Winterize Your Home

Winterizing your home is one of the best ways to get comfortable and save energy costs. It’s not too late to get a few projects done before the holidays, so here’s a short weekend list of to-dos to help you.

Check the furnace. Typically, a heating system has a heat/cooling source, distribution system, and thermostat, so there is plenty of room for error. Make sure that your system is properly inspected and cleaned and has fresh filters according to maintenance directions. Call a master certified plumber to look for potential dangers such as carbon monoxide leaks.   

Check detectors. Since you’ll be indoors more, it makes sense to also check smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. According to EPA.gov, smoke detectors with a UL rating have a useful life of 10 years so don’t just push the button to see if it’s working. Stick a real flame source, such as a candle or a match, to see if the detector can actually pick up on the smoke being emitted.

Check insulation. Energy leaks put a hole in your wallet, so do your best to identify and seal all leaks in your ceiling/attic and cracks in or around your windows and doors. A quick way to check if you have enough insulation is to go into your attic and look at your rafters-if you can see ceiling joists you can add some more insulation. Though this will be an expensive process, your heating costs will drop right away.


A Better Alternative to Bagging Raked Leaves

With warmer weather across the country, it’s taking longer for trees to drop their leaves, so you may find yourself doing a lot of raking in late October and early November. But after the work is finished, you have to bag the leaves and let them sit on your curb for collection.

Or, you can put them to good use and save using plastic bags, too.  

Popular Mechanics suggests that mowing your leaf-covered lawn is a great way to create organic mulch. It mixes grass clippings with shredded leaves and reduces the leaves to one-tenth their volume. This nutrient-rich mixture, according to Gardeningknowhow.com, helps soil retain moisture, improves fertility and reduces erosion. It also helps protect your lawn from winter damage.

Mow your leaves often to prevent rotting that harms your grass. You can use a regular lawnmower, but you may have to go over the leaves several times to turn them into mulch. You can also use a mulching lawnmower, with a blade designed to shred and return clippings to the lawn.

You can also shred leaves with a leaf mulcher. These tools are lightweight, portable and can make mulch from leaves, pine needles and other small organic materials, wet or dry. Leaf mulchers can be placed on top of large trashcan that makes clean up easier and faster and allows you to take the mulched leaves and distribute them as you like it. Mix in some cedar chips and sow the mulch around trees to protect the roots.


Three Risky Ways to Save Money

The costs of buying a home are high, but they can become insurmountable if you cut out necessary services to save money. Here are some things to think about before you choose your next home.  

Homeowner’s Insurance – Lenders require just enough homeowner’s or hazard insurance to cover the mortgage in case of disaster. While it’s tempting to go for the minimum, consider getting a policy that provides full replacement value.  According to Nationwide, you can lower your monthly payment by raising your deductible. Also, ask for discounts that will lower your premium, such as installing smoke detectors or wind-resistant shutters. Some insurers will lower costs if you insure your home and automobile with them.  

Inspections – Even with fairly new homes, there could be problems, so don’t waive your right to inspecting the property with a licensed inspector to save a few hundred dollars. The purpose of an inspection is two-fold, to determine what is in or is not in working order and to determine the potential obsolescence of systems and appliances, due to age, poor maintenance or items not built to current codes.

For sale by owner – Your Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices network professional is licensed for your protection. They know how to protect your interests, including which fees are customary to pay, contingencies that allow you to walk away if the seller doesn’t perform, or an inspection doesn’t pan out. Otherwise, you could overpay for the seller’s property, pay the seller’s portion of closing costs, or make other costly mistakes.


How to Prevent Water Damage from Leaks

Sooner or later, you’re bound to experience a water leak somewhere in your home. The usual culprits are shower pans, hot water heaters, washing machines and clogged plumbing – any of which can cause water damage.

Quickanddirtytips.com recommends finding the source of the leak and shutting off the water to it. Every drain and water-using appliance has a shut-off valve, so you need to know where and how to access it. In the worst case, you’ll have to go outside to your main water supply and shut off the water to the whole house.

