12 Delightful Ways to Make Your House Brighter in Winter

Meet you under the skylight, on the white sofa, with a cream cheese brownie.

Fall and winter start cozy — who hasn’t used the colder temperatures as an excuse to binge-watch Netflix while swaddled in a couch blanket?

But come January, staying indoors can feel less like a treat and more like you’re living in a cave.

Here’s how to make your house lighter, brighter, and cheerier.

#1 Take the Screens Off Your Windows

take screens off windows

You’ll get 30% more sunlight shining indoors without screens on your windows.

Here’s the best part: Sunlight warms your room and saves you money on your heating bill. It’s solar power — for you!

Be sure to store your screens in your garage or basement where they won’t get damaged. In the spring you’ll want to put them back on so you can keep that 30% of the sun out and run your cooling system less.

Modern kitchen with wood floors
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#2 Hang Outdoor String Lights Indoors

They don’t give off a lot of light, but they’re cheerful as heck.

Drape them around a window or a mantel, or hang a string of LED glimmer lights in a tall potted plant. They’ll add a layer of soft light to your room and remind you of fireflies, flip-flops, and patio parties.

#3 Steal a Little Swedish Chic

Scandinavians excel at making a home light and airy because they’ve got places where the sun doesn’t rise at all from November to January.

And you thought you had it bad.

To adapt to weeks and weeks of polar night, Swedes keep interiors pale to reflect and amplify light.

Think white walls, light woods for furniture and floors, and light upholstery. To get the look without getting rid of your dark furniture and floors, put white or light gray slipcovers on your sofa and chairs, and put down light-colored rugs.

The fastest way to bring a little Sweden into your room is to paint it. Try creamy white, pale blue, or dove gray.

#4 Change Your Bulbs

change light bulbs to brighten room

Replace those incandescent bulbs and their yellowy light with LEDs, which produce a brighter, whiter light.

But get your bright right:

The higher the K rating on the bulb, the cooler and whiter its light.
For cool, white light, opt for a bulb rated 3,500K to 4,100K.
For blue-white light that’s closest to natural daylight, use a bulb between 5,000K and 6,500K.
Unless you live in Sweden (see above) you may want to leave the uber-high K bulbs for grow rooms and seasonal affective disorder therapy clinics — because they’re as bright as real sunlight on a hot summer day at noon. You’ll need sunglasses to read.

#5 Hang Mirrors

Make the most of that weak winter light by bouncing it around the room with mirrors.

If you don’t want the distraction of seeing your reflection all the time, use a large, convex one — also known as a fish-eye mirror. It will amplify light better than a flat one. Another option: Hang a gallery wall of small mirrors.

#6 Replace Heavy Curtains With Blinds or Roman Shades

Fabric curtains, while quite insulating, block light and make a room feel smaller and more cramped, especially if they’re a dark color or have a large print.

Try Roman shades or a simple valance paired with blinds to let in the maximum amount of natural light.

#7 Trim Branches and Bushes That Block Light

trim plants around windows that are blocking the sun

If you look out your windows and see the tops of your bushes, grab your pruning shears and get whacking.

You don’t want anything blocking that precious natural light. Same for tree limbs that may be arching down and blocking windows. Cut them off.

#8 Clean Your Windows

Dirty windows block a lot of natural light.

Admit it, yours are kind of cruddy because who remembers to block out an afternoon to clean the windows?

So get it on your list. Clean the glass inside at least once a month and the glass outside once a year. Your serotonin level will thank you.

#9 Swap Your Solid Front Door for One With Glass Inserts

A solid front door can make your house look and feel as dark as a dungeon.

Get rid of it and install a half-light or full-light door that lets the natural light stream in. For even more natural light, add glass sidelights and a glass transom.

The median cost of a new door is $2,000 for steel and $2,500 for fiberglass, before any extras, but a new door will add curb appeal.

Curb appeal equals higher resale value. And coming home in the evening to the warm glow of light radiating out the glass panels in your front door is an instant mood lifter.

