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Top Gifts for Homeowners This Holiday Season

Figuring out what to buy for friends and loved ones during the holidays isn’t always easy. While some people are easy to shop for, there are always a few people on your list who seem to already have everything they might want. Fortunately, there are a few things that you can get for around the home that they might never buy for themselves. Here are a few suggestions for things that they’ll not only appreciate, but actually USE. Digital Assistants Both Google Home and Amazon’s Echo smart speaker with Alexa are pretty common these days, and both platforms are adding new features frequently. Not only can you use one of these digital assistants to play music or find out the weather forecast, but you can also have them tell you jokes, cast video to smart TVs, look up recipes and even set timers or access your calendar. Companion apps for smartphones will even let your recipient take their assistant with them when they’re away from the house as well. Smart Thermostats Heating and cooling costs are a major expense. Fortunately, there are an increasing number of options out there for smart thermostats that adjust temperatures automatically to help keep costs low. These thermostats can not only make changes based on their programming, but some can even make adjustments on their own when they sense that no one is in the house. Connecting them to smartphone apps would even allow your recipient to control the temperature while away from home so that everything’s just perfect when they get back. Home Automation Accessories Digital assistants and smart thermostats aren’t the only home automation options out there. Smart lighting, smart locks, window sensors, leak sensors and even smart smoke detectors are all available to give your friends or loved-ones new ways to interact with their home. Best of all, most of these devices can be configured to work together to achieve effects like automatically turning on lights when the door is unlocked. Alternative Appliances The modern homeowner deserves so much more than an oven and a microwave can give them. Fortunately, there are a number of options out there that offer up new culinary options while also being extremely giftable. Instant Pot cookers, sous vide cookers and even air fryers offer new options for fixing meals that your gift recipient might never have considered. Many of them are programmable as well and can even be monitored or controlled remotely via dedicated apps. High-Quality Streaming More people are “cutting the cord” and moving away from traditional cable television than ever before. In addition to Netflix, consumers looking for quality digital content have options with Amazon, Hulu, Disney+, CBS All Access and more, and the forthcoming HBO Max streaming service will be here next year. This could be a great time to get your recipient ready for all of this content with a Roku or other streaming device capable of handling HD or 4K streams without buffering or losing picture quality in the process. Pair it with a sound bar or other sound solution to really take their entertainment experience up a notch. Clearing the Air There are a number of common pollutants that can foul the air we breathe. Help your recipient to breathe a sigh of relief by giving them an ionizing air filter or other air purifier to cut out a lot of these unwanted smells and irritants. This will help to keep the air breathable and odor free, and the units themselves are easy to clean so it won’t add a significant new chore to their routine.

Brandon Farber

Brandon Farber

 

Best Practices for Winter Pest Control

You’ve likely heard the phrase “if you’re cold, they’re cold” in relation to pets. Unfortunately, the same reasoning can also apply to pests that might see your home as a source of warmth and food during the winter months. Squirrels, mice, bugs and a number of other pests can find their way indoors if you aren’t careful. In some cases, it can get so bad that you need to call in an exterminator to take care of the problem. It doesn’t necessarily have to get to that point, however. There are a few different ways that you can stop pest problems before they start as you get your home ready for winter. Cover Your Trash One easy way to cut back on pest issues is to make sure that trash cans and other receptacles are in good condition and covered. Old food and other garbage can be a big attractor for pests, and once they’ve accessed your trash can it usually isn’t a very big leap to your house. Empty Your Feeders Some people like to keep their bird feeders stocked over the winter to make sure that birds don’t starve during the cold winter months. There isn’t necessarily anything wrong with this idea, but it’s important to remember that birds aren’t the only creatures that are attracted to filled bird feeders. If the feeders are out in your yard and far away from your house then it might not cause an issue, but if you have feeders mounted near the house so you can see the birds then you may be inviting trouble. The same goes for hummingbird feeders or any other sources of food too near your home: Empty it out and clean it up if you don’t want it to attract pests. Watch Your Scraps Just like you need to watch food sources outside of the house, make sure you’re not leaving inviting sources of food out inside the house either. Whether it’s in a bin for compost or just scraps left on plates that haven’t been scraped off yet, if there’s food in the house then it could attract a number of uninvited guests. Fill in the Gaps Before the weather gets too bad, take the time to go around your house and try to identify any cracks, holes or other bits of damage that could let in unwanted pests. Make sure that your inspection covers the foundation, areas around windows, the garage, the gutters and the roof, as well as other features of your home that don’t typically get much attention through the year. Fill in holes with steel wool and make repairs as needed to close off those potential access points into your home. Use Plastic Storage Containers If you keep bags of cereal, dry pet food or similar dry goods out in the open in cardboard boxes or bags with clips, it might be time to upgrade to a tougher storage solution. Even though these items are technically put up, thin plastic bags and cardboard boxes don’t offer much of a defense against pests. Put these items in hard plastic storage containers instead. This can even go for boxed dry goods in your cabinets if you don’t access them often; get sealable plastic containers that will fit on the shelves and put dry goods in them – box and all. Be Careful with Wood Piles Fireplaces and wood-burning stoves are popular during the winter, but if you aren’t careful, they can make your pest problems worse. Insects and other critters can burrow into wood piles, hitching a ride indoors when you bring in a few extra pieces for the fire. While some may get caught in the wood when you burn it, other pests can escape into the home before that log hits the flame. Be sure to rotate your wood piles frequently and inspect wood before bringing it into the house.

