How Much It Costs to Keep Up with the Joneses

They’re making a pricey remodeling mistake. You don’t have to.

Mansion staircase
Image: Library of Congress, Carol M. Highsmith, photographer/LC-DIG-highsm-05567

Jealous of your neighbors’ new master bath? Who wouldn’t be? It’s got heated floors, a sauna, and a massive whirlpool tub. To be honest, your own bathroom looks like the shower station at the public pool in comparison. And you have been thinking about renovating it. Maybe a sauna isn’t such a bad idea after all. And how about one of those new tube lights? Yeah, that’d be cool.

Actually, doing the opposite — resisting the urge to keep up with the Joneses makes you the smarter neighbor. Just ask Michael Kelczewski, a REALTOR® in New Hope, Pa. His client added a spa with a downtown view to his Philadelphia home, which was way out of sync with his urban neighborhood. That made the home difficult to sell.

“He liked to sit in the tub with his Belgian ale and look over the city while it was snowing,” Kelczewski says. “But the feature decreased the home’s value significantly. The property sold after a year — with a significant price reduction.”

Renovating your home into the nicest digs in the neighborhood comes with big risks. Best to think twice before replicating the Joneses’ extravagant additions, lest you end up with an over-renovated house that’s undervalued by the market.

Here are the questions to ask yourself before one-upping the neighbors:

Is This Your Forever Home?

It’s hard to believe, but the average American moves 11.4 times. And according to the data-crunchers at FiveThirtyEight, most 25-year-olds still have more than six moves (!) remaining. So, statistically speaking, you’re going to move.

And when you do, you’ll need to sell your house. That means you should think about how any project will affect your home’s value. It’s not as simple as you think. Just because you improve, doesn’t mean you recoup (more details coming up — just watch for the tables).

Some people just want to buy a house and turn it into a giant English estate. That’s your prerogative.

Michael Kelczewski, REALTOR®

On the other hand, you may truly plan to stay put. Newer studies find that today’s first-time buyers want to stay in their first homes longer than previous generations. So if you’re one of the ones bucking tradition, then by all means, do what you want to do without regard to resale value.

“Some people just want to buy a house, and live in it and turn it into a giant, English estate,” says Kelczewski. “That’s fine. That’s your prerogative.” (Although you might want to look into any homeowner association rules.)

But if you’re planning a move anytime between now and eternity, let the Joneses keep a good lead on you in the renovation race. You’ll come out better financially. Guaranteed.Popular Reads

How Does Your Home Rate?

“You don’t want to be the best house in the neighborhood,” says Cristine Lefkowitz Jensen, a REALTOR®based in Henderson, Nev., and a former interior designer. Otherwise, literally every other house around you looks like a better deal. It’s only smart to keep up with the Joneses if everyone on your block does. Keep an eye on comparable properties nearby, and use those prices to know how much is too much to invest in upgrades.

“Don’t put in Carrara marble and $80,000 cabinets in a market that won’t bear that selling price,” says Kelczewski. It’s just not smart.

If the average home in your area sells for $500,000, and you purchase a fixer-upper for $400,000, don’t invest more than $100,000; otherwise, you’re wasting cash.

Are You Tempted to Finance Your Project?

As a general rule, taking out a loan for a renovation is a bad idea. Any large-scale upgrades that require begging the bank for cash should get an automatic “no” (sorry!). Even if you know for a fact that the Joneses financed their dream bathroom, that’s all the more reason to march to your own home ownership drum.

Think about it: Even if the Joneses are increasing their home’s value a bit, they’re also paying interest, which eats into the benefit.

That said, don’t feel guilty about financing smaller, low-risk projects that are sure to increase your equity. For example, upgraded insulation may not be sexy, but according to the National Association of REALTORS® “Remodeling Impact Report,” its median cost is just $2,500, and it recovers 100% of its value in a sale. So a small loan (that you can pay off quickly) might make sense, especially when you consider the energy savings.

Good bets include:

ProjectMedian Cost Recoup in $$
New Roofing$12,000$12,000
Hardwood Flooring Refinish $3,400$5,000
Insulation Upgrade$2,500$2,500
New Wood Flooring$5,500$6,500
New Garage Door$2,000$2,000
New Vinyl Siding$18,300$15,000

Have You Done Your Research?

Some projects — like refinishing your hardwood — are no-brainers because they’re relatively small and recoup most of their value in a sale.

Should You Refinish Hardwood Floors Yourself? ]

Other, bigger investments, like updated kitchens, are a big draw for future buyers.

Dated kitchens are “the No. 1 killer of all deals,” Lefkowitz Jensen says. According to the NAR report, a typical kitchen remodel costs $80,000 and recovers $60,000 in equity. And, no, that $20,000 difference isn’t wasted. You’ll love the upgrades while you live there, and get most of your money back when you move. (And enjoy a shorter selling time, too.)

Here are some popular projects and their typical costs. But a REALTOR® will know what’s ultimately best in your neighborhood.

Project Median Cost Recoup in $$ 
New Vinyl Windows $30,000$20,000
New Fiber Cement Siding $18,600$16,000
New Steel Front Door$3,150$2,000
Basement Conversion to Living Area $57,500$49,250
Kitchen Upgrade$35,000$20,000
Complete Kitchen Renovation$80,000$60,000
Attic Conversion to Living Area$75,000$40,000
New Fiberglass Front Door$2,700$1,800
Bathroom Renovation$30,000$15,000
New Wood Windows$35,000$20,000
Closet Renovation$3,570$2,000
New Master Suite $125,000$65,000
Add New Bathroom$59,000$27,750

Another equity-rich option is creating an open floor plan. “Not everyone eats dinner like Norman Rockwell, but that’s how the properties were designed at that time,” Kelczewski says. “Increase the home’s value by knocking down those walls and adding square footage.”

Will Your Project Add Curb Appeal?

Improved curb appeal can increase the price of your home up to 17%, according to a Texas Tech University study, so don’t shrink away from jazzing up your patio and lawn. So if the answer to the curb appeal question is yes, go with the Joneses.

“Curb appeal is 50% of the sale,” says Lefkowitz Jensen. “You only have one chance to make a first impression.”

