MONEY Ask the Expert

One Thing Dog Owners Shouldn’t Waste Money On

Chocolate lab puppy in browning lawn
Even adorable dogs may turn your lawn brown. John Crum—Alamy

Q: We love our dog, but she’s wrecking our lawn. It’s totally brown in the area where she “goes”—right next the patio, of course. Is there anything we can do that doesn’t cost a fortune?

A: Let’s start with a little, ahem, urine science. Your pooch’s pee is extremely high in nitrogen. And although nitrogen is an ingredient in lawn fertilizer, at intense doses, it’ll chemically burn the grass. There’s nothing your $800-a-year lawn fertilizing company can do about it. Brown-outs can be particularly problematic with female dogs, since they typically release a single, huge puddle each time they go outside, whereas male dogs often like to relieve themselves in many small batches on trees, fences, and any other vertical surface they can find.

Any supplement or medication that promises to resolve your dog-induced lawn problem—and there are many available, from $12 boxes of treats to $30 bottles of vitamin supplements—is either not going to work or not going to be healthy for the dog. “High nitrogen content is a sign of a healthy dog,” says New York City veterinarian Ann Hohenhaus. Thus, don’t waste your money trying to change the composition of your dog’s waste.

Some vets suggest adding water to your dog’s food in order to get her to drink more and dilute her urine, a perfectly safe approach, but Dr. Hohenhaus says it’s often impossible to get a dog to drink more water than it wants to. Adding it to her food, or giving her fun-to-chew ice cubes, is likely to just make her drink equivalently less from her water bowl. Still, there’s no harm in trying to lead your dog to water, so to speak, just be prepared to let her out more often if it works.

For most mutts, though, the best solutions happen outside the house. Some of Dr. Hohenhaus’s clients—who tend to have small, urban lots—keep a watering can in the backyard and immediately rinse the grass right after their pets do their business, an effective way to dilute the nitrogen before it does any damage, as long as you’re on scene to do it every time.

A better solution for the larger yards of suburbia is to train your dog to go in a designated, out-of-the-way spot, such as behind the garage or on an open mulch bed. Like any training, this is a matter of positive reinforcement. Walk the dog on a leash to where you want her to go, and immediately give her verbal encouragement and a treat when she does. Keep it up, eventually without the leash, and then from across the yard, and you may just teach your old dog a great new trick—keeping your lawn lush and green.

Related:
Smart money advice for rookie gardeners
Get your laundry room out of the basement without spending a fortune

 

 

MONEY buying a home

Turns Out Millennials Are Buying Homes. But Another Key Group Isn’t

Contrary to what you may think, twentysomethings are becoming homeowners. It's middle-aged folks that are forgoing it.

The latest Census data shows homeownership is still falling for young adults, and the National Association of Realtors (NAR) reports that the share of first-time home-buyers is slipping. While the housing market is clearly improving, with four of the five key indicators of the housing recovery from our Housing Barometer at least halfway back to normal, it looks like the recovery is happening even without much improvement in first-time homeownership.

Not so fast. The official homeownership rate published by the Census gives a misleading picture of homeownership trends. In fact, homeownership among young adults is both on the rise and not too far off from where demographics say it should be.

The “true” homeownership rate disagrees with the published homeownership rate, and shows that homeownership among young adults increased between 2012 and 2013 after hitting bottom in 2012. Once we adjust for the huge demographic shifts among young adults – far fewer young adults are married or have kids than two or three decades ago – homeownership in 2013 was roughly at late-1990s levels. That means that the demographic shifts among young adults account for the entire decline in homeownership for 18-34 year-olds over the last 20 years. In other words, if the late 1990s can be considered relatively normal, than today’s lower homeownership rate for young adults might be the new normal, thanks to demographic changes.

But that doesn’t mean all’s well. There may be longer-term damage to homeownership from the recession – but to the middle-aged, not millennials. Homeownership among 35-54 year-olds is lower today than before the housing bubble, even after accounting for demographic shifts.

Is Today’s Millennial Homeownership Rate the New Normal?

