Mixing materials such as limestone, granite, marble and patterned tiles creates a rich array of textures.

By Anna Marie Fanelli

A quick visual scan of most kitchens and bathrooms will revel a variety of material cues. Elements such as stainless steel appliances, crystal glassware, copper pots, hardwood floors and brushed nickel faucets all blend to create the overall look of a space. Bringing tile, stone and mixed material surfacing into a room helps tie it all together to create the ultimate in eclectic decor.

Mixed mosaic collections

Check out some of the new mosaic collections. Manufacturers have responded to the blend trend by playing the role of master mixer. A wide variety of mesh-mounted mosaics combine the glamour of glass, stone, metal and even cut crystal.

Photo from Zillow listing.

Unify with color

The goal in interior design is to create interest and harmony. No one material should compete with another for attention. Use color to unify design elements.

Photo from Zillow listing.

Whether you’re combining glass, ceramic, Corian or concrete, all of these products come in a vast array of colors. By selecting similar colors, you’ll create a seamless look.

Choose a theme

A recent trend in tile this year is architectural and archaeological references. Everything from Moroccan motifs to Portuguese prints to Chinese chinoiserie can be found in tile form.

Photo from Zillow listing.

Like the old Italian cooking adage, “What grows together, goes together,” the same holds true for historical highlights. If you select materials that relate to the same genre, you’ll be able to blend successfully.

Pair timeless classics with modern originals

Marble is making a big comeback. But instead of using it head to toe, designers are playing on the colors and textures of this natural stone to pair it with modern elements like glass and metal. Accessorize with a freeform stone sink or a sleek faucet and you’ll have the perfect mix of modern and classic.

contemporary kitchen
Photo from Zillow listing.

Complement varied textures

Design with depth. Look at the layers that compose your space. Rooms like kitchens and baths are very tactile. You touch the faucets, wipe down the countertops and walk barefoot on the floor. If everything were polished to the perfect shine there wouldn’t be much interest.

Photo from Zillow listing.

But when you blend in textures like tumbled stone, weathered metal or wood grain tile you not only create a cohesive look, but also a space that longs to be lived in and touched.


About the author


Find incredible home design ideas and photos at Zillow Digs. Thousands of the very best solutions for interior design and home improvement.

If you have a 5- to 10-percent down payment, one of these loan options may be just what you're looking for.

Recently, two new low down payment options became available to home buyers: Federal Housing Association (FHA) loans with mortgage insurance that was just lowered 0.5 percent, and Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac loans with 3 percent down. But home buyers with just a little more cash to put down have other options.

Borrower paid vs. lender paid mortgage insurance

Two Fannie/Freddie private mortgage insurance (PMI) options are worth exploring at the 5-percent down payment level. Borrower paid PMI is when the mortgage insurance is a separate line item. Lender paid PMI is when your rate is higher in exchange for the mortgage insurance being built into the rate.

Here’s how a Fannie/Freddie loan with borrower paid PMI compares to one with lender paid PMI, using the example of a $300,000 purchase with 5 percent down.

   Borrower Paid PMI *   Lender Paid PMI ***
 Loan Amount  $285,000  $285,000
 Rate  3.75%  4.125%
 Payment  $1,320  $1,381
 Mortgage Insurance  $128 **  $0
 Homeowners Insurance  $100  $100
 Property Taxes  $300  $300
 Total Monthly Cost Before Homeowner Tax  Deductions  $1,848  $1,781
 Total Monthly Cost After Tax Deductions  $1,491  $1,397
* Mortgage insurance separate   **  At PMI rate of .54% for 5% down   *** Mortgage insurance built into rate

Even though the lender paid PMI loan has a higher rate, it still costs $67 less than the borrower paid PMI loan on a total monthly cost basis, and also costs $94 less after homeowner tax deductions. One key reason is because borrower paid PMI isn’t tax deductible, but when you include mortgage insurance in the rate using lender paid PMI, you have more mortgage interest to deduct at tax time.


To avoid mortgage insurance all together, cap your first mortgage at 80 percent of the purchase price, then add a second mortgage, called a piggy-back mortgage. Presently, most lenders require this piggy-back structure to have combined loans capped at 90 percent of the purchase price.

Therefore, the first mortgage would be 80 percent, the second mortgage would be 10 percent, and you must put 10 percent down. This is often called an 80-10-10. Here’s what it would look like for a $300,000 purchase:

   First Loan  Second Loan
 Loan Amount  $240,000  $30,000
 Rate  3.625%  4.125%
 Payment  $1,095  $148
 Homeowners Insurance  $100
 Property Taxes  $300
 Total Monthly Cost Before Homeowner Tax Deductions  $1,643
 Total Monthly Cost After Tax Deductions  $1,305

10-percent down jumbo loan with no mortgage insurance

Paradoxically, lower loan amounts require second mortgages to avoid mortgage insurance, but “jumbo” loans greater than the $417,000 Fannie/Freddie loan cap can be a single loan up to 90 percent of a home’s value.