Brandon Farber

Brandon Farber

 

Houzz's Most-Viewed Kitchen Photos of 2019

Houzz's Most-Viewed Kitchen Photos of 2019 These pictures capture the hottest kitchen design trends over the past year. December 23, 2019 By:  Melissa Dittmann Tracey Design Trends, Kitchen & Bath
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Brandon Farber

Brandon Farber

 

What Causes Ice Build-Up on Homes?

When the weather is cooler than cool, it can turn ice cold. Unfortunately, this can lead to a lot of ice on and around your home. There are few things that can make you lose your chill faster in the winter than ice-related falls or damage to your home. Excessive ice build-up can create a number of potentially dangerous situations during the winter, so knowing what causes it (and more importantly, how to prevent it) is an important part of staying safe as temperatures drop. Ice Build-Up There are a few different ways that ice can build up during the winter. The most basic ice buildup is just a thin layer of ice that covers large portions of the house, sometimes accompanied with snow or other precipitation. This usually isn’t that big of a deal. Of greater concern are large icicles, sheets of ice and snow that build up on the roof, frozen gutters and built up ice at the edge of the roof known as an ice dam. These can be dangerous in several ways, both to you and to your house. Frozen Gutters When ice freezes in your gutters, it places extra strain on the screws or clips holding the gutters in place. Overflow can result in icicles hanging from the gutters, and if the buildup gets too heavy it can actually pull the gutters away from your roof. This is particularly dangerous because that heavy ice can then fall to the ground… bringing part of your gutter with it. Ice Dams If a portion of your roof becomes warm enough to melt some of the snow and ice on top of it, an ice dam can form. That melted snow or ice will trickle down the roof as water, reaching the eaves or gutter and encountering much colder materials where it will freeze again. This process continues until there is a buildup of ice at the very edge of the roof, with liquid water attempting to flow underneath it. The ice can overflow onto your gutters, while the water forces its way under shingles and possibly through other materials until it freezes and expands. The longer the ice dam continues this process, the thicker it becomes and the more damage it can do. Other Forms of Ice Ice sheets and icicles also present dangers during the winter. Icicles form when liquid water gradually drips at the same spot over time, freezing more and more until it grows large enough to potentially break free and fall to the ground. Ice sheets form similarly to ice dams, but instead of melting entirely the heat of the roof only melts a small portion of the ice sitting on it. The remaining ice is able to shift under its own weight due to the thin layer of water underneath it, and in some cases may slide down the roof and fall to the ground. Removing Ice Build-Up Care should be taken when trying to remove any form of ice build-up. Don’t use any sharp implement as it can damage your roof, gutters or walls. Instead, tap away at the ice with a blunt mallet or pole. Work in small sections, making sure that there is someone with you to brace your ladder in case the ice shifts. Apply a calcium chloride ice melter to the ice beforehand, if possible, to melt as much of it as you can (but don’t use rock salt or other chemicals that can damage your home.) Take every precaution you can before you start trying to remove the ice, because even when you’re prepared, it can be dangerous. Preventing Build-Up To prevent ice build-up, work on improving ventilation in your attic to ensure even heating and consult an energy efficiency expert to see if there are other steps you can take. Use a snow rake to remove snow and ice buildup from the roof before it can become a problem, and clean your gutters thoroughly before winter weather sets in. If you have a continuing problem with build-up, you might also consider replacing some or all of your existing roof with a standing-seam metal roof with a water-repellant membrane underneath it. Playing It Safe Removing built-up ice dams and sheet ice can be dangerous. If you’re not careful, you can also damage your roof in the process. Contact me today for a list of experienced experts in our local area. 

Brandon Farber

Brandon Farber

 

Making connections that bring you home

Every day at realtor.com, we help people get connected to real estate professionals and information they need to aid them in their home-buying journey. And when those connections lead to a home shopper becoming a homeowner, we celebrate that. Robert Sellers had always wanted to live in South Beach, a Miami neighborhood known for its art deco architecture and umbrella-lined beaches. While on vacation there, Robert found a home he was interested in and reached out to us. That’s where realtor.com Consumer Experience Specialist Brandon Coleman came in to help. After Robert inquired about the home he saw on realtor.com, Brandon called him, and the first thing he asked Robert was if he had an agent helping him in his search. When Robert told Brandon that he didn’t, Brandon’s focus was on finding the right one for him. Brandon says, “When speaking with Robert, I listened to the criteria of his property search and learned exactly what he was looking for.” After discussing Robert’s timeline and budget, Brandon introduced him to Hayley Wilson, an agent with experience in South Beach where Robert was looking to buy, who knows the market well and could accommodate Robert’s timeline.  Robert is now a homeowner and has made his dream of living in South Beach a reality. “It’s not that often that you can meet someone and do business with them and become friends…I couldn’t have asked for anything better,” he says. As a customer experience specialist, Brandon speaks to dozens of consumers each week, and through the connections he makes to local real estate professionals, he plays a role in helping people achieve their dream of buying a home.  “Purchasing a home is a very complicated process that can be very stressful,” he says. It’s a great feeling knowing we are here to assist and hold a consumer’s hand throughout the process. The best part of working for realtor.com is the satisfaction that comes along with knowing I’m helping people all over the country in their journey to purchase their dream home!” At realtor.com, we want to make buying, selling, and living in homes easier and more rewarding for everyone, and we couldn’t do it without our employees like Brandon.
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Brandon Farber

Brandon Farber

 

