BUYING YOUR FIRST HOME
According to Realtor.com, last year was officially “the most competitive, fastest-moving spring housing market in decades.”
It’s not clear yet if things will become even more heated this spring. But one thing is for sure: To be successful in a competitive real estate market, first-time buyers need to be flexible and have solid financials, an aggressive agent and a proven path.
With fewer homes available (especially affordable homes), and more well-qualified buyers hunting for homes, it’s tough for a first-timer – but not impossible. See my recommendations below.
Manage Your Emotions
After three or four weeks of searching for a home to buy, most first-time buyers come to understand what a “competitive real estate market” really is. And some become so frustrated with the situation that they give up too early.
Persistence is a very important part of the buying process. Be prepared for a long search. Don’t allow yourself to get too emotionally attached to any home until your offer is accepted. And let any lost deals quickly fade from your memory. Believe me, the right home for you is out there.
If you’ve already given up on your search for a home, allow me to suggest a new approach.
Be Realistic About Your Wish List
Many first-timers set out with an overly optimistic perception of the homes that will be available to them. It’s important to communicate your ideal neighborhood, architectural style and amenities, but consider the alternative neighborhoods your real estate agent suggests, and be willing to tour homes that aren’t a match with your list of wants.
Getting Pre-Approved Is Key
When it comes to determining how much home you can afford, online calculators are helpful. But for a far more accurate assessment of your buying power, I’ll refer you to a mortgage professional who specializes in first-time home loans. That person will educate you about the different types of loans, review your finances, then pre-qualify you for a maximum loan amount. In a hot housing market, it’s very important to get pre-approved because it makes you even more attractive to sellers when completing with other buyers for a home.
Know there is a difference between “pre-approved” vs. “pre-qualified”.
Pre-Qualification is an easy first step. You provide the mortgage professional with some key information about your finances, and they tell you what size loan you would most likely qualify for. However, it’s not a sure thing; it’s an estimate based on the information you supply.
Pre-Approval is a “conditioned commitment” based on an extensive analysis of your finances and credit history. Having this commitment shows sellers that you’re a serious shopper, and allows you to react quickly once you find a house you like. In a hot housing market, pre-approval is almost a necessity.
This is the time to start cutting your spending, because any money you manage to save between now and the day a seller accepts your offer can be applied in very important ways.
- A larger home-loan down payment
- A home inspection
- Homeowners Insurance
- Attorney’s fees, transfer fees and other closing costs
- Furnishings, repairs and/or home improvements
For more information about any of the above, as well as help getting started before the busy spring selling season, contact me as soon as possible.
Source: Windermere Real Estate Home Update.
I’m house-sitting. Actually dog and turtle sitting. The house is fine without me.
The first morning I came out to check on Hermie, the turtle. He was staring at the temperature and humidity gauge in his aquarium. Staring does not properly describe it — his neck was stretching towards the gauge with great attention.
Hermie sensed his owner was gone and he was at the mercy of my furtive fending for his needs. I’m convinced that he was staring at that gauge and thinking: “My owner is gone. This woman does NOT know what she’s doing. If those gauge indicators move outside of the required ranges, I will die. I’m terrified!”
OR — Hermie believes in the great gauge god in the sky.
Either way. Hermie’s owner has successfully overseen her turtle out of hibernation. Just in time for me to force him into existential angst.
Environments are tenuous. Any little change can cause damage, chaos, … a renewed focus on a higher power.
This is true when you buy a new home. Maybe more people are now living in the home. Systems are used differently. A period of vacancy dried out the o-rings in your [insert plumbing fixture here] and you are 3 uses away from total failure and flooding.
Home warranties cover major systems in a home for the first full year of ownership. The one time fee for coverage can be negotiated as paid by the Seller, too. In Walla Walla, American Home Shield is a common provider — www.ahs.com.
So — when it comes to care of your new home, don’t just hope and pray. Hermie needs all the support he can get from the gauge god in the sky and there’s a better resource for home owners in a home warranty.
Source: Melissa Tetz
2018 Design Trends
This issue of Home Update is all about trends. You may not have the biggest or the best house in the neighborhood, but if you put these design insights to good use you can be the proud owner of a super stylish abode. According to the interior design experts, the work they’re doing, and the industry shows they’re attending, minimalism will continue to be a strong trend in 2018, cosy comfort will be combined with cold technology, and vibrant colors will be splashed across the walls.
Interior designs that pare a room to only the most essential items will continue to be a leading style. The same is true for open layouts with few walls. But experts say the look is also becoming a bit more relaxed and less structured. In other words, it’s okay to flaunt a few more possessions these days, and even be a little careless in how they’re arranged.
