Real Estate Tips

Real Estate Tips

How to Move Cross-Country: See How These Renters Made It Work

When former New Yorkers Erica Warren and Cici Harrison drove across the country and settled in the Pacific Northwest, they had a list of criteria for their new rental.

They’d need a parking space, a home office so Erica could work remotely and, of course, a yard so they could adopt a dog. And this rental couldn’t be too splashy, because a cross-country move is expensive enough.

All of this complicated their search in Portland’s tough rental market. Luckily the couple were able to stay locally with friends until they found the right rental. And their new home ticks all the boxes – while requiring some minor compromises to make it all work.

We chatted with Warren to hear how she and her wife navigated a cross-country move, including finding a home in a new city and making their new rental feel like home.

Where is your home, and how long have you lived there?
We’re in the Southeast, specifically the Richmond neighborhood. We moved there in March of 2017, and we’ve been there a year and a half.

How did you find your rental?
When we got here, we were staying with Marty and Tera, our friends who live here locally. The day after we arrived, there was the biggest snowstorm Portland had ever had in 30 years. That put a damper on our apartment searching, because we couldn’t drive our car or get anywhere. This place was actually the first one we saw, because it was in walking distance from Marty and Tera’s house.

We heard about it because Tera had sent an email around at her job asking if anyone had a lead on a rental. Someone else who worked with her had recently purchased a duplex and was looking for renters for the other side.

We walked over and saw it, and it was a very nice place. But it was the first place we looked at. We had no context for if it was a good deal or not. Of course, it seemed like a good deal to us, coming from New York. I was like, “It has a washer and dryer, it has a yard – I’ll pay any amount of money for that!”

So we didn’t say yes right away, and then we probably spent the next two or three weeks looking at places. We looked at about a dozen places all over the city. We saw all the different variations.

At some point we were almost ready to sign a lease on a 1 bedroom in a new apartment complex. It was, on paper, everything we were looking for. And Cici, out of nowhere, goes, “Why didn’t we want that first place that we looked at?” The one we were going to sign a lease for was 1 bedroom, and this was 2 bedrooms, and it was bigger, and the monthly rent was less. And we were like, “Oh, that was a much better place!” So we emailed the landlords to see if it was still available, and it was.

What price range were you looking for, and what did you end up paying?
We were looking in the $1,500-$1,700 per month range. This place ended up being right in the middle. It was $1,600 when we started the first year we were here, and it’s now $1,685. It seems like a pretty reasonable price for the neighborhood we’re in, because the rental market in Portland seems to be growing so fast.

What was the application and approval process like?
It was really straightforward. Our landlords live on the other side of the duplex, and they’re really nice people. I think they were looking for good neighbors as much as they were looking for good tenants. So I think that also helped with the relationship.

Were there any surprise fees?
We paid first month’s rent and a security deposit. The only extra fee when we moved in – we had just adopted Billie, and they had a $25 monthly dog rent. Which they told us about beforehand, because we were very particular about wanting a building that would allow us to adopt a dog. We got her a month after we moved in.

What was your cost of moving across the country?
We paid about $5,000 total for a full-service moving company, which is a lot of money. It was our biggest moving expense, but all we had to do was box up our things. They sent a whole team of people, packed our stuff into a storage cube, stored the cube for us, and then when we found a place, shipped it across the country. We didn’t have to do any of the logistics, and we didn’t have to do any of the carrying of things – we just had to pack a few boxes and unpack the boxes when we got here.

New York is notorious for small apartments. Is your Portland space bigger or smaller?
It’s slightly bigger, and I feel like it’s most noticeable in the kitchen. The kitchen that we have here is two or three times bigger than what we had in New York. I didn’t know how much I wanted a really nice kitchen, but now that I have one, I’m like yes, this is exactly where we needed the extra space!

We also have outdoor space, which makes a huge difference. It’s not huge – it’s more like a patio than a yard. We have a little grill, and we can sit out there on a nice day. Plus, it’s got a fence, so we can let our dog out.

Did you have any challenges making the place functional?
Nothing major. It was built in the ’60s or ’70s, but the landlords had renovated our unit before we moved in, so the kitchen, bathroom and flooring were all brand new – you know, everything works and is nicely designed, so that helped.

I did a little bit of work in the yard, just because it was a little muddy, and it’s Portland, so it’s wet in the winter, and Billie likes to dig. I got some pebble stones to fill in some of the muddy areas. We got into some light container gardening, because we never had outdoor space in Brooklyn. So we have a little blueberry bush, some star jasmine and some other little things I’m trying not to kill.

What else have you done to make your rental feel like home?
We painted a couple accent walls, which our landlords were totally fine with. We have this wide picture window in the living room that faces the road, but because of that you can see right into our house. So we got a custom shade that you can pull up from the bottom or pull down from the top, just so that we can have privacy but also sunlight if we want.

How long do you think you’ll stay?
I don’t know specifically. When we moved in, we talked about how we’d love to stay here until we’re in a position to buy a house. One day I’d like to own a house – a dining room would be nice at some point in my life. But where we’re at right now, this is the right amount of space, and it’s a really great neighborhood.

What do you want from your next place, other than a dining room?
A big fenced-in yard for Billie! Cici’s mom sent us an article about how the thing that’s finally getting millennials to buy houses is their dogs.

I’d also like a little bit more guest space so we could have people visit more frequently, because all of our family is on the East Coast.

