7 Tips to Get Your Home Ready for Cold Weather

As cold weather approaches, there are several things you can do around the house to make sure you and your family stay warm and safe all winter. These seven steps can ensure your house will be in top shape for whatever winter brings.
1. Protect Your Pipes:
checking pipes

We all know water expands as it freezes. If water inside your pipes freezes, it will expand, too, which can cause your pipes to crack and burst. Pipes also can burst when pressure builds up behind a chunk of ice, which is why it’s a good idea to leave faucets dripping in very cold weather. Either way, a burst pipe can cause massive damage. Take a few steps to winterize your pipes and avoid a potentially catastrophic claim.

  • Drain water from outdoor faucets and sprinkler systems to keep those pipes from freezing.
  • Disconnect and store outdoor hoses; cover outdoor faucets with foam insulators.
  • Protect water pipes that run through unheated areas of your home with insulation, such as the attic, basement, or garage.
Pro Tip: Know where your water shutoff valve is so that you can turn off the water in case of an emergency. Typically it’s located in the basement or buried near the road.
2. Check the Heat:
replacing air filter

The time to be sure you’re going to stay warm all winter is before the weather gets too cold. Check your furnace by turning on the heat and the blower to be sure they’re operating as they should.

  • Change your furnace filter at the start of the season and then every two to four months. Filters get dirty much more quickly if your home is dusty or if you have furry or feathery pets. Clogged or dirty filters are less efficient, which means your home might not warm up properly.
  • Consider installing a programmable thermostat if you don’t have one. Programming it to be cooler at night and when you’re not at home will save you money, and you can program it to be warmer for when you return or get up on cold winter mornings.
Pro Tip: Reverse the direction of your ceiling fans. Everybody thinks of using fans in the summer, but they can help you stay warm in winter too. Set the blades to turn clockwise to circulate warm air from the ceiling down into the room.
3. Prevent Ice Dams:
unclogging gutters

Ice dams form when heat escapes through the roof and melts snow that’s settled there. That snowmelt flows to your roof’s edge and refreezes, usually at the eaves. Those pretty icicles can signal an ugly ice dam underneath. The problem with an ice dam is that snow that later melts can’t properly drain, so it has to go somewhere… and that might be through a leak in your roof, causing water damage in your home.

Fortunately, a few simple steps before the temperature starts to drop can go a long way toward preventing all of this:

  • Clogged gutters and downspouts are the No. 1 cause of ice dams. Clean them out to keep water flowing during the winter.
  • Seal places that may allow warm air to leak from your home to your attic, such as around vent pipes, exhaust fans, chimneys, attic hatches, and light fixtures.
  • Be sure soffit vents, which are along the eaves of the house and allow air to flow into the attic, are clear.

If you’ve had problems with ice dams before or have reason to suspect you might this year, you can take these additional steps:

  • Install snow and ice slides to prevent ice and snow from “bonding” to your roof.
  • Install a rubberized ice and water shield beneath the roof shingles, going three to six feet back from the eaves.
  • Hire a roofer to install heat cable along the eaves to melt ice.
  • Add additional insulation to your attic floor.
4. Clean and Store Lawn Equipment:
trimming hedges

After a summer of yard work, gas-powered equipment such as mowers, trimmers, tillers, and chippers can all benefit from service before being stored for the winter. This basic checklist will get you started on equipment maintenance, but be sure to check the owner’s manual for any specific requirements for your machines.

  • Empty all of the fuel. Gas can degrade all the time, and the ethanol in E10 gas can damage fuel lines and other components while sitting unused. Try to use up most of the fuel during the last mowing of the season. You can remove what’s left with a meat baster, then run the engines until they stop. Check with your local waste management or public works department for guidance on how to dispose of the fuel.
  • Clean the machine of oil and yard debris, and sharpen the blades.
  • Store them for winter in a basement, garage, or covered storage shed where they’re safe from the weather.
5. Inspect the Fireplace and Chimney:
sweeping ash from fireplace

There’s nothing like the glow of a fire to warm up a winter evening. But before you light up that first log, make sure your fireplace and chimney are clean and critter-free.

A professional chimney sweep can clean out soot and other debris that could catch fire. Keep your home’s warm air from escaping out the chimney when you’re not using it by keeping the flue closed all the way. You shouldn’t be able to feel any cold air coming down the chimney.