Get a sleek and modern exterior by replacing your crumbling wooden front door with a gorgeous steel model, which looks stunning and recoups 63% of its cost in a sale, according to the NAR report.

Adding trees and bushes brings dimension to your lawn. Even just maintaining your yard makes a big difference. Additional lighting along the walkway is a worthwhile investment, too — in addition to making your home safer.

Will Your Remodel Bring You Joy?

It’s your retreat, your place. It should bring you joy when you walk in the door. You can’t put a dollar figure on that.

However, the NAR report does give some insight into what projects homeowners are happiest with, regardless of cost. REALTORS® asked some of their clients which renovations brought them the most satisfaction.

Here’s how some popular projects ranked, according to the NAR report’s “joy score” (with 10 being the highest score). Note that joy and recoup don’t always pair up like you’d think they would.

Project Joy Score Recoup in % 
Hardwood Flooring Refinish10147%
New Wood Flooring10118%
Insulation Upgrade10100%
Closet Renovation1083%
Attic Conversion to Living Area1075%
Complete Kitchen Renovation9.875%
Kitchen Upgrade9.867%
Basement Conversion to Living Area9.786%
 Bathroom Renovation9.671%
New Windows Vinyl and Wood9.6Vinyl–67%, Wood–63%
Add New Primary Bedroom Suite9.556%
New Front Door (Steel and Fiberglass)9.5Steel–63%, Fiberglass–60%

“You only have a short time on this earth,” Kelczewski says. “If you want to paint your house purple and put in a hot tub, that’s your choice. It’s your property. Enjoy.” 

“Visit for more articles like this.  Reprinted from with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.”

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How Smart Home Technology Can Be a Selling Point

Home technology smarts are the new area for real estate bragging rights.

smart home tech selling points control system with icons and dining room
Image: onurdongel/Getty
  • You often judge a house by it’s good looks. But guess what? Now you can also judge it by its IQ. Long-buzzed about smart home technology — think smart thermostats, smart lighting, and app-controlled security systems — are moving into more homes. Smart home tech can up your coolness factor and make homes easier to operate. Plus, it may also offer perks when you sell your home one day.

Home shoppers are increasingly looking beyond that killer kitchen upgrade to a seller’s Wi-Fi signal and connectivity. This isn’t just a priority for the techie set. As smart home technology gets more affordable and easier to use, more people are adding devices. Half of U.S. consumers owned at least one smart home device in 2021, up from 35% in 2020, according to NPD Connected Intelligence. The number is expected to grow as homeowners look to save money, feel safer at home, and add convenience.

A Home’s Technology Smarts Matter

Here comes a potential home buyer. Motion-activated lighting automatically turns on as they enter. A smart thermostat adjusts the temperature for ultimate comfort. The smart robot vacuum is keeping the home tidy. The window blinds are adjusting based on the sun’s direction. And the smart speaker is telling them about the home’s features.

Seriously, wouldn’t you be a little impressed?

Four in 10 Americans have bought a smart home device since the COVID-19 outbreak and are more interested in smart home technology, according to a 2020 study. “The pandemic has driven smart home technology forward,” says Angel Piontek, an associate broker with Coldwell Banker Elite in Fredericksburg, Va. “How we interact with our homes is becoming different. At some point, buyers will expect it.” 

The majority of real estate professionals surveyed by Z-Wave Alliance believe smart home technology can help in marketing a home, according to the organization’s 2020 report on smart technology. In fact, some real estate professionals are already using smart home features as selling points. You may spot more icons on online 3D tours of real estate listings that flag smart technology inside a home. Or, during in-person real estate showings, laminated placards may point to devices and highlight what they do. 

Smart Home Technology Costs and Buyer Preferences

Consumers between 18 and 34 said they would pay more for homes with home theaters, smart speakers in every room, and connected kitchens, according to the study. In the 25 to 54 age group, consumers said they’d pay more for solar roof tiles and home battery packs. And for those 55 and older, solar roof tiles, smart doorbells, and security systems would be worth extra money.

It’s tougher to validate that smart technology can generate more money in a home sale. Anecdotally, real estate professionals believe it can: “If a home is marketed correctly and has smart home technology, it can sell for top dollar,” says Kristin Triolo, a broker associate with RE/MAX Platinum Realty in Sarasota, Fla.

Fully automating an entire home with higher-end systems could cost upward of $15,000. But an appraiser would factor in such a system at resale, according to Christopher Matos Rogers, an associate broker with the Matos Rogers Group’s Palmerhouse Properties in Atlanta.  

Boosting Marketability with Smart Technology

If you don’t already have smart home technology, some real estate professionals may recommend adding it before you list your home. Tech-savvy generations may expect it. And older adults may be drawn to such systems — particularly voice-controlled ones that support aging in place.

You can easily add smart home technology to modernize an older home and help it compete with newer ones. After all, many homebuilders offer smart home packages to outfit new homes with smart thermostats, app-controlled garage doors, smart lighting, door locks, and video security systems.

Smart home technology investments can range from $20 for adding smart lightbulbs to $20,000 or more for automated solutions that connect systems in one hub for an entire house. For $1,500, you can outfit your home with multiple systems like a smart speaker, smart lighting, and a smart thermostat to increase the home’s smart tech appeal. For about $5,500, homeowners could automate the lights, door locks, and thermostat, and install a smart speaker, hub, and smart plugs in three rooms, according to

Regardless of how extensive your devices are, real estate professionals will typically want to spotlight them. “Buyers may not have a lot of knowledge of smart home technology, but they do know and understand energy savings and cost savings,” Triolo says. For example, a Nest consumer survey estimates that the company’s smart thermostat could reduce a home’s heating costs by 10% and cooling costs by 15%. 

What Else Adds Smart Tech Appeal

Bigger brand names in smart home technology — like Nest, Ring, and Lutron — have instant name recognition when selling, says Piotnek.

Ease of use also counts. For example, having to open several apps on a phone to control various aspects of a home can feel cumbersome, says Ellis Gardner, a broker with Keller Williams Realty in Chattanooga, Tenn. But being able to say, “Hey, Google, turn on my lights!” shows convenience.

