How to Make Your Cookie-Cutter Home Stand Out

If you live in a subdivision – whether new or old – odds are your home’s layout is pretty similar to the rest of the homes on the block. Even the exterior finishes and elevation may be similar.

While you may have decorated and furnished your home in a unique way to make it your own, buyers might still not be able to see past the idea that your home looks just like all the others.

And if there are a number of homes in your neighborhood that are for sale, you might find the competition a bit tough to contend with.

If your home doesn’t seem to come from a different mold than all the others in the neighborhood, how can you make sure that it stands out?

Bring Your Landscaping Up to Snuff

Curb appeal is the first thing you should focus on when trying to make your cookie cutter home stand out from the crowd. And one of the first things you can do is rev up your landscaping. Following a strategic plan, add bushes, flower beds, walkways, stonework, and exterior lighting to your front yard.

You can hire a professional to do this for you, or you can invest a little elbow grease to dramatically cut the costs. Either way, a solid landscaping job is a sure-fire way to bring your home to the forefront in your neighborhood.

Flank Your Windows With Shutters

You can instantly make your home stand out from the crowd from an exterior point of view by installing shutters on your windows. They’re relatively simple to install, and if painted in a bold color, they can really help to draw buyers’ eyes to your home.

Paint Your Front Door (and Garage Doors if You Have Any)

One of the fastest, easiest, and most effective way to make your home stand out from the exterior is to paint your front door in a bold, vibrant color, such as red or green. Odds are everyone else’s front doors are painted in a neutral color, so painting yours in a bright hue can really make your home pop from the curb.

Go Floor-to-Ceiling With Stone on an Accent Wall

This usually works quite well in a living or family room. Choose a wall to highlight (a wall with a fireplace usually works best), and install stone all the way from the floor right up to the ceiling. There are all sorts of different types of stone you can choose from to create a unique look that suits your tastes. Many stone materials come in sheets for easy installation.

Alternatively, you can always install wallpaper on the accent wall for a quicker job. If this is the route you take, consider wallpaper with a bold pattern to really make the space pop.

Install Faux Wood Beams to Your Ceiling

Wood beams on ceilings are a fabulous feature that aren’t exactly the norm in homes. They’re a unique feature that works really well to boost the look and feel of an interior. If the other homes on the block don’t have wood beams on their ceilings, installing them on yours can really make your home stand out.

You can always use real wood of course, but faux wood is much easier and cheaper to install. They really look like the real thing and still do just as good a job at boosting the esthetics of your space.

Add Crown Molding and Wainscotting

There’s a huge visual difference between a plain wall and one that’s been decked out in crown molding and wainscoting. These are finishes that can not only make the space stand out, but they’re great at making an interior appear much more sophisticated and stylish.

Change the Knobs and Handles

These days, you can find the most unique and stand-out knobs and handles on the market that you can affix to all of your kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom cabinets, drawers, and doors. They may seem insignificant, but you’d be amazed at what an incredible difference they can make to a space.

Install New Light Fixtures

Another seemingly underestimated feature of a home is its light fixtures. While lighting is obviously important and necessary, the type of light fixture you install can really boost the style factor in your home. If your current light fixtures are still the same ones from the builder or the previous owner, odds are they’re pretty similar to the ones in other homes up for sale in the area.

An easy fix is to simply swap your current fixtures with more modern models. And try to layer your lighting as well by installing a variety of fixtures, such as pendant lamps, wall sconces, under-cabinet lighting, and chandeliers.

The Bottom Line

Short of knocking down walls and adding additions, there are much simpler and less invasive ways to make your cookie cutter home seem a little more unique. When in doubt, consider calling a home stager who can really bring your home’s aesthetics to a whole new level.

Loopholes in Homeowners Insurance Policies

As a homeowner, you obviously need a homeowners insurance policy. It’s a no-brainer, and it’s also required if you want to keep your mortgage.

Even when you buy a home, your lender will want to make sure that the home you intend to purchase can be insured. No insurance means no mortgage.

But as crucial and helpful as these policies may be, they’re not always foolproof. In fact, it’s not uncommon for homeowners to be unpleasantly surprised and even downright shocked when they put in a claim only to find out that they’re not entirely covered for their particular issue.

This can be disheartening, especially when you consider how much you pay in monthly premiums.

That’s why it’s important to understand homeowners insurance policies and some of the loopholes that many of them come with that could land you with no money back from coverage.


