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

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

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

6 Reasons Fall May Be the Best Time to Buy a Home

Traditionally, spring is considered peak season in the real estate market. Families with school-aged children find it less disruptive to move over the summer. Spring is also a time when people are eager to get outside and properties usually look their best. On the flip side, however, there are a number of good reasons for homebuyers to hold off until fall:

1. Sellers are Motivated

If they weren’t, they’d probably hold off until spring, since April is the best month to sell a home. By fall, sellers who were “testing the waters” with a listing in prime selling season are either eliminated or are now serious sellers.

These motivated sellers often want to get things settled before the end of the year, completing their own move before the holidays. Living “in limbo” for several months can be exhausting and provides another motivating factor.

The longer a house has been on the market, the more likely a seller is willing to negotiate on everything from price, to closing costs, to move-in dates.

2. There are Fewer Buyers

Potential buyers with children are less likely to be in the market once school has started. Other autumn buyers may become hampered by inclement weather, shorter daylight hours, and holiday demands. If you are flexible, less competition in the fall can pay off for you!

3. Lower Home Prices

October may be the best month to buy a home. After reviewing 32 million sales of single family homes over a 15-year period, RealtyTrac(link is external) found that properties that went under contract in the month of October sold for an average of 2.6 percent below estimated full market value.

While pointing out that specific results vary by location, RealtyTrac found that October also had more “best days” to buy than any other month in the year. Among the top 10 best days to buy, all but two were in the last quarter of the year:

4. The Focus is On You

During prime selling months, everyone involved in real estate transactions tends to be swamped. In fall, however, real estate agents, lenders, inspectors, title companies, moving companies, etc., experience a lighter schedule, giving them more time and energy to focus on helping you. In general, their response time will be improved and your experience may be less stressful and more snag-free.

5. Tax Advantages

Even if you close on the last day of the year, you can apply the property taxes you paid and any interest or points (pre-paid interest to lower interest rates) on a home purchase to offset your income for that entire calendar year. This could be a significant advantage when April rolls around.

Consult with your tax or financial planning professional to determine how to leverage the timing details and other aspects of your purchase to your benefit.

6. Needed Changes and Upgrades May be Cheaper

If you are purchasing a house that needs new carpet, paint, appliances or other upgrades, buying in the fall may save you money beyond the purchase price of the home. Many of these items are at their lowest prices in the fall. According to Consumer Reports, September is the best time to buy paint and carpeting and the best time to purchase major appliances is November and December.

With careful negotiation, you may be able to get price concessions from the seller on cosmetic issues like worn carpeting, faded wall paint, or outdated appliances that exceed the cost of the upgrades, saving money on the cost of the house and getting brand new paint, carpet and/or appliances at the same time!

Additionally, September is the best time to get deals on snow blowers as well as outdoor plants, shrubs, flowers, and trees. September and October are the best time to buy lawn mowers and tractors. The savings can really add up, leaving you with a bit more cash to cover other expenses.

The Best Time To Buy Varies By Location

Remember that the advantages of buying in the fall may be diminished in certain markets. For instance, in Florida, you may find yourself competing with “snowbirds” looking to purchase in the area, making fall months less of a buyer’s market than in northern locations.

Source: homebuying.realtor ~ By: REBAC Staff ~ Image:  pixabay.com

25 AWESOME STAYCATION IDEAS

Ah vacation.  How many of us don’t sometimes wish we could escape the hustle, bustle, & day-to-day responsibilities of our normal lives for a week of fun and relaxation somewhere far, far away?

The truth is that for many of us a traditional vacation is not always in the cards.  Between restaurants, hotels, and transportation, travel costs can add up fast especially when those costs are multiplied for a family.  And even when the cost isn’t a factor, sometimes health concerns or work obligations prevent us from leaving town anytime the urge strikes.

But that doesn’t mean when Spring Break or summer vacation time rolls around and the kids are home from school that you can’t still have a great time! This year, why not plan a vacation in your own backyard?  A true Staycation is more than just a week at home, it is an intentional time of fun and relaxation for your whole family.  It does take a little effort to do it right, but can ultimately be just as satisfying as going somewhere far away.