And this is 100 percent because Cici has already claimed it – whatever house we buy has to have a basement so that she can play drums there. Number one is a yard for Billie, and number two is a basement for a drum kit and band practice.

Erica’s tips for finding a rental in a new city

1. Look around to get a sense of the market

Look at as many places as possible. Because even if you don’t want that unit, it gives you a sense of the market. So when you do find a good deal, you know that you have a good deal.

2. Know where you’re willing to compromise

If you have enough money that you don’t have to make sacrifices in renting, you probably don’t need to be renting. So everything’s a trade-off. There’s not a perfect rental out there. So it’s like, “This place has 2 bedrooms, but it’s more expensive, or this place has a bigger yard, but it’s farther out.”

3. Get a little help from your friends

We were so lucky to stay with Marty and Tera in their guest room until we found our own place. And Tera emailed co-workers to see if they knew of any rentals, which is how we ended up finding this place.

4. Conserve your energy and hire a full-service moving and storage company (if you can)

There’s enough stress in moving at all, amplified by moving cross-country. We probably could have gotten a U-Haul, packed it up, driven it cross-country and put our stuff into a storage unit here. But the logistics, let alone the physical labor, were not extra pieces of stress we needed. And even though it was really expensive, it was worth every penny.

Apartment photos by Erica Warren.

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Real Estate Tips

The Popsicle Place Program in Seattle Helps Families in Need

It’s tough to afford housing in many cities across the U.S., but in Seattle, it’s a particularly competitive market.

Living in an urban area with such a high cost of living can break a family when emergencies arise, but luckily for the people of Seattle, Mary’s Place has been relieving housing burdens since 1999.

Initially established as a women’s day center, Mary’s Place has evolved and expanded into a housing facility. It now provides a warm bed for 680 family members every night of the year.

As the shelter’s website states, “The Mary’s Place model is simple – partner with anyone and everyone who can help to address the issue of family homelessness: congregations, individuals, cities and counties, and businesses of all sizes.”

It seems to be a phenomenally successful model – and it only continues to grow. The Popsicle Place program, formed in 2018, is a Mary’s Place program focused on assisting families who are simultaneously experiencing homelessness and caring for medically complex or critically ill children.

A devastating statistic says that 1 in every 285 children in the U.S. alone will be diagnosed with cancer before the age of 20, and many more will be hospitalized for serious illness and injury. Additionally, 60 percent of people with the highest rent burden can’t cover three months of expenses.

Serious illness can put many families in financial crisis, and the stress of caring for children in need of medical intervention as well as maintaining livelihood for the whole family can be debilitating.

But at Popsicle Place, families don’t have to worry about costly emergency housing options, like motels, or choosing between having a place to live and having a healthy child. They also don’t have to worry about spending the night apart, since the Popsicle Place has a medical staff and volunteers on hand so that every member of the family can rest comfortably, in private rooms, all under one roof – regardless of health status.

While a small housing operation can’t alleviate every concern for families in medical and financial distress, simply having a bit of support can provide immense relief – relief that those families need to take their next step.

“Not only do they have their own private rooms,” says Marty Hartman, executive director of Mary’s Place, “but they also have access to our healthcare clinic. They have a Popsicle Place lounge, where if their children aren’t feeling so well or if they have immunocompromised conditions, they can go in there and relax. [We] just want to set them all up for success.”

And that they do, with excellent results.

The Mary’s Place blog recently shared the story of a single mother of three named Nycolle. When she found black mold in her apartment, she was forced to immediately leave with her children, each of them with their own unique and demanding healthcare requirements, leaving them in need of emergency housing. That’s where the Popsicle Place program came in.

“Being at Mary’s Place gave me peace of mind,” says Nycolle in the article, “knowing we had electricity for Karlah’s treatments and refrigeration for Krystoffer’s medications. It let me focus on keeping them well!”

With their basic needs managed, the family members soon found a large, affordable 3-bedroom house in Spokane and happily relocated. They now enjoy a large yard, as well as a home to call their own.

That’s exactly what the program is all about, according to Hartman. “Let’s get you the housing options that you need and then move you forward.”

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Real Estate Tips

This Home Looks Like a Barn (But Has Enough Room to Be a Small Castle)

Like many married couples, the Clarks have a lot in common: a last name, a first name (they’re both Kelly) and an affinity for wide-open spaces – which inspired them to build a 10,000-square-foot barn-style home on 30 acres of land in West Monroe, Louisiana. 

But let’s back up. Kelly Clark (that’s him) and Kelly Moore-Clark (that’s her) wanted a change of scenery for their family. So when a friend put some land up for sale, they decided to make a move.

“We pretty much bought the property sight unseen because you couldn’t walk through it,” Moore-Clark says, referring to the thicket of overgrown trees and plants that carpeted the ground. “We bought the land and then crossed our fingers that, when we cleared it, we would find a spot to build the home.”

Spoiler alert: They found that spot. The perfect location sat at the back of the property on a hilltop, far from the main road.

They immediately began working with a team of designers to create a plan for their space. The blueprints were beautiful, but something didn’t feel quite right.

“We just couldn’t pull the trigger on it. … It was just a gut feeling,” Moore-Clark says. “I [felt] like whatever [was] supposed to be out here [was] supposed to be special.”

Then, Moore-Clark’s mother had an idea: Why not build a home that looked like a barn?

