How Much House Can I Afford?

Debt to Income Ratio: Follow the 36% rule

Most financial advisers agree that people should spend no more than 36 percent of their gross income when determining how much house you can afford. The 36% rule is the tried-and-true home mortgage affordability tip that you should take into account when establishing a baseline for what you can afford to pay every month.

Depending on where you live, your annual income could be more than enough to cover a mortgage or it could fall short. Knowing what you can afford can help you take financially sound next steps. The last thing you want to do is jump into a 30-year home loan that’s too expensive for your budget, even if you can find a lender willing to write the mortgage.

Set a budget

The most basic research on homebuying will inevitably lead you to this general fact: houses are one of, if not the most, expensive purchases you’ll make in your lifetime. There aren’t many other opportunities to drop hundreds of thousands of dollars in one sitting… or over 30 years.

This is why setting a house budget is crucial in the homebuying process. Even more modest purchases, like a new car, require examining the bank account, debt and income situation. With a home purchase, this kind of serious financial evaluation is everything if you are to have any hope of success.

Calculate the Cost

NOTE: Go to managecasa.com to use the Calculator.

If your monthly income is $5,000 per month then your mortgage payment shouldn’t exceed $1,400 per month. The calculator… allows you to plug in all the essential data to produce a budget estimate for how much house you can afford based on your income, down payment, and other expenses.

How much of my income should I spend on my house?

Financial experts generally advise that no more than 28 percent of your gross income should go to a mortgage payment. This means if, after expenses and debt, your monthly income is $5,000 per month then your mortgage payment should not be more than $1,400 per month. That said, everyone has different financial goals and lifestyle needs. Some folks choose to underspend on their house and use the extra money for investments or travel, while others might need more space due to family size. Be sure to factor in your long-term goals so you don’t get stuck with more house (and mortgage) than you need.

How much income do I need to qualify for a mortgage?

Many factors go into a lender’s decision to give you a mortgage. Among them are your credit scoredebt-to-income ratio, employment history and income. Qualifying income is not just employment salary but other sources such as alimony, royalties, Social Security and trust income. Lenders will tally total income, subtract your debt and use the remainder to determine how much you can afford. Lenders generally use the 28/36 rule for underwriting. This rule states that a household should spend 28 percent or less of their gross income on total housing expenses, including things like HOA fees, home insurance and property taxes. Likewise, total household debt — which includes everything from your mortgage to credit card bills and student loans, shouldn’t exceed 36 percent.

Source: bankrate.com ~ By:  ~ Image: 21online Asset Library

How much do solar panels save in 2019?

Variance in energy usage and energy cost around our great country, and even from home to home, mean that:

  • statistics on how much solar energy will save the average house are almost meaningless to a homeowner (although for those looking for solar savings stats see table below); and
  • calculating how much solar panels will save for your home requires knowledge of your power usage, your local electricity rates, local solar production and any federal, state and local solar incentives (such as the 30% federal solar tax credit) that affects the upfront cost of a solar system where you live.
Below we have included a link to a solar savings calculator that calculates how many solar panels you need to power your house, how much they will cost, your solar payback period and both monthly and lifetime solar savings. It was originally developed with funding from the Department of Energy.
We have included it below because it is the only available online solar savings calculator that uses the specific electric rates of your utility to properly calculate savings. Most others just assume a national electricity cost and so produce very inaccurate results.

How much do solar panels save the average home?

However, for folks that like statistics:

The average annual electricity consumption for a U.S. residential utility customer is 10,766 kilowatt hours (kWh) per annum, an average of 897 kWh per month. Multiply that by the national average electricity rate as of November 2017 ($0.1301 per kWh) and you’ll find that the typical American family is spending over $1,401 a year on electricity. This means that if each home was to install enough solar panels to cover their electricity bill then on average the savings from installing a residential solar system in America in 2018 would run to $1,401 per year.

However what we all really want to know is how much are the solar savings per month after the solar repayments, and how much do these savings add up to over 25 years. The solar savings for a typical home in each state are listed in the table below.

Are solar power savings real and what is avoided cost?

