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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.  
 

Eyeing a New Neighborhood? Discover What it has to Offer

Fall is a popular time to look for a home, particularly for singles and couples who have the flexibility to move outside of the school year. If you are considering a move, but want to learn more about various neighborhoods in your target area, we’re here to help. With the “Find Your Neighborhood” feature available from the realtor.com home page, you can identify specific neighborhoods that meet your home search criteria.  For example, say that you’re considering a home search in the Brickell neighborhood of Miami. Enter the neighborhood, city, or ZIP code details and click on “Search” to explore the neighborhood in detail. You can zoom in on the area map and peruse an overview of the neighborhood’s home values, housing market, best schools in the area, and even local businesses or restaurants ranked by Yelp. Once you have an overview of the neighborhood and decide it could be a potential contender, it’s time to check out homes. Whether you are buying, or perhaps renting while you wait to buy a home, simply click on “Homes for Sale” or “Homes for Rent.” Scroll through available home listings or personalize your search by applying our filters. For instance, if you are looking for a single-family home at a maximum price of $700,000 with at least two bedrooms and two bathrooms, you can tailor your search by clicking on “More Filters.” Here, you have the option to further refine your search results by selecting features you’re most interested in: a specific home or lot size, central air conditioning, a garage, and much more. After entering each detail, click on “Done” and your customized search results will populate.  You may want to indicate favorite homes you find by clicking on the heart icon at the top right of each listing, or save your search so you can easily come back to the most up-to-date listing information in the given neighborhood.  Identifying the right neighborhood for you is just as important as finding the right home. “Find Your Neighborhood” helps you gain invaluable insights about the area’s housing market trends and community features, and ensure that they are aligned to the home features that best suit your needs. 
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5 myths about real estate agents

Do you need one? Do they pocket the whole commission? Let's set the facts straight. Buyers and sellers often enter the market with misconceptions about real estate agents — how they work, how the process works and what the agency relationship is all about. It’s helpful to point out, without getting too far into the weeds, that in any one real estate transaction, there are most likely two agents: one for the buyer and one for the seller. Here are five myths (and five truths) about working with both buyer’s and seller’s agents. 1. Agents get a 6% commission, no matter what Most people assume that their agent is pocketing the entire commission. That would be nice, but it’s just not true. Truth First, it’s helpful to know that the seller pays the commission, and they split it four ways: between the two brokerages and the two agents. Finally, the brokerage commission isn’t fixed or set in stone, and sellers can sometimes negotiate it. 2. Once you start with an agent, you’re stuck with them If you’re a seller, you sign a contract with the real estate agent and their brokerage. That contract includes a term — typically six months to a year. Once you sign the agreement, you could, in fact, be stuck with their agent through the term. But that’s not always the case. Truth If things aren’t working out, it’s possible to ask the agent or the brokerage manager to release you from the agreement early. Buyers are rarely under a contract. In fact, buyer’s agents work for free until their clients find a home. It can be as quick as a month, or it can take up to a year or more.  And sometimes a buyer never purchases a house, and the agent doesn’t get paid. Before jumping into an agent’s car and asking them to play tour guide, consider a sit-down consultation or a call, and read their online reviews to see if they’re the right fit. Otherwise, start slow, and if you don’t feel comfortable, let them know early on — it’s more difficult to break up with your agent if too much time passes. 3. It’s OK for buyers to use the home’s selling agent Today’s buyers get most things on demand, from food to a ride to the airport. When it comes to real estate, buyers now assume they need only their smartphone to purchase a home, since most property listings live online. Truth First-time buyers or buyers new to an area don’t know what they don’t know, and they need an advocate. The listing agent represents the seller’s interests and has a fiduciary responsibility to negotiate the best price and terms for the seller. So working directly with the selling agent presents a conflict of interest in favor of the seller. An excellent buyer’s agent lives and breathes their local market. They’ve likely been inside and know the history of dozens of homes nearby. They’re connected to the community, and they know the best inspectors, lenders, architects and attorneys. They’ve facilitated many transactions, which means they know all the red flags and can tell you when to run away from (or toward) a home. 4. One agent is just as good as the next Many people think that all agents are created equal. Truth A great local agent can make an incredible difference, so never settle. The right agent can save you time and money, keep you out of trouble and protect you. Consider an agent who has lived and worked in the same town for around ten years. They know the streets like the back of their hand. They have deep relationships with the other local agents. They have the inside track on upcoming deals and past transactions that can’t be explained by looking at data online. Compare that agent to one who’s visiting an area for the first time. Some agents aren’t forthright and might be more interested in making a sale. Many others care more about building a long-term relationship with you, because their business is based off referrals. 5. You can’t buy a for sale by owner (FSBO) home if you have an agent In a previous generation, sellers who wouldn’t deal with any agents tried to sell their home directly to a buyer to save the commission. Truth Smart sellers understand that real estate is complicated and that most buyers have separate representation. And many FSBO sellers will offer payment to a buyer’s agent as an incentive to bring their buyer clients to the home. If you see a FSBO home on the market, don’t be afraid to ask your agent to step in. Most of the time the seller will compensate them, and you can benefit from their knowledge and experience.
 

