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Sharing our Lessons and Successes

We, as product managers at realtor.com, are constantly looking to understand our users’ needs more deeply, and to develop the best products possible to help make buying and selling homes easier and more enjoyable for everyone. We regularly collaborate with colleagues throughout the company, including researchers, designers, engineers, and many others, to learn from and with each other. To that end, our Demofest is an important company event for employees across groups to gather, share lessons, and celebrate successes. Led by our Chief Product Officer Chung Meng Cheong at the end of every business quarter, Demofest participants evaluate 15 product features that have been shipped to our users in the last 90 days to learn from past projects and glean insights for future development. Each product manager or engineer who worked on the respective product feature presents a five-minute TED-talk style demo and at the end of the event, awards are given out based on user impact, creativity, learning, and storytelling. One of the product areas that I’m most passionate about is affordability — to help home shoppers transition their focus from the home they want to buy to identifying the home they can own. So when my colleagues present insights that can better help our users determine how much home they can afford, that’s really useful for my work.  Some of the features built off of these insights include the realtor.com Home Affordability Calculator and Price Perfect, among others. For instance, when we created Price Perfect, we knew that one of the biggest pain points for most home buyers is finding the right home that fits their individual criteria — three bedrooms, two bathrooms, in a specific neighborhood, for example — and within a specific budget. After entering these criteria, buyers are able to view how much adding or subtracting specific features would impact the price of their home and adjust their search accordingly. Demofest is a great time to celebrate all the positive things that we have accomplished that might get lost in the day-to-day rumble. It’s great seeing the things the different teams have shipped across the company, along with the positive results they’ve brought to consumers as we inch toward delivering business goals. In addition to celebrating our successes, it’s also a good time to learn what didn’t work so we can improve our online experience moving forward.  Beyond nurturing our technical skills, Demofest provides a professional development avenue. Giving demos definitely helps us become better storytellers and public speakers. When you know you only have five minutes to get your message across, you learn to hone in on crucial content and share the most important points of the storyline.  Sharing insights with each other is a critical element of being a successful product manager and ensuring that what you’re shipping to users is, in fact, meeting their needs. Demofest is a unique part of our product team’s culture here at realtor.com and something that helps make us more impactful in helping today’s home shoppers find the right home for them. 
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Brandon Farber

Brandon Farber


Home hacks you wish you knew sooner!

Owning or renting a home may come with its own set of problems but it doesn’t always need to be so difficult. There are plenty of quick and easy fixes that offer a new approach to tidying up and maintaining your home. Did you know essential oils can give your bathroom 24-hour freshness? Or that a certain household tool is perfect for picking up pet hair? From simple chores around the house to storage shortcuts that open up more space you didn’t know you had, these home hacks will hopefully make your life that much easier! Just wait until you see why you should glue a magnet to your hammer…   Use Pool Noodles As Bumpers In Your Garage Not all garages are created equally and some people unfortunately have to fit their cars into such narrow spaces. For those who have a small garage, try slicing a pool noodle in half and attaching the pieces to either side of the garage walls.   @madinahinc/Twitter Next time you get out of your car, the doors will nudge softly against the noodles instead of hitting the wall. No more scuff marks on the wall and no more dings on your car door!   Check To See If Your Ceiling Fan Has This If you know anything about science, then you know that hot air rises because it is less dense than cool air. This isn’t exactly helpful during those chilly winter months, but there is likely a switch on your ceiling fan that will help that!   @KUAdirect/Twitter Most ceiling fans are equipped with a small switch that changes the direction of the fan blades. In the winter, use this switch to get the blades moving in a clockwise direction so that the warm air will be pushed from the ceiling to the floor.   Use A Magnet To Keep Your Hammer And Nails Together Many of us don’t use a hammer and nails too often. You likely have both in your house, but when you finally need to use them, you can’t find one or the other. This is not only annoying but it is also dangerous to have unused nails lying around.   @houseflippersim/Twitter To avoid this mess and keep everything in one place, you can attach a small magnet to the bottom of your hammer. This will keep your nails attached to it when you need it most!   Did You Know A Squeegee Could Do This? One of the biggest caveats to having a cat or a dog is the amount of fur that can accumulate on your floors, especially if you have carpet throughout your home. Regular vacuuming usually does the trick but sometimes vacuums aren’t strong enough to pick up everything!       hellybellybutt/Instagram Next time, try using a squeegee to loosen all the hair off of the carpet. The hardest clumps will come out before you run over your carpet with the vacuum again.

Brandon Farber

Brandon Farber


So you want to buy a home? Don’t go it alone.

If you’re reading this, chances are you may be thinking about buying a home. Sure, it’s fun dreaming about where you might live, looking at photos of kitchens and baths, and exploring what kind of house you might get at a certain price point. But when you’re ready to take your online search into the real world, finding an agent that’s right for you can make all the difference. If you’ve never bought a home before – or maybe even if you have – you may not realize that you can work with a real estate agent who has a fiduciary responsibility to represent your interests as a buyer. A buyer’s agent can work with you to understand what you need and want in a home and help you find and secure a home that fits your budget and lifestyle.  He or she can even help save you from yourself – for example, when my husband and I were looking for our first home together, we fell in love with an adorable house that looked just perfect for us. Until our agent pointed out that the kitchen had no dishwasher and was so small that there was no room to add a dishwasher. Not to mention the oil tank in the basement – that’s for another blog post. But how do you find an agent that’s right for you? That’s where realtor.com® can help. While you’re browsing any one of the 1.4 million listings of homes for sale on realtor.com, you can also use realtor.com tools and resources to research and reach out to professionals with the expertise you need to succeed. Your first stop might be “Find a Realtor®,” where you can search an online database of 1 million+ Realtors® nationwide. Another way to learn about agents is while you’re searching for homes on realtor.com. On nearly every listing display, you will see a “Contact Agent” hyperlink: Clicking this link and completing the pop-up form will help put you in touch with an agent who could represent your interests as a buyer, if you ultimately decide to enter into a buyer agency agreement with that agent.  In limited markets, realtor.com is introducing ways to connect home shoppers with the local agent that’s right for them via the site’s concierge platform, which identifies agents that have proven success with clients in specific markets and price points. Once connected, buyers will be able to contact that agent by phone, text or email directly from a property listing on any realtor.com search result to ask questions about that property, schedule a house tour, arrange a meeting, or request additional support. You might also notice profiles of agents and local listings from sellers they represent in your search results: These agents are active in the local market in which you are searching and have expressed an interest in working with buyers who are considering a purchase in that market. As you talk to potential buyer’s agents, think about what you need in a professional partner. Some questions to ask: How long have you been a real estate professional? What neighborhoods do you specialize in? What experience do you have working with buyers like me?  How do you like to communicate? (Email, text, phone – what works best for you?) How often do you check in with your clients?  Will you represent my interests as a buyer exclusively? In the end, the time and consideration you invest in finding an agent who’s right for you will pay dividends in the long run; his or her professional guidance and support can help you turn home search into homeownership.
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Brandon Farber

Brandon Farber


Are We Talking Ourselves Into a Recession?

A study by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) states traditional housing zoning has been seen as a barrier to affordability, and that using policy to promote diversity in housing stick could accommodate a diverse population with varying incomes and needs.  “A fresh round of research continues to point to strict zoning ordinances as impeding supply and affordability in the United States,” the NAHB study states. “Innovative policy shifts that increase the flexibility in land use and the tools available to construct varied housing should be good news for builders, developers, renters and home buyers.” The NAHB added that “diversifying housing options with smaller lots and smaller homes provides resources on code requirements and could provide examples of housing projects that break the traditional mold of housing.  The report adds that opposition to policies, such as the elimination of single-family zoning, comes from “not in my backyard sentiments.”  “Property value and neighborhood congruity are common arguments against altering single-family zoned areas,” the report said. “However, appropriate zoning and design considerations can be of use to qualm these concerns.” Oregon’s HB 2001 went into effect on August 8, and mandates that cities with a population of more than or equal to 25,000 to allow middle-housing types on lots previously earmarked for the development of detached single-family housing.  The NAHB states, clarifying the legislation, that the policy does not “outright prohibit” single-family zoning or development in Oregon.  “In fact, the bill should give builders and developers more flexibility and opportunities to build an expanded range of housing types in the state,” the NAHB said.  The report states there are currently 11 case studies in the U.S. on innovative land-use policies, such as Oregon’s HB 2001. Those studies include:  Meridian Court: Two single-family lots in Pasadena, California, were combined to create a house-scale condominium building comprising 10 townhouse units and improve site density to 26 units per acre. Mews Townhouse Units: The flexibility of this type of housing proved useful by turning an awkward lot configuration into a successful, small scale project in South Jordan, Utah, and similarly increased site density while providing two- and three-bedroom townhouses. “Oregon is in fact following a national trend in updating city codes that for years have led to a majority of land use being dedicated to single-family homes,” the report states. 

