This question comes to me from a reader: “I’ve lived in a furnished home for 5 years. I’ve paid over $150,000.00 in rent. The home owner want me to pay for the Living Rm, Dining Rm and 2 Bedroom Set. Should I have to replace these furnishings?”
My first response was: heck, no.
Then I thought about a little. My response is still, probably not, but there could be situations where the renter is on the hook for the furniture.
Who Is Responsible for Replacement Furniture in a Rental Apartment
Typically, a furnished rental costs more than an unfurnished unit. The higher fee is intended to cover the initial cost of purchasing the furniture as well as the cost to replace it. The landlord is responsible for the cost of normal wear and tear for furniture.
However, unless it’s really cheap furniture, it should last more than five years. We recently replaced our sofa and chair. They were twelve years old. They are actually still very comfortable, but they were too big for our home and needed new slipcovers because the dry cleaner had ruined them. I expect to keep our new furniture for ten years, too. Longer for the less frequently used furniture like the guest sofabed.
If furniture is already in need of replacement after five years and it was new when the unit was rented, then the renter may have caused damage to the furniture. Pets can and often do ruin furniture. I hate to say this so bluntly, but very large people can also break furniture or wear it out faster. Children can be culprits, too.
If you, the tenant, have damaged the furniture, then you are responsible for replacing it, just as you would be if you burned a hole in the carpet or broke a window.
If your furniture is in decent condition and you just want it upgraded, check your lease and state laws to see how often furniture in rentals must be replaced. If you’re not at that point, then you have to share the burden.
If the furniture hasn’t been damaged by the tenant, but it has already worn out, then ask the landlord for the receipts for the original furniture. One look at the price and retailer should tell you whether the furniture was good quality. If it wasn’t, then the landlord should pay to replace it because he is the person who bought the crappy furniture in the first place.
The Case Against Furnished Apartments
Furnished apartments are usually intended to be short-term rentals – six to nine months is usually the most someone stays in a furnished apartment. They’re more typically rented by vacationers or business travels who would like a longer stay in a more homey environment than a hotel. They certainly shouldn’t be rented for five years. After a year, you’re just throwing money away.
A furnished apartment is at least $200 more than an unfurnished unit, and could be as much as $500 more, depending on the size of the property and its location. That’s fine if you’re only staying one to four weeks.
So, let’s assume the reader was paying $200 more than the rent for an unfurnished rental. She’s been paying $2500 a month for five years. That’s $2400 extra dollars a year, or an extra $12,000. That’s some pretty pricey furniture!
You can furnish an apartment pretty basically for around $3000 if you shop carefully on Craigslist or at stores like Ikea, then upgrade your furniture over time.
Before you pay extra to rent a furnished apartment, think carefully about how long you plan to be there. If you’re paying it yourself (in other words, you’re not a business traveler on long-term assignment), is the additional cost really worth the reduced hassled of buying your own furniture?
If you’d like to get a free refinance, also called a no-cost refinance, I would start by calling a local broker. If you don’t know a broker personally, ask around. Someone you know does. Call them up and explain your current loan balance, interest rate, and income. Tell them you’d like to know if they offer a free or no-cost refi.
How Can It Be Free?
Obviously, it’s not really free. You pay a slightly higher interest rate for not having costs. Usually 1/8 of a point. In most cases, that’s not a big deal, but you should run the numbers to make sure it makes sense in your situation.
You should also make sure that the loan value is equal to or lower than your home value. In our case, both our appraisals came in higher, one substantially higher, than our purchase price. Actually, I think the second appraisal was too high. There’s simply no way my home value has increased 6% in the last year, even with the window treatments and new paint. But whatever, it got me my refinance.
If you need to pay down your mortgage to qualify for a refinance, determine whether you’ll really save that much money and have enough cash to pay the difference without completely draining your emergency fund.
When Should You Refinance?
Keep an eye on mortgage rates. Right now, they’re at record lows so it’s a great time to refinance. Keep in mind that the averages you see are just that: averages. Unless you pay points or costs, you won’t get the absolutely lowest rate available. Also, if you have a conforming jumbo or jumbo loan, your rate will be higher. You may hear rates being advertised on the radio that are much lower than yours, but those are reserved for loans below $417,000. If you’re close to that, ask your broker if paying down the mortgage to get below that magic number will reduce your rate.