You can also install glass fireplace doors or a chimney inflatable that blocks cold air from coming down the chimney and keeps in warm air.

6. Seal Windows and Doors:
sealing around a door

Gaps around windows and doors can make it tough to keep your house warm in winter. Caulk around windows and install weather stripping around doors as needed. This minor and inexpensive task can help you save on heating costs.

If your windows and doors are older, they may be inefficient single-pane windows or uninsulated doors. Consider upgrading to double- or even triple-pane windows and insulated doors and garage doors to boost the energy efficiency of your home.

Another option is to add storm windows and doors. Remove, wash and store screens for the spring before you have them installed.

7. Stock Up on Cold-weather Essentials:

When winter storms hit, they often come with power outages. To ensure you and your family are prepared for anything Mother Nature throws at you this winter, you will want to have an emergency kit ready. Explore this one for ideas of what to put in it, and consider having these cold-weather specific items on hand as well:

  • A working, fully charged fire extinguisher.
  • An alternative heat source such as a generator, wood-burning stove, or fireplace.
  • Sand, ice melt, and a shovel if where you live is prone to ice and snow (avoid using kitty litter, as it doesn’t provide good traction and can make a mess).

You should also develop a plan for communicating or meeting up with family in case you aren’t together when a winter storm hits.

And get your car ready too. Whether you live in a cold-weather climate or just plan to visit one, you will want to keep these essentials in your car for winter-weather emergencies.

A storm or power outage in winter can be dangerous, even when you’re in your car or home. Be prepared this winter to weather the storms and cold.

Source: libertymutual.com ~ Image: ebay.com

10 to-dos to get your kitchen ready for the holidays

Now that Halloween is behind us, I’m in holiday mode. If you’ll be doing a lot of baking, cooking or entertaining this year, there are some things you can do in the next week or two to get your kitchen ready for the holiday season.

  1. Check your spice rack. If you do a lot of baking, you’re going to need nutmeg, ground cloves, cinnamon and more. Roasting a turkey calls for poultry seasonings. Pull out all your recipes now and see what spices you’ll be needing and then make sure you have plenty of them in the kitchen. And, don’t forget the vanilla. Get a big bottle.
  2. Inspect your bakeware and cookware. While you’re pulling out your recipes to check to make sure you have all your spices, also make sure you have enough cookie sheets, roasting pans and casserole dishes to make everything.
  3. Start saving reusable containers. Sending home leftovers with guests is made easier (and more eco-friendly) when you have plenty of clean, empty jars and plastic containers that they can take home and not have to return.
  4. Make room in the freezer. Clean out the freezer so you have enough room to store make-ahead cookies and leftovers from holiday dinners.
  5. Get your knives sharpened. They’re probably due and carving the turkey and chopping onions will be easier with sharp knives.
  6. Start stocking your pantry. Right after Halloween ends, there are usually sales on flour, sugar, canned pumpkin, chocolate chips, and other holiday baking staples. Buy what goes on sale each week and put them away for when you’ll need them.
  7. Inspect your dishes, serving pieces and glassware. If every Thanksgiving you think to yourself, “Darn, I forgot to buy a second gravy boat again,” as you’re setting the table, this step is for you. If you host gatherings during the holidays, now is the time to replace any essential pieces that have broken over the years, to add the few pieces you’ve been meaning to add, or to discover that something has gone missing.
  8. Make sure your small, plug-in appliances are in working order. If your slow cooker, electric skillet, electric mixer, coffee maker, or blender or other small appliance only gets used during the holidays, make sure they’re in working order before you need them.
  9. Stock up on cleaning supplies. If you’ve ever run out of dishwashing liquid on Thanksgiving while your sisters-in-law are hand-washing your grandmother’s china after dinner, you will probably never forget to stock up on dish soap and powder again. But, it’s good to make sure you have enough of all you need – dish soap and powder, counter disinfectants, rags and perhaps a roll or two of paper towels made from recycled paper.
  10. Clean thoroughly. Wipe down the baseboards, the ceiling fan blades, the cabinets and more. Do a thorough cleaning of all the things you don’t clean on a weekly basis just to get the kitchen looking good for the high season of cooking.

Source:  mnn.com ~ By:  Robin Shreeves ~ Image: pixabay.com

Halloween Décor Safety Smarts

How to keep those Halloween decorations from causing more than a scare.