Adding to the more relaxed minimalist look is a complementary trend to incorporate more coziness – especially around all those cold, metallic objects of technology (big screen TV’s, computers, surround-sound speakers and more). For example, consider using a freestanding room divider to create a cozy nook in one corner of the living room.
WOOD, CORK AND BRIGHT LIGHTS
Natural wood floors will also continue to be very popular, as will wood cabinets and trim. But wood ceilings, accent walls and furnishings are also becoming trendy – as is cork flooring. To keep all that wood and cork from making a space too dark, use it sparingly and make a plan for bright lighting, as well.
The color experts at the Pantone Color Institute say metallic colors have outgrown their role as accents and are now being painted on walls and incorporated into primary pieces of furniture. Another trend they’re highlighting for 2018: fewer pastels and more intense colors.
PLUS, YOUR PERSONAL TOUCH
If you’re a creative or crafty person, you’ll be glad to learn that personal statements are another growing trend. The idea is to make your home truly unique by incorporating homemade art (including framed paintings created by your children), mementos from your travels, collectables and other items that bring your personality to life. Frugality and originality are encouraged.
FEEL FREE TO MIX AND MATCH
If the above trends seems a bit random and at times conflicting, that’s by design: 2018 is expected to be a year of rapid transition and transformation, and designers feel our homes should reflect that mix of ideas and progress.
And finally, if you’re thinking this may be the year you make the move to a new home, I would be happy to share the trends reshaping our local real estate market, as well. All you have to do is ask.
Source: Windermere Real Estate Home Update January 2018.
Safely Storing Your Holiday Décor
In this issue of Home Update we will discuss holiday decorations and how they are some of the most difficult things to store. Fragile, easily damaged, oddly shaped and typically stored for most of their life, they pose a considerable challenge to even the best organizer. However, once you know the secrets for safely tucking these joyful items away, the frustration of packing and unpacking them will disappear, and you can be confident your home will looks its best when it comes to put them on display again.
The trick to keeping holiday lights from tangling is to wrap them around something . For shorter strings, try wrapping them around a clothes hanger, an empty shipping tube, even a flat piece of cardboard. Then secure the ends so things don’t come unwound. For longer strings and bigger bulbs, use one of the many extension cord holders available at hardware and home-improvement stores.
FRAGILE TREE ORNAMENTS
By far the best way to store your Christmas tree ornaments is in a large plastic storage bin with two or three layers of divided spaces. There are a variety of these “ornament storage bins” available at retail. Or, you can make your own: Fill the bottom of a storage bin with plastic drinking cups, place an ornament or two in each cup, lay a sheet of cardboard on top of that layer, and add a new layer of cups and ornaments.
Many of us display nativity scenes, chimes, candle holders and more on our mantles at the holidays. Some of these items are even heirlooms. To keep them safe throughout the rest of the year, fill a storage bin one-quarter full of foam packing pellets and gently lay your maple displays to bed there. Then fill the bin halfway full, and lay down another layer of these fragile decorations. Leave that layer exposed (and add no more foam pellets), and you’ll find it far easier later to unearth all the different pieces without making a mess.
Store your candles in the refrigerator and you’ll find they last longer, maintain their color and scent, and even burn more slowly. A good alternative to refrigeration is to wrap each candle in cellophane (not plastic wrap) and store them in a cool, dry place.
If your wreath is shipped to you, save the box as a storage container. Otherwise, a hat box can be used safely to hold and protect two, if not three, wreaths. Another option, place the wreath in a plastic bag to keep it from getting dusty, then hang it in the attic, the basement, or the back of a closet.
THE NEED FOR MORE STORAGE SPACE
Many homeowners say they don’t have enough room to store their holiday decorations and other belongings. If that’s true for you, let’s talk. Maybe it’s time to consider a bigger home.
Source: Windermere Real Estate Home Update.
Preparing for Holiday Visitors
Take time now to ensure your home is properly prepared for the onslaught of family and friends who may be visiting during the holiday season this year. The secret to being a memorable holiday host is having a house that’s not only welcoming, but also safe and well-maintained. Following are some suggestions for quick, pre-visit improvements.
LIGHT UP THE OUTDOORS
Installing exterior lighting can quickly transform your house from a dark object to an evening oasis. For dramatic effect, beam lights along the sides of your house. To bring your landscaping to life, mount upward-facing lights at the base of large trees and bushes. Beckon your guests (and make their final approach infinitely safer) by posting lights along walkways and stairs.
PRESSURE-WASH THE WALKWAYS AND DRIVEWAYS
Mossy steps and walkways are very slippery at this time of year. And the best way to remove these organic build-ups is with a powerful pressure washer.