The demographics of 18-34 year-olds have changed dramatically over the past 30 years, between 1983 and 2013, such as:

  • The percent married fell from 47% to 30%
  • The percent living with their own children fell from 39% to 29%
  • The percent non-Hispanic white fell from 78% to 57%

Each of these demographic shifts is a headwind for homeownership. Young people who are married, have children, or are non-Hispanic white are more likely to own a home than young people who aren’t.

One way to quantify the total effect of these demographic factors on homeownership is to predict what might have happened to homeownership with these demographic shifts if none of the changes in behaviors or circumstances that evolved during the bubble, recession, and recovery took place.

Turns out that although the share of young adults who actually own a home remains considerably lower today (even with the uptick in 2013) than at any time since 1983, it is roughly at late 1990s levels after taking demographic shifts into account. Unless those long-term demographic trends reverse, there might be little room for young-adult homeownership to increase. You’d have to ignore demographic trends that pre-date the bubble to believe that young-adult homeownership will eventually return to its unadjusted pre-bubble levels.

This also implies that there probably hasn’t been a huge shift in millennials’ attitudes toward homeownership, either, since today’s millennials are roughly as likely to own homes as people with similar demographics two decades ago.

Worry Instead About Middle-Aged Homeownership

Here’s the surprise: it’s the middle-aged, not millennials, whose homeownership rate today looks lower than before the bubble. Using the same demographic-baseline analysis, the 2013 homeownership rate for 35-54 year-olds is below the “demographic baseline” (which barely budged over the past 20 years for this age group). Furthermore, homeownership for the middle-aged has not yet begun to turn around as of 2013, unlike for millennials.

Whereas the 2013 homeownership rate for millennials, after adjusting for demographics, is at 1997 levels, the 2013 demographics-adjusted homeownership rate for the middle-aged is at its lowest level in at least two decades (and probably in almost four decades).

And that’s the point: the rise and fall of homeownership during the housing bubble and bust is about people who are middle-aged today. The millennial generation was still in their early 20s or younger in the mid-2000s – too young to have bought during the bubble and then to have suffered a foreclosure: Only the oldest among the 18-34 year-old group in 2013 would have been of home-buying age during the bubble.

Turning more millennials into homeowners, therefore, may not be the missing piece of the housing recovery after all. Long-term demographic changes mean that homeownership among young adults is roughly where it should be. The real missing homeowners are the middle-aged.

To see the full article, including the analysis and charts, click here.

To read more from Jed Kolko of Trulia, click here.

Related:
MONEY 101 Should I rent or buy?
MONEY 101 What should I do before I buy a home?

MONEY Kids & Money

The Most and Least Expensive Cities to Raise a Child

Where you choose to raise your child can have a huge impact on your parenting costs. Here are the cities that will run up your spending the most—and the least.

Having a child today will set you back close to a quarter million dollars by the time your offspring reaches 18, an annual study released Monday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture found. A middle-income family can expect to shell out on average $245,340 (or $304,480, when adjusted for projected inflation), with the biggest chunk of the budget going to housing, followed by child care costs.

Of course, your bottom line could be very different depending on where you live. According to data from personal finance website NerdWallet, child-rearing costs can vary by more than $340,000, based on local housing market prices and the cost of daycare (which exceeds the cost of college in 31 states).

Families living in cities in more rural areas can expect to pay the least to raise a child to adulthood, but those living in the urban Northwest and on the West Coast should expect to pay far above the average.

Here are the cities where you’ll pay the most and the least to rear your child.

Most Expensive Cities to Raise A Child

Rank City Cost of raising a child
1 New York (Manhattan), NY $540,514
2 Honolulu, HI $429,635
3 San Francisco, CA $402,112
4 New York (Brooklyn), NY $400,951
5 Hilo, HI $369,559
6 San Jose, CA $363,807
7 Orange County, CA $353,081
8 Washington, DC $342,552
9 Oakland, CA $337,477
10 Fairbanks, AK $334,562

Least Expensive Cities to Raise a Child

Rank City Cost of raising a child
1 Norman, OK $199,298
2 Harlingen, TX $199,694
3 Ashland, OH $206,793
4 Salina, KS $207,525
5 Pueblo, CO $208,155
6 Memphis, TN $208,322
7 Temple, TX $208,593
8 Richmond, IN $209,522
9 Jackson, MS $211,309
10 Hattiesburg, MS $211,451