How one millennial is taking on the 2020 housing market

If you’re wondering who that first-time millennial home buyer is — it’s me. I graduated from college during the height of the recession, do enjoy avocado toast, would prefer to venture through a walkable city center than fill my car with gas any day, and wasn’t always so convinced of the value of buying a home. Fast forward to the cusp of 2020 and yours truly is aggressively saving with a singular focus on buying a home. While working at realtor.com with this goal in mind is one timely demonstration of serendipity at it’s finest, the fact of the matter is that I do fit the millennial mold. I got married just over a year ago. My spouse and I have a dog that we’d eventually like to provide a backyard for, and down the road, would like to add children to our family. All this to say that my perspective has certainly changed with life transitions. Despite my wish to have my figurative avocado toast and eat it too, I also deeply care about financial security and making the right decisions for my family. Living in the San Francisco Bay Area with the cost of living as it is, it makes more sense to put our money towards a mortgage than go toe-to-toe with increasing rent prices.  And guess what? We’re not alone. According to the realtor.com 2020 Housing Forecast, millennials will surpass 50 percent of all home-purchase mortgages in the coming year.  Am I nervous? Excited? Of course. There’s much to consider. One of the things my spouse and I have done to prepare is something we talk about frequently at realtor.com — evaluating the costs of needs versus wants. Even though a three-bedroom home sounds lovely, we may need to compromise and target two-bedrooms instead. Going along with that is having a thorough understanding of a realistic budget.  When we started looking into homes for sale on realtor.com, we reached out to the realtor.com concierge service. After spending a few minutes with us on the phone, they suggested that our first step should be to connect with a mortgage broker. Based on a subsequent conversation with a mortgage broker, my spouse and I realized we wanted and needed to sit down with a financial advisor to identify how we would reach our down payment goal and optimize what a realistic number would be for us.  Since then, discipline has been the name of the game. I definitely love a morning latte just as much as the next person, but have had to cut down on this sort of fringe expense. Just think how much you could save by cutting down on a daily coffee run over the course of a year.  I’m also taking heed with the front row seat I have from my colleagues to stay up to speed on economic trends and how they apply to my own home-buying journey. For instance, our economics team believes that interest rates are likely to continue to be low throughout 2020, but so is inventory at the entry-level category. That means a few things for my millennial home shopper peers and me.  It will be crucial to lean on the expertise of a real estate professional who is familiar with my locale to know when homes that could be the right fit become available on the market. Similarly, I’ve set up saved searches and alerts on realtor.com so I don’t miss the potential home of our dreams. And after working with a financial advisor and mortgage broker, my spouse and I have pre-approval next on the to-do list. Since the number of homes is expected to be low, getting pre-approved will enable us to quickly make an offer when we find the right home instead of wasting time with the process later and risking missing out because another buyer was ready. The other bonus of pre-approval is that it shows the seller and their agent that we are serious about buying. If there’s one thing you should know about housing trends heading into 2020, it’s this: millennials’ home-buying profile is changing, just as mine is. Some of us are about to turn 30 this year, some of us are approaching 40, we are a dynamic cohort of career go-getters, and we want to have a home to call ours. We’ve always been an ambitious bunch, so you know what that means. We’re probably going to be your new neighbors. At least we hope to be. Wish us luck! To learn more about first-time home buying resources and tips, access the realtor.com first-time home buyer guide.
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Brandon Farber

Brandon Farber

 

Taking our consumer’s experience to the next level

At realtor.com, the consumer is our North Star. Our goal is to make buying, selling, and living in  homes more rewarding for everyone. We recently celebrated a milestone in that journey — the one-year anniversary of Opcity becoming a part of realtor.com.  When I started Opcity in 2015 with my co-founder, Michael Lam, our goal was straightforward: improve the home-buying experience for consumers. We saw how complex and painful buying and selling a home could be, and set out to use technology and machine learning to simplify the process. The average consumer talks with 10 to 40 vendors through the home-buying process, and it can be scary and disjointed.  We also knew that there are some real pain points when it comes to buying and selling a home. Everything from fear of missing out on the right home to a fear of screwing up to uncertainty about how to navigate the process from start to finish can be challenging. And of course, coupled with the fact that buying a home for most people is one of the largest purchases they will ever make, buying a home can be intimidating.  Much like ride-sharing apps have transformed transportation and the taxi industry, we hoped to make buying a home a more pleasurable journey. Although most people start their home search online and often inquire about homes they want to learn more about, many inquiries go unanswered. Realtor.com became one of our biggest sources of online inquiries.  Through our proprietary matching algorithm, we were connecting home shoppers and home sellers to the right real estate professional for them and it grew into a great partnership. As we continued working together, it made sense to join realtor.com as one company to take the consumer experience to the next level. Before we combined with realtor.com, we did not have access to consumer search history and behavior, or the ability to test different consumer experiences on the site. Together, we can create a more customized and improved home-buying process. Over the past year, we have been hyper-focused on improving the entire home-buying journey. In a select number of markets throughout the country, such as Chicago, we offer our concierge service that allows us to stay in touch with home buyers throughout their home journey. In these markets, we’ve also introduced features like online scheduling and cash rewards. With Schedule a tour, a home shopper is able to simply tap on the “Schedule a tour” button on a listing page and then get directly connected with an agent to see a home. Our Buyer Cash Reward program offers a cash reward for buying a home with an agent you find through realtor.com. Our new connected experience allows home shoppers to communicate with their real estate agent at any time directly from the realtor.com app. This two-way communication platform makes it easy to send information on properties, ask questions, and schedule home tours and meetings. The best thing is people really like the experience, and it’s stories like the Stephens family’s home-buying journey that bring our efforts over the last year full circle. They were looking to buy a new home in Austin, Texas, for their growing family. We matched them with Machelle Ralls, an agent with vast experience in the Austin area. They hit it off and Machelle was able to help the Stephens sell their old home and purchase a new one that was a great fit.  What excites me the most is that we are just getting started. Being a part of realtor.com — where millions of people come each month to begin their home search — allows us to get closer to the consumer and ensure that they move confidently through the home-buying journey and ultimately find their perfect home. I am energized by our quick accomplishments, and am just as optimistic today as I was a year ago that we have what it takes to make home-buying a seamless, simple, and enjoyable experience for today’s consumers. 
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Brandon Farber

