After You Sell Your House, Make Sure You Do These 10 Things

After you sell your house, you’re done, right? You can walk away and celebrate?

Well, not exactly! After you sell your house, you certainly should celebrate, but you have more things to think about, from tax prep to buying your next house. In “House Selling for Dummies,” authors Eric Tyson and Ray Brown lay out things you can do to save money and increase your peace of mind, post-sale.

What to do after you sell your house

You’re going to need to do something with any proceeds you have left from the sale. Plus there are tax implications to consider, and if you haven’t already, you need to think about where you’re going to live long term.

Although it might be tempting to shred the paperwork or put it in storage, you’ll want to have it handy for April 15. When you file your taxes, you’ll need documentation for the expenses and proceeds of the sale. And after you file your return, you’ll want to keep the paperwork in case you’re audited.

2. Keep proof of improvements and prior purchases

This is for tax purposes, too. The IRS allows you to add the cost of improvements to your home’s cost basis during the time you own the home, which is nice if you have a sizable capital gain. But to use this tax provision, you need to keep receipts for everything you spent on home improvement.

3. Stay on top of tax laws after you sell

Because tax laws constantly change, you’ll want to keep current to avoid losing money. For example, a recent law allows you to exclude from tax a significant portion of the profits from the sale of your primary residence.

4. Put your proceeds in a money market fund

If you sell and then don’t immediately buy, you’ll need a safe place to put your money. A money market mutual fund offers safety, a reasonable rate of return, daily access to your money and check-writing privileges.

5. Choose your next home carefully

Scope out a variety of areas and housing options that meet your family’s needs.

6. Don’t feel pressured to buy

Take your time purchasing your next home; rent for awhile if you’d like extra time or want to try an area out first before buying. “Keep in mind that you have two years to defer tax on your house-sale profits,” Tyson and Brown point out.

7. Reevaluate your personal finances

If your situation changes before you buy another house – you get a promotion, have a baby, go through a divorce – you’ll need to rethink your finances and how much you can afford to pay for your new house.

8. Think about what you need from an agent to help you buy

Carefully consider whether the agent who helped sell your house can meet your needs when you’re buying. Buying and selling require different skills. And, if you’re moving to a new area, you may want someone familiar with the area.

9. Think through your next down payment

Brown and Tyson recommend putting at least 20 percent down on your next house in order to qualify for the best mortgage programs. If you can afford more than 20 percent, consider whether it’s better to put that money in the down payment or to invest the money elsewhere.

“Younger home buyers willing to take on more investment risk should lean toward a 20-percent down payment, whereas older home buyers, who tend to invest less aggressively, should opt for larger down payments,” the pair recommends.

10. Remember to send change-of-address notices

The U.S. Postal Service recommends you complete your change of address 30 days before you move.

What Is a Single-Family Home? Here Are the Characteristics That Define It

The phrase “single-family home” is something you’ll often see when browsing the market or as you search real estate listings. A single-family house might seem easy to define: It’s single-family housing, right? Eh, not exactly. To be classified as this type of home, there are requirements the structure must meet.

What are those requirements? Let’s take a look.

What is a single-family home?

The legal description for this home is “a structure maintained and used as a single dwelling unit.” So what does that mean, exactly? A single dwelling unit will have these characteristics:

No common walls: This home is a stand-alone, detached property, says agent Chrisoula Papoutsakis, a real estate agent with Triplemint in New York. This means that the home doesn’t share common walls or a roof with any other dwelling.

Land: A single-family home has no shared property but is built on its own parcel of land.

“The area around the building is for the private use of the owner,” says Kevin Adkins, CEO of Kenmore Law Group in Los Angeles.

Entrance and exit: A single-family home has its own private and direct access to a street or thoroughfare. This is as opposed to an apartment, which has hallways and a lobby that lead to street access.

Utilities: Only one set of utilities can service this home—and may not be shared in any way with another residence. This applies to heating, electricity, water, or any other essential service.

One owner: This home is built as the residence for one family, person, or household, whose owner has an undivided interest in the unit.

Single kitchen: This kind of home has one kitchen. Adding a kitchen to an in-law suite or carriage house will alter a home’s zoning classification.

Benefits of buying a single-family home

The type of home you buy depends on your budget and your needs. A house like this will suit a home buyer who’s seeking privacy. Since it is built on its own slice of land, you’ll have some distance from your neighbors.

You’ll also probably enjoy the extra storage space of an attic or garage in a this house, whereas a multifamily home has shared space.

Typical single-family homes on the market also come in many different architectural styles—whether ranchColonialmidcentury modernCape Cod—as opposed to the more straightforward design of a condo, townhomes, or apartment buildings.

Affordable housing offers lower housing costs, but these structures are usually not of the single-family type.

Disadvantages of buying a single-family home

While owning a single-family home will mean total independence, there are a few factors that can be seen as downsides. Condos, townhouses, or multifamily properties may come with common gyms or pools open to all owners; single-family homes don’t usually have community amenities.

