MONEY home improvement

Transform Your Closet For as Little as $150

organized closet
Jules Frazier—Getty Images

There's a good chance your closet has plenty of space- for improvement. Fortunately, a revamp may not cost as much as you think.

Walk through a big box home store these days and you’ll probably feel a tinge of closet envy. Right next to the gorgeous kitchens and bathroom models today you’ll likely encounter display closets showcasing numerous arrays of shelves, drawers and rods, not to mention hangers, baskets, bins and other gizmos to keep shelves tidy and shoes organized. Every sweater and pair of pumps can be retrieved within seconds in these modern closets.

So what is your best option to bring your closet up to par? Should you buy the materials and create a more functional space yourself, or hire one of the many professionals now available to tackle the job for you?

Take a look at these complete closet projects to get inspiration as well a sense of costs. Then consider these factors.


Best for: If you have a level, a cordless drill, and a tape measure, most homeowners with basic skills can handle a small closet remodel project. Buying a pre-made DIY closet system, which can include rods, shelves and drawers, from a home retailer is the simplest option. You’d be surprised at how much more you can fit into a typical five by two feet space by simply, say, putting in dual rods and adding another shelf. Updating your closet doors with a fresh coat of paint or new doors can also be a fairly easy task.

Cost: Taking on the project yourself means you can escape paying labor costs, which can total as much as the parts. When estimating your DIY cost factor in all of the materials, furniture and customized items, as well as any tools or equipment, you may need to complete the work.

You’ll pay anywhere from $150 for a basic set-up including a rod and adjustable metal shelving to more than $1000 for a space with customized features, like vinyl-coated wire systems or wood veneers and painted finishes. Organizing kits including drawer cubbies and shoe dividers can be found for around $350 and higher. Want new bifold doors? Standard models cost anywhere from $45 to $300.

Hire a Pro

Best for: Let the professional closet remodelers handle your project if you aren’t sure whether, say, a walk-in or drop closet is best for the room, or you want to customize your storage space for your tie or shoe collection. A pro should also be brought in if you are looking at moving or adding walls or installing electrical systems. A contractor can address permits, lighting, and ventilation needs, a few things you may overlook when doing it yourself. For example, if your remodel involves altering your structure, or adding electrical or plumbing for a washer and dryer, you may need to obtain a permit before the work begins. A professional closet remodeler or contractor familiar with the permit process can handle it for you. The pro may also be able to suggest ways to make the most of the existing space without having to do major construction, thereby saving you time and money.

Bonus: the contractor or designer can work with you to set a schedule that adjusts around your personal life, and can complete the project in less time than if you attempt to squeeze in an hour here and there on nights and weekends.

Cost: Professional closet remodelers usually charge per project but some charge an hourly rate, typically between $50 and $150 an hour, depending on the job and the pro. You may find that some designers require a deposit, which is generally a percentage of the project.

The total tab for a larger space, such as a walk-in closet, can run between $1,200 to $3,000 or more for both materials and labor. This may not include any structural work such as moving walls, adding lighting or installing new doors. Ask several contractors for in-home estimates. And make a trip to Salvation Army or Goodwill- with anything you or your spouse hasn’t donned in the last year or two- before the overhaul begins. One thing all model closets seem to have in common is few items.


More from Porch:

6 Ways To Keep Your Closet Remodel Within Budget

What You Need To Know Before Buying A Historic Home


Anne Reagan is the editor-in-chief of home improvement website






MONEY home improvement

Historic Homes For Sale For As Little As $1

These three houses, featured recently in This Old House magazine, can still be had for rock bottom prices, but plan to spend thousands to overhaul them. If no buyer saves the structures, they may face demolition or are at risk of deteriorating beyond repair.

For the full gallery of homes for sale, plus featured houses that have been saved by buyers and structures that were demolished, click here for the original post on


Student Debt Could Cost Housing Market $83B This Year

It might as well be a curse word for young adults. Student loans are now blamed for what would be a staggering, industry-shaking drop in home sales.