What Kind of Mortgage Should You Get?
It really depends on your budget. Obviously, in this market a fixed rate is the best way to go. Today’s low adjustable rates will rise, but a fixed rate is a fixed rate for the term of the loan.
There is the question of a 30-year mortgage vs. a 15-year-mortgage. If you’re in the first couple years of your loan, a 30-year loan is probably the most doable. If you’re halfway through, then a 15-year-loan will help you save money on interest, both by reducing your rate and reducing the interest paid over the term.
If you’re at less than fifteen years, take a close look at those numbers again. How much interest do you really have left on the loan? Make sure your the total interest over the life of the loan will be less than you’d pay in total with the original loan. Finally, you can refi to any term, but continue to pay the same amount you did before, which will allow you to pay down your mortgage faster.
Crazy like a fox! Yes, just one year after closing on my original purchase, I’ve refinanced my mortgage twice. It cost me nothing but a little bit of time and paper, but the combined refinances will save us $160 a month on the mortgage. Over ten years, that’s a whopping $15,000!
How I Got Two No-Cost Refis in Six Months
I have a mortgage broker friend. He emailed me about four months after we closed on our first loan to let me know he could get me a free refi that would drop our rate by a quarter point. At the time, this was a fantastic deal.
We sent him our bank statements, got the appraisal, and then he sent a notary to our house to sign the papers. We closed right before Christmas.
Fast forward five months. After rising slightly, interest rates started falling drastically. My mortgage broker friend emailed again, with another free refi offer. This time he could get us down to 5% even. I confirmed that we could refi while my husband was on disability. He checked and said yes, so we started the process again.
Fortunately, the answer turned out to be no. We were midway through the process when we had to call a halt. I say fortunately, because rates continued to fall. About six weeks later, my husband was back to work full time and we had a full-time paystub to send over. The appraisal was still good, and in fact our loan paperwork was still in the system. Even better, we could now get a rate of 4.875. We closed within ten days of restarting the process.
What about the Extra Year of Interest?
Both times we refinanced into new 30 year mortgages. We didn’t add to our loan balances, so the equity we’ve accrued over the past year is still ours. We did essentially “lose” that extra year of interest we paid, however it’s not a big concern for me for three reasons:
First, we don’t plan to stay in the house for 30 years. I imagine we’ll be here about ten. It doesn’t make a difference at that point whether we’re at year nine of our loan or year ten. The loan balance is the same.
Second, if we did somehow stay in the house for more than ten years, by that point we should be able to make catch up payments. We’d have $24,249 in interest to make up, but it’s still doable if we spread it out over a couple of years.
Third, over thirty years, the interest savings is $25,640, so even if we stayed thirty years and never made catch-up payments, we’d still save $1,400 in interest.
Why Not Pay Costs?
Both times we could have paid the closing costs to get the rate down another 1/8 of a point. We opted not to because the additional savings weren’t significant enough to save us a big chunk of change. We’d rather keep that money in our pockets, thank you!
Why Not Wait?
We could have waited a little longer to see if rates fell further, but I also need to buy a new car. It looks like I’ll be buying it in the next two weeks. I wanted that refi done before I started applying for car loans.
So now you know my story. Tomorrow I’ll tell you how to get a free refi of your own.
We’re already refinancing our mortgage due to the recent rate drops (it’s a free refi that doesn’t increase our loan balance). So, we had to get reappraised. I didn’t think we’d see a value increase because it’s only been 4 months. Well, I was wrong. Our appraised value went up 2% in four months, and I think I’ve figured out why. If you’re planning to sell your house in a traditional sale, take these steps to improve your home value and your chances of getting the price you need.
Polish or Refinish the Floors
We bought a foreclosure with bamboo floors. Unfortunately, the previous owners used it as a rental property and the tenants had a dog. Bamboo floors and dogs don’t mix. The floors in the main living areas had deep dirty grooves in them. We had the floors refinished before we moved in. All the scratches are gone and they gleam beautifully.
Apply Fresh Interior Paint
When we bought our house, all of the walls were Swiss Coffee – the classic rental color. It’s also boring as hell and the walls were filthy. The furnace had never been cleaned (it has been now), so it had 5-7 years worth of dust and grime in it. That black grime was on the ceilings and the walls in the rooms closest to the furnace. We scrubbed the walls and applied fresh paint in several attractive colors. The walls look fresh and bright and new.
