Home Inspections Can Save Your Money

If you're hiring someone to inspect the home you want to buy, or you're a seller trying to find out if there are any hidden problems that need fixing before you put your home on the market, here are five things you need to know:

1. You can choose your home inspector.

Your real estate professional can recommend an inspector, or you can find one on your own. Members of the National Association of Home Inspectors, Inc. (NAHI), must complete an approved home inspector training program, demonstrate experience and competence as a home inspector, complete a written exam, and adhere to the NAHI Standards of Practice and Code of Ethics.

2. Home inspections are intended to point out adverse conditions, not cosmetic flaws.

You should attend the inspection and follow the inspector throughout the inspection so you can learn what's important and what's not. No house is perfect and an inspection on any home is bound to uncover faults. A home inspector will point out conditions that need repair and/or potential safety-related concerns relating to the home. They won't comment on cosmetic items if they don't impair the integrity of the home. They also do not do destructive testing.

3. Home inspection reports include only the basics.

A home inspector considers hundreds of items during an average inspection. The home inspection should include the home's exterior, steps, porches, decks, chimneys, roof, windows, and doors. Inside, they will look at attics, electrical components, plumbing, central heating and air conditioning, basement/crawlspaces, and garages.

They report on the working order of items such as faucets to see if they leak, or garage doors to see if they close properly. Inspectors may point out termite damage and suggest that you get a separate pest inspection. The final written report should be concise and easy to understand.

4. Home inspectors work for the party who is paying the fee.

The NAHI Standards of Practice and Code of Ethics clearly state that members act as an unbiased third party to the real estate transaction and "will discharge the Inspector's duties with integrity and fidelity to the client." A reputable home inspector will not conduct a home inspection or prepare a home inspection report if his or her fee is contingent on untruthful conclusions.

The inspector should maintain client confidentiality and keep all report findings private, unless required by court order. That means it is your choice whether or not to share the report with others. If you're a seller, you don't have to disclose the report to buyers, but you must disclose any failure in the systems or integrity of your home.

5. Inspectors are not responsible for the condition of the home.

Inspectors don't go behind walls or under flooring, so it's possible that a serious problem can be overlooked. Keep in mind that inspectors are not party to the sales transaction, so if you buy a home where an expensive problem surfaces after the sale, you won't be able to make the inspector liable or get the inspector to pay for the damage. In fact, you may not be entitled to any compensation beyond the cost of the inspection.

As a buyer, you need the home inspection to decide if the home is in condition that you can tolerate. You can use the report to show the seller the need for a certain repair or negotiate a better price. You can also take the report to a contractor and use it to make repairs or to remodel a section of the home.

One thing you should not do when buying a home is skip having the home inspected because of cost or undue pressure by the seller. A home inspection is reasonable, it can save you money in the long run, and it's required by many lenders, particularly for FHA loans. There's a reason why buyers should beware, and a home inspection gives you the information you need to make a sound buying decision.

After the Move: Furnish Your New Home

Congratulations on your new home! This is an opportunity to think holistically about the interior design and decoration of your home. Have you ever been in a house where nothing seems to go with anything else? A house with stylistic clashes in its furniture and decor can feel like a conversation in which no one is listening to anyone else. Follow these steps for a smooth decorating transition to your new home.

1. Planning

The first step is to survey the territory. Start by listing any furniture or decorative element (a rug or framed art) you are keeping from your prior home. Also consider design aspects such as wall color, textures and lighting. Some of these you can choose and others you will need to take into consideration as you plan.

Do you have a family heirloom piece of furniture that is coming with you to the new house? Your subsequent purchases will need to work well with the heirloom. Always take a moment and ask yourself why you are keeping a piece. If you don't love it, there's no shame in letting it go to a home where it will be loved.

2. Preparing

The perfect time to paint is before the furniture goes in. Don't make your paint purchases without thinking about the rest of the interior. For example, have you always wanted a bright red sofa? If you are going to pick a bold color for a major item of furniture, think neutral for the walls.

Another common preparation is refinishing wood floors. Take into consideration the color of the floors and moldings and how they will interact visually with the rest of your interior.

3. Prioritizing

You may be able to acquire all of your furniture before you move in. But that isn't always possible. Prioritize your furniture purchases around your family's needs. Especially if you have children, your first wish may be a dining or kitchen table and chairs. The table is a gathering place for the whole family, and being able to eat together will make the house feel like home quickly. Make sure the kids have a say in what their rooms will look like — seeking their input can help ease their moving blues.

If you are a couple without children, you might find it an adventure to picnic on the floor for the first few weeks, and the bedroom might be the first room you want to furnish.

4. Purchasing

Consider buying all the major pieces in each room from one furniture line. These pieces are designed to go together, and once you find a piece you really love, see what else is available from that designer.

Celebrity brand lines of furniture are not mere gimmicks to capitalize on the star's name recognition. Rather, such brands are designed to evoke the mood and emotion most associated with that celebrity. A lot of work goes into the line to create a cohesive and evocative style. Check the designer lines from Cindy Crawford and Sofia Vergara at Rooms To Go.

5. Getting Help

You don't need to hire an interior decorator. However, if you need some help, you can find many online tutorials on interior decorating and design, some of which are free.

Integrating A Dog Into Your Home... Without Chaos Or Clutter

So you're finally adding a dog to your household. Congratulations! You're about to bring so much joy to your world. But also hair and dirt and slobber. You can easily integrate a new dog into your home and still keep it clean and classy by following a few simple tips.

Protect your floors

Your pup's hairy chin probably means there's going to be water dribble. One of the best ways to handle this is with a tray under the food and water bowl. We love this Easyology Premium Pet Food Tray, which has a graphic design, comes in four colors, and has a lip that helps keep the food and water contained.

Get a crate

You've probably heard that dogs love to be in a den-like area like a crate, but does it feel cruel to you? We get it (And, truth be told, you won't find a crate in our house.). But, that doesn't mean we don't wonder if our free-range dogging was the right choice. The truth is that puppies are easily trained to sleep in their crates and hang out in them while you're gone, which makes potty training easier and also gives you the confidence of knowing they - and your home - are safe and secure while you're gone.