It’s not common to find general policies that offer insurance coverage for flooding. If you live in a flood-prone area, you’ll probably want to purchase a rider on your policy that will provide you with this extra coverage.


Just like floods, earthquake coverage usually requires that you have a completely separate policy if this is the type of coverage you’re looking for. Standard policies are somewhat limited in what they cover, so you’ll definitely want to read your policy over in great detail in order to find out if you’re eligible for coverage for earthquakes, especially on the west coast.

Coverage Caps

Sometimes insurance companies will put a cap on how much coverage they provide on specific claims. For example, if your home was robbed and you had $10,000 worth of electronics stolen, your insurance policy might only cover up to $5,000. It’s important to discuss these little details with your insurance provider to find out exactly what coverage caps exist if any, before you ever have to file a claim.

Issues That May Have Existed Before Your Policy Was Taken Out

If your insurance provider deems an issue to have existed before you took out an insurance policy, you might find yourself without any coverage. So many things can fall under this umbrella. For example, any damage done to the structure of your home from termites, moisture, or even carpenter bees could be a bit of a challenge to argue. Your insurance provider might debate how long such issues have been going on in your home.

It’s possible that the issue started long before your policy was taken out and you just happened to notice it recently. Either way, it’s possible for insurance companies to question when such issues started relative to the start date of your policy and deny a claim as a result.

Damage Done While Home is Vacant

If your home was damaged by a flood, windstorm, hurricane, or any other natural disaster, you might find yourself fighting for damages if it was vacant when disaster struck. Many insurance companies have stipulations about the maximum number of days a home can be vacant and still be covered. It’s best to speak to your agent if you plan on going on an extended holiday to verify that you’ll still be fully covered in case a natural disaster or weather-related incident occurs.

Events That Occur at the Same Time

Many insurance companies have what’s known as an anti-concurrent causation clause, which simply means that two events that happen simultaneously and cause damage will not be covered. If you put in a claim for damage done by two events, you may find yourself with a denied claim if one of the events is covered while the other isn’t.

The Bottom Line

Obviously, you need an insurance policy on your home. But the type of policy you have and the coverage it provides are crucial. Be sure to get all the nitty gritty details of your policy to make sure you fully understand exactly what is covered, and what isn’t. And if you think your standard policy isn’t quite enough, consider taking out riders or separate policies to ensure more comprehensive coverage.

INFOGRAPHIC: What Do First-Time Homebuyers Look Like?

How Long Does it Take to Sell Your Home?

When sellers list their homes on the market, they’re usually concerned with two main things: how much they can sell for, and how long it will take to sell.

Sellers will usually want to know the answers to these questions right off the bat, and for obvious reasons. But when it comes to how long it will take to get an offer and seal the deal, the answer isn’t always clear-cut.

Frankly, the amount of time it takes to sell depends on a few factors, including the following.

The Listing Price

Buyers are always looking for a good deal on a home. The same is true in any type of consumer market, whether it’s real estate, clothing, electronics, and any other consumer product. The lower the price, the more attractive the product will appear and the more willing buyers will be to open up their wallets.

In terms of real estate, the same concept applies. If your home is priced at a point that makes buyers think they’re potentially getting a good deal, your home could sell faster. On the other hand, if your listing price is quite high, that could be a deterrent for buyers.

While you don’t want to price your home so high that you leave many buyers out of the race, you also don’t want to price so low that you end up leaving money on the table. Unless you’re in an incredible rush to sell, it would be in your best interests to find that sweet spot so that you still make a profit while selling within a reasonable amount of time.

Either way, your listing price will influence how quickly your home will sell.

The Current Market

Is the housing market in your area currently favoring buyers or sellers? This is an important factor that influences how long it can take for homes to sell. Generally speaking, homes sell faster in seller’s markets, while they may take longer to sell in buyer’s markets.

In a seller’s market, there are many buyers on the prowl for a home who are competing with one another for the few properties that are available for sale. With high demand and low supply comes higher prices and faster sales.

On the other hand, a buyer’s market usually means that homes take longer to sell, simply because there are few buyers compared to the wealth of inventory available. In this case, prices are expected to be lower as well.

The climate of the market in your area can play a role in how long you can expect it to take to sell your home. Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule. But generally speaking, the climate of the current market will be an important factor to consider.

The Average in the Area

Every area has its own characteristics in terms of the local real estate market. While some areas might take longer for sellers to find a buyer, other areas tend to see homes getting snatched up rather quickly. Every area is different and will have its own average number of “days on the market” (DOM) before homes are sold.