With smart devices, you’ll need to be clear about what stays and what goes with the home sale. “It’s a gray area with some of these devices on what’s considered personal property,” Piontek says. For example, digital assistants like Alexa or Google Home may be used as your smart home hub. But sellers may consider these personal property to take when they move. “So, it’s really important to get this all in writing so there’s no question at the end of a transaction.”

3 Ways to Avoid Misunderstandings About Smart Home Tech

Avoid misunderstandings about smart home technology with these three tips:

  1. Find an agent with smart technology expertise. They can help avoid hiccups in selling a smart home and also tend to be savvy marketers of smart tech. Some real estate professionals — like Triolo and Gardner – have smart home certification and extra training through the Residential Real Estate Council, a provider of real estate education and networking. 
  2. Identify which of your smart home technology devices or apps are real property versus personal property. In general, items affixed or hardwired to a house stay — likely your smart thermostat or any switches and mounts. If you plan to take your Nest thermostat or Ring doorbell, replace it before listing. The buyer could figure that anything in the house at a showing will remain with the house. 
  3. Turn over the virtual keys. On closing day, “turning over the passwords in a smart home is like turning over the key to the front door,” says Gardner. For all transferable technology, reset it to factory settings to erase any personal data. Leave instruction manuals or website links for the new owners to open up new accounts. 

Smart home technology is improving safety, security, and convenience in homes. Homeowners should also consider the benefits they’ll have when they sell one day, Piontek says. Just like curb appeal, high home appeal may make your home a standout to buyers.

“Visit for more articles like this.  Reprinted from with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.”

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Home Insurance and Mold: Is Mold Covered?

Whether you’re covered often comes down to the source of moisture and the wording of a policy.

  • Mold strikes fear into the hearts of those who’ve heard horror stories about toxic mold, expensive mold remediation, and denied home owners insurance claims. Yet mold can be found anywhere, including in most homes. It’s usually harmless.

Mold needs moisture to thrive. Problems can arise for home owners when the presence of persistent moisture goes undetected or unresolved, leading to widespread mold growth. Moisture can result from high indoor humidity, flooding, or a leaky roof or dishwasher.

Whether mold damage is covered by home owners insurance often comes down to the source of that moisture. Take an hour or two to review the language of your policy, especially as it pertains to water damage. Look for mold exclusions or limitations. Call your agent if the wording is unclear.

Mold and Home Owners Insurance

Most basic home owners insurance policies exclude coverage of damage caused by mold, fungi, and bacteria, says Mark Ferguson, property claim specialist with General Casualty Insurance in Sun Prairie, Wis. Yet that doesn’t mean a mold claim will be denied automatically.

In most cases, if mold results from a sudden and accidental covered peril, such as a pipe bursting, the cost of remediation should be covered, says Ferguson. That’s because technically the pipe burst is the reason for the claim, not the mold itself. Claims are more likely to be rejected if mold is caused by neglected home maintenance: long-term exposure to humidity, or repeated water leaks and seepage.

It’s hard to put a precise dollar figure on mold damage because most insurers don’t separate mold claims from water-damage claims, says Claire Wilkinson of the Insurance Information Institute. About 22% of all home owners insurance claims result from “water damage and freezing,” a category that includes mold remediation, according to the III. A 2003 white paper on mold from the III put the cost of the average mold claim between $15,000 and $30,000, at least five times the average non-mold home owners claim at that time.

After a rush of mold claims in the early 2000s, most states adopted limitations on mold coverage. Amounts vary, but a typical home owners policy might cover between $1,000 and $10,000 in mold remediation and repair, says Celia Santana of Personal Risk Management Solutions in New York. Most policies won’t cover mold related to flood damage. For that, home owners need separate flood insurance, which averages $540 per year through the National Flood Insurance Program.Popular Reads

Damage Done by an Inch of Floodwater

Replace carpet, flooring$2,700
New baseboard molding$2,250
Replace drywall$1,350
Cleanup, materials$1,000
Bookshelves, lamps$500

Source: National Flood Insurance Program

Is Extra Mold Coverage Necessary?

It might be possible to purchase a mold rider as an add-on to your existing home owners policy. Ask your agent. A rider will offer additional mold coverage. Cost and your personal risk-tolerance are the driving factors behind a decision.

Premiums will vary based on where you live and the value of your house. You could pay from $500 to $1,500 a year for a rider on an existing policy. Prices tend to climb in humid southern climates, and in Texas and California, where there have been high-profile mold cases.

In general, older homes in humid climates where mold thrives will be more costly to insure than newer constructions in a dry climate. In particular, homes built within the past five years are likely constructed with mold-resistant wood, drywall, and paints, says Santana. Newer homes are also less susceptible to water infiltration.

If your insurance carrier isn’t willing to provide a rider because the risk is too great, specialty companies such as Unitrin might sell you a standalone mold policy. Brace yourself for a hefty price tag. Annual premiums for a standalone mold policy might range from $5,000 to $25,000. Weigh the cost against risk factors including the age and value of your home, its construction, and the prevalence of mold issues in your area.

Moisture Prevention Is the Key

The surest way to avoid having a claim denied is keeping mold at bay in the first place. Preventing mold and eliminating mold when it does occur are critical to protecting the value of your home.

To help prevent mold growth in your home, the III suggests taking the following steps:

  • Lower indoor humidity with air conditioners, dehumidifiers, and exhaust fans.
  • Inspect hoses and fittings on appliances, sinks, and toilets.
  • Use household cleaners with mold-killing ingredients like bleach.
  • Opt for paints and primers that contain mold inhibitors.
  • Clean gutters to avoid overflow and check roof for leaks.
  • Avoid carpet in wet areas like basements and bathrooms.
  • Remove and dry carpet, padding, and upholstery within 48 hours of flooding.
  • “Visit for more articles like this.  Reprinted from with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.”
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Sharp Homeowners Know June Is the Best Time to Do These 5 Things

Like cleaning your siding — just be sure to start from the bottom and go up.

cell phone reminder of home maintenance tasks to complete now in june with a background of pink and yellow tulips
Image: Maggie Stuart for HouseLogic
  • Could it really be summer?!

Tackle these five summer maintenance tasks during June’s longer days and better weather — and save yourself time and money this winter.