Here's what the professionals have to say: "Prison or cozy retreat? It all depends on perspective and on how you use the crate. Dogs have a natural denning instinct, normally preferring safe, enclosed quarters for their naps," said Modern Dog Magazine. "In the wild, a den is a secure place to get some shut-eye without becoming someone else's meal. If a dog is properly introduced to a crate as a young pup he will view it as a safe refuge from the hustle and bustle of the house (and away from any pesky children!) - a place for peace and quiet and serious snoozing. Most domestic dog owners are surprised to learn that wild dogs spend up to 16 hours a day sleeping!

Rest periods in snug quarters are a natural part of caring for our dogs' needs. But... dogs have many other needs that crates interfere with. Dogs are social animals; they require interaction with other dogs or people. They also need exercise, mental stimulation, and appropriate ‘potty' opportunities. So, while some time spent in a crate is usually a positive element of dog rearing, too much time spent in a crate can have disastrous consequences."

Set some boundaries

"The big day comes when you pick up the dog. Everybody is excited and happy as you drive home, and you all come bounding up the walk, throw open the front door and let the dog off-leash and inside…And you've just planted the seed for a lot of future issues. In human terms, you've unleashed a juvenile delinquent," said Cesar Milan. "In order to have a well-balanced dog, we have to teach her the house rules, and set boundaries and limitations from the get-go. The message you send your dog the moment she enters your home for the first time is critical, because it immediately establishes the ground rules in your dog's mind. If you just let her run in the door, the message is, ‘Here! Everything is yours, and you can do whatever you want.'"

Milan has eight essential steps for setting rules for a new pup. A good training program can help reinforce them.

Be consistent

Your four-year-old may think it's adorable to invite the dog up onto the couch, but if you have established a no-dog-on-the-couch policy, this can be confusing. Consistency is key, and that means you probably have to spend at least as much time training your human family members as you do the dog.

Get a good vacuum

Unless you get a Chinese Crested (hairless dog) or a breed that genuinely does not shed, you can expect to have at least some dog hair collecting in the corners of your home. If you just have a simple broom and vacuum, it may be time for an upgrade.

Keep that dog hair in check with a vacuum that is built to suck it up. Experts like the Hoover REACT Professional Pet Plus and the Dyson DC39 Animal Canister Vacuum Cleaner. Also consider getting a microfiber dry mop. Hair loves to stick to microfiber, which can make quick cleanups easy.

Tips For A Smooth Home Renovation

Whether you're painting your kitchen cabinets or ripping the whole kitchen out, renovating is exciting. Not as exciting is the mess that's created, the potential issues with contractors, and the mad scramble to come up with more money when something goes awry. While you can't avoid every unpleasantry associated with home renovations, you can prepare well to keep yours as pain-free as possible.

Move out!

Depending on how extensive your renovation is, staying in the home while it's going on can be horrible. And, trust us when we say that this is one of those things you only think you can get through easily if you've never been through it before. A little time at a friend's house or in a hotel instead of cramming your family into a bedroom or basement with one bathroom to share and a makeshift kitchen will make your world so much better.

Don't hover...but don't fail to check the work from time to time

True story: We had our floors redone last month (Goodbye, ugly tile and concrete where where foundation work had been completed, Hello luxury vinyl plank!) and we had to face this reality head on. While we didn't want to be in their face all day, paying attention at key points uncovered areas that needed to be addressed. What we learned is this:

Finding that perfect balance is key to establishing trust with your contractor while also making sure the work is up to your standards. And, in the end, having cookies and other treats in the house makes everything better.

Concentrate on safety

If you are staying in the home and you have kids or pets (or both), you'll want to make sure your contractors leave their work area as clean as possible and don't create hazards with their equipment. On the first night of our flooring installation, our contractor left his tools - including two saws - in an open area, which our dog quickly discovered (Everyone is fine, but he got to spend the rest of the night in the bedroom!).

"While working in your home contractors should be willing to remove all tools at the end of each day. At the least, equipment should be stacked out of the way (and out of the reach of young kids)," Art Donnelly, former chairman of the board of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry, told Parents. "You can even request that your contractor set up temporary walls to shield your kids from the work site and reduce the amount of dust filtering into your living quarters." 

Budget more than you think you'll need

It's always going to cost more than you think. Setting aside an extra 10 percent - at least - will help you avoid a freak out and a panicked search for more money in the middle of your reno.

Invest in a good vacuum

And a carload of Swiffer dusters. Whether you're having your floors done, adding a room, or redoing your kitchen, it's gonna get dusty. And it doesn't matter how well your contractor cleans up after the job is done—it still won't be up to your expectations.

Don't pay upfront 

A contractor who asks for payment before work has begun could be a red flag. You don't want to get duped, nor do you want to work with someone whose cash flow problem becomes your problem. Paying for materials as they are purchased is common and payment arrangements that include paying for a portion of the work at certain completion markers are sometimes worked out, but if it feels off, don't be afraid to stand your ground.

Do your research

Even the most trusted referrals require further research. Perhaps the company is under new management since your friend used them or standards have dropped over time. Google the company and check reviews online before you move forward.

Communicate, communicate, communicate

Our project was almost derailed by a simple miscommunication that was, thankfully, discovered and worked through but that could have derailed the entire flooring installation.

"Ninety-Nine percent of problems are caused by breakdowns in communication," said CAVDESIGN. "Don't overwhelm your contractor with bits of paper and random suggestions. Instead, organize your thoughts, schedule a time, and go over any questions point by point. Then send a line-item list of what was decided upon so there is a clear paper trail." 

Pack up your valuables ahead of time

Yes, you want to protect yourself from theft. But you also want the things that are important to you to be safe from getting bruised or broken. If your contractor is moving furniture for you, it behooves you to take care of anything that's an heirloom or that would devastate you if it was damaged during the renovation.

Check outside when the renovation is done

Some contractors clean up the work area better than others. There might be an errant piece of tile or a few wood pieces you're not aware of on your front lawn because you typically come and go through the garage. But you can be sure your neighbors will be aware! If you've already pushed the limits of their patience with the constant sound of power tools, now's the time to make sure your front yard isn't an eyesore. 