Related: How to Avoid Choosing the Wrong Front Door

#10 Add a Skylight

It’s the ultimate way to bring more natural light into your house. A window only catches sun for a couple of hours a day, but a skylight lets in the sun all day.

An indoor view of the sky makes deepest January more tolerable. And feeling the warmth of the sun on your skin, light streaming from above, is liberating. A skylight, installed, can cost as much as $3,000. A cheaper alternative is a tubular skylight, which costs around $1,000.

If you’re really good with tools, you can install a tubular skylight yourself. Don’t even think about installing a full-blown skylight yourself.

#11 Add Plants

Putting pots of plants around your room will remind you that spring and green will return.

Match plants to the amount of light you have, because dead and dying plants are depressing. Tropicals that thrive in indirect light are usually the best choice. If you have a sunny window you’ve got more plant options.

Bonus points for adding a plant that blooms in the winter, like a kaffir lily or anthurium.

#12 Celebrate National Cream Cheese Brownie Day

February 10 is National Cream Cheese Brownie Day. Really. Since February is when winter is feeling longer than a seminar on insurance underwriting, this is exactly when you need to make cream cheese brownies.

Chocolate won’t make the sun shine longer or your house brighter, but it will make you feel better because … endorphins. Besides, you spent a ton of money on that marble-topped kitchen island and those double ovens, so get baking.

Source: Lenne Potts for houselogic.com

How to Be a Great Host

10 Simple Comforts Every Houseguest Will Adore You For

Never underestimate the power of an extra iPhone charger.

‘Tis the season for holiday house guests! You want them to feel welcome and here are some ideas to do just that.

Houselogic asked Airbnb hosts with tons of great reviews on their cozy bungalows and light-filled island condos for some quick, easy (and cheap!) ideas to turn your guest quarters into a vacation haven. Lucy’s sprinkled in her South Bay ideas in too. Be careful, though – your guests may not want to leave!


#1 Stock Up on Extra Chargers and Cords

A dead phone equals getaway misery. Airbnb host Valarie D’Elia sets out a bowl with power strips and cords, outlet converters, and even an iHome speaker. Nothing sets the stage for feeling at home IRL like feeling at home digitally.

And that includes posting your Wi-Fi name and password in the guest room so they don’t have to ask you for it.

#2 Offer Sample-Size Toiletries in Your Bathroom

Put your stockpile of beauty samples and hotel toiletries to good use. Don’t travel much? Bed-bath discount stores have travel size sundries. Tiny shampoos and lotions arranged in a basket or vintage apothecary jar are as welcoming as they are practical. Guests will be relieved if they forgot their own (even if only in the next room). But even if they didn’t, they’ll love the luxury of washing their hair on the house.

travel-size toiletries

#3 Raise Your Cleanliness Standards

When you miss a dust bunny at home, it’s just your own skin flakes and dried up sneezes in your own corner. To guests, it’s disgusting at best and insulting at worst.
So clean it all. Airbnb even tells hosts to scrub the entire bathroom, not once but twice, including the toilet, sink, bath, and floors after every guest.

“I want it to be clean enough that I’d feel comfortable staying,” says Jami, who rents out her beach-style cottage in Santa Monica, CA.

#4 Give It Your Personal Touch

People choose Airbnbs over sterile hotel rooms because, in part, they want an authentic, personal experience. So give it to them!

Cheryl Trotta of R.I. intentionally markets her rental as a family cottage and scatters pictures and family treasures throughout the cottage. Frame a couple of your childhood photos and hang them up alongside some mementos from your own travels.

How else would your guests discover that you were drum major of your high school marching band?

#5 Put a Radio in the Bathroom

Your guests may like to sing along in the shower, but the real reason for putting some tunes in the bath is to provide them with plenty of, well, privacy. Add an essential oil diffuser — or poo-pourri drops — and you’re in business

#6 Set Up a DIY Café

If your guests are early birds — or will just want some occasional alone time — put a coffeemaker in their room along with a well-stocked basket of coffee and tea. Maybe even blow their minds with a mini fridge full of snacks.