#1 Update Outdoor Lighting

Outdoor stone steps lit with pathway lighting
Image: Rosann M. Kelley, photo/ Outdoor Artisan, Inc., design
  • In June, winter nights are probably the last thing on your mind. But early summer is the perfect time to plan for those “OMG, it’s only 4:30, and it’s already dark ” moments by adding or updating landscape lighting.

The most energy-efficient, easy-to-install option is solar lighting, but it won’t perform as well on dark or snowy days. For light no matter the weather, install electric.

#2 Clean Your House’s Siding

Home with bright green painted siding
Image: Kristin Diehl
  • With a bit of preventive maintenance, your home’s siding will stay clean and trouble-free for up to 50 years. Fifty years! Clean it this month with a soft cloth or a long-handled, soft-bristle brush to guarantee that longevity.

Start at the bottom of the house and work up, rinsing completely before it dries. That’s how you avoid streaks.

Related: How to Clean the Siding on Your House

#3 Focus on Your Foundation

Brick exterior wall with damage
Image: Martb/Getty
  • There’s no better time for inspecting your foundation than warm, dry June. Eyeball it for crumbling mortar, cracks in the stucco, or persistently damp spots (especially under faucets). Then call a pro to fix any outstanding issues now, before they become an emergency later.

#4 Seal Your Driveway Asphalt

Sealed asphalt driveway at pink house
Image: Cveltri/Getty
  • Your driveway takes a daily beating. Weather, sunlight, cars, bikes, and foot traffic — all of these damage the asphalt. Help it last by sealing it. Tip: The temperature must be 50 degrees or higher for the sealer to stick, making June a good month for this easy, cost-effective job.

#5 Buy Tools

Lawn tools hanging in a garage
Image: Jo Facer, The Edible Flower
  • Thanks to Father’s Day, June is the month everyone can get a deal on tools, tool bags, and that multitool you’ve had your eye on. If it’s time to replace a bunch of tools or you’re starting from scratch, look for package deals that offer several at once. These can pack a savings wallop, offering 30% off or more over buying the tools individually.

“Visit for more articles like this.  Reprinted from with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.”

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Smart Home Security Gets Even Smarter — and Easier

Smart home security can give you a (virtual) lock on protecting your home and peace of mind.

smart home security overview boy using mobile phone to unlock smart lock
Image: Maskot/Getty
  • Once upon a time, installing a smart home security system was complicated and expensive. To get one, you had to call a professional company. They’d send an installer out to drill holes in your walls and run wires throughout your home. You’d spend big bucks for the installation and a multiyear maintenance and monitoring contract. 

But now, technology has changed that completely. You can DIY a smart home security system with moderately priced equipment. Your options include smart door locks, security cameras, video doorbells, and motion sensors you can install yourself. Smart home security systems run on Wi-Fi, Zigbee, or Bluetooth, with no wiring needed. And you can monitor these systems with an app on your phone. 

Because of this simpler, more affordable technology, home security devices are more popular. Market researchers NPD Group report that half of U.S. consumers now own at least one smart home device, up from 35% in 2020. And smart security devices are one of the most popular smart home devices. They had higher sales gains, at 44%, than any other category in 2020, says NPD Group. 

If you’re thinking of joining the fan club by adding smart home security to your house, here’s an overview of the most popular device categories.

Smart Door Lock

A smart door lock is a Wi-Fi- or Bluetooth-enabled device that lets you lock and unlock a door via an app on your phone.  Smart locks work by opening and closing a deadbolt electronically. This form of keyless entry lets you open a door with an icon tap or a voice command. That way, you won’t be fumbling for keys while your arms are full of groceries.


  • You have a lot of control over comings and goings at your house. You can see who opened the smart door lock and when, so you can check if your kids got home from school on time. You’ll know if the dogwalker showed up at noon. And you can do it while sitting at your desk at the office. “I love knowing every time my door opens or closes,” says Christy Roth, a smart home tech expert in charge of Home & Distribution Software and Devices at Schneider Electric in Spring Hill, Tenn.
  • You can give out virtual keys. These codes will let a guest or family member unlock the door with their phone. You can set the keys to expire or work only during specific times. You won’t have to leave a key under the doormat or give away house keys you won’t get back.
  • Burglars can’t pick them. Smart locks don’t have a key slot, so they’ll foil analog burglars.


  • If you lose power or your phone, you may not be able to get into your house. If you don’t have power you won’t have Wi-Fi. And that means you can’t open your smart lock. The same chain of events happens when you lose your phone. You need a backup plan, like being able to log into your smart lock from another device. It’s the digital equivalent of a spare key.
  • They use batteries. If the batteries die, you won’t be able to unlock the door. You must change the batteries periodically.
  • Digital thieves can hack them. They can try to override your entry code and unlock your door. The good news: Your lock will alert you that there’s been an unauthorized entry.
  • They’re more expensive. Smart locks cost $150 to $300, significantly more than a dumb lock.

Video doorbell

A video doorbell lets you see who’s at your door when you’re not home. The device, also called a doorbell camera, uses Wi-Fi to stream live video to your phone. Here’s how it works: When someone rings the doorbell or when the camera detects motion, an app will notify you. The video doorbell will then livestream video to your phone so you can speak to the person at the door. You can record the video and save it to your phone or the cloud, which comes in handy if you want a record of who did what on your porch. “A video doorbell is a must-have in my book,” Roth says. A lot of people agree. As of 2020, about 20 million U.S. homes,16%, had video doorbells. Industry analysts predict that number will grow significantly as more people adopt smart home technology.


  • You can answer the door wherever you are. Whether you’re on the other side of the door or the other side of the world, you can see who is at your door and ask them what they want.
  • They help stop porch pirates. Roughly 36 million Americans say they’ve had packages stolen from their porch in the last year. When a delivery person leaves a package, a video doorbell will alert you so you can bring it inside or tell the person where to stash it. If porch pirates beat you to your package, a video doorbell can help police catch the thieves because you’ll have them on camera stealing your Amazon Prime delivery. “If someone knows you’ve got a video doorbell, they’ll probably think twice about stealing your package,” says Steven Hummel, manager of the Consumer Technology Association’s market research team. “They add a lot of security to your home for not a lot of money.”
  • You don’t have to rush to the door every time the bell rings. Instead, check the app on your phone. If it’s a friend, get off the sofa and let them in. If it’s a stranger, you don’t have to interrupt your “Ted Lasso” binge.