Brandon Farber

 

5 Home Design Trends We're Most Grateful For

5 Home Design Trends We're Most Grateful For REALTOR® Magazine's Styled, Staged & Sold blog rounds up its thankful list of the interior design trends that have the most staying power. November 25, 2019 By:  Melissa Dittmann Tracey Design Trends
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Brandon Farber

Brandon Farber

 

Serving our Communities by Hacking it Forward

Twice a year at realtor.com, our technology team comes together for a three-day hackathon. In the past, this has been an event where employees have a dedicated week of sprint time to focus on a new technical project outside of their normal work. Employees have proposed and created new software tools both for fellow employees and our end users, enhanced user experience interfaces, and much more. This year, we decided to do something different with Hack-it-Forward — a company-wide hackathon where every employee would have an opportunity to work on a project to benefit the communities we call home.   We have incredible employees that bring great heart and talent to work each day, focused on helping home shoppers and owners make informed real estate decisions. So, the logical question was, “Why not use our collective technical prowess to support local charities in the important work they do?”  Once the idea was born, employees throughout the company had the opportunity to nominate local charities. Together, we came up with a roster of 14 employee-nominated charities that were looking for help with a wide-range of projects.  Employees across our offices also volunteered their time to help with technical projects for charities, including: Friendship Place, Mountaineer Spay-Neuter Assistance Program, PACE Enterprises, Minds Matter, Pawsitive Friendships, Good Karma Bikes, Life Moves, Silicon Valley Pet Project, Resource Area for Teaching, Covenant House Vancouver, Home Start, Richmond Food Bank, My Brother Rocks the Spectrum, and White Heart Foundation. For those who didn’t feel up to solving a technical challenge, employees were able to make blankets for Project Linus, a charity that provides blankets to children in need. In all, we made 1,100 blankets.  It was amazing to watch employees who, in many cases, had never worked together, form strong bonds and innovate to create something powerful for a charity. For instance, one team included cross-functional employees from our Santa Clara and Vancouver offices that focused on developing a software tool to improve donation processes for Good Karma Bikes. Although the charity is always looking for bike donations, donated bikes need to be in good condition and the charity needed a way to determine if bikes were donatable before they were dropped off at their office. The realtor.com team not only created a tool to let people upload a photo of their potential bike donation so that it could be assessed, but also implemented image recognition to automate the assessment. What made this year’s hackathon so special was the collective impact we were able to make. I loved seeing the broad spectrum of all of the projects we accomplished. The thought of the ripple effect we made in helping charities themselves, and therefore help them better serve millions, is something I’m very proud that we did together as a company.  When we’re able to have that level of impact, our relationships with our colleagues are that much stronger. We made new connections with each other, learned some new skills along the way, and certainly go back to our day-to-day roles with an enhanced collaborative spirit and reminder that at the end of the day, it really is all about making our communities better.
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Brandon Farber

Brandon Farber

 

How to Stage a Grand Foyer

How to Stage a Grand Foyer Awe buyers from the front door. Check out REALTOR® Magazine's latest 'How I Staged It' slideshow. November 18, 2019 By:  Melissa Dittmann Tracey Being a Real Estate Professional
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Brandon Farber

Brandon Farber

 

Realtor.com® app – The Home of Home Search Wherever You Go

Buying a home is a complicated process, and for most people it’s the largest purchase they will ever make. There are some real pain points for consumers when it comes to buying and selling a home. Many home shoppers have a “Fear of Missing Out” (FOMO) or “Fear of Screwing Up” (FOSU). They’re also worried about what they can afford, and how they’ll make it through the process from start to finish. As a pioneer in the digital real estate space, realtor.com® has designed its mobile app for iOS and Android to make home buying and selling easier and more rewarding for everyone. We’ve improved the realtor.com® app based on consumer feedback to address these specific pain points. The app has received a 4.6-star rating on both iOS and Android. The realtor.com® app alleviates some of the pain and anxiety consumers face with features that inform, engage and entertain in delivering content that’s directly relevant to today’s home shoppers. Features like Price Perfect help home shoppers understand the costs of specific home features in different neighborhoods, removing some of the uncertainty and fear that comes with that aspect of the home search.  The app’s Commute Time filter is designed to help buyers understand how long it will take to drive to and from work before pulling the trigger on a home purchase. Buyers enter a basic search of bedrooms, bathrooms and location, and can then filter listings that match their preferred commute time in 10-minute increments up to 60 minutes or more. Users can then view all of the available homes that match their search parameters and commuting distance. Users can also click on the “traffic” toggle, and the filter will work for commute times with and without traffic. The traffic toggle is the first of its kind in the industry. Our newest feature, Photo First, helps home shoppers hone in on the home features that matter to them most. The first-of-its-kind feature is designed to deliver the best browsing experience by making photos more personalized, relevant, and seamless than ever before. Powered by deep learning, the Photo First feature automatically recognizes characteristics of a room and organizes photos into categories with more than 97 percent accuracy. Users can select room categories from the listings details page to view photos of the rooms that interest them most – whether that’s the kitchen, bedrooms, bathrooms, other living areas, or even the home’s exterior. In select markets across the U.S., we’re testing features on the app that help users move seamlessly between online home search and real-world experiences. Home shoppers in these markets can schedule a tour for a home they’re interested in directly from the realtor.com® app, which allows us to connect them with an agent who can best help them. In eligible markets, buyers can also receive a cash reward upon closing with their agent. These rewards create an effective incentive for home buyers, who are more likely to remain with their agent from introduction to transaction close. They also help streamline the entire search-to-close experience for today’s home shoppers.  After a buyer has agreed to be connected with a local agent in these markets, he or she can contact that agent directly from the property listing on any realtor.com® search result to ask questions about that property, schedule a tour, arrange a meeting, or request additional support from their agent – all through the realtor.com® app. Consumers are responding with enthusiasm to this experience. Since May 2019, we’ve seen marked improvement in consumer satisfaction in these markets with the realtor.com® experience, levels of engagement with real estate professionals, and close rates – anywhere from 20 to 120 percent above previous levels.    Here are two recent examples of home shoppers who used the realtor.com® app not only to find homes that were right for them, but also to connect with an agent who could best help them seal the deal.
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Brandon Farber