The Industry Pulse: Updates on LoanLogics, WFG, and More

LoanLogics, a provider in loan-quality technology for mortgage manufacturing and loan acquisition, announced it is the technology provider behind Freddie Mac’s new tool, Freddie Automated Servicing Transfer (FAST), which streamlines the transfer of mortgage servicing rights for Freddie Mac’s Cash-Released XChange. LoanLogics will also provide technology enhancements to expand the capabilities of FAST in support of Freddie Mac’s Co-Issue XChange. Launched in October 2018, FAST is an online tool that enables the physical transfer of mortgage servicing rights by extracting information from imaged documents. Leveraging drag-and-drop functionality, FAST standardizes and simplifies the exchange of documents and data, freeing lenders from managing servicer-specific requirements and processes, while also eliminating multiple, time-consuming manual steps. FAST also gives mortgage servicers a more efficient method to receive documents and data from a variety of lenders, a process that has traditionally been one of the most challenging aspects of servicing transfers. The FAST tool leverages LoanLogics IDEA (Intelligent Data Extraction and Automation) technology, which uses machine learning and other capabilities to transform digital images and scanned documents into verified and validated information for loan boarding. IDEA can be configured to support any servicer’s defined naming conventions, stacking orders and required document sets. It includes data extraction for required information found only in documents and leverages machine learning for the accurate versioning and indexing of all documents. __________________________________________________________________________ WFG National Title Insurance Company (WFG), a Portland-based provider of title insurance and real estate settlement services, announced that Gregg W. Christensen has been appointed Senior Business Development Officer for the company’s New York City-based national commercial services division. Christensen comes to WFG with more than 25 years of commercial real estate and title insurance expertise. Prior to joining WFG, he worked with the national commercial services team of another large national title insurer. Before that, he served as publisher and senior vice president of sales for ALM Real Estate Media Group, where he was one of the company’s top producers. “We’re thrilled to have Gregg on board to help us continue our national expansion here in the Northeast,” said Len Franco, WFG vice president and director of commercial services for the region. “His tremendous success in building relationships and his intense focus on the client relationship throughout all phases of the transaction are a huge benefit to both WFG and our clients. It’s an exciting time of growth for WFG, and we see this as a major step toward our goals.” __________________________________________________________________________   Jacksonville, Florida-headquartered technology services provider, Black Knight Inc. has announced that Gateway First Bank, one of the 10 largest banks by assets in Oklahoma now uses Black Knight’s Ernst Fee Service. Black Knight said that this enterprise solution provides lenders and settlement agents with accurate recording fees and taxes to assist a lender with its TRID compliance efforts. Gateway First Bank will use the fee and monitoring service to help mitigate risk associated with fee cures and enhance the consumer experience. “We needed a trusted provider that could automate our fee and closing cost data to help us more accurately disclose fees to customers,” said Whitney Barth, VP, Product Development Management for Gateway First Bank. “Fees frequently change during the loan process, and Black Knight’s Ernst Fee Service lets us provide our customers with accurate fees based on the closing date and automatically update those fees within our loan origination system.” Credit: DSnews

Fannie and Freddie Prep Servicers for Hurricane Dorian

Hurricane Dorian gained strength in the Atlantic Ocean Wednesday and could be a Category 4 storm when it makes landfall on Monday. The storm could have maximum wind speeds of 130 mph. In response, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac reminded homeowners and servicers of their respective assistance options. Freddie Mac reminded mortgage servicers of its disaster relief policies for borrowers as Hurricane Dorian approaches Florida. Freddie Mac's disaster relief options are available to borrowers whose homes or places of employment are located in presidentially-declared Major Disaster Areas where federal individual-assistance programs are made available to affected individuals and households. In areas where the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has not yet made individual assistance available, mortgage servicers may immediately leverage Freddie Mac’s short-term forbearance programs to provide mortgage relief to their borrowers that have been affected by hurricane damage. “As Hurricane Dorian approaches, we stand ready to ensure mortgage relief is made available to affected borrowers in eligible disaster areas,” said Yvette Gilmore, Freddie Mac’s VP of Single-Family Servicer Performance Management. “Once safely out of harm’s way, we strongly encourage homeowners whose homes or places of employment are impacted by the hurricane damage to call their mortgage servicer—the company borrowers send their monthly mortgage payments to— so they can learn about available relief options.” Additionally, Fannie Mae stated that homeowners may request mortgage assistance by contacting their mortgage servicer following a disaster. According to Fannie, mortgage servicers are authorized to suspend or reduce a homeowner's mortgage payments immediately for up to 90 days, even without establishing contact, if the servicer believes the homeowner was affected “We are monitoring the situation, and we urge those in the path of the storm to focus on their safety first as they prepare for the potential impact of Hurricane Dorian,” said Malloy Evans, SVP and Single-Family Chief Credit Officer, Fannie Mae. “Along with our lending and servicing partners, Fannie Mae is committed to ensuring assistance is available to homeowners and renters in need. We encourage residents whose homes, employment, or income are affected by the storm to seek available assistance as soon as possible.” Credit: DSnews

Improved Affordability and Falling Delinquencies

After 16 straight months of declines, falling interest rates helped to improve the national affordability landscape and stem the slowdown as annual home price appreciation rose in July, according to data from Black Knight’s upcoming Mortgage Monitor. Additionally, tappable equity increased for the second quarter in a row in Q2 2019, growing by over $335 billion in Q2 2019 hitting an all-time high of $6.3 trillion. Tappable equity growth had been slowing in recent quarters due to rising interest rates and slowing home price growth, Black Knight notes, but the Q2 growth rate was slightly above Q1’s. Tappable equity is now at the highest volume ever recorded, and 26% above the mid-2006 peak of $5 trillion. According to the First Look at July 2019 mortgage data from Black Knight. Prepayment activity jumped 26% from June to its highest level in nearly three years and 58% above this time last year as falling interest rates continue to fuel refinance incentive. According to the First Look, the national delinquency rate dropped by 7%, offsetting the bulk of June’s 11% spike. At 3.46% of the active mortgage universe, delinquencies are just above the record low reached back in May. It’s also the lowest for any July on record going back to 2000. Both serious delinquencies and active foreclosure inventory fell as well. Black Knight states that serious delinquencies continued to improve, as these loans, 90 or more days past due but not in active foreclosure, dropped by 11,000 in June. Active foreclosures fell by 1,000. Despite July’s decline, mortgage debt and delinquencies make up a large portion of household debt. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, severely derogatory balances are now half of all delinquencies. “Although the housing crisis produced a huge increase in severely derogatory mortgages, that effect has dissipated as the foreclosure pipeline has cleared out in even the slowest states,” the Fed states. “Today, auto and especially student loan balances are the interesting components: in the second quarter of this year, the outstanding severely derogatory balance is comprised of 35 percent defaulted student loans, which have grown stunningly since 2012.” Credit: DSnews

Could Eliminating Single-Family Housing be Good?