 

Related: Why the $245,000 Cost of Raising a Child Shouldn’t Stop You From Having One

MONEY Education

You’ll Never Guess the City Where Private School Is Most Common

Ben Affleck, Randall Batinkoff, Matt Damon, Brendon Fraser, Cole Hauser, Andrew Lowery, Chris O'Donnell in SCHOOL TIES (1992).
Paramount—Courtesy Everett Collection

Whether a family sends its children to private or public school can be influenced by a number of factors, and it's not always about money.

Private school versus public school isn’t an option for most Americans. The average annual cost of a private education is $10,940, and only about 20% of students have parents willing or able to pay that freight.

Knowing that, one would expect the city that sends the highest percentage of its children to private school to be among the richest in the country. Manhattan perhaps? Somewhere in Connecticut? Wherever the prep school in School Ties was located?

Nope. According to a new study by real estate website Trulia, the city with the highest proportion of private school enrollees is New Orleans. A whopping one-fourth of all students in the Big Easy attend a private institution—and it’s not the only Louisiana city in the top 10 for private school enrollment. Baton Rouge ranks fourth, with just under 20% of all students going the private route.

Many of the cities you might expect to see don’t even make the list. While the East Coast generally sends a higher than average percentage of students to private school, its only cities to place in the top 10 are Philadelphia (18.4%) and Wilmington, Del. (17.6%). The rest of the list is dominated by Midwest cities in Ohio, Wisconsin, and Missouri, as well as outliers like Honolulu and San Francisco.

Why do some areas choose private school at a higher rate than others? According to Trulia, metros that are largely more wealthy, more educated, more white, and more Catholic are the most likely to have their children privately educated. Faith is especially important, because most private schools are religiously affiliated, and half of those schools are Catholic. New Orleans, Philadelphia, and Cleveland all have a large Catholic population.

Dr. Jan Daniel Lancaster, superintendent of Catholic Schools for the New Orleans archdiocese, was surprised to learn that her city led the nation in private school enrollment rate, but had no doubts about why New Orleans’ Catholic schools were so popular. “New Orleans is a very Catholic area,” said Lancaster. “People want a very strong academic education that is embedded in the catholic faith, and Catholic schools are so strong academically.” Another reason might be the example set by prominent members of the community. Lancaster says two state senators, the mayor, and the local district attorney, among others, all received a Catholic education.

Courtesy of Trulia

Screen Shot 2014-08-12 at 7.43.23 PM

Public school quality matters too. After adjusting for neighborhood demographics, Trulia found that students in areas with the worst public schools were four times as likely to attend private schools than their peers in areas with the best public education. Areas with high income inequality also showed an increased percentage of private school students, which the study speculates could be caused by more affluent families wanting to keep their children out of public schools with greater income diversity.

Screen Shot 2014-08-12 at 8.03.41 PM

Some public schools are so good that even the wealthiest families choose them over private options. However, those areas aren’t exactly cheap to live in. After looking at affluent Zip codes where over 90% of students received a public education, Trulia determined these areas had housing prices that were more than twice the national average on a square-foot basis. In fact, housing prices were directly correlated with the quality of local public schools.

Home prices in the worst school districts were 41% lower than the national average, while areas with top-tier instruction were 32% more expensive. That means anyone hoping to move from a terrible district to a great one could face a 73% price increase.

Screen Shot 2014-08-12 at 8.07.17 PM

 

It’s interesting (and a little depressing) to see how expensive living near a good school can be. Where families ultimately decide to send their children “really depends on the specific neighborhoods you’re considering, how much house you need, and the type of private school you’re considering,” says Jed Kolko, Trulia’s chief economist. “But I think a larger point is that both private and public schools can cost a lot of money.”

MONEY Ask the Expert

Here’s One Good Reason To Borrow From Your 401(k)

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Robert A. Di Ieso, Jr.

Q: Should I use my 401(k) for a down payment on a house?