When we talk solar savings we are talking avoided cost. That is, the amount you would have spent on utility electricity had you not installed a solar power system on your home to provide the same power. And yes….these savings are very real. In fact, the extremely high likelihood that you will continue to need to consume electricity at your house means that solar savings are considered a very bankable investment return.

However, the first step to working out solar savings is to first understand how much electricity you use now, how much that costs you and how much electricity you are likely to use in the future.

Here is a list of the average saving that are likely to be achieved by an average US homeowner in each of the top 50 solar cities in America if they installed a 6kW solar power system on their home (a typical size of residential solar energy system in 2018.

Average monthly and lifetime solar savings by state and city in 2018

City State Average cost of Utility power $/kWh Annual Production of a 6 kW system Savings Month 1 25 year profit (savings less cost) Top rated solar companies in your city
New York New York 0.13 6882 $73.41 $23,670.01 View companies
Los Angeles California 0.17 9066 $128.44 $41,413.16 View companies
Chicago Illinois 0.12 6474 $64.74 $20,875.06 View companies
Houston Texas 0.10 7770 $64.75 $20,878.28 View companies
Phoenix Arizona 0.13 9366 $101.47 $32,716.83 View companies
Philadelphia Pennsylvania 0.13 7140 $77.35 $24,941.08 View companies
San Antonio Texas 0.10 8094 $67.45 $21,748.88 View companies
San Diego California 0.17 9024 $127.84 $41,221.30 View companies
Dallas Texas 0.10 8220 $68.50 $22,087.45 View companies
San Jose California 0.17 8694 $123.17 $39,713.88 View companies
Austin Texas 0.10 8154 $67.95 $21,910.10 View companies
Jacksonville Florida 0.11 7416 $67.98 $21,919.78 View companies
San Francisco California 0.17 8922 $126.40 $40,755.37 View companies
Columbus Ohio 0.11 6750 $61.88 $19,951.25 View companies
Indianapolis Indiana 0.12 7068 $70.68 $22,790.38 View companies
Fort Worth Texas 0.10 8544 $71.20 $22,958.05 View companies
Charlotte North Carolina 0.11 7962 $72.99 $23,533.61 View companies
Seattle Washington 0.10 5664 $47.20 $15,219.38 View companies
Denver Colorado 0.10 8682 $74.30 $23,958.74 View companies
El Paso Texas 0.10 9660 $80.50 $25,956.78 View companies
Washington District of Columbia 0.12 7620 $76.20 $24,570.27 View companies
Boston Massachusetts 0.17 6768 $95.88 $30,915.98 View companies
Detroit Michigan 0.15 7020 $87.75 $28,294.50 View companies
Nashville Tennessee 0.11 7686 $70.46 $22,717.83 View companies
Memphis Tennessee 0.11 7716 $70.73 $22,806.50 View companies
Portland Oregon 0.11 6078 $55.72 $17,964.99 View companies
Oklahoma City Oklahoma 0.10 8430 $70.25 $22,651.73 View companies
Las Vegas Nevada 0.13 9672 $104.78 $33,785.73 View companies
Louisville Kentucky 0.09 7386 $55.40 $17,861.81 View companies
Baltimore Maryland 0.14 7632 $89.04 $28,710.46 View companies
Milwaukee Wisconsin 0.15 6576 $82.20 $26,504.94 View companies
Albuquerque New Mexico 0.13 9528 $103.22 $33,282.72 View companies
Tucson Arizona 0.13 9498 $102.90 $33,177.93 View companies
Fresno California 0.17 8694 $123.17 $39,713.88 View companies
Sacramento California 0.17 8538 $120.96 $39,001.27 View companies
Mesa Arizona 0.13 9540 $103.35 $33,324.64 View companies
Kansas City Missouri 0.08 8004 $53.36 $17,205.64 View companies
Atlanta Georgia 0.12 7770 $77.70 $25,053.94 View companies
Long Beach California 0.17 9012 $127.67 $41,166.49 View companies
Colorado Springs Colorado 0.10 9270 $79.34 $25,581.38 View companies
Raleigh North Carolina 0.11 8130 $74.53 $24,030.18 View companies
Miami Florida 0.11 8040 $73.70 $23,764.16 View companies
Virginia Beach Virginia 0.10 8052 $67.10 $21,636.03 View companies
Omaha Nebraska 0.11 8172 $74.91 $24,154.32 View companies
Oakland California 0.17 8646 $122.49 $39,494.61 View companies
Minneapolis Minnesota 0.13 7788 $84.37 $27,204.64 View companies
Tulsa Oklahoma 0.10 8172 $68.10 $21,958.47 View companies
Arlington Texas 0.10 8136 $67.80 $21,861.74 View companies
New Orleans Louisiana 0.09 7278 $54.59 $17,600.63 View companies
Wichita Kansas 0.12 8388 $83.88 $27,046.64 View companies