A study by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) states traditional housing zoning has been seen as a barrier to affordability, and that using policy to promote diversity in housing stick could accommodate a diverse population with varying incomes and needs.  “A fresh round of research continues to point to strict zoning ordinances as impeding supply and affordability in the United States,” the NAHB study states. “Innovative policy shifts that increase the flexibility in land use and the tools available to construct varied housing should be good news for builders, developers, renters and home buyers.” The NAHB added that “diversifying housing options with smaller lots and smaller homes provides resources on code requirements and could provide examples of housing projects that break the traditional mold of housing.  The report adds that opposition to policies, such as the elimination of single-family zoning, comes from “not in my backyard sentiments.”  “Property value and neighborhood congruity are common arguments against altering single-family zoned areas,” the report said. “However, appropriate zoning and design considerations can be of use to qualm these concerns.” Oregon’s HB 2001 went into effect on August 8, and mandates that cities with a population of more than or equal to 25,000 to allow middle-housing types on lots previously earmarked for the development of detached single-family housing.  The NAHB states, clarifying the legislation, that the policy does not “outright prohibit” single-family zoning or development in Oregon.  “In fact, the bill should give builders and developers more flexibility and opportunities to build an expanded range of housing types in the state,” the NAHB said.  The report states there are currently 11 case studies in the U.S. on innovative land-use policies, such as Oregon’s HB 2001. Those studies include:  Meridian Court: Two single-family lots in Pasadena, California, were combined to create a house-scale condominium building comprising 10 townhouse units and improve site density to 26 units per acre. Mews Townhouse Units: The flexibility of this type of housing proved useful by turning an awkward lot configuration into a successful, small scale project in South Jordan, Utah, and similarly increased site density while providing two- and three-bedroom townhouses. “Oregon is in fact following a national trend in updating city codes that for years have led to a majority of land use being dedicated to single-family homes,” the report states.  Credit to: DSnews

Realtor.com® believes in “Homes, for the Real of Us”

We know that buying a home is not what it looks like on TV. For homebuyers, it’s an equally nerve-wracking and rewarding journey, and for those looking for their next home there’s value in portraying the process in an authentic fashion. That’s why our brand campaign, “Homes, for the real of us,” captures that very sentiment. We sat down with realtor.com Chief Creative Officer Andrew Strickman to understand more about the campaign, which underscores our commitment to being the trusted partner home buyers can turn to throughout their home-buying journey.  What is the “Homes, for the real of us” campaign about?  With this year’s campaign, we chose to go back to the beginning and focus on the “real” in realtor.com’s DNA. There’s so much artifice in real estate advertising and searching for homes has been made to appear as an over-simplified process — like if buying a home is just a few clicks, or a 30-second TV commercial, away. Consumers want more; they’re smarter than that. “Homes, for the real of us” touches upon the truths and realities of the home-buying process. Searching for a home is a thrilling process, that can have ups and downs, but ultimately brings joy to our users. And realtor.com is that trusted partner to help navigate all of the highs and lows along the way, and to connect home buyers to real estate professionals.  How has realtor.com’s advertising evolved over the past several years, and why is this evolution important?  Just as the real estate landscape has evolved, so have our advertising efforts. The needs of consumers are changing and it’s important now, more than ever, to make sure consumers understand who we are, what we do, and what we stand for. We’ve always aimed to maintain a sense of humor and realness in our campaigns and in the past we’ve leveraged comedic talent (such as Elizabeth Banks) to help get the message across: that realtor.com is a place to beat the fear of missing out and find the home that’s right for you before someone else gets to it first.  After conducting research and hearing consumers’ pain points around the home-buying process, we dug deeper and discovered that they’re still looking for more. This led us to the most important insight: consumers are tired of seeing companies make the process look easy and they’re tired of seeing advertising with unrelatable, over-the-top homes. Realtor.com understands that and knows people crave more ‘real’ in the world, and our campaign reflects that. Sure, seeing over-the-top homes on social media and TV can be fun to look at (and even our Instagram feed can satisfy those cravings), but the reality is that when it comes to finding a home, people are looking for a real home that’s right for them and their needs — instead of a “dream home,” it’s a home they can dream in; instead of the “perfect” home, it’s the home that’s perfect for their situation, their family, their life. The first wave of our campaign features commercials that tell the full story, it’s our anthem and battle cry for more real in real estate advertising. The second wave of work — focused on specific product features — pokes fun at the reality shows we love to laugh at, but find it hard to relate to. We juxtapose a fake world and “real” world to show the contrast between the two and highlight the point that real always beats the dream. What do you believe makes this campaign unique?  Last year’s campaign used the wants-versus-needs construct of a home buyer’s journey. Each commercial highlighted a specific want or need, such as wanting hardwood floors or a guest bedroom with the need being satisfied by realtor.com, “the home of home search.” This year’s campaign focuses less on specific needs and more on the realities of the process and home-buying journey itself. It challenges conventional thinking about real estate, helps set realistic expectations for buyers and sellers, and, hopefully, leaves consumers with a sense of empowerment, motivation, and excitement. What are you trying to accomplish with this campaign? We want to break the cycle and elevate the conversation around home buying. It’s time to make it personal and break out of the sea of sameness that represents most real estate advertising and marketing. Impactful and relatable commercials allow us to spread the message that realtor.com understands the ups and downs of finding a home. The campaign won’t end at the end of the year, rather “Homes, for the real of us” will continue to expand its reach via unique entertainment and media partnerships across TV and digital media. What do you hope consumers take away from the campaign? Realtor.com has so many tools that can simplify the home-buying process and help you find the home that’s right for you. It’s not as easy as many of our competitors have made it appear. Research shows both home buyers and agents need something more — trust, honesty, and authenticity about the process. Home buying is not a click away. It’s a process: a fun, quirky, thrilling, and exciting process, and realtor.com is the place to get started.
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Pros and Cons of Filling in Your Pool

An in-ground pool can be a great way to relax around the house, enjoying the water on a hot summer day. There are a few potential issues with in-ground pools that can get to you after a while, however. Not only do you have to spend time and money getting the pool back in swimming shape each spring, but the various other maintenance costs can really add up over time. And that’s not even getting into the legal issues, child safety concerns and home insurance rates that go along with pool ownership. In time, you might decide that it’s just not worth keeping the pool around. The good news is that there are specialists who are experienced in pool removal that can get the job done for you. Before you rush into getting your pool filled in, though, there are a few things that you should consider. Insurance Premiums One big benefit of filling in your pool is that your home insurance premiums can go down. Swimming pools are considered a potential hazard by insurance companies, so removing the pool makes your home safer as far as your insurance provider is concerned. The amount that you’ll save depends on your insurer and how much they charged for pool risk, but in some cases, it could result in a substantial savings. Removal Costs Of course, a big con of having a pool removed is that you’ll have to pay someone to remove it. The cost of pool removal depends both on the contractor you hire to fill in the pool and the pool’s size, as well as any additional structures surrounding the pool that may be removed in the process. Depending on where you live, there may be additional costs for permits and inspections as well, as will be determined by city zoning ordinances. Pool Safety Issues If you’ve been concerned about accidents around your pool, another benefit of removing the pool is that pool-related accidents are no longer possible. With the pool filled in, pool-related falls, drowning risk and other possible safety issues are completely removed. Just make sure that small children and pets are kept away from the area until the removal is finished and it’s deemed safe by the removal contractor. Land Use Restrictions One potential con to pool removal is that some cities restrict what can be done with areas that once housed a pool. In some cases it may depend on exactly how the pool was removed, and whether it was what’s known as a partial removal (in which only part of the pool is actually removed and the rest is collapsed and filled in) or a full removal (in which everything is removed and the entire hole is filled.) If there are restrictions in your area, you may be limited to just basic landscaping and won’t be allowed to build on the area or do anything that would require digging deep in the soil. Maintenance Cost Elimination On the plus side, removing a pool removes all of the maintenance costs associated with pool ownership. This isn’t just the obvious things like maintaining pipes, fixing leaks and buying new chemicals each year, either. Just think about how much you’ll save on your water bill now that you don’t have to replace all of the water that’s lost to evaporation each week! Property Value Effects There are effects to your property value that are difficult to classify as a pro or a con because they depend so much on where you live and whether the pool was present when you bought your home. Getting rid of a pool changes your property value, but whether it’s an increase or a decrease depends on how much you paid and whether you were the one who installed the pool. It also depends on the type of removal that you choose; partial removals have to be disclosed to new buyers and may pull your resale value down. Full removals usually don’t have to be disclosed, but they can still affect your home’s value. Ready to Remove Your Pool? After you’ve weighted your options, if you’re still ready to remove your pool then HomeKeepr can help you find the pool removal specialist that will get the job done right. Because we use recommendations instead of ratings, you’ll know that your pool removal team comes highly recommended from people that you trust.