SET SOME GROUND RULES

The point of a Staycation is to make it feel as much like a real family getaway as possible, without leaving the comfort of your own home.  Thus, to make sure the whole family is on the same page, it is good to start with some ground rules that everyone can agree on.  Start with deciding exactly when your vacation at home starts and ends, and then set a few guidelines for what your family may and may not do during this time.  These could include all or some of the following:

  • No smart phone
  • No email
  • No computer or video games
  • No television
  • No working from home
  • No worrying
  • No fighting
  • Family time only—no independent activities or outside plans
  • No cooking
  • No cleaning
  • No laundry

PLAN FOR FUN!

Just like a real vacation, the more you plan for fun, the more successful your Staycation is likely to be.  Start by setting a reasonable, realistic budget for your week of fun at home.  Set some money aside for activities, eating out, and perhaps even paying for a splurge or two such as paying for a house cleaner or treating yourself to a massage or pedicure at a local spa.

DIG DEEPER

Next, take the time to figure out just what you will do on your Staycation.  If your kids are old enough to have an opinion, hold a family meeting to discuss your ideas and to get a feel for what everyone wants to do. (The list below is a great start!)  If you like spontinaeity, consider putting everyone’s ideas into a jar, then picking one activity each day.  Or, if your family prefers more structure, use your ideas to develop an itinerary for the week.

Be sure to also spend some time prepping your home and kitchen to make things as easy—and neat—as possible for your relaxing week at home.  Gather menus to all the local restaurants that offer takeout and delivery or, if eating out every day is not an option, plan a freezer cooking session ahead of time to prepare a week’s worth of easy stress-free meals.  You might also want to consider using disposable dishes and serve ware to cut down on dishes.  Make sure to caught up on laundry before your week begins, and, if possible, do a family power-cleaning session the day before your Staycation starts.

GET CREATIVE

Chances are there are dozens of fun things to do in your own hometown that you either never have time for, or don’t even think about because they are so close by.  Here are 25 fun and creative ideas to get you started:

