate forms you’ll need and successfully close on your home like a true do-it-yourselfer.


Make Your Move in 2019

Selling your home can feel daunting. It’s why many of us wait to make a move into the home, neighborhood and life we truly want – but like many DIY projects, the toughest part is simply making the commitment and taking the first few steps. Make some new year’s resolutions to get the ball rolling on your home sale and you might find that you’re closer to getting the life you want than you thought. When you’re ready to list your home for sale, check out our For Sale By Owner home seller packages to get started.


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The Ultimate Guide to Negotiating House Prices

Negotiation is where the rubber meets the road in real estate transactions, especially if you’re selling your home on your own. Most of us instantly think of dollar amounts when the topic comes up – and price is certainly a top concern – but there’s also a whole laundry list of details to iron out before a buyer and seller can come to terms. Here’s a rundown of what to expect and how to successfully negotiate as you buy or sell your home.

Negotiating 101

For some, negotiation comes naturally. For most of us, not so much. The good news is that with a little education, you can make the most of some basic negotiation tactics:

Be prepared. The more data you have at your disposal, the better. For example: do some research on comparable homes in your area. What are they priced at? What are they selling for? You may have a rough idea, but if you get an accurate home valuation or get your own independent appraisal of a home, you can cite facts to counter any objections about price.

Listen carefully. The best negotiators are typically patient, respectful listeners. Paying close attention when the other side speaks will not only encourage them to do the same when you speak. It will arm you with all the little details that can complete a deal. Say a buyer wants the washer and dryer in your basement. Even if you don’t concede right away, make a mental note. You want to have a list of concessions in your back pocket that you know will sweeten the pot and potentially help you reach a final agreement.

Stay calm, cool and collected. Never let the personality on the other side distract you from your goal, which is to complete the transaction. You only have two people’s agendas to keep in mind—yours and the person you’re negotiating with. You share the same goal. Keeping that simple fact top of mind will help you focus on finding win-win situations – not getting caught up in emotions.

Be willing to walk. It’s tough to negotiate if your back is against the wall. If possible, have a back-up plan. As a home buyer, can you secure alternate living arrangements in case you don’t find a home you love right away? As a seller, can you rent or lease your property if you don’t receive an acceptable offer? You’ll have the most leverage in any negotiation if you’re not dependent on making a deal.

Property Contracts – What’s Up for Negotiation?

In real estate, everything is negotiable. Negotiating house price is typically the main concern for buyers and sellers, but it’s not necessarily the most important number to haggle over. There are many payments involved in a contract that are open for discussion. Much of the time, you’ll be negotiating who covers which costs in order to reach an agreed-upon sale price. Let’s take a closer look at some of the most common financial points that can be negotiated:

Closing costs: These consist of the one-time fees and first or final payments either side needs to make. For the buyer they can include – deep breath – recording fees, title insurance fees, lender fees, inspection fees, appraisal fees, and many others. The seller has their own fees to manage, from owner title insurance to home warranty premiums.

Taxes: Just seeing the word can be a downer. States, cities or counties may have transfer taxes to account for, which are often considered part of the seller’s closing costs. In many locations, however, these taxes can be paid by either the buyer or seller. Whichever side you’re on, it may be worth your while to do some research on what the custom is in your area. You may be able to ease the burden of the other side and gain favor on the overall price of a home.

Earnest Money Deposit: This is a deposit included with an offer to show a buyer is serious about purchasing the home. These deposits are generally 1-10 percent of the asking price and will eventually get credited toward a down payment. A low amount may drop the value of an offer below other offers, while a high amount can shoot an offer to the top of the list.

Once you’re ready to draw up an offer, you can enlist the help of a licensed real estate agent or we can provide you with the state-specific real estate forms you’ll need.

Things you Can Haggle Over Other Than Price

There’s a lot more to your standard real estate transaction than the money changing hands. Here are some of the most important things to consider as you’re making or countering an offer:

Closing Date: Timing may not always be everything, but it’s a critical aspect of most purchase agreements. Everyone has their own schedule to keep. Deciding on an agreeable closing date for both parties and how long a home seller can stay in the home is a key aspect of most negotiations. If you have some leeway on when you need to move in or move out, offering to let the other side choose the closing date can help you gain ground when it comes to price.