The purchase price of a single-family home tends to be higher, since you’re buying an entire lot, says Papoutsakis. That translates into a larger down payment and closing costs, as well as recurring expenses like insurance and property taxes on the full area.

Searching for single-family homes

When you start a search of real estate listings for your family, you’ll see a zoning letter in the house’s description.

A single-family home will be zoned “R,” which refers to “Residential,” followed by a number, says real estate agent April Kozlowski Palomino at Coldwell Banker Residential in Winter Park, FL. An R1 rating indicates that the land allows for only one home.

Multifamily residences normally have an R2 rating, which means two residential dwellings can exist on the property, typically in the form of a duplex. And an R3 rating permits multifamily units such as apartments or condominiums.

What Does ‘Active Contingent’ Mean? A Home Sale With Conditions

Let’s say you’ve found your dream home online on the multiple listing service, but the status of the property is marked “active contingent.” What does “contingent” mean, and is the real estate still up for grabs? Does “active” paired with “contingent” mean that the property can still be yours, if you make the right offer to a seller?

Read on for some explanation about this real estate listing status and for some insight into making an offer that will make the seller and buyer happy when a property is labeled contingent.

What does active contingent mean?

If a home’s status is “active contingent,” it means that the buyer has submitted an offer to the seller with contingencies, or issues that must be resolved before the sale of the property can be finalized.

The most common reasons a home is labeled contingent are: the home passing an inspection, the buyer getting approved for a mortgage, and the buyer being able to sell his old home.

Once the contingency is resolved, whether it’s the buyers getting approved for a mortgage, selling their property, or the seller’s home passing inspection, the real estate sale can move forward. The status of the real estate will change from “contingent” to “pending.”

What’s the difference between active contingent and sale pending?

The biggest difference between contingent and pending listing statuses in the MLS has to do with the presence of a contingency in the sale. Some contingencies, such as a home inspection or a buyer’s approval for a mortgage, must be met. But if a house is described as “pending,” it means that no contingency exists or that all contingencies have been met, and a sale is pending. Some homes may also be listed as “short sale contingent,” in which case the buyers may be working to get approval for a mortgage, and sellers are seeking more offers.

This, of course, leads us to the big question: Should a buyer put in an offer on a property whose status is active contingent or pending? Often, your real estate agent can review the MLS and help you decide on the best move.

Putting in an offer on an active contingent listing

It’s important to not get your hopes up too high—because a contingent listing is, in fact, likely to sell. It doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t test the waters when making an offer on the property.

Brendan O’Donnell, a real estate agent with Center Coast Realty in Chicago, advises buyers to submit an offer to the seller, unless the seller’s real estate agents explicitly say they aren’t showing the property anymore.

“If a seller knows they have an attractive backup offer, they might be more willing to let that first deal fall by the wayside if something comes up during the contingency period—and go with the second buyer,” says O’Donnell.

When a property is labeled contingent, the key, he says, is to make the backup offer to the seller as attractive as possible.

“Submitting a fair price, waiving contingencies, agreeing to buy as is, and showcasing a solid, local lender go a long way in showing you are committed and are a worthy buyer,” he says.

Buyer, Beware: 5 Home-Buying Negotiation Tactics That Can Backfire

There’s no denying that buying a home is a costly endeavor—in fact, it’s likely the most expensive purchase you’ll ever make.

So it makes sense to try to negotiate where you can. Save a few bucks here, get a few things thrown in there, right? We hear ya—we’re all about making a smart offer that doesn’t leave you house-poor.

But when it comes time to negotiate, there are a few strategies you should avoid, lest you risk offending the seller and losing your shot at your dream home. This is especially true in a red-hot seller’s market, where the seller might have a number of tempting offers and is looking for anything that breaks the tie.

Of course, the key to smart negotiating is having the right team in place to advocate for you without alienating the other party. Sellers (and their agents) might be reluctant to deal with you if your agent is perceived as being difficult or—worse—shady, says Cara Ameer, a Realtor® in Ponte Vedra Beach, FL. And if a seller is dealing with multiple offers, that could be enough to get you sent to the bottom of the pile. So find out the word on the street about your agent by talking to people you trust.

And then help your agent help you into a great home by not trying to pull off one of these misguided maneuvers.

1. Making a lowball offer

How low can you go? That seems to be the game some buyers play, assuming that if they start really low, they’ll end up getting the house for a song. But lowballing seldom works.

Gary Lucido, president of Chicago-area firm Lucid Realty, says that buyer’s agents commonly dissuade their clients from this tactic because they fear it will “insult” the seller. But the problem might be bigger than just hurting someone’s feelings.

“The real issue in starting well below the market value is that it costs you credibility,” he says. “The seller either thinks you don’t know the market or you are looking to take advantage of someone, and in either case, they don’t want to deal with you.”