BOLT THE BOOKSHELVES
Bookshelves more than five feet high can be accidentally pulled or pushed over by the well-meaning guests – with potentially serious results. Anchor them to the walls with brackets and bolts specially designed for the task.
GIVE YOUR TOILET(S) A TUNE-UP
To ensure your loo can accommodate the additional users…
- Use a small, handheld mirror to see if the all-important water holes on the underside of the toilet bowl rim are plugged with mineral deposits and grime. If so, use a length of wire clothes hanger to clear them.
- Treat your toilet with one of the products that dissolves built-up paper and organic waste in the pipes (a product called “Toilet Care Tune-up” is sold at hardware stores, Walmart, big box home-improvement stores, and more).
- Make sure it’s still securely bolted to the floor: Grab both sides of the bowl and try to rock it back and forth. If there’s any movement, tighten the floor bolts (but not so tight that you crack the fragile porcelain).
CLEARN THE ENTERTAINING AREAS
If guests have to maneuver around pet food bowls, recycling containers, potted plants, piles of reading materials and other obstructions, there’s a very good chance someone is going to trip or slip.
HAVE THE CHIMNEY INSPECTED
If there’s even a chance you’re going to have a real-wood fire, and you haven’t had your chimney inspected and cleaned in a couple of years, schedule an appointment with a chimney sweep now.
CHANGE THE FURNACE FILTER
To help those guests who may have allergies to dust, pollen and pet hair, change your furnace filter.
If your current home is no longer satisfying your needs, including holiday hosting duties, take some time this winter to seriously consider your real estate options. Spring is a great time to sell. And I would be happy to provide some initial information regarding pricing, market trends and the state of the mortgage industry.
Source: Windermere Real Estate Home Update.
Garage Door Maintenance
If just one part of your garage door fails, the consequences can be significant. If it won’t open all the way, your car could be stuck inside until a repair crew arrives. If it won’t close completely, everything stored in your garage – as well as your home – could be vulnerable to burglars. And should it override the built-in safety features, anyone standing in its way could be badly hurt. The key to avoiding problems with your garage door is regular maintenance. Once a year, take an hour to perform the following checks and services.
Warning: Garage doors are heavy and dangerous. Always unplug the opener before performing any garage door inspection or maintenance. And do not attempt any significant repairs on your own.
LOOK & LISTEN – Stand inside your garage and watch the garage door go up and down a few times. Listen for any grinding or scraping noises. Look to make sure the door operates smoothly and makes a tight seal with the ground.
CHECK THE “OBSTRUCTION SENSORS” & “AUTO-REVERSE” – To ensure no one gets trapped under a closing garage door, all automatic garage door openers manufactured after 1992 are equipped with “obstruction sensors” and an “automatic-reverse” feature. Make sure both are working correctly.
- Place a bucket directly under the open garage door, and push the “close” button. The obstruction sensor beam should recognize that an obstruction is present and not allow the door to close.
- Next, place an old chair under the open door (positioning the legs so they’re out of the way of the sensor beam). Then push the button to close the door. When the bottom of the door meets the chair, the door should immediately reverse and open again.
INSPECT THE ROLLERS & CLEAN THE TRACKS – The little wheels attached to the sides of the door should roll freely and not wobble. Spray them with silicone lubricant spray (not WD-40) occasionally to keep them well lubricated. The tracks that the rollers rest on should be clean and free of debris.
LUBRICATE THE SPRINGS & CHAIN/BOLT – Spread some white lithium grease on the chain or long metal bolt that connects the opener motor and the door (if it’s a rubber belt, do not lubricate it). Spray the springs mounted above the door with silicone lubricant.
REPLACE THE WEATHER STRIP – If it’s brittle or cracked, the thick rubber strip on the bottom of the garage door should be replace.
TASKS BEST LEFT TO THE PROS – The following maintenance and repair tasks are dangerous and require an experienced hand. In other words, they should always be handled by a professional garage door electrician.
- Professional inspection & adjustment (every 3-5 years)
- Replacement of worn or broken springs
- Replacement of worn or bent tracks
- Replacement of worn or broken rollers
- Repair of frayed cables
FINAL NOTE – Many homeowners (and most renters) don’t have enough storage space, which has led to a dramatic increase in off-site storage rentals. If it’s time you had more on-site space for cars or storage, allow me to show you some homes in your area that might be a better fit.