A carved pumpkin and maybe a scarecrow on the front porch used to be all the decorating you needed on Halloween. But these days more and more people are decking out their yards for All Hallows’ Eve like the Griswolds on Christmas.

Halloween is now becoming the second most decorated holiday after Here UL answers your questions about how to keep your Halloween decorations disaster free.

To submit a question to SafeBee, email editorial@safebee.com with “Ask the Expert” in the subject line.

I love to string up my yard with orange and purple lights on Halloween. How can I make sure the lights are safe, even when it rains? 

Look for the UL mark. This means representative samples have been tested and met the rigorous safety standards of UL. If the UL mark is in red, it means the product has been tested for outdoor use, including exposure to rain and UV light from the sun. If the UL label is green, the lights are suitable for indoor use only.

There’s nothing wrong with keeping your decorations from year to year, but don’t forget to inspect the lights, as well as extension cords and electronic decorations, before putting them out. Look at the wires and sockets when you pull them out of the closet. If they are broken or frayed, throw them out. These decorations are relatively inexpensive and it’s not worth the risk.

With all the lights and electronic decorations I put in my yard, how can I make sure I’m not overloading the circuits?

With the increased use of LED lights in light strings and other lighted decorations, overloading becomes less of a problem unless you are one who lights up your yard like a Broadway marquee. Most important is to be sure to use outdoor extension cords when decorating outdoors. These cords have been tested for severe weather conditions and usually have the electrical capacity for normal decorating. Look at the labels on the cord and the decorations plugged into it. The sum of the power used by the decorations should not exceed the capacity of the cord.

To get the cords out of the way, you can buy plastic hooks of all kinds at hardware stores and home centers. Never use metal nails or staples since damage to the cords or wires could result in a shock or fire hazard.

If you decorate outdoors, make sure you buy decorations that are suitable for outdoor use. Some are suitable only for indoors.

I’m nervous about using candles in my pumpkins. Are there safer options?

On Halloween day we see a big increase in fires and burns. Lighted candles are one reason. It’s easy enough and just as pretty to use a glow stick, a flashlight or a battery-operated LED candle inside your pumpkin, and also inside paper bags if you like to line your walkway with paper bag lanterns. It will be a lot safer, and once they’re inside a paper bag you can’t tell the difference.

Avoid using real candles to light your front steps. With packs of little kids running up and down, the flame could burn their costumes.

If you are going to use a real candle to light your pumpkin, a small votive candle is best. Use a long fireplace lighter to light candles inside pumpkins.

Make sure to place candlelit pumpkins, and all candles, on a sturdy surface away from curtains or children’s flowing Halloween costumes. Never leave any lighted candle unattended.

What can I do to avoid a house fire on Halloween?

Using candles safely, or using alternatives to candles, and making sure your outdoor lights and electronic decorations are UL certified are key steps.

Keep all decorations away from open flames and heat sources. And never drape fabric or crêpe paper over a light bulb.

This is an exciting time for kids, but take a few seconds to think about safety. A few tips can go a long way.

Source: safebee.com ~ By: Mary Purcell ~ Image: pixabay.com

How to Calculate Your Retirement Needs

Your budget should include setting aside some money for retirement.

But how much?

To figure out how much money you should set aside each month for retirement, you first need to calculate how large of a nest egg — in total — you ought to build.

In other words: How much money will you need to retire? You’ll need to answer that question before you can reverse-engineer the amount you should set aside in your budget.

Here’s a way that you can calculate how big of a nest egg you’re going to need:

Step 1:

Decide what portion of your current income you want to replace during retirement.

Most experts recommend replacing between 70% to 85% of your pre-retirement income.  Multiply your annual income by 70% to 85% to come up with your target retirement income in today’s dollars. If your current income is $100,000 and you decide that you want to replace 80% of it in retirement, your target retirement income (in today’s dollars) is $80,000 per year. (Don’t worry about adjusting for inflation during this step.)

If you and your spouse both earn money outside of the house, make sure that you complete this exercise with your combined joint income.

If you earn $50,000 annually and your spouse earns $75,000 annually, add your income together ($125,000 annually combined) and then multiply by 70 percent to 85 percent.​

Step 2:

Adjust the figure from Step 1 to account for 4% inflation. Here’s how:

If you are ten years away from retirement, multiply your target retirement income by an inflation factor of 1.48.  If you are 15 years away from retirement, use an inflation factor of 1.8.  If you are 20 years away from retirement, multiply by 2.19, and if you’re 25 years away from retirement, multiply by 2.67.