Install Shutters and Blinds
We didn’t install shutters and blinds in the whole house, just in the rooms where we’re not making curtains. These stay with the house when you leave, so they also add to the value.
Clean Up the Yard
Although it’s not really supposed to influence the appraisal, a messy yard can. Our yard wasn’t raked, but we’ve trimmed the trees and removed two dead ones. Even if it doesn’t affect the home value, overgrown trees can detract from a buyer’s impression of the house because they’ll factor in the cost to trim them.
Paint the Trim
When the termite company repaired the termite damage, they didn’t prime the replacement boards on the front of the house or in the carport. They just left it bare wood. I recently primed and painted those boards. At the same time, I peeled off some of the paint in areas where it was visibly peeling and cracking and painted that, too. I had the paint matched perfectly, so you can’t even tell where I touched up. The house looks much better with fresh trim.
I can’t say for sure how much these things improved the value, but the living room paint was five days old when the appraiser came. He even commented that it was a nice color, as did our handyman and my parents. I walked him through and showed him everything we’d fixed or had done.
Now, if you want the bank to agree to a short sale, don’t do any of these things. You want the house to look bad and overgrown so the bank will think it’s worth less and won’t get much as a foreclosure.
It’s done. The move is over and I’m ensconced in my new house. Every move has its challenges, but ours was relatively smooth. If you’re planning a move, here are my top tips for making sure it goes as smoothly as possible.
Start Packing Early
We started packing the weekend after our offer was accepted. My first step was to make a list of everything that could be packed well ahead, 1 week ahead, 1 day ahead, and the morning of the move. We worked through the early packing list quickly, and were done with the week ahead packing a couple days before the move.
Finish Packing the Night Before
The night before the move, finish packing everything except the sheets on your bed, the food in the freezer or fridge, and the items you’ll need to shower and dress in the morning. Have a box or suitcase ready to go for those. Have a cooler for the food and a freezer stocked with blue ice. You don’t want to be running around packing last-minute things while the movers are there.
Have a Plan for Your Pets
This is key. Even if you have a yard, you may not want to put them out there because the commotion may make them too skittish to catch when it’s time to pack them up to go to the new place. We put our cats in a room (with food and litter) with the door closed and then transferred them to an empty room when all the other rooms were empty. We had their carriers waiting. Once we go to the new house, we put them in a room that could stay empty while we unloaded. The other option is to take your pets to a friend’s the night before the move so they’re out of the way.
This is optional, but frankly, hiring movers saved us a lot of hassle. We didn’t have to corral friends to help us move boxes and it saved us hours of backbreaking labor. What movers can do in two hours will take you and your friends four hours, trust me. I looked on Yelp and MovingScam.com to find good movers. You should plan to book them early, because the really popular ones book up well in advance. If friends want to help with your move, get them to help paint, pack, or unpack.
Make a Checklist
Before we opened escrow, I made a checklist of everything that had to happen between then and about a week after we moved. That included all of the things that needed to happen to close the loan, transferring utilities, painting, packing, hiring workers, changing addresses, etc. I tried to put the list in the approximate order in which we’d do them, then checked them off as we went. I included important phone numbers on the checklist so they were in front of me when I was working through it.
Label the Boxes and the Rooms
Mark your boxes with the contents – put “large pots and pans” rather than “kitchen stuff” – and the room they go in. Print signs for each room that you can tape to the doors for the movers.
Take Time Off Work
I took off the Friday before the move and the Monday after so I could finish packing without being up until midnight and then so I could unpack and settle in for an extra day. I’d been hoarding my vacation time for a while and it was worth it to be able to have two days to put things away and make my home usable quickly.
Make an “Unpack First” Box for Each Person
This should contain your towels, bedding, sheets, PJs, toiletries, a favorite book or toy, and medications. Move these in your car, not in the truck, and put them in a spot where they won’t get buried so you can have some of your creature comforts right away.
Use this Time to Throw Stuff Out
We’d already done a lot of our purging in the last couple of years, but I found more stuff to throw out as I packed. If I hadn’t looked at something in years or couldn’t remember why I had it, I tossed it.