The Future Trends of Retirement

Tiny homes. Rockin' communities where Jimmy Buffet is your spirit animal. Rockin' a strenuous hike minutes from home. Yeah, this is not your Grandfather's retirement.

Long gone are the days when people packed it in and moved to a nice, calm little home for the aging in Florida the day they turn 65. Not only are people working longer today, but they are looking for more out of their retirement - more fun and excitement, more job opportunities, and more opportunity to hang out with family. If you're getting ready to retire, these are the trends you'll want to know about.

Lifestyle-oriented communities

And we're not just talking about weekly bingo. There is a wave of new retirement communities, most notably Jimmy Buffet's foray into a new career path, that cater to a much more active lifestyle. "It's easy to chuckle at news that a Margaritaville retirement community is coming to Florida (what better age for Parrotheads to pursue their day-drinking dreams?)," said Curbed. "But the billion-dollar community offers more of what today's and tomorrow's seniors really want: active, engaging, and walkable neighborhoods. Latitude Margaritaville Daytona Beach has nine models open, with new homes priced from the $200,000s; the Hilton Head, SC location is in its first phase with prices from the mid $200,000s."

Other developments, like the new $100 million-plus Rancho Mission Viejo in Orange County, CA is being developed "as an upscale mixed-generation development, with housing catering to older adults integrated into clusters of neighborhoods," they said. "Developments like New York's new community center for the Morningside Retirement & Health Services (MRHS) showcase a renewed focus on active, communal space. A cohousing development for seniors on Oakland's waterfront called Phoenix Commons has been compared to a ‘dorm for grownups.'"

Retiring…but not all the way

Mid-size and larger cities are becoming havens for retirees because, among other positive attributes, they offer thriving job markets. So why would that be important to someone who is getting ready to stop working? Because, increasingly, retirees aren't retiring all the way. Or, they're embarking on secondary careers, often part-time, post retirement. "74% of working Americans plan to work past retirement age, with 11% expecting to work full time and 63% expecting to work part-time," said The Street.

Chasing happiness

U.S. New & World Report's 2018 list of the Best Places to Retire compared the top 100 metros for their potential as retirement spots, using data including housing affordability, taxes, and access to healthcare facilities. Their overall desirability and average levels of happiness were also key to the rankings. "Several cities in Texas made the top 10," while "three cities in the mid-Atlantic region are highly rated." You can see the entire list here.

Multi-generational living

Multi-generational living is on one of real estate's fastest-growing trend. "In 1940, about one-quarter of the U.S. population lived with three or more generations in one home. After WWII, American families largely became two-generational, with parents and minor-age children under one roof," said Forbes. "The percentage of households with multiple generations started declining to 21%, reaching a low of 12% by 1980." According to Pew Research Center data, 60.6 million people, or 19 percent of the U.S. population, lived in multigenerational homes, including 26.9 million three-generation households."

In fact, the trend is so pervasive today that builders are increasingly creating highly livable granny flats and tiny homes that can live on family land or in backyards. They're also building new construction homes like Lennar's Next Gen, which is billed as a "home within a home" and includes "all the features you'd expect in a separate unit (a kitchenette, single car garage and full bathroom) while giving you the freedom to pop in whenever you'd like," they said.

Increasing the activity level

"The choice of recreational activities is gradually shifting as the baby boomer generation heads into retirement," said U.S. News & World Report. "A recent study by the Physical Activity Council revealed some interesting findings. Activities that are increasing in popularity include camping, bicycling, hiking and canoeing. Activities that are decreasing in popularity include golf, swimming for fitness and working out using machines or weights."

The AARP found that boomers are increasingly migrating to states "with mild climates and recreational options. "A newly released survey indicates that those who do move increasingly choose mountain and western states where they find a desirable combination of affordable housing, mild weather and outdoor recreational opportunities, such as skiing and hiking," they said. United Van Lines' National Movers Study found that the Mountain West region - which stretches from Arizona to Wyoming - attracted the "biggest influx of older people, with 24.5 percent of those moving citing retirement as a reason for relocating." That represents a strong shift from several decades ago "when older people mostly left northern states and headed southward. ‘We're seeing retirees being attracted to more outdoor adventure destinations than in the past."

Following family

Another of today's top trends has retirees moving closer to family. For many grandparents, moving toward their children and grandchildren is "the last chance to focus on family and to leave a legacy of special memories," says Christine Crosby, editorial director of Grandmagazine," to Kiplinger.

Protect Your Home When You Travel

Among the fastest ways to kill a post-vacation buzz is returning home and discovering your house is in shambles. Maybe a water pipe broke and now you're trudging through ankle-deep sludge. Perhaps a burglar slipped inside, ransacked the place and gallivanted away with your most valued possessions. Or it could be that you forgot to clean out the fridge before leaving, and now mold has infested every nook and cranny. Just like it's important to shop for an excellent vacation deal, it's crucial to make sure returning from that well-earned trip isn't a headache or disaster. Here are six easily-skipped steps to keep in mind while you're planning that enticing itinerary.

Of Course Somebody is Home

Hiring a house or pet sitter is the best - albeit costly - method to ensure your home stays just like you left it. House sitters can vary from a trusted friend or family member, to somebody who is a professional. Typically a house sitter will take care of any pets you're leaving behind, water plants, collect the mail and sometimes other small tasks. It's challenging to trust somebody enough to be in your home for days on end, but their presence ensures burglars avoid your place and that your appliances and utilities don't decide to take a vacation of their own.

Celebrate on Social Media After the Trip

Booking a vacation is exciting. It's a break from the daily grind, and that's often something we want to share with our friends, family and acquaintances via social media. But you should probably hold off on announcing to the whole Internet that your home is vacant and ripe for the picking. Websites like Facebook and Twitter make it easy for complete strangers to gather your personal information and then find out where you live with a quick online search.