“I remember [my mom] specifically saying, ‘You could roll the doors up and drive through the house,'” Moore-Clark says.

And that’s when it all clicked. With the help of Moore-Clark’s father, a former army draftsman, they made a new plan, hired a team of subcontractors and watched their home begin to take shape.

“It was a very organic [building] process,” Moore-Clark says. “As the framers started framing it up, we would come into the room, and I would try to envision what our life [would look] like.”

Moore-Clark doesn’t have to use her imagination anymore. Today the couple, their three daughters, a dog, an old pony and 80 free-range chickens roam about the 10,000-square-foot home. And although they spend most of their time in a small fraction of the space, there’s plenty of room to grow. Three main areas, to be exact.

At approximately 2,250 square feet, the east side of the home is where you can usually find the family. This area includes the bedrooms, the living room/kitchen area and the bathroom.

Speaking of that bathroom: “I wanted it to be like a little greenhouse,” Moore-Clark says. Her vision for the bathroom predates the actual bathroom itself – she bought the tub before they started building.

Even though there’s room for dozens of bedrooms, the girls share one room, complete with custom-designed bunk beds.

And then there’s the breezeway. This is the second section of the home, and it’s around 2,000 square feet. The breezeway is an indoor porch area with roll-up doors and plenty of living space.

“Lots of playing happens in the breezeway,” Moore-Clark says. “[The girls] ride their bikes through it, put on musical events with their friends – ballets, plays, lots of things.”  

Finally, there’s the west side, which contains an office space, a home gym, a shop, and a guest bedroom and bathroom.

“When people stay … they really have their own space,” Moore-Clark says. “You don’t even hear each other. It’s good for a little retreat.”

The home is good for a lot of activities that fall outside the ordinary – it’s hosted live music recordings, floral workshops and even a Christmas Eve church service.

So what compelled Clark and Moore-Clark to create a space so vast and so intimate at the same time? They’re not really sure. Yet.  

“We feel like, one day, it’s going to be used for something interesting. … [It’s] a gut feeling.” Moore-Clark says. “We don’t know exactly why we built this place the way it is. But we knew it was right.”

Photos by Seth MacMillan.

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Real Estate Tips

A Park Slope Townhome That Went From ‘Mess’ to Masterpiece

Very few would have considered purchasing a crumbling and decrepit 1890 Victorian townhome. But Lindsey Branca and her partner (both in business and in life), Mike Grosshandler, saw what most didn’t: opportunity.

After a sweeping renovation that included collapsing plaster and a complete layout change, this townhome – located in trendy Park Slope, Brooklyn – went from a deteriorated state to downright stately.

“When we purchased the home, we were on the hunt for a ‘mess’ that would provide the most opportunity,” says Branca.

The opportunity they saw in this home was a “hidden” second floor not visible from the street – a very rare find in the New York City real estate scene. This hidden second floor brought a whole treasure trove of extra square footage, including an extra floor of bedrooms.

Although the renovation was a complete overhaul, which involved removing a bedroom downstairs, taking out a bathroom, and removing an extra kitchen from its days of multifamily use, the project only took Branca’s restoration company, Branca & Co., around nine months to complete.

Inside, they transformed damaged carpets and worn-out walls into a sleek and contemporary single-family home.

They kept as much original detail as they could, such as the painstakingly stripped marble mantles, and what they weren’t able to salvage (like the damaged plaster molding), they restored to fit the original design.

The modern details they added, like white oak plank flooring and an open-concept kitchen with a large island and open shelving, play nicely with traditional details, such as a clawfoot tub and trace ceilings.

“I’m very happy with the results. We stuck to a very strict budget (one my architect was skeptical we could hit), yet we were still able to produce a really beautiful, thoughtful product,” says Branca.

Photos by Nicole Franzen.

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Real Estate Tips

Small-Town Charm: 8 Homes for Sale in Less Populated Areas

There’s just something special about a small town. Less traffic, no noise pollution and friendly neighbors can all make for an idyllic escape from the grit of the city.

Some of these small towns may be hours from the nearest Amazon Locker or Whole Foods, but what they lack in big-city amenities, they make up for in big-time charm.

Here are eight homes for sale in some of the best small towns in America.

Stately in South Carolina

For sale: $668,000

Nothing could be sweeter than this stately home in Beaufort, South Carolina, which has a prime location on South Carolina’s coastal Sea Islands. The home was built in 1997, but it looks like it was plucked straight from the 19th century, with notable features like a large front porch, whitewashed brick on the exterior, an updated and spacious living-dining area, and a covered back porch for those sweltering summer nights.

Photo from Zillow listing.

See more Beaufort homes for sale.

A coastal cottage in small-town California

For sale: $1.4 million

This quaint cottage in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, is the quintessential coastal retreat. Carmel-by-the-Sea is located just an hour outside the tech capital of the country – San Jose – but feels worlds away, thanks to its small population and relaxed lifestyle. The cottage itself is a seaside charmer, featuring blue cedar shake siding and a large deck for lounging, and it’s just a short walk from downtown Carmel.

Photo from Zillow listing.

See more Carmel-by-the-Sea homes for sale.