Label Your Styrofoam
If you plan on keeping your electronics’ Styrofoam after the move, label it with a black marker. We’d shoved all of our Styrofoam into a closet, but couldn’t quite match it all up with our stuff when we started packing We suspect that some of it belonged to things we no longer own. It would have been a lot easier to tell if we’d labeled it in the first place.
Buy Lots of Boxes, Bubble Wrap, and Unprinted Newspaper
We got some free boxes on Freecycle, but they were flimsy and not uniform. We had better luck buying boxes. I also picked up bubble wrap and unprinted newspaper. I went to a box store to buy a few larger boxes, mirror boxes, and dish boxes, but Home Depot’s prices were better and their selection was decent. For our 2-bedroom apartment, we needed approximately 100 boxes, although a good 15 of them are filled with books. If you don’t own books, you may not need quite so many.
Moving is difficult. It’s one of the things people hate most. Hopefully these tips will help your move go more smoothly.
Recently I was watching one of the HGTV home buying shows, and the prospective buyer said she needed at least 3,000 square feet. She was a single woman with dogs, no children. My first thought was: why do you need a home that big? I grew up in a 2,000 square foot house with four bedrooms and 2 ½ baths. There were four of us. It was plenty of space for all of us. My new house is around 1900 square feet and it feels huge. Before you decide you need a big house, consider why that is and whether a small house has its advantages.
Why Do You Want a Big House?
In the 90s, McMansions were all the rage. People flocked to these massive homes with giant kitchens and expansive great rooms and three-car garages. I always wondered what the appeal was. On HGTV, people say they want a house where the family won’t be on top of each other. I certainly never felt like we were on top of each other in 2,000 square feet.
Will You Really Use All that Space?
Often, you’ll see homeowners with a room that’s simply abandoned. It’s the junk storage room. It might even be empty. My husband knows a couple who don’t use the top floor of their house at all. If you plan to expand your family quickly, buying a 3-bedroom instead of a 1-bedroom is wise, but be careful of overbuying or overbuilding. I saw a family on TV that expanded their house to 5,000 square feet – more than doubling the original size – about a year before their kids started to leave for college. What are they going to do with the space after everyone moves out?
Many families are actually downsizing to smaller homes after discovering that the huge dream home was too big to clean or manage.
Advantages of a Big House
I can see some advantages to a big house, but it’s still hard for me to imagine needing that much space. The advantages are:
- Dedicated office
- Large kitchen
- Bedroom for each child
- Space between parents’ and children’s bedrooms
- Room to enjoy individual interests
- Ample storage space
- Modern updates and design (most larger homes are newer)
Advantages of a Small House
Okay, maybe it’s just because I live in Los Angeles where the majority of homes are under 2000 square feet, but I don’t feel a need to have a huge house. I see these celebrity mansions with seven bedrooms and wonder what anyone needs that much room for (Brad and Angelina excepted.) In fact, a smaller home has three distinct advantages:
- More time spent together as a family
- Lower heating and cooling costs
- Less wasted space
The choice between a large home and a small home is partly one of personal preference. Of course, it also depends on your region. In areas with recent development, large homes are close to business centers. In older, built-out regions, larger homes are either very expensive or far from urban centers.
It’s common to fantasize about living in a mansion, but when it comes down to it you have to ask yourself whether you’ll really use all that space while evaluating the home. Also consider the challenges of a small home before you try to squeeze into 1000 square feet with a family of four. Discovering a home is too big or too small after you move in is a surefire path to discontent.
Once we entered escrow, I was hopeful that we’d be able to close the third week of the month so I’d have a weekend to paint and then be able to move out at the end of the month. That’s not working out as planned, but fortunately, I won’t have to pay rent and a mortgage at the same time, because I’ve learned the ins and outs of giving 30 days notice to move.
When You Can Give Notice to Move
If you’re on a fixed-period lease, then you’re responsible for the rent until the lease expires. Moving at the end of the lease is as simple as notifying your landlord 30 days before the lease expires that you’ll be leaving.
It’s certainly easiest to move out at the end of the month on a month-to-month lease. Then you don’t have to worry about prorating any days in the next month. However, that’s not always possible. If you need to move partway through a month, check your local rent laws to determine your rights. I learned that California law allows renters on month-to-month leases to move anytime during the month. You’re only responsible for the days you occupy the home, or 30 days from the date you give notice, whichever is longer. For example, if you give notice on the 10th, you’re responsible for the rent until the 10th of the following month, even if you move out the 5th.