If you can't help yourself from announcing the trip and posting photos, then do yourself a favor and greatly restrict who can see and share the information. The same plan of action holds true for automatic email responses and voicemail systems. The rule of thumb is that if you're not comfortable with somebody being in your house when you're not there, then don't tell them - even indirectly - that you're heading off on some sweet adventure. Scoundrels might seize that announcement as an open house invitation, and you might return to an open front door.

Burning the Midnight Oil

Casing a house is a common tactic for many home invaders. They spend days - sometimes even weeks - monitoring when you're home, what rooms you're in, what you're doing and who you're with. They'll know your daily habits better than you do. The best way to thwart these folks is to make sure it genuinely looks like somebody is home. Set up an app-controlled light timer. You can even set up a timer-controlled power supply to stereos or TVs. But don't keep the same timer settings day by day. Vary when lights come on, which rooms they pop on and for how long everything is running. Also be sure to use compact florescent light bulbs to save electricity and your energy bill.

Lock it Down, Regardless of Where You Live

It's oddly common that in small, homey towns where "everybody knows each other" folks leave their homes and cars unlocked. If you're involved with this mindset, then you may very well leave your door unlocked during an extended absence. And unlocked doors are the biggest "burglarize me" signals out there. More than 30 percent of home burglaries happen from an unlocked entrance. Don't be the person who forgot to close and lock the windows or sliding glass door. Put a dowel rod behind any type of sliding entrance, and be sure to lock the deadbolt. It's easy to prevent an easy crime.

This Needs Power, This Doesn't

Imagine how devastating it feels to show up back home after your trip and discover a charred pile of rubble where your home once stood. Let that feeling sink in for a few moments, and then take a look around at what electronics and appliances you currently have plugged into the wall throughout your home. A power outage or surge could trip these devices and cause a fire if the device isn't plugged into a surge protector or turned off. Now since you're leaving certain electronics on timers to discourage home invasions, make sure what you do leave plugged in is plugged into a surge protector. You can group electronics and appliances close together to limit the number of protectors you'll need to buy.

Otherwise, think about how much energy appliances like your refrigerator, water heater or climate control require and consume. If you don't have plants, animals or open food, then you can pretty much turn off your climate control depending on what the outside weather is like. Set your water heater to vacation mode to reserve energy consumption. And last, either remove perishables from the fridge, turn it off and open the door to prevent mildew, or make sure the appliance is completely full of non-perishable items. If you have empty space then fill jugs of water there to insulate your fridge and lower energy consumption.

Finally, if you're off on an adventure during the winter, ask a trusted neighbor, friend or family member to come by and run the facet for about 5 minutes every day or two. If your pipes are properly insulated, this should help prevent them from freezing over or breaking.

A Tidy Home is a Lived in Home

The final step that is extremely easy to skip on longer or seasonal trips is how your home looks. Sure, you have lights popping on and off at random times, but is your yard unkempt? Are mail flyers, newspapers and packages creating the next great pyramid on your doorstep? These are signals to anybody paying attention that you're not home. Either stop packages, the newspaper and your mail from being deposited, or get somebody you trust to pick everything up for you. Plus if you're leaving in the winter and it snows, make sure they shovel your driveway or sidewalk. 

We’re in the full swing of summer now!

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Barbecues, Independence Day, fireworks, and long sunny days—is there any month quite as fun as July? But July also means that we’ve made it through over half of 2018. Don’t let the fun-filled summertime activities distract you from your homeownership goals!

Homeownership rates from California to Maine are continuing to rise and summer is a great time to join the ranks of those who have forgone renting in favor of owning their home. We may soon begin to see sellers more willing to negotiate their listing prices as they strive to keep up with rising mortgage rates. However, the real estate climate is as red-hot as the weather outside: buyers are still encouraged to move quickly or risk losing out on a golden opportunity.

If you’d like to be in your new home-sweet-home in time to watch the leaves turn this fall but are uncertain of where to begin, give us a call today! With the help of one of our expert agents, we can help you beat the heat and evaluate your standing.

Modern Guide To Bathroom Finishes

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Hate the faucets in your bathroom? It's amazing how something so small can make such a difference - for better and for worse.

"For something you touch several times a day, why not pick a finish for your faucet that will make you feel good? People will notice if you put in an unimpressive faucet," Peter LaBau, a Charlottesville, Va.-based architect, told HGTV.

If you're in need of a finish update, you have options. Lots of them. There are some major trends in this area, but there are also classic and tried-and-true looks that can give your loo a lift. We're breaking them down.

Chrome

"This finish being the most common, and probably the most popular, it works well with all styles of homes," said Crawford Supply. "It is inexpensive and very easy to maintain. The only downside of this finish is that it shows water spots and fingerprints. If this bothers you, simply keep a microfiber towel near the faucet, and you have solved any of these issues."

Satin Nickel

"Finish-wise, satin nickel still reigns", Leah Peterson, executive VP of SEN Design Group dealer buying and business development group, told Kitchen & Bath Design News.

Satin nickel is sometimes referred to as brushed nickel, but take care if you're mixing both to make sure the finishes match precisely. The specific difference between the two finishes is in the way they are achieved: "A brushed finish is just that - brushed with a tool to give the metal a matte finish with the abrasions (or brush marks) all following the same direction," said Portals Luxury Hardware. "You can see those brush marks on the finish. "Satin is another matte finish, but it's achieved by chemical process, not brushing. You can tell satin from nickel by checking for brush marks - satin doesn't have them."

The great thing about both satin and brushed nickel is that they are easy to maintain and clean and are less likely to show water spots.

Copper

"Copper is unmistakable and bold. It gives the bathroom a rich feeling, especially when mixed with a subtler material, such as marble on a countertop," said Houzz. It also has "natural antibacterial properties" and develops a beautiful patina over time. The disadvantages: "A shiny copper finish might require a little more maintenance than brushed nickel, oil-rubbed bronze and chrome. It's harder to match accessories and other fixtures to copper, and it's not as durable as other finishes."

Oil-Rubbed Bronze

"A great aesthetic alternative to standard chrome and brushed nickel, oil-rubbed bronze gives the bathroom a more traditional look and feel,"said Houzz.

