If renting has started to seem lame, it may be time to start picturing yourself as a homeowner.

Many American millennials choose renting over buying, but with rental costs high, it may be time to reassess if it’s really worth delaying homeownership much longer.

“Rents have grown at roughly twice the pace of wages” since 2000, according to Zillow research. The same report notes home buyer benefits such as “mortgage interest rates near historic lows and home values that remain below their pre-recession peaks in most areas.”

And while you may doubt your ability to afford a house of your own, chances are if you’re making at least an entry-level salary and have decent credit, a condo isn’t outside your grasp. An affordability calculator can help you determine the condo price you can afford.

Committing to a place can be nerve-racking, but it doesn’t have to be. Here are five reasons why you may want to invest in a condo sooner rather than later.

You can probably still live in your favorite neighborhood

It tends to be more manageable to afford living in your city’s most popular neighborhoods if you buy a condo instead of a single-family home. In downtown areas or college neighborhoods, condos can be a nice alternative to high-priced single-family homes.

You’ll save money

Chances are you’re actually paying more in rent right now than you would pay for a mortgage and homeowners association (HOA) fees combined. Sure, your future condo will likely be a bit smaller than a single-family home, but your monthly payments will be smaller, too. (Less space to heat and cool means lower utility bills.)

And generally, you’ll pay less on maintenance and upkeep with owning a condo than if you purchased a house. Of course, you’ll want to factor HOA fees into your mortgage payments, but HOAs usually cover external repairs, some recreational amenities, and sometimes even water.

You’ll save time

With condo living, you’ll probably have access to grassy areas on the property to host a cookout and walk Fido — without having to spend your weekends mowing grass and trimming hedges.

And living on a community property means you won’t have to deal with shoveling snow, either. Another perk? Any external issues should be covered by your HOA, so you probably won’t have many weekend maintenance projects.

You’ll make new friends

While owning a house has its appeal, chances are the most affordable options are single-family homes in the suburbs — likely a bit of a drive from your favorite urban hangouts. But if you live near a university or in an urban area, your condo neighbors will likely include many young professionals, grad students, and young families.

The condo complex’s management team will probably throw community events periodically as well, so meeting new friends is almost a given.

You’ll have a solid future investment

If you intend to live in your condo for just a few years, check with the HOA to see if you’re allowed to rent out your place. Some HOAs don’t allow this, so you’ll want to get all the details before ever putting down an offer. If the HOA allows you to rent out your future condo, then once you grow out of your sweet little home you can rent it out and save that extra cash.

If you’re curious about your possible condo options, start browsing and check out a few this weekend. Renting may be convenient, but the advantages of having a condo of your own likely outweigh any benefits you gain as a renter.

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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.

About the author

Sarah Pike

Sarah Pike is a freelancer, writing teacher, and new homeowner. When she's not writing, teaching, or obsessively organizing her home, she's probably binge-watching RomComs or reading home decor magazines. She also enjoys following far too many celebrities than she should on Instagram. You can find Sarah on Twitter at @sarahzpike.
 
 

Only one in five consumers checks their credit report annually. That smart cookie could be you.

Chances are, you know how important your credit score is to your financial life. The higher your score, the lower your interest rates on loans, credit cards, and mortgages. Many landlords, and even a growing number of employers, are using credit information to screen applicants.

So, how’s your credit?

Despite the importance of credit, many people don’t know where they stand. Annually, only one in five consumers checks their credit report, which is a history of your track record of borrowing and repaying banks, credit card companies, and any other lenders.

Of those who do check their reports, many are often surprised by what they see. You may spot an old bill that you forgot to pay that has since gone into collection and is now showing up on your report.

These old bills — even smaller, so-called “nuisance” items such as overdue library fines, unpaid traffic violations, utility bills from past residences, or overlooked medical fees — can quickly become a big problem, lowering an otherwise clean credit score by as much as 100 points. Over the life of an average 30-year mortgage, this one “slip up” could cost you almost $9,000.

Keep it in check

Given that it takes so long to build good credit, it’s important that you be vigilant, and maintain that good credit.

It starts with checking your credit reports regularly. Go to AnnualCreditReport.com, where you can get one free credit report per year, with no strings attached.

Look over this report carefully as mistakes can — and do — occur. Be sure to look for credit card accounts that aren’t yours, and payments mistakenly recorded as late.

A big mistake could be costly, dragging down your score — which is a numerical value that measures your credit risk based on the information in your credit report — by 100 points or more.

Worse, an error could result in you being denied credit altogether. So if your find errors, notify your creditors or financial institutions and report them to the credit bureaus right away.

Get paid up

Delinquencies have the biggest negative impact on your score, because your payment history accounts for a whopping 35 percent of your credit score. Make sure you pay those off in full.

If you can’t, try negotiating a payment plan with your creditor or collections agency. Then, write to your credit agencies to make sure the settled account is reflected in your report. Old delinquencies, by law, will fall off your credit report after seven years.

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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.

About the author

Vera Gibbons

Vera Gibbons is a financial journalist based in New York City and is a contributor to Zillow Blog. Connect with her at VeraGibbons.com/.