How to Give Written Notice
Giving written notice is easy. It should be typed and read something like this:
June 15, 2009
1111 May Lane
Los Angeles, CA 90066
I, Aryn Money, hereby give notice that I intent to terminate my tenancy of 1111 June Road #3, Los Angeles, CA 90067 as of July 15, 2009.
My forwarding address is:
1111 July Road #6, Los Angeles, CA 90068.
My phone number is: (310) 555-1234
Sign in the space. I would provide a cell phone number if you don’t yet know what your new phone number will be. If you have a roommate who will also be moving, they must sign the notice, too. If they’re not moving with you, have them provide a separate notice with their own forwarding address.
If you want to give a reason why you’re moving, you can, but it’s not required. You must give a forwarding address if you want your security deposit returned to you in a timely manner.
How to Deliver the Notice
If you have a property manager, simply hand it to him or her. If you have an off-site landlord, mail it to the address on your lease or the place you mail your rent. If your landlord picks up the rent, leave it in your payment envelope.
Pro-rating the Rent
If you’re moving mid-month and your state permits pro-rating rent, then call your landlord to ask how much you should pay for the partial month. It should be your monthly rent divided by the number of days in the month, multiplied by the number of days you intend to remain. If you pay $900 a month and move on the 10th, you should pay $300. If you paid first, last, and a security deposit, you shouldn’t have to pay anything and should receive a refund for the unused days.
Once you give notice, keep your landlord appraised of any changes. If you need to stay a little longer, you’ll need to pay a little more. If you need to leave earlier, you’re still responsible for the full 30 days.
As we inch closer to closing on our house, I’m working down our checklist of minor decisions to make. If you’re planning to move into a house here are a few things to consider in advance. If you’re recently moved, please share your wisdom!
DirecTV or Cable?
The house we bought has DirecTV dishes already installed, so now we’re trying to decide between DirecTV or simply transferring our current cable over. The first year, DirecTV is cheaper. The second year, cable is cheaper depending on the number of Premium channels we opt for. However, our cable box broke this weekend, which isn’t earning points for the cable company. We still haven’t made the final decision on this.
Home Phone or Cell Phone?
We’re also still debating whether or not to keep a home phone in our new place. On the one hand, we rarely use our home phone. On the other hand, you can’t trust VOIP in a major earthquakes, and cell phones are questionable. We would also need a home phone line if we wanted to use the installed alarm system. Once again, no decision yet.
Standard Fridge or Fridge with Ice Maker or Water Dispenser?
We’re moving our current fridge in because we need to get some carpentry work done before installing a new fridge. We’d also have to get a water line run through the floor if we want to buy a fridge with a built in ice-maker. We have a filtered tap on the sink, so no need for a water dispenser on the front. So, we’re debating whether we should buy an ice making freezer or not.
Professional Movers or Friends?
Since we’re moving into a house and are over the age of 30, we’re hiring professional movers. We’re just not up to all that lifting and hassle anymore. The movers will also be much faster than us and our gang of friends. However, we’ve both moved in the past with the help of friends. As long as they’re good friends and you’re up to the job, start rallying friends well ahead of the big day.
Professional Painters or Friends?
In this case, we’re asking friends and relatives to help paint. We’re not doing all of the rooms before moving in, just a few, so it’s a job that can be tackled in a weekend. In this case, the cost savings is also substantial. Professional painters would cost over a thousand dollars for just those four rooms. We can buy paint for less than $500 and borrow most of the supplies.
These are just some of the many decisions we have to make in the next two weeks. If you’re planning to move, keep a notebook handy and add to your list of decisions each time something pops into your head. You should also keep a list of things to buy and a checklist of things to do. Add to it as you go to make sure nothing’s forgotten. With some things, it won’t matter if you forget them, but with others it could cost you a lot of money if you miss a deadline.
If you’ve moved recently, are there any seemingly minor decisions that became major? I’m sure there’s something we’re forgetting.
When the home prices were rapidly rising, most people comfortably made high offers without worrying about the appraised value. Most of the time, the appraisals would meet the target. Now, partly due to falling prices and partly due to the new appraisal system, 20-30% of appraisals are coming in low, leaving buyers to wonder whether they should pay the purchase price or the appraised value.