The bottom line: The seller has a number in mind, and whether you start at $1 or $300,000, it only matters if you can hit the seller’s lowest target selling price.

“You’re not going to lower their target by starting at a lower number,” Lucido says.

2. Asking for a bunch of add-ons

You’ve found a place that’s within your budget. What’s more, you’ve fallen in love with the home—and everything in it.

You might be feeling emboldened to ask for more than just the house, but you should resist that temptation, says Ameer. She’s seen buyers who think it’s a good idea to ask for furniture or appliances to be thrown in for free, or expect that the sellers will just leave their patio furniture because it “goes so well” with the house.

Apparently the adage “it doesn’t hurt to ask” doesn’t apply in this situation.

“Sellers become totally offended when you keep asking for more, and you risk alienating them,” Ameer says. “Even if they don’t like their patio furniture anymore, they’d typically rather sell it on Craigslist than leave it for a greedy buyer.”

Of course, you can always ask to buy their stuff—in that case, they’d probably be flattered!

3. Using the inspection as a renegotiation tool

So, your offer was accepted, but then you start to get cold feet and you subconsciously (or consciously!) start searching for flaws that you could use as leverage to lower the price.

“Most inspectors are going to find something to recommend—such as adding gutters, improving the drainage, or upgrading all the smoke detectors—but those aren’t repairs that the seller is responsible for,” Ameer says.

If the inspection turns up something major (like a cracked foundation), by all means that should be discussed. But you shouldn’t demand that the sellers fix every minor thing or lower their price.

“You can’t expect a perfect house,” Ameer says. “If you’re constantly nickel-and-diming the seller, they might decide you’re not someone they want to do business with.”

Mind you, the sellers generally can’t just back out because they’re unhappy, but if both parties are unable to come to an agreement regarding repairs, they can both decide to abandon the deal.

Remember how much you have already invested in the process, in terms of time and money, and be willing to let the little things go.

4. Negotiating with incremental amounts

Nobody wants to pay more than they have to for a home—why offer $350,000 when you could have it for $325,000? But if you engage in too much back-and-forth, you’ll risk alienating the seller. When buyers insist on making incremental counteroffers, they’re just giving sellers a chance to move on to the next buyer, says George Theodore, a senior real estate adviser in Miami.

So, for example, if you’re ultimately willing to go up $8,000, don’t make four additional offers of $2,000 each.

“This tactic just tires out both sides and prolongs the transaction since you usually give each party 48 hours to reply,” Theodore says. It “actually gets you nowhere tactically or psychologically.”

5. Making a ‘one-way offer’

Just as the seller has a target price in mind, you probably have a point at which you’ll be unwilling to budge. But one of the worst things you can do is advertise this to the seller.

Ameer calls this the “one-way offer,” where buyers dig in their heels and state right off the bat, “This is our offer, you have X amount of time to respond, and if you don’t take it, we’re moving on.”

“This just puts the seller on the defensive and usually is a path to a dead-end offer,” Ameer says.

It seems like an obvious no-no, right? Well, even in this red-hot seller’s market, Ameer has seen buyers push for this tactic despite her warnings—especially if the buyer is offering all cash, or if the property has been on the market for a while. She calls it the “seller-is-lucky-to-have-me syndrome.”

“Sometimes buyers have to try this tactic themselves to see how it really ends up before they decide to get with reality,” Ameer says.

Avoid These 6 Mistakes When Upsizing to a New Home

Tired of having your already cramped bedroom do double duty as a home office and at-home gym? It might be time to upsize. But while getting more space may seem enticing, upsizing can hold pitfalls for unwary home buyers.

“It is important to be aware of these mistakes because upsizing can be expensive, but if you plan it well, do your research, and shop around, it doesn’t have to be,” says Lior Rachmany, founder and CEO of Dumbo Moving and Storage in New York.

Mistake No. 1: Rushing to buy a bigger home

You can’t stop fantasizing about bigger spaces, but take a break for a reality check. You don’t want to ditch your current dwelling without understanding the market and thinking things through.

“Although the frenzy of the current real estate market creates motivation to move as quickly as possible, it is important to be diligent and thoughtful in your decision process,” says John Hollyer, senior portfolio manager at Bespoke Real Estate in New York. “Make sure you understand the market, comparable sales, and value of the house you may bid on. Your broker can assist with an analysis of sold properties and competing inventory.”

And in the rush, don’t get suckered into paying for any conveniences you don’t need, such as expediting certain services.

“A lot of times, when you want service to your old home or upsized home, you are paying more for speed,” says Rachmany.

Instead, allow yourself time to get those things done.

Mistake No. 2: Miscalculating your space needs

It’s important to be realistic about how much space you actually need.

“Assess your space in your current home, and what’s missing or necessary to improve upon it,” says Hollyer. It may turn out that the floor plan or your furniture layout is the problem, and not a lack of space. By the same token, make sure that space in a new home is laid out for maximum usability.