MONEY retirement planning

Why Housing Costs Are the Biggest Threat to Your Retirement

House on top of cash
Caroline Purser—Getty Images

We should be looking at smaller "starter" homes as our "stay put" homes.

If there is one thing we have been trained to fear about retirement, it’s crippling medical bills that threaten to force us out of our homes and decimate our nest eggs. But it turns out that we might be better off worrying about our future housing expenses, as these costs are the single largest category of spending in retirement.

Moreover, the costs of maintaining a home remain stubbornly high as we age, according to a new analysis by the Employee Benefit Research Institute. For those 75 and older, housing expenses accounted for a whopping 43% of spending, even as other expenditures (except for health care) dropped.

Time was that retirees were supposed pay down their mortgages or drastically downsize their homes before retirement. But that behavior has changed, perhaps as a result of the refinancing boom or the housing crash—or both. According to the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, more people are carrying mortgage debt into their retirement years, up from 22% in 2001 to 30% in 2011.

Even as the rate of homeownership has remained stable, the median amount owed on mortgages for people aged 75 and older increased 82% during that same decade, from $43,000 to $79,000. Delinquency in paying mortgages and foreclosures also greatly increased for seniors from 2007 to 2011.

The lesson in all this is that while financing one’s home can be hugely beneficial, mortgages can grow into significant burdens when you’re living on a fixed income. The time to stretch yourself financially on a home is not when you’ve already left the workforce and have no way to make more money.

It’s not just larger mortgages that saddle retirees—it’s everything that comes with homeownership, including property taxes, homeowner’s insurance, home repairs, housecleaning, gardening and yard services. At the same time, transportation, entertainment and travel expenses all tend to decline as a natural course of retirement.

It seems that people have an easier time forgoing vacations and restaurant dining than they do square footage and lawns, which is understandable. The comforts of home can bring great stability during a time of transition. But as we struggle to figure out how much money we will need in retirement, we might need to consider how to defray the expense of these patterns.

For those in mid-career, now is the time to get control of our mortgage costs. As a recent study by Pew Charitable Trusts shows, Gen X has lower wealth than their parents did at their age, in large part because they hold nearly six times more debt, including student loans, unpaid medical bills and credit card balances. And that’s despite having generally higher family incomes than their parents did.

Given these headwinds, we may want to rethink the American way of constantly trading up to larger houses through our 40s and 50s. The more we grow accustomed to more luxurious living, the harder it will be to downsize when it makes sense. Perhaps instead of looking at smaller houses merely as “starter homes,” we should be looking at them as “stay put” homes instead.

Millennials face a different challenge. After taking longer to get started in their careers, they will end up buying houses later in life, which means they risk carrying significant mortgages into retirement. They would benefit from not biting off more than they can chew—putting more cash down than the minimum, not buying more house then they can really afford, and making sure to max out out their 401(k)s or IRAs. Home equity can be an excellent investment, but only if it enhances rather than jeopardizes financial security—now and in the future.

Konigsberg is the author of The Truth About Grief, a contributor to the anthology Money Changes Everything, and a director at Arden Asset Management. The views expressed are solely her own.

MONEY Ask the Expert

How Your (Nice) Neighbors Can Save You Money

Robert A. Di Ieso, Jr.

Q: Is it a good idea to go in with a few neighbors on some pricy, occasional-use outdoor equipment, like an extension ladder and snow blower. How do I handle access, maintenance, and other logistics?

A: This is a terrific money-saving idea that works best if your group consists of people who are close, in both senses of the word: Everyone should be nearby neighbors, to provide easy access to the tools, and everyone should be friends, so the arrangement can be a handshake deal where nobody is counting every nickel or worrying too much about who goes first on a snowy morning.

“Splitting the cost of the machine is also an opportunity to get higher grade equipment than you’d buy for yourself,” says Peter Orazem, professor of economics at Iowa State University, and co-owner of a commercial grade snow blower with two fellow professors and his eye doctor, who all live on the same block. He recommends setting up a few ground rules:

Decide where it’s going to live. Ideally, one group member has a garage with the space to park the machine—and a keypad everyone can use to open it and access the equipment anytime. That way there’s never an issue with figuring out who had it last, where they parked it, and whether they’re home to unlock their shed.