Assumptions:

  • Cost of utility power is an average of existing rate plans taken from the most commonly chosen utility provider in that state.
  • Forecast solar production of a 6kWp system assumes installation at an optimal tilt and azimuth, with typical insolation conditions based on the TMY2 data set and no external shading.
  • 25-year savings forecast includes an expected inflation in cost of utility power of 3% per annum.
  • The solar system is purchased for cash and owned, so the full value of avoided utility payments is held by the homeowner.

How reliable are solar savings estimates?

Solar is a long term investment and so calculating the long-term savings that you can expect from installing solar panels for your home is crucial when determining whether or not to go solar.

Forecasting residential solar savings can be more difficult that it first appears and forecasts are inherently uncertain. We here at SolarReviews are passionate about solar and renewable energies and hope that you all decide to make the investment for your home and for our planet.

However, we are also committed to consumer education and giving people valid information on which to make choices. We believe it is important that you are aware of the limitations of estimates of future solar savings when deciding to purchase solar.

What makes forecasting solar savings more difficult than other estimates?

Solar is a very long lasting product with minimum system life of at least 25 years. It is difficult to predict anything with certainty going out 25 years.

What makes this more difficult is that when calculating dollar savings we need to be accurate both as to the solar production in kilowatt hours (kwh) and also what the economic value of that production will be going out 10, 20 and 25 years (at least).

The solar energy production side of solar savings forecasts are relatively predictable and solar panels production in each climatic area is relatively well known and understood. A lot of great work has been done by the National Renewable Energy Laboratories and their PVWatts solar production calculator is considered highly accurate.

What is more difficult is forecasting the economic value of solar out as far as 25 years. The need to get this figure right to provide potential consumers with accurate figures about their savings, investment return and payback period for solar is paramount as slight variances in this inflation rate have large effects on these numbers. The assumed rate of utility inflation is a crucial ingredient in generating accurate solar savings forecasts.

What is a reasonable assumption for utility electricity price escalation and its effect on solar profitability over the next 25 years?

 

The average price of residential electricity in America

 

Image source: Institute For Energy Research

The Institute of Energy Research published research showing that the average price of residential electricity in America from 2005 until 2015 actually rose by 34%. So in annualized terms, this equates to a simple rise of 3.4% per year or a compound rise of 2.7% per year.

But is this a realistic assumption we can use to justify the assertion that utility prices will continue to rise at these rates. I think it is.. and here is why. During the same period as covered by the image above the Institute of Energy Research also reported that gas prices, the fuel used to create a lot of our electricity, actually fell 60%. If gas prices had stayed flat over this period then utility power price inflation would have run at more like 5%. For this reason, I am quite comfortable about solar companies using an assumed electricity price inflation rate of 3.5 % for the coming 25 years, although I acknowledge it is an educated guess at best.

There is certainly also a case to be made for the proposition that utility rate inflation may actually be higher than this as governments increasingly become aware of the urgency of tackling climate change and put in place more and more policies to subsidize renewable energy. The latest climate reporting from the four most respected meteorological agencies in the world, including NASA and the Japanese Environment Ministry show that the globe has already warmed by around 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit since 1980, or about .7%. It is thought a global warming of 4% will lead to an extinction of human life on earth. There seems to be a bit of a media disinterest in climate change at the moment but the urgency of the issue will come back more and more into the public consciousness as we start to see more and more physical manifestations of climate change.