Small-town Southern charm in Georgia

For sale: $379,900

If there were one home to define small-town Southern charm, it might be this cute Craftsman in Dahlonega, Georgia. Once considered a gold-mining destination, Dahlonega is now a quiet little mountain town with a downtown that’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Craftsman home, located minutes from the downtown square, is elegant yet cozy, with hardwood floors throughout the main level, wainscoting in the dining room, and two levels of decks that have a beautiful tree-lined view.

Photo from Zillow listing.

See more Dahlonega homes for sale.

Scandinavian style in a small mountain town

For sale: $1.1 million

This cabin in Ketchum, Idaho – population 2,689 – may have your typical rustic mountain cabin exterior, but pop inside and you’ll find an unexpected use of Scandinavian style. The interior of the cabin features Venetian plaster, low-voltage cable lighting, stainless spacers in maple-wrapped beams and a custom staircase.

Photo from Zillow listing.

See more Ketchum homes for sale.

Fancy on the New York farm

For sale: $995,000

Just a bit beyond the bright lights of Times Square, you’ll find this vibrant farmhouse in Rhinebeck, New York, which is a charming and historic town about two hours away from Manhattan. This home makes small-town life feel fabulous, with stunning details like beamed vaulted ceilings in the living space and master bedroom, a chef’s kitchen, and even an indoor lap pool with views of the 5-acre lot.

Photo from Zillow listing.

See more Rhinebeck homes for sale.

A Queen Anne Victorian in Arkansas

For sale: $439,000

This quirky and colorful Queen Anne Victorian home in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, and it’s currently being used as a bed-and-breakfast for the bustling tourist town in the Ozarks. A pastel facade and a large front porch greet you as you enter the 7-bed, 7.5-bath home – which is divided up into three floors full of guest suites with private entrances.

Photo from Zillow listing.

See more Eureka Springs homes for sale.

Mayberry-like in Marietta, Ohio

For sale: $270,000

This Arts and Crafts-style home, located in the historic district of Marietta, Ohio (population 14,085), combines the gorgeous architecture of the early 20th century with the modern, convenient and open spaces of the 21st century. The rooms throughout the home have been carefully updated while still keeping the original charm intact, including the embellishments on the hardwood floors, the built-ins in the living area, and the cozy fireplaces in the dining and living spaces.

Photo from Zillow listing.

See more Marietta homes for sale.

Small Southwestern charm in Taos

For sale: $725,000

This pueblo-style home in Taos, New Mexico, is just a short walk to the small town’s famous art galleries in Taos Plaza. The pueblo itself is a work of art, with beautiful details like dark wood beams across the ceiling, a Spanish tile floor and a large fireplace in the living room.

Photo from Zillow listing.

See more Taos homes for sale.

Top photo from Zillow listing.

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Real Estate Tips

Your Top 5 Fireplace Questions, Answered

Fireplaces are one of the most sought-after home features, but using one can be intimidating, and you’ve probably got questions.

Here’s a quick guide to get you and your fire started this fall.

How do I use a wood-burning fireplace?

If a cave man can start a fire, so can you.

1. Get your chimney inspected
Safety is your first priority! Have your fireplace and chimney inspected by a licensed professional. This is something you should do every year, before the first fire of the season.

2. Prepare the fireplace
Clean out any old ashes with a broom (make sure they’re cool, of course). Check that the damper is open and working properly.

3. Gather and prep your wood
Use seasoned hardwood that has been split and dried for at least six months – preferably for a year. Seasoned hardwood logs should be dark and cracked at the ends, and they should make a hollow sound when knocked together.

To construct a long-lasting fire, place a rolled-up ball of newspaper beneath the grates. Then lay pieces of narrow, finely split wood in a crisscross pattern on the grates.

Finish the stack by securely resting one to three dry logs over the kindling.

4. Prime the flue
This step heats the cold air inside the flue so you don’t get a backup of smoke. Before you light the fire, light a tightly rolled-up sheet of newspaper, and hold it toward the open damper. Keep it there for a minute or two until you see the smoke going up the flue.

5. Light it up!
Now you’re ready to light your fire and enjoy.

If the fire starts to go out, gently fan the flames with folded newspaper or use a poker to get the air flowing again. Add logs to the fire with tongs to provide more fuel.

When the fire has gone out for the night, close the metal or glass doors before you go to bed.

Are fireplaces efficient?

It depends. Wood-burning fireplaces, for all their old-fashioned charm, are a wildly wasteful way to heat a house. Since heat rises upward, most of it escapes through the chimney, even when the fire has gone out for the night.

Fireplaces located against an outside wall lose even more heat, since much of it is lost to the cold outdoor air.

Solution? Only use your wood-burning fireplace for special occasions. If you don’t plan on using your fireplace often, purchase an inflatable plug to add insulation.

Gas fireplaces are more efficient, and the newest models are realistic enough to make you forget that you don’t own any firewood. Switching to a gas insert is expensive, though, especially if you have to make changes to your chimney.

If aesthetics are all that matter, use your fireplace to display lit candles.

Are fireplaces safe?

Fire is the very definition of unsafe, but that doesn’t mean you can’t safely enjoy your fireplace. You just have to maintain it and practice common sense:

  • Keep flammable materials and objects away from the fireplace, and store firewood well away from the house.
  • To keep embers from flying out and igniting your unread stack of magazines, use a mesh or metal screen when the fire is lit.
  • Before lighting the first fire of the season, inspect your extinguishers, test your smoke detectors and review your family’s evacuation routes.
  • Continue to test your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors monthly.
  • The glass doors, mesh screen and tools can be dangerously hot. If you have children, use a free-standing barrier to prevent burns.