  • Try Geocaching-According to the official Geocaching website, “Geocaching is a real-world, outdoor treasure hunting game using GPS-enabled devices. Participants navigate to a specific set of GPS coordinates and then attempt to find the geocache (container) hidden at that location.”  Get more information here, or find local Geocaching groups here.
Go on an a family adventure by getting out the map and exploring your neck of the woods.
  • Try Paintballing or Laser Tag-Invite a few other families to join yours and battle it out for the title of Most Awesome Family.  There are paintball or laser tag facilities almost everywhere—use Google to find one nearby.
  • Visit a Nearby National Park-National parks truly are one of our country’s greatest treasures, and most NPs have a variety of awesome family friendly activities to choose from.  After finding a park in your area, first visit the Ranger Station to pick up a Junior Ranger kit, then complete the required number of activities to receive a badge.  You can also purchase a Passport to National Parks at any NP gift shop, then collect passport stamps at every park you visit.  Most park fees are nominal, but you can also check out this page to find free entrance days.
  • Enjoy Your Local Theater-Check the local newspaper or theater website to see what plays, musicals, concerts, or family-friendly comedy shows will be playing during your planned Staycation time, then book tickets and plan for an evening at the theater.
  • Visit a Nearby Amusement Park-While Disney World may not be in the cards this year, that doesn’t mean you can’t still have a blast at a nearby theme park.  Check out this list to find an amusement park in your own state or town.
  • Visit a Local Children’s Museum-If you’ve got younger kids it can sometimes be hard to find activities that the whole family can enjoy, but a great Children’s Museum can definitely fit the bill!  Most have a variety of fun and interactive activities that can keep you busy the whole day.  Check out the Association of Children’s Museums website to find one in your area, and consider purchasing a Family pass—you can usually get your money back in just two visits.
  • Visit the Zoo or Aquarium-Who doesn’t love seeing animals?  Check out the Association of Zoos & Aquariums to find an AZA accredited zoo or aquarium in your area, then be sure to also check what special programs your zoo has available.  Some offer Junior zookeeper programs or opportunities to feed the animals, while some others even allow you to spend the night in the zoo!  Be sure to pack a lunch to save on pricey zoo fare!
  • Check out the Local Library-Most libraries have family-friendly events and activities happening every weekend, and sometimes even daily during spring break and summer vacations.  Check your local library website for details.
  • Major or Minor League Sporting Event-While major league events are a lot of fun, they can get pricey quickly, especially for a family.  Luckily almost every city has a minor league team these days, which can give you (almost) the same experience for a fraction of the price!  Be sure to check out which days include special events, such as free caps or fireworks for added fun!
  • Go Bowling-If your kids are small, try bumper bowling; for older kids go at night during “glow bowling” times!  Many bowling alleys around the country even participate in a free bowling program that allows kids to bowl free and parents to join them for just a few dollars more.
Sometimes every family needs to pitch a tent and kick back together, cooling your bare feet in the breeze!
  • Camp in Your Own Backyard-Why not enjoy the great outdoors in your own backyard?  Set up a tent and sleeping bags, build a fire (or use the grill) to cook s’mores, and take turns telling ghost stories.  Then download the Night Sky app (make sure your device is GPS-enabled first!) to identify stars, planets, and even satellites in the sky.
  • Tour a Local Factory or Brewery-Is there a large manufacturing facility near your town or city?  Most offer tours and even samples of their goods.  Check the company website for details!
  • Visit a Nearby Tourist Spot-Is there an area nearby that always draws the crowds? Even if you normally avoid the tourist traps, every once in a while it is fun to become a tourist in your own town.  Make all the cheesy stops and take pictures along the way!
  • Theme Restaurant or Dinner Theater-Make dining an event!  Depending on where you live there may be theme restaurants, dinner theater, or even a murder-mystery dinner train or cruise
  • Go Paddleboarding or Canoeing-If there is a river, lake, or ocean nearby, chances are pretty good there is also a paddleboard or canoe rental facility nearby as well.   Both are a fun way to enjoy the water and test your skills!
  • Create Your Own Art-Spend an afternoon getting creative at a nearby paint-your-own pottery facility.  Not only is it fun, you’ll have your own gorgeous dishes to take home when you’re done.
  • Get Wet-Spend the day at a local pool or waterpark, or just head to the beach!  If that sounds like too much effort, simply set up a slip & slide in the backyard and have a family water day at home.
  • Tackle a family project-Have the kids been begging for a tree house or wanting to redecorate their rooms?  Consider spending your week together working on something to improve your home.  You’ll not only bond while painting and building together, but at the end of the week have something concrete to show for your time!
  • Host Your Own Film Festival-Pick a theme, allow each family member to pick a movie, then get comfortable for a day of movies.  Be sure to provide plenty of snacks, and take breaks to discuss and rate each film.
  • Give Yourselves a Makeover-Do hair and makeup at home, or take a day to go to the local spa or beauty parlor.  Complete the new look with a new outfit!
  • Find a Local Festival-Check your local newspaper or chamber of commerce website to find out what is happening in your town or towns nearby the week of your Staycation.  Depending where you live there are often events happening almost every weekend!
  • Go Golfing-If dad is into real golf, consider spending an afternoon doing a family golf lesson; otherwise, stick to mini golf at a local novelty course!
  • Play Outside-Go fly a kite, take a walk, go for a bike ride, or take a hike–most state and national parks have at least a few walking, hiking, or biking trails to choose from.  Do a little research to find one that fits your family’s athletic ability, then head out to enjoy the great outdoors.  Don’t forget to pack snacks and water for your trek!

RELAX AND ENJOY!

For most people—and moms especially—the hardest part of trying to “relax” at home is letting go of the all the everyday obligations and distractions that bombard us in our own homes.  But the key to having the best Staycation ever ultimately has nothing to do with the activities you choose, but with your own attitude and commitment to making your week a time of fun and relaxation.   Let the chores be for a week and instead give yourself permission to kick back and enjoy the moment.  Laugh and talk with your kids and spouse and create memories that you will cherish for a lifetime.  This is your time…..make the most of it!

Source: livingwellspendingless.com ~ Image: Pixabay

How to Buy a Vacation Home in 5 Steps

Turn your getaway daydreams into reality — this guide will walk you through it, step by step.

Dream of owning a vacation home but find the idea of buying one too intimidating? It’s actually easier than you may think.

Here’s a guide to help you analyze your options.