What Are Buyers Looking for in a Home?

Perhaps you are a homeowner preparing to sell your home and are curious what features will make your home standout to potential buyers. You wonder if things like appliance updates really will grab more attention in listing photos and if you should do a bathroom remodel instead of updating the kitchen. At realtor.com, home is everything and we can help. Based on a recent survey by our consumer insights team, which took into account such factors as where people live by state as well as location type (urban, suburban, and rural), their age and gender, central air conditioning is one of the top-five home features that buyers look for across all regions and generations in the U.S. Not surprising, where it falls on the ranking varies by where people are located. For instance, buyers in the Midwest and South put it on the top of their list. In the Northeast it falls to No. 3 and then goes down to No. 5 for people in the West. Nationwide, central air conditioning is the top feature for baby boomers, but for millennials, the top feature is a large backyard. Based on our research, an updated kitchen with new appliances is much more important than updated bathrooms for buyers. Twelve percent of the buyers we surveyed ranked an updated kitchen in their top-three home features, whereas only about 4 percent ranked updated bathrooms in their top three.  Our survey found that what people want in their home does vary by age, which is most likely driven by their lifestyle and needs. Millennials (21-36 years old) may be starting families and value a large backyard more than an updated kitchen. However, those in the silent generation (72 years old and up), prefer an updated kitchen over a large backyard. Another feature that has risen to the top of what buyers are looking for extends beyond the home and is about the community around the property. For boomers and the silent generation, proximity to healthcare facilities is essential and ranked as the No. 2 preference. In contrast, proximity to healthcare facilities came in at No. 6 for Generation X (37-52 years old) and at the bottom of the list for Millennials. Instead, given that these younger buyers may have children, having good schools in the area is imperative. Over 20 percent of millennials selected good schools as their top neighborhood feature and all groups ranked quality grocery stores at the top of their list. Despite the generational differences, our survey found that some features are timeless. Central air conditioning, updated kitchens and appliances, and a large backyard are what buyers are looking for regardless of age. 
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House shopping from long distance

Searching for a house locally is not without its difficulties. Add hundreds or even thousands of miles to the equation, and it becomes infinitely more complicated. Though long-distance house hunting has its unique challenges, it’s not impossible. In fact, with the right agent and the convenience of modern technology, it’s never been easier to buy a house remotely. Here are a few critical factors to keep in mind when you find yourself in a home search from afar. Do your homework When it comes to long-distance home shopping, the internet is your best friend. You know the neighborhoods you live in, but you know nothing about your new one. You don’t know where the mall is, school, or grocery stores. Though nothing can substitute checking out the neighborhood in person, Shike recommends looking up commute times to work, crime rates in the area, and, most importantly, how the schools rank. Even if you don’t have children or don’t plan to have children, it’s still good to know the quality of the schools for resale purposes. One of the biggest pieces of the long-distance house-hunting puzzle, however, is to make sure you’re researching who the best local real estate agents are. It’s always crucial to hire an agent you trust, but with a long-distance search the agent can make or break the experience. You’re going to want someone local on the ground;  Someone who is very familiar with the city, neighborhood, and prices. You need to understand how that person is. Are they going to be able to answer all of your questions and communicate well? Know what you want When you’re in the market for a home, you should always have a running list of features you want, but it’s especially crucial when you’re buying from a distance. Knowing exactly what you want out of a house and location allows your agent to help you narrow down neighborhoods and homes more easily, and assist you in making an offer quickly, which is especially important in a fast-moving market. Overcome remote home-buyer jitters For those buyers who are nervous about making an offer sight unseen,  there is the possibility of adding a clause in the contract that the sale is contingent on the buyer seeing it. Of course, there is also always the option of renting first before you take the plunge.  Overall, buying a house from a distance shouldn’t necessarily be looked at as a negative experience. In fact, it can give many shoppers new opportunities, and buyers are often more excited when purchasing long distance. It can be a nice change of pace for people. Another benefit to moving long distance is a fresh start: a new neighborhood, new culture, new people, and new experiences everywhere.  
 