Minimize water damage by removing as much water as possible by mopping and blotting the saturated area. If you have a friend who owns a shop-vac or you’re able to rent one, use it to drink up as much water as possible.

Remove at-risk valuables and furniture with fabric or wood from the room, if possible. Wipe down cabinets and other furniture that have gotten wet. Place aluminum foil between furniture legs and wet carpet. Gather as many electric fans as possible to direct airflow toward damp spots. Open doors and windows to let in fresh air.

Call your homeowner’s insurance and tell them the problem, what the damage may be, such as soaked carpet or hardwood floors, and what you’ve done to minimize it. They may refer you to a technician who specializes in remediating water damage. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, mold growth can occur within 48 hours of saturation, so act quickly.


Extend The Lifespan Of Home Fixtures And Appliances

Something goes wrong with the air conditioner or the toilet clogs when you least expect it. If you’re not a Mr. or Ms. Fixit, you’ll have to go through the expense of calling a plumber, electrician or appliance expert to solve the problem. Unless a part has worn out, pilot error (that’s you or someone in the household) caused the malfunction.

Appliances and fixtures can be temperamental because they’re only designed to work under certain conditions, so take time to learn a little about how each product functions. Even if you don’t think you’re handy, you can do a little preventive maintenance and make a quick fix to handle minor problems.

To extend the life of your appliances and systems, here are 10 helpful suggestions:

  1. Keep all booklets, warranties and operating instructions for every system and appliance in one convenient place.
  2. Follow suggested scheduled maintenance, such as bi-annual checkups for air conditioning systems.
  3. Keep supplies on hand – a plunger, drain cleaner, filters, etc.
  4. Change heating and air filters once a month.
  5. Clothes need room to tumble to get clean, so don’t overload washers.
  6. Empty dryer filters with every load.
  7. Don’t put potato peelings, fibrous vegetables such as celery, cooking oil or grease down any drain or disposal.
  8. Run water before during and after using the disposal.
  9. Put a mesh trap in your shower drain to catch hair and soap buildup.
  10. Paper towels, Kleenex, baby wipes and cat litter can quickly clog a toilet, even if the box says the contents are safe to flush.

Make Your Small Home Inviting

Downsizing or buying a small first home may make you feel squeezed, but follow these tips, and you’ll soon appreciate what a treasure your petite new home is:

Go for quality. A smaller home in a sought-after neighborhood that’s closer to the jobs, schools, and amenities you need is better than a long commute for a more spacious home. Instead, choose fine furniture and accessories that make a statement about who you are.

Minimize clutter. Nothing makes a space feel cramped like overcrowding. If you’re sidestepping furniture, sports equipment or clothes on the floor, it’s time to declutter.

Be clever. Decorating a small space can be a lot of fun if you think in terms of furniture doing double duty. Ottomans can triple up as a footrest, coffee table or extra seating. Nesting tables can provide extra tabletop space when needed and store compactly.

Let the light in. Bright spaces look larger than dark spaces. Light cheerful colors on walls and in your décor can expand any room. Reduce the need for bulky lamps and tables by installing sconces and recessed lighting.

The trick is having what you want but recognizing that there’s no need for extras or excess.


What Makes A House Seem Spooky?

Have you ever toured a home and just wanted to run right back outside? Maybe something hit you negatively, but it could be easily fixed. If the location and price are good, updates could be the answer. Ask yourself: what would you do to make a creepy home warm and inviting?

Improve lighting –Dark rooms can be spooky. Low light, especially from too few windows, can also be depressing. Can windows be enlarged? Can the electrical be updated to allow for the installation of sconces and ceiling lights? 

Re-design living areas – Low ceilings, awkward layouts, or rooms too small for their purpose can make a home feel claustrophobic. Can the ceilings be raised into the attic? Can a wall or two be removed? Can space be “borrowed” from another room for better flow?  

Simple maintenance – Keeping a home in good condition shows that it’s loved, while neglect makes homebuyers feel uncomfortable. Can obvious flaws be fixed and at what cost? 