Who Do You Call When a Water Pipe Bursts?

A burst water pipe is no laughing matter. Depending on the size of the damaged area, a large pipe can lose a gallon or more per second. Even smaller pipes can cause a significant amount of water loss, not only driving up the water bill but also potentially causing a lot of water damage. When you’re dealing with a burst pipe, it’s important to take action quickly to stop excessive water loss and get the pipe fixed as soon as possible. Depending on the pipe that bursts, though, do you even know who to call? If a pipe is in your home then you obviously need to call a plumber, but do you know who’s responsible for maintenance if the rupture happens outside of your home? As it turns out, the responsible party depends on where the pipe is located. Is a Pipe Really Broken? Before you pick up the phone, make sure that you know that a burst pipe is the problem. If you’re simply experiencing a drop in water pressure, it’s possible that you don’t have a burst pipe at all. Look for some of the signs of burst pipes, including: Water spraying from the ground or visible section of pipe Puddles forming despite a lack of rain Odd colors or smells coming from tap water, or debris in the water Sounds of running water even when visible water isn’t present Significant increases in your water bill despite not using more water If the pipe is located in your house, then you may also notice damp spots on the walls, blistering paint, an increase in mildew or even water stains appearing on your walls or ceiling. Burst Water Mains If a water main bursts, the responsibility for the pipe falls on the city or water district you get your water from. That means you need to contact them and let them know that there’s a damaged pipe near your home. Provide as much information as possible about the break, including the location and how much water seems to be coming from the pipe. If there were extenuating circumstances surrounding the break such as an accident or a worker driving a post down into the pipe, be sure to provide this information as well. Pipes in Your Yard In most cases, if the pipe that breaks is in your yard then it’s considered your responsibility. Even if it’s the pipe that connects your home to the water main, there will likely be very little that your water district will be able to do about it. This means that you’re going to need to call a plumber and let them know what’s going on. Provide as much detail about the problem as you can so they’ll have a better idea of what equipment is needed to fix the burst pipe. Household Plumbing If you have a broken pipe inside your home, then you’ll definitely need a plumber. Some household pipe problems are easy to spot, such as a pipe that’s spraying water in your basement. Others are hidden in walls or only have small cracks and may require some work to get to. As with pipes in your yard, provide the plumber with as much information as you can so they can take care of the problem quickly. What to Do When a Pipe Breaks In addition to calling the appropriate party to get the leak fixed, there are other things you should do when you discover a broken pipe. If the pipe is in your yard or home, locate the water shutoff valve in your yard (usually hidden under a black or metal cover) and turn it to shut off the water flow. Clear out any affected areas, removing or relocating items that could be damaged by the water and placing them in areas where they can dry. At your first convenience, head to the store and pick up a few gallons of bottled water to serve as drinking water until the problem is fixed. Make sure that you have enough to last a few days if you had a ruptured water main, as there will likely be a boil water order to follow. Finding the Right Plumber If you have a desperate need for a plumber, HomeKeepr can help you find one who will get the job done right, without breaking the bank. Because we focus on referrals instead of easy-to-manipulate ratings systems, you’ll know that your plumber comes highly recommended from people just like you.

Care and Feeding of Brick Siding

Having brick siding installed on your house gives it a classic look. Unfortunately, a lot of people view brick as an install-it-and-forget-it option and allow that look to deteriorate over time. Brick homes require basic maintenance and care just like vinyl and wood siding do, though the specifics of maintenance may be a little bit different. It’s just like with anything: If you want the look, you have to put in the work to keep it up. Fortunately, maintaining your brick isn’t that difficult. Even better, the maintenance you do now can help prevent your brick siding needing major repairs in the future. So long as you’re willing to put forth a little effort, you should be able to keep your home looking great for years to come. Cleaning Your Brick The brick on your home is exposed to the elements on a 24/7 basis, and the rough surface of most bricks make them ideal for picking up dust and dirt. This can lead to damage over time, so once or twice a year you should take the time to clean your bricks. Most of the time this is as simple as spraying them down with a garden hose to remove any dirt and grime that’s built up on your home, though particularly tough spots and areas may need a scrub brush with soapy water as well. Avoid the temptation to use a power washer as the high water pressure can damage the brick. Vegetation and Mildew Removal While some plants such as ivy provide what some consider a dignified look, any vegetation that grows on your brick will damage it. Remove any vines, moss or other plants that you notice growing up your brick wall, making sure to wear gloves in case the plant is something that you don’t want to touch like poison ivy. You should also periodically check your brick for signs of mildew or mold, both of which can damage the brick surface as they grow. Scrub the area where you notice these growing, spraying them with a diluted solution of bleach and water to kill off any remaining remnants or spores. It’s a good idea to wet down the brick before you spray it, though, as this will prevent bleach from collecting in deeper contours of the brick and causing discoloration. Checking for Damage There are two types of damage you should check for at least once per year when you have a brick home. The first is impact damage, resulting from something hitting the brick and causing cracks, chips or other damage to it. This can come from a variety of sources, including things as ordinary as a lawnmower throwing a rock. The second type of damage to look for is water damage, which occurs when rain or splashing water repeatedly hits an area of the brick and starts to wear it away. Both of these can damage not only the bricks but the surrounding mortar as well. When damage is found, scrub the area to remove any loose material and keep an eye on the area to see if the damage gets worse over time. If the damage is caused by splashing water or other environmental issues, you might also adjust your landscaping or install additional drainage to redirect water and prevent further damage. Repointing and Repair As brick and mortar become damaged, you may need to make repairs from time to time. If the damage is just to the mortar, scrape and chisel away any damaged portions and apply new mortar to the entire area where wear and damage is present; this is typically known as repointing. If there are bricks that are damaged to the point that they need to be replaced, chisel away the mortar surrounding those bricks until they can be removed. Apply fresh mortar and new bricks to fill the damaged area. Getting It Just Right If the thought of replacing bricks or mortar intimidates you, we can help. Sign up for HomeKeepr today and we’ll help you find the masonry professional that can get the job done exactly the way you want it.

Decoding Your New Windows

New windows can make a huge impact on your home. Not only can installing new windows make your place look better, but those windows can also make it a lot easier to heat and cool as well. Sure, replacing old windows can eliminate drafts, but that’s only a small part of how installing new windows can increase your home’s energy efficiency. Information about the efficiency of new windows is printed on a sticker that’s attached right to the glass. Unfortunately, if you don’t know what you’re looking at then these stickers may raise more questions than anything. If you need a little help understanding exactly what you’re looking at on your window sticker, here’s a rundown of everything you need to know. What’s the U-Factor? When looking at window stickers, two values are listed as “Energy Performance Ratings.” The first of these is the U-Factor, which provides information about the insulating ability of the window. This is similar to the R-Value that you find on insulation, and the U-Factor value will usually be somewhere between 0.20 and 1.20 on new windows. The lower this value is, the better the window is at insulating your home and preventing heat transfer between the inside and outside. If you want to think about this in terms of R-Value instead, simply divide 1 by your U-Factor value and you’ll end up with the corresponding R-Value (so a U-Factor of 0.20 would correspond to an R-Value of 1 ÷ 0.20 = 5, while a U-Factor of 1.20 would correspond to an R-Value of 1 ÷ 1.20 = 0.83.) What About Solar Heat Gain Coefficient? The other value listed under “Energy Performance Ratings” is the Solar Heat Gain Coefficient (SHGC). This measures how much heat is transferred through the window from sunlight (as opposed to the air heat transfer that is indicated by U-Factor.) The SHGC scales between 0 and 1, with lower values indicating a greater ability to block heat transfer from sunlight. What Is the Visible Transmittance? Beyond the “Energy Performance Ratings” entries on a window sticker, three other values are also provided to help you choose the window that best fits your needs. One important listing among these additional performance ratings is Visible Transmittance (VT). As with SHGC, the VT of a window scales between 0 and 1. In most cases you will want a high VT, however, as it indicates how much light passes through the window glass to provide daylight for your home. What’s the Condensation Resistance Rating? As the name suggests, the Condensation Resistance (CR) rating of a window indicates how well it can resist the formation of condensation on its surface. This not only indicates how likely you are to experience “fogging” and liquid condensation but can also indicate the likelihood of frost formation in the winter as well. This rating ranges from 1 to 100, with higher CR numbers indicating a greater resistance to condensation. What Does Air Leakage Mean? Another important performance rating is Air Leakage (AL). As the name implies, this measures how much air can leak through the window and affect the internal climate of your house. These values typically scale between 0.1 and 0.3, with lower values indicating a smaller amount of air leakage. One thing to keep in mind is that this is considered an optional rating, meaning that not all manufacturers will provide AL data; as a result, some window stickers might only have ratings for the other four values. Need Help Crunching the Numbers? Even knowing what the numbers on your window stickers mean, finding the window that has the best balance of these values for your home can be tricky. If you aren’t sure which windows to buy, let the pros at HomeKeepr help you find the perfect window for your needs. Because our system is built on recommendations instead of generic ratings, you can rest assured that the professional you choose will be just the right fit.