A: Let’s start with the obvious. It’s rarely a good idea to borrow from your retirement plan.

One major drawback is that you’ll give up the returns that the money could have earned during the years you’re repaying the loan. Your home isn’t likely to give you the same investment return, and it’s difficult to tap real estate for income in retirement. There’s also a risk that you’ll lose your job, which would require you to pay back the loan, typically within 60 days, though home loans may have a longer repayment period.

Still, 401(k) borrowing has undeniable advantages. For starters, “they’re easy loans to get,” says Atlanta financial planner Lee Baker. You don’t have to meet financial qualifications to borrow, and you can get the money quickly. Interest rates for these loans are generally low—typically a percentage point or so above prime, which was recently 3.25%. Another big plus is that you pay yourself back, since the rules generally require you to fully repay within five years; 10 years if you buy a house. (Otherwise, the amount will be taxable, plus you will pay a penalty if you’re under 59 1/2.) So you eventually do replace the money with interest. Be aware, most plans limit your borrowing to $50,000 or 50% of your account balance, whichever is less.

Given how easy it is to get a 401(k) loan, it’s no wonder many workers tap their plans for home buying, especially Millennials. About 10% of home buyers borrow from their 401(k) and another 4% use funds from IRAs, according to the National Association of Realtors. And overall some 17% of Millennials report borrowing from their company plan, according to a 2014 Ameriprise study, Financial Tradeoffs. “It is where they have accumulated most of their savings,” says Baker.

All that said, when it comes to buying a home, a 401(k) loan can make sense. If you can put together enough cash for a 20% down payment, you may able to avoid avoid mortgage insurance, which can your lower monthly bill. And with interest rates still low, having a down payment now can enable you lock in a good rate compared with waiting till you have more money when mortgage rates may be higher.

If you go this route, though, take a close look at your financial resources both inside and outside your plan. Will you have to tap all your savings, leaving you vulnerable if you have a financial emergency? Do you have enough cash flow to meet your monthly payment and pay the loan? Is your job relatively secure or do you have to worry about a layoff that will trigger the automatic repayment provision?

And if you borrow, don’t forget to keep saving. A common mistake people make is halting regular contributions during the pay back period, which puts you further behind your retirement goals. At the very least, says Baker, contribute enough to get your employer match.

More on Home Buying:

Should I Pay Off Loans or Save for a Down Payment?

Single and Thinking of Buying a Home? Here’s Some Advice

“At 27, I’m the First of My Friends to Own a Home:” A Buyer’s Story

MONEY Rentals

This Is How to Deal With Even the Most Hellish Landlord

You shouldn't have to suffer when your landlord neglects your home.
Simon Winnall—Getty Images

Many landlords neglect their rental properties. Here's what to do if the owner of your home fails to maintain it.

Perhaps you’ve called, texted, and emailed your landlord to tell him your heating is broken, your toilet is leaking, and the sink is making an interminable drip-drip-drip sound that’s driving you nuts.

But your landlord doesn’t seem to have any interest in fixing these issues.

What should you do if your landlord isn’t doing his job? Let’s look at some specific scenarios to give you an idea of your rights and options.

When Time Is of the Essence

Example: I haven’t had any hot water in my apartment for three days. Showering is awful and I’m having trouble getting my dishes clean—it’s so gross. What can I do?

Solution: Your landlord is obligated to repair anything deemed “essential” to the health and safety of his tenants. This includes dealing with heating, water and electrical issues; remediation of mold or fungus; battling bug infestations; and keeping the roof in working order.

Make sure that, in addition to calling, emailing or texting, you also send your repair request in writing to your landlord. This written proof could be necessary down the line if you get into a dispute with him.

Tip: Emailing and texting might not constitute “official written notice.” Your lease may specify which forms of communication qualify as “written notice,” so refer to that first and foremost. However, in the absence of any specific communication method stipulated within the lease, you should snail-mail your landlord a letter. Why? It’s the most commonly accepted legal definition of “written notice.”

Paying a little extra for registered mail is also a good idea if you’re worried your landlord is actively ignoring you, as your landlord will have to physically sign and date the receipt when he accepts the envelope. Plus, you’ll have documentation to prove that you sent the letter. (Save the registered mail receipt!)

