Becoming a Home Maintenance Pro: Tips for New Homeowners

By Dixie Somers Congratulations on your new home! You survived the paperwork. You got all of your belongings moved in and everything unpacked. You even got a lawnmower, some power tools and a massive tool chest. Now what? Many new homeowners don’t even think about home maintenance until something breaks, but that’s not the best way to take care of your new home. Here are three tips to help you protect your investment and keep your property in good shape for years to come: Create and Follow a Home Maintenance Schedule A good place to start is by following a home maintenance schedule. Just as your car needs to have an oil change and get its components checked and maintained regularly, your home and yard will need some regular maintenance, as well. If you bought new appliances, make sure you send in your warranties and keep all your owner’s manuals that came with them. If you bought an older home, the previous owners may have left those documents in a kitchen drawer for you to reference. Some of these appliances will have recommendations for repairs and maintenance. You’ll need to mow your lawn, trim your bushes and perhaps even top your trees from time to time. For pest control, you may need to spray or have ground treatment performed a few times per year, too. Don’t be afraid to do some research and speak with professionals about maintenance specific to your location. Have All of Your Home Systems Checked Regularly It’s important to get your electrical, plumbing and HVAC systems checked annually to keep them in good shape. Some of...

Selling a Home? Check Your Plumbing

If you’re selling your home, you’re to-do list is likely stacked: find a REALTOR®, get an inspection, make needed improvements, up your curb appeal, and the list goes on. Another important facet to keep in mind before listing is to make sure your plumbing is up-to-date. “When selling a home, you’re going to find each buyer’s home inspector will examine some of the same items,” says Max Rose, owner of Four Seasons Plumbing. “It can be a worthwhile investment to make some repairs to strengthen a home’s appeal to potential buyers and give sellers more negotiating power.” Rose recommends sellers evaluate the state of the following items: Water heater – The water heater is one of the more common big-ticket repairs that can arise from a home inspection. If the water heater is on the older side, a buyer may request it be serviced and flushed, if not replaced entirely, as a condition of going through with the home purchase. Water pressure regulator – One point of a home inspection is to check the water pressure. If the pressure comes back high, that can be indicative of a larger (and costlier) problem. Leaking pipes – If the home has a crawl space, it can be relatively easy to check for leaky plumbing. If there are leaky pipes, that could be a red flag for the seller. Depending on the age and material of the pipes, fixes may range from a patch to whole replacement. Type of piping used – Some older homes are plumbed with piping and/or fittings that have been recalled or had class-action lawsuits filed against the manufacturer. If your home...

Put Your Home Equity to Good Use

With home values enjoying a steady rise over the past several years, most Americans have witnessed a return of home equity, and many are leveraging that equity toward other important financial goals. A recent study by LendingTree, which assessed home equity loan requests since the start of 2018, tracked six uses for home equity loans: home improvement; debt consolidation; retirement income; investment property; emergency funds; and other uses. The research revealed some interesting findings about how homeowners are using their equity: Home improvement is the No. 1 reason for taking a home equity loan. According to the study, 43 percent of respondents reported requesting a home equity loan for home improvement purposes. Real estate investors borrow the largest amount. Borrowers who were looking to invest in another property had the highest property values and requested loan amounts. For property investments, borrowers requested an average of $103,625. For non-property investments, which likely include small businesses, borrowers requested $80,241. Just over 1 percent of requests were to fund retirement. This group had the highest average age of 63, 12 years above the next highest average age. A small share accessed their home equity for emergency expenses. This group had the lowest loan amount requested of $35,747 and kept their (loan to value) LTV low at 51 percent. Debt consolidators push the limits on LTV. Borrowers looking to consolidate debt had the highest LTV of 74 percent. If you’re looking to take advantage of your home equity, talk to a local real estate professional to find out the current value of your home. You may find it’s the right time to put your home on the market...

Adding an Outdoor Family Room Can Increase Your Home’s Value

Whether you’re looking to sell your home, or are just interested in making improvements that offer ROI, an outdoor living space is a great investment. The Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI) shares the top four ways family yards and other living landscapes add value to a property and extend the usefulness of the home. Curb appeal. As you know, curb appeal is an important factor in determining overall property value. After all, the first impression on a home is made before buyers even walk through the door! According to the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) 2016 Remodeling Impact: Outdoor Features study, 99 percent of REALTORS® have suggested that sellers improve their curb appeal before putting their home on the market, and 98 percent think curb appeal is important to potential buyers. That’s good advice. Studies show that improving overall curb appeal, which includes a beautiful lawn and landscape, can boost property values by as much as 17 percent (source: Texas Tech University). Win with trees. Mature trees are often an indicator of an established neighborhood, which can be a positive for buyers looking for an older, classic home. But the value of trees goes beyond perception and preference and right into your pocketbook. According to the International Society of Arboriculture, each front yard tree adds 1 percent to a homeowner’s sale price, while large specimen trees can add as much as 10 percent to property values. Green. Potential buyers often ask about the energy efficiency of a home, and it turns out that living landscapes impact the monthly electric bill. According to the Urban Forest Coalition, 100 million mature trees around U.S....