And once you move into that bigger space, live in it for a while, without buying extra furniture, to assess what pieces you really need, says Rachmany. He says furniture needs space to be used effectively, so you can move between pieces without squeezing through.  

“Also, plan your home for everyday use, not for special occasions. People have a habit of buying too much chairs and larger-than-needed sofas for company. But you can always use foldable chairs for that,” says Rachmany.

Mistake No. 3: Ignoring long-term factors

When making any major purchase, try to picture how your life might change in coming years.

“Buying a new home that won’t potentially fit your needs in the future will only lead to another purchase and move that could be avoided with proper forward thinking,” says Hollyer.

He says to make sure to have a realistic projection of how long you plan to stay in the new home, how your family’s needs might change in that time, and whether the home would continue to meet your requirements.

Another thing homeowners often forget is that upsizing brings extra costs that can snowball over time—bigger homes cost more to maintain. 

“Factor in for larger utility bills, and have [more] money set aside to do repairs when budgeting for your new home,” says Rachmany.

Mistake No. 4: Disregarding financing

Make sure to do your homework on financing, and don’t go in blind when trying to buy a bigger (read: more expensive) home.

“Without accurate information regarding what you are qualified for, you’ll be wasting time,” says Hollyer.

Rachmany suggests leaving it to the experts if you aren’t well-versed in applying for loans or mortgages. Consider using a financial consultant and/or a mortgage broker—ask around for referrals.

“It is very easy to get screwed over by interest rates when applying for loans,” says Rachmany.

And while mortgage rates are at historic lows, experts say you should still compare financing options, which can vary considerably.

“Bigger homes mean larger property taxes, larger mortgage, and larger homeowner insurance,” says Rachmany. “Only upsize your home if you have the budget, realistically, for it.”

Mistake No. 5: Neglecting your current home

Don’t let maintenance of your current home fall by the wayside in your rush to upsize.

Rachmany suggests keeping up the maintenance of your home, and if something breaks, to fix it before you move out.

“In order to capture your current home’s peak value, you want to keep it in top condition,” says Hollyer. “Investing in routine and proactive maintenance of your current property is necessary to provide more value to you when it’s time to sell.”

Mistake No. 6: Spending too much on items for the new home

Upsizing to a new home doesn’t give you carte blanche to go crazy and overspend.

“People have an initial ‘hotel’ experience with their new home, where they leave all their lights on, and just really change their living at home habits and become more wasteful,” says Rachmany.

He suggests holding off on buying all new stuff. Instead, replace items when they break or are no longer usable.

“Extra space doesn’t always need extra items. You don’t have to fill up your kitchen counter with gadgets just because you have extra space,” says Rachmany. “See how much your living expenses change, then get extra items if needed.”

Can I (and Should I) Tap My 401(k) To Buy a House?

Buying a house has never been easy, but it would be tough to find a time that was more challenging than 2022. Homebuyers have been put into a vise by multiple economic factors, including high home prices, a historic housing shortage coupled with a spike in demand, and climbing mortgage rates.

Bidding wars are common, and homebuyers are having to use creative tactics to find extra cash for down payments or appraisal gaps. Some homebuyers might even consider tapping their hard-earned 401(k) retirement fund. But is this really a wise decision?

We reached out to real estate and financial experts to learn about the consequences of taking money out of your 401(k) account to buy a house.

What is a 401(k)?

A 401(k) is a retirement savings plan offered by many employers. If you have one, it means that you agree to have a percentage of each paycheck deposited into the account. Typically, the employer matches some or all of that sum. Employees choose which funds to invest in, with the goal of creating a nest egg for retirement.

Many financial experts advise against withdrawing money from your 401(k) before age 59.5 as you will have to pay a 10% early withdrawal penalty on the sum you take out.

How to use money from your 401(k) to pay for a home

There are two ways to tap your 401(k) to buy a house. You can either take a 401(k) loan or withdraw the funds from your account.

If you opt for a 401(k) loan, know that the amount is limited in size and must be repaid with interest. The maximum loan amount is 50% of your vested account balance or $50,000—whichever amount is less. The repayment deadline is usually five years, and the interest rate varies; right now it’s between 6.5% and 7.5%

On the other hand, a withdrawal from your account is not limited in size, but it will incur that 10% penalty if you are younger than 59.5.

Does tapping your 401(k) affect your credit score?

Taking out conventional loans can affect your credit score, but a 401(k) loan has zero impact on your credit score.

“Getting a 401(k) loan won’t require a hard pull on your report,” says Jeff Zhouhere, a personal finance expert and CEO of New York City’s Fig Loans. “And if you default on your 401(k) loan, it won’t affect your credit history since the national credit reporting bureaus don’t track your 401(k) loan payments.”

Should you tap your 401(k) to buy a house?