Let’s assume that you’re also 25 years away from retirement.

In this second step, you take that figure — $80,000 per year in today’s dollars — and you multiply it by 2.67.  Your answer ($80,000 x 2.67 = $213,600) represents your target retirement income in future dollars, after adjusting for inflation.

In other words: To maintain the lifestyle that an annual income of $80,000 provides today, you’ll need $213,600 per year in 25 years from now.​

Step 3:

Log on to the government’s Social Security website to find out what your projected Social Security benefit will be.

Step 4:

Contact your human resources department to find out how much of a pension, if any, you are eligible to receive.  Two-thirds of Americans are no longer eligible to collect pensions, but I’m including this step for the benefit of the one-third of Americans who are.

Step 5:

Using the same inflation factors that I outlined in Step 2, adjust those amounts for inflation.  For example, if you are eligible to receive $20,000 per year from Social Security in today’s dollars and you are 25 years away from retirement, multiply $20,000 by the inflation factor of 2.67.

The answer, $53,400, is the amount of money that you will collect from Social Security in future dollars, after adjusting for inflation.

Remember:

  • If you are 10 years from retirement, multiply by 1.48.
  • If you are 15 years from retirement, multiply by 1.8.
  • If you are 20 years from retirement, multiply by 2.19.
  • If you are 25 years from retirement, multiply by 2.67.

Step 6:

Subtract your inflation-adjusted projected future Social Security and pension benefits from your inflation-adjusted target retirement income. It shows how much money you will need to come up with from your investment portfolio.

For example:

  • Inflation-Adjusted Target Retirement Income: $213,600 per year
  • Inflation-Adjusted Social Security Benefit: $53,400
  • Pension: $0
  • Shortfall: $160,200 per year

In other words, you’ll need to create an investment portfolio that can produce $160,200 per year in income.​

Step 7:

Multiply this number by 25.  That is how large of an investment portfolio you will need to take care of your retirement needs.

For example: If you need to come up with $160,200 per year, you’ll need ($160,200 x 25 = $4,005,000 in your retirement portfolio. In other words, you’ll need a $4 million retirement portfolio.)

Why multiply by 25?  Because of a rule of thumb known as “the 4% withdrawal rule,” which states that you can withdraw 4% of your portfolio each year without running a significant risk of dwindling down your reserves.

Step 8:

Calculate how much money you’ll need to save per month to create a $4 million portfolio (or however large of a portfolio you calculate for yourself).

This article will give you a general overview of how much you’ll need to put away every month to build a $1 million nest egg. It assumes you’re starting with $0 saved.

Since you probably have some money in your retirement accounts already, you should only use that article for a big-picture overview. To calculate the precise amount that you personally need to save, use a compounding interest calculator.

A compound interest calculator will measure the returns that your returns generate. For example: In Year 1, you invest $10,000 and earn a 5 percent return. At the end of Year 1, you have a total of $10,500. In Year 2, you invest the full $10,500 — in other words, your gains ($500) are now making their own gains. Over time, this is a very powerful tool for growing your money. Learn more about compound interest here.

When you use the calculator, assume that the markets will return 7 to 8 percent as a long-term annualized average. (Enter 7 percent or 8 percent in the spot that asks for “rate.”)

This calculator will show you how much money you need to set aside every month to build your ideal retirement nest egg.

Step 9:

Create space in your budget to set aside this money for retirement. Use these worksheets to target the areas in your budget in which you can cut back your spending so that you can set aside extra for retirement.

Furthermore, don’t forget that you can also focus on earning extra income, as well. Take on a second job, and save this additional income for your retirement.

Source: thebalance.com ~ By:  ~ Image: pixabay.com

7 Ways to Get the Best Work from Your Contractor

Working with a contractor takes effort and diligence in order to keep your project on time and on budget.

We’ve been around enough remodeling jobs to know that if you want great results, you’ll need to actively manage the process — even if you’ve hired a general contractor to oversee the work. Get apathetic or lose your focus and you may pay for it — literally.

Here are seven smart ways to stay on top of the job and maintain strong communications with your contractor and construction team.

1. Avoid Allowances

An allowance is a line item in the contractor’s bid for something that’s yet to be determined. For example, if you haven’t chosen the plumbing hardware for your new master suite, the contractor will put an allowance number in the budget as a placeholder.