Are There Benefits to Prepaying Your Mortgage?

A mortgage is one of the biggest single debts you’re likely to willingly take on. As such, being able to properly manage your mortgage is very important. With so many options when it comes to loans, repayment and refinancing, it can all get a bit confusing. One point in particular that you might hear a lot of talk about is prepaying your mortgage. Should you prepay your mortgage? Should you focus on other things first? Before rushing into prepayment, make sure you have all of the information first. We’ll start by looking at exactly what mortgage prepayment is and how it works. What Is Mortgage Prepayment? As the name suggests, mortgage prepayment is the act of paying some or all of your mortgage principal before it’s actually due. This can take a number of forms, from paying a higher amount than the actual payment that’s due each month to making additional payments in months where you have money to spare. Some homeowners even make a single large additional payment every year after getting a tax return. Regardless of the specific form that prepayment takes, the end result is the same: More of your outstanding mortgage balance gets paid off, resulting in a decrease in both the amount that you still owe and the amount that interest can be applied to. What Are the Benefits of Prepaying? There are several benefits to prepaying your mortgage, regardless of how often the payments are made. Consider the following and how they might apply to your mortgage situation: Faster repayment of the mortgage loan Decreased cost of the mortgage over time Equity is accrued at a faster rate Prepayment reduces principal, making it easier to qualify for refinancing Essentially, prepayment gives you more control over your loan and helps you to save money, build equity and pay off the loan faster. Because you’re paying it down at a faster rate, you’ll likely have an easier time refinancing for a better interest rate and loan terms down the road as well. And since the prepayment is optional, you can always skip prepayments and simply pay the monthly payment due if money is tight. Because of this, many people choose to incorporate prepayment plans into their overall preparations for retirement. Are There Any Downsides? While there are definitely benefits to prepaying your mortgage, there are potential downsides as well. Some mortgages, especially those with adjustable rates, are designed to not allow prepayments; if you attempt to prepay on the mortgage, this can trigger a penalty fee. Additionally, some lenders only accept prepayments in certain forms and will apply any other money received as simply an early payment against the next month (which means that the money will go toward interest and principal and not just your principal loan balance.) Attempting to prepay when you have significant debt elsewhere or don’t have a safety net built up for yourself isn’t a good idea, either; your mortgage likely has a lower interest rate than most if not all of your other debts, so you may be better off paying them off and building up savings and retirement funds first before you start worrying about prepaying a mortgage. Should You Prepay Your Mortgage? Whether or not you should prepay your mortgage depends on a number of factors. You should consider the type of mortgage you have, how much your monthly mortgage payments are and what your interest rate looks like. You should also take a look at your overall finances and how well prepared you are for emergencies and retirement; it’s possible that your money would be better off going elsewhere at the moment. Even if prepayments seem feasible and affordable, make sure that your lender accepts prepayments without penalty and that you know how they prefer to receive prepayments. Those extra payments won’t do much good if your lender simply applies them against interest or charges you a penalty fee because prepayments aren’t allowed by your loan. Making the Right Decision Deciding whether or not to prepay your mortgage is a big decision. If you’re not comfortable making it alone, let HomeKeepr help you find a mortgage expert who’ll assist you in weighing all of the pros and cons. Sign up today and find the advisor you need based on recommendations from the people you trust.

Can I Sell My Home Using a Gift of Equity?

Real estate can be a tricky business. You put your home on the market, people make offers and there’s a lot of back-and-forth to make sure that everyone gets what they believe is the best deal. There are a lot of gray areas that make things more confusing, too. What if you’re selling your home to one of your own children or another relative and don’t want them to have to pay a bunch of fees and down payments? Maybe you don’t even want to profit off the sale at all… you just want them to be able to cover the remainder of the mortgage. Depending on the situation, using a gift of equity may be a better option to help make the sale happen. What Is a Gift of Equity? As you make payments against your mortgage, the amount that’s owed against your home decreases while the value of the property remains the same. The higher the value is, in comparison to what’s still owed against it, the more equity the home is said to have. You’ve likely heard about equity-based loans or other ways to use equity as a form of security, and they all come down to the concept that your home is worth more than what’s actually owed to pay off the remainder of its mortgage. If you’re selling your home to a member of your family, in many cases you can use this equity to their advantage. A “gift of equity” is the practice of using the property’s own equity as a down payment for someone wanting to buy the property. This not only saves your family member money but may also qualify them for a better loan or lower mortgage payments if they’re borrowing to pay the remaining difference. Selling Your Home Before you can sell your house using a gift of equity, you have to determine the actual value of the property. This has to be a fair market appraisal, and if there’s a lender involved, then they may wish to choose the appraiser. You will also need to document any details relevant to the gift of equity, such as establishing a relationship, providing proof of residency (as well as any rental terms, if they apply) if the buyer already lives on the property and any additional details that are relevant to proving that both of you have a qualifying relationship and that you wish to make the gift of equity. There are also issues such as closing costs and escrow fees that may have to be taken into account. In most cases, though, these can be covered by seller concessions (where you agree to absorb the costs by taking less of the sale price for yourself) as you are allowed concessions of up to 6 percent of the sale value in most cases. You will also need to draft a gift letter for use by both the lender and the IRS, which as you might guess, means you also have to pay taxes on the value of the gift. Is It Actually Allowed? In most cases, there is nothing preventing you from selling your home using a gift of equity so long as the buyer is a spouse, child. dependent or other individual with an established blood or legal relation to the seller. This includes both blood relatives and those who are adopted or placed under legal guardianship of the seller. Fiancés and domestic partners can typically qualify as well, so long as it’s allowed by the jurisdiction in which you live. Friends, non-related roommates and other unrelated buyers do not qualify. The big thing to remember when it comes to selling your home using a gift of equity is that the rules for doing so will vary depending on where you live and the equity gifting program you use. There can actually be some pretty significant differences from one program to the next, so you definitely shouldn’t rush into selling with a gift of equity until you’ve done some research to see what the best way to do it in your state is. With that said, if you do your due diligence, this can be a good way to pass on property to a loved one, provided you avoid the potential pitfalls. Ready to Sell? Just because using a gift of equity to sell your home can be tricky doesn’t mean it has to be. With HomeKeepr you can find a seasoned real estate professional to guide you through the process every step of the way to ensure that you get the best possible experience. Check it out today and you’ll be on your way!