Borrowing from your 401(k) isn’t advisable, but some experts say it can be done in a pinch.

“ I wouldn’t recommend it, but I will say that a loan from your 401(k) has a flexible repayment schedule,” says Zhouhere. “You can pay within the five years, or you can pay faster than that without penalty. You can also pay what you borrowed through payroll deductions, but using the after-tax dollars.”

Others urge homebuyers to never remove money from their 401(k) to buy a house.

“I’ve been representing lenders and borrowers for 15 years, and I’d never advise this,” says Matthew Carter, an attorney at Las Vegas’ Inc and Go.

Buyers “might think they are just borrowing the money from themselves, but they are really borrowing it from the future. They’re losing the interest and value they can build on that money to purchase a home that will likely put them into further debt,” adds Carter.

“Homeownership comes with a lot of unexpected costs, and borrowing from your future to suffer those costs is reckless,” he says.

Still, in the current competitive real estate market, tapping your 401(k) might be a worthwhile move, as long as you run the numbers and know that you can afford the fees.

Rising home values alone should make people seriously consider borrowing from their 401(k), says Chris Barnett at eXp Realty in Birmingham, AL.

“Even if you only own a home for a few years, it’s more than likely your home will be worth substantially more than when you purchased,” says Barnett. “I have seen sellers tap $100,000 to $200,000 in equity in their home here.”

“Tapping your 401(k) fund is ideal if you need quick cash for short-term liquidity,” Zhouhere says.

In this situation, a short-term 401(k) loan might be a means to help you make a lucrative long-term investment in a home. Plus, as an investment, real estate historically grows in value better than a 401(k). But, before you draw any money from your 401(k), be sure to consult a financial expert.

The Difference Between Cleaning, Sanitizing, and Disinfecting

Not all cleaning jobs are created equal. While some methods might seem interchangeable, there are actually some major distinctions between cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting your home.

“Cleaning refers to organizing and wiping down surfaces, like countertops, so that they appear neat and spotless,” says Kadi Dulude, owner of Wizard of Homes. “All-purpose cleaners are built to lift and remove visible smudges, spots, stains, and debris from surfaces.” Cleaning products can potentially remove germs from surfaces (along with dirt and other organic material) and wash them away, but the goal of cleaning is about the look and feel.

While cleaners will help make your surfaces look nice and shiny, there are some places at home (like your kitchen counters, faucet handles, and doorknobs) where you want to follow up your cleaning with a sanitizer or a disinfectant. Cleaning by itself won’t kill germs like bacteria, viruses, or fungi.

Sanitizing vs. Disinfecting

The difference between sanitizing and disinfecting comes down to semantics. Both sanitizing and disinfecting aim to reduce the amount of contamination present on a surface by killing germs, but disinfecting—by definition—kills more germs than sanitizing. Product manufacturers and agencies like the EPA use the word “sanitizing” to refer to a solution or device that reduces the amount of germs on a surface by 99.9 percent or more—a level that’s considered safe by public health standards. They use the word “disinfecting” for chemical products that are designed to “kill virtually everything” on a surface.

When to Sanitize

“Sanitizing is necessary for surfaces that come in contact with food,” Dulude says. “Created with pathogens that reduce germs and fungi, sanitizing sprays will make your surfaces safe to touch again.”

Sanitizing can also be done without chemicals, by an appliance like a dishwasher or laundry machine (on the “sanitize” cycle), or a steam cleaner, which bring contaminated surfaces into contact with extreme heat (at least 170 degrees) to kill bacteria and other germs. Steam cleaning is especially useful for removing germs from porous surfaces—like fabric, carpets and upholstery—which can’t be effectively disinfected with chemical products designated for hard surfaces. If the washer you’re using doesn’t have a sanitize cycle, a product like liquid laundry sanitizer can work alongside your normal detergent to help remove and kill germs from your clothing—the directions on Lysol’s Laundry Sanitizer instruct you to add it to your machine’s fabric softener dosing cup, or directly into the rinse cycle.

When to Disinfect

If you absolutely need to remove every last bit of contamination in a space, you’ll need a good disinfectant spray to get the job done. “A quality disinfectant spray should remove 100 percent of the microscopic organisms on your surfaces,” Dulude says. “While it may not be that helpful in the stain-removing department, it will effectively stop the spread of diseases and viruses—like colds and flus—wherever you use it.”

You may consider reaching for a disinfectant to treat high-touch areas like doorknobs, light switches, and bathroom faucets, especially when a member of the household has been sick. To be effective, disinfecting solutions need to remain in contact with the surface for a specified length of time. For instance, the instructions on a container of Clorox Wipes direct you to wipe the surface “using enough wipes for the treated surface to remain visibly wet for four minutes.”