  • Some video doorbells need to be hardwired to your existing doorbell wiring. That may not not be a DIY job, since you’d have to handle electrical wires.
  • Some run only on batteries. They’re easier to install, but you’ll need to replace the batteries every few weeks.
  • They’re more expensive than a dumb doorbell. Video doorbells cost $100 to $350, depending on the features. That’s as much as eight times the cost of an analog doorbell.
  • Some companies try to upsell you on a confusing array of services and features. You can hook your device up to a 24/7 monitoring center or get more storage space in the cloud by paying extra fees. “I can’t tell you how many $1.99 and $4.99 services many of these devices come with,” Roth says. “It can get overwhelming managing and understanding the services you need versus the ones you don’t.” If you know your needs, that will help you sort through which, if any, additional services to get, Roth adds. If you’re a regular online shopper, consider a package detection upgrade that some video doorbells offer. It will alert you when a delivery person picks up or drops off a package. Or you can opt for a basic paid subscription that lets you store, download, or share video for up to 60 days.

Motion Sensor

A smart motion sensor is a battery-powered device that detects when anything or anyone crosses its path and triggers an action. It communicates over Z-WaveZigbee, Wi-Fi, or Bluetooth. A motion sensor can do everything from turning on lights when you enter a room to telling you when your toddler is climbing out of her crib.  A lack of motion can also trigger motion sensors, so lights will turn off when no one is in a room. You can run motion sensors through an app on your phone to control devices including smart lights and speakers just by tapping an icon.


  • You can install motion sensors easily and almost anywhere. You can mount them on the wall or set them on a flat surface in minutes.
  • Motion sensors can lower your energy bills. A motion sensor can tell smart bulbs, smart speakers, and TV sets to turn off when a room has been empty too long or at a set hour each night.
  • You can use them to turn a houseful of smart home gadgets into a smart home. Place motion sensors around your home, link them to your smart devices via your smart speaker, and the sensors can help everything work together.
  • They’re super affordable. You can get a motion sensor for as little as $20.


  • Motion sensors use batteries. You’ll need to check and change them regularly to keep them working. Most will let you know when the batteries are getting weak.
  • If they run on Wi-Fi, they may hit dead zones in your home and stop working. You’ll need to boost their range with a mesh router ­– also called a mesh network – that pairs two or more routers together to deliver a seamless Wi-Fi network. If your home is larger than 3,000 square feet or multistory, a mesh router is a good idea. A bridge – a device that joins two or more Wi-Fi networks so they can work as a single network – will also boost your home’s Wi-Fi coverage.

Security Kit or Home Monitoring System

If you want your DIY smart home security to go bigger than one or two devices, get a security kit. Also known as a home monitoring system, these kits replace the home alarm systems you used to have a pro install. They generally come with contact and motion sensors, a base station that’s the wireless brain of the system, and touch-screen control panels.


  • You can customize the system. Adding security cameras, glass break sensors, panic buttons, and environmental sensors will alert you to gas leaks, water leaks, or fire.
  • You can integrate your other smart tech devices. Many home security systems double as smart home hubs so you connect and automate your other smart devices into a single network. You can connect your alarm, your smart locks, your smart thermostat, and your video doorbell and run them all with an app on your phone.
  • You can save money on homeowners insurance. Some insurance companies give policy discounts for homes with security systems that include window and door sensors, smart locks, or video doorbells. They don’t give discounts for individual devices like video doorbells.
  • The kits are more affordable than professionally installed alarm systems. Home monitoring systems start at $200 to $400 for a basic setup.


  • You will have to pay extra for professional monitoring. Unlike professionally installed alarm systems, you don’t get a team of trained dispatchers who will monitor your alarm 24/7. That’s part of the reason DIY systems are so much more affordable. Many home monitoring systems offer professional monitoring for an extra monthly fee that ranges from $10 to $40.
  • You’re the tech support. Unlike professionally installed systems, there’s not a tech on call to fix glitches. It’s just you and You Tube tutorials.

Smart tech security devices make it easy and affordable to protect your home. You can install many of these devices yourself and only pay for a monitoring plan when you want it. You can keep an eye on your family and your home from any location via sensors and cameras directly from your phone. Video doorbells, smart door locks, motion sensors, and home monitoring systems put high tech security at your fingertips.

“Visit for more articles like this.  Reprinted from with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.”

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How Much Will It Cost to Finish an Attic?

Decide whether converting your attic is a smart financial move and practical for you.

Pink attic bedroom with pendant lights, two day beds, desk
Image: Fig London Interior Design
  • An attic bedroom (or home office or other functional space) reclaims an area previously devoted to high school yearbooks and nesting sparrows. Optimizing every bit of livable space is especially important now, with some homeowners delaying a move for financial reasons. Another plus: Repurposing the space under your roof also avoids many zoning and easement concerns — common chores when adding onto a house. Here’s some guidance about the cost to finish attic space.

Attic Renovation Cost: $100,000

Converting an attic to a living area yields a healthy return on your investment. According to the “Remodeling Impact Report” from the National Association of REALTORS®, an attic living space conversion costs an average $100,000 and returns 75% of its value if you decide to sell your house.

Homeowners who were surveyed for the report and undertook an attic conversion have no regrets. The project gets a joy score of 10 out of 10, a rating based on consumers’ opinion that they were happy or satisfied with the project.

But just because adding livable space under your rafters is a smart money move, it may not be practical or even doable. To determine if it’s right for you, consider:

  • Building codes
  • Support structures
  • Electrical, HVAC, and plumbing systems
  • Access

Popular Reads

4 Cost Considerations When Converting Your Attic to Living Space

Review Building Codes Before You Convert Your Attic

Although homeowners often view building codes as obstacles, the real missions of codes are safety and durability. Because local codes vary, your building inspector can provide a list of applicable codes and required inspections for your new room.