Source: solarreviews.com ~ By: Andrew Sendy ~ Image: pixabay.com

2019 Real Estate Forecast: What Home Buyers, Sellers And Investors Can Expect

There’s no doubt about it: the 2018 housing market has seen its ups and downs.

The year started with sky-high home prices, historically low mortgage rates and a definitive upper hand for sellers. In recent months though, home price growth has faltered, rates have risen to their highest point in nearly eight years, and favor has started to shift from seller to buyer.

Will these trends continue? Will housing experience the same wild ride in the new year? Here’s what experts predict will happen in 2019 real estate market:

Mortgage rates will continue rising.

“Despite steady climbing for the past two years, mortgage rates remain lower than they were during most of the recession and below average for the type of strong economic growth we’ve been experiencing. That will change in 2019, as the 30-year, fixed rate mortgage reaches 5.8% — territory not seen since the dark days of 2008 when rates were racing downward in response to the housing crisis.” — Aaron Terrazas, director of economic research for Zillow

Millennials will keep buying homes — despite those rising rates.

“The housing market in 2019 will be characterized by continued rising mortgage rates and surging millennial demand. Rising rates, by making housing less affordable, will likely deter certain potential homebuyers from the market. On the other hand, the largest cohort of millennials will be turning 29 next year, entering peak household formation and home-buying age, and contributing to the increase in first-time buyer demand.” — Odeta Kushi, senior economist for First American

“Millennials will continue to make up the largest segment of buyers next year, accounting for 45% of mortgages, compared to 17% of Boomers, and 37% of Gen Xers. While first-time buyers will struggle next year, older Millennial move-up buyers will have more options in the mid-to upper-tier price point and will make up the majority of Millennials who close in 2019. Looking forward, 2020 is expected to be the peak Millennial home buying year with the largest cohort of millennials turning 30 years old. Millennials are also likely to make up the largest share of home buyers for the next decade as their housing needs adjust over time.” — Danielle Hale, chief 

Source: forbes.com ~ By: Aly J. Yale ~ Image: pixabay.com

4 Mistakes to Avoid When Selling Your Home in the Winter

Of all the days you’d expect a potential homebuyer to want to tour your listed home, Thanksgiving and Christmas are probably the two you would least expect. But it’s possible, and it’ll happen occasionally.

Before you laugh at your agent’s request to clear out for a couple hours for that would-be buyer to walk through your house while your turkey is still in the oven, consider the likelihood that this tour leads to an actual offer. If a buyer is looking on a holiday when most sellers are at home, “they’re dead serious – they’re ready to buy a house. The agents probably won’t take them out unless they know they’re serious,” says Michael Straley, a Realtor with eXp Realty who’s based in Stafford, Virginia, and has dealt with more than one holiday home tour in the past.

Ultimately, you want to sell your house and for the right price, so passing on such an opportunity for a serious buyer to tour your home could be a mistake that leaves your house on the market for longer than you’d like.

Selling your home in winter, considered the off-season for most of the U.S., leaves you with little room to make mistakes. You may opt to sell your home in winter because you’re on a deadline to move into your next house, or you may simply like the idea of avoiding the competition of all the other properties that put a for sale sign up at the first hint of spring. Either way, you want to be prepared to make your winter listing a success.

Here are four mistakes to avoid when trying to sell your home in winter.

Waiting to list your house. The biggest mistake you can make is trying to time when you put your house on the market. After all, you only need one buyer to make the sale a success, and the right buyer could be looking at any time.

Don’t overlook November and December, says Lou Nimkoff, president of the Orlando Regional Realtor Association in Florida. While the time between major winter holidays may seem like a period when people wouldn’t want to buy a house, Nimkoff says homebuyers get just as excited to put in an offer on a house as they do to buy gifts during the holiday season.

As much as people are ready to buy rather than shop around for holiday gifts, he says, “The same holds true for (home)buyers with all the craziness that we go through in November and December with the Black Friday sales.”

Expecting zero interest on certain days. Whether it’s a holiday where you normally have a family gathering or a snow day when the kids are home from school, don’t be put off if you get a request to show the house on a day you may consider inconvenient.