It's the first thing you use in the morning and the last thing you use at night — so choose your bathroom vanity wisely.

Your bathroom vanity is one of the most heavily used pieces of furniture in your home. You start and end your day in front of it, so it’s important that you pick a vanity that matches both your taste and your daily bathroom rituals.

Here are the most important features to consider so you can confidently pick the right vanity for your home.

Your bathroom and you

Before you even begin to shop for vanities, you need to gather some basic information about your existing bathroom. You’ll need to know where the vanity will be located and roughly where on the wall the vanity sink will be centered.

If you’d like your new vanity to be located in a different spot, or on a wall without any visible plumbing, you may need to consult a plumber before you make any purchases.

You’ll also need to know how wide your new vanity can be, along with if it will be recessed into a nook or have one or both sides exposed.

A pedestal sink works well in a smaller bathroom. Photo from Zillow listing.

The other major factor to consider is your daily habits. How do you use your existing vanity? Do you need one sink or two? How much storage do you need for items like hair dryers, straighteners and electric razors?

If storage isn’t much of a concern for you, then you don’t need to worry about getting a vanity with a lot of drawers or cabinet space. You might even be able to buy a pedestal sink instead of a cabinet, if that works for you.

Stock vanities

Stock vanities are common in bathrooms. They are typically built from particleboard or laminate materials, and they’re fine low-cost options.

You can buy stock vanities at your local home improvement supply store for a few hundred dollars. They typically come in either white laminate or stained oak. They tend to have plain sides and are ideal for nooks, but they look just as good not recessed.

A stock vanity is an easy update to a bathroom. Photo from Zillow listing.

Because stock vanities aren’t custom-made, they come in limited configurations, so you’ll need to decide which particular model works best for you.

Most of the countertops on stock vanities are cultured marble instead of a higher-end granite or natural marble. There isn’t much you can do to improve the look of stock vanities, other than add some custom drawer or door hardware. You can also try painting or staining them.

Custom and high-end vanities

A floating vanity is a customized version for a bathroom. Photo from Zillow listing.

The trend in higher-end bathrooms today is large, furniture-like vanities. These expensive pieces are designed to be both functional and attractive.

Made from real stained hardwood with some plywood components, they often have curved shapes with greater detail than their stock vanity counterparts.

Ranging in price from several hundred to several thousand dollars, these vanities can be purchased from some home improvement stores, but they’re more often found through premier bathroom suppliers or custom cabinet shops.

The countertops on custom or high-end vanities will most likely be a natural product like granite or marble, instead of the cultured versions on stock cabinets.

If a custom vanity is an option for you, make sure you select one that still meets your daily needs — don’t just buy a pretty piece of furniture.

Top photo from  Shutterstock.

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About the author

John Gerard

John Gerard is a full-time engineer who writes about home improvement and DIY projects at his blog, Our Home from Scratch. He focuses on teaching people how to add value to their houses through various projects including custom cabinets and built-ins. He lives in South Jersey with his wife and kids. You can read more of his writing at www.ourhomefromscratch.com
 
 

You'll want to change outfits several times a day just so you can spend time in your decked-out dressing area.

It’s no secret: we all dream of a luxury closet — a space we can walk in and out of over and over again and never get tired of its look. A closet so glamorous we would consider trading in our regular ol’ bedroom to stay a night or two in its primped perfection.

Five basic elements go into creating a luxury closet fit for royalty. Follow these tips to create the closet of your dreams.

Light and bright

This is an easy one. Any celebrity or socialite will tell you that the key to a classy closet is to make sure it has lots of light. Nothing is worse than trying on your favorite top only to be spoiled by iridescent lighting or, worse, no lighting at all.

If possible, build your dream wardrobe room near the exterior of your home so you can install windows and doors to bring in some oh-so-luxurious illumination.

Pro tip: Consider white paint and cabinetry to accentuate the brightness.

Wide open spaces

Another key element found in the best closets? Plenty of space. Racks, shelves, rods — they’re all key in displaying your treasures, and only add more sophistication to the space.

Luxurious closets always have plenty of space for old and new, so consider installing a custom closet system for all of the room you could ever need.

Pro tip: Create individual cubbies for shoes. Small cubicles for your favorite kicks create organization and easy stowing, as well as a stylish way to show off your collection.

Island oasis

Fashionistas know a thing or two about interior design. Add an island in the middle of your walk-in wardrobe for a sophisticated focal point, as well as added function.

Islands are great storage units for accessories or smaller items that could get lost in your lustrous space. Add small shelves, buckets, baskets and drawers to your island for savvy storage.

Pro tip: Make your island top out of glass instead of marble or wood. This way you can see your baubles — whether they are watches, cuff links or the Queen’s jewels — and are more likely to wear them. If that isn’t an option, use jewelry organizer inserts made of velvet within drawers for a plush look and feel.

Glass act

Adding glass or Lucite elements to your closet creates dimension, transparency and elegance all at once. Use crystal knobs and handles, glass door inserts and paneling for instant ooh-la-la.

Installing glass-front doors also helps you see where your most prized possessions are stored, and reinforces organization.

