5 Simple Ways to Stage the Exterior of Your Home Before an Open House

Editor’s Note: This was originally published on RISMedia’s blog, Housecall. See what else is cookin’ now at blog.rismedia.com:

If you’re selling your home, chances are good you’re familiar with the concept of staging your home. Real estate agents recommend your home look its best to prospective buyers, and home staging is a great way to ensure you receive top dollar.

Did you know you should stage the exterior of your home, too? Failing to update the look of your home’s exterior can cause buyers to get a bad first impression when they initially arrive to view your home. Whether your target is luxury homebuyers or you are selling your starter home, staging the exterior will have a major impact on the sale of your home. If you want to put exterior home staging to work, here are five elements you should consider tweaking.

Clean Your Exterior Windows and Screens
Nothing says poor maintenance like dirty windows and window screens. If your windows are caked with dust or muck from the last rainstorm, open house visitors are going to wonder what other maintenance jobs you haven’t attended to. Don’t give visitors the opportunity to question whether your home has been properly maintained or not; clean those windows and screens before hosting an open house.

Refresh Your Gardens and Walkways
Just like dirty windows are a real estate faux pas, so are unkempt flower beds. Weeds and overgrown bushes tell visitors you can’t be bothered with the small stuff. Spend a day removing weeds and trimming flowers, or hire a professional landscaper to refresh your gardens. It is amazing what a refreshed garden can do to your home’s curb appeal.

Refresh Your Home’s Siding
No, you don’t have to replace your home’s siding prior to an open house. A quick power wash could be all it takes to remove years of dust and grime. You can attempt this task yourself, but it might be worth your while to hire a professional—some homeowners have been known to damage their home’s siding by using too forceful a water stream.

Update/Clean Door Fixtures and House Address Signage
Something as simple as a new door knob or address signage can give your home a refreshed look. You needn’t spring for a new door; just update the face plate and/or door knob. Purchase new address numbers from the local hardware store and you’ll have tweaked the look of your home’s exterior in just a few minutes.

Clean Patio Furniture
Whether you have chairs on your front veranda or a dining set on your back deck, tired patio furniture can cost you big dollars when it comes time to negotiate with a potential homebuyer. Dilapidated patio furniture instantly gives a bad impression and can cause potential homebuyers to request replacement furniture as part of their deal. Spruce up your existing furniture with a quick power wash, or replace it if it is beyond cleaning.

Simple tweaks to the exterior of your home can have a big impact on your home’s final selling price. By spending just a few days improving the look of the outside of your home, you can increase the amount buyers are willing to offer and make your home the cleanest real estate listing on the block. Will you be trying these exterior home staging tricks when you list your home for sale?

Charles Muotoh is the owner of dcrealestateguru.com, a full-service real estate firm focused on leveraging digital marketing strategies to serve buyers and sellers of real estate in the Washington D.C. area.

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(TNS)—How does the U.S. stack up when it comes to taking vacation time?

As vacation spending in the U.S. surpasses $1 billion, people are definitely getting away more—but what is the quality of that vacation actually looking like?

An Ipsos Global poll looked at the way the world vacations and found that more and more people are spending time away from home, but fewer are fully disconnecting while gone.

Six in 10 respondents in the 25 countries surveyed said they have spent or would spend at least one full week away from work.

The three countries where the most people take a vacation away from home are India (80 percent), Great Britain (72 percent) and China (70 percent). There were just three countries where a majority said they would not be taking time away from work and home life: Hungary, South Korea and Japan.

In the U.S., 61 percent said they would likely spend a week or more on vacation.

Across all countries, 65 percent of travelers said they use all of the vacation time that they are given; however, this number has fallen over the past decade, declining the most in China, Japan, Italy and Australia.

While people are taking more time away from home, that doesn’t mean they are disconnecting. Less than half of respondents say they don’t check work emails when on vacation. This was slightly better in the U.S., where 52 percent say they don’t check their emails while away.

Since 2009, the number of those who check work messages increased across almost all countries surveyed.

Where are people staying the most connected? Vacationers in Italy, Japan, Spain and Belgium can’t seem to put their phones and laptops away while they are away. There are just two countries where the number of people staying in touch with work has decreased: Mexico and Brazil.