Brass

Brass is back, but not in the shiny ‘80s finish you probably just got a mental picture of. Satin brass has a fresh, modern feel.

Mixed metals

Who says you have to choose just one? New trends are supporting multiple finishes in one space. "It used to be considered a design no-no to mix metals in a bathroom," said Making Joy and Pretty Things. "You had to have polished chrome or nickel everything. Well, gone are the days where every single finish on everything at to be matchy matchy. And boy does it feel good to see that trend dying. Combining different metal finishes creates depth and adds visual interest in any room. And, it makes the room feel collected and made over time instead of builder-grade (not that there's anything wrong with builder grade, necessarily)."

Matte black

"Matte black stands out against a stark white backsplash, complements charcoal veins in a marble countertop and is cohesive with other black accessories," said Delta Faucet. "But this look isn't just for the kitchen. If you're ready to expand your love of matte black to new spaces, look no further than the bathroom. Delta's faucets and shower fixtures add a dramatic finish to your bathroom. Use them to turn heads and create a strong impression in your contemporary and transitional spaces that leave people raving about your style."

A mélange of trending options

If you really want to be on the forefront of change, consider rose gold. Or maybe gunmetal.

"You're going to see even more finish options for faucets and handles in both kitchen and bath. We've already seen gold and bronze make a comeback in recent years, but now we are seeing the growing rose-gold and bronze tones as more manufacturers are hopping on this train, and some are going in a direction that's a

little warmer or less shiny," said Gerhard's. "In addition to these hues, there's a rise in gunmetal and matte-black finishes."

Copyright © 2018 Realty Times. All Rights Reserved. For additional article images click here.

Energy Efficiency Tips for Summer

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Things are heating up and school is winding down. That mean's summer is right around the corner. But it's not all flip-flops and sunglasses and smiles. Summer is also hot and sweaty and often expensive when you're trying not to be hot and sweaty, or you just want your home to run more efficiently. There are things you can do and changes you can make now to save money this summer.

Have your sprinkler system and outdoor faucets looked at

You could have sprinkler heads that are malfunctioning or not working at all, which could harm your grass and cost you money to replace it. Leaky outdoor faucets could also be costing you in increased water bills.

Do a leak check inside

Cold air escaping and hot air intruding - it's the reality of many a home, and not only can it make you feel uncomfortable, it can make your air conditioner work overtime. "For a thorough and accurate measurement of air leakage in your home, hire a qualified technician to conduct an energy audit, particularly a blower door test," said the U.S. Department of Energy. "A blower door test, which depressurizes a home, can reveal the location of many leaks."

Do an appliance check

Have a mixer, blender, and knife sharpener plugged in on your kitchen countertop? How often do you really use any of these items? The more you unplug, the less energy you use.

Have your A/C unit checked and serviced

Not only do you not want your air conditioning to conk out in mid-summer when it's blasting hot outside, but you also want to make sure you catch little issues before they become giant, expensive ones - and before you're A/C guy books up. "There are two main reasons to schedule annual air conditioner maintenance with your local HVAC contractor: saving money and saving money (no that isn't a typo)," said HomeAdvisor. "For starters, you greatly increase the chances that your A/C technician will catch small problems before they become big ones by schedules regular check-ups. Repairing a small refrigerant leak shouldn't cost much more than the service call. Buying a new compressor when low refrigerant levels burn your current one out, however, can cost a thousand dollars or more. The other way an annual check-up saves you money is by ensuring that your A/C unit is working at optimal efficiency. When your A/C is running well it uses less energy to cool your house, and lower energy use means bigger savings for you on your monthly utility bills."

Remember to change your filters regularly, too. According to Energy.gov, "The most important maintenance task that will ensure the efficiency of your air conditioner is to routinely replace or clean its filters. Replacing a dirty, clogged filter with a clean one can lower your air conditioner's energy consumption by 5% to 15%."

Use the toaster instead of the oven

The heat from the oven can raise the temp in your home, causing your air conditioner to turn on. Using smaller appliances - your slow cooker is another idea - can help keep the temperature lower. Even better, use your outdoor grill, instead!

Cover up

Windows that are exposed to afternoon sun can heat up the house quickly, undermining your A/C and making everyone in the house uncomfortable.

"Air conditioning is blissful during the summer, but running it nonstop during a heat wave will have you cursing when you get your utility bill," said Consumer Reports. "Fortunately, clever use of blinds, curtains, and other window treatments can help keep your house cool and your bills in check. The Department of Energy says that smart management of window coverings can reduce heat gain by up to 77 percent."

Cover up inside and out for the best protection. "Studies show that medium-colored draperies with white plastic backings can reduce heat gain by 33 percent, according to the DOE. Because of the horizontal slats, it's difficult to control heat loss through interior window blinds, although they do offer some flexibility. Unlike shades, you can adjust the slats to control light and ventilation. When completely closed, highly reflective blinds can reduce heat gain by around 45 percent, says the DOE. They can also be adjusted to block and reflect direct sunlight onto a light-colored ceiling, which diffuses the light without much heat or glare."

Outside, consider solar screens, or awnings. "Window awnings can reduce solar heat gain by up to 65 percent on south-facing windows and 77 percent on west-facing windows, according to the DOE."

Turn up the temperature

That goes against the whole "keeping the house cool" thing, right? But, if you can stand it, a few ticks up on the thermostat can lower your costs. "According to Energy Star, almost half the energy used in your home goes toward heating and cooling. Even making small adjustments, such as turning up your air conditioning by only one degree, can make a huge difference," said Huffington Post. "For each degree you reduce your air conditioning, it's estimated you'll save 3 percent on your utility bills. You can also save money by using a programmable thermostat. When used correctly, a programmable thermostat saves the average family $180 per year."

Get a learning thermostat

Unlike old-school thermostats that you can program for different times and days, products like Nest actually learn from you, and your house, which can then save you money. "Why should you have to figure out your thermostat? The Nest Thermostat learns from you," said Nest. "Just turn it up and down for the first few days. The Nest Thermostat will get to know the temperatures you like and when you like them. Then it programs itself and creates a schedule for you. The Nest Thermostat even learns from your home and figures out how it heats or cools, because no two homes are exactly the same."