Plan home renovation costs

Ready for a kitchen renovation? Anxious for a bathroom remodel? The easy part is knowing your goal for home remodeling — whether you’re trying to keep up with your growing family, add office space, or increase your home’s value. But figuring out how to plan a home renovation that doesn’t break the bank can be tricky. Here are five key steps in planning your home remodeling project. 1. Estimate home renovation costs As a general rule of thumb, you should spend no more on each room than the value of that room as a percentage of your overall house value. For example, a kitchen generally accounts for 10 to 15 percent of the property value, so spend no more than this on kitchen renovation costs. If your home is worth $200,000, for example, you’ll want to spend $30,000 or less. A kitchen remodel should cost no more than 10 to 15 percent of your home’s value. Photo from Offset. Something else to keep in mind: Contrary to popular belief, kitchen renovations offer among the lowest return on investment. Every dollar you spend on a kitchen remodel increases the value of your home by 50 cents. The highest return on investment? A mid-range bathroom remodel. 2. Consider home remodeling loan options If you plan on borrowing money to fund your home renovations, there are a plenty of loans out there to help with just that. Refinancing. Depending on your current interest rate, you might be able to refinance your mortgage at a lower rate and/or for a longer loan term, which could lower your monthly payments and help you save up for your renovations. Cash-out refinance. If you have enough equity, you could also consider a cash-out refinance, which means refinancing your existing loan for an amount that’s higher than what you owe. Going this route, you pay off your original mortgage and have cash left over.  HELOC. If refinancing sounds like too big of a leap, a home equity line of credit (HELOC) might work better. A HELOC works a lot like a credit card in the sense that it has a set limit that you can borrow against. Home equity loan. Although it sounds similar to a HELOC, a home equity loan is a bit different. This loan requires you to take out all the cash at one time. They’re often referred to as “second mortgages” because homeowners get them in addition to their first mortgage. Refinancing, getting a HELOC or taking out a home equity loan are all big decisions, and it can be tough to know which one makes the most sense for you.   3. Get home renovation quotes from contractors Some contractors will give you an estimate based on what they think you want done, and work completed under these circumstances is almost guaranteed to cost more. You have to be very specific about what you want done, and spell it out in the contract — right down to the materials you’d like used. Make sure that contractors’ estimates include the full scope of your project. Photo from Shutterstock. Get quotes from several contractors, tossing out the bid from the one who gives you the lowest estimate. Going with this choice could be asking for problems, as low-priced contractors are known to cut corners — at your expense. 4. Stick to the home remodeling plan As the renovation moves along, you might be tempted to add on another “small” project or incorporate the newest design trend at the last minute. But know that every time you change your mind, there’s a change order, and even minor changes can be costly. Strive to stick to the original agreement, if possible. Even minor changes to your remodeling project’s scope can add significant costs. Photo from Offset. 5. Account for hidden home renovation costs Your home may look perfect on the outside, but there could be issues lurking beneath the surface. In fact, hidden imperfections are one of the reasons renovation projects end up costing more than you anticipated. Rather than scramble to come up with extra money after the fact, give yourself a cushion upfront. Factor in 10 to 20 percent (or more) of your contracted budget for unforeseen expenses, as they can — and do — occur. In fact, it’s rare that any project goes completely smoothly.  
 