Overall, a strong majority of Americans have or plan to take time off this year. What we really need to work on is putting the phone down when we do.

©2017 Travelpulse
Visit Travelpulse at www.travelpulse.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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Editor’s Note: This was originally published on RISMedia’s blog, Housecall. See what else is cookin’ now at blog.rismedia.com:

Choosing the right house for you and your family can be a very daunting process. One thing to note, however, is that the type, style and square footage of your abode are all secondary to location. Location is the one property feature that homeowners can never alter. You can redecorate, upgrade, and add on to a home, but its location will always remain fixed. As you decide whether or not you and your loved ones want to be city dwellers or suburbanites, you should consider these five benefits that can be gained from a commitment to suburban living.

  1. Get More Square Footage for Your Money
    When compared to the average city home, a house in the suburbs will usually provide far more square footage for the money. People living in rural areas enjoy large tracts of land that are sufficient in size for accommodating back, front, and even side yards. Moreover, many suburbs have only recently evolved from areas that were once heavily wooded, which means that they’re often still surrounded by active wildlife and plenty of trees.
  1. Less Noise and Less Pollution
    For some people, there’s nothing like falling asleep to the sound of trains, freeway traffic, and outside conversations. For these individuals, a short jaunt to visit family in the country can be downright maddening. They find it harder to drift off to the sounds of chirping crickets, or even deep and heavy silence. The suburbs are ideal for couples and families who enjoy quiet nights, fresher, cleaner air, and far less nighttime foot traffic near their abodes.
  1. Top-Rated Schools
    Whether or not you have or intend to have kids, it’s important to look for property in neighborhoods with top-rated schools. Not only will this provide better educational opportunities for minor residents living in your household, but it will also increase the marketability of your property and its resale value. For instance, some of the very best places to live in Minnesota are suburban areas with nationally ranked schools. Comparatively, schools in the suburbs are far higher in quality than inner city schools. They also tend to have better standardized test scores and a lesser likelihood of overcrowding.
  1. Enjoy Living in a Tight-Knit Community
    Cities often provide a much broader range of housing options than most suburbs. City residents can live in apartments, condos, family homes, townhouses, and more. There’s also a much higher number of renters in cities than there are in suburban areas. This means that both units and neighborhoods tend to have higher turnover rates, and that residents have much less opportunity to forge long-lasting bonds and establish a strong sense of community. This is hardly the case in the suburbs. Historically, suburban children have the chance grow up together given that many suburban homeowners retain their properties throughout most or all of their lifetimes.
  1. Take an Active Role in Community and Government
    If you love democracy and want to start taking a more active role in the development and maintenance of your community, the suburbs are probably perfect for you. With fewer people living in the region, it’s much easier for residents to assume roles within local government, and to voice their opinions and be heard. This benefit additionally gives property owners a greater ability to take part in decision-making processes for issues that could positively or negatively impact their property values.

While the suburbs lack the high energy and excitement of a bustling metropolis, they do have a number of important amenities for ensuring optimally high qualities of life. Residents can find a wonderful array of restaurants, grocery stores and entertainment venues, right within their own neighborhoods. Best of all, they can enjoy these things while still managing to escape the noise, pollution, and ongoing stresses of living in a densely populated area.

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(TNS)—Lenders use your credit score to determine whether you are eligible for a loan and to decide what terms they are prepared to offer. Credit bureaus keep track of when companies check your score, regardless of the outcome, and checks designated as “hard inquiries” may lower your score.

Understanding what constitutes a hard check versus a “soft” check makes it easier to plan how you intend to apply for new credit lines, thereby minimizing the risk of harming your credit score.

Soft Credit Checks Are Listed on Your Credit Report

A soft credit check, otherwise known as a soft inquiry or soft pull, is any kind of credit report check that doesn’t affect your credit score. Soft inquiries are background checks rather than checks occurring as a result of new loan applications; in some cases they happen without your knowledge or consent.

Common soft inquiries include:

  • When you check your own credit report
  • When a potential employer checks your credit history to determine your reliability and financial status
  • When a financial institute you patronize checks your credit
  • When credit card issuers check your credit to send you a preapproved offer

You can see all of the soft inquiries on your credit report, which lists each check along with the name of the organization that made the check.