Sellers will want to know what the average DOM is in their particular community in order to gauge how long they can expect it to take to sell. For instance, the average DOM in an area may be 30 days, which means it should take somewhere in the ballpark of 30 days to sell a home, assuming that all other factors remain the same. If your home has been sitting on the market for longer than 30 days, there could be a problem with your listing that may warrant closer investigation.

Looking at the average DOM in your area can give you a general idea of how long you can expect your home to sit on the market before finding a willing buyer and completing the transaction.

The Condition of Your Home

Most buyers want to see homes that are move-in ready. They typically don’t want to have to spend any time sprucing up the place after moving in. Unless the buyer is specifically looking for a place to fix and flip, you’re probably going to find that most buyers are looking for a turn-key home.

If your home is in need of some TLC, you can expect it to take longer to sell. On the other hand, if your home is up-to-date, clean, clear of clutter, and decorated appropriately, it shouldn’t take as long to sell compared to a home that’s in dire need of an update.

The Location

Desirable locations tend to favor quicker sales compared to areas that are not as attractive. Sometimes even homes that are in great condition can be tough to sell if they’re located in sketchy neighborhoods, while homes that need some improvement but are located in attractive areas may not take as long to sell.

The Bottom Line

Several factors come into play when it comes to gauging how long it will take to sell your home. It’s important to take them all into consideration when anticipating the length of time you can expect your home to sit on the market before finding a willing buyer. Having an idea of the time it will take to sell can be very helpful, especially if you’ve got a new home purchase lined up after selling your current one.

How Much Are Famous Homes in Movies and TV Actually Worth?

Ever wonder how much those amazing homes you see on television or in the movies are really worth in real life? The Tanner’s home from Full House or the classic abode from Home Alone are classic examples of homes that are unforgettable and truly memorable.

But how much would you have to dish out if you were to ever put an offer on one?

While none of these homes are necessary for sale at the moment, it’s still interesting to know how much they’re worth.

Full House

The interior of the infamous Tanner home was filmed in a studio in Burbank, California, but the exterior that’s often seen in clips of the hit television show Full House (as well as the spinoff Fuller House) is located in San Francisco where the show is based out of.

As you probably imagined, the home is worth a lot of money. Considering the fact that it’s located in the country’s most expensive housing market, it should come as no surprise that the home is worth nearly $4 million.

Happy Days

The lovely two-story colonial home from the classic 1950’s-based television show Happy Days is located in L.A. and is worth a whopping $3.1 million. You may remember that the show actually took place in Milwaukee, but the home that was featured in the show was nowhere near this northern state.

American Horror Story

The castle-esque home featured in American Horror Story has actually been featured in a few other shows and movies and is located in L.A. as well. The home is sometimes made available for vacation rentals. The value? Just over $2.26 million.

Breaking Bad

Located in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the single-level, white-siding home is worth just over $211,000. The actual interior of the home doesn’t look anything like what you see in the show – much like most other television homes – and was just used for the exterior. However, there is a pool out back.

Boy Meets World

Many homes that are featured on television are located right here in the Golden State, and the home in the popular sitcom Boy Meets World is no exception. In this case, producers had the convenience of working with the home in close proximity to the studio where the show was filmed in Studio City.

Like many other homes featured in film and television, this particular home was made to appear a lot larger than it really is. With only two bedrooms, the home is much smaller than television viewers would believe. This home is currently valued at over $1.15 million.

Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

When Will Smith’s character pulled up to the home in Bel-Air where he spent his high school years with his Uncle Phil and the gang, he was actually making his way into a home located in nearby Brentwood.

The esteemed Banks’ residence was portrayed as ritzy and expensive, and it is in real life as well. At a price tag of an impressive $11.7 million, only someone with at least the income of a prestigious judge like Phillip Banks could afford it. 

Home Alone

The gorgeous 4,250-square-foot, three-story home featured in the popular Home Alone movie is located in Winnetka, Illinois, close to Lake Michigan. The last time the home was sold was back in 2011 when it sold for $1.5 million, nearly $1 million under the original asking price of $2.1 million.

Today, its estimated that the home is worth about $2.2 million, which seems extremely reasonable for a large, fabulous home that comfortably housed the large McCallister family.

The Goonies

The quirky home was at serious risk of being sold off in the cult classic The Goonies. Located in Astoria, Oregon, the home is currently worth a modest $277,000, though that’s a far cry from the $92,000 it fetched when it last sold back in 2001.