“There are people out there that will sometimes want to see your property on Thanksgiving or on Christmas Eve,” Straley says, stressing that the majority of these serious buyers are moving to the area from another state or country and likely have little time to make a decision. That means your home is on their short list, and you don’t want to miss your window of opportunity.

If you’re trying to sell your home in the winter, consider having another family member host the festivities, or at least have a backup plan to make yourself scarce, like going out to a holiday movie or traversing the neighborhood to check out holiday lights. The same goes for days when you’re home due to bad weather conditions. Serious buyers may take the opportunity to look at houses once roads have been plowed, so be ready to head out of the house for a couple hours if need be.

Pricing your home too high. Even if there are active buyers every month of the year in your market, you won’t be seeing the same bidding wars that you may have grown accustomed to in the warmer months or over the past few years. Rising mortgage interest rates and the general cycle of real estate means buyers are seeing their bottom-line mortgage payment increase, which means they’re less likely to overpay for a house.

The share of homes on the market throughout the U.S. that have to undergo a price reduction is climbing, according to real estate information company Trulia. In a reportreleased in October, 17.2 percent of all properties on the market in August underwent a price reduction.

To avoid becoming part of the nearly one-fifth of home sellers forced to lower their asking price, make sure you understand the current market and realistically approach pricing your home. Work with your real estate agent and look at the sale price of similar homes that have recently sold – not the asking price of those listed – to see how you can compete with what’s on the

Not preparing your home for guests. If your house is on the market, you should always have it ready for a tour – and in the winter, that may require extra preparation. You may have less control over how the grass or trees look in the winter, but you can ensure a safe passage to your front door.

“The last thing you want is for someone to walk up your driveway and slip and fall,” Nimkoff says.

Prepare before you get a forecast calling for any snow or icy conditions, and keep rock salt or ice-melt pellets of some sort on hand to ensure you can keep the sidewalk, driveway and porch or patio slip-resistant. Inside, keep your entryway or mudroom clear of wet boots, coats, hats and gloves.

In addition to the usual organizing and deep-cleaning that comes with staging your property, keeping your home warm and cozy when the weather is cold can help a potential buyer fall in love with your house.

Source: realestate.usnews.com ~ By: Devon Thorsby~ Image: pixabay.com

4 Sales Trends That You Need To Know About In 2019

It’s almost the end of the year, the perfect time to look back at what you’ve done and achieved, as well as look forward to understand what’s to come.

The world of sales has been rapidly changing in the last few years as new technology evolved and became more accessible to businesses and sales teams across niches. The question is, what will 2019 bring to the table? What will be the biggest trends in sales happening in 2019?

In this blog post, I’m going to talk about 4 sales trends that you need to know about in 2019.

1.    Selling to the new generation: Generation Z

Millennials used to be the “new” generation that marketers and sales people needed to start focusing on – and while millennials are definitely increasing in terms of buying power, there is a new generation emerging that both marketers and sales people need to be aware of:

Generation Z.

This generation is formed of those born anywhere from the mid-90’s to the mid-2000’s so the oldest in their early 20s while the youngest are just barely teenagers right now. Of course, the bigger focus should be on the older of the Generation Z who are gaining more and more buying power. Currently, Gen Z account for approximately $29 – $143 billion in direct spending, and they are well on their way to becoming the biggest generation of consumers by 2020, which is right around the corner.

So, how does this affect sales? Well, this generation is quite different from previous generations, at least in some respect. For example, they were born with access to incredible technology and grew up using social media, smartphones, online shopping and all kinds of other technologies on a daily basis. They also care a lot about worldwide issues and their own impact on the world, particularly when it comes to environmental issues.

Plus, there’s one very interesting statistic that might surprise many people: some studies show that Generation Z actually prefers brick-and-mortar stores to online shopping (57% said they prefer online shopping).

How do you sell to this generation though?

The secret stands in understanding who forms this generation and what they care about – the more you learn about them, the easier it will be to come up with the best approach to sell to them.

2.    A more strategic approach to sales enablement

One way or another, every sales team gets at least little bit of sales enablement, whether it’s the software they get to help them sell more efficiently or occasional training sessions. That said, there’s certainly been a lot of growth in this area in the past couple of years, with more and more businesses and organizations implementing sales enablement strategies, a trend which is very likely to continue in the coming year.

