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4 Resolutions for Home Improvements to Make in 2020

With the New Year just beginning, it’s time to think about resolutions to improve your life. Many people give up bad habits related to their health or finances while others start something new, such as taking a college class or changing jobs.



One of the most important improvements you can make this year involves your home. Make 2020 the year when you make key home improvements, such as these, that’ll make it more valuable and appealing:

Foundation and Roof
Start with the basic essentials of your home. Check the foundation for cracks, settling or movement, and have those problems expertly assessed. Do the same for your roof to ensure adequate protection from the elements and to prevent interior damage from leaks due to excessive rain, snow or ice. Keeping these two areas secure will help to ensure your home remains sturdy for years to come.

Utilities
To increase efficiency and save money on utility bills, schedule inspection and maintenance service calls for your home’s utilities. Typically, these include the HVAC system, plumbing and electricity. If those systems are operating effectively but your utility costs remain high, it may be a good idea to add more insulation to your attic or behind the walls for extra protection in keeping your house warm during the colder months. Update your electric panel or wiring if needed to avoid possible shocks or fire in case of a short circuit or lightning strike. Repair plumbing drips and leaks and ensure drainage is working as it should, so water leaks or backups don’t cause problems.

Fresh Paint
If your walls and floors are in generally good condition, consider giving your rooms a fresh coat of paint. New colors will brighten your home, and it’s a fairly basic and inexpensive way to change the look of various areas. Add coordinating accents like throw pillows or area rugs, and your house can be automatically updated with a clean, attractive look.

Landscaping
When the weather permits, give your lawn a makeover in time for the spring growing season. Lay down fresh mulch to replace the old and trim dead branches from trees and shrubs. Replace dead plants with new ones, and consider adding patio pavers to enhance the outdoor look of your property.

With minimal cost and effort, you can keep these home improvement resolutions in the year ahead. Benefits include a sense of pride in achieving your goals, as well as daily enjoyment of your renovated living space and lawn!

This was originally published on RISMedia’s Housecall.

Reprinted with permission from RISMedia. ©2020. All rights reserved.

Home Prices Now 15 Percent Higher Than Last Peak

In October, home prices rose 3.3 percent year-over-year, according to the latest S&P CoreLogic/Case-Shiller Indices, bringing them a milestone 15 percent-plus higher than their last peak, in July 2006.

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The complete data for the 20 markets measured by S&P:

Atlanta, Ga.
October/September: 0.4%
Year-Over-Year: 4.2%

Boston, Mass.
October/September: 0%
Year-Over-Year: 3.4%

Charlotte, N.C.
October/September: 0.4%
Year-Over-Year: 4.8%

Chicago, Ill.
October/September: -0.4%
Year-Over-Year: 0.5%

Cleveland, Ohio
October/September: -0.5%
Year-Over-Year: 3.3%

Dallas, Texas
October/September: -0.1%
Year-Over-Year: 2.9%

Denver, Colo.
October/September: 0%
Year-Over-Year: 3.3%

Detroit, Mich.
October/September: -0.5%
Year-Over-Year: 3.1%

Las Vegas, Nev.
October/September: -0.2%
Year-Over-Year: 2.3%

Los Angeles, Calif.
October/September: 0.4%
Year-Over-Year: 2%

Miami, Fla.
October/September: 0.3%
Year-Over-Year: 3.3%

Minneapolis, Minn.
October/September: -0.2%
Year-Over-Year: 4.2%

New York, N.Y.
October/September: 0.3%
Year-Over-Year: 0.8%

Phoenix, Ariz.
October/September: 0.5%
Year-Over-Year: 5.8%

Portland, Ore.
October/September: -0.5%
Year-Over-Year: 2.7%

San Diego, Calif.
October/September: -0.2%
Year-Over-Year: 2.9%

San Francisco, Calif.
October/September: -0.4%
Year-Over-Year: -0.4%

Seattle, Wash.
October/September: -0.3%
Year-Over-Year: 2.5%

Tampa, Fla.
October/September: 0.6%
Year-Over-Year: 4.9%

Washington, D.C.
October/September: 0.3%
Year-Over-Year: 3%

“With October’s 3.3 percent increase in the national composite index, home prices are currently more than 15 percent above the pre-financial crisis peak reached July 2006,” Craig J. Lazzara, of the S&P Dow Jones Indices, said in a statement. “As was the case last month, after a long period of decelerating price increases, the national, 10-city and 20-city composites all rose at a modestly faster rate in October compared to September. This stability was broad-based, reflecting data in 12 of 20 cities.

However, “it is, of course, still too soon to say whether this marks an end to the deceleration or is merely a pause in the longer-term trend,” cautioned Lazzara.