Soft Credit Inquiries vs. Hard Credit Inquiries

Unlike soft inquiries, hard inquiries may have an impact on your credit score. Prospective lenders make hard checks when they are making a lending decision, with common examples including:

  • Applying for a new credit card
  • Taking out a loan for a new car
  • Applying for a mortgage

Hard inquiries stay on your credit report for two years, so you should always think carefully before making any kind of loan application as it can lower your credit score.

Be Smart About Applying for Loans

A good credit score is an essential part of getting approval for a new line of credit, and it also improves your chances of getting the best rates. It’s important to know what kind of activity has the potential to lower your score.

Many companies check your credit history, but only hard checks made to verify your eligibility for a new line of credit have a direct impact on your credit score. To maintain your credit score, apply only for loans when you really need them. If you are shopping for the best rates, make all of your applications within a short time frame.

©2017 Bankrate.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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(TNS)—Q: We are buying a home and had a “four-point” inspection done for the homeowner’s insurance. The insurer declined to cover the house due to the brand of the electrical panel fuse box. What gives? -Dan

A: Most insurance companies require a “four-point” home inspection before insuring a property. The inspection focuses on the four main causes of most insurance claims: HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning); electrical wiring and panels; the roof; and plumbing. This inspection doesn’t concern itself with cosmetic or other issues outside of the four listed systems.

Certain brands of electrical panels, particularly those installed before 2000, have been found to cause problems and not perform as they should. A fuse is supposed to trip when there is a problem in order to prevent a much larger problem. Many home fires are caused when fuses or panels malfunction.

If the insurer is denying coverage due to a suspect panel, the worst solution, in my opinion, would be to try a different insurer. Just because another company will give you the coverage doesn’t make the panel any safer.

If you are faced with this situation, speak to the seller about replacing the panel before the deal goes any further. If the seller won’t budge, your best bet is to find a different, and safer, home.

Gary M. Singer is a Florida attorney and board-certified as an expert in real estate law by the Florida Bar.

©2017 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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Flipping a house can be a profitable endeavor—especially in cities where flips thrive. The best cities, according to recently released findings from a study by WalletHub, boast a combination of a desirable quality of life, cost-effective renovation expenses and prime market potential.

The following cities, based on those criteria, are best for flips:

  1. El Paso, Texas
    El Paso earned the No. 1 ranking in WalletHub’s study, with a total score of 69.6. El Paso has the third-lowest bathroom remodeling costs, on average, of the 150 cities evaluated.
  1. Sioux Falls, S.D.
    Sioux Falls earned the No. 2 spot in the ranking, with a total score of 69.52.
  1. Fort Wayne, Ind.
    Fort Wayne earned the No. 3 spot in the ranking, with a total score of 67.38.
  1. Peoria, Ariz.
    Peoria earned the No. 4 spot in the ranking, with a total score of 66.6. Peoria has the fourth-lowest whole-home remodeling costs, on average, of the 150 cities evaluated.
  1. Oklahoma City, Okla.
    Oklahoma City earned the No. 5 spot in the ranking, with a total score of 66.56. Oklahoma City has the fifth-most real estate agents per capita of the 150 cities evaluated.

Source: WalletHub

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Editor’s Note: This was originally published on RISMedia’s blog, Housecall. See what else is cookin’ now at blog.rismedia.com:

It’s been known that those who long for simplicity in living space look towards Japanese culture and design for inspiration, but there are also those who admire Scandinavian functionality above all. Seemingly opposite, these two trends somehow merged together and today we have a beautiful blend of over-exaggerated and strict design trends. Where functionality meets aesthetics, we welcome and embrace Japandi, a wonderful combination of strict Japanese minimalism and beautiful Scandinavian design.

Even though there are elements of Scandinavian extravagance and elegance, Japanese minimalism is predominant in Japandi style. Scandinavian trend prides itself with minimalism as well, but there are a lot more colors and details that draw attention than in traditional Japanese style. You should focus on using only the things that really matter in your home, and get rid of anything that creates unnecessary clutter. It’s about perfect balance and pastel color palettes, with statement accent walls, details and materials. You should turn to nature and find inspiration there—cotton, linen, wool, stone, wood, and plenty of greenery are the main characteristics of this style.