Wood-burning fireplaces produce smoke that can irritate or even damage your lungs, even with a properly functioning chimney. To keep smoke from filling your house, ensure that the damper is open, your home is ventilated, and the chimney has been inspected and cleared of obstructions.

Carbon monoxide is produced by both gas and wood-burning fireplaces, and it’s especially dangerous because it’s invisible, silent and odorless. Use carbon monoxide detectors and inspect them regularly.

Why does my gas fireplace smell?

What you smell is an additive that’s been included in the propane to help you detect gas leaks.

Vent-free gas fireplaces typically come with an oxygen depletion sensor that will shut off the flame if too much carbon monoxide is detected, and vented fireplaces pull fumes away from the house.

These safety measures aren’t foolproof, however, so ensure that you have carbon monoxide detectors installed, and inspect them monthly by pressing the “Test” button.

How often should I clean my chimney?

A buildup of soot and creosote is more than unsightly: It can reduce airflow, cause smoke to back up and even create a fire risk.

To avoid a chimney fire, have your fireplace and chimney inspected annually by a licensed professional. They will likely recommend a cleaning when the layer of residue is about 1/8 of an inch thick.

To clean inside the fireplace, put on a dust mask, sweep out the ashes, and scrub the surfaces with a brush and dishwashing liquid.

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Real Estate Tips

9 Tips for Achieving Maximum Coziness

As fall continues and the days become shorter, it’s too tempting to just hibernate until spring. But there is, indeed, joy to be found in the quieter months of the year.

Perhaps it’s a bit overdone to talk about the art of hygge, that untranslatable Danish word that references the feeling of being ultra-cozy and content.

The thing is, the Danes know how to thrive in winter. You might already know they’re the happiest people on earth, but did you know a lot of them attribute their unseasonably sunny outlook to their home- and self-care habits?

When it’s cold and rainy out, you might hear the siren song of your favorite streaming service. Ahh, sweet, solitary binge-watching! But if you’d like a more satisfying way to spend a chilly evening, here are a few ideas to channel the Danes’ wisdom and make an intentionally delightful day out of drab weather.

1. Set the mood

Candles are a key ingredient to a supremely comfortable atmosphere. Not only do they provide beautiful, soft lighting, but they also add warmth and scent to your space.

Tip: Choose seasonal scents to inspire celebration, or choose a summery scent, such as coconut and floral, to help combat the seasonal blues.

2. Bake something

Cake is central to the cozy experience. But it doesn’t just begin when you eat the cake (or cookies or pie) – it begins when you buy the ingredients.

Go to your favorite market, choose your ingredients carefully, and mix them with great care, taking your time to enjoy the task at hand. It’s just a bonus that your baking will flood your space with delicious smells – and taste good too.

Tip: Call up a friend or family member whose recipes deserve appreciation, and ask if they could show you how to work out their spectacular skills. Baking together makes for a lovely afternoon, no matter the weather!

3. Add texture

Plush throws, sheepskins and cushions make for a much more inviting space. Cover your surfaces in as many luxurious fabrics and pillows as you can find and snuggle down.

Tip: Faux is just as fashionable as the real thing. If cost prohibits, find inexpensive alternatives.

4. Invite people over

Do you tend to hide from your friends as soon as October hits? Fight the urge to retreat, and invite your nearest and dearest (or those you want to know better) over to share your coziness. Bonus: Ask them to bring a bottle of your favorite autumnal beverage!

Tip: Low on funds but want to host a dinner party? Ask everyone to bring an ingredient for stew, and make it together.

5. Get out the board games

They gather dust all year, so make use of them now! For the minimalists among us, a deck of cards is a highly versatile recreational object to keep around. No one to play with? Try your hand at a game of solitaire – analog style.

Tip: Have long-distance friends and loved ones? There are many gaming apps that you can play from all over the world. Start up a game and maintain your connections year-round!

6. Perfect your hot drink game

Hot cocoa, hot toddies, apple cider, mulled wine – pick your poison. Whatever it is, find your own special recipe that is so delicious you can’t wait to show it off. Then have those aforementioned friends over again!

Tip: Why, yes, you can put whiskey in those drinks. But it’s usually a good idea to perfect a mocktail version, too, for friends who don’t imbibe.

7. Embrace sweater weather

If you don’t already have a favorite sweater, it’s time to find one. It should be something that makes you feel at home when you slip it on. Cashmere, wool, mohair – anything will do. Whatever you choose, pair it with thick socks!

Tip: Start a knitting, crocheting or weaving circle, and make your own sweater over the course of the winter. It’s easier to get through lengthy projects when you’re sitting beside a friend – and it’s a great excuse to get together every week, no matter the weather.

8. Curate your cold-outside playlist

Make yourself a mix of music that inspires you to do all those things that make you feel absolutely endeared to your space. Put it on shuffle, relax, repeat.

Tip: Instrumentals are classics for a reason – they can work as background for just about anything. When in doubt, most music services have pre-made playlists, some of which you can filter by mood.

9. Do seasonal activities

Making caramel apples? Check. Carving pumpkins? Check. Canning, puddle jumping, sledding, walking through string-light-wrapped neighborhoods? Check!