Plan for ongoing tasks. For a snowblower, chainsaw or any other gas-powered machine, avoid frustration by creating a plan to keep the gas can full and the machine tuned up. Orazem does both for his group, at his own expense, in consideration for hosting the machine in his own garage, a significant convenience for him. But you could also assign the responsibility to a different group member each year, and share the costs among the rest of the group (so the person doing the work pays nothing), or come up with any strategy that feels right for your group.

Don’t loan it beyond the group. Letting someone outside your original club borrow the group’s equipment is a recipe for seeing the machine damaged, misplaced, or lost, says Diane Dodge, of Berkeley, Calif., who shared a beater pickup truck with five friends until it blew a head gasket several years ago. “Stay within the confines of the original group—unless you all agree to allow in another member, perhaps to replace someone who moves away.”

Give members an out. What if someone moves away? For expensive items, Orazem suggests agreeing at the start on how a person who pulls out of the group will be reimbursed for his investment. For example, you might decide that the useful life of the $5,000 riding mower you’re sharing between five households is 10 years. If a member leaves four years after the purchase, he’d get a payout from the remaining four members of $600 (his initial $1,000 contribution, minus 40 percent); after seven years, he’d get $300. This cost could be born by the other members of the group, or they could invite a new member in for that amount- nice neighbors only, of course.


Got a question for Josh? We’d love to hear it. Please send submissions to

MONEY Millennials

10 Places Millennials Are Moving For Bigger Paychecks

With 5.1% unemployment and low-priced homes, New Orleans is a top town for millennials. John Coletti—Getty Images

Over the past five years, Gen Yers have decamped for some surprisingly pricey cities in search of a higher-paying job.

Millennials are on the hunt for high-paying jobs, and they’re moving to some unexpected places to find them, according to a new report out today.

Bruised by the rough post-recession job market, Gen-Yers are moving from lower-cost cities to places with a higher cost of living but more plentiful and lucrative jobs, a RealtyTrac analysis of Census data from 2007 through 2013 found.

“Millennials are attracted to markets with good job prospects and low unemployment, but that tend to have higher rental rates and high home-price appreciation,” says Daren Blomquist, vice president of RealtyTrac. “It’s a tradeoff.”

In the 10 U.S. counties with the biggest increase in millennials, the average unemployment rate is 5.2%, well below the national average of 6.1%. The average household income is $62,496, vs. $51,058 nationally. The median home price is $406,800 (nearly double the U.S. median of $222,900), while a three-bedroom apartment rents for $1,619 a month on average, just over the national average of $1,550.

Riding the robust job market in the D.C. area, two counties in Northern Virginia with unemployment rates below 3.7% top the list. But not all places that the 69-million-strong millennial generation are flocking to are expensive. New Orleans, where the median home price is $140,000, edged out San Francisco, where tech jobs may be plentiful but the median home price is nearly $1 million.

New Orleans, where the unemployment rate is 5.1%, is a transportation center with one of the busiest and largest ports in the world, as well as tons of jobs related to the local oil refineries. Denver, Nashville, and Portland, Ore., all top 10 areas, offer median home prices below $300,000 and a diversity of jobs in technology, health care, and education.

Perhaps the most surprising millennial magnet: Clarksville, Tenn, the fifth largest city in the state behind Nashville, Memphis, Knoxville, and Chattanooga. Forty five miles north of Nashville, it benefits from spillover from that city’s strong job market, but Clarksville also has its own industrial base, plus nearby Ft. Campbell and Austin Peay State University. The unemployment rate: 4.7%.