In addition, keep detailed records of all important dates (when you first noticed the problem, when you left voice mails, etc…) and take plenty of pictures of the problem (with a date-stamp on the photos, if possible) to show the extent of the issue.

If your landlord does not respond to your request, you are within your legal rights to take any of the below steps:

  • Alerting state or local health and building inspectors
  • Suing your landlord in small claims court
  • Breaking your lease for breach of lease terms (it’s best to consult an attorney before doing this to make sure you have a solid case and haven’t failed to do anything you needed to do under the lease terms)

Should you withhold rent payment until its fixed? Not advisable. Your landlord might use this as grounds for eviction. It’s better to keep your situation simple.

Should you repair the problem yourself (or pay to have it repaired) and then deduct that amount from your rent? Again, that’s not advisable. You’re best off doing your job (paying rent and sending written requests) and urging your landlord to perform his job.

When Your Property Has Been Damaged

Example: A pipe burst in my wall, sending water all over the place. A ton of stuff in my closet was ruined. I called my landlord yesterday and he still hasn’t shown up. What now?

Solution: If your personal property is damaged due to negligence on the part of your landlord — e.g., he hasn’t been maintaining the pipes properly, which caused the burst pipe — then you may have a case against him for reimbursement.

This is only if you’ve taken all steps within your power, including moving your property out of the way of the water (if possible) and alerting your landlord to any plumbing issues that might have signaled there was a problem.

If the pipe simply burst and it wasn’t anyone’s fault — e.g., due to an “Act of God” such as weather — your landlord is not responsible for the damage. You should always pay for renter’s insurance to cover your own personal property if calamity strikes.

When It’s Not Life-Threatening

Example: My kitchen sink has been dripping for the past three weeks. It’s driving us all crazy and keeping us awake at night, but my landlord doesn’t seem to care. Help!

Solution: Unfortunately your landlord is under no specific legal obligation to make repairs that are not deemed “essential.” Non-essential or cosmetic issues are up to his discretion, including changing light bulbs, fixing leaky faucets and patching a hole in your window screen. These things are annoying to put up with, but they don’t pose any immediate risk to your health and safety.

How can you determine whether or your not you have the right to minor repairs? First, examine your lease agreement. Some leases specifically state whether a landlord will make only essential repairs, or whether he’ll conduct non-essential repairs that you bring to his attention.

You’ll also want to consider if your repair request is the sort of thing your landlord would be concerned about from a business standpoint. Your hole-ridden window screen is something he may not care about (until he needs to rent the apartment out again), but a leaky faucet could wind up boosting the water bill, which many landlords cover themselves — giving you added arguing power.

When the Problem Is Your Fault

Example: I had a party and things got a little crazy. My ceiling light fixture got knocked off and now it’s hanging by a thread. Why won’t my landlord take care of it?

Solution: A landlord is only required to make repairs necessitated by normal wear-and-tear or by a defect in the property (appliances not installed correctly, etc.).

If the issue is a result of damage, misuse or negligence on your part — or on the part of any guests, children or pets staying with you — your landlord does not have to take care of it. For instance, if your cockroach problem is a result of your failure to keep the kitchen clean, good luck talking your landlord into ponying up the money to take care of it.

In cases like these, you’ll have to take care of the issue yourself, on your own dime, or risk having the damage deducted from your security deposit when you move out.

To read more from Paula Pant of Trulia, click here.

Related:

MONEY 101: Should I Buy or Rent?

 

 

MONEY home prices

These Places Have the Best Housing Bargains in the Country

Scioto River and Columbus, Ohio skyline at dusk.
Columbus, Ohio, skyline at dusk. VisionsofAmerica/Joe Sohm—Getty Images

As the market tries to adjust to a post-recession world, there are plenty of deals to be had. But there are also plenty of markets where housing is more unaffordable than ever.

With housing price growth slowing down nationwide, and a gradually improving economy, many Americans who’ve been waiting to make a decision on a home are wondering if it’s time to buy or sell.