Whatever your favorite seasonal treats might be, set some dates to make them happen and feel the magic of even the most blah weather wash over you.

Tip: This is a great way to involve kids in seasonal celebration. If you don’t have children of your own, hosting a kid-friendly event (such as pumpkin painting) is a lovely way to connect with friends with little ones. Not a fan of cleaning up after the kids? Offer them a treat in exchange for cleaning up. Everybody wins.

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Real Estate Tips

9 Cozy Cabins for $300,000 or Less

A cabin is the perfect space to get away from it all, unplug the electronics, and enjoy the great outdoors with friends and family. But if you thought a cabin with exposed wooden beams and neighbors nowhere in sight wasn’t possibly in your budget – think again!

Grab your flannel blanket and a cup of hot coffee, and peruse these 9 cozy cabins that will fit even a modest budget.

Adorable A-Frame by the lake

For sale: $234,900

This A-frame cabin in Gore, Oklahoma, has stellar views of crystal-clear Lake Tenkiller from the spacious back porch, and it’s just down the road from direct water access. After a long day out on the lake, you’ll enjoy the open-concept living and dining space, which has plenty of natural light from the French doors and the windows that stretch nearly up to the gable. Snuggle up with a book at the end of the day in one of the bedrooms or in the bonus sleeping loft upstairs.

Photo from Zillow listing.

See more Gore homes for sale.

A cedar-sided hideaway

For sale: $259,000

This storybook-like cabin in Clinton, Montana, is a stunner from the outside with cedar siding, a Juliet balcony, and a wraparound porch that’s perfect for looking out at the surrounding forest and that big Montana sky. Inside, the home has a spacious kitchen, 1 bedroom and space for another bed in a lofted area upstairs. The home is also equipped with a shop that has plenty of space to store winter toys.

Photo from Zillow listing.

See more Clinton homes for sale.

Spacious and secluded in Minnesota

For sale: $299,900

When you picture a quintessential cabin in the woods, you might picture this home in Grand Marais, Minnesota. Pine paneling, wood floors, a stone fireplace, and plenty of natural light coming through the floor-to-ceiling windows give this cabin a dazzling yet austere appearance. The cabin also has plenty of perks for outdoor enthusiasts, including a trail that leads directly to the lake, where you’ll find your own private dock as well as a fire-pit area.

See more Grand Marais homes for sale.

A modern A-Frame cabin

For sale: $200,000

This Instagram-worthy A-frame in Intervale, New Hampshire, is picture perfect on the outside, complete with cedar-shake siding and red-trimmed windows that give the home a pop of color against the surrounding greenery. Inside the charm continues, with wood-planked walls in the living space, a spacious master suite with a remodeled bath and an exposed wooden beam, and an upstairs loft to be used as an extra bedroom or a comfy reading nook.

Photo from Zillow listing.

See more Intervale homes for sale.

A rustic home in Heber City

For sale: $264,900

Located just a short drive from the amenities of Park City, and with private winter access to the Uinta National Forest for winter snowmobiling, this rustic cabin in Heber City, Utah, has everything you need for staying and playing in the great outdoors. Wooden planks adorn the walls and ceilings throughout the cozy space, which has a master bedroom downstairs and an open loft with a balcony upstairs.

Photo from Zillow listing.

See more Heber City homes for sale.

A Big Bear remodeled stunner

For sale: $299,900

You certainly won’t be roughing it when you’re inside this glamorous cabin in Big Bear City, California. The stylish and bold red front deck and wall of glass windows elegantly greet you from the road. And inside, the home has been completely remodeled, complete with granite countertops and new appliances in the kitchen, a large brick fireplace in the spacious living area, and wood-grain tile flooring throughout the home.

Photo from Zillow listing.

See more Big Bear City homes for sale.

A provincial Peshastin cabin

For sale: $225,000

The views don’t get much better than those from this adorable cabin in Peshastin, Washington. Between the stunning views of nearby Wedge Mountain and the dense surrounding forest, this home gets you up close and personal with nature. Beyond the scenery, this cabin provides a cozy retreat from nature, with an upstairs sleeping loft (in addition to its master bedroom), an outdoor shower that’s perfect after those steamy summer hikes, and plenty of space to store skis or snowboards in the two outdoor sheds.

Photo from Zillow listing.

See more Peshastin homes for sale.

Smoky Mountain views from every room

For sale: $289,000

You can definitely smell that fresh mountain air from this roomy Townsend, Tennessee, cabin, which has views of the Smoky Mountains from every room. With 3 beds and 2 baths, you can comfortably fit the whole family for a weekend of hiking, biking, or simply hanging out on the back porch with unbelievable mountain views. This home is perfect for relaxing, with a hot tub outside and a Jacuzzi tub inside.

Photo from Zillow listing.

See more Townsend homes for sale.

A cathedral-like cabin

For sale: $230,000

It may not get cold in Texas very often, but you’ll have the urge to cuddle up around a fire by this cabin in Cleburne. With cathedral-style ceilings, a covered porch, and a modern, spacious kitchen, you’ll be set up to host friends and family throughout the year. Best of all, the home is located in a neighborhood known for its golf club, which is one of the best in Texas.

Photo from Zillow listing.

See more Cleburne homes for sale.

Top photo from Shutterstock.