But with such a wide range of price points for these products, his estimate may be far lower than what you wind up spending.

Try to eliminate allowances by sorting out all of your material and product selections before the contractor gives you an itemized bid for the job. Otherwise, do enough shopping to give the contractor an accurate ballpark price for the materials you’re considering.

2. Establish Good Communication

Ask the contractor how he prefers to communicate with you. Good options include:

  • Being onsite and talking with your contractor every morning before work begins.
  • Having your contractor’s cell phone number and the OK to call or text anytime.
  • Talking with the job foreman every day at a pre-determined time.

Try to meet with the project leader at least once a day. This is an opportunity for you to hear progress reports and find out what work is scheduled over the coming days — and to ask your questions and voice any concerns you have.

3. Keep a Project Journal

Your project journal is your friend and ally. Use it to:

  • Record progress.
  • Note things you want to ask your contractor.
  • Jot down ideas.
  • Record product order numbers.
  • Note upcoming delivery dates.

A journal helps keep communication clear, and provides a record of who said what when — which could help you iron out disputes later on.

4. Track All Changes in Writing

Your team may encounter unforeseen structural issues, or you may decide to include additional work as the project evolves. Any good contractor can handle these changes — just make sure that he bids them in writing first.

Specify in your remodeling contract that you want change orders in writing for anything that’s going to add to the bottom line of the job. That means the contractor must give you a description of the change and a fixed price for what it’ll cost. You both must sign the change order before the work is done

5. Check the Work

Be proactive about checking your contractor’s work. A good time to check is when the crew has left for the day. Make notes in your journal and bring up anything you’re wondering about during your daily check-in with your contractor or job foreman. You can:

  • Compare the model numbers on appliances and fixtures against your receipts, invoices, and the contractor’s bid to ensure that the right product was delivered.
  • Check the locations of window and door openings against the blueprints.
  • Note any quality issues, such as misaligned trim. You’re the client; you have the right to expect good work.

6. Pay Only for Completed Work

Your remodeling contract should establish a series of payments to be made when certain aspects of the job are completed. For example, your contract could stipulate that you’ll pay in three equal installments, with the last payment to be made after the project is complete, and after you and your contractor agree the work is satisfactory.

Never put down more than 10% upfront; any more than that is too much cash to hand over before any work is complete. Your contractor should be able to get any necessary supplies on credit.

7. Be a Good Customer

One of the best ways to get quality work out of a contractor and construction crew is to make them enjoy working for you. That means being decisive with the contractor — and giving him a check promptly at the agreed-to points in the project.

Being friendly and accommodating of the workers is a great way to motivate them to do their best for you. Try:

  • Designating a bathroom that they can use.
  • Greeting them by name each morning.
  • Serving them cold lemonade on a hot day.
  • Complimenting their work (as long as you feel it’s worthy of praise).

Source: houselogic.com ~ By:  ~ Image: pixabay.com

Top 4 Reasons Why Guys Need a Man Cave

There are several good reasons why guys really do need this man cave and why it can make them better husbands and fathers.

There are lots of terms for it out there: Manland. Mantuary. Man Space.  But whatever you call your man cave — that garage, spare bedroom, shed, workspace or other area that is exclusively yours and that you can go to in order to just be yourself — is actually more important than you or your partner might realize.   

De-stressing

Many men have high-stress jobs and can spend long hours at work to earn money and help support their wives and children.  Work- and life-related stress can build up and if there is no healthy outlet for it — such as a man cave to escape to for a while to unwind — then the stress can build up and lead to physical problems like high blood pressure or tension headaches.

It can also lead to emotional problems like irritability, a short temper or even chronic anger, which can put a real strain on the marriage.

If a man has a place he can go to in order to process these emotions away from others, it can help with the emotional health of family life.  The man cave provides a place to temporarily get away from life’s pressures and to decompress so that there is emotional energy left over for family life.

Regulating Emotions

Many men are not aware of this on a conscious level, but there is a relationship between one’s feelings and one’s environment — and in many households, women tend to have more of say in how this environment looks than do their husbands or partners. This is why, notes home design journalist Mitchell Parker, in his Houzz blog, it is so important for men to have a space that have decorated and laid out for themselves in a way that expresses their own individual tastes and personalities. Having this kind of environment to escape to helps them to regulate their emotions and to explore and interpret who they are in privacy and without the rules that being around others naturally brings.