To pull this off right, ask how they take their coffee in advance, and stock up appropriately.

#7 Designate Drawer and Closet Space Just for Guests

If your guest room closet could be featured on Storage Wars, it’s time to rethink your stuff strategy.

Consider some serious Marie Kondo-izing — maybe donate your to-be-regifted pile and sell those designer jeans you’ll never fit into again — to make room in the closet and dresser for guest to have plenty of space (and the key word is plenty).

Label a few guest drawers and crack the closet so they can see there’s space to hang their clothes.

#8 Fancy Yourself a South Bay Tour Guide

Give guests a local’s-eye view by filling a basket with menus from South Bay restaurants and attractions, brochures from local businesses that cater to tourists, and a current issue of the Daily Breeze. Provide them a list of your favorites. Be sure to include the types of activities they’re interested in. They’d most likely be asking your suggestions any way. Why not give it some thought ahead of time. It’s a great way for your guests to feel like a local and customize their time in your town.

provide a list of your local favorite restaurants and attractions

#9 Hang a Robe – or Two – in the Closet

Bonding with their host over morning coffee is one of the best parts of staying with friends. But they can miss it completely when they realize they only packed a ratty grandma nightgown or — even worse — NSFW lingerie.

Help your guests feel right at home by hanging a couple of cozy (and freshly laundered), one-size-fits-all robes in the guest-room closet.

Not only can they wear their pajamas to breakfast without feeling self-conscious, but they’re also super-comfy and great to wrap up in after a shower.

#10 Expect the Unexpected with Extra Personal Supplies

And let your guests know where they are so they won’t feel guilty for bothering you (or worse, go without!). Here’s a list of things that rock-star Airbnb hosts always keep in stock:
• Disposable razors
• Toothbrushes and toothpaste
• First-aid kit
• Towels, pillows, and extra blankets
• Umbrella
• Flashlight
• Replacement light bulbs

Being the perfect host is perfectly achievable. With a little forethought, you’ll start racking up your own stellar reviews from your friends and family. Get ready to be the house everyone vies to visit.

Source: Houselogic – Lisa Rogak is a “New York Times” best-selling author who has written about real estate for publications including BankRate.com, BobVila.com, and HGTV.com.

What Home Improvements Are Tax Deductible?

which home improvements are tax deductible

Keeping track of the cost of capital improvements to your home can really pay off on your tax return when it comes time to sell.

It’s no secret that finishing your basement will increase your home’s value. What you may not know is the money you spend on this type of so-called capital improvement could also help lower your tax bill when you sell your house.

Tax rules let you add capital improvement expenses to the cost basis of your home. Why is that a big deal? Because a higher cost basis lowers the total profit — capital gain, in IRS-speak — you’re required to pay taxes on. In other words, you might have a tax break coming. Here’s how to know what home improvements are tax deductible.

The tax break doesn’t come into play for everyone. Most homeowners are exempted from paying taxes on the first $250,000 of profit for single filers ($500,000 for joint filers). If you move frequently, maybe it’s not worth the effort to track capital improvement expenses. But if you plan to live in your house a long time or make lots of upgrades, saving receipts is a smart move.

What Home Improvements Are Tax Deductible?

Some examples of home improvements you can deduct may include:

  • New bathroom
  • New addition
  • Basement finishing
  • New furnace
  • Master suite addition

Although you may consider all the work you do to your home an improvement, the IRS looks at things differently. A rule of thumb: A capital improvement increases your home’s value, while a non-eligible repair just returns something to its original condition. According to the IRS, capital improvements have to last for more than one year and add value to your home, prolong its life, or adapt it to new uses.

Capital improvements can include everything from a new bathroom or deck to a new water heater or furnace. Page 9 of IRS Publication 523 has a list of eligible improvements.