Add insulation

The upfront expense will will pay dividends later when your energy bills go down. "Adding insulation to prevent leaky ducts, walls, windows, and doors can improve your home's energy draw by 20 to 30 percent," said Real Simple.

Copyright © 2018 Realty Times. All Rights Reserved.

Fresh, New Backsplash Trends

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Tired of seeing white subway tile on every kitchen backsplash? You're not alone. And while the tile will always be a classic (even if it feels overworked right now), there are a number of options that will add a fresh, new look to your kitchen.

Create a showstopper

In a kitchen where everything else is neutral, or at least a bit tamer, an eye-popping backsplash can be just what you need to create a killer kitchen.

Go for one big pop

Moroccan tiles and other brightly colored and intricately patterned confections are everywhere, but it can be overwhelming to think about running something so bold throughout your kitchen. Identifying one key spot where you can let it rip may be the answer. "Minimalism loves maximalism, translated, is a peripheral trend toward a clean, simple design framework which features a single, bold focal point of colorful florals or other bright patterns or colors," said Design Milk. "It's a pleasant antidote to straight lines and introduces color, warmth and visual emotion in a surprising yet modern design statement -- a backlash from recent years of minimalism in our interiors."

Bring in concrete

Especially if you're going with concrete for your countertops, running it up part or all of the wall can create a winning look. "Concrete is making its way up from the floor to the countertops and we love the look," said Emily Henderson. "Concrete gives you quite a bit of liberty when it comes to customization as well as color and it is also a very affordable option. But it isn't just for counters, your walls can look just as chic in the material. These lighter toned walls with a slight texture are so beautiful and have a wonderful color variance to them."

Rediscover terrazzo

Yes, "The marble mosaic flooring popularized in 1920s Art Deco architecture is back," said MyDomaine, and it looks better than ever. Now we're seeing it spill over into tiles as well, which is an easier install and cheaper alternative to the real deal.

Go to the ceiling

"What area comes to mind when you think of backsplash tile? The space between the countertop and the underside of the wall cabinetry," said Sebring Design Build. "If there was no wall cabinetry above the countertop, then it was common to still place the tile straight across in the same location as if there had been wall cabinetry there. Perhaps by instinct or tradition. But it's time to break the mold and bring that tile all the wall to the ceiling. Ceiling-height backsplashes can give classic tile a fresh and modern look by highlighting a single area of the kitchen, creating a focal point, or help a large patterned tile sing loud and proud. Higher backsplashes will unite all aspects of the space, and brighten up the space with the reflective qualities of the tile itself."

Use marble in a new way

While marble is nothing new, different applications can make it feel fresh. Especially if you're worried about the maintenance of marble on a countertop, using it on the backsplash is a great alternative. And, the options for complementary materials are endless.

Use a mirrored or metallic finish

A mirrored backsplash can make a small space look infinitely larger by bouncing light around the room. Go metallic to add just the right touch of luxe to your space.

Go larger with subway tiles

If you're not ready to give up on the idea of subway tiles but want something with a little more flair, go big. Instead of the standard 3x6 look, you can go to a larger format 4x8 version, or even a 4x12.

"A large format subway tile backsplash can be especially helpful for a small kitchen where the large tiles create the perception of space," said Sebring Design Build. "Large format subway tiles can also help in creating a feeling of continuity especially if you are extending the backsplash to the ceiling; besides, let's not forget the ever favorite…fewer grout lines to clean." 

Use some color

Another way to do something new without veering too far from the familiar is to stick with the subway tile shape but in an unexpected color. The black backsplash tile brings some great contrast to all that white and "makes the neutral kitchen more interesting," said DigsDigs.

Copyright © 2018 Realty Times. All Rights Reserved.  For additional article images click here.

Goodbye, Boring Walls - Hello, Molding!

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Unless you're buying an 18-century French chateau or a meticulously restored craftsman home, your walls may lack a little character. This is especially true if you have new construction, and super especially if your home was on the lower end of the pricing spectrum.

Plain drywall is the hallmark of many a modern-day home. You may have some sort of spray-on texture finish, but, let's be honest - all that really does is create a problem and an unsightly booboo when someone inevitably knocks into it, throws a ball against it, or time and humidity have their way with it. Thankfully, you don't have to move to France, or to California circa 1920, to create a rich, layered look in your home. Moldings can transform your walls in numerous ways, and adding them is an inexpensive and relatively easy DIY project (EDIT: We say "relatively" because there is typically mitering involved, so if calculating angles isn't your thing, you may need handyman help.)

Fit for a King

You can easily create the look of European royalty with a quick trip to Lowe's and some metallic paint. Varying the widths of the panels gives this look even more depth.

Board and batten wainscoting

This is another project you can do yourself with a little skill and some patience. It is also extremely economical, especially when you consider the impact - Hello, luxurious living space! Use MDF to keep the cost as low as possible. You can see a supply list and a complete tutorial here.

Applied box molding

"This is one of the most simple and easiest of the options that we have in this category," said Emily Henderson. "It consists of adding strips of wood to your already existing walls (either with glue or nails) and then painting the entire wall to match. You can customize not only the size of the boxes, to be squares rectangles or a combo of each, but also the thickness of the boards that you add to the wall to achieve just about any look."

Create a grid

You can use molding to create any type of pattern you envision (as long as it has straight lines). If rectangles aren't your thing, maybe this look will do it for you. The advantage to creating a large-scale installation is that, not only does it draw the eye, but it helps cozy up a large space or one with large or tall walls. "By using wood trim to create architectural interest, a tall wall goes from bland and boring to a piece of art itself," said Forbes. "Further adornment isn't necessary when you have gorgeous floor-to-ceiling and three-dimensional texture."

Tip: Design your pattern on paper and tape it out on the wall before putting up wood trim. And always remember to measure, measure, measure!"

Open up to something new

A little molding can also transform a boring, flat door into something special.

No space for a mudroom? No problem!

All you need is an empty wall and a thorough scouring of your local home improvement store to create a mudroom alternative that will bring function, and a great look, to the space.