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Getting “Me” Time

Obviously, both men and women need some “me” time, even in a strong and healthy marriage. This can be a sticking point with women, however, who can sometimes feel offended if their husbands need space or time to themselves without them

But for men, it can be even more important. John Gray, author of the famous Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus series, notes that, “There is a part of the brain that helps us to interpret time and space. That part of the brain is much larger in men than it is in women. This means that men have a much bigger awareness of the need for space and time to themselves, “me” time.  Also, it is worth noting that “me” time can be quite different for men and women: for women, this can often include talking or texting other women, whereas for men, the desire for actual solitude seems more paramount.  When this need is fulfilled, it is easier for men to emerge from the cave and be ready and able take up the responsibilities of being husbands, fathers and breadwinners.

Getting Physical

Most of the reasons for man caves mentioned above are emotional or psychological ones.  But there is a physical aspect to this as well: man caves can also be a great place for men to be able to work out and be active, whether it’s a session on your treadmill to the tune of your favorite CD or a weight-lifting sessions to build up those pecs. 

Why is this is important? Because according to the National Institute of Health (NIH), 3 out of 4 men are overweight or obese — and this is a major risk factor for heart disease, which remains the number one killer of American men.  So, if used properly, a man cave can not only help fulfil a man’s emotional needs but his physical health.

So while the man cave can be the subject of much joking and jesting in family life, there is a more serious side to its presence — and when men and women take this side into account, it is more likely that both will make it more of a priority.

Source: goodmenproject.com ~ By: Dr. Bryan W. Wu ~ Image: Pixabay.com

5 Ways to Protect Outdoor Wood Furniture

While wood furniture is gorgeous outside, you’ll need to protect it to lengthen its lifespan, or you could face rot and unsightly discoloration in no time.

Below are several tips to help your wood weather.

Paint
A coat of paint is the top way to protect your outdoor wood, and although you will lose that natural look, it may be worth it considering how much longer that wood will last.  Go for a latex paint over an oil-based paint, as latex will last longer so you won’t need to touch up as frequently.

Seal
Don’t want to mess with your wood look? Consider a water sealant instead, especially if your area gets rain. Water sealers work in two ways: they protect your furniture from moisture outside but also allow damp wood within the sealant to dry faster, so it won’t rot, split or warp.

Varnish
If you don’t want to paint or seal, consider a varnish, which will hold your furniture’s true natural look while still offering some protection from the exterior.

Manage Exposure
Consider moving your wood furniture to the garage in the winter to keep it safe from harsh seasons, during which it won’t be used anyway. Or, consider a fitted cover to protect it from the weather when not in use.

Location, Location, Location
Your local weather will instruct you how to care for your furniture. If you live in a rainy area, a water sealant will be necessary. Live in the desert? Paint your wood for sun protection. The same goes for the area you place your furniture in. Is it tucked under an eave and lightly protected, or sitting out in the middle of the elements? Act accordingly.

Source: rismedia.com ~ Image: pixabay.com

Make These Five Energy-Efficient Improvements To Increase Your Home’s Value

It’s undeniable: Energy efficiency is in.

In 2018, there’s an abundance of reasons why you should make your home more energy efficient. As a homeowner, there are hundreds of small, tangible steps you can take to do just that. They can be as minor as replacing your lightbulbs and switching detergents, or as large as installing solar panels.

And as a real estate agent who has spent over a decade revitalizing and selling my Los Angeles clients’ homes, let me share another perk of energy efficiency: You will increase your home’s value.

What’s more, energy efficient improvements can help your home stand out in a crowded market. In states like California that suffer from droughts and strained power grids, the benefits of installing energy-efficient measures are poised only to go up in the future.

Here’s what you should — and shouldn’t — prioritize if you’re considering energy-efficient home upgrades:

1. Windows

Not all windows are created equal. Depending on your local climate, they may be doing serious damage to your energy bills by letting heat out during the winter and in during the summer.

Of course, energy-efficient windows can lower energy costs, but they can even eliminate hot or cold spots in your home. There are plenty of windows out there to choose from, so a good rule of thumb is to go with the government’s standard qualification, ENERGY STAR.

Most importantly, find beautiful windows that complement your home’s design. Energy-efficient windows add to your home’s value, but beautiful windows are what will really help make the sale.

2. Solar Panels

Of anything on the list, solar energy systems may offer the single biggest impact on your monthly energy bill, and, when implemented correctly, they can be a central feature when marketing a green home for sale.