You don’t want to skip the step of cleaning before you disinfect, though. Dirt and organic material can make some disinfectants less effective, so cleaning is necessary before disinfecting in most cases. Using “all-in-one” antibacterial cleaners isn’t enough to disinfect unless you first remove visible dirt from the surface (basically, you’d have to clean everything twice).

One Thing to Know Before You Disinfect Around Your Home

The EPA warns that the overuse of disinfectants is a growing public health concern—and that you should only use them when you absolutely need to, for that specific task. “Studies have found that the use of some disinfectant products is creating microbes that can mutate into forms that are resistant to particular disinfectants or that become superbugs,” according to an EPA fact sheet. “These resistant germs are also harder to kill with antibiotics.”

Is Bleach a Sanitizer or Disinfectant?

Household bleach can be used as a sanitizer or a disinfectant, depending on how much it’s diluted. But because concentrations of bleach can be inconsistent, and home dilution often inexact, if you need to be absolutely sure you’re disinfecting a surface, you’re better off following the instructions on a commercial disinfecting product.

11 Secrets from People Who Always Have Amazing-Smelling Homes

A few years ago, my best friend bought a new house and had me over to check it out. Right away, I noticed how amazing it smelled — like she’d been simmering citrus rinds and cinnamon on the stovetop all day (she hadn’t). After I got home, I couldn’t help but fixate on one thing about my own space: It didn’t smell good. My house didn’t stink, but it also didn’t smell memorably good like my friend’s — a problem I wanted to solve with haste. Sure, I’m not having any people over these days, but that’s no reason not to search for my home’s signature scent. I’ll probably be here for the indefinite future, so I may as well enjoy sniffing it.

Curious how folks like my friend keep their homes smelling amazing? Here are some of those people’s best tips.

1. Absorb bad smells with baking soda.

Sometimes, keeping your space in amazing-smelling condition means preventing the odors that don’t smell good from taking over the atmosphere — especially if you regularly cook with distinct-smelling spices like food blogger Vered DeLeeuw. Her secret? A few bowls of baking soda scattered around the house and replaced weekly. “This is especially helpful in the pantry and in a small kitchen,” she says. “Baking soda does a wonderful job of absorbing, not masking, odors — plus, it’s easy to find and cheap!”

2. Make a DIY room spray.

Steve Schwartz, founder and master tea blender at the Los Angeles-based tea purveyor Art of Tea, swears by a DIY concentrate of botanicals such as eucalyptus, lavender, and lemon myrtle. First, he steeps the herbs in hot water (just like making tea) then transfers the mix to a spray bottle for freshening up the kitchen.

Another interesting fact from Schwartz: Tea is also a natural odor absorber, so you can use old dried tea leaves to nix smells in your fridge instead of baking soda. Who knew?

3. Simmer spent lemons.

Don’t throw away those lemon rinds! Chef Carla Contreras uses the lemons she squeezes for lemon waters to make her kitchen smell amazing. “I place the lemons in a giant stock pot and fill it up with water, then let them simmer on low on my stove for hours,” she says. “It’s such a beautiful smell for something that might go to waste.”

4. Roast coffee beans.

Another trick Contreras loves is one she learned in her days as a barista. Just take a couple of coffee beans and place them in the oven at 400 degrees for seven to 10 minutes, then leave the oven door open afterwards for an energizing, coffee house smell. 

5. Whip up a stovetop potpourri.

Simmering warm, spicy herbs in a pot on the stovetop is one of the best ways to make your home smell good while adding a touch of seasonal nostalgia. Haeley Giambalvo, founder of Design Improvised, likes to simmer a pot on low with apple slices, orange peels, cinnamon sticks, and cloves, but you can also play with anise, nutmeg, rosemary, vanilla beans, and even cranberries!

6. Warm up vanilla extract.

When he’s at home, travel blogger Philip Weiss puts a few drops of vanilla extract in a dish, then bakes it for half an hour in the oven. The vanilla releases a subtle-but-cozy scent that’ll *almost* trick you into thinking someone baked a delicious cake.

Put a citrusy twist on your vanilla cake vibes by adding lemon zest and a capful of vanilla extract to a ramekin along with some water. “Set the ramekin on a small baking sheet and slide it into a 300-degree oven, and you get to enjoy an hour or so of deliciousness in the air,” says cookbook author Lisa Chernick.

7. Purify air with activated charcoal.

According to Albert Lee, founder of Home Living Lab, one of the most effective and affordable odor busters in the kitchen is activated charcoal, which is electrically nonpolar and can absorb most common kitchen vapors and gases. For a quick fix in a smelly kitchen, Lee hangs a pound of activated charcoal in a porous bag by his kitchen window. You can also put activated charcoal in a few bowls around your kitchen near potential odor sources, like your garbage disposal or your trash.

8. Use a cup of vinegar.

You probably already use vinegar to clean. According to David Cusick, chief strategy officer at House Method, you can also use it to deodorize. His go-to trick: “After cooking, especially with a greasy dish, simmer white vinegar on the stove to help remove the smell,” he says. “You can also leave a glass of vinegar on the counter overnight to wake up with a fresher-smelling kitchen.”