Outdoor Fireplaces: Your Need to Know Get Started Guide

Adding an outdoor fireplace can be a great way to liven up your backyard or patio area. Not only do outdoor fireplaces provide a unique visual aesthetic, they can also serve a functional purpose. Even though it’s outside in the open air, the heat produced by an outdoor fireplace can actually keep the surrounding area fairly warm on cool autumn evenings. Before you decide to have an outdoor fireplace installed, though, there are a few things you should take into consideration. Fireplace Materials Depending on the look and functionality you want, there are a few different options available in regard to what your fireplace can be made of. Commercial outdoor fireplaces made of iron, steel or other metals are available for purchase and installation as-is. If you’re building the fireplace itself, materials such as concrete, brick and stone are often used. In many cases, a concrete or stone fireplace will feature supplemental components made of metal such as fireplace grates and racks to hold logs or other fuel. Chimneys Another important aspect of your outdoor fireplace is the chimney. Even though the fireplace is outside, you still need to divert smoke up and away from you and your guests as there are a number of hazardous materials found in fireplace smoke. A number of options made of metal or other heat-resistant materials are available, and it is also possible to build a chimney from brick or stone as well. Even if the chimney is constructed from one of these materials, a liner may be needed to prevent smoke from leaking out of cracks or gaps in the chimney construction. Fuel Options Wood is the most popular fuel option for outdoor fireplaces, though it is not the only one. Propane fireplaces are also a possibility, though fuel lines will have to be run through the fireplace material so that the tanks can be hooked up safely away from the fire. Other less common options include pressed wood pellets, charcoal and even some forms of biofuel. Cooking Options Many people who own outdoor fireplaces use them for cooking as well, allowing the fireplace to double as a rotisserie or a wood-fired pizza oven. This may restrict some of your fuel options as the fuel needs to be food safe, and the fireplace design will need to incorporate a large enough chimney to prevent excess smoke from building up around the food. Depending on the design you want, additional components such as metal cooking grates, a heat stone, rotisserie controls or other features may also be needed. Cleaning and Maintenance As with any fireplace, an outdoor fireplace will require periodic cleaning and maintenance. This is especially important before winter as the fireplace will be exposed to potential freezing temperatures and other inclement weather that could cause cracks or other damage to appear. The fireplace should have a visual inspection every few months for signs of problems and should have its chimney cleaned at least annually. After any period where the fireplace has not been used for more than a few weeks, the chimney should also be checked to make sure that birds or other animals have not attempted nesting or otherwise created potential blockages within the chimney. Other Considerations Before installing an outdoor fireplace, be sure to check and see whether there are any restrictions or ordinances in place in the city where you live. If you’re in a homeowner’s association, you should also check to see if they have any rules concerning outdoor fireplaces. You may be restricted in the materials you can use, the fuels you can put in it, the height of your chimney and even the location of the fireplace, in regard to nearby vegetation or buildings. Installing an outdoor fireplace without checking this first could result in fines or possibly even having to remove the fireplace entirely. Ready to Build? Now that you have a better idea of what you’ll need, are you ready to find someone to build or install an outdoor fireplace for you? Check out HomeKeepr to find a professional you can trust who will help you create the outdoor fireplace of your dreams.

5 Tips for DIY Paint Disposal

Alot of DIY projects involve paint. Unfortunately, the majority of them don’t use the exact amount of paint that comes in the cans you buy. This leaves you with extra paint that you don’t have anything to do with, and over time you might even build up quite a collection of excess paint cans. Don’t just dump them out or throw them away, though… doing so is illegal in most areas. If you’re not sure what to do with all of the paint you’ve got left over, here are a few things to think about. Know What You’re Dealing With The very first thing you should do when getting ready to dispose of the paint you’ve used for a project is to identify the type of paint you have. You should have either oil-based paint or latex paint, and if you aren’t sure then you need to check the label. There are typically more options available to dispose of latex paints than oil-based paints, so taking the time to figure out which type of paint you have is essential to make sure you don’t dispose of your paint in a way that could get you in trouble. Let It Dry If you have latex paint to dispose of, you should be able to throw it out once it has dried. If there is only a little bit of paint left in the can, you can accomplish this by simply leaving the lid off of the can for a few days until it dries out. If you have a larger amount of paint, you’ll need to get at least some of it out of the can first. Consider pouring at least some of the paint into a cardboard box that you’ve lined with a plastic bag or otherwise sealed to prevent leaks. You can also apply the paint over cardboard, wood or paper with a brush or roller to create thick coats that you then allow to dry. If you still have unwanted paint, commercial hardening agents are also available that you simply mix into the paint and wait while the paint hardens. Soak It Up As latex paints are soluble in water before they dry, you can take advantage of this by diluting the paint with additional water. Once the paint is suitably watery, pour it over absorbent materials such as paper or foam. Allow these to dry and then dispose of the materials that will have the remaining paint soaked into them. If drying seems to be taking a long time, try setting the wet items outside and spreading them out as much as possible. The heat, sunlight and increased surface area will increase evaporation speeds, resulting in a faster overall drying time. Upcycle the Paint Before you get rid of your latex or oil-based paint, think about whether you have any upcoming projects that could benefit from it. Using the paint for other projects will help you to use up whatever’s left of the paint and will also save you from having to buy additional paint when those projects come around. It could even be that you have a project planned that you hadn’t originally considered painting at all but that might benefit from a coat of paint. Even if you don’t have any future painting projects coming up, others might; ask any DIYers that you know if they need paint or check online for DIY groups in your area that trade paint and other supplies. Safe Disposal Services Knowing where to recycle or otherwise dispose of liquid paint is important, especially if you have oil-based paints that can’t simply be thrown away. Recycling centers, environmental groups and hazardous waste disposals often have paint recycling and disposal services that accept both latex and oil-based paint. If you aren’t sure where to look, check online or ask around at local hardware and paint supply stores to get recommendations. Still Not Sure? At HomeKeepr, we have pros of every variety waiting to help you. You can even find someone to advise you on what to do with your leftover paint, or who’ll be willing to come pick it up and take care of it for you! Sign up now and take that first step toward cleaning up your act (and your garage, and your workshop…)

Alexa, Am I Out of Milk? Smart Appliances 101

It seems like everything is getting smart these days. First the phones were smart, then the thermostats. Now you can buy smart lighting, smart locks, smart cameras and even smart little sensors that can tell you when there’s a water leak or a window is unlocked. What about your appliances, though? Smart appliances do exist, and they’ve seen a significant increase in popularity in recent years. They offer several useful features, including smartphone interactivity and increased energy efficiency. Consider the following to see if smart appliances are right for you. What Makes Them ‘Smart’? So-called “smart” devices are called this because they offer functionality beyond what you would receive from a non-smart version of the device. Smartphones run apps and feature options such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and NFC payment options that standard cellular phones don’t. Smart thermostats are programmable and can read temperature data from multiple sensors to create a more comfortable environment throughout the whole home. The same convention applies to smart appliances: They can do things that your regular appliances can’t. Smart Microwaves There are a few different options available when it comes to smart microwaves. Some units can estimate the necessary cook time for what you’re heating up. You can also find smart microwaves that adjust their intensity automatically based on how well their contents are cooking, helping to prevent the dried out and rubbery texture that often comes from microwaving. Many smart microwaves can be controlled over Wi-Fi from your smartphone, and some even interface with virtual assistants like the Google Assistant or Amazon’s Alexa to allow voice commands as well. Washers and Dryers Smart washers and dryers are focused on saving you money, adjusting details like water level or dryer heat based on the size of your load to reduce energy costs. The ability to check their status and start or stop a cycle from a smartphone is also a big feature for smart washers and dryers, making it easier for you to control them without having to come back and check periodically to see if they’re still running. In many cases, the washer or dryer can even send an alert to your phone at the end of the cycle so that you know exactly when your clothes are ready. Smart Refrigerators Energy efficiency is a priority for smart refrigerators as well. In addition to more accurately measuring internal temperatures and working through cooling cycles more efficiently, some smart refrigerators are designed to maintain a more consistent internal temperature by reducing how often you open the door. A video screen in the door can be activated, turning on internal lights and a camera that shows you exactly what’s on the shelves. Depending on the model, these images can even be sent to a smartphone or accessed via an app so that you can get a clear view of what’s in the fridge while you’re at the store. The Future Is Smart Of course, these are only a few of the smart appliance options available to you. Smart air filtration systems, ice makers, blenders and more are available to help you live your best life while making your kitchen (and home) more efficient and easier to control. You can even get a Wi-Fi enabled version of your Instant Pot to give you easy control of what you’re cooking, regardless of whether you’re in the kitchen or not. As both these small appliances and larger smart appliances such as ovens and refrigerators become more common, consumers can expect even more connective versions of smart appliances moving into the future. Getting Smart Your Way If you’re ready to smarten up your home with some new appliances but aren’t sure where to start, let HomeKeepr help you find a consultant who can match you with the smart appliances you need. Sign up today to find consultants recommended by people you trust

Weeds, wildflowers or invasive plants?