Creating Appeal: 8 Home Staging Tips That Work

By Barbara Pronin First impressions count – and experienced real estate professionals know that a clean, attractively organized home will pique buyer interest and sell more quickly than its neighbors. “Clients tend to focus not on what the house could potentially become, but on how it looks on their first walk-through,” said Kathy Murphy, a top-performing agent with in Royal Oak, Mich. “If the front door is peeling, or the kitchen is a mess, that’s the way they will remember it.” Staging a home to show at its best can make a remarkable difference. That’s why most agents work with their sellers to help create maximum appeal. Effective home staging can be accomplished without excessive effort or expense. The work should begin before the listing photos are taken, so that buyers are intrigued when they view the home online. Listing agents can broaden their staging know-how with these tips from home staging experts: Start at the street – Curb appeal is more than a catchphrase. Advise your sellers to be sure the lawn is mowed, flowerbeds are neat, bikes and trash cans are stashed away. Paint, replace, or clean the front door as needed, and set off a drab entry area with a potted plant or two. Freshen the entryway – The second most important impression begins just inside the front door. Lights should be on, the area neat, and a vase of fresh flowers on a foyer table is a nice touch. Get rid of clutter – Most homes have too much furniture and far too many accessories. Suggest your seller rearrange the furniture to create better traffic flow, and consider...

Hiring a Contractor? Do This First

Nothing is more exciting than embarking on a home renovation project! Hire the wrong contractor, however, and your dream remodel can quickly turn into a nightmare. That’s why it’s essential to do your due diligence when hiring a contractor, such as getting multiple estimates before signing a contract. According to the Better Business Bureau (BBB), when you get multiple bids, you can learn a great deal about the proposed project, such as what type of work is needed, the quality of the building materials, how long the job may take and the total cost. The BBB offers these other tips to help find the best, most ethical contractor to work with and ensure a successful home renovation: – First, check bbb.org – BBB’s business profiles can tell you how long the contractor has been in business, as well as provide contact information, verified customer reviews, complaint details and how the business responded. – Be wary of ‘today-only’ sales pitches – This is a sales tactic designed to get you to sign a contract or put down a deposit, without giving you the opportunity to do your research. Watch out for these and other ‘bargains’ that rush you into a deal. – Get references from recent customers – Speak with other property owners who had work done recently, and ask what they did or did not like about a particular contractor. A reputable contractor will be happy to provide client references. – Get everything in writing – Make sure all verbal promises end up in the written contract as well as a detailed description of the work, the cost of materials and start and...

Selling Your Home? Attack Issues Head-on

You’ve finally made the decision to put your home on the market – now comes the tough part: making sure it’s ready for prospective buyers. According to Buddy Stark, director of operations for HomeTeam Inspection Service, there are several steps home sellers should take before beginning the selling process and having a home inspection. Here’s what he recommends: Clean the house. This may seem like an obvious one, but you must keep your home at a heightened level of clean on an ongoing basis in anticipation of a showing. An ultra-clean home will convey that it’s been well cared for and that the house is less susceptible to any issues caused by neglect. Check all windows. Take a quick inventory of your windows to make sure they’re in good working order. Replace windows that are cracked or broken before the inspection to save time during the selling process. Finish the “honey-do” list. You might not think that certain areas of your home have anything to do with your home’s appeal, but they will come up as safety concerns on a home inspection report. Replace burnt-out lightbulbs, test smoke detectors, replace air filters and unclog drains. These little things are easy to forget in day-to-day life, but taking care of them is a relatively easy task that will help potential buyers focus on the important systems of the home. Check all outlets. A sampling of electrical outlets will be tested as part of the home inspection to make sure they’re in good working order. Take note of which outlets are not functioning in the home and replace them. Or consider hiring an...

5 Ways to Get Ready to Sell Your Home This Spring

Spring has long been one of the best seasons for selling a home. If you’re ready to put your home on the market, follow these steps to make sure you’re in prime showing shape once spring hits. Find a real estate agent. Use this time to interview several agents and make the right selection. Choose an agent with excellent local market expertise, technology savvy, and negotiating skills. The relationship you have with your agent is important, so be sure to select someone you connect with and communicate well with. Make necessary repairs. If your agent advises that certain repairs be done prior to listing your home, use the remaining weeks of winter to get them done, as they will likely affect the price at which you can list your home. Have a painting party. There’s likely more than one room in your home that will need to be painted before it hits the market. Stick to neutral colors and spend the next few weekends accomplishing the task. Pack up. Now is the perfect time to start packing up unnecessary items. Not only will this give you a head start on your eventual move, it will declutter your home for optimal showing purposes. Plan a photo shoot. Once the essential cosmetic changes have been made, talk to your agent about the best time to photograph and film your house. Make sure your surrounding property is camera-ready, too, and if snow is masking some of your yard’s best features, gather photos of your garden in full bloom and your pool or patio under the bright summer sun so that your agent can add them to the...