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Real Estate Tips

3 Questions to Ask Before Buying a Cabin (and How to Find One!)

A cabin in the woods can be a fairy-tale retreat – a place to curl up with a good book or conquer the nearby skiing hot spots. While there are plenty of cabins you can rent for a weekend, owning one provides the flexibility to escape when the weather or mood is right.

Here are three questions to ask yourself before making an offer on your cozy hideaway.

1. What kind of cabin do you want?

The word “cabin” can refer to a variety of structures. Most people think of a small wooden house in a remote location, but that’s not always the case – you have options, and they’re worth exploring.

Log cabins

This traditional cabin type begs to be enjoyed with hot cocoa and a crackling fire. If a log cabin is calling your name, you’ll need to decide on the type of wood, the log shape and the corner styles.

Spruce logs are popular for their resistance to decay, and Scandinavian pine is often chosen for its density and tight grain.

A-frame cabins

With a simple, iconic design, these triangular charmers can accommodate a lofted sleeping area or vaulted ceilings, and the roof’s steep slant prevents snow or leaf buildup.

Thanks to minimalism and tiny living trends, A-frames are experiencing a comeback. They’re hip and affordable – this tiny A-frame cost only $700 to construct, using mostly found materials.

Mobile cabins

If you’re looking for mobility, a tiny cabin can be built on wheels for towing capability.

Gastineau Log Homes has a Log Cabins 2 Go line, featuring 400-square-foot structures that are factory-made and ready to roll on trailers. An even tinier option – the Stanley model from Rocky Mountain Tiny Houses, built on an 8-foot-by-2-foot trailer with a foldable front porch.

Prefabricated and modular cabins

Many companies offer catalogs of cost-effective cabin designs to choose from. The designs are typically customizable but simple enough to be factory-made and then transported to your site.

2. Where do you want to vacation?

Do you want to be on a lake or a river? Far from the summer crowds or near a bustling mountain town? To find your ideal spot, keep these three things in mind.

Travel time, family time

Consider how often you’d like to use your cabin and how far you’re willing to travel to do so. Factor in holiday traffic – will you make it there for a three-day weekend without wasting most of your time on the road?

And since vacation homes are often the place for families to gather, pick a location that’s convenient for everyone – and one that offers activities all family members can enjoy.

Scenery

Cabins afford an opportunity to embrace the outdoors, so the setting is important. The window and porch views are going to play a prominent role in your relaxation time, so make sure you like what you see.

If you’re building your cabin, you’ll want to plan your design and placement in harmony with the surrounding landscape. Log cabins are meant to look like they’re a part of nature – not a disruption to it.

Maintenance

Remember that you won’t always be around to shovel the driveway or mow the lawn. If offseason maintenance is a concern, make sure there’s someone you can hire to look after your property when you’re not there.

3. How much cabin can you afford?

Cabins might seem like a luxury, but with careful budgeting and lifestyle adjustments, you’ll find they can be an affordable way to acquire property and vacation time.

Budgeting for a cabin is just like budgeting for a home. The price tags vary widely, based on location, design, amenities and quality.

Consider how much value you’ll get for your money. If you’re going to use it frequently, you won’t need to rent vacation homes, which could save you money in the long run. And if you’re going to rent it out, it could even make you money.

But if your cabin could potentially sit there unused, collecting maintenance to-dos that you aren’t around to complete, it can be a major financial drain.

Speak with a financial adviser, and take plenty of time to assess pricing and location options before deciding if a second home is indeed within your budget.

How to start your search

It’s a little more of an art than a science, but there are a few tricks you can try to yield more relevant search results.

Start with location

Once you land on a location, search for it on Zillow. If you’re looking in a remote area outside city limits, try searching in the county or ZIP code.

You can also draw your own search boundaries on the map. If you’re getting fewer results than you’d like, try drawing a circle that’s bigger than the area you’re looking in. That way, you’ll see nearby listings too.

Narrow with filters

From here, it’s all about filters. Set your filters to show for-sale homes within your price range.

If your range is up to $300,000, try entering $350,000 to see homes where you might be able to negotiate the price. Consider Make Me Move listings, too, as these homeowners are motivated to sell, even though they haven’t yet pulled the trigger.

You can also set the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, but keep your options open when you’re getting started.

Under Home Type, consider checking Lots/Land. Some properties are categorized this way even though they have small structures on the property. And if you’re considering building your own cabin, this will be an especially good option for you.

Explore keywords

If you’re not seeing what you’re after, or if you’re getting pages upon pages of results, try playing around with Keywords under More. Try one keyword or phrase per search so you don’t narrow your search results too much.

Keep in mind that Zillow scans the entire listing for your keywords, so if you search “schools,” you’ll see tons of listings, because they all include nearby schools.

Most often, the keywords are pulled from the listing descriptions that real estate agents wrote to upsell the house. Think like they would – if you were selling a cabin in your locale, what features would you highlight?

Here are a few keywords to get you started: cabin, A-frame, getaway, cozy, woods, lakefront, river and rustic.

Happy cabin hunting!

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Originally published October 25, 2017.

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Real Estate Tips

How to Make the Most of 500 Square Feet: See How This City Renter Did It

When Lola Simmons and boyfriend Garrett Moore began looking for an apartment in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, they were hoping to spend around $1,400 on monthly rent. So when the pair found their dream spot for just over $1,000 a month in Seattle’s infamously difficult rental market, they knew they’d struck gold.

“I walked in, and after about two minutes, I said, ‘Yep, I’ll take it,'” says Simmons.