If you have plants popping up in your yard that you didn’t plant, your first instinct may be that it’s a weed. You very well might be right; after all, what are weeds except for unwanted plants? At the same time, it’s possible that you’ve got wildflowers growing on your property. Depending on your view of wildflowers, that could change things significantly. Wildflowers can do a lot of good for bees and other local pollinators, giving a boost to your local ecosystem and adding some beauty to boot. If the flower is from an invasive species, though, even something useful can cause a lot of harm over time. How are you supposed to keep all of this straight, so you’ll know what to pull and what to leave alone? All About Weeds So what is a weed? It’s an unwanted plant, sure, but it is also a plant that will compete with your existing flowers and other plant life for resources. A good example of this is clover in your lawn. As time goes by, the clover out-competes the grass and largely takes over your yard. You’ll face similar problems with any weed if it manages to become established. One of the things that makes weeds so competitive is that most of the time you can’t just pull them up and be done with them. Dandelions are typically considered a weed, and even if you pull up a dandelion early you’ll still see more in your yard. This is because they have deep root systems that continue growing even if the flower is pulled free. Really getting rid of weeds means figuring out what the weeds are and what the proper way to eliminate them is. Weeds vs. Wildflowers Some weeds (including the dandelions and clovers mentioned above) produce flowers and are usually frequented by bees and other pollinators. Despite this, they’re still considered weeds instead of wildflowers. So what’s the difference between the two? The primary difference between weeds and wildflowers is how they grow. Weeds tend to spread once established, growing to consume as many additional resources as they can and spreading their seeds as far as possible. Wildflowers are not as aggressive with their growth, instead growing densely in an area and spreading out from that area at a slower pace. This is why wildflowers are not generally considered competitive with existing plants; they aren’t likely to overrun an area in a short period of time and are much easier to contain to a single area. Invasive Plant Species One thing to keep in mind is that both weeds and wildflowers can be considered invasive. For that matter, even some of the plants you buy at nurseries are considered invasive in some regions! An invasive plant species is one that is not native to the area, so other species aren’t able to compete with it as effectively as they would with plants that are native to the area. This can be very problematic. Invasive species typically have different resource requirements than native species, so as they grow and spread, they may use resources in a way that shifts the balance of the local ecosystem. This shift can be very bad for local species, giving the invader a much stronger competitive advantage for those resources. In some cases, invasive species can actually eradicate native strains from the local area! Identifying Unexpected Plants If you want to promote the growth of wildflowers while getting rid of weeds and invasive plants, you need to learn to identify them. Search online to find out which weeds and invasive plants are common in your area, taking the time to search for images online so you can identify them even with slight variations in their appearances. There are also smartphone apps available that identify plants with a high degree of accuracy which you can use to identify weeds and invasive plants. Another option is to take photos or clippings of the plants in question to your local agricultural extension office. They should be able to identify the plant for you and can also tell you whether it’s a weed or an invasive plant. If it needs to be removed, they can also provide suggestions for the most effective removal techniques. Call in a Pro If you’re not sure whether the plants in your yard are a burden or a boon, you might want to call in a landscaping professional to set things straight. HomeKeepr can help you to find the right pro for your needs with recommendations you can trust, so sign up today to get your yard in top shape!

Foundation cracks don't have to spell disaster

Cracks in the foundation of your house can be signs of a problem. This doesn’t mean that you should automatically worry if you see a few small cracks, however. Believe it or not, there are a few perfectly normal reasons why cracks can appear in your foundation. It’s important to look into the issue if you notice cracks – but hold off on assuming the worst until you determine whether there’s a problem worth worrying about. What Causes Foundation Cracks? There are a few different things that can cause cracks in your foundation. In some cases, the cracks are simply caused by the settling of your home over time or soil expansion if your home is built on land with a lot of clay in the soil. Other potential causes of foundation cracks include: Drainage issues around the home Insufficient reinforcement to support the weight of the house Major home renovations or add-ons such as adding a second story Tree roots under the soil Earthquakes, sinkholes or landslides that have affected the area Deep soil freezing during the winter As you can see, there are a lot of potential reasons why cracks might appear in your foundation. This isn’t even an all-inclusive list! Despite the wide range of possible causes, it’s important to not get ahead of yourself and worry over the cracks until you’ve figured out whether they actually indicate a serious problem. Examining Foundation Cracks The first thing you should do when you notice cracks in your foundation is get a good look at them and where they appear. Taking photos may help with this since they’ll give you an easy-to-access reference later on. If possible, include an object of known size in the pictures to give you a sense of scale; coins, ink pens or other common objects are easy to use in this regard. When looking at the cracks in your foundation, take note of the direction of the crack, how wide the crack is and whether it has a uniform width. If there is an obvious point of origin (such as a crack that starts at the corner of a basement window or foundation vent) then you should take note of this as well. If you have a crawlspace or basement under your home, go in and examine the foundation wall from the other side to see if the crack is visible there was well. The more information you have about the crack, the easier it will be to determine whether there’s a problem. Is the Crack a Problem? Small, thin cracks in the foundation usually aren’t much to be concerned about; they typically form as the house and the soil beneath it settle into place. Likewise, small cracks that appear after a particularly harsh winter shouldn’t be a major concern since they are easy to seal before the next bout of cold weather comes around. There are some cracks that you need to watch out for, though. Horizontal cracks, straight vertical cracks and cracks that are wider at one end than the other are all signs of potential problems. These can indicate that the foundation is cracking due to a much larger problem than just settling or bad weather. Check the depth of the crack, especially if you have a crawlspace or basement; a crack that goes all the way through the foundation wall can be very bad indeed. You should also see if there are multiple cracks forming around the same area or if any of the cracked areas correspond with cracks or other issues inside the house. If the cracks seem recent, clean up the area and place marks on the wall beside the cracks. This will let you look for new debris or changes to the crack length over the next several days. Large cracks or cracks that seem to still be growing need to be repaired before they can cause significant issues. Are You Worried About Your Foundation? Even if you’re handy around the house, you might not be confident in your ability to analyze cracks in your foundation. Fortunately, there are pros out there who can examine your foundation and help you take whatever action is needed to fix any problems. The HomeKeepr network can help you find the professional you need, backing up your decision with recommendations from people you trust.

The dirt on septic tank ownership

Septic tanks are common in rural areas, though depending on where you live, you might have a septic system, even close to town. So long as things are going smoothly, it’s often difficult to tell that there is even a septic system in place. If your septic tank starts having problems, though, it may not take long for it to become very obvious that something is wrong. Whether you’re new to septic tank ownership or are wondering what sort of maintenance your existing tank requires, here’s a rundown of what you need to know about owning a septic tank. How Septic Systems Work Wastewater from your home flows into the septic tank, which is a large tank typically made of concrete, steel or other materials such as plastic or fiberglass. Once there, any waste solids in the water settle out and are broken down by bacteria. As particles settle out, the water itself is able to flow out of the septic tank where it is distributed through a series of gravel-filled trenches known as leach fields where the water is absorbed into the ground. Any remaining waste materials are then broken down by microorganisms in the soil. Some systems also separate greywater (water that comes from waste-free sources such as laundry, bathroom sinks and showers) from the “black” water that contains waste. While this water is not directly recycled as drinking water, it can be filtered and used as part of an irrigation system for non-food plants and lawns. This not only makes more efficient use of your household water but also reduces stress on the septic system as a whole. Basic Septic System Maintenance Ideally, a septic system shouldn’t require too much maintenance to keep it functioning properly. With that said, there are a few things to keep in mind to ensure that your system doesn’t develop problems. Key points of septic system maintenance include: Avoid flushing inorganic materials that cannot be broken down by bacteria Conserve household water use to avoid flooding the tank and causing a backup Don’t flush cooking fats, coffee grounds or other hard-to-break-down materials Use septic-safe cleaning materials and avoid using an excess amount of any cleaners Do not pour saltwater, antibiotic medications or other materials that could kill helpful bacteria into your wastewater In addition, it’s recommended that you have your septic tank checked every 1 to 3 years and have solids pumped out of the tank every 3 to 5 years to maintain optimal function. This may need to occur more often if you live in a cold climate, as bacteria may not break down waste as quickly when experiencing severe cold or prolonged winters. Septic Tank Inspections Whether you suspect a problem with your septic system or just want to stay on top of septic tank maintenance, periodic inspections will help you avoid major problems down the road. The most basic inspections are simple visual inspections, where water is run through the sinks and the toilets are flushed to check for backups or other obvious problems. These are often performed by home inspectors but provide only a very limited amount of information about the condition of the system itself. If you have a septic company do the inspection, you’ll likely get a much more in-depth job. These inspections check for signs of septic tank problems such as visual damage to the tank or depressions around the tank area that could indicate sagging in the tank walls. They will also check for odd odors, signs of leaks, the condition of liquids and sludge within the tank and even backflow once a portion of the tank is pumped. You should receive a report on the condition of the tank after one of these inspections, and most likely will have the results explained to you as well. Life Expectancy Provided that it is well maintained, a septic system can theoretically last for decades. More realistically, though, you can expect a septic tank (and the system it’s a part of) to last for between 15 to 25 years. The actual lifespan of any given septic tank depends on the material it’s made of, how well it was installed, the types of waste that are dumped into it and how often it is pumped or maintained. The more care you put into maintaining your septic system, the longer it’s likely to last. Of course, once a septic tank starts reaching the end of its life it is important that you deal with it before hazardous conditions can form. If a tank is leaking or sagging, it needs to be collapsed or crushed and filled in around. In some cases, a new tank can actually be installed beside or on top of the old one after it has been properly taken care of. Do You Need Help with Your Tank? Regardless of whether you need a septic tank installed, inspected, pumped or replaced, HomeKeepr can help you find the best pros for the job. Since we rely on referrals instead of reviews, you can choose the septic professional you need with confidence.