5 Quick Ways to Jazz up Your Home’s Curb Appeal

By Barbara Pronin Curb appeal, a phrase often used by real estate professionals, describes the pleasing first impression viewers have at their first glimpse of a home. It could mean, ‘neat and clean.’ It could mean, ‘welcoming’ or ‘stately.’ It could be all of these and more. In essence, a home with great curb appeal says ‘a caring homeowner lives here’ – and what homeowner wouldn’t want to be identified as such? The best part, say the home design experts at Better Homes & Gardens.com, is that jazzing up your home’s curb appeal doesn’t have to be expensive or time-consuming. Here are just a few of the ideas they suggest for upping any home’s appeal: Dress up the front door – Give it a burst of color; say a coat of red or marine blue paint to contrast a grey or white exterior. Polish up the door’s hardware, especially around the knob. Create an instant garden – Container gardens can add a warm and welcoming feel when attractively grouped on or around the porch or front steps. Affordable, ready-made containers of plants and flowers available at most home centers can make this an easy, pleasing upgrade. Do a mailbox makeover – Your curbside mailbox should complement your home. Dress it up by painting the box and/or the  post to match your home’s exterior – and surround it at the base with a neat patch of plants or flowers. Install a window box – Take a page from the French or British with a colorful window box or two to set off your home’s front windows. Choose boxes made from iron or copper for...

5 Steps to a Healthier Home

Believe it or not, being healthy at home isn’t just about what’s happening in your fridge. Sure, it’s a good starting point, but there are actually many ways to create a pro-health environment throughout your home. Here are five simple ways to start. Declutter the kitchen. In this case, we’re not talking about knickknacks—we’re talking about food. Go through your cabinets, pantry, fridge and freezer and say goodbye to anything that’s been lingering for way too long. Donate canned goods you’ve been saving ‘just in case,’ get rid of freezer-burned processed meals and old packages of crackers and snacks. Once your shelves are cleared out, start buying and eating mostly fresh items, picking up just what you need every couple of days as opposed to doing a mega shopping every couple of weeks. Honor your eating area. If you’re wolfing down meals standing up at the kitchen counter or on the sofa in front of the TV, it’s likely that you’ve adopted some poor eating habits. Make sure your dining space is set to sit down and enjoy a mindful eating experience that includes quality time with your loved ones, as well. Not only will this lead to eating better prepared, healthier meals, it will force you to eat more slowly, which will help you avoid overeating. Check the air quality in your most-frequented space. Whether it’s the living room or family room, make sure the air is healthy in the room in which you spend the most time. Dust and vacuum more often than usual (especially if you have pets or use a fireplace frequently), open the windows to circulate air,...

Should I Dip Into Equity and Renovate?

Many homeowners will be taking advantage of winter savings on supplies and the off-season availability of contractors to use a home equity line of credit (HELOC) to finance home renovations. According to recent research from TD Bank, more than three quarters (80 percent) of responding homeowners with existing HELOCs who said they were planning home renovations for winter also said they would consider dipping into their home equity for funding. With an average HELOC size of more than $84,000, half (51 percent) of those surveyed stated they plan to spend at least $50,000 on renovations as winter approaches. Using a HELOC to make renovations during the winter is smart and cost effective, says Mike Kinane, head of Consumer Lending for TD Bank, as homeowners can often take advantage of reduced materials prices during annual sales and choose from a larger pool of contractors who usually have more accessibility during the off-season. The most popular uses for HELOC funds, according to survey respondents were: home renovations (32 percent); emergency funds (14 percent); and education expenses (12 percent). Realtor.com offers these six tips when considering a HELOC: Shop around. Comparison shop to get the best rate. Ask about the margin. If you’re offered a rate that’s lower than the competition, it’s probably just an introductory rate, so ask about the lender’s margin. For example, if the introductory rate is 3.5 percent and your lender’s margin is 2 percent, your final interest rate will be 5.5 percent. Consider a conversion clause. Some HELOCs allow you to convert a variable interest rate to a fixed rate, usually during the draw period (5-10 years). Watch out for...