Brandon Farber

 

Good Neighbors Build Better Communities

There’s something about home that makes us feel good. Home is where the heart is. Home for the holidays. There’s no place like home. For those of us at realtor.com®, it’s easy to feel good about the work we do, too. We help bring people home. And in doing that, we help connect them to professionals who can help them find the home that’s right for them. Many of those professionals are Realtors® – members of the National Association of Realtors®. NAR is a trade association that represents 1.3 million Realtors®. And every year, NAR recognizes a select group of its members for the good work they do beyond helping people buy and sell homes to improve lives and communities across the U.S. and around the world. They call them Good Neighbors.  Realtor.com is the Good Neighbor Awards’ primary sponsor; every year five Good Neighbor recipients receive $10,000 for their charity or project. This year was the 20th year of the program. So much in this industry and our world has changed over the past 20 years. Just think, 20 years ago there were no smartphones and no social media platforms!  Today, we can all leverage technology to improve the world around us, but the Realtor® Good Neighbors remind us of the value and impact of getting directly involved in our communities to make the world a better place.  When realtor.com began sponsoring the Good Neighbor Awards, we saw an opportunity to use technology and traditional media to draw public attention to what these Realtors® were doing in the real world. That’s why we promote the program across social media, run a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal, and sponsor a Web Choice Favorites online voting program.    We award additional grant money to the winner and runners up from our online public voting. Nearly 55,000 votes were cast this year, and the 2019 Web Choice Favorite is Paul Wyman, who will receive an additional $2,500 donation for his nonprofit, Turning Point. Wyman established Turning Point to help people who are confronting opioid addiction get the resources and services they need. Turning Point helped 1,400 people last year access services related to addiction and rehabilitation.   Runners-up Bruce Johnson and Mark Solomon will each receive an additional $1,250 for their respective programs – SickKids Foundation and Veterans Community Project. Through SickKids Foundation, Johnson raises money through long-distance motorcycle ride fundraisers to benefit the Children’s Miracle Network’s 170 children’s hospitals in the U.S. and Canada. Solomon co-founded Veterans Community Project, which establishes tiny house developments to combat veteran homelessness. The developments include additional resources for veterans, such as medical and mental health referrals, employment assistance, and addiction counseling and treatment.  Congratulations to Wyman, Johnson, Solomon, and all of the 200 Good Neighbor Award recipients over the years. Every one of them inspires us to connect in meaningful ways to others and reminds us of the importance of building communities, one home at a time.  
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Brandon Farber

Brandon Farber

 

What Color Should I Paint My Walls for the Best Return?

Painting your home is a great way to express yourself and let your personality shine through in your living space. The colors you choose for your rooms can really bring them to life in ways that few other changes can. However, a fresh coat of paint can do more than just give your rooms some personality. With the right colors, the paint you choose can even increase the likelihood that your house will sell at a good price when you put it on the market. To maximize this effect, there are a few colors you should consider (and a few you should avoid.) Picking the Right Color If you’re looking for a good color to apply throughout the house, consider a light shade of gray or beige. Both of these colors help to liven up rooms by adding just a bit of color but are neutral enough to let each room’s other accents take command. If you want something a bit different, taupe or so-called “greige” colors (mixes of gray and beige) can also work well. Some off-white colors, especially those with hints of brown or other warm shades, can also brighten up your rooms. Many of these colors pair well with white or beige baseboards and trim. Good Kitchen Colors If you’re going room by room, the kitchen is a good place to add a bit of darker color. Darker grays and grays mixed with darker blue shades do well in the kitchen; in fact, some reports have shown that homes with a gray-blue shade in the kitchen sell for an average of $1800 more than similar homes with other kitchen shades. Depending on the size of your kitchen and the amount of wall that’s actually visible behind the cabinets and appliances, you may be able to get away with hotter colors such as deep red or dark orange. Just avoid going too bright with whatever color you choose. Living Room and Bath Colors The living area and bathroom both benefit from more neutral shades such as beige and gray, but that doesn’t mean you can’t change things up in some cases. Consider the flooring and other fixtures as well as the amount of natural light that comes into the room and look at colors that take advantage of what’s already there. Light green, blue or brown can sometimes work wonderfully, especially if they include hints of gray to keep them from being too bright. You can even choose a bit stronger blues in the bathroom as homebuyers tend to respond well to blue there, just so long as you don’t go for too bright of a shade. Bedroom Colors Blue is a popular bedroom color, especially in shades such as cerulean. There are several bold color choices that you can get away with in the bedroom, though. Don’t go crazy with the bedroom colors and avoid anything that’s too bright – but giving the bedroom a splash of color in blue, green or even red or brown can work well so long as it’s not too much of a departure from the rest of the house. Colors to Avoid There are, of course, a few colors that you should avoid when painting your walls. Anything too bright or garish should obviously be avoided since it could turn off potential buyers. Black is another color to avoid; not only do many people find it depressing, but it will also be difficult for future homeowners to cover up. Also on the list of colors to avoid? Bright white. You might think that this would give your home a clean look or make it ready for a new homeowner to customize, but bright whites (especially when paired with white trim) often create a clinical look that actually makes buyers less interested in the space.