Solar panel users have had their fair share of challenges in the past, primarily from HOAs and other groups. At least in California, however, legislators have given homeowners a lot more freedom in the past few years.

A word of warning: Leasing your solar panels can throw a major wrench in your eventual home sale by requiring your buyer to take over your leasing agreement. If a solar system fits your budget, it’s probably best to buy.

3. Water Systems

If you live in Southern California, you know how dry this state can get during the summer. It’s so bad, in fact, that this year California has set new per capita water use standard: 55 gallons per day by 2022, and 50 gallons per day by 2030.

While the new standards aren’t quite as dire as some have made them out to be, the water efficiency of your home will have a growing impact on its value over time. Water-efficient sprinkler systems, water heaters and toilets can go a long way to selling your green home down the line.

4. HVAC Systems

How your home cools, warms and ventilates affects your energy usage more than anything else, so you’re doing yourself a disservice by keeping your old system.

From fans to central air conditioners to heat pumps, ENERGY STAR makes recommendations that will ease your bills and upgrade your home. I do suggest you include a smart thermostat, which will serve as visible proof to buyers that the energy efficiency you mentioned in the listing is the real deal.

5. Avoid: Appliances And Accessories

Not everyone has the same taste. Your dream dishwasher may not be your buyer’s dream dishwasher, or your buyer may have their own unit they plan on bringing with them.

It’s best not to assume that replacing major appliances with energy-efficient models will have any impact on your home’s value — because they’re not really part of the home. That’s not to say you shouldn’t go green where possible. Just know that if you replace your washer and dryer, you’re doing it for you and not the potential buyer.

Go Green And Go Home

Even if you don’t plan on moving anytime soon, implementing a combination of smart, energy-efficient changes can pay for itself in the long term. I have to admit, it can be kind of addicting to watch those energy bills drop.

If you do plan on moving, energy-efficient is the way to go. As energy prices continue to rise, the number of buyers looking for green housing will rise with them. And what a coincidence — yours will be the greenest house on the market.

Source: forbes.com ~ By: Gina Michelle ~ Image: pixabay.com

What Does a Title Company Do?

A title company makes sure that the title to a piece of real estate is legitimate and then issues title insurance for that property. Title insurance protects the lender and/or owner against lawsuits or claims against the property that result from disputes over the title.

Title companies also often maintain escrow accounts — these contain the funds needed to close on the home — to ensure that this money is used only for settlement and closing costs, and may conduct the formal closing on the home. At the closing, a settlement agent from the title company will bring all the necessary documentation, explain it to the parties, collect closing costs and distribute monies. Finally, the title company will ensure that the new titles, deeds and other documents are filed with the appropriate entities.

Here’s what potential home buyers need to know about title insurance.

How Does a Title Company Determine That a Title is Valid?

The title company makes sure a property title is legitimate, so that the buyer may be confident that once he buys a property, he is the rightful owner of the property. To ensure that the title is valid, the title company will do a title search, which is a thorough examination of property records to make sure that the person or company claiming to own the property does, in fact, legally own the property and that no one else could claim full or partial ownership of the property.

During the title search, the title company also looks for any outstanding mortgages, liens, judgments or unpaid taxes associated with the property, as well as any restrictions, easements, leases or other issues that might impact ownership. The title company may also require a property survey, which determines the boundaries of the plot of land that a home sits on, whether the home sits within those boundaries, whether there are any encroachments on the property by neighbors and any easements that may impact an ownership claim.

Before a title company issues title insurance, it will prepare an abstract of title, which is a short summary of what it found during the title search (basically, this is the history of the ownership of the property). Then, it will issue a title opinion letter, which is a legal document that speaks to the validity of the title.

What is Title Insurance?

Once the title is found to be valid, the title company will likely issue a title insurance policy, which protects lenders or owners against claims or legal fees that may arise from disputes over the ownership of the property.

There are two main types of title insurance: owner’s title insurance, which protects the property owner from title issues, and lender’s title insurance, which protects the mortgage company. You, the home buyer, will pay for the lender’s title insurance when you close on the house, but it’s also a good idea to make sure you have an owner’s title insurance policy as well (in some areas of the country, sellers pay for these policies; in others, the buyer must purchase it).