What to do with little kitchen space

Many homes come with kitchens that are less than ideal. The lighting can be off, the appliances old, the floors grimy and counter space- awful. Get the most out of the kitchen space you do have with these tips. Make room You can create extra space, even when it seems impossible. Over-the-sink covers, cutting boards and colanders help increase your workspace. Burner covers for your stove and a large cutting board or tray can create extra counter space when you’re entertaining and want to set out snacks (provided you don’t need to use your stove). Fold-up tables (attached to the wall or stand-alone) offer extra space when needed. If there’s room, a butcher block or island instantly create food prep or storage space. Another simple way to create space? Slim down your belongings — especially on the counters — and only keep the necessities. Go vertical A wall above the stove may be perfectly suited for a pegboard where you can hang pots, pans and utensils. Magnetic knife and spice racks can fit into small wall spaces under cabinets or above sinks. Refrigerators can serve as storage space for magnetic spice racks, towels, pot holders, or dry-erase boards or chalkboards, which are both useful and decorative. And over-the-cabinet hooks and towel racks add extra storage quickly and easily. Use bookcases Small bookcases are a kitchen’s best friend. They are perfectly narrow, they come in many heights and they offer tons of storage options. In addition to keeping cookbooks tidy, they can also hold pots, pans, dishes, food items, storage containers and baskets. Add hooks to the side of your bookshelf to store aprons or other lightweight tools. Add art and color Art and color are fast ways to personalize a small kitchen. Color-coordinated kitchen accessories become art in and of themselves, and a simple color palette lets the eye rest in a small space. When using every inch of space, don’t forget to leave room for a few decorative elements. Hang attractive tea towels with pushpins for a practical splash of color. And fresh flowers on a shelf or table instantly brighten the space and add life. If you have a windowsill, an herb garden is the perfect way to use the space and bring vibrancy. Cover eyesores Every older kitchen has at least one eyesore: an ancient microwave, a scratched-up refrigerator or a hideous vinyl floor. If you’re not ready to put down the cash for a remodel, cover these as best you can. Cover exposed sink pipes with curtains attached to the bottom of the sink (bonus: extra storage space). Store your old microwave or replace it with a newer, more attractive version. As for scratched or just plain ugly refrigerators and appliances, adhesive vinyl can create a like-new look in a matter of minutes. Cover unsightly floors with kitchen-friendly mats that also make standing at the counter easier on your feet, and refresh old cupboards and drawers with plain or patterned drawer liners. Upgrade lighting Lighting in any kitchen is hard to get right. Many fixtures make the space feel dated, and upgrading bulbs and cleaning light covers will make a difference right away. Consider installing adhesive under-cabinet lighting to better illuminate your workspace. If you can direct your lighting, such as track lighting, make sure it points to the kitchen triangle — that well-worn path from the stove to the sink to the refrigerator. If overhead lighting is scarce, consider using table lamps and even floor lamps. A floor lamp in a kitchen might seem odd at first, but put it at the end of a counter or tucked behind a table, and you’ll be grateful for the extra light.  
 