  • Ceiling codes: Generally 7 feet 6 inches high over a minimum floor area of 70 square feet. If your attic is shorter than required by code, you won’t be able to remodel it into living space.
  • Joist codes: Ask an architect or structural engineer if your attic floor joists meet local codes and can support the additional weight of a remodeled space. Also ask if the rafters can support drywall, lighting, electrical, plumbing, and HVAC system components. Consultation costs an average $350 to $800.
  • Egress codes: If you’re converting to a bedroom, regular bedroom egress codes typically require at least two exits — a doorway and usually a window. An attic bedroom requires both a window and a staircase to the level beneath. Having an escape ladder in clear view is always a good idea.

Structural Changes to Your Attic Will Drive Cost

The structural framing beneath your roof — rafters or trusses — will determine if you can add livable space and what it might look like.

Rafters, internal beams extending from the peak of the roof to its eaves, provide a center open space that you can readily remodel.

Trusses, W-shaped framing that supports the roof, make things harder. To achieve the attic room you want, you might have to cut through, shore up, and otherwise alter the very structures that keep your roof over your head. It may not be practical. Consult a structural engineer and/or a licensed architect to determine if modifying trusses is a good idea.

Finished Attics Require Wiring, Plumbing, and HVAC

  • Electrical: Consult a licensed electrician to determine if your electric panel has room for additional breakers and can handle the increased load of an attic room. If your system can handle the additional demands, running wires to the attic is relatively simple.
  • Plumbing: If you’re adding a small bathroom to your new room, cut costs by locating the bathroom close to the main stack — large pipes that carry wastewater to your sewer or septic tank. This reduces the length of pipe you’ll run between sink-shower-toilet drains and the stack.
  • HVAC: An HVAC specialist will tell you if your forced air blower can move enough air to both heat and cool your new attic room. If it doesn’t, electric baseboard heating and a window air conditioner may suffice. Be sure your electrician knows your heating and cooling plans to determine the total electrical requirements of your new room.

Building Access Points to Your Attic

If your converted room will be a bedroom, it will require a standard staircase to meet code; a ladder is insufficient. Adding a staircase will take up space in a room below the attic, so consider converting a closet. You may be able to regain that storage space by using space under the new staircase.

Staircases with straight runs are easiest to construct but take up the most area, just over 40 square feet. Depending on materials and finishing touches, such as newel posts and hardware, costs can range from $2,000 to $5,000.

Spiral staircases take up the least space but are typically more expensive. Prices for a wood or metal-wood staircase kit ranges from $1,500 to $4,900; installation ranges from $600 to $1,200.

If you’re short on inside space, exterior access — a staircase outside the house — may be a solution. Check with your zoning department, which may interpret an outside staircase as a sign of a multiunit dwelling and not meet neighborhood zoning requirements.

How Much Does Finishing Your Attic Provide in Resale Value?

Converting an attic to a living area provides $75,000 in cost recovery, which is 75% of the $100,000 average expense.

How to Find Contractors to Convert Your Attic

If you need help to find an experienced contractor who has worked on attics, consult a REALTOR®.

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Tree Falls On Property Line: Who Pays? Who Picks Up the Pieces?

fallen tree responsibility
Image: NOAA

Who pays depends on numerous factors.

  • When a neighbor’s tree falls over your property line, yell TIMBER, then call your insurance company. Home owners policies cover tree damage caused by perils like wind and winter storms.

Most policies cover hauling away tree debris if the mess is associated with house damage; some will cover cleanup even if no structures were harmed.

When a Tree Falls

Your neighbor is responsible when a tree falls over your shared property line only if you can prove he was aware that his tree was a hazard and refused to remedy the problem. Regardless, your insurance company restores your property first, and later decides whether or not to pursue reimbursement from the neighbor or his insurer if the neighbor was negligent in maintaining the tree.

When a Tree Falls

Your neighbor is responsible when a tree falls over your shared property line only if you can prove he was aware that his tree was a hazard and refused to remedy the problem. Regardless, your insurance company restores your property first, and later decides whether or not to pursue reimbursement from the neighbor or his insurer if the neighbor was negligent in maintaining the tree.Popular Reads

Before a Tree Falls

Write a letter to your neighbor before his dead, diseased or listing tree falls through your roof or over your property line.

The letter should include:

  • Description of the problem
  • Photographs
  • Request for action
  • Attorney letterhead–not necessary but indicates you mean business.

Trim Their Trees

If the limbs of a tree hang over your property line, you may trim the branches up to the property line, but not cut down the entire tree. If a tree dies after your little pruning, the neighbor can pursue a claim against you in civil or small claims court. Depending on the laws of your state, your neighbor may have to prove the damage was deliberate or caused by negligence, but may also be able to recover up to three times the value of the tree. 

Before you cut, tell your neighbors what you intend to do to protect your property. They may offer to trim the whole tree instead of risking your half-oaked job.

Your Tree Falls

It’s always a good idea to take care of your big and beautiful trees, and keep receipts for trimmings and other care. 

But if your tree falls over a neighbor’s property line, do nothing until their insurance company contacts you. You may not be liable unless you knew or should have known the tree was in a dangerous condition.  If you pruned a tree or shored up trunks to prevent problems, gather your receipts to prove your diligence.

“Visit for more articles like this.  Reprinted from with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.”

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5 Tips That Will Protect You from This (Expensive) DIY Mistake

DIY home remodeling is great — until it isn’t. Here’s how to keep it great.

Grouting bathroom tile
Image: Karah Bunde of “The Space Between” blog
  • It was their first plumbing project. “It was just a small crack in a pipe,” says Karah Bunde. She and her husband, Joel, had just purchased a fixer-upper they planned to renovate and rent.

They bought a new piece of PVC pipe to replace the cracked one. “We installed it, glued it, gave it 24 hours to cure. The next day we turned on the water and it busted at the seams. We had extra pipe and did it again, this time allowing it to cure for two days. Same story,” says Bunde, an avid DIYer who writes “The Space Between” blog.

The couple returned to the store and started asking questions.

Turns out they had made one of the most common DIY mistakes: choosing the wrong material for the job. “Our downfall was not doing enough research. Turns out we picked PVC pipe for drains and not one that would hold the pressure of water lines,” Bunde says.