Contingencies: Contingency clauses are ways for buyers and sellers to get out of a contract. For example, an offer may be made contingent on an inspection, or securing financing, or the sale of another home. Inspection contingencies are pretty much standard so a buyer can make sure the home is up to snuff. Beyond that, limiting contingencies on either side will make an offer much more appealing.

Inclusions: These can range from gazebos and home theatres to rugs and light fixtures. Any item on a property can be included in a sale, whether it’s because the buyer requests it or the seller offers it. Regardless of which side has more leverage, inclusions are often useful bargaining chips to make it through the final laps of a negotiation.

Prepare to Be Flexible Within Limits

Whether you’re buying or selling, it’s important to define your top priorities before negotiating. Decide on the maximum amount you’re willing to spend, or the minimum amount you’re willing accept. Set a date for when you need to move in or move out. Create a list of factors that your offer to buy or sell is dependent on. By separating your needs from your wants, you’ll create guideposts for when you can stand firm and when you can afford to compromise.

With that said, compromise doesn’t always mean splitting the difference. If you’re making counter offers on the sales price, for example, try moving in smaller increments than the other side. If you’re selling, and the buyer raises an offer by $3,000, counter by lowering your previous offer by $1,000 and throwing in an inclusion. When you do reach a point where you split the difference, it will be a higher level because you gave up less ground to reach that point.

Being Firm Without Being Adversarial

When you enter negotiations, half the battle is standing your ground without letting things get personal. A great way to achieve this is by being the strong, silent type. If you’ve stated your price and terms, wait for a response. Resist the urge to defend your position unprovoked. Often, silence is the most powerful way to show you mean business. Once you’ve put the ball in someone else’s court, wait for it to come back to you.

Then, listen attentively. Show you appreciate where they’re coming from. No matter how much you disagree, let the person know you take them seriously to prevent fanning the flames if emotions start to run hot.

Negotiating Priorities for the Seller

The first order of business for many sellers is to professionally market their home – and we have several packages to help in that area. After all, reaching more buyers attracts more offers, and getting more offers gives you more leverage. Once negotiation begins with a buyer, here are the next priorities for many For Sale By Owners:

Net proceeds: Sellers don’t necessarily want the highest price for a home. In many cases, they’re more interested in the net gain from a sale. This is determined by subtracting the seller’s closing costs, liens and loans from the sale price. Say a buyer offers a few thousand less than the asking price but can show a seller that there will be fewer closing costs. The seller may be able to net more and prefer that offer over a full-price offer.

Occupancy: The day a home buyer can occupy their new digs does not always coincide with the closing date. An occupancy date is negotiable, and many sellers need a little cushion to move out or buy a new home to live in. One of the most common concessions that a buyer can give a seller is to push back a closing date, or even allow a seller to stay in the home after a closing.

Negotiating Priorities for the Buyer

Not surprisingly, buyers place a high priority on the condition of a home and the upfront costs. There are many ways to negotiate on either front. Here are two of the key areas that many buyers focus on:

Repairs: After a contract has been signed, negotiations often pick back up after a home inspection. Typically, a buyer will order an inspection to reveal any safety or structural issues. If a buyer included an inspection contingency, all issues are negotiable and can lead to a deal falling through.

It’s not realistic to expect a seller to handle every cosmetic repair. As issues start getting costly, however, the seller should address them. In most cases, the smoothest option for handling repairs is for the seller to provide the necessary funds. When a buyer asks a seller to handle them instead, the results aren’t always to the buyer’s liking and can turn a good deal sour.

Cash due at closing: A seller covering even one percent of closing costs can be much more beneficial to a buyer than knocking a few thousand dollars off the asking price. The reason is that closing costs need to be paid upfront in one lump sum. Most buyers would rather have cash in their pocket than pay a few more dollars per month over the duration of their home loan.

For more on the key areas to negotiate as a home buyer – including mortgage points – check out the Zing blog by Quicken Loans.

Everyone Should Win to Make a Fair Deal

When negotiation becomes a tug-of-war, it generally results in tension and someone walking away from the deal, with both parties left unhappy. Real estate transactions tend to be much more civil and rewarding when the goal is to create a win-win situation. When you offer a concession, ask for one in return. Develop a give-take rhythm to build momentum towards a mutually beneficial outcome. Not only will you feel better about yourself when you sign the dotted line, you’ll probably walk away with more of the things you wanted to begin with.