Back to the Future

The residence of Marty McFly and his family is a home located in L.A. but was only used for its exterior. All interior shots were filmed elsewhere. The home is worth over $482,000, just over the median price in the city.

Mrs. Doubtfire

The beautiful white corner house depicted in the family film Mrs. Doubtfire is now a place where fans of the late and great Robin Williams pay homage since the lead actor’s passing. The last time it sold, it fetched a price of $4.15 million. It’s now estimated to be worth in the ballpark of $5.16 million and is located in San Francisco.

The Bottom Line

Some of our favorite movies and TV shows have left a lasting impression, partly because of the classic abodes that were featured in them. While most of these homes were used strictly for exterior shots, they’re still real, and many of them are worth a pretty penny.

Home Equity Loan Vs. Home Equity Line of Credit: What’s the Difference?

Did you know that you can borrow money against the equity you’ve got built up in your home?

If you’re a homeowner and have accrued equity as a result of appreciation, a long string of payments, or both, you may be able to take advantage of certain loan types to gain access to lots of cash to cover a pressing expense.

Whether you want to renovate your home, pay for your child’s college tuition, or just go on a big family vacation, you can access that money from your home’s equity if you don’t have enough cash in the bank.

Two of these specialized loan types are home equity loans and home equity lines of credit (HELOC). The question is, what’s the difference between the two?

What’s a Home Equity Loan?

A home equity loan allows you to borrow against the equity in your home. It’s a type of second mortgage that can provide you with access to a lump sum of money and is usually a bit easier to qualify for compared to other loan types simply because it’s secured by collateral: your home.

Your home must be worth more than what you owe on it in order to be eligible. If you qualify, you can use the money for whatever you need it for. That said, you will need to make sure that you’re financially capable and responsible enough to make the payments on time every month. If you don’t, you stand to lose your home.

What’s a Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC)?

A HELOC is similar to a home equity loan in that it allows you to borrow money against your home’s equity, while your home serves as collateral. However, instead of receiving a lump sum of money, you would have access to a revolving credit line. You would be given a specific credit limit that you cannot borrow over.

You can borrow as little or as much as you like, as long as it’s not any more than your credit limit. You’ll only be charged interest on the money you actually withdraw rather than the full credit limit. Once you make payments against your HELOC for the funds borrowed, you’re free to borrow again and again, as long as your payments are made on time.

You may have the option to repay interest only, rather than principal and interest. However, this method would take longer to repay whatever you owe and would, therefore, make your mortgage more expensive.

As the principal is paid down, your credit will revolve, which means you’ll be able to use it again and again. After the line of credit expires, the repayment period starts, in which you’ll repay the remaining balance you borrowed, plus interest. You might be able to renew the credit line if your lender approves it.

How Do You Know How Much Equity is in Your Home?

Before you apply for any one of these two unique loan types, you’ll need to figure out exactly how much equity you’ve got in your home. Usually, a professional appraisal will need to be conducted in order to get an accurate and precise number to work with. An appraiser or even a real estate agent will be able to assess your home’s value based on current market conditions.

Once you’ve established your home’s value, you would then subtract the amount that you still owe on your mortgage. Whatever the answer is would be the equity you have to tap into.

Different lenders may have their own eligibility requirements when it comes to how much you can borrow. Your financial history will also play a key role in how much your lender will allow you to borrow against your equity. Generally speaking, lenders allow homeowners to borrow up to 85% of the equity in a home. The more money you borrow, the higher your loan-to-value ratio would be, which can put both you and your lender at greater risk.

To illustrate, let’s say your home has been appraised at a value of $500,000, and you currently still owe $250,000. As it stands right now, your loan-to-value ratio (LTV) would be 50%. If your lender allows you to max out at an LTV of 80%, that means you may be able to borrow no more than 30% of your home equity, or $150,000.

The Bottom Line

To borrow against the equity in your home, you can opt for either a home equity loan or a HELOC. Either one will allow you to gain access to funds needed to cover expensive costs, but they have certain differences. Be sure to speak with your mortgage broker to determine which program is best suited for you.