1. Match housing choices to your lifestyle

Many people assume they must own a primary residence before owning a vacation home, but that’s not necessarily true. What’s really important is matching your housing choices to your lifestyle.

You may live in a city and want lots of space that you can’t afford there. You could rent a modest condo in the city and buy a large vacation home outside the metro area.

Or you may live in a large country house and want to enjoy city life as much as you can. In that case, you could own your country home and also buy a vacation condo in the city.

Either way, the financing and tax implications are almost the same.

2. Decide how you’ll use it

From a financing and tax standpoint, you need to consider how you intend to own and use your property. You have three options:

  • Primary residence. You can buy for as little as 3 percent down (if your loan doesn’t exceed $417,000), and you get significant homeowner tax benefits.
  • Second home. You can use your second home anytime you want, but lenders won’t let you rent the home. Buy for as little as 20 percent down, and qualify for the loan using your full primary residence cost plus your full second home cost. Mortgage rates and tax benefits are the same as primary residences.
  • Investment property. You can rent the home and use it when it’s not rented. Rates are .25 percent to .375 percent higher than second home rates, and your down payment usually starts at 30 percent. You qualify for the loan using your full primary residence cost plus your full investment home cost, but you can use rental income to help qualify. Tax treatment is less beneficial, but the extra income can help with affordability.

3. Understand the total cost of owning it

You can determine what you can afford in seconds. Then you’ll find a lender to formally analyze the cash available for down payment, closing costs and reserves. You’ll also calculate the total monthly cost on your existing home (whether you rent or own), plus the total monthly cost on the vacation home.

You also need to plan for personal budget items that lenders don’t use in their qualifying calculations:

  • Gas, electric, cable TV and internet
  • Furniture and housewares
  • Travel costs to your vacation home
  • Total cost of property maintenance items, like cleaning, landscaping and pool/spa upkeep

4. Review monthly and transactional cost line items

Suppose you live in San Francisco and want to purchase a home in the wine country of Sonoma County, CA, for $600,000. Here’s how much it would cost as a primary residence, second home and investment property.

Estimated monthly costs
Primary or second home Investment property
Mortgage payment $2,223 (30-year fixed mortgage at 3.75%) $2,035 (30-year fixed mortgage at 4.125%)
Insurance $100 $100
Property tax $600 $600
TOTAL ESTIMATED MONTHLY COSTS $2,923 $2,735
Estimated cash to close
Primary or second home Investment property
Down payment $120,000 (20%) $180,000 (30%)
Lender fees $2,500 $2,500
Title/escrow/inspection fees $3,500 $3,500
TOTAL ESTIMATED CASH TO CLOSE $126,000 $186,000

5. Make an offer using a local real estate agent and lender

Many vacation properties are in specialized local markets, so it’s best to find local real estate agents and lenders.

Your real estate agent will clarify local transaction fees, taxes and commissions, as well as advise on local zoning and property rental rules. For example, the town of Sonoma doesn’t allow short-term rentals for vacation homes, but other towns in Sonoma County do.

In destination areas, real estate agent commissions can be higher and can also be seller- or buyer-paid, depending on the area. Only a local expert can advise properly. And, of course, they will structure your offer for you and negotiate on all facets of the deal that are a priority to you.

Likewise, local lenders will be comfortable with appraisals and lending in rural areas. Appraisals are more difficult in less populated areas because comparable sales can be old and hard to find.

If you follow these steps, your closing will be a snap, and you’ll be relaxing in your vacation home before you know it.

Source: zillow.com ~ By: JULIAN HEBRON ~ Image: pixabay.com

Stay Safe this 4th of July

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) continues to urge families NOT to buy fireworks for their own or their children’s use, as thousands of people, most often children and teens, are injured each year while using consumer fireworks. 

Despite the dangers of fireworks, few people understand the associated risks — devastating burns, other injuries, fires and even death. The AAP is part of the Alliance to Stop Consumer Fireworks, a group of health and safety organizations that urges the public to avoid the use of consumer fireworks and to only enjoy displays of fireworks conducted by trained professionals.