Japandi1

Image Credit: Grovemade via Unsplash

Beauty in Details
If you have a lot of decorative bits and pieces that create a lot of clutter in your home, you should change that. This doesn’t mean that your home should have bare walls and floors, but when you’re picking decorations, you need to do so with care. Popular, trendy patterned designs of rugs, curtains, throw pillows and tablecloths are not the right choice. If you need to add a little something to break the strict minimalism in colors, choose items with simpler, earthy tones and delicate patterns. If, however, your furniture is textured and decorated already, you should tone everything down with plain and elegant details.

Japandi2

Image Credit: kaboompics via Pixabay

Dreamy Living Room
Japandi is a great way to make your living room warm and textured, yet still quite simple. You should focus on your furniture and minimize use of any accessories. Think raw forms, bold lines and sleek, modern-style furniture—wooden sofas with cotton and linen throw pillows, bulky, heavy armchairs, and modern coffee tables. Pick which pieces you’d like to be more noticeable and unique—coffee tables, shelves or sofas, and have fun looking for them. Use natural materials for cushions, curtains and sofa covers and try to get matching ones. Bring in some plants in terracotta flower pots and there you have it—a perfect minimalist living room.

Japandi3

Image Credit: (Left) Dane Deaner via StockSnap; (Right) Sylwia Pietruszka via StockSnap

Perfect Bedroom
A wonderful way to create an oasis of peace and serenity in your bedroom is to decorate it in Japandi style, as the perfect blend of calming zen and Scandinavian cold gives the best decor. As a result, your bedroom will be cool and have a calming effect, a trait you’ll appreciate after a long and stressful day. You can keep your wooden statement bed, but tone down the other pieces in the room—wardrobe, chairs and nightstands. (On the other hand, a bulky wardrobe will look great when paired with a minimal, yet bold bed.) Cold pastels and warm wood are a great combo, and when you pair it with recessed lighting, you get the perfect bedroom.

Japandi4

Image Credit: (Left) Cheryl Winn-Boujnida via Unsplash; (Right) milivanily via Pixabay

Paradise Bathroom
The bathroom is a place where you should feel at peace, so it’s important to focus on design and decor, too. A simple and effective way to achieve harmony in your bathroom is to look to nature for inspiration once again. Wood and stone are perfect, since they look rustic and sophisticated at the same time. If getting wood is too complicated and costly, faux wood panels combined with a large statement wooden mirror work wonderfully with stone basins and bathtubs, or even simple stone or wood vinyl wallpapers. Bring a couple of pots with plants and a nice moss mat and it will look just right.

Japandi5

Image Credit: quinntheislander via Pixabay

Bring Japandi to Your Home
Embracing minimalism means that your old furniture should be replaced with something sleek, elegant and functional, and you’ll need to be clearing out all unnecessary clutter in order to get more space. If you were hoping to follow the trend but not really throw your furniture away, you can always get a storage unit and move it there until you need it again. You won’t have to spend a fortune to do so, since there are many affordable lock-up storage solutions.

For some, Japandi is a way of life. Not only is this design easy to achieve, but its subtle decor statements, raw forms and beautifully balanced mixtures of natural wood and bold colors allow you to create clutter-free spaces. Japandi is a wonderful way to turn your home into your own personal paradise.

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Editor’s Note: This was originally published on RISMedia’s blog, Housecall. See what else is cookin’ now at blog.rismedia.com:

Movie fans, looking to lurk around some of your favorite film locations? You’re not alone. Stalking cinema hot spots is an obsession for many, and we’re no exception. Below are five iconic movie homes in real life.

Gone Girl’s Missouri New Build
1_Gone_Girl

Image Credit: Alexandrea Morrow

Much of 2014’s nail-biting thriller “Gone Girl” (based on the best-selling novel of the same name) took place in this massive Missouri new build. The home used in the film is truly located in Missouri—a Hollywood rarity. The five-bedroom, six-bathroom home stretches over 4,413 square feet and was last estimated at $559,528.