Why is vinegar so effective? Cusick says it’s chemistry 101. Vinegar is acetic acid, which binds with bad odor molecules. But don’t worry! The smell of vinegar won’t stick around; it’ll just absorb the yuck.

9. Bake cookies (yes, really).

Author and naturalist Lora Hein learned one of her favorite tricks from a realtor, who would pop a sheet of chocolate chip cookies in the oven minutes before an open house for an enticing, homey smell. If you don’t need all those cookies on hand every day, Hein suggests freezing a roll of cookie dough and just putting two or three slices in the toaster oven for a delicious snack and an amazing-smelling kitchen.

10. Diffuse essential oils.

Essential oils, or concentrated plants and herbs, are a common way to lend a fresh smell to your space if you’re not a fan of perfumed candles or air fresheners. Ian Kelly, VP of operations at NuLeaf Naturals, says he uses essential oil diffusers throughout his home, keeping it natural and simple with oils like grapefruit, rosemary, lemon, mint, and cinnamon orange.

11. Hang dried herbs.

Founder of Colony Roofers (and avid home chef) Zach Reece likes to hang dried herbs like olive branches, sage, and bay leaf. Just tie a bunch of them and hang them at face-level somewhere in the kitchen. Not only will your space smell and look amazing, but you’ll also be able to grab the herbs as needed for cooking!  

The 5 Best Lawn Care Resources To Help Keep Your Grass Green and Healthy

Some people say the grass is always greener on the other side, but when it comes to your own lawn, you don’t plan on living by those words. You want your yard to flourish with lush, healthy grass from the get-go, and for years to come. But as it turns out, getting that green is not so easy.

If you are new to lawn maintenance or want to deepen your knowledge, you should get guidance from the pros and other trustworthy resources.

While it’s great to ask your neighbor with the nice lawn for advice, it’s hard to know if his methods will work for you or whether he’s doing things right in the first place,” says Barbara Roueche, Troy-Bilt brand manager.

Lawn experts know about testing soil, what grasses are best for a particular region, what type of grass seed to buy, when to seed and fertilize your lawn, how to mow, and sprinkler tips. Here’s where to find the most valuable information.

1. USDA plant hardiness zone map

Not sure what types of grasses are best for your region? Don’t worry, there’s a map for that.

The USDA plant hardiness zone map is the standard by which gardeners and growers can determine which plants can do well in a certain location. Its zones are based on average annual minimum winter temperatures.

“Growing zones help you choose the right plants or grass for where you live and help you care for them properly to either augment or offset the natural conditions,” says Erin Schanen, creator of The Impatient Gardener blog and YouTube channel, and a volunteer master gardener.

Roueche recommends saving the information to your phone so you’ll always have it handy when you take a trip to the garden center or when you have to decide when to perform yard maintenance.

2. How-to videos from trusted sources 

Seriously, how did we ever do anything before YouTube? There are many how-to videos about lawn maintenance on the platform, but stick to the true professionals—like master gardeners, horticulturalists, or landscape designers—for advice.

“The benefit of things like YouTube videos or live help sessions is that you can troubleshoot with real pros and pause or replay videos to go at your own pace,” says Roueche. 

She also suggests studying up on your yard equipment by going to the source.

“When it comes to equipment questions in particular, be sure to seek information from the manufacturer of your equipment and have your model number handy,” says Roueche.

She says Troy-Bilt has articles on its website and YouTube videos tailored to specific models about routine maintenance or other equipment questions. You can also consult your equipment’s owners manual or find a downloadable version online.

3. Smart home devices

“Some homeowners rely on smart devices for so much in their daily lives that it just works best to integrate these devices and virtual assistant programs into yard care,” says Schanen.

Smart home devices like Alexa and Google Home can help automate regular tasks like watering the grass or sending equipment maintenance reminders. 

“Like any task that needs to get done regularly, finding a way to automate it or build it into your existing routines will make it easier to accomplish. Think about the technology you regularly use, and seek out solutions in those platforms for the tasks or questions you need help with,” says Roueche.  

4. Local university extension programs

Most state universities have extension programs offering garden services to the public, including the master gardener program.

Schanen says a simple internet search for a public university system plus “extension” can help you find a local university extension program or master gardener groups. For example, Utah State University Extension has a website devoted to yard and garden issues, and a detailed webpage on lawn care.

“These organizations offer science-based answers, solutions, and advice. Plus, they’re experts in local flora. Since they work with the public every day, they will have a good handle on diseases causing problems in the area, weather-related problems, and the plants that do well in the area,” says Schanen.

University extension schools often have fact sheets on some of the most typical homeowner questions, from the best type of grass to grow in the area to common diseases and how to succeed with specific vegetable or fruit crops, Schanen says. They also typically offer seminars for the public, as well as access to a library of educational articles.