A cozy place to have a seat

A blank wall, an awkward space, or the area on either side of a fireplace or TV niche can become a focal point with wall panels, trim, and a few decorative handles. "A classic window seat provides the perfect opportunity for both comfort and storage," said Better Homes and Gardens. This can also be made with inexpensive, unfinished kitchen cabinets from Home Depot trimmed out to look custom.

Copyright © 2018 Realty Times. All Rights Reserved. For additional article images click here.

Beware Of Love At First Sight When House Hunting

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Facebook just announced they are getting into the dating app game, giving those who are looking for love yet another avenue to potentially find it. While we don't yet now specific details of how it will work, one thing is for sure: There are bound to be a lot of matches made based solely (or at least mainly) on looks, alone. Is this a smart strategy? It all depends on what you're looking for. And the same could be said of your home search. If you're just looking for a pretty face, it's easy to fall in "love" - with a person, or a home. But you need to look deeper if you want it to last.

The kitchen makes your stomach do that roller coaster thing and the master bath is so pretty it should be on the cover of How to Seduce a Homebuyer magazine. It's hard to ignore the pretty stuff when you're home shopping. The trick is not getting distracted by the pretty stuff and ignoring the important stuff. You can take yourself out of the house hookup land and help avoid falling for the wrong home by asking yourself these questions during your home search.

Is it a keeper?

If you're looking for a long-term relationship with your home, you should have some non-negotiables. Perhaps you would never consider marrying someone who was rude to service people or didn't share your political views. When it comes to your forever home (or at least your "for the foreseeable future home"), making a list of absolute must-haves can help you stay on track. They'll probably include location, price, and home size, but getting even more specific (perhaps you need to be in a certain school district but are willing to compromise on the type of architecture) is even better.

Is there any substance behind your emotional attachment

You walk into a restaurant to meet your date, and before you even sit down, you're a goner. Is it the eyes, the smell? Some cosmic thing at work? Love at first sight? Who knows.

You walk into a house that seems like nothing special, and before you're even passed through the hallway, you're a goner. What's at play here? Is it some reminder of a home from your childhood, maybe? Who knows. But now you've got it bad, and you have to have that house. Time to get real with yourself, because falling for a person - or a home - and going on emotions alone typically doesn't end well.

"Buying a home is a very emotional process, but if you allow those emotions to get the best of you, you may fall prey to a number of common home buyer mistakes," said Investopedia. "Since buying a home has many far-reaching implications - ranging from where you will live to how hard it will be to make ends meet - it's important to keep your emotions in check and make the most rational decision possible."

Is it too much of a project?

We've all heard of the project person - you know, a guy or girl that could be great with just a little (or more than a little) work. A project house could be even more alluring. Seriously, who doesn't love the idea of a fixer-upper these days? But, you need to know your limits, says Bob Vila.

"Don't overestimate your abilities. Determine if the house you like needs work," they said. "Then assess whether you're really capable of doing it." It's also a good idea to properly estimate the post-renovation potential with help from your real estate agent. "Make sure that if you can't do the work, you get estimates before you buy the house so you know what you're getting into. If the cost of the house plus the renovations will put the home's value significantly above others in the neighborhood, it's probably not the best investment - or you may need to scale back the renovations."

What are its friends like?

You can tell a lot about someone by their friends, and the same is true of homes. If the home you're looking at is fixed up and well-taken-care-of, but the rest of the neighborhood is eh, that could be reason to walk away. "Before making an offer on that picture-perfect home, take a look at the surrounding houses. If they're all in disrepair - or just obviously less nice than the one you're considering - you might be buying the most expensive house in the neighborhood," said Realtor.com. Their three reasons include: 1) "When it comes time to sell, unloading the priciest home on the block will be a challenge. 2 ) A home is an investment - and the best investments have the most room for improvement. Ideally, you'll be adding to the home during your ownership, building equity in hopes of a payoff when you (eventually) sell. 3) You can't bet on the neighborhood to improve."

What are they not telling you?

Yes, there are seller disclosures, but they're only going to tell you so much. Have you checked out the neighborhood in terms of crime statistics, sexual offenders nearby, and any big plans for the neighborhood or surrounding area that could affect your home value or lifestyle? Just like you might Google someone you meet on Tinder (Come on, we all do it!), do the same with any home you are considering.

Are they dating someone else?

It's human nature to want someone who is wanted by someone else. Seeing a lot of interest in a particular home may affect you similarly, and you may find yourself pressing for a home because it's in high demand. Are you just trying to "win," or do you really want the house?

Conversely, a home that's seemingly unpopular because it's been on the market for a while can have the opposite effect on us. Don't let a good one get away just because it hasn't already been snapped up by someone else. In either case, refer to your list of must-haves to remind yourself of those things that are really important to you before making a move.

Does it have good character?

This is obviously important when looking for a relationship partner. But, to many people, it's also an important factor when buying a home. You can get waylaid by a great figure or physique just like you can a huge backyard or a gourmet kitchen and ignore something that was key on your must-have list. As it relates to your home, you can always add crown molding or vintage fixtures. But new construction may never have the feel of an older home, if that's what you're into.

Copyright © 2018 Realty Times. All Rights Reserved.

2018 Outdoor Furniture Guide

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The outdoor living and dining season is finally here. If you're like many of us, you may have looked around your deck and realized your furniture could use an upgrade. (Of course, if you realized the deck itself needs an upgrade, we can help with that, too!)

Here are some tips to help you purchase the ideal furniture for your outdoor space. We've included information on furniture sizing, the pros and cons of different materials, and a checklist to guide the buying process. Happy shopping!

How to determine the proper dining table size

If you're replacing your current dining table and chairs, you probably already know the size you need. If you're starting from scratch, or if you didn't size your original set properly, make your first purchase a pad of graph paper.