There are limitations. The improvements must still be evident when you sell. So if you put in wall-to-wall carpeting 10 years ago and then replaced it with hardwood floors five years ago, you can’t count the carpeting as a capital improvement. Repairs, like painting your house or fixing sagging gutters, don’t count. The IRS describes repairs as things that are done to maintain a home’s good condition without adding value or prolonging its life.

There can be a fine line between a capital improvement and a repair, says Erik Lammert, former tax research specialist at the National Association of Tax Professionals. For instance, if you replace a few shingles on your roof, it’s a repair. If you replace the entire roof, it’s a capital improvement. Same goes for windows. If you replace a broken window pane, repair. Put in a new window, capital improvement.

One exception: If your home is damaged in a fire or natural disaster, everything you do to restore your home to its pre-loss condition counts as a capital improvement.

How Capital Improvements Affect Your Gain

To figure out how improvements affect your tax bill, you first have to know your cost basis. The cost basis is the amount of money you spent to buy or build your home including all the costs you paid at the closing: fees to lawyers, survey charges, transfer taxes, and home inspection, to name a few. You should be able to find all those costs on the settlement statement you received at your closing.

Next, you’ll need to account for any subsequent capital improvements you made to your home. Let’s say you bought your home for $200,000 including all closing costs. That’s the initial cost basis. You then spent $25,000 to remodel your kitchen. Add those together and you get an adjusted cost basis of $225,000.

Now, suppose you’ve lived in your home as your main residence for at least two out of the last five years. Any profit you make on the sale will be taxed as a long-term capital gain. You sell your home for $475,000. That means you have a capital gain of $250,000 (the $475,000 sale price minus the $225,000 cost basis). You’re single, so you get an automatic exemption for the $250,000 profit. End of story.

Here’s where it gets interesting. Had you not factored in the money you spent on the kitchen remodel, you’d be facing a tax bill for that $25,000 gain that exceeded the automatic exemption. By keeping receipts and adjusting your basis, you’ve saved about $5,000 in taxes based on the  15% tax rate on capital gains. Well worth taking an hour a month to organize your home improvement receipts, don’t you think?

The top rate for most homesellers remains 15%. For sellers in the 39.6% income tax bracket, the cap gains rate is 20%.

Watch Out for These Basis-Busters

Some situations (below) can lower your basis, thus increasing your risk of facing a tax bill when you sell. Consult a tax adviser.

  • If you use the actual cost method and take depreciation on a home office, you have to subtract those deductions from your basis.
  • Any depreciation available to you because you rented your house works the same way.
  • You also have to subtract subsidies from utility companies for making energy-related home improvements or energy-efficiency tax credits you’ve received.
  • If you bought your home using the federal tax credit for first-time homebuyers, you’ll have to deduct that from your basis too, says Mark Steber, chief tax officer at Jackson Hewitt Tax Services.

This article provides general information about tax laws and consequences, but shouldn’t be relied upon as tax or legal advice applicable to particular transactions or circumstances. Consult a tax professional for such advice.

By: Donna Fuscaldo for HouseLogic

Open House Timeline: Countdown to a Successful Sale

get fluffy white towels to create a spa-like feeling

An inviting open house can put your home on buyers’ short lists.

Get ready for your open house — stress-free — by starting early and breaking down your to-do list into manageable chunks. Use this timeline of 35 tips and your house will stand out from the competition on open house day.

Four weeks before the open house

  • Ask your parents to babysit the kids the weekend of the open house. Then book a reservation for your pet with the dog sitter or at the kennel. Having everyone out of the house on the day of will help you keep your home tidy and smelling fresh. Plus, no dogs and no kids equal more time for last-minute prep.
  • Line up a contractor to take care of maintenance issues your real estate agent has asked you to fix, like leaking faucets, sagging gutters, or dings in the walls.
  • De-clutter every room (even if you already de-cluttered once before). Don’t hide your stuff in the closet—buyers will open doors to size up closet space. Store your off-season clothes, sports equipment, and toys somewhere else.
  • Book carpet cleaners for a few days before the open house and a house cleaning service for the day before. Otherwise, make sure to leave time to do these things yourself a couple of days before.