5. Gardening influencers 

Influencers can offer their advice on everything under the sun, but their tips can be hit or miss. However, if you look carefully, sometimes you can find some true lawn and garden pros sharing their green thumb knowledge online. 

“By connecting with experts on social media, you get to follow along in real time to see what a whole season or year of gardening and lawn care looks like,” says Roueche.

Look for experts on platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok who own garden and lawn care businesses or have had a large following for many years.

“Some folks may share their journeys rehabbing their lawn with natural weed remedies and fertilizer or how to use equipment properly,” says Roueche. “This kind of in-depth content can help novice gardeners understand what tasks may be right for their skill level, their schedule, and their yard.”

9 Great Places To Buy (or Find) Used Patio Furniture

Maybe you spent all the pandemic making your backyard an oasis, with lush landscaping and even a victory garden. What’s missing: some comfortable patio furniture to truly enjoy it.

“Spring and summer always brings people outside, which sparks their interest in looking for outdoor furniture,” says Serena Appiah, owner of “Thrift Diving,” a blog about designing your home on a DIY budget. “But the cost to buy brand-new is always expensive, even if you buy furniture from discount stores.”

Appiah says she recently saw some heavy-duty plastic Adirondack chairs from a discount bulk store, priced at $130 each.

“Imagine being a family of five and having to spend about $700 on new chairs. That’s not easy and feasible for most people!” she says.

So if your budget is tight—or you just like snagging a good deal—you may want to think about getting used outdoor furniture. Secondhand shopping can be a great way to find less expensive patio furniture and keep those items out of landfills.

You may even stumble upon a diamond in the rough—used designer or quality vintage furniture. If it’s high time to outfit your patio with some new furniture, consider treasure hunting online and in person at the following places.

OfferUp 

There are a number of online marketplaces for local buyers and sellers where you can search for and buy used outdoor furniture. One of those marketplaces is OfferUp.

Users can search for used furniture in their region by price range, message sellers to negotiate price, and set a time to meet. Unsure if the person you’re dealing with is shady? You can see ratings, badges, and transaction history on the seller’s profile page.

To give you a taste of the pricing, in the San Diego area, a seller on OfferUp recently listed a teak bench with outdoor pillows for $50 and a five-piece patio set for $150.

Chairish

If you’re looking for used patio furniture that’s at the upper end of the scale, you can browse Chairish, another online marketplace for used vintage furniture and antiques. Anna Brockway, its co-founder and president, says the company has an assortment of vintage outdoor furniture, and that much of it is available for local pickup.

“We have everything from one-of-a-kind wicker and iron pieces to sought-after designers like Brown Jordan and Salterini,” says Brockway. “Our selection includes seating, dining tables, side tables, stools, planters, and even outdoor rugs and pillows that are durable enough for the elements.”

Brockway says the best reason to go with vintage and pre-loved items is sustainability.

“When you choose vintage over new, you’re powering the circular economy and giving the items another life. Outdoor furniture is made to last and withstand the elements, so it is likely to be in great condition,” she says.

Craigslist, eBay, Facebook Marketplace

As for other options, some of the original sites for finding used items—like Craigslist, eBay, and Facebook Marketplace—may come in handy.

“You’re more likely to find whole patio sets in good condition on Facebook Marketplace, but be prepared to spend a bit more, as Facebook Marketplace can be pricier than a thrift store,” says Appiah.

She also recommends posting an announcement on Facebook to friends and family to see if someone’s got an old set they’re looking to part with.

“Offer them a reasonable price—don’t undercut them,” she says.

Thrift stores

Stores like Salvation Army Thrift Store, Goodwill, and Habitat for Humanity ReStore may have some good finds too.

“While you may be less likely to find five matching Adirondack chairs, you might find different styles that can be spray-painted the same color for a unified look,” says Appiah. You might also be successful in finding one-offs, like an outdoor sofa or rug.

Yard sales, flea markets, and estate sales

Never underestimate a good yard sale, flea market, or estate sale. If you’re patient, there are many treasures to be found.

Be on the lookout for yard sales, when people who are moving may want to quickly get rid of items on the cheap. But get ready to haggle. Make sure to check local classifieds or community calendars for dates and times. Craigslist is also a good resource for garage sales in your area.

If you’re an estate sale enthusiast, check out estatesales.net online or on its app. You can sort sales by date, and take a look at photos of items that will be offered. There’s also a description of each sale that mentions if it’s cash-only or accepts credit cards. Remember to arrive early, and keep in mind that on the last day of an estate sale, prices can often drop 50% in the final hours.

If you do end up finding used patio furniture that’s a little worse for wear, Appiah says there’s always potential for a makeover.

“Spray paint is your best friend! Painting your patio furniture the same color can help to unify mismatched pieces,” she says.