Brandon Farber

Brandon Farber

 

Bee-Safe: Pest Extermination Tips

It can’t be overstated just how beneficial bees are to our ecosystem. Bees pollinate an astonishing 80 percent of the world’s plants, including fruits and vegetables that feed up to 90 percent of the world’s population. Certain nuts and beans would likely go completely extinct, as well as fruits like blueberries and cherries which are almost entirely pollinated by bees. Meat scarcity could arise as cattle feed on pollinated plants, and some common medicines may become difficult if not impossible to manufacture. Life as we know it would become a lot harder to maintain without our friend the humble bee. Given the importance of bees, then, how do you take care of other pests around your home without putting bees in danger? And what happens if the bees themselves are acting like pests? Here are a few ways to keep your home safe and pest-free while ensuring that you don’t put bees in harm’s way. Maintain Your Yard One great way to get rid of pests without running the risk of hurting the bees is to keep your yard maintained. Keep flower beds free of weeds, mow the grass as needed to keep it from getting overgrown and fill in any rodent or snake holes that you find. This helps eliminate cover and potential nesting places for unwanted pests including wasps and yellow jackets. It will also keep weeds under control which might otherwise provide both food and shelter for these pests. Remove or Contain Attractants Trash cans, outdoor pet food, spilled sugary drinks and other food sources can attract a lot of pests to your property. As much as possible, try to cover or remove these attractants so the pests don’t arrive in the first place. If you can’t completely remove the items (such as in cases where you have pets who live outside and need food and water), try creating an enclosure for the items or elevating them on stands so they don’t make direct contact with the ground. Study Pesticide Options There are some pesticides which aren’t toxic to bees but are still effective when used against other pests. Substances such as gibberellic acid pesticides, corn gluten and pesticides made using bacillus thuringiensis (BT) are not toxic or agents of disease for honeybees, provided they aren’t used in excessive doses. If you need to use a pesticide, research bee-friendly options and apply them late in the evening when bees are most likely to be back in their hives so that you don’t accidentally spray pollinating bees with large doses of the chemicals. Avoid Catch-All Traps or Baits It may be tempting to use items such as wasp traps or baits designed to attract certain insects, but these are indiscriminate and can kill bees as well. Traps are especially harmful as the attractants they use to draw in wasps and flies may also attract bees who think that they are detecting flowers in bloom. Find a Local Beekeeper If bees themselves are the problem, don’t try to get rid of them yourself. Find a local beekeeper or honey producer and let them know that you’ve found a beehive or have a number of bees on your property. They’ll come and locate the hive, capturing the bees and their queen safely so that they can be moved to a safe hive away from your home. This will not only keep you and your family safe from bee stings, but it will keep the bees safe, healthy and happy as wel

Brandon Farber

Brandon Farber

 

Do You Really Need New Cabinets?

Are you in the market for some new cabinets? While it might seem like a good idea at first, replacing your cabinets might end up being more of a hassle than you expect. Take heart, though! You may be able to give your cabinets a refresh for a lot less money (and stress!) than getting full replacement cabinets. If you’re not happy with your cabinets, here are a few options to consider before you rip them out completely. Adding a Coat of Paint One of the simplest fixes you can make when it comes to your cabinets is simply adding a new coat of paint. So long as the cabinets themselves are still in decent shape, painting them can completely renew your kitchen and turn drab or ugly cabinets into virtual works of art. This can help you to match your cabinets to new appliances or a new decorating style and is also a huge help if your cabinets are a bit old and have simply faded or peeled with time. Just make sure that you take the time to do this job right; slapping new paint on top of a peeling finish without sanding or trying to cover stains and discolorations without a coat or two of primer is just asking for trouble. New Doors and Fixtures If your cabinets need a little more than just a coat of paint, consider upgrading their hardware as well. Handles, hinges and other fixtures are easy to replace and can completely change the look of your cabinets with relatively little work. You can also replace latches or cabinet locks while you’re at it, helping those cabinets that always seem to hang open to finally stay shut when you close them. If your problems are a bit more severe and you have damaged, warped or otherwise bad-looking cabinet doors, you can change them as well! New doors will completely revitalize your old cabinets and can be a great solution if the cabinet body and shelving is still in good shape. Best of all, if you still want to add a coat of paint you can easily paint the new doors before mounting them – much easier than doing it after they’ve been hung. Refacing Your Cabinets Ok, so maybe your cabinets need a little more work than just new doors but the shelves and interiors are still in good shape. This is where refacing comes in. When you reface your cabinets, you’ll not only replace the doors and fixtures but you’ll also add veneer or other coverings to the outside of the cabinet body as well. This will cover up any cracks or other damage as well as unsightly stains, giving you the look of a fresh install at a fraction of the work. You won’t have to actually remove the cabinets but everyone who enters your kitchen will think that you did! Do You Need New Cabinets? If the interiors or the shelves in your cabinets are warped, damaged or otherwise in rough shape, you might have to go ahead and replace the full cabinets. The process is fairly straightforward, insofar as it just involves removing the old cabinets and putting new ones in. It may cost more than you expect, though, and the process is often a little more involved than that basic description makes it sound. If the cabinets need to go, though, don’t settle for substandard cabinetry just because you don’t want to do a full replacement. The solutions above are great when they work, but if your problems are too severe for them then by all means get some new cabinets in there.