But, what’s more, there will also be a more strategic approach to sales enablement:

  •      An actual strategy and plan with clear objectives and certain steps to be taken
  •      A bigger focus on helping sales people develop their top skills and become better at their job
  •      An easier way to onboard new sales people and help them jump right into selling
  •      More focus on new technology that can aid the sales enablement process as well as individual sales people to sell more

How do you stay on top of this trend?

In order to stay of this trend, take the time to really plan out a sales enablement strategy, from helping to onboard new sales people as efficiently as possible to consistent coaching to your existing sales people.

Make use of technology like MindTickle to implement your strategy, as well as to leverage data as part of your sales enablement strategy. You’ll be able to create onboarding and coaching programs, simulated sales scenarios to help develop your sales people’s skills, plus you have access to Artificial Intelligence to help you maximize your efficiency and results and access to in-depth analytics to help you discover any knowledge or skill gaps that need your attention.

3.    Machine learning, deep learning, artificial intelligence and sales

Artificial Intelligence has the power to disrupt entire industries – and sales is no exception. For example, I already showed you how AI can help with sales enablement and coaching. There are definitely a lot of ways that AI will continue to impact the world of sales in 2019, though.

The more you can implement Artificial Intelligence into the tools you use to sell, as well as into your day to day strategy, the bigger the impact on your productivity will be.

Here are the main ways that AI can help salespeople be more productive:

  •      The ability to analyse huge amounts of data in a very short time will help you personalize your sales strategy
  •      Get recommendations based on massive amounts of data, thus saving time with following up and reaching out to the right people
  •      Predict the future – with access to so much data, plus the ability to analyse this data, comes a great power: the ability to predict the future. What will your next quarter look like based on your past work? What can you do to improve the results of your next quarter?

How can you leverage Artificial Intelligence?

AI is fortunately becoming more and more accessible by the minute. While the more complex systems might be out of range for the regular business, plenty of “regular” sales tools are implementing more AI-based features, such as CRM tools and prospecting tools.

If you want to also learn about your leads and prospects as well as accurately analyse your data, you can use tools like MissingLink to automate deep learning.

4.    Moving towards the omni-channel experience

Earlier, I talked about Generation Z – the new generation of buyers that is rapidly gaining a huge buying power in the market.

One of the things that these younger generation expect more and more is an integrated experience across all of a business’s channels. The new generations use various devices at any given moment, they research products and services online extensively before they buy and they often demand personalized experiences that flow seamlessly from channel to channel.

This trend towards omni-channel marketing and creating omni-channel experiences has a huge impact on sales. Most importantly when it comes to the relationship between a sales department and a marketing department. While these departments are (historically) quite clearly separate, the move towards omni-channel marketing demands a much closer relationship between the 2.

How do you create more omni-channel experiences from a sales point of view?

There is a lot that needs to be done in order to develop a true omni-channel experience for all of your customers:

  •      Identifying all the platforms and channels your audience uses and leveraging them
  •      Creating a seamless transition between all channels and platforms that audiences have access to (for example, if a lead starts a conversation via text messages while they’re on the bus or train but then want to change the channel once they get home, then they should be able to do as seamlessly as possible, without wasting any time)
  •      Finding ways to integrate technology such as social media into bricks-and-mortar stores

From a sales point of view, the most important thing is to collaborate with the marketing department. It’s not just a case of marketers updating sales people on progress or sending them leads occasionally, but rather a truly close relationship where the 2 parties actually collaborate, as sales and marketing are more intertwined than ever.

Conclusion

In order to improve productivity and overall sales, it’s important to stay on top of trends and implement new technologies and new tactics, such as:

  •      Learning how to sell to Generation Z
  •      Implementing a sales enablement strategy to help your sales team be more productive
  •      Leveraging new technology like AI and machine learning to improve sales and knowledge
  •      Integrating marketing and sales and developing more omni-channel experiences for your audience

Source: forbes.com ~ By: Lilach Bullock ~ Image: pixabay.com

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