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
Spring Maintenance Matters
The best way to avoid expensive, disruptive home repairs is to regularly inspect and address the areas prone to major problems. Giving the house a deep cleaning has become a springtime ritual. But if you really want to make a difference – and save yourself big money on future home repairs – take some time over the next couple of weeks to also assess these potential maintenance problems:
WATER LEAKS – Freezing winter weather can cause water pipe fittings to fracture. Turn off all the water on your property, then look at the main water meter (typically located under a metal or concrete lid near the street in front of your house). If the meter dial is moving – even a tiny bit – when all the water is turned off, it may mean a water pipe buried on your property, or hidden inside an interior wall, is leaking.
OLDER TREES – Large trees that have been growing in your yard for 35 years or more should be assessed every spring to ensure they aren’t prone to falling in a windstorm. Those with dead branches, soft spots and other unhealthy attributes should be professionally inspected by an arborist.
RODENTS – During winter, rats and mice look for warm places in and around your home to take shelter. Now is the time to take a close look at the places they like to hide (the attic, closed-off areas of the basement, behind the furnace and other appliances, in storage sheds and garages, etc). If you see any droppings, it’s time to take action.
GUTTERS AND DOWNSPOUTS – Venture out on a rainy day and look at the top and bottom of each downspout (the pipes attached to the side of your house that run vertically from your roof gutters to the ground below). Is rain water overflowing at the top? Is water pooling at the bottom? Are puddles forming next to your foundation? If so, don’t delay making any necessary repairs.
ROOF MOSS – When moss is allowed to grow on your roof, the burrowing roots can damage shingles and cause leaks. To check for these build-ups, keep your feet safely planted on the ground, and use binoculars to scan the room for clumps of green. Also look for signs of problematic wear: chipped or missing roof shingles.
WORN PAINT – If you wait until your house paint is peeling to put on a fresh coat, the labor costs will be far higher. Instead, compare a sunny side of your house to a side in near constant shade. If the difference in paint condition is dramatic, it’s time to get bids from painters.
Use the tips and suggestions above as a checklist, and you’ll be motivated to tackle these tasks before all the distracting sun and fun of summer arrives.
Source: Windermere Real Estate Home Update April 2017.
Moving Made Easy
The average American will pack up all their belongings and move to a new house or apartment 11.4 times during their lifetime. Many of us – especially those of us with young children and a multitude of possessions – have come to dread the moving process. Yet, there are people who have a knack for making it all look…dare we say…easy. On the day that the moving trucks arrive, everything just seems to fall into place. Everyone knows the plan. Things happen quickly.
Truth be told, those are the people who planning and organized for weeks beforehand, which is the key to a smooth move. To become one of those people, here are six suggestions:
- Get Started Six Weeks Beforehand – Organizing for a whole-house move takes time. This is not something that can be rushed. Give yourself at least six weeks to prepare.
- Hire a Pro to Help You Purge – If you’re like most people, you love the idea of streamlining your possessions before a big move, but you find it one of the most challenging of tasks. The solution: Hire a professional organizer. Typically, the organizer will provide coaching, support and recommendations, as well as physical help.
- Develop Plans for the New Spaces – Move-in day will go much smoother if you determine ahead of time exactly where you want your furnishings to be place in the new property. Take measurements. Create a schematic. Put notes on each piece of furniture. You should even designate a space in each room where boxes can be safely stacked out of the way.
- Include the Kids – If you have children, give them plenty of advance notice so they can get used to the idea of a new home. Take time to answer their questions. Visit the new home and neighborhood as a family. And finally, arrange for someone to care for your children off-site on moving day.
- Arrange a Smooth Exit – While you’re surely excited about your new home, you’ll want to focus some of that energy on your current residence too.
- Renters: Plan to meet on-site with your landlord at least two weeks before your move-out date to review all the move-out processes and expectations. Ask if any of the required steps or paperwork can be completed before your final day.
- Sellers: Confer with your real estate agent about what items should/should not be left behind, how much cleaning needs to be done and more.
- Set Aside the Essentials – Moving is an all-day affair – which means you won’t have time to do much unpacking before the next day dawns. Red-tag the items you’ll want to access the first day in your new space (phone charger, essential kitchen items, etc) so they can be packed in a specially marked box.
Taking the time to plan in advance can save you a lot of stress on moving day and help you start enjoying your new home as quickly as possible.
Source: Windermere Home Update March 2017.
How Home Staging Sells
If you’re planning to sell your home anytime soon, give some serious thought to hiring a professional stager for an interior makeover.