Brandon Farber

Brandon Farber

 

Deliveries, Security and You

In our modern always-connected world, it seems like we’re always having packages dropped off from one re-tailer or another. If you receive packages regularly while you’re not home, though, you may be setting yourself up for problems. Packages left alone on your porch invite thieves to come up and take them, and if there are regularly people coming to your property to drop deliveries off then your neighbors might not think that it’s strange when one more person walks up with a box… even if it turns out to be a burglar with the foresight to throw on a brown shirt and carry a package. So how can you make sure that your package deliveries aren’t creating a big risk for you? There are a few ways. Establish a Delivery Area When placing orders online, you often have the option to provide instructions to delivery drivers to make sure that your packages are delivered correctly. If you’re concerned about how frequent deliveries affect your home security, you can use these instructions as a powerful tool to thwart would-be thieves. Set up a delivery area around your home that’s covered or otherwise protected but not directly adjacent to your home and leave instructions for drivers to place any packages there. If possible, place the delivery space in an area that is clearly visible from neighboring houses as well. Because this designated area stands on its own, anyone entering it to try and steal packages will be very visible. It also foils would-be burglars because they now have no convenient excuse to approach your house. Set Up Security Cameras One thing that you can do to keep both your home and your packages safe is to install security cameras around your front door. This will allow you to see who’s coming to your house and will also provide evidence in case a burglar or thief approaches. If someone comes on your porch and steals your packages, you’ll have video of the thief and you’ll have proof that a theft took place so you can file a claim with the shipping company or retailer. You can even put cameras in an external delivery area if you’ve set one up! Make sure that you purchase a high-quality camera, though; cheap security cameras provide grainy and washed out footage that makes it very difficult to identify a perpetrator. Invest in Smart Monitors If you’re worried that a burglar might dress as a delivery person to gain access to your property, consider installing smart monitors on your windows and doors. These monitors may or may not be part of an alarm system – but setting off an alarm isn’t all that they can do. When triggered, the devices can notify you not only that a window or door was opened but also which one was triggered. This allows you to call a neighbor or notify the police and provide very specific details as to where a potential burglar entered. In some cases, the monitors may even be integrated into locks so that you can lock windows or doors remotely if you realize that you left them unlocked, taking care of a mistake that might have given a burglar easy access to your home. Install a Security System If these solutions don’t do enough to keep your packages and your home safe, consider getting a full home security system installed. These systems are more than just alarms; they contain several components that work together, along with active monitoring to contact the authorities or take other action if something suspicious occurs. Best of all, they can protect your home from other problems such as fires and even water leaks.

Brandon Farber

Brandon Farber

 

What’s New in Legislation for Homeowners?

Owning a home can be expensive, though the benefits of home ownership typically outweigh the cost. Occasionally, changes to the law at either the state or national level can affect how these benefits and costs affect you. This is especially true if you’re still considering whether or not to buy a house, since knowing how the law stands can have a big impact on your final decision. Some legislation affecting homeowners is enacted at the federal level, while other bits of legislation come from the state. Because of the significant differences in the reach of these different types of legislation, it can be hard to cover all of the changes in law that affect homeowners from year to year. To help keep you informed, though, here are some fairly recent legislation trends that may be worth looking into. Tax Break Changes One big change that’s hitting a lot of homeowners hard is the elimination of some tax breaks that were formerly offered for home ownership. While this doesn’t directly affect the cost of owning a home, it can have a significant impact on your tax return if you were expecting to qualify for one of these expired breaks. Tax law is complex and can change from one year to the next, so it’s possible that these breaks (or others like them) will see a return in future years. However, it’s important to check each year before filing your taxes to make sure that you haven’t gotten mixed up by tax break changes or missed a break that you could have qualified for. Roof Replacement Costs In some areas, the law allowed homeowners to replace their roof without all of the costs normally associated with such a big job. This was due to contractors being allowed to waive a portion of their fees equal to the deductible on the customer’s homeowner’s insurance. Unfortunately, changes in the law are starting to shut this down. States like Texas are changing the law so that contractors caught waiving the deductible could face fines or even jail time. Homeowners obviously aren’t big fans of such changes, since they result in more out-of-pocket expenses when having to use their homeowner’s insurance. Solar and Alt Energy Incentives There were a number of solar and alternative energy incentives available to homeowners at both the state and federal level, but some of these have been altered, were negated or simply expired without renewal in the last year or two. In some cases, federal programs have been replaced by state programs that provide similar incentives. In other cases, the incentives have been revamped and renewed later. Not all tax breaks and other incentives have been renewed, though, so it’s important for homeowners to confirm that specific programs still exist before depending upon them to add alternative energy solutions to their homes. Home Loan Changes It seems like there are significant changes to home loans every few years – and recent years have been no exception. Fortunately for those wanting to buy a new home or refinance an existing loan, some recent bits of legislation have expanded on borrowing limits for certain types of loans without adding new restrictions. Unfortunately, many of these laws affect lending through state-level programs instead of making adjustments to loans at the federal level. Some also only affect certain types of homes or houses that are built for specific uses. If you’re waiting for changes to federal loan programs, you may have to wait a bit longer before those programs see major updates. Consult the Experts It’s hard to stay on top of the changes in laws from one year to the next. Having a lawyer or real estate expert to help you sort through all of it can be a great way to keep from being caught unprepared by these new laws.