Here are RealtyTrac’s top 10 destinations for millennials on the move:

Rank County State Metro Area % Increase in Millennial Population, 2007-2013 Milennials % of Total Population, 2013 Median Home Price, April 2014 Average Monthly Apartment Rent (3 beds), 2014
1 Arlington County Va. Washington, DC 82% 39% $505,000 $1,996
2 Alexandria City Va. Washington, DC 81% 34% $465,000 $1,966
3 Orleans Parish La. New Orleans 71% 30% $140,000 $1,190
4 San Francisco County Calif. San Francisco 68% 32% $950,000 $2,657
5 Denver County Colo. Denver 57% 33% $270,000 $1,409
6 Montgomery County Tenn. Clarksville 46% 31% $128,000 $1,016
7 Hudson County N.J. New York 44% 31% $330,000 $1,643
8 New York County N.Y. New York 43% 32% $850,000 $1,852
9 Multnomah County Ore. Portland 41% 28% $270,000 $1,359
10 Davidson County Tenn. Nashville 37% 29% $160,000 $1,131

$539 Created This Reading Nook

A budget renovation transformed this odd space into a cozy retreat.

In a blank space, there’s a lot of room for improvement. Just ask Vel Baricuatro-Criste and her husband, Gerson Criste. After having a contractor add a windowed egress dormer in an over-the-garage room for their teenage son, they were left with an odd, unfinished nook. Vel saw it as an opportunity to create a quiet reading alcove as part of an overall update of the bedroom.

What They Did
She painted both spaces white with an accent rail of bold navy stripes to create a cohesive look. To keep things cozy underfoot, Gerson installed striped carpet tiles over the nook’s plywood subfloor. Then he built a storage bench from prepainted cabinets, using stock lumber to fill in gaps at the back and sides and painting the exposed sides white so that they blend in. Vel made a seat for the bench by stapling fabric-topped foam to sheet pine that her husband had cut to size. Gerson installed floating shelves to display some of their son’s books; the rest tuck neatly away in the storage bench. Sconces flank the window seat, and a flush-mount fixture hangs overhead, providing plenty of light for nighttime reading. Now the nook is her 13-year-old’s favorite place to unwind. “He has a whole room to hang out in, but whenever he has friends over, they’re always in that space,” says Vel. “They love it!”

The Project Tally
• Painted the room white with navy stripes $109

• Finished the floor with carpet tiles found at a big-box store $98

• Created a bench from laundry cabinets and stock lumber $110


For the full tally, see the original story at This Old House.

MONEY Housing Market

Why Americans Aren’t Moving Long Distances Anymore

House-shaped handcuffs
Ryan Etter—Getty Images

Fewer than 12% of Americans changed homes in the past year, near the all-time low. But the reasons why people go or stay are changing.

Yesterday the Census released the Current Population Survey (CPS) data, giving an up-to-date picture on how many Americans are moving, how far they’re going, and why they’re making that move. The mobility rate remains at a low level: 11.7% of Americans moved in the year ending March 2014, unchanged from the previous period.

At this rate, the typical American stays put eight and a half years between moves. Remember the old rule of thumb that people move every seven years? Well, that was true until around 2003. In fact, the mobility rate has been falling for decades, as we pointed out in this post last year. Back in the 1950s and 1960s, Americans moved every five years on average. That rate rose to every seven years by the turn of the century and has since increased to the current eight-and-a- half year rate.

Here are the most recent mobility trends, based on this latest 2014 data.

The Long-Term Mobility Decline Continues

With the percentage of Americans moving stuck at 11.7% in 2014, mobility remains near the all-time low of 11.6% in 2011. That’s considerably below the 14% rate from the early 2000s. The housing bust and recession offer possible explanations why people are stuck in place – things like negative home equity and few job opportunities to move for. Still, mobility also declined both before and during the housing bubble. Furthermore, mobility has barely budged since 2011 despite a significant drop in the percentage of borrowers with negative equity and a modest recovery in the job market.


What explains this long-term decline in mobility? Some academic researchers have found that the economic benefit of switching jobs has fallen over time. Since a job is often the reason people move, that means the economic benefits of moving have fallen. In fact, the decline in mobility has mostly been a drop in longer-distance moves, that is, moves to a different county. Moves within the same county have stayed relatively steady since 2000.