Fireworks Safety Tips for Families:

  • Fireworks can result in severe burns​, blindness, scars and even death.
  • Fireworks that are often thought to be safe, such as sparklers, can reach temperatures above 1000°Fahrenheit, and can burn users and bystanders.
  • Families should attend community fireworks displays run by professionals rather than using fireworks at home.
  • The AAP recommends prohibiting public sale of all fireworks, including those by mail or the Internet.​​

Small Updates, Big Return: 5 Ways to Increase Your Home’s Value

No matter your budget, there’s always an upgrade or two that’ll up the resale ante.

Whether your home improvements are for you or potential buyers, consider their impact on your home’s potential resale price before picking up your toolbox (or the phone to call a contractor).

A brand-new kitchen or bathroom will undoubtedly wow potential buyers, but there’s no guarantee you’ll recoup the money you put into those pricey remodels.

To help you navigate the choices that lead to the best return on investment, we asked two industry experts (and one enthusiastic DIYer) to weigh in.

Kitchen renovations

“Renovating the kitchen is always the biggest way to add value to your home,” says Grace Fancher, real estate agent at Kansas City firm Sarah Snodgrass. “People love to cook, and everyone tends to gather in the kitchen. If you add seating, such as an island with barstools, buyers go crazy for that.”

A full remodel is a major investment, but smaller projects make a big difference if you can’t — or don’t want to — go all out. “Nicer appliances really stick out to potential buyers — even if you’re planning to take them with you,” Fancher says.

She also suggests replacing tired finishes with fresh, neutral materials. “You don’t want to be too trendy, but you want it to look up-to-date,” she says. “Everyone loves clean, white subway tiles now, but they’re really a timeless look.”

Replacing dated countertops (quartz is your best bet, according to Fancher) and flooring is also worth the time and money.

Photo from Zillow listing.

Bathroom updates

The smallest rooms in the house can have a big impact on its value, so Fancher suggests adding a second bathroom or upgrading existing ones so your home features at least two full baths.

Joe Monda, co-owner of Seattle-based general contracting firm Promondo, agrees. “People are spending more on upgrading their houses before listing them,” he says. “They really want to maximize the potential house value.”

But if you’re remodeling a bathroom just to put your house on the market, keep it simple. “Most people don’t want to pay for upgrades, so you want it to be a neutral space that doesn’t look straight out of the big DIY warehouse stores — even if it is,” says Fancher.

She adds that an easy solution is spending a little more on details, like high-quality towel bars and upgraded hardware for those big-box store vanities.

Not in a position to remodel? “Re-grouting tile, or even just using one of those grout paint pens, gives any bathroom a fresher look,” says Sharyn Young, a self-proclaimed DIY addict from Minneapolis.

Photo from Zillow listing.

Lighting upgrades

“The brighter a room feels, the bigger it looks,” says Fancher. “And when you’re selling, you want every space to look as big as possible.”

She recommends replacing flush-mount ceiling lights with recessed and/or pendant lighting — a relatively cheap upgrade that looks modern and makes a huge impact.

“LED lighting has changed everything,” says Young. “There are so many readily available, inexpensive options now that are easy to install. I added Ikea under-cabinet lighting in the kitchen of my last house, and I was amazed at how that one simple upgrade made the space feel larger and cleaner.”

Photo from Zillow listing.

Fresh paint

Like lighting, a new coat of paint can also make a space feel cleaner and brighter. Stick to neutral shades, such as light gray and beige, and if you don’t have time or budget to do the whole house, start with the living areas you see when you first walk in.

An even quicker fix is refreshing just the trim. “Beat-up, dirty trim can give buyers a subtle impression that the whole house is dingy,” Fancher says. “Repainting gives a sharper look and shows the buyer that you’ve taken care of the house.”

Photo from Zillow listing.

Landscape improvements

“A lot of people overlook how important landscaping is, especially when you’re selling in the spring or summer,” says Fancher, adding that you can increase curb appeal by just putting down new, dark-colored mulch, if you don’t want to spend a lot of money on planting.

Monda suggests paying special attention to the entry. Repair or replace any damaged stepping stones, concrete paths, and porch plants, then give the front door a fresh coat of paint and add some potted plants. “You want people to be excited to walk in the door,” he says.

Source: zillow.com ~ By: LARA HALE ~ Image: Pixabay.com