After assessing your home, neighborhood and the most likely buyer, a home stager will physically arrange furnishings throughout your house and recommend other changes – which often include inventive ways to tackle clutter, high-impact painting suggestions, quick fixes for long-overdue repair issues, plus much more.
The process and underlying principles involved are akin to interior decorating, but are also very focused on the ever-changing desires of today’s home buyers and how best to appeal to them.
Here are some reasons why home staging can be well worth the investment:
Your Home Will Feel Bigger
Over the years, many homes fill with furnishings that make rooms feel awkward, cramped and crowded. A professional stage knows what to remove and how to rearrange what’s left to make these areas feel more spacious and useful.
Problem Areas Can Ben Downplayed
Some homes have rooms that are too small, too big or oddly shaped; interior payouts that make it difficult to get from room to room; fireplace mantels that overwhelm the living room; closetless bedrooms; misplaced windows; and other problems. Home staging can make those weaknesses seem insignificant, even unnoticeable; at the very least, it will demonstrate for prospective buyers how they can overcome the challenges.
Marketing Photos Look Better
Today, buyers begin their search for a new home online, where photos of the property will largely determine how many people will take the time to tour your home in person. When the walls are hung with neutral artwork, the interior decor is balanced, and the lighting is uplifting, it’s far easier for the photographer to make your house a standout.
Buyers Will Feel At Home
It’s difficult for many prospective buyers to see someone else’s home and envision living there themselves – especially if the current owner has outgrown the space, is using rooms in unusual ways, has out-of-date design ideas, or just hasn’t maintained the property well. The goal of home staging is to make every space in the house appeal to either the largest pool of prospective buyers or a very specific type of targeted buyers.
You’ll Sell Faster
A recent study performed by a team of real estate professors showed that most prospective buyers are not willing to pay significantly more for a house simply because it’s expertly furnished. However, another marquee study has demonstrated that staged homes sell far more quickly – which also has a direct impact on the seller’s bottom-lined profit:
- Homes that sell quickly usually garner the highest asking price
- Sought-after homes often attract multiple bidders
- A fast sale means the homeowner can cut their expenses and move on more quickly
According to the most recent RECA study, professionally staged properties valued between 4300,000 and $499,000 sell in 22 days on average, while comparable unstaged homes were found to typically languish on the market for an average of 125 days.
For more information about staging, as well as referrals to professional stagers, contact me anytime.
Source: Windermere Home Update February 2017.
HOME MAINTENANCE ON A BUDGET
There’s no escaping the need for a home maintenance and repair, so you may as well budget for it. Assume some aspects of your house will need work and put money aside each year to cover the costs. When you’re a homeowner, there’s no landlord. It’s up to you to fix or otherwise address whatever breaks and needs maintaining. It’s one of the responsibilities that many new homeowners tend to under-estimate. Even those who have owned a home for decades are often guilty of putting off necessary maintenance projects until the proverbial “next year”.
The daily- lift disruption these projects can cause is one reason why homeowners tend to delay or ignore the work. However, the money involved is often the major hurdle. The best solution, say experts, is to create a budget – plan ahead by putting money aside each year.
How much should you budget? That depends on your home, its size, age and condition. However, as a general rule, experts recommend you set aside between 1% and 4% of your home’s purchase price. For a house that cost $350,000 to buy, that means the maintenance/repair budget should be between $3500 and $14,000 per year. The lower amount would be appropriate for a new home or condominium; owners of homes 50+ years old should target the high end of the scale.
To develop a custom budget based on the cost of specific projects, see the “cost guides” provided for free on the ImpoveNet.com website. But remember, your budget must also include funds for unexpected repairs (e.g., broken appliance, broken window, leaking toilet), not just the known maintenance projects.
DO IT YOURSELF
Because labor makes up most of the cost of many home repairs and maintenance projects, you can save significant money by doing some of the work yourself. YouTube has become famous for its how-to videos. And the big-box home-improvement stores (Home Depot, Lowes, etc) offer all of the necessary tools and supplies.
REGULAR CONTRIBUTIONS ARE KEY
The best way to manage your maintenance/repair money is via a separate savings account. Try funding it by making regular contributions: for example, contributing $300 per paycheck until you reach your budget amount for the year. If you don’t make the contributions a common practice, it’s too easy to spend the money elsewhere.
Not only is a well-maintained house less expensive to operate, it will also sell for more money. When it comes time to list it, you’ll be glad you saved, budgeted and quickly tackled maintenance problems. For more suggestions that could increase your home’s value, contact me directly.
Source: Windermere Home Update December 2016.
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