Tips on unpacking in your new home

So you’re finally in your new home, surrounded by piles of boxes, tired and glad that your relocation is about to end. To fully complete your moving adventure, you need to unpack your belongings and make your new place feel like home. But where do you even begin? First things first No matter how much you want to get it over with, there are three important things to do before you can actually start unpacking. Clean and prepare your new home. It’s easier to wipe down shelves, clean windows and mop floors before your things are in place. Make sure your new home is spotless when your things arrive. If you can’t get to your new place early enough to do a thorough cleaning, consider hiring professional cleaners to do the job for you. Inspect and organize your belongings. Check all the delivered boxes and household items against your inventory sheet to make sure nothing is damaged or missing. Then have each of your possessions taken to the room where it belongs. If everything was properly marked and labeled, sorting your items will be a piece of cake. Set major furniture and appliances. Position your large furniture pieces and bulky household appliances first. Then you can put any smaller items you unpack later in their rightful places. Plan your interior design well in advance so you don’t end up moving heavy pieces around several times. Tackle the necessities What matters most when unpacking your items after a move is ensuring that your essentials are immediately accessible. So prioritize your belongings, and unpack only the necessities first. Bedding You may not be able to unpack the entire bedroom right away, but you’ll definitely need at least the bed the day you move in. Reassemble the bed frame (if necessary), lay down the sheets, unpack the pillows and spread the blankets so you can get a good night’s rest — you’re going to need it! Provided that you have a change of clothes and some comfortable indoor shoes (as well as curtains on the windows to ensure your privacy), the rest of your bedroom items can wait until you find the time and the energy to deal with them. Bathroom items Without a doubt, your personal care items, toiletries and medicines should top the list of the most important items to unpack after your move. Put out toilet paper and soap, find your toothbrush and toothpaste, hang the towels and the shower curtains, and unpack any other bathroom essentials you’ll need to wash away the weariness and stress of moving. Kitchen necessities Kitchens tend to take a very long time to unpack and organize properly due to the large number of items that need to be sorted and carefully arranged. As soon as you’ve hooked up the large appliances, such as the fridge and the stove, move on to your smaller kitchenware. Plates, silverware and glasses should be the first to find their places in cupboards and kitchen cabinets, closely followed by cooking utensils, pots and pans, and pantry items. Kids’ and pets’ items If you have young children, unpack some of their favorite toys, books, games and blankets during the first few hours in your new home. Keeping your young ones happy and occupied will let you concentrate on your work and finish it faster. Of course, you should also take care of your pets’ needs immediately upon arrival. It’s a good idea to pack adequate pet food and some of your animal friends’ favorite toys in your open-first box. Finishing up When you’ve unpacked the three most essential rooms in your home (bedroom, bathroom and kitchen), everything else can wait a bit. There are no deadlines to meet, so you can set your own pace when unpacking and decorating your new place — just unpack in order of priority without procrastinating. If you stay organized, set reasonable goals, clean after every unpacking phase, and dispose of the packing materials in a safe and eco-friendly manner, your new surroundings will soon stop looking like a warehouse full of boxes and start feeling like home.  
 

Prepare for the ultimate staycation!

You don’t need to stay in a hotel and play tourist to have a proper staycation. Look no further than your own home for a staycaytion dreams are made of. Make no mistake, an at-home staycation doesn’t just mean a lazy weekend on the couch. Turn your humble abode into a resort made for relaxation with a few days of planning and prep work. Here’s your guide to creating the ultimate staycation. Tackle chores in advance Make a list of chores you want to tackle a few days before your staycation begins. At the very least, cover the basics like washing linens, dusting and vacuuming. For an added level of sparkle, schedule time to clean your windows. That way when you’re staring out to your backyard garden or pool (aka your staycaytion resort spa), your windows will be as spick-and-span as those at a five-star bed and breakfast. Better yet, for a totally chore-free staycaytion, consider setting aside extra cash for a housecleaning service to do the work for you beforehand. Maximize your comfort Maybe your home is already perfectly comfy and cozy. But for maximum staycation relaxation, why not add a few extra elements to make your home feel like a luxury resort? Adjust your lighting. Look for soft ambient lighting options to create a calming environment. New lamps for bedroom and living areas and candles for the master bath can completely change the mood of a space. Add new rugs. Soft, plush area rugs boost the comfort level of a room and make a cozy reading spot if you add a few floor pillows. Buy new bedding. Not only will it feel like you’re truly on a vacation somewhere else, but new sheets are an added perk after your leisure time comes to a close. Create designated spaces Think about what kind of environment will help you reach peak relaxation. You can do a quick makeover of your bathroom to create a calming home spa or carve out a quiet corner for a meditation or reading nook. If a spa setting is more your style, look at bath pillows, aromatherapy candles and bath oils. Or if you simply crave a reading corner, pick up some new reads that have been sitting on your wish list for too long. If you have kids, create a designated craft or board-game corner, or come up with a few activities they can enjoy while you relax. Look outside for added comfort ideas too. Whether it’s a hammock, a porch swing or patio furniture, look for ways to blend your staycaytion lounging with the great outdoors. On that note, consider setting up your camping gear in the backyard for part of your staycaytion, or try out a DIY fire pit  for late-night chats and s’mores. Manage meals ahead of time Don’t waste precious relaxation time planning menus. Pick your favorite family recipes, plan which meals you’ll have delivered and knock out grocery shopping before your staycaytion begins. If you enjoy cooking, consider using some of your staycation time to make more intricate meals than you typically have time for — or bring in a local chef for a cooking lesson. Plan ahead to make it count With a few preparatory tasks on your to-do list, you can turn your house into a staycaytion sanctuary. Map out what you want your staycation to be like, and delegate tasks. Soon you’ll be ready for a few days of ultimate relaxation — without ever leaving your home.  
 