Source: Windermere Real Estate Home Update October 2017
Four Fall To-Dos
For many people, fall is the best season of all – not too hot, not too cold; lots of color in the leaves; and a little less hectic at home with the kids back in school. What a great time to tackle a few important fair-weather home-maintenance tasks at home. In just a matter of weeks, fall will be upon us. If you want your home to be well prepared for the coming rain and cold, focus your attention on these four tasks:
DISCOVER WHERE YOU’RE WASTING ENERGY
An energy audit is a step-by-step analysis of your major appliances, your heating and cooling system, your lighting, the major air leaks in your home, the amount of insulation in your walls and ceilings, plus more. The U.S. Department of Energy website (energy.gov) offers referrals to local energy auditors who can perform this task, as well as instructions for a preliminary do-it-yourself energy audit.
GET AN EXPERT OPINION ON OLDER TREES
Winter is when older trees are prone to falling, which can be very dangerous for any people in the area, as well as any surrounding structures. Now is the time to ask a professional arborist to assess the significant trees on your lot and let you know if any are weak, diseased or otherwise prone to toppling anytime soon.
CONSIDER GUTTER AND DOWNSPOUT GUARDS
This is a great time to consider installing leaf guards to prevent your rain gutters and downspouts from clogging once the rain and leaves start falling. Downspout guards are inexpensive metal spheres about the size of a baseball that fit into the openings of your downspout and prevent leaves from washing down the downspout and creating a blockage. Gutter leaf guards are a bigger investment. They fit over the top of your gutters and keep leaves from ever even entering the gutter (or downspout). While often advertised as a solution that can eliminate gutter-cleaning for good, the truth is, if you live under large deciduous trees, you should check to make sure the guards are working correctly about once a season.
CHECKING FOR CRACKED BRICK MORTAR
If you have brick walls or a brick chimney, you’re going to want to check the condition of the mortar (the filler between the bricks). If that concrete filler is cracked, falling out or already missing in spots, get a bid from a brick mason for its repair. Because, once rain starts oozing inside a brick structure for an extended period of time, the metal supports inside can rust, and the entire structure can start leaning and sinking.
A FOOTNOTE FOR THOSE CONSIDERING SELLING
These are important tasks that are well timed for fall. But if you’re considering selling your home anytime soon, you may not want to commit to such long-term maintenance projects. I would be happy to way the pros and cons with you as well as provide references to get you going in the right direction.
Source: Windermere Real Estate Home Update September 2017
Air Conditioner Alternatives
When the weather starts sizzling, not everyone can rely on central air conditioning to keep cool. And those who do have a cooling system installed in their home may not want to spend the money running it night and day. The alternative to air conditioning run the gamut from sensible, no-cost actions to home-improvement projects with a modest investment. Here are some of the best ideas:
WHOLE HOUSE FAN
Permanently mounted in the highest ceiling of your house, a whole house fan can very quickly cool your home at the end of a hot day – for a fraction (about 10-15%) of what it would cost to do the same with central air conditioning. When the outside temperature drops in the evening, open the downstairs windows, turn on the fan, and let the powerful fan blades push the hot air out and pull the cool air in.
WINDOW FANS (more than one)
There’s always been a debate about whether it’s more effective to have your window fan blowing hot air out or sucking cool air in. The truth is: a combination of two fans works best – one mounted in a window on the cool side of the house pulling air in, and another mounted in an opposite window blowing hot air out. Working together, the duo creates an effective circulating effect.
A ceiling mounted fan won’t cool the room, but it will cool you when you’re sitting under it. If you have air conditioning and want to save on costs, try switching it on for short periods, then letting the ceiling fan circulate the cool air when you turn it off.
Closing your windows curtains/blinds is a good way to keep the sun’s rays from overheating the interior of your home. But installing external blinds – or an old-fashioned awning – works even better, because even less heat is able to pass through the window.
During the day, when it’s really hot outside, it’s important to keep the doors and windows closed as much as possible – to trap any cool air inside and keep hot air outside. At night, open the doors and windows to let out any warm air and let in the cool air.
Many homeowners think insulation is only good for keeping the house warm during the winter, but it helps keep the interior cool too (so long as you don’t open doors and windows and let hot air inside).
WHAT ELSE IS HOT
The weather isn’t the only think that’s hot right now. The real estate market is, too. If you’re even considering buying or selling in the near future, I encourage you to schedule a meeting with me at your earliest convenience so we can talk about the trends at hand and the tactics that work.
Fun Ideas for the Yard
If your yard is not living up to its full potential as a place for family and friends to relax, enjoy the weather, and gather for fun, then it’s time to get out there and make some improvements before winter sends everyone scurrying indoors again. Because the yards around most homes account for such a large part of the property, any updates to outdoor spaces can make a dramatic difference for the better – for your own enjoyment, as well as the future resale value. Here are seven yard improvements to consider:
A garden fountain can make your whole yard seem more sophisticated. The moving water is a great attraction for birds, plus, the sound effects are perfect for making the noise from surrounding streets, commercial districts, and noisy neighbors.