Brandon Farber

Brandon Farber

 

Tips For Lowering Your Mortgage Insurance Payment

Mortgage insurance can be a pain, though in many cases it’s a necessary evil. Without mortgage insurance you may not be able to qualify for certain loan programs, including loans serviced through the FHA. Depending on the circumstances of your loan and the insurance you buy, this can be a considerable expense. Fortunately, there are ways to reduce this expense; in some cases, you may even be able to get rid of mortgage insurance altogether! Be sure to keep in mind that like many things loan-related, there are a lot of factors that go into determining your mortgage insurance costs. While these tips may help you to lower that payment, their effectiveness will vary from person to person. Build Your Credit As with loan interest rates, mortgage insurance costs can be affected by your credit score. Mortgage insurance is designed to provide additional safety for the lender that extends the loan. As such, the better your credit score is, the less risk there is that you’ll default on the loan. If you can improve your credit, you’ll have a much stronger case for negotiating a lower mortgage insurance payment. Pay Down Your Loan Mortgage insurance is typically required when your down payment is under 20 percent of the value of your home. As such, you can usually renegotiate it or have it removed entirely as you build equity. If you can afford it, make additional payments against your loan to pay it down and build equity faster; this will get you in a position to renegotiate your mortgage insurance sooner than you would otherwise be able to. Refinance Your Mortgage Provided that you can get a good deal on your new loan, refinancing is a great way to reduce the cost of mortgage insurance. Because you’re taking out a new loan to pay off the previous one, any mortgage insurance that’s required will be based on the new loan amount in comparison to your home’s value. If you refinance with a loan that’s for 80 percent or less than the total value of your home, then you likely won’t have to take out mortgage insurance for the new loan at all. Likewise, if you can refinance with some government-backed loans such as those offered through the Department of Veteran Affairs or the Department of Agriculture, then you should be able to skip the mortgage insurance as well. Increase Your Home’s Value Another option for reducing or eliminating your mortgage insurance payment is increasing the value of your home. In some cases, this is simply a matter of having the property appraised again; there are a number of external factors that can affect property value, and if your property sees a value increase then you can use this to renegotiate your mortgage insurance rate. If that isn’t an option, consider home improvements or similar actions that will increase the value of your property so that you can get out from under that insurance umbrella. Talk to Your Lender If you aren’t sure what to do, talk to your lender and see which options are best in your situation. They may look at your mortgage payment history and other factors to help you find a way to reduce that insurance cost. They can also help you calculate your equity and see exactly how much more you’ll need to significantly reduce (or completely eliminate) your mortgage insurance obligations. If you’ve already built over 20 percent equity then you may be able to simply ask for the insurance to be cancelled in your first contact with the lender. Ask the Experts Since mortgage insurance costs can vary from person to person, it’s always a good idea to find a professional to advise you about your specific loan situation.

Brandon Farber

Brandon Farber

 

Finding home features that matter most with the realtor.com Photo First℠ feature

A photo is worth a thousand words, especially when you’re looking for a home. Until now, home shoppers have had to scroll through dozens of listing photos to see if a home has the features they are looking for. With the new realtor.com Photo First℠ feature, you can say goodbye to endless scrolling and instead, hone in on the home features that matter to you most. The first-of-its-kind feature is designed to deliver the best browsing experience by making photos more personalized, relevant, and seamless than ever before.  The Photo First feature is now available on Android and iOS, and will be coming soon to web and mobile web. Powered by deep learning, the Photo First feature automatically recognizes characteristics of a room and organizes photos into categories with more than 97 percent accuracy.  If for instance, an open-concept kitchen is a non-negotiable for you in your home search, you may want to ensure the home has that feature before looking at other photos of the listing. And now you can. Simply select the kitchen category from the listing details page, and that category’s photos will be brought into view. You can do the same with other feature categories such as exterior, bathroom, bedroom, living room, or dining room. Browsing kitchen photos with the Photo First featureDeveloped with colleagues on our mobile and data science teams, the Photo First feature was a rewarding feature to develop. We know that photos are an essential element of home search, particularly given that many people are visual learners, and that our photo experience is currently the most engaged part of our app. By taking users through our reimagined photo experience, the home-shopping process can be expedited and make buying and selling a home simpler and more enjoyable. We also understand that the home-shopping process can be time consuming. If we can shave off some of that time by leveraging the power of AI and implement a proprietary deep learning model for image classification, that’s a win for everyone. And thanks to the feature’s deep learning-based algorithm, there is no additional work required for the seller or listing agent to optimize the photos.  The result is a simple and streamlined interface that during beta testing, 100 percent of test users preferred the Photo First feature interface. This new functionality led to more consumers viewing the home details, getting delighted about the home, and connecting with a real estate professional to take the next step. Photo categorization is the first of several planned AI-powered photo feature updates designed to help make buying and selling a home more gratifying than ever. We are excited to release this product feature and hope that you enjoy using the Photo First feature as much as we enjoyed developing it.
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Brandon Farber

Brandon Farber

 

Our Picks: 10 Most Horrifying Decorative Trends

Our Picks: 10 Most Horrifying Decorative Trends October is the month for thrills and chills, but your sense of interior design shouldn’t be what’s scaring people. October 25, 2019 By:  Melissa Dittmann Tracey Design Trends
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Brandon Farber

Brandon Farber

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