Here’s some data that might help with those decisions: A new study by RealtyTrac determined which housing markets are more and less affordable relative to their historical averages. The real estate data firm computed the numbers by determining what percentage of an area’s median income would be needed to make payments on a median-priced home in over 1,000 counties, and then compared that to the county’s historical price-to-income ratio over the past 14 years.

So which areas are looking like a bargain? RealtyTrac identified 66 counties with a combined population of 16 million (about 5% of the total survey area’s population) where home prices are lower than historical averages and the unemployment rate was 5% or lower—well below the national unemployment rate of about 6.2%.

This, according to RealtyTrac, is the best way to measure affordability because many markets with cheap housing don’t have quality jobs to offer to new residents. Some undiscovered markets are “undiscovered for good reason because their economies are struggling,” says Daren Blomquist, vice president at RealtyTrac. “A good example of that is Detroit. Affordability alone isn’t an indication that a market is a good one to buy in or invest in.”

The study found Columbus, Ohio; Oklahoma City; Tulsa; Akron, Ohio; Omaha; Greenville, S.C.; and Des Moines, Iowa, are among the markets with an advantageous combination of employment and affordable housing.

Courtesy of RealtyTrac

Why is housing in these areas undervalued? Basically, the overall real estate market is still recovering from the recession, and prices have yet to adjust in certain markets as investors are slow to discover lesser-known areas with strong economic growth. This pro-buyer environment might not last much longer, though. Blomquist says there’s been an uptick of institutional investor purchasing in Columbus, which means prices are set to rise in the near future.

There’s good news for prospective sellers as well. Prices in over one-third of the counties surveyed are less affordable than their historical averages, suggesting homes there may be over-valued. These cities include San Francisco; Portland, Oregon; Austin; San Antonio; Houston; and Atlanta.

Courtesy of RealtyTrac

Should sellers jump at the high prices? If you’re a homeowner in one of these markets, a lot of things are going your way. As prices rise, institutional investors are rushing to invest in these markets, inflating values even further. But there’s also a lack of supply because builders are still reluctant to start new construction.

“It’s a sellers market still [in these areas] because you have a combination of strong demand from this new breed of buyers and low supply because builders are very hesitant,” says Blomquist. “If you’re a seller, you’re not competing against too many others and you have a long liner of buyers.”

However, he cautions that for sellers looking to buy another home in the same market, less affordable home prices may be a double-edged sword. “The catch-22 is if you’re trying to buy too — if that’s the case, then it’s not a great market to buy in.”

MONEY mortgages

WATCH: How You Can Benefit from Easier Mortgages

Mortgage loans are easier to get now. Here's how you can take advantage of it.

MONEY buying a home

How to Tell the Fixer-Uppers From the Flops

You want to buy a home, but you don’t want to pay 20% more for a brand new home with all the bells and whistles already built in. It just so happens that you’re pretty handy and are willing to trade in some ‘sweat equity’ for a great deal on a house that just needs a little TLC. Buying a place that needs some upgrades is a tried and true formula for getting more house for your money. However, not all “fixers” are the same, and not all of them are going to be right one for you.

There are houses for sale and in need of repair on every other block. How do you know which one is a potential money maker for you? Most properties that are fixers generally fall into one of these three categories- including the one you want to run far, far away from:

1. The Cosmetic Fixer

This is the house that just needs a bit of clean up. The sale price is discounted slightly because the sellers and their agent know that there is work to be done. For whatever reason, the sellers didn’t want to invest anymore time or money in the house prior to sale. Things like new paint, carpet, countertops, lighting, landscaping and a few new appliances will give this cosmetic fixer the face lift it needs. A few dozen trips to the home improvement store should do it!

1. The Downright Ugly Fixer

It may be downright ugly, but it is beautiful to you! It has all the right things wrong with it. This is the fixer that needs more extensive repair and remodeling work than the ‘Cosmetic Fixer’ mentioned above. If you can see its potential beauty, and are willing to commit to the work, you will get the deal that others miss.