Why People Choose to Stay or Go is Shifting

The reasons why Americans move – which we think is one of the most fun questions asked in any Census survey – have changed over the course of the boom, recession, and recovery. During the boom, compared with the period after the bubble burst, more people moved to have a new or better home, or because they wanted to own instead of rent. By contrast, during the recession, the percentage of people who moved for cheaper housing went up.

Most recently, in the year ending March 2014, the percentage of people who moved because they wanted a new or better home or apartment increased. But the percentage of people who moved for cheaper housing also increased, though it didn’t return to its level in 2009, 2010, and 2011, when more people moved for cheaper housing than for a new job.


Continued economic recovery should boost the number of Americans who move for a job. At the same time, more homeowners are getting back above water into positive home equity, and that should also increase mobility. Yet, rising home prices and higher mortgage rates might mean that more people move in search of cheaper, rather than new or better, housing.

To see the full article, including more details about the data and analysis, click here.

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

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

MONEY real estate

The High Cost of Failing to Refinance

Many homeowners have missed out on big savings by not refinancing, new research finds. Here's why.

Until recently, I’d never seen a mortgage rate south of 6%. Of course I’d heard that rates had dropped to almost half that, and yet, for a variety of reasons, I did not take advantage of them by refinancing my existing mortgage. Though illogical, my inertia is not uncommon. According to a recent paper by researchers at the University of Chicago and Brigham Young Unversity, the “failure to refinance” strikes approximately 20% of homeowners who could greatly benefit from the lower interest rate environment.

The costs of this failure can be sizeable over time. Say you had a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage of $200,000 at an interest rate of 6.5%. If you refinanced at 4.5 % (approximately the decrease between 2008 and 2010), you would save over $80,000 in interest payments over the life of the loan, even after accounting for refinancing transaction costs. If you had refinanced in late 2012, when rates hit an all-time low of 3.35%, you would save $130,000 over the life of the loan.

Failing to refinance isn’t completely irrational. Refinancing is a difficult transaction requiring extensive paper work, an appraisal and hefty fees. All of which triggers what the researchers call “present bias,” a psychological phenomenon that makes it harder for people to make decisions that may have upfront costs but longer-term benefits.

My own story illustrates the way that present bias impacts behavior. When I bought my current home in 2007, my rate on a 30-year fixed mortgage was 6.625%. As rates began to drop, I was never entirely clear how to calculate at what point refinancing would make sense financially. At the same time, I was receiving mail offers promising to save me money merely by increasing the number of mortgage payments a year. That made me wary of being taken advantage of by lenders looking to make money in transaction costs off of unsuspecting buyers. (This wariness has also always made me distrustful of any loans with “points.”)

By 2011, however, rates had clearly fallen enough to justify a refinance. But by that point I was considering moving, and I didn’t want to go through all the paperwork and hassle if I was going to be selling soon anyway. Then, like many others, I found that my house’s assessed value had fallen sharply from my purchase price. Given the weak real estate market at the time, it made more sense to stay put. Even though I knew that refinancing would still benefit me, the uncertainty about my future brought about by market forces only delayed my decision more.

Finally, in 2013, I refinanced. I wound up borrowing more as part of another financial transaction, but at an interest rate of 3.46%, my monthly payments are almost the same as they were before. I have since heard of wise colleagues who, instead of lowering their monthly payments, refinanced from a 30-year mortgage to a 15-year mortgage and as a result will own their homes outright in half the time while making about the same payments.

Which, if you think about it, means that they overcame “present bias” twice: first in the act of refinancing, and then by forgoing having extra cash on hand to spend now in order to be debt-free in 15 years. At the end of the day, refinancing isn’t just about saving money; it’s about what you do with that money that can make a huge difference to your long-term financial security.

Konigsberg is the author of The Truth About Grief, a contributor to the anthology Money Changes Everything, and a director at Arden Asset Management. The views expressed are solely her own.

MONEY home buying

When Moving In With Mom and Dad Is a Wise Choice

Having enough money to buy your own place is hard. Here are four strategies, including living with family or friends for a period, that will help make it doable.