Best Financial Investments for Your Home

By Craig Middleton On popular home improvement shows, people repair or add new features to their homes to add substantial market value in the process. Whether you are looking to increase the value of your home or just make improvements for your own enjoyment, some of the best financial investments you can make for your home include: Major Problem Fixes The first high-return investment you should make in your home is to correct any major problems. If your home has serious issues, such as a broken air conditioner or a pipe leak, fixing those issues should be priority No. 1. Repairing or replacing the roof and siding can be a great investment, as potential buyers will generally factor in both the time and cost of having to fix it themselves. Problems like these are always easier to fix when they’re small than later, after having put them off. Exterior Improvements Replacing garage doors is one of the best improvements for the exterior. If your garage door looks new, your house will look new as well. Painting the outside of your home is another good investment in the exterior. If you don’t want to take the time and money to fully repaint your home, pressure-washing can be a quick way to make the outside of your home look much more presentable. Replacing windows is another way to make the outside of your home look better, as well as improve the home’s energy efficiency. Entryway Improvements Like the garage door, the front door is important in making a good first impression on a potential buyer. Replacing a wooden front door with a steel...

Home Remodeling Brings Enjoyment and Equity

A new report shows that homeowners who remodel gain not only equity and more resale value in their home, they are also more likely to find satisfaction and enjoyment from their home. The 2017 Remodeling Impact Report from the National Association of REALTORS®, with insights from the National Association of the Remodeling Industry, surveyed REALTORS®, consumers who have completed remodeling projects, and members of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry. Some takeaways: – After completing a remodeling project, 75 percent of owners have a greater desire to be in their home –  65 percent say they have increased enjoyment in their home –  77 percent feel a major sense of accomplishment when thinking of their completed project – 56 percent felt happy when they see their completed projects –  39 percent say they feel satisfied So what are the top joy-generating projects? According to the report, they look like this: Interior projects. For owners looking to sell their home, REALTORS® named complete kitchen renovations, kitchen upgrades, bathroom renovations and new wood flooring as the interior projects that most appeal to potential buyers. When asked which interior projects yield the largest financial return upon resale, REALTORS® named hardwood floor refinishing (recovers 100 percent of project costs upon resale), new wood flooring (91 percent of costs recovered) and insulation upgrades (76 percent of costs recovered). Bathroom renovations and adding a new bathroom yielded the smallest financial return upon resale, recouping approximately 50 percent of project costs. Exterior projects. When it comes to exterior projects, REALTORS® said new roofing will recover 109 percent of costs upon resale, more than any other...

5 Quick Curb Appeal Projects

Need to add some curb appeal to your home to get it ready for market? Or are you just in the mood for a quick refresh? Here are five easy DIY projects to help dress up your home using lightweight, decorative millwork accessories or architectural elements. The composition and durability of the products make them a long-lasting, low-maintenance way to dress up your home for years to come. Entry Door – Make a front entry door ‘pop’ by surrounding it on both sides with a set of decorative pilasters and topping it off with a pediment. Select from simple peaked pediments or more ornate acorn or rams-head pediments. Brackets – Install lightweight decorative brackets to a porch or under an eave for a fast way to personalize a home. Windows – Add a simple header directly over the exterior of a window frame to add more visual appeal to the window. Select from straight or arched headers for the style that best matches your home. Column Wraps – If your home has worn or boring porch posts, hide them with PVC column wraps. These decorative pieces fit right over a post for an instant makeover. Shutters – If your shutters are suffering from peeling paint or worn finishes, consider replacing them with UV-resistant polyurethane shutters. Made to resist moisture and insects, such shutters can be quickly installed and will maintain their curb appeal for years to come. If you’d like more homeowner information, please contact us. Source: Nu-Wood Reprinted with permission from RISMedia. ©2017. All rights...

Simple Tips for First-Time Homebuyers

Buying a home is always exciting, if a bit overwhelming. But when you’re a first time buyer, the process can seem even more complicated. “The biggest hurdle for the housing market in the middle of 2017 is low inventory,” Senior CFP Board Ambassador Jill Schlesinger, CFP®. “Housing starts, housing permits, new home construction and pending home sales have all slowed this summer. This all adds up to fewer options for those looking to buy a house, especially for the first time.” Follow these simple buying tips, from Schlesinger and the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc. Run the numbers. Understand how much home you can afford to buy and whether home ownership might preclude you from addressing other important financial issues in your life, like paying off debt. A financial planner can help you understand how your housing choices can support your overall financial plan. Start the mortgage process/correct credit report mistakes. If you have not done so in a while, go to AnnualCreditReport.com and request your free copy. It’s important to correct any errors on the report before you start the mortgage process. Conduct research. Even if you are working with a realtor, check out new listings and spread the word throughout your network. You never know who might be about to list a home. Keep your emotions in check. Even with limited supply, there are a lot of houses out there. Be careful not to blow through your budget or put yourself in a position where you own two homes. Source: Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc. Reprinted with permission from RISMedia. ©2017. All rights...