Whether you’re choosing tile, flooring, lighting, or cabinets, making the right choice can make or break your success. Get the right materials by doing these five things:

1. Set a Budget for Every Item

Make a budget for every single item you’re purchasing, says architect Todd Miller, owner of QMA Architects & Planners in Linwood, N.J. Otherwise, you may blow it all on a sexy plumbing fixture, but then choose the wrong flooring, for instance, just because it’s cheap and you want to keep on track.

“There are always tradeoffs, but having a budget will help you manage the choices,” Miller says.

2. Shop Where the Pros Shop

Not to dis big-box stores; they’re great for many things. But you have to know what you’re getting into, says Gary Rochman, owner of Rochman Design Build in Ann Arbor, Mich. “Heeding the siren call from the big-box store can oftentimes go wrong. You’re not getting the service and the professional advice you’d need, especially if you’re a DIYer.”

For example, he says, “You might purchase treated lumber for an outdoor deck, but no one tells you the nails you bought aren’t for outdoor purposes. At a lumberyard, they’ll let you know those two items don’t go together.”

Additionally, Miller says some manufacturers will make two versions of the same product: a more cheaply made one for major retailers and another for supply stores that sell to contractors. “I purchased one product at a retail store that had PVC supply lines, and the exact same product from my supplier that had solid copper fittings,” he says. Homeowners can have access to suppliers through their contractor, but many stores also sell directly to consumers.

3. Try It Out Before Committing to It

Robin Flanigan, a homeowner in Rochester, N.Y., thought she was doing all the right things when she chose backsplash tile. She went to a local tile store. She schlepped along her cabinet sample, and they knew her floor — a wood-look farmhouse tile — which she’d purchased from them. “The owner took his time with me every time I went to the store — and there were a lot of times I went to the store,” she says. It took her two months to decided on a clear tile. “I thought clear tile would be less noticeable, not clash with the concrete.”

She hired an installer who put up the tile on two walls before Flanigan saw it. “I wound up in tears all night and asked them to take it down,” she says. The installer did beautiful work, but “what looked great in a small sample turned out to look way too futuristic once the walls were covered. It didn’t fit the rest of the industrial loft vibe at all.”

Flanigan says the mistake was a “huge budget buster” and posted the torn-down tile on Craigslist. She had a thin concrete backsplash installed instead. “If there’s a next time, I would order a box to see if I liked the look first,” she says.

4. Invest in the Right Tools

Here’s a good place to practice balancing durability and cost: Get the right tools for the job.

“You can buy a brush for 98 cents, but you won’t get good results,” says Les Lieser, who recently retired as owner of a painting company and now runs Front Range Coating Consultants in Greeley, Colo. “Good brushes cost more for a reason.”

Lieser says cheap brushes are like straw, flaring out and not holding their shape. A good quality nylon or bristle brush, on the other hand, will allow for nice, straight lines. For a few dollars more, you’ll save a lot of hassle and get a more professional-looking result.

“The same goes for roller covers and paint,” Lieser says. “Spend a little more money on a brand name or something of good quality.”

What if you need a costly tool? “We’ve rented a bunch of tools; it’s a great option,” Bunde says. In addition, many cities have tool lending libraries or a MakerSpace where you can borrow bigger items. “When you buy your materials, always ask what tools are going to aid in your success,” Bunde says.

5. Be Cautious About What You Buy Online

Buying things online might be less expensive and convenient, but when you’ve purchased a 700-pound cast iron tub from Craigslist only to discover it’s scratched or too heavy for your second-floor bath, you’re going to have a hard time sending it back. “It’s important to see and touch the products,” Miller says. “And you’ll have an easier time with returns at a retail shop or professional wholesaler.”

Although it’s enticing to think you’ll save money by purchasing the cheapest materials and save time by doing it yourself, you’ve got to weigh the value of your time against the inevitability of things not fitting, arriving broken, or not lasting. Otherwise, you’ll be spending your free time wandering the fluorescent aisles of the hardware store rather than kicking back and sipping lattes in your newly renovated space.

“Visit for more articles like this.  Reprinted from with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.”

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Indoor Air Quality Solutions for Your Home

You may not know it, but your home could have indoor air pollution. Here’s how to clear the air.

Image of an air purifier in a simple room with the window open purifying air coming in.
Image: Aleutie/getty
  • You probably clean your home regularly, but your indoor air quality could benefit from a thorough cleaning, too.

Recent studies point to why: The air you breathe inside your home can contain two to five times more pollutants than outside air, according to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency research. Consider that Americans spend about 90% of their time indoors, too.

What’s Causing Indoor Air Pollution

Other factors also contribute to the problem. Wildfires, like the ones in Canada that spread to the U.S., can compromise outdoor air quality. That outdoor air can enter homes, making it unhealthy to breathe the indoor air, the EPA says. Other causes of indoor air pollution range from household cleaners and chemicals — those emitted from paints and furnishings — to cooking appliances, fireplaces, tobacco, pet dander, mold, dust, pressed wood products, coal heating, and even candles.

Compounding the issue, today’s super-sealed, energy-efficient homes can lead to a buildup of pollutants. This can create health problems including respiratory illnesses and allergy flare-ups, migraines, and even heart disease, according to the World Health Organization.

“A lack of ventilation is the most common culprit behind air quality issues,” says Lane Dixon, vice president of operations at Aire Serv, a Tennessee-based heating and air conditioning company. “When the air can’t circulate properly, allergens, dust, and debris build up within the home.”

12 Ways to Improve Indoor Air Quality at Home

Experts offer these 12 tips that can help you keep your indoor air quality as clean as the rest of your home.

#1 Maintain Good Indoor Hygiene

Cleaning your home regularly can help reduce indoor pollutants like dust, pet dander, and mold. Wipe down hard surfaces with a damp cloth and vacuum carpets weekly with a HEPA-rated filter (capable of capturing 99.97% of particles larger than 0.3 microns), suggests Martin Seeley, CEO and founder of Mattress Next Day in the U.K. The American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology recommends washing bedding weekly in hot water (130 degrees Fahrenheit) to kill dust mites — allergy-triggering, microscopic creatures that thrive in bedding, upholstered furniture, and carpets. 