Cher Horowitz’s Mega Mansion
2_Cher_Horowitz

Image Credit: Blogspot

This Los Angeles home has been featured in several Hollywood productions, but in one of its most well-known appearances, it served as the setting for Cher Horowitz’s lux pad in the cult darling “Clueless.” With that famous staircase (perfect for kissing your step brother), seven bedrooms and 10 bathrooms, this private palace is a cinema gem in Encino. The home, currently off-market, has an estimated value of $4,649,217.

Pulp Fiction’s Seedy Drug Den
3_Pulp_Fiction

Image Credit: ItsFilmedThere.com

Quentin Tarantino fans likely remember Lance’s low-lying ranch home in “Pulp Fiction.” Most infamous for the scene in which Lance resuscitates Uma Thurman—er, I mean Mia Wallace—after her drug overdose, this Los Angeles home has two bedrooms, one bathroom, and was most recently valued at $700,318.

The Tenenbaums’ Harlem Home
4_Tenenbaums

Image Credit: Pinterest

Wes Anderson fans can rejoice at the sight of this Harlem townhouse, the location of the Tenenbaums’ family home in his 2001 gem “The Royal Tenenbaums.” With four bathrooms and no listed bedroom count, Anderson and co. apparently rented the home for six months during production. The home is currently valued at $4,286,169.

A Home to Crash a Wedding In
5_Wedding_Crashers

Image Credit: Strawberry Milk

This gorgeous waterfront Maryland property, featured in the 2005 comedy hit “Wedding Crashers,” is actually an inn, so while you can’t live in the home Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn debauched in, you can pay to stay. The Greek Revival, built in 1816, overlooks the Chesapeake Bay and was originally used as a private residence.

*All estimates are based on Zillow at the time of publication.

Zoe Eisenberg is RISMedia’s senior content editor. Email her your real estate news ideas at zoe@rismedia.com.

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(TNS)—The housing market crash has become a distant memory, and home prices are looking healthy again. But does that mean there are good opportunities for investing in the residential real estate market?

Home values are climbing in most places. According to the National Association of REALTORS®, or NAR, 85 percent of major metro areas saw gains in prices for existing single-family homes during the first quarter of 2017, while 14 percent just saw prices decline.

But while interest rates remain low, the days of quick, easy financing are over, and the tightened credit market can make it tough to secure loans for investment properties. Still, a little creativity and preparation can bring financing within reach of many real estate investors.

If you’re ready to borrow for a residential investment property, these five tips can improve your chances of success.

Make a Sizable Down Payment
Since mortgage insurance won’t cover investment properties, you’ll need to put at least 20 percent down to secure traditional financing. If you can put down 25 percent, you may qualify for an even better interest rate, says mortgage broker Todd Huettner, president of Huettner Capital in Denver.

If you don’t have the down payment money, you can try to obtain a second mortgage on the property, but it’s likely to be an uphill struggle.

Be a ‘Strong Borrower’
Although many factors—among them the loan-to-value ratio and the policies of the lender you’re dealing with—can influence the terms of a loan on an investment property, you’ll want to check your credit score before attempting a deal.

“Below (a score of) 740, it can start to cost you additional money for the same interest rate,” Huettner says. “Below 740, you will have to pay a fee to have the interest rate stay the same. That can range from one-quarter of a point to two points to keep the same rate.”

The alternative to paying points if your score is below 740 is to accept a higher interest rate.

In addition, having reserves in the bank to pay all your expenses—personal and investment-related—for at least six months has become part of the lending equation.

“If you have multiple rental properties, (lenders) now want reserves for each property,” Huettner says. “That way, if you have vacancies, you’re not dead.”

Shy Away From Big Banks
If your down payment isn’t quite as big as it should be or if you have other extenuating circumstances, consider going to a neighborhood bank for financing rather than a large national financial institution.

“They’re going to have a little more flexibility,” Huettner says. They also may know the local market better and have more interest in investing locally.

Mortgage brokers are another good option because they have access to a wide range of loan products—but do some research before settling on one.

“What is their background?” Huettner asks. “Do they have a college degree? Do they belong to any professional organizations? You have to do a little bit of due diligence.”