These loans are good for higher-earning home buyers in higher-priced markets. Most jumbo lenders now allow loan amounts up to $1 million and as high as $1.25 million for exceptional borrowers. This translates into purchase price ranges of $1,111,111 to $1,388,888 with just 10 percent down and no mortgage insurance, which saves several hundred dollars per month on larger loans.


About the author

Julian Hebron

Julian Hebron is a mortgage banking executive and consultant based in San Francisco. He’s the founder of influential consumer finance and housing blog The Basis Point, and his work is regularly cited by CNBC, The Wall Street Journal, and other mainstream media. Follow him on Twitter: @thebasispoint

Before you start touring apartments, learn the six steps that will make renting a home easy and painless.

Whether you are a recent college graduate, former homeowner or are just striking out on your own, renting a home can be intimidating. Ask plenty of questions, and follow these steps to ensure the process goes smoothly.

Determine how much rent you can afford

The rule of thumb is 30 to 40 percent of your take-home pay, but the best way to approach this question is to determine how little you can spend on rent and housing expenses and still have an acceptable living situation.

There are many ways to save on rent. You could double up with friends, rent a less fancy place, or live in a less trendy or central area.

These frugal ideas may not sound appealing, but the less you spend on rent, the more you can save for future goals such as retirement and a down payment on a home.

Define your preferences

Consider the distance to work and where you spend time socializing, because long commutes take time, cost money and cause stress. Also determine if you want to live in an urban area where you can walk to stores and restaurants, or if you’d prefer to be away from the noise and traffic out in the suburbs.

Additionally, think through what kind of property you want. Can you live in an older building, or do you want all the modern amenities? Would you be happiest in a single family home, town home, or multi-unit building?

Once you think through those issues, you can start shopping and find an appropriate residence.

Research the extra costs

As you evaluate your options, realize that rent is not the only housing cost you’ll need to account for. You need to consider utility costs, keeping in mind that gas appliances are typically much less expensive than electric. Also, houses with insulation and newer windows have lower utility bills.

Determine any costs for water, trash collection, parking, and cable or Internet service. If the rental you’re considering is a single-family home, find out if lawn service is included, and who pays for the water for the grounds.

Put your best foot forward

Many times landlords have a bevy of potential renters. If you want to secure your top choice residence, show up in your best attire, and politely let the landlord or property manager know about your great credit, stable job  and all the other reasons they want you as a tenant.

Fill out the application accurately, truthfully and legibly, and submit any required documents as soon as possible.

Making it official

You may be able to negotiate rent terms and fees with a landlord. Your success will depend on the demand for the unit in your particular area. Be careful if there are lots of people vying for the apartment, as the landlord can take someone else if you are too difficult to work with.

Once you’ve agreed to the rental conditions, make sure you completely read the lease and all documents before you sign them. If you are not comfortable with language or need a clarification, discuss this early in the process so you can walk away if you don’t like what you read.

Moving in

When you move in, document via pictures and descriptions any issues with the property, such as stained carpets, broken tile, poorly painted areas, or appliances that don’t work. Submit these issues to the owner or property manager to protect yourself when it’s time to move out — and keep records and pictures for yourself, too.

A little preparation and education can go a long way toward making your first renting experience a good one.



Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Zillow.

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Design with these five elements in mind, and you’ll have a room you’ll love living in for years to come.

By Erinn Valencich

Designers and homeowners alike constantly ask: What makes furniture timeless?

A good home design always begins with fabulous furnishings. It’s important to design around function, carefully considering how a space will be used and who will live in it. And furniture is a huge part of the way a space functions.

But beyond function, there are also a few design factors to consider when selecting furniture for a space. The style of each piece you choose does not have to “match,” but the pieces should flow together in the room. You can learn a lot from studying images of rooms you love and seeing what other designers have paired together to create a winning combination.

Homes, like people, should constantly evolve, so push yourself to try something new when you’re designing a space. But remember that timelessness always trumps trends. Choose your furniture carefully, considering both form and function, and you’ll have a room you’ll love living in for years to come.

When shopping, focus on the following five decorative elements to ensure your home will never look dated.

Fluid lines

Don’t get boxed in by straight lines. Movement is timeless, and a classic wing chair, curved sofa or end table with cascading legs will all add energy and fluidity to a room.

Patterned upholstery

A stunning pattern on an armchair or sofa gives a room a finished, high-end look. One statement piece can go a long way, and can also keep a space from feeling dated. Don’t be scared to add a dose of pattern.

Whimsical accents

Function is essential when designing a home, but that doesn’t mean you should forget the fun factor. A pair of ’70s-style side tables, a cosmic office lounge and modern-chic Lucite desk chairs can add some unexpected whimsy to a room, resulting in a timeless and eclectic feel.

Mirrored finish

We all know the age-old trick of placing a mirror opposite a window to create the look of a more spacious room. But you can take it one step further with mirrored furniture — think coffee tables, consoles and dressers. Mirrored pieces can bring light and luster to any room, and also add sophistication.