#2 Change HVAC Filters Regularly

More than a quarter of Americans admit they never change their home’s air filter, according to a consumer survey from The Zebra, an insurance comparison site. Air filters can remove allergens and pollutants and help improve overall air quality, Seeley says. Replace them per manufacturer’s guidelines; experts usually recommend at least every three months. During heavy-use months in the winter or summer if you have pets, check filters monthly.

Tip: Choose air filters with high MERV (minimum efficiency reporting value), ratings on a scale of 1 to 16. In general, the higher the rating, the better the filter can capture certain particles.

#3 Open the Windows

Natural ventilation is key to improving air quality, according to the EPA. Even during cooler months, opening a window just a crack for at least 10 minutes a day can prevent stale, stuffy air and the accumulation of indoor contaminants. But keep windows closed when outdoor pollution is a problem.

Create “stack ventilation” by opening windows at the same time on higher and lower levels  to create a breeze throughout the house, suggests Christine Marvin, chief marketing and experience officer at Marvin, a windows manufacturer. Or, consider adding a heat recovery ventilator or energy recovery ventilator to your HVAC system to circulate fresh air from the outside. Turn these devices off, though, when outdoor air pollution is a problem.

#4 Watch Humidity Levels

Humidity can be an air quality nemesis, leading to mold, mildew, and bacteria. To keep humidity in check, use dehumidifiers to remove moisture from the air. Also, always use an exhaust fan in the bathroom during showers and for at least 15 minutes afterward. To gauge humidity levels, consider buying a hygrometer, which is like a thermometer for humidity. Keep indoor humidity levels from 30% to 50% relative humidity, the EPA advises. If a home’s too dry, humidifiers add moisture to the air. For example, ultrasonic humidifiers emit cool mist to increase humidity. Follow the manufacturer’s directions on cleaning and use.

#5 Invest in an Air Purifier

Curious ginger cat on air cleaner. Fluffy pet looks curiously on air purifier, which is removing dust from home. Household equipment.
Image: Konstantin Aksenov/getty
  • These portable devices can capture and neutralize indoor irritants like germs and allergens. The main types of air purifiers are HEPA purifiers (capture at least 99.97% of particles larger than 0.3 microns), activated carbon technology (filters that use high-absorbency carbon), ultraviolet technology (uses shortwave ultraviolet light to kill airborne pathogens), and ionic purifiers (send negatively charged ions and clean the air using electrically charged filters).

Tips: Check for an AHAM Verifide mark, which shows the air cleaner’s clean air delivery rate and suggested room size, and signifies that the manufacturer’s claims about performance have been verified independently, says a spokesperson at the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers. Place air purifiers in the center of a room, away from anything that may block them, and clean any filters regularly, he says.

#6 Flip on a Fan

Floor fans, exhaust fans, and ceiling fans can all be used to increase a home’s ventilation. During the pandemic, studies showed that ceiling fans could help move the air inside a space and reduce the indoor transmission of airborne pathogens.

#7 Clean Your Pet

Yes, even your beloved pet can lower indoor air quality by leaving behind dander, microscopic skin flakes that linger in the air and can trigger allergies and respiratory issues. Clean pet bedding regularly. Create pet-free zones in the house. Try a paw wiper, such as silicone washer cups lined with bristles, to clean paws before pets enter your home to avoid tracked-in outdoor contaminants.

#8 Vent While Cooking

About 30% of indoor contaminants come from cooking alone, according to the “International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.” Lower your risk by venting cooking aerosols while cooking. Gas stovetop ranges have come under fire because of the nitrogen dioxide and carbon dioxide emitted during use. A range hood fan, which should be vented to the outside, creates a vacuum in the house to help remove dangerous gasses when cooking.

#9 Use Air-Cleaning Plants

NASA-backed research has shown plants can help remove toxins from the air. Often, the larger and leafier the plant is, the greater the air-purifying impact. Among nature’s best air purifiers: English ivy, bamboo palm, parlor palm, snake plant, red-edged dracaena, peace lilies, and Boston ferns.

#10 Limit Indoor Chemicals

Cleaning products can produce volatile organic components, which can irritate eyes, nose, and throat and even cause organ damage after heavy exposure. These components can be found in products like paints, cleaning liquids, air fresheners, and hairspray. Aire Serv’s Dixon suggests avoiding chemical-laden household products containing ammonia, chlorine, and triclosan — contributors to poor indoor air quality. When using cleaning products, increase ventilation by turning on fans or opening windows. Store your cleaning products — as well as paints and pesticides — away from the house, in the garage or a shed. Or, opt for cleaning products with natural ingredients, like baking soda or vinegar. Chemicals may lurk in other areas of the home too, such as formaldehyde in pressed wood furniture, flooring, and even carpet fabrics. Look for products with low or no formaldehyde.

#11 Swap out Candles

Certain types of candles may add scent but worsen indoor air quality. Candles made from synthetic fragrance oils and paraffin wax can release airborne soot — consisting of phthalates, lead, and benzene — that can trigger respiratory and allergy symptoms, according to the EPA. Experts suggest using candles made of beeswax, palm oil, soy, or other plant-based waxes, which can burn cleaner and longer. Also, the Children’s Environmental Health Network suggests choosing candles with a single wick, increasing ventilation when burning, and burning candles for only one or two hours at a time.

#12 Monitor and Test the Air

You can buy devices to use at home that detect, monitor, and report on air pollutants like particulate matter, radon, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, formaldehyde, volatile organic compounds, and environmental factors. The devices, which the EPA calls low-cost air pollution monitors, use a number, color, or graphic to display the level of pollutants the device’s sensors detect. But there are no widely accepted air concentration limits for most pollutants indoors, so each manufacturer determines the levels that trigger an alert, the agency says. It also notes that the cost usually relates more to device features than performance. The EPA doesn’t produce the monitors, but it does evaluate certain air sensor technologies, generally in outdoor conditions. You can find scientific information about using air sensor monitoring systems from the EPA’s Air Sensor Toolbox.

Of course, there are limits on what you can control in your home environment. But making some changes can help you and your family breathe a lot easier. 

“Visit for more articles like this.  Reprinted from with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.”

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