For example: You buy a home and get both lender’s and buyer’s title insurance, but then someone comes forward claiming they are the rightful owner of the home. If, in fact, the title was wrong and they are the rightful owner of the home, your title insurance policy will likely pay you the value of the home and the lender the amount they lent you to buy the home.

How Do You Pick a Title Company?

Ask your real estate agent, peers who have recently bought a home or your lender for recommendations for a title company. Then, do your homework on the title companies recommended.

Look for a title company that has years of experience doing this (have they done hundreds or even thousands of these kinds of transactions?). Contact the Better Business Bureau to determine whether the company has any complaints against it.

You should also shop around for the best premium rates in your area; if you buy an owner’s title insurance policy, make sure you get one with as few exclusions as possible and that it covers the full purchase price of the home.

What Does a Title Company Charge?

The cost of title insurance depends on the size of the loan and varies greatly depending on the state. The good news is that the premium is a one-time fee you pay at closing, not an ongoing expense.

According to the Federal Reserve, “a lender’s policy on a $100,000 loan can range from $175 in one state to $900 in another.” You’ll typically pay an additional amount — usually a few hundred dollars or more, depending on the size of the loan and your state of residence — for a buyer’s policy.

Note that you may be able to get a discounted rate on your title insurance if the property was sold within the previous five years; just call and ask.

When Do You Meet With the Title Company and How Often?

You may meet with or talk to an agent from the title company on multiple occasions. First, you may decide to meet with a few agents from title companies before you buy your home to help you decide which company to go with.

If the title company maintains an escrow account for you, the agent may reach out to you to provide details on that account or you may contact him with questions.

If your title company handles your closing, you will meet with a settlement agent in person then. At this time, the settlement agent will explain all the documents related to the settlement before you sign anything. And, of course, if something goes wrong with regards to the title, you will likely meet with one of their agents then.

Consumers should feel free to contact their title company at any time to get answers to their questions on title searches, title abstracts, title insurance, escrow accounts or closings.

Source: zillow.com ~ Image: pixabay.com

When Listing Your Home For Sale, Remember These Best Practices

Even in a seller’s market, homes aren’t guaranteed to sell. When preparing to sell your home, following a few best practices can keep the property from sitting on the market — or even worse, not selling at all.

Price it just right.

Overpricing a listing is a kiss of death on the market. Research homes in the area that have sold recently, and make sure they are actually comparable (i.e., don’t compare a fixer-upper to a newly remodeled house). Check how long local listings are typically on the market for, and adjust your expectations accordingly. Keep your eye on what else is on the market at the same time as your listing — if there is another home that is seen as a better deal, your listing will look less desirable.

Even though a seller will always want the highest price possible, it may prove strategic to list for a lower price and let buyers bid the price up in competition. Listing at a lower price is common practice in very competitive real estate markets like San Francisco and Los Angeles. This approach often ends up getting more exposure on the listing since it will show up on more home buyers’ online feeds. 

Take beautiful professional photographs.

Some buyers love a project, but most are hoping to have to do as little work as possible (and keep their budget as low as possible). Keeping the home clean and uncluttered and presenting clear photos will present the home at its best.

The majority of buyers are starting their home search online nowadays, and can form an attachment to a house before even seeing it in person. Bad photos, or no photos at all, can completely eliminate interest.

There are inexpensive ways to spruce up your house to make it look more appealing, and pointing out all the positive aspects of the home in the listing (such as the features, upgrades and location) is also vital.

Be open to negotiations.

I can’t stress enough that keeping an open mind is key when selling your home. A buyer may come in with a low price or not-so-great terms on an offer, but it’s best not to write them off completely. If the buyer wants the house, they are likely open to negotiating. If the offer is rejected in a rude way, the buyers may feel like they do not want to work with the seller/their agent in the future at all and may not revisit an offer even after the home has been sitting on the market. Emotions run high on both the buyer and seller side of buying a home, and while it’s important for buyers to not write ridiculously low offers, it’s also key for the sellers to keep from being offended, and try to see if there is some reasoning.

In competitive real estate markets, offers are most likely to come in within the first two weeks of the listing becoming active. Serious buyers are already searching and seeing new listings as they come up for sale. Be sure the home is available and presentable right away for showings. In addition to listing the home in the MLS, it’s essential that the listing be spread to as many potential buyers and local agents as possible. If you want to sell, spread the word.

Source: forbes.com ~ By: Beatrice de Jong ~ Image: 21online Asset Library