Did We Miss the Party? Celebrating 10-Years of Economic Expansion

Before everyone starts talking about the next recession, let’s all take a second to celebrate and recognize everything that has happened over the last decade. The U.S. economy is booming! Just take a look at some of these key stats:  Gross domestic product in the first quarter of 2019 outpaced the average for the past decade The economy added 21 million new jobs during 2010 to 2019, and pushed the unemployment rate to 3.7 percent The U.S. population has grown about 8 percent in the past decade, and America skews younger With over 60 percent of the population under the age of 50, demand for housing remains solid So why are people scared over some dark clouds on the horizon? One of the reasons is that the Federal Reserve – the government system that determines monetary policy –  reversed its commitment to tighten policy, and instead said it would be more patient.  This means that the Federal Reserve wasn’t fully confident in the recovery of the U.S. economy. Rather than raise interest rates, it decided to hold off and even stated they may lower rates if they felt they needed to. In turn, the markets saw this lack of confidence on the Fed’s end, and while welcoming the continuing low interest rates, became concerned about the economic outlook. Although home sales have suffered this year in the wake of rising home prices and more economic uncertainty, there are several factors that provide a silver lining for housing. First, is that America is young and growing. That means housing is going to continue to be in demand, even more so than it is now, as younger generations continue to age and move out of their parents’ homes.  Despite the fact that the Baby Boom generation is moving toward retirement, there are over 60 million Gen Xers, 88 million Gen Y and 65 million Gen Z Americans who are either in or moving into their careers. Remember when everyone thought millennials would never buy homes or cars? Yeah, that was wrong!  So get ready housing, there is a wave of young and eager homebuyers about to hit the market in the coming years.  And while more and more young people get ready to purchase their first home, we expect to see exciting shifts in the marketplace as technology, design, and consumer preferences ripple through the country’s neighborhoods. To learn more about housing trends and economic data, visit the realtor.com research portal.
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Moving doesn't have to be a nightmare!

Moving may top the list of stressful experiences that can feel like a bad dream — one that can easily come true unless you take precautionary measures. Problems can occur at every stage of the relocation process, but the most common moving nightmares fall into three categories. Here’s how they typically play out — and how to avoid them. Poor organization Moving involves a lot of loose ends, and even the smallest oversight can result in a disastrous move. Packing chaos. You realize you’ve packed more items than previously discussed with the movers, and some items can’t be loaded onto the moving truck. Or maybe you don’t label the boxes properly. Worst of all, you may not be ready when the movers arrive. All these packing mistakes result in lost time and money. Furniture troubles. If your large furniture doesn’t fit through the doors, you may have to leave treasured pieces behind or request hoisting services that will cost you dearly and delay your move. Paperwork problems. If you forget to transfer the utilities, you won’t have electricity, gas and water on move-in day. If you forget to change your address, you won’t have your mail delivered to your new home. If you forget to update your driver’s license and car registration in time, you’ll be fined. Not taking proper care of your documents will most certainly get you in trouble. Overspending. If you book your movers at the last moment, require too many extra services, fail to create a realistic moving budget or pack all your items without sorting them out first, you’ll end up paying much more than you expected. Safety issues. Make every effort to prevent injuries and accidents on moving day, as getting hurt is one of the worst things that can happen during your relocation endeavor. The best way to avoid problems when moving house is to plan each phase of your relocation adventure in meticulous detail and stay one step ahead all the time. Traffic problems Heavy traffic or road accidents can also turn your move into a real nightmare. Traffic jams. The moving truck is delayed, and there may not be enough time to proceed with your move as planned. You may have to postpone the relocation to another day, or you may miss your flight. Traffic accidents. If there has been an accident on the road, the moving truck will have to wait until the damaged vehicles are removed and normal traffic is restored. However, the scenario could get much worse: You may lose all your possessions or receive them badly damaged if the moving truck crashes, catches fire or gets trapped somewhere because of adverse weather conditions. It’s even possible that thieves could break into the vehicle and steal your goods. Breakdown. If the moving truck breaks down on the road, you’ll have to wait for the moving company to send another vehicle. What’s more, your items can easily get damaged while being transferred. Parking issues. The moving truck has to circle the neighborhood for hours until an appropriate parking space is vacated, or the movers have to park far away from your home’s entrance. In such cases, you’ll not only lose valuable time but also have to pay an extra fee for the delay or an additional long-carry fee. Of course, there’s nothing you can do to prevent traffic accidents or breakdowns. But you can at least reserve a parking place directly in front of your old and new homes, and choose a moving company that has experienced drivers and several moving vehicles in good condition. Misleading movers Many moving horror stories involve rogue or incompetent movers. The movers are late or don’t show up at all. The agreed-upon time comes and goes, but you see no sign of an approaching moving truck. Regardless of the excuses you receive, the inevitable result will be lots of stress and wasted time. The movers are careless or inexperienced. If your movers arrive late or lack the proper equipment to handle your items safely and efficiently, your relocation can quickly turn into a nightmarish experience. The movers are scam artists. In the worst case scenario, you may fall victim to moving scams. Rogue movers will often request much more money than previously negotiated, based on alleged extra services. They may also hold your belongings hostage until you pay an extra “fee” as ransom or steal your more expensive belongings and discard the rest. The good news is that there is an easy way to avoid such nightmares. All you need to do is carefully research your movers before hiring them to make sure you are dealing with licensed and experienced professionals you can trust. It’s also a good idea to purchase appropriate insurance for your belongings, just in case.
 