Then, follow these steps for a foolproof furniture plan (you can use this same process for other deck furniture you might want):'

  • Draw your deck to scale (1 inch equals 1 foot, example).
  • Mark the locations of stairs and doorways.
  • Cut out "furniture" using the same graph paper and scale. (Tip: Look online for furniture you like; then, use the dimensions of those pieces for this exercise.)
  • Avoid the temptation to overcrowd the deck. Ensure adequate room for guests to push back their chairs and move around freely. Leave some general "walking around" space as well.
  • Don't forget to allow room for your grill.
  • If you often host larger gatherings, choose a table that fits your space properly; then, purchase additional seating that can be easily stacked and stored when not in use.
  • If space allows, consider adding a small bistro set or bar-height table and chairs for more intimate dining or a cozy spot to enjoy your morning coffee.
  • Consider furniture with built-in storage or a deck box that can protect cushions, grill items, or outdoor accessories from the elements.

Which deck furniture material is best for your space?

Here is a quick rundown of the pros and cons of different furniture frame materials.

MaterialBenefitsDrawbacks

Wood

  • Solid and sturdy
  • Doesn't get overly hot or cold
  • Teak is extremely long lasting with proper care
  • Hardwoods more resistant to weather
  • Will fade in the sun
  • May require preservatives to prevent cracking, decay
  • Some species need oils to preserve natural color
  • Some species prone to splintering
  • Wooden tables need protection against moisture rings and heat marks

Plastic

  • Lightweight, easy to move
  • Chairs usually easy to stack
  • Resists moisture, rotting, cracking
  • Salt water not a threat
  • Resists fading
  • May contain recycled content
  • Can blow around easily in strong winds
  • Inexpensive pieces may look cheap or flimsy

Cast Aluminum

  • Resembles wrought iron yet easier to move and maintain
  • Stays cooler than wrought iron
  • Low maintenance (annual soap and water cleaning)
  • Won't corrode, rust, or fade
  • Higher-end sets can be costly
  • Lower-priced sets might not be quite as durable (store inside during the winter)

Rattan and wicker

  • Synthetic versions are fairly weather-resistant
  • Synthetic versions available in wide range of colors
  • Synthetic versions can be washed with soap and water and left to dry
  • High-end synthetics are usually UV-resistant; won't fade or crack
  • Natural fibers are not as hardy as synthetics

Wrought iron

  • Elegant and timeless
  • Newer pieces usually powder-coated to resist rust and chipping
  • Won't blow around in strong winds
  • Difficult to move
  • Can get very hot in the sun
  • Chairs can be uncomfortable without cushions
  • Older pieces can rust and chip
  • Annual refinishing recommended for older sets

Choosing the perfect outdoor dining set

Where should you shop for outdoor furniture? Fortunately, you can find attractive outdoor furniture everywhere from big box home improvement stores to warehouse club stores to high-end furniture retailers. Let your budget be your guide. To further assist you in the buying process, use these tips from ConsumerReports.org:

  • Pay close attention to the height of both the table and the chairs. If the table feels too high or too low relative to the seating, you and your guests will be reluctant to linger.
  • Examine the construction of the table. Is it sturdy, or does it move easily when you push on it? Are screws or other fasteners capped and hidden? If not, are they made from rust-proof stainless steel?
  • Is the finish smooth and uniform all over? Any sharp edges visible?
  • Do the chairs fit comfortably close to the table or do the armrests get in the way?
  • What about the seats? Can you easily slide all the way back or is the angle uncomfortable? Unless you're a riveting storyteller, chances are your guests would rather not eat their meals perched on the edge of their seats.
  • Don't forget about seat cushions. Do the cushions fit the seats appropriately and have plenty of comfy padding? Can the material withstand the elements, or will you need to be extra-diligent about putting them away after every use?

If you'll need to purchase cushions, are the seats a standard size and shape? (Meaning, will you be able to purchase cushions easily, or will they need to be custom made?) Either way, purchasing outdoor cushions can be a pricey proposition. Factor in the added expense.'

Need an umbrella to go with that table?

Warm sunny days are glorious … unless you're sitting in direct sun trying to enjoy a meal or beverage. The easy solution, of course, is an umbrella.

  • If your new table is equipped for an umbrella, you'll need to choose a stand (or base) as well as the umbrella itself. Choose a heavy stand that will hold the umbrella snugly. Then, select an umbrella that will coordinate with your dining set. Wooden tables, for example, look best with a wooden umbrella frame. Most other furniture frames look best with metal umbrellas.
  • Wooden umbrellas usually operate via a pulley system and cannot be tilted to block the sun.
  • Most metal umbrellas open and tilt via a push button or crank lift.
  • For durability and longevity's sake, look for umbrella fabrics that can withstand rain and UV rays.
  • To ensure adequate protection from the sun, use the following formula to determine the optimal umbrella size: measure the table and chair space to be covered; then, select an umbrella with a diameter that is at least four or five feet larger than the measured space.
  • If your table does not accommodate an umbrella, consider a free-standing option. Again, be sure to select a model that provides adequate sun protection. And don't overlook the importance of the umbrella stand. Heavy bases are especially important when using a free-standing umbrella.

Know your furniture options … and your decking options

As with most significant purchases, a little time spent doing some research will yield much better results.

Of course, if you are researching decking options, check out the advantages of Fiberon composite decking over wood -- especially when it comes to low maintenance and durability. Composite decking has come a long way; you may be surprised by what you learn.

Copyright © 2018 Realty Times. All Rights Reserved.  For additional article images click here.

 

 

Summer Is Here!

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Now that June is upon us, the hottest real estate season of the year begins in earnest. Whether you’re thinking of buying or selling property this summer, the marketplace is trending upwards as we near 2018’s halfway point.

Did you know that homeownership rates across the country are on the rise? In fact, for the fifth consecutive quarter in a row, more Americans are forgoing rentals to purchase a home of their very own. Even amidst a competitive marketplace—where sellers are earning top returns on their investments—buyers on the whole are benefitting from wage growth, a steady economy, and historically favorable mortgage terms. Altogether, the housing market is holding strong, and buyers and sellers alike are taking advantage of the opportunities therein.

If you’re unsure of your real estate options as we dive into the summer season, don’t fret. Assess your standing with the guidance of an expert agent and you’ll be poised to make moves before summer’s end. Give us a call today to learn more and get the ball rolling by July.