Heading into 2020, appreciation could temper, according to Lawrence Yun, chief economist at the National Association of REALTORS®, if builders expand inventory options.

“Demand remains strong and supply is lacking,” says Yun. “Moreover, faster price appreciation in warmer Southern states reflect the ongoing migratory trend of people moving out of expensive regions of the country to more affordable parts. In 2020, more home-building activity and consequent growth in supply should tame down home price gains. That’s a healthy development for potential homebuyers. Southern cities should once again do better than most other markets.”

At the local scale, home prices varied.

“Price trends varied across cities depending in part on affordability constraints and population growth pressures,” Frank Nothaft, chief economist at CoreLogic, says. “High-cost markets, where the lack of affordable housing remains a critical issue, had the largest deceleration in price growth from one year ago, with prices declining in San Francisco on an annual basis for the third month in a row. Of the cities in the composite index, Phoenix and Tampa top the list of annual appreciation, reflecting rising demand from strong population growth in Arizona and Florida.”

Reprinted with permission from RISMedia. ©2020. All rights reserved.

5 Home Areas to Purge in the New Year

While the new year is often a time of revitalized goals, it is also an excellent time for purchasing unwanted clutter and junk, Circle a weekend in the first few months of the year and plan for purging. The following areas are a great place to start.

Kitchen cabinets. Pull everything out of your kitchen cabinets and examine your items for frequency of use. If you have duplicates, worn items or well-intentioned gadgets you rarely use, pull them aside for donation or re-sell. 

Linen closets. When was the last time you itemized your linen closet? Empty out your space and look for linens that are stained, damaged, faded or, in general, have seen better days. Cut them up into rags or store them for drop cloths for your next painting project.

Storage spaces. Storage spots–whether it’s the attic, garage or that closet in the basement–are often packed with items that we really got let go of. Go through each storage space and be brutal with your elimination tactics. If you haven’t used it in over a year and it isn’t highly sentimental, it should go.

Media collections. Do you have stacks of DVDs, books, magazines, and more that you rarely use? Dig through your collection and consider donating items to your local library. 

Clothes. Your clothes closet is likely stuffed full of items you rarely wear. Having trouble letting go? Pull everything out, put on a fashion show for yourself, and toss anything that doesn’t make you feel excellent. If you have items that are similar, let your least favorite one go. Anything with holes or stains should be tossed, cut up for rags, or stored for gardening or painting clothes. Consign your nicer pieces, and donate the rest.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

New Home? Use This Move-In Checklist

After an exhaustive search, you’ve finally found and closed on your new home and are ready to move in! While your mind might be all about painting, decorating and buying furniture, don’t overlook the important practical steps that should be taken upon arrival.

Consider this helpful move-in guideline from Lowe’s to make sure you’re safe and sound in your new home…then you can focus on being stylish, too!

1. Change the locks. You can’t be sure that the keys to your new home are the only ones in existence, so play it safe and change the locks. Now is a good time to consider home automation with smart locks and keyless entry, too.

2. Reprogram the garage door opener. This is another important safety step for your new home. Most remotes have a reset button, but contact the manufacturer if you’re unsure about how to go about it.

3. Know how to shut off the water. This is essential for any new homeowner to know in case of a water emergency. Find the main water shutoff, as well as all outside water spigots. Ask the previous homeowner if you can’t find them.

4. Find the main circuit breaker. Make sure you understand how it’s labeled, and which switch turns off what. If you’re moving into a new construction home, identify the circuits and make your own labels.

5. Test the smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors. Make sure there’s one smoke detector in every room. Carbon monoxide detectors are needed on each floor. Also, place a fire extinguisher on every level—and learn how to use it.

6. Know what to do if you’re locked out. Find a good hiding spot for a spare key, or make friends with a neighbor who can hold onto a spare set.

7. Get to know your HVAC system so that you’re comfortable controlling your heating and cooling systems. This will be essential to keeping your energy bills in check. You may also want to install a smart thermostat. 

8. Check out your lightbulbs. Look both inside and out and see if you need to make the switch to energy efficient lightbulbs. 

9. Replace all toilet seats. It’s always a good idea to go with a fresh start in the bathroom!

10. Create an emergency exit plan. Investigate your new home thoroughly and come up with an exit plan for all members of your family in the event of an emergency. Make this your No. 1 priority so you can sleep soundly on your very first night.

Reprinted with permission from RISMedia. ©2020. All rights reserved.

4 Signs Termites Have Made Themselves at Home in Your Home

Having a pest problem in your home, although irritating, happens more often than you may think. Likely, every homeowner will experience battling pests at some point.



Although you’ve probably heard of people