From there, the process was easy, and the couple experienced little surprise throughout their move-in – besides an out-of-commission antique freight elevator on move-in day.

We sat down with Simmons to discuss how she found the perfect rental and how she’s made the cozy 500-square-foot space into a home over the past three years – including turning the walk-in closet into a bedroom.

How did you find this place?
Garrett’s good friends lived here, and they were moving out. They were looking for someone to take over their lease.

So after the lease was up, you renewed? Did the price change?
Yeah. When we moved in, I think it was $1,050, and when we renewed the lease, it went up to $1,245. Now it’s $1,270.

And what about utilities?
They have a set rate included in the rent, which I thought was a unique way to do it. The only thing we pay for is electricity, which is about $40 every three months or so.

Other than it being a great deal, what else drew you to this place?
I’ve always wanted to live in this building, ever since I moved to Capitol Hill. Everyone’s lived in this building. It’s kind of special.

I think it’s so cool that every apartment in this building is different. Each one has its own character. Even if you go into another one with the same layout, it’s still totally different. Some flooring is different or the tile in the kitchen. It’s really interesting.

When the old building manager was here, he’d leave the doors unlocked for me so I could go into the empty apartments and look at the different layouts.

It can be easy for a rental to look basic, but you’ve totally personalized yours. How did you make your space unique?
I’m drawn to that ’70s palette that’s really saturated and drab, and also those really bright ’80s colors. I’ve acquired a lot of stuff. I think as much as I’d like to be a minimalist, I like to have stuff.

We’ve got a lot of plants, and I think tending to those is really fun. Learning about them, making it cozy for the cats – there’s really nowhere in here they can’t be.

Having a lot of music and books and colors everywhere was really something that I was working toward, and I just really love the junk stores, so I go and buy a bunch of stuff. It scratches the itch, you know?

It’s hard for me to understand why people would spend a ridiculous amount of money on stuff. I like to mismatch stuff and make it work. It’s not as easy as buying straight from IKEA, but you’re not going to find the same stuff in someone else’s house. The thrill of the hunt is important to me.

Garrett has a lot of worldly things like instruments and things from his travels, and it definitely goes with my stuff, but it makes it feel more cultured.

Other than sourcing interesting items, what’s been your greatest challenge with your apartment?
There have been a lot.

The outlets. It’s an old building – it was built in the early 1900s, and you have all these gadgets today. From our living room outlet, we run a cord into the closet, which is also the bedroom, so we can charge our phones at night.

When we first moved in, the only outlet in the bathroom was the one attached to the light fixture. It was blown out when we first started living here, so I had to blow-dry my hair in the living room.

When we moved in, I had a queen-size bed, and basically it was sandwiched in there with the edges coming up on the sides against the walls. We ended up getting a full-size bed, and it fits perfectly – exactly. I mean, if the bed was a quarter of an inch bigger it wouldn’t fit.

And then storage is a huge challenge – making it look like it’s not just a bunch of stuff everywhere. We have a lot of under-the-bed storage. You have to get really creative.

So what do you want out of your next rental?
I really want a bathroom that has a huge clawfoot tub with a lot of natural light. An actual-sized bedroom, to be able to walk on either side of the bed, maybe have a nightstand. And I just want a really big kitchen.

Despite what it lacks in space and outlets, how do you feel about your apartment?
My childhood was all over the place, and we moved around a lot, and I never had that sense of “home.” We’re entertaining the idea of moving to California because of the seasons – it gets kind of hard when it gets cold and gray.

I’ll be really sad to leave this apartment. It’s honestly the first place I’ve lived that I’ve really, really loved.

Lola’s tips for small-space living on a budget

1. Live with a complementary partner

I think if you’re going to live in a small space, you have to really have a plan about responsibilities, because they pile up. And he pretty much lets me have my way when it comes to design, which is good.

2. Get creative with storage solutions

A lot of that isn’t stuff that comes to me right away, but I experiment by moving stuff around and asking if it’s functional – is it in my way? Does it serve the purpose I’m looking for?

It sometimes takes a long time. It’s a lot of measuring and returning things, and it’s not always easy, but I think it’s rewarding. I feel really accomplished when something fits perfectly.

3. Let your space evolve

I’m not very patient whatsoever, but something I’ve learned is that when you don’t have a large budget or you shop the way I do at secondhand stores, you have to be patient. You don’t know what they’re going to have.

You also have to cycle things out. Our free pile in this building is great – I’ve gotten so many cool things from that.

4. Look for unique ways of acquiring items

I got a table from the free pile, and the top was really worn down, so I was going to sand it and restain it. But once I sanded it, I realized it was particle board, so I returned all those supplies and got paint. I also added a shelf below it to put my blankets in.

I think repurposing things and making sure they fit with all your other stuff is the trick. There’s a bunch of other shelves in here I painted the same color with the rest of the paint. They were different colors, and it looked kind of weird, so I but painted them orange.

You work with what you have. I think it’s really fun, because I like DIY projects. Being able to think of what you want and then create it with a really small amount of money is really pleasing to me.

5. Measure the benefits against the costs

Our security deposit was only about $300, so if we did want to repaint at any point, I might consider taking that hit. You want your space to look the way you want, you know? It’s a lot of work, though, to paint a whole room, so I’d have to really think about it.

Photos by Callie Little.

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