Ask for Owner Financing
A request for owner financing used to make sellers suspicious of potential buyers, during the days when almost anyone could qualify for a bank loan. Now, it’s more acceptable due to the tightening of credit; however, you should have a game plan if you decide to go this route.

“You have to say, ‘I would like to do owner financing with this amount of money and these terms,'” Huettner says. “You have to sell the seller on owner financing, and on you.”

Think Creatively
If you’re looking at a good property with a high chance of profit, consider securing a down payment or renovation money through a home equity line of credit, from credit cards or even via some life insurance policies, says Ben Spofford, an Ohio home remodeler and former real estate investor.

Financing for the actual purchase of the property might be possible through private, personal loans from peer-to-peer lending sites like Prosper and LendingClub, which connect investors with individual lenders.

Just be aware that you may be met with some skepticism, especially if you don’t have a long history of successful real estate investments. Some peer-to-peer groups also require that your credit history meet certain criteria.

“When you’re borrowing from a person as opposed to an entity, that person is generally going to be more conservative and more protective of giving their money to a stranger,” Spofford says.

©2017 Bankrate.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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Editor’s Note: This was originally published on RISMedia’s blog, Housecall. See what else is cookin’ now at blog.rismedia.com:

It’s no secret that moving is a headache. You need to purchase packing supplies, change your address, clean your current home, and more. Luckily, technology can make the process less painful. Whether you’re choosing the best mover or expertly packing your belongings, there’s an app for it. Read on for useful apps to help you streamline your moving process.

Unpakt
Book, manage, and pay for your move all within the Unpakt app. No need to fill out multiple request forms or call different movers for quotes. Simply enter your move details into the app to see moving prices in several cities across 37 states.

Hire a mover via Unpakt online or on iOS and Android.

TaskRabbit
Get your home or apartment ready for the move by hiring a Tasker to complete home repairs, deep clean your home, and disassemble your bed frame. Services are available in most major cities.

Get your chores done with TaskRabbit on iOS and Android.

MagicPlan
Take pictures of your new home or apartment before your move and use them to create detailed floor plans with MagicPlan. These floor plans allow you to view your space in 3D, decide where to put your couch, and plan DIY projects.

Visualize your space with MagicPlan on iOS and Android.

Wunderlist
Plan your move with Wunderlist, a to-do list web app. Create lists, set deadlines, schedule reminders, and share your list with friends and family helping you move. You can also assign tasks to people you’ve shared your to-do list with.

Make your to-do list online with Wunderlist.

Sortly
Pack with the help of Sortly, a digital organizer. Use the app to take inventory of what you packed in each box so you know where to find your wine opener, your favorite jeans, or your drill. With the premium account, you can create QR code labels for your boxes, access your account online, and export your lists via PDF and Dropbox.

Pack like a pro with Sortly on iOS.

Internet Speed Need Tool
Determine your ideal internet speed with this web app. The tool also shows internet providers in your area that offer your recommended speed—helpful if you’re moving to a new area. The internet speed you need will vary depending on how you use the internet. You may need faster speeds if your kids play video games, if you recently upgraded to a smart TV, or if you run an online business from home.

Determine the speed you need online with the Internet Speed Need Tool.

Postmates
Order late-night meals, cleaning supplies, basic toiletries, or lunch from virtually any store or restaurant in your city. Postmates will deliver the best your city has to offer right to your doorstep—saving you a trip while you’re busy unpacking. Postmates is available in over 200 cities.

Start receiving deliveries through Postmates on iOS and Android.

Nextdoor
Socialize with your new neighbors on Nextdoor, a private social networking app that over 145,000 neighborhoods use to stay connected. Find a babysitter, learn about a rash of car break-ins, and hear about neighborhood events all in one place.

Meet your neighbors through Nextdoor online or on iOS and Android.

Thumbtack
Hire house cleaners, interior designers, carpet cleaners, painters, home security companies, and more, with Thumbtack. Find professionals—in all 50 states—for anything you need in your new home or apartment.

Hire a professional via Thumbtack online or on iOS and Android.

While these apps might not make moving completely pain-free, they can help you get your home ready to move, hire the best mover, and find services in your new neighborhood. Whether you’re moving down the street or across the country, technology can help you save time, money and energy.

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