Despite the real estate boom and bust and the many Americans who lost their houses or saw the value plummet, most non-homeowners still hope to buy a place one day. Of course, many reasons exist as to why they haven’t yet, including bad credit or too much debt, as well as the doozy: a lack of upfront cash. According to a recent Trulia Trends survey, 41% of millennials surveyed said that saving for a down payment is their biggest hurdle to home ownership. Being able to swing the monthly mortgage nugget simply isn’t enough.

Here are four ways that home buyers (millennials or any generation) can increase the amount they’ve got stashed for the down payment, and build their buying power.

1. Find New Ways To Save

Move back in with Mom and Dad: You might be cringing right now, but don’t worry — it’s not forever, and chances are your folks will throw you out before you are ready to move out anyway. Consolidating housing and moving back in with parents for a short period of time is a huge way to save money.

Cut back on significant spending: Sure, you can cut back on the daily latte and lose a few cable channels, but that is not going to get you enough saved before middle age. You need to cut back on the significant spending areas and big ticket items, like a fancy car (with hefty monthly payments) and yearly vacations. You’ll likely be surprised at how easily you can adapt to spending less, when you know the money saved will go toward an important goal.

Pay yourself first: Set aside money to be saved automatically every time you receive a paycheck — no matter what. Your bank should be able to help you with this by automatically depositing a specific sum into your savings account when your paycheck clears. This way you’ll know when you’ve hit your spending limit for the month.

2. Seek Out Additional Income Sources.

A little help from Mom and Dad: A great and often overlooked source is … the folks. If they are in a position to help you, each parent can “gift” you money every year, tax-free. Currently the allowed amount is $14,000 per year, per parent. If you are married, you can double that to more than $50,000 a year. If you are smart and plan ahead, two years’ worth totals six figures. A very nice start! In fact, according to Trulia’s survey, 50% of all millennials plan to do just that!

Get a roommate: This one is a no-brainer — if you have an extra room, fill it. Let your apartment or your current home work for you. Just be sure you actually sock away that extra income, so you can watch it grow.

Generate a second income: It’s amazing how a few extra dollars can add up over time. A friend of mine taught high school for years and owned an amazing home. When I asked him how he was able to purchase and afford an expensive home in a wonderful neighborhood, he said he had taken on a part-time job as a copywriter for a local paper. He allocated all of that extra income to the purchase of his house. Over time, that money grew and grew.

3. Get Your Credit and Debt in Check

Clean up your credit: A better credit score equals a better mortgage interest rate, which ultimately equals better buying power. Take the necessary steps to clean up your credit. This usually takes time, so plan way ahead—and at least a year in advance. For more on how to improve your credit, click here.

Less debt gives you more buying power: The lower your debt levels are, the stronger your debt-to-income income ratio, which is a key factor when a bank determines how much house you can afford. To keep that ratio in check, and to look favorable to lenders, begin paying down high-interest, revolving balances on credit cards. Also, avoid any big purchases before a potential home purchase. Any big ticket buys (like a new car) can alter your financial picture and prompt a lender to give your finances a more in-depth look.

Student loans do count: For most millennials, student loans can be very high in those early post-college years. Unfortunately, you need to remember that student loans count as debt when the bank is determining your buying power.

4. Downsize Your Dream Home

The starter home: So many people say, “How could I ever buy a decent house in this town?” Well, start thinking smaller. Instead of a $300,000 house, you need to find the one that fits your budget … today. There will be plenty of time to upgrade that starter home into a bigger dream home later. This is where the term “starter home” came from! As you pay down the loan and hopefully build some equity, it’s possible that you may be able to upgrade in five or more years.

Find the same house in a transitional neighborhood: Buying your first home in a transitional area allows you to get into the market relatively cheaply—if you don’t yet have kids, before you have to worry about the local schools—and increase your buying power. It may not be the most sought-after or picturesque community at the moment, but as it improves, your home value will improve with it.

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

More from Trulia:
12 Steps To Fight a Low Appraisal
Breaking Down Debt: How 4 Different Loans Affect Your Mortgage Worthiness8 Quick and Clever Clutter-Clearing Hacks


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