Three weeks before the open house

  • Buy fluffy white towels to create a spa-like feel in the bathrooms.
  • Buy a front door mat to give a good first impression.
  • Designate a shoebox for each bathroom to stow away personal items the day of the open house.

Two weeks before the open house

  • Clean the light fixtures, ceiling fans, light switches, and around door knobs. A spic-and-span house makes buyers feel like they can move right in.
  • Power-wash the house, deck, sidewalk, and driveway.

One week before the open house

  • Make sure potential buyers can get up close and personal with your furnace, air-conditioning unit, and appliances. They’ll want to read any maintenance and manufacturer’s stickers to see how old everything is.
  • Clean the inside of appliances and de-clutter kitchen cabinets and drawers and the pantry. Buyers will open cabinet doors and drawers. If yours are stuffed to the gills, buyers will think your kitchen lacks enough storage space.
  • Put out the new door mat to break it in. It’ll look nice, but not too obviously new for the open house.

Week of the open house

  • Buy ready-made cookie dough and disposable aluminum cookie sheets so you don’t have to take time for clean up after baking (you can recycle the pans after use). Nothing says “home” like the smell of freshly baked cookies.
  • Buy a bag of apples or lemons to display in a pretty bowl.
  • Let your real estate agent know if you’re running low on sales brochures explaining the features of your house.
  • Clean the windows to let in the most light possible.
  • Mow the lawn two days before the open house. Mowing the morning of the open house can peeve house hunters with allergies.

Day before the open house

  • Make sure your real estate agent puts up plenty of open-house signs pointing in the right direction and located where drivers will see them. If she can’t get to it on the Friday before a Sunday open house, offer to do it yourself.
  • Put away yard clutter like hoses, toys, or pet water bowls.
  • Lay fresh logs in the fireplace.

Day of the open house

  • Put checkbooks, kids’ piggybanks, jewelry, prescription drugs, bank statements, and other valuables in the trunk of your car, at a neighbor’s house, or in your safe. It’s rare, but thefts do happen at open houses.
  • Set the dining room table for a special-occasion dinner. In the backyard, uncover the barbeque and set the patio table for a picnic to show buyers how elegantly and simply they can entertain once they move in.
  • Check any play equipment for spider webs or insect invasions. A kid screaming about spiders won’t endear buyers to your home.
  • Clean the fingerprints off the storm door. First impressions count.
  • Put up Post-It notes around the house to highlight great features like tilt-in windows or a recently updated appliance.
  • Remove shampoo, soap, toothbrushes, and other personal items from the bathtub, shower, and sinks in all the bathrooms. Store them in a shoebox under the sink. Removing personal items makes it easier for buyers to see themselves living in your house.
  • Stow away all kitchen countertop appliances.

bake cookies, put out apples and lemons on counter, and brew a pot of coffee

One hour before the open house

  • Bake the ready-to-bake cookies you bought earlier this week. Put them on a nice platter for your open house guests to eat with a note that says: “Help yourself!”
    Hang the new towels in the bathrooms.
  • Put your bowl of apples or lemons on the kitchen table or bar counter.
  • Pick up and put away any throw rugs, like the bath mats. They’re a trip hazard.

15 minutes before the open house

  • Open all the curtains and blinds and turn on the lights in the house. Buyers like bright homes.
  • Light fireplace logs (if it’s winter).
  • Didn’t get those cookies baked? Brew a pot of coffee to make the house smell inviting.

During the open house

Get out of the house and let the REALTOR® sell it! Potential buyers will be uncomfortable discussing your home if you’re loitering during the open house. Take advantage of your child- and pet-free hours by treating yourself to something you enjoy — a few extra hours at the gym, a trip to the bookstore, or a manicure.

By Dona DeZube. Visit HouseLogic.com for more articles like this. Reprinted from HouseLogic.com with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.

Are you putting your house up for sale?
Please give me a call – with my years of experience, I have a wealth of knowledge to help you get your house sold!  Lucy Garber – (310) 293-4866.