These water-less landscape features use carefully arranged stones to create the feel of flowing water in a nearly maintenance-free setting.
With the right lights staged throughout your yard, you can bring your whole garden into view, make outdoor paths and walkways safer, and highlight the best architectural aspects of your home’s exterior.
Family and guests love to gather in the kitchen (and cooks enjoy the company), so why not create an outdoor kitchen in your backyard? High-end versions often feature running water and natural gas. But less-expensive layouts can be created using bottled water and propane gas tanks.
While everyone loves the sun, your family and friends may not want to sit directly in it for hours at a time. Freestanding yard awnings (also called sun shade sails) offer an inexpensive way to create some respite. Made of colorful, fade-resistant outdoor fabric, they can be relatively easily stretched overhead across areas of your yard using cables, turnbuckles, and other inexpensive mounting hardware.
Connect a projector to your existing laptop, erect a temporary screen, and before you know it, you can be watching mainstream movies in your backyard.
WEATER-PROOFING PING PONG
That 1970’s favorite, Ping Pong, is more popular today than ever – and weather-resistant tables made specifically for the outdoors make it easy to bring the excitement of this paddle sport to your backyard.
Another favorite is the Fire Pit. Once dusk descends and the temperature drops, everyone loves to gather around a toasty fire pit – which is why you need to make sure it’s safe for all involved.
Choose Gas – A wood-burning fire pit is less expensive than a gas-powered model, but also much more dangerous. IF you do opt for a wood-burner, always keep it covered to contain sparks.
Place it in Open Yard Space – Fire pits do not belong on decks or balconies, nor under low-hanging branches. Place it on the ground, at least 10 feet from any structures, and surround the unit with stone or other non-flammable material.
Turn it off when there’s too much commotion – if children are playing near the fire pit, or there’s a lot of activity, simply turn the flame off or let the fire die down until things are calm again.
Source: Windermere Real Estate Home Update
The vast majority of Americans (about 70%) will go on at least one vacation this year – leaving their homes vulnerable to thieves for days at a time. There are lots of ways to secure your property against burglars, but the best ideas are usually centered on facts. Following are the latest home-burglary statistics complied by the FBI and the insurance industry, as well as specific suggestions to prevent your home from becoming the next vacation victim.
VACATION TIME IS ALSO PRIME BURGLARY TIME
July and August are the most popular months for Americans to vacation. But for thieves, it’s a time to get to work burglarizing homes. According to the FBI, residential burglaries spike 10% during those two months, marking that 62-day period as the most active of all for home break-ins. To play it safe, carefully consider who you tell about your vacation plans. And wait until you’re safely home to post accounts of the trip on social media.
MOST THIEVES ARE NON-PROFESSIONAL OPPORTUNISTS
The idea that professional thieves are monitoring your home, waiting for you to go on vacation, is seldom true. In reality, the typical burglar tends to act quickly when a good opportunity presents itself. To keep thieves at bay, make it always appear that someone is inside:
- Don’t let the mail, packages or newspapers pile up on the porch
- Use timers to make the interior lights turn on and off
- Arrange for someone to cut the grass if you’ll be gone for longer than a week during the growing season
- Ask a neighbor to care for your garbage and recycling containers when you’re traveling
MOST BURGLARIES HAPPEN DURING THE DAY
The majority of burglaries happen between 9am and 3pm, when you and most of your neighbors are at work. Installing an alarm system is one very good way to protect your home during the day. But another, often overlooked, option is to ask the retirees in your neighborhood to keep an eye on the place.
UNLOCKED DOORS & WINDOWS ARE A BIG PROBLEM
Many people think they won’t be burglarized, so they don’t make an extra effort to keep all the doors and windows locked. The result: nearly 30% of all “unlawful entries” are made through an unlocked door or window. The solution is simple: lock everything (including the garage door and any upper-floor windows) every time you leave.
ALARM SYSTEMS SCARE BURGLARS
Homes without an alarm system are two to three times more likely to be burglarized. Fortunately, there are many types of systems available today, with a wide variety of affordable price tags.
PROTECT YOUR PIECE OF MIND
It’s tough to transition into a vacation state of mind if you’re worrying about your home’s security. Take time now to implement the ideas above, and you’ll be able to leave those concerns behind on your next vacation getaway.
Source: Windermere Real Estate Home Update May 2017