Pro tip: Use Lucite toe-kicks to stop shoes displayed on an angle and to create a boutique-like feel in your closet.

Elegant illumination

Last but certainly not least, you’ll need a gasp-inducing light fixture to hang right above your accessory island. Try sparkling chandeliers, glistening globe pendants, or even a modern mixture of both for full-on fabulous.

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Don’t forget to add lighting elsewhere, like underneath shelving and near side walls for extra glow.

Pro tip: Don’t hang your light fixture too low. A 30- to 36-inch margin between the bottom of the light fixture and the top of the surface ensures safety and balanced brilliance.

Creating a luxurious closet doesn’t have to be completely out of reach for the common homeowner. With a touch of elegance and some design know-how, you can create a wardrobe room fit for your dressing needs.

Photos courtesy of Kerrie Kelly Design Lab.

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About the author

Kerrie Kelly

Kerrie Kelly is a Northern California interior designer and the founder of Kerrie Kelly Design Lab.She is an award-winning interior designer, multimedia consultant and an author of two books: “Home Décor: A Sunset Design Guide” and “My Interior Design Kit,” with Pearson Professional and Career Education.
 
 

Whether you want a tranquil spa or a utilitarian bathing space, there's a shower type for you.

A shower seems simple at first thought: It’s the quick and easy way to bathe, it doesn’t take up too much room, and it’s stuck in the corner of the bathroom, hidden behind a curtain.

But the options for size and style, not to mention the different showerheads, can be overwhelming. Use this guide to pick the best shower for your bathroom.

Shower stalls and shower-tub combos

These are your standard shower insert. They’re usually seen with an attached tub, but smaller showers or corner stalls won’t have that option.

Generally the most affordable shower option, these are standard-issue kit installs that will fit in your existing bathroom space. They’re usually made of easy-to-clean, fiberglass-reinforced materials to create a smooth, glossy surface without seams.

Depending on the quality, they should last for at least five years or more.

A shower-tub combination is great for homeowners who want a tub and a shower in their bathroom, but don’t have space for separate pieces. Photo from Zillow listing.

Shower enclosures

An enclosed shower often fits into a corner and is a space-saving option for smaller bathrooms. Photo from Zillow listing.

A shower enclosure is just that: an enclosed shower as opposed to an open stall.

It features doors and may offer more options for design. A step up in quality, these are often made with glass doors that slide or open outward.

There may be a seat in these types of showers, along with more than one showerhead. The floor may be tiled beneath the walls, or it may be a full insert. Many offer built-in shelves and cubbies that make cleaning a bit more difficult.

Of course, any time tile or glass is involved, cleaning will be more involved.

Walk-in showers

These showers are generally larger than the other two options by necessity. They may not have doors or curtains at all, because they’re enclosed around glass blocks or carefully engineered walls to prevent shower spray.

These are specially constructed, often from tile or glass, and feature more design options than any other type of shower.

A walk-in shower is a higher-end option. Photo from Zillow listing.

Whichever style you choose, be sure you know how the hot water is heated in your house before shower shopping. Some showers only work with certain water heaters.

Now let’s take a look at some of the options within the categories to dress up a shower space.

Doors

Rounded doors allow for more shower space, so they’re often used in corner showers to expand the space.

Sliding doors can be framed or frameless. Frameless doors are easier to keep clean, as there are fewer rims for water to collect in. These also offer the most modern look.

Pivot or swing doors can also be frameless or framed. Again, frameless is easier to keep clean, but swing doors nearly always open outward and often drip water on the floor.

Showerheads

Multiple showerheads creates a spa-like experience in a bathroom. Photo from Zillow listing.

Showerheads are the most easily accessible change to an existing shower, as most work with existing plumbing.

A rain showerhead can be installed on a wall-mounted fixture, though hanging it from the ceiling is ideal. Wall-mounted options typically offer many different settings but little variation in height or control.

For that, a handheld showerhead, either in addition to or instead of a fixed showerhead, will offer more flexibility. Walk-in showers can accommodate multiple showerheads to turn your bathroom into a spa. Body sprays, jets and spa panels can also add to the experience.

Be sure to incorporate the finish into the design of your bathroom; showerheads now come in copper, chrome, gold and oiled bronze to match the theme of your bathroom.

Embellishments

While shower doors are almost always glass, there are different types to choose.

Clear glass is most common, but a frosted or pebbled glass can offer more privacy. Beyond doors, custom showers can include walls and floors with almost any material imaginable, including bamboo, mosaic tiles or stones and river rock on the bottom to make the shower feel exotic.

These will be more expensive and perhaps require more maintenance, but they’ll undoubtedly enhance the environment of your bathroom. Of course, with any material, make sure that it will withstand a shower environment over the y

Mosaic tiles and multiple showerheads create a luxury shower experience. Photo from Zillow listing.

Ultimately, space and budget will be paramount when deciding which shower is right for you. Upgrading a shower can be expensive, but you use it daily, so it’s often a good investment.

Top image from Zillow listing.

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About the author

Natalie Wise

Natalie Wise, M.A., covers real estate and celebrity real estate for Zillow.