Why you should live in a home before renovating

In today’s market, many buyers forego "fixer-uppers"  for move-in ready homes.  As a result, significant opportunities abound in prime locations as homes that need work linger on the market. In competitive markets, savvy consumers gravitate toward these homes that nobody else wants. Why? They can customize the home to their requirements and build equity along the way. That said, I often recommend that buyers live in a new home for a while before undertaking any expensive remodeling or big home improvements. I’m not talking about lighting or plumbing repairs necessary to make the house habitable. Rather, I’m referring to discretionary remodeling, expansions and other improvement projects. Here are three good reasons to at least consider holding off on the big home improvement projects until you’ve had some time to settle in. 1. Living in the home can change your mind You may have grand visions for what you’d like to do to a home, based on its condition and your priorities at the time you buy it. But until you’re actually living there, it’s difficult to know exactly how you’ll use the house, what will work for you and what won’t. Ultimately, it’s this day-to-day experience that will inform your home improvement decisions, instead of early notions of how you want your everyday experience to be. 2. After buying a home, you deserve a break Buying a home is a massive project, an enormous change in your life and a shock to the system — if not your finances. I’ve seen buyers jump through hoops, spending months on end looking for a home. In some situations, it becomes a part-time job. A home renovation can be yet another big and stressful project, what with all the decisions to make and contractors to deal with. My recommendation: Take a break from the stress of buying your new home. 3. You need time to plan Any renovation, no matter how small, should be designed with care. That means speaking to multiple architects, contractors or designers to get their take on your ideas and options — a time-consuming process. An hour with a well-qualified contractor can uncover opportunities where you least expected them. For instance, even though it may be an added cost now, moving the laundry machines from the garage to the top floor during a larger renovation may save you time and money down the road. Conversely, hiring architects and contractors while under the constraints of an escrow period is likely to cause problems for you later. Some buyers want to jump into renovations because they don’t want to live in a construction zone or pay rent and a mortgage at the same time. While this may make some economic sense upfront, it can still cause costly problems later. Often, buyers who said they don’t want a home that requires any work end up buying a home that needs at least some. It’s the natural evolution of the buying process. Rarely does someone end up buying the home they started off thinking they wanted. While you should be open to doing work on a home, don’t feel stressed about getting it all done at once. Live as-is for six months to a year. Take the home for a test drive and see how it runs. You may be surprised at how your perspective and priorities change once you settle in.  
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