For the love of Pantone, don’t shy away from color! The best rooms are designed with at least one bold pop of color. When used wisely and strategically — either in well-balanced doses or as a brilliant accent — there’s nothing like color when it comes to creating visual interest, and also a truly timeless space.

color lo
Photo: Erinn Valencich


For more on celebrity designer Erinn Valencich and Erinn V furniture collections, visit www.ErinnV.com. Follow Erinn on Twitter: @ErinnVstyle and on Facebook.com/ErinnVstyle.

About the author


Find incredible home design ideas and photos at Zillow Digs. Thousands of the very best solutions for interior design and home improvement.

Just because you've got a 30-year loan doesn't mean you have to spend 30 years paying it off. These tips can help you reach the finish line up to 10 years early.

No one wants to spend longer making mortgage payments than they have to. The obvious way to pay off a mortgage faster is to get a shorter-term loan, like a 15-year instead of a 30-year. But on a $300,000 home purchase with 10 percent down, you’ll pay about $620 more per month on a 15-year loan than on a 30-year loan (including mortgage insurance), which might be too expensive for you.

So how do you fix your budget with a loan you can afford, yet still pay it off early if you have extra money? Here’s a look at four common approaches.

Refinance, then reinvest savings

It’s always prudent to evaluate refinancing when rates drop, but unless you refinance from a 30-year loan to a 15-year loan, refinancing doesn’t automatically shave years off your mortgage.

[Click here to find a lender on Zillow for your home refinance.]

If you bought a home for $300,000 with 10 percent down five years ago, the rate on your 30-year fixed loan of $270,000 was about 4.875 percent, giving you a payment of $1,429 (plus mortgage insurance). With today’s refinance rates of about 3.625 percent on your remaining $247,494 balance, your new payment would be $1,129, saving you $300 per month.

It’s a huge savings, but you’re resetting your payoff clock from 25 years back to 30 years. However, if you take the extra step of applying the $300 savings toward your new loan each month, you’ll shave 9.5 years off your new mortgage, giving you a shorter term for the same budget.

You can run your own refinance calculations to find the best balance between monthly budget and the fastest loan payoff.

Make biweekly payments

A biweekly payment plan is the simplest way to shorten your mortgage without a material budget increase. This plan shaves about four years off your mortgage by paying half your payment every other week.

Doing so means you’re making 26 biweekly payments per year, which is the equivalent of 13 monthly mortgage payments per year instead of 12. Your budget can usually absorb this because you’re simply chopping your mortgage payment in half and paying each half every other week.

On a $300,000 home purchase with 10 percent down, a 30-year fixed rate of 3.625 percent gives you a payment of $1,231 (plus $88 in mortgage insurance). By paying half ($616) every two weeks, you’re paying your loan down by an extra $103 per month, ultimately saving $26,511 in interest and paying off your loan in about 26 years.

Your lender can brief you on how to set up a biweekly payment plan.

Increase your monthly payment amount

The biweekly example above shortens your 30-year loan term four years by paying about $100 extra per month, but what if you could afford more?

If you paid $200 extra per month on your 30-year fixed loan at 3.625 percent on a home purchase of $300,000 with 10 percent down, you’d save $42,969 in interest and pay off your loan six years and eight months years early.

If you paid $300 extra per month, you’d save $57,122 in interest and pay off your loan eight years and 11 months early.

And if you paid $400 extra per month, you’d save $68,426 in interest and pay off your loan 10 years and 10 months early.

Once you go higher than this, it’s worth looking at whether your budget can accommodate a 15-year loan, because rates on 15-year loans are about 0.5 percent lower than 30-year fixed loans, which means $113 less interest per month versus the 30-year loan.

That’s a clear interest cost savings, but your budget is higher: you pay $1,881 per month (plus $59 for mortgage insurance) for a 15-year loan versus $1,231 per month for a 30-year loan (plus $88 for mortgage insurance).

[Ready to refinance? Click here to find a lender on Zillow.]

Make one-time loan payments when you get extra cash

If you can’t commit to the 15-year loan budget but know you may have cash infusions along the way — like bonuses from work, inheritances, or selling other properties or investments — you can shave years off your 30-year mortgage by doing a large loan pay-down.

Here are two scenarios using a $300,000 purchase price with 10 percent down:

  • If you got a bonus at work and paid down your loan by $10,000 in year three, you’d save $15,747 in interest and pay off your loan one year and eight months early.
  • If you got a signing bonus for a new job and paid down your loan by $25,000 in year five, you’d save $32,556 in interest and pay off your loan three years and 10 months early.

Normally, when you pay extra on your loan, it shaves years off your mortgage, but your payment stays the same. However, for large one-time pay-downs like this, some lenders may lower your payment, too. When you’re shopping for mortgage lenders, ask them in advance if they’re willing to do this.

[Refinance with a lender on Zillow.]


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Bonnie David
Bonnie David

Some lenders will not accept bi-weekly payments unfortunately. But they still can’t stop additional principal payments on a regular basis.If you start in the beginning, it makes a tremendous dent in the remaining years and principal balance as the years go on.