What to do during the search for your new home

Chances are you’ve considered buying a home — you've probably even attended open houses and looked into the numbers, but once you get serious there are a few things you should consider before jumping in: Buying a home takes more time and research than it would buying a couch or a table. Before diving in, it’s important to understand the process. Every home buyer’s journey happens on a slightly different timeline, but here are some steps every prospective buyer should take. 1. Search for your new home The home buying process may begin a year or more before the actual buy. You’ll get started by searching for online listings and discover what types of homes you can get in different price ranges. Use this time to make a list of priorities for your dream home, this often prompts buyers to take the next step. Look at homes in your favorite neighborhoods, and review statistics and reports on home values. 2. Find out what you can afford Most would-be home buyers need a mortgage to purchase a home. While the process has gotten easier as we’ve moved farther away from the financial and lending crisis, it can still be challenging if you’re not prepared. You need to know what you can afford, the types of loans available. What you can afford will affect your home search. Check out your credit report, and understand your financial situation. Then you can get pre-approved. Many buyers need to repair their credit score, save more money or allow cash to season for some time before buying. Use the next few months to address any financial issues. 3. Dive in and have fun At some point along the way, you should find and connect with a local real estate agent. These relationships form early, and having that person beside you during your search should be invaluable. Go to open houses, make appointments and see as many homes as possible. Before making an offer, you’ll need to know the market inside and out. The more homes you see, the more you will know about your local real estate market, and the more confidence you will have when that dream house comes along. And if you miss out on a deal or two, it’s okay. It’s all part of the process. Don’t feel rushed, and realize that the home search often becomes a part-time job. Have fun with it. If you find yourself in the real estate market prior to doing significant research, you may be jumping the gun. Unlike a tablet, smartphone or even a car, a home is a long-term investment — and a special one at that. It’s where your life will happen. Move too quickly and buyer’s remorse can creep in.

Finding the Right Home, and the Right Price, for You

As you set out on your home search, it is important to understand what kind of home you want and can afford, what your monthly payments could be, and how much to save for a down payment. We believe that having a holistic picture of all of these financial considerations puts home shoppers in a stronger position and can help them stay on budget.  Whether you are beginning your search or have already spent time exploring neighborhoods, you may be wondering, “What can I afford?” That’s why at realtor.com, we have a whole team dedicated to helping home shoppers answer that question.  Along with tools such as Price Perfect which provides insights on the average market rate of a home for different home features, we recently launched the “How Much Home Can I Afford?” Calculator available on iOS, Android, and Web. The freshly designed calculator addresses two components of the affordability topic that consumers want answers for, “How much can I afford?” and “How much do I want to spend?”  When we began designing the calculator, we wanted to provide home shoppers the opportunity to see how various financial considerations come together to answer questions related to affordability. By inputting details such as annual income, monthly expenses, desired neighborhood, expected down payment, and credit score, home shoppers can calculate how much they can afford to spend on their new home and see how what they spend on a down payment impacts their options.         Interface of “How Much Home Can I Afford?” Calculator on mobile web.Once you know what you can afford, our newest features can be utilized to understand the estimated monthly costs associated with the home. By entering anticipated numbers of a home price and down payment, as well as information related to loan type and interest rates, the realtor.com “Monthly Cost Calculator,” available on iOS and Android, provides a detailed and transparent look at the estimated monthly payments of a new home. And if you are unsure about some of the numbers to enter, the feature will use averages that you can update later. With all of this information in hand, perhaps you would like to conduct your home search specifically focused on the monthly cost of a home. By leveraging the new realtor.com “Monthly Payment Filter” available on iOS, you can see all of the homes for sale that meet your search and budget criteria. Simply enter a home search, tap “Filter,” and select “Monthly Payment” to enter your expected down payment and monthly mortgage budget.  The feature can be especially helpful for first-time home buyers who are familiar with paying monthly rent, but may not be accustomed to budgeting based on total home price. We are proud to share that this feature is an industry first among national real estate portals and are excited to see how it can serve as one of the many features that aid home shoppers in their search. Making the decision to set out on a home search is a big one that leads to all sorts of financial considerations. When we are designing tools and features with this in mind, our goal is to help make those considerations as seamless as possible. Because at the end of the day, it’s about finding the right home, and the right price, for you. 
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Ten ways to make a small bathroom look spacious

Small bathrooms aren't the easiest space to work with. They’re usually super small and have limited natural light and awkward layouts. Whether it’s your powder room or your apartment bathroom that’s way too small for your style, here are a few tips for making any small bathroom seem bigger — no wall demolition required. 1. Brighten the room Bring in as much light as possible. Light, bright rooms always feel more spacious than dark ones. Wall color. Having your walls and ceiling the same color can make it feel double its size, while having them different colors can make it seem so much smaller. Windows. If you have a window, use sheer window coverings to maximize the natural light. Lighting. Install additional flush-mount wall or ceiling light fixtures to increase the light in the room. 2. Add mirrors Install larger — and more — mirrors than you typically would in a bathroom. The reflected light will open your small space into one that feels more spacious.   3. Streamline storage Try to keep all storage in your bathroom as unseen as possible; Having revolving cabinets can help minimize clutter. 4. Eliminate clutter Nothing crowds a space faster than clutter. A good rule of thumb: If you don’t need it there, store it elsewhere. Pare what you keep in the bathroom down to the bare necessities. 5. Raise the bar Raise your shower curtain bar all the way to the ceiling — it’ll draw your eyes up and make the ceiling seem taller, creating the illusion of a larger space. The same goes for any window treatments. Raising sheer curtain panels to the ceiling also creates the illusion of a larger window, making the small bathroom seem larger. 6. Hide the bathmat Having a bathmat on the floor all the time can make your bathroom feel smaller. Put your bathmats away when you’re not using them to expose the flooring and make the space appear larger. 7. Install a sliding door Swinging doors can take up almost half the room, depending on how small the space is. A sliding barn door or a pocket door won’t encroach on your bathroom’s already limited real estate. 8. Think pedestal sink The added bulk of a full vanity takes up valuable space, so try a pedestal sink instead. You may not have a place for soaps or towels on the vanity, but there are plenty of wall-mounted solutions perfect for bathroom accessories. 9. Choose light-colored flooring Even if your walls and ceiling are light and bright, a dark floor will negate their effect and close the space in. Keep the flooring light to create a space with a bright and open flow. 10. Go frameless, clear and cohesive in the shower Clear glass shower doors make the room appear larger, while frosted glass breaks up the space and makes it seem smaller. The same goes for a frame around the glass. A frame can make the area seem choppy rather than smooth and open. Additionally, install the same shower tile from floor to ceiling. The seamless look from top to bottom adds cohesion and openness. Just a few changes to your small bathroom can make dramatic differences in how open it feels. Once you’ve tried these tips and tricks in the bathroom, apply them throughout your home! It’s all about creating the illusion of space.  
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