Some hallmarks of a ‘downright ugly fixer:’

  • No Current Curb Appeal: It’s easy to create with fresh front door paint, new house numbers, mailbox, flowering plants and fresh landscaping
  • Great Bones In Bad Shape: Good construction and architectural lines that have been underutilized or un-accentuated
  • Dark Interiors Cloaked In Ugly Decor: These turn off other buyers, but this is gone as soon as the moving vans pull away with the seller’s possessions
  • Outdated Kitchens: Upgrading your kitchen will be one of the biggest expenses, however, it gives you the biggest return on your dollar
  • Outdated Bathrooms: There are so many great options for bathroom upgrades now at your local home improvement store. You may need to bring in a plumber and tile guy but it will be worth the effort.
  • A House With Pets, Smokers Or Other Bad Smells: Nasty smells aplenty turn off other home shoppers, but a revamp of carpets and drapes and new paint will usually take care of that smelly issue.
  • Leaks In The Roof & A Water-Stained Ceiling: These can really turn away potential buyers – but you will most likely be putting on a new roof, so that will usually eliminate the source of the problem
  • Lots Of Small Rooms, Creating A Choppy Or Claustrophobic Feeling: Look for potential to remove a non-load bearing wall that could open up a kitchen to a living room or den, giving you that all desirable open floor plan.

3. The Fixer Tear Down

When I say ‘a house with the wrong things wrong’, this is the one I mean. This “tear down” house with “broken bones” is the money pit you must run from. If a house has major structural, geological, or severe foundation or environmental problems, you don’t want it. I repeart – you don’t want it. Even if you get the house on the cheap, some problems never go away and are sometimes impossible to fix, no matter how much money you throw at them. This is a Pandora’s Box you do not want to open, because you will never see that money back.

Some telltale signs of a ‘tear down:’

  • Structural Problems That Are Beyond Repair Economically
  • Major shifting due to poor foundation work
  • Unsolvable drainage issues and flooding of the basement
  • Illegal room additions that appear to be not to code, especially bathrooms
  • Major fire, earthquake or flood damage
  • An unstable hillside near the house or slipping or shifting due to soil erosion or flooding
  • Overwhelming asbestos or severe mold issues

More from Trulia:
9 Things to Look For When Touring An Open House
The Pros and Cons of Buying a Newly Built Home
The 10 Most Costly Home Selling Mistakes – And How To Avoid Them

Michael Corbett is Trulia‘s real estate and lifestyle expert. He hosts NBC’s EXTRA’s Mansions and Millionaires and has authored three books on real estate, including Before You Buy!

MONEY Ask the Expert

How to Never Do Laundry in the Basement Again

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Robert A. Di Ieso, Jr.

Q: I’m sick of doing laundry in the basement. But we can’t afford one of these major laundry room remodels. Is there an affordable way to get the washer and dryer upstairs?

A: That depends, of course, on your home—but the answer is probably yes. Modern front-loading machines ($1,000 to $3,000 for the set, if you don’t have them already) can be stacked like a tower and may require only a 28-inch-wide by 32-inch-deep space, which is small enough to fit in many existing closets without significant modifications, says Curt Schultz, a realtor, architect and contractor in Pasadena, California.

The project is easiest if you can put the machines in a spot that backs up to—or sits above—a bathroom or kitchen, to simplify the plumbing connections. If your house accommodates the upgrade, you’ll likely pay around $1,000 to $3,000 for the construction, which includes running plumbing and electrical lines, a dryer vent, and a floor drain in case of an overflow. (If you have the space for a utility sink, built-in cabinets, a countertop, and a tiled wall and floors, expect to pay an additional $3,000 to $5,000 for the job.)

Since the job is small, you’ll get a better price from a contractor who can do all the work with his own crew instead of someone who’s going to call in a separate subcontractor for each piece of the project, such as the plumbing and electricity, says Schultz.

In any case, there might be no better bang for your renovation buck than moving the laundry machines close to where your bedrooms are. “It’s not that buyers will necessarily up their offers because of an upstairs laundry area,” Schultz says, “but it might be what separates your house from the competition and makes it sell first.”

If you’re staying put, the payback is even bigger because you’ll get to enjoy the upgrade before you sell. Laundry is still going to be a chore, but a much less frustrating one—hopefully with fewer lost socks.

Related:
Budget Renovations for Older Homes

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