Freshen – If the problem is odor, it could be pets, smoking, old furnishings, or musty spaces. Dampness can suggest a leak in bathrooms or kitchens.  Can the smell be identified and eliminated through cleaning or remodeling?

Modern updates – Homes stuck in the past need updating which can eliminate a lot of problems? Is there enough room in the budget to remodel to get the home to meet your criteria?

You could turn the spookiest house in the neighborhood into the home of your dreams.


What Post-Covid Buyers Seek in Their Next Home

Do homebuyers want the same things in their next home as they did before the COVID pandemic? In some ways, yes, and in others, no. According to the latest summer Realtor.com survey, post-COVID homebuyers are willing to spend more money on a home, have saved more money toward a down payment as they sheltered in place, and plan to buy a home sooner than they did in the spring of 2020.

A greater majority of homebuyers surveyed also said they want a three-bedroom home, with two bathrooms, an updated kitchen, and a garage. In a comparison of surveys conducted in both the spring and summer, a notable share of homebuyers wanting move-in ready homes has gone up 10 percent and six percent more buyers are willing to take on longer commutes to get the home they want. In addition, low mortgage interest rates, combined with additional personal savings, are making conditions attractive for them to buy a larger home in a nicer neighborhood.

Six percent fewer homebuyers plan to put more earnest money down, plan to offer above listing price, or offer all cash. Three percent plan to put down more than a 20 percent down-payment.    

The trend in these numbers appears to point toward less willingness on the part of homebuyers to compromise on what they want. They may spend more for a home, but plan to preserve as much cash as possible. Homebuyers may be planning to stay in their next homes for a longer period. 


How Fast Does Equity Build During Homeownership?

Building equity in your home is like a savings account – the more you put toward it, the better. Your home’s equity grows with each mortgage payment you make and with time.

According to BankofAmerica.com, you can calculate your equity based on current appraised value less any mortgages tied to your home. If your home is appraised at $400,000 and you owe $120,000, then your equity is $280,000. But that doesn’t mean you have savings of $280K; it just means that you have a general idea of how much your home will yield should you sell it at that moment, less closing costs, of course.

Lenders consider equity differently. You can begin building equity the moment you purchase your home with your down-payment. ($400K – 20% = $320K) Your loan amount would be $320K and the equity in your home would be $80,000. You can increase your equity by paying your mortgage regularly and paying a little extra every month, which speeds up the amortization of your loan.

To approve a home improvement loan or to determine whether to eliminate private mortgage insurance, lenders take the appraised amount and divide it by your loan balance to get a percentage of how much equity you have.  Divide your current loan balance by your home’s appraised value, then multiply by 100. ($120K ÷ $400K = 35%) That means you own 65% of your home. 

These numbers are theoretical until you sell your home. Meanwhile, watch your savings grow on your monthly mortgage statement!


Making Gutters Usefully Beautiful

One pleasure in buying an older home is the beauty of mature trees on your property and their dazzling display of fall colors when the weather turns cool. But, what happens to the leaves when they fall?

What you don’t want is leaves clogging your gutters, preventing them doing their most important job – to route roof water away from vulnerable areas of the home’s exterior and garden. If your new home doesn’t have gutters or needs new ones, consider investing in them as an important and elegant part of your home’s curb appeal.  

Today’s gutters are far from the boring half-pipe gullies of the past. You can choose gutters in an array of sizes, materials and designs that add style and value to your home.  A general rule is the more durable and valuable the material, the higher the cost, but the longer it will last, according to Bankrate.com.

Vinyl is the most economical, but least durable. Aluminum is more durable but can crack like vinyl, but not as quickly. Some lower cost options may be available in faux-metal finishes. If your home is surrounded by trees, or your area experiences strong winds, choose steel, zinc or copper which can carry much more weight and last a lifetime.

A popular choice for gutters is the K-style which has a staircase design that resembles crown molding, so your home appears finished in finer detail from the street. Choose gutters with leaf and debris guards to minimize home maintenance chores.