Should You Buy a Home for More than the Appraised Value?
The simple answer is no. Of course, there are exceptions. If you’re buying a distressed home by a major architect at a bargain and planning to fix it up, you may well want to pay more than appraised value because it will be worth much more once it’s restored (assuming you do it properly). However, odds are good you’re paying all cash in that scenario, and may not even get an appraisal.
99.9% of home buyers aren’t in the situation, which means that 99.9% should not pay more than the appraised value, especially in a declining market.
Why You Shouldn’t Pay More
Paying more than the appraised value essentially means that you’re paying more than the house is worth. You’re losing money right out of the gate. Given that home prices in many areas may still slide downward, why would you willingly lose money on day one?
In addition, lenders will base your loan on the appraised value, not the purchase price. If you opted for 20% down, then the lender will only lend you 80% of the appraised value, which means you’ll have to produce extra cash to make up the gap between value and price. The other option is to find a different type of loan, but that will cost you much more in interest.
What If the Appraisal Is Wrong?
This does happen. If you feel the appraisal is wrong, you can get a second appraisal or appeal the first one, especially if inaccurate comps were used. However, you should carefully research the factors behind the appraisal. If the square footage is wrong, make sure that the actual square footage matches that listed on the property records at the assessor’s office. If it doesn’t, you could be dealing with an unpermitted addition. Although it would appear to increase the home’s value, it could actually cost you a bundle to correct defects in unpermitted construction.
How to Handle a Low Appraisal
In the event that an appraisal comes in low, you can do one of the three things:
- Make up the difference in cash.
- Ask the seller to renegotiate the sales price.
- Cancel the deal.
Personally, I would choose either two or three. With two, I would ask that the purchase price be reduced to the appraisal price. Some sellers will offer to split the difference. I wouldn’t do that, because even if you split it, you’re still overpaying. The seller may insist that they “need X dollars from the sale.” That may be true, but if the home appraised low, they’re not going to get it. They can either accept less or stay in the house.
I know it’s difficult if you really love a house, but you have to be prepared to negotiate hard or walk away if the appraisal comes in low. In this market, it doesn’t make sense to go into a home in a position of weakness.
At some point during the mortgage process, you’ll be faced with this mysterious item known as “title insurance.” There are actual two types of title insurance. If you’re getting a mortgage, you’ll be required to get the first type. You may also opt to get the second type.
Title Insurance Defined
Title insurance offers protection in case there is a defect in the title. That is, in case someone tries to make a claim against your house for something a prior owner did, or in the event that title was improperly passed.
Lender’s Title Insurance
The lender’s title insurance protects the lender from losses in case the title is later proven to be improperly issued due to inaccessibility of the land, liens, or defective documents.
Owner’s Title Insurance
An owner’s title insurance policy protects you, the homeowner, from losses in case a clear chain of title can’t be proven, previous fraud on a title transfer, errors in title records, or other encumbrances to your ownership.
Is It Necessary?
Title claims are rare. In some cases, a title can be clouded due to fraud, but usually it just means something was improperly recorded. As part of the title insurance process, the title insurance issuer will research the recording history and declare a clear title. If title can’t be cleared, then you don’t buy the house. However, most people can’t get past this step without first paying for the title insurance policy. In this sense, title insurance protects you from the possibility of a future problem. The premium is more of an add-on, because it’s unlikely the policy would be issued if title problems were found at the time the policy was written.
What Does It Cost?
This is the tricky part. Title insurance can cost anywhere from $800 to $2,000. Depending on your purchase situation, you may be able to choose the title insurer and negotiate the rate, but you might not be able to. Nearly 80% of this fee is commission, and only 20% is for the actual insurance premium.
Do You Buy It Annually?
Unlike homeowner’s insurance or a home warranty, you only buy title insurance once. If you refinance, the new lender may ask for a new title policy, but some insurers will offer to update your current policy at a reduced rate. If you’re refinancing, ask the title insurer about this. Of course, you will need a new policy if you sell your home and buy a new one.
The fact is, it’s not that expensive to run title searches now that most county records are digitized. While they do offer an important protection and provide an important service, it could be done for far less than title insurers currently charge. Unfortunately, they’ve dug their way into the system and there’s little likelihood that we’ll get rid of the system anytime soon.