3420 Virgil Cir, Pleasanton, CA 94588


3 beds 2 baths 2,158 sqft

Adorable and charming single-story 3 bed/2.5 bath ranch home in desirable Parkside neighborhood! Well cared for home that’s clean and move-in ready! Beautifully updated and modern kitchen with solid counters, tile backslash and new cabinets. Kitchen has separate eating area and opens to family room. Family room has fireplace, built-in desk/cabinets and slider out to backyard. Large master bedroom with retreat/sitting area and also slider out to backyard. Relaxing backyard deck w/trek durable decking and roof overhang …


Why a Lower Interest Rate Might Not Make Your Mortgage Cheaper

The amount of money you borrow to finance a home purchase is obviously the key factor in how much your mortgage payments will be. But your interest rate will also play an important role in how expensive your overall mortgage will be.

Obviously, a lower interest rate will translate in lower interest being paid, while high rates will make the overall loan amount more expensive.

But the interest rate that you’re charged isn’t the only factor that will influence the overall cost of your mortgage. In fact, it’s possible for some mortgages with lower interest rates to be even more expensive than those with a higher rate.

How is this possible?

In addition to the interest rate, there are plenty of other fees associated with mortgages that borrowers need to get familiar with in order to understand the exact cost of one mortgage product compared to another.

Shopping for mortgages is definitely a good idea to help you compare different mortgages, but interest rates aren’t the only factors to consider. There are other fees involved that should be considered when choosing a specific mortgage.

Penalty Fees

Mortgages come with rules that borrowers need to adhere to in order to avoid paying any penalty fees. Otherwise, additional costs can be tacked on, making the mortgage more expensive despite a lower interest rate.

For instance, just about every mortgage product charges penalty fees if borrowers break their mortgage early. Borrowers who take out a mortgage may have had no intentions of breaking their mortgage early when they first apply, but life can throw curve balls that may change circumstances.

Job loss, job relocation, divorce, medical issues, and a death in the family can all change the course of life for many homeowners. In these cases, an unexpected move may be required, which would require the mortgage to be broken before its expiry date. When this happens, a penalty fee will be charged.

Generally speaking, adjustable-rate mortgages often come with penalty fees of three months’ worth of interest, while penalty fees for fixed-rate mortgages could be whatever the lender deems to have lost in interest as a result of you breaking the mortgage early. You’d be well advised to speak with your mortgage broker to find out exactly how much this is.

Mortgage Term

Your mortgage term can make a difference in how much you pay in total. For instance, if you take a one-year term in order to take advantage of a lower interest rate than a five-year term, you could really save quite a bit of money. But if rates increase after that year is up and you have to renew your mortgage with a new term, you’ll be spending more.

On the other hand, you could go with a five-year fixed rate in order to take advantage of the security of predictable payments. But if rates fall soon after, you’ll be paying more than you would have if you chose a shorter term.

Loan Origination Fees

Mortgage brokers get paid commissions for the services they provide. These “loan origination fees” usually work out to be about 1% of the mortgage amount and are paid by the borrower.

However, mortgage brokers can negotiate no-cost loans in order for borrowers to avoid having to pay these fees upfront and to make these fees the responsibility of the lender to pay when the deal closes. But this scenario will almost always translate into a higher interest rate, which will end up costing you more over time.

Application Fees

There is a cost associated with actually applying for a mortgage. These administrative costs will be factored into your overall loan amount.

Appraisal Fees

Lenders require that homes they supply mortgages for are appraised by a professional in order to ensure that the property is worth at least as much as what the buyer agreed to pay for it. But there’s a fee associated with appraisals, which can range from anywhere between $400 to $600 and more, depending on the scope of the property.

Private Mortgage Insurance

If you put less than a 20% down payment towards the purchase price of your home, you’ll have to pay private mortgage insurance (PMI). This premium will be added to your monthly mortgage payment amounts and will make your overall mortgage more expensive.

The purpose of PMI is to protect the lender in case you default on your mortgage at some point. The higher the loan-to-value ratio – which is the loan amount relative to the value of the property purchased – the higher the risk associated with the mortgage. In order to mitigate this risk, lenders require PMI premiums on top of mortgage payments.

The actual amount you have to pay will vary depending on the exact circumstances of your mortgage, but PMI can cost anywhere between 0.5% to as much as 5% of the loan amount and is paid annually. That means a $200,000 loan amount at a 1% premium, for instance, would cost you $2,000 per year (or about $167 per month).

The Bottom Line

Your interest rate and the loan amount are definitely key factors in the overall cost of your mortgage. But there are several other costs that you will need to consider in order to get a clear picture of precisely how much you owe. Be sure to speak with a mortgage broker to help you compare mortgage products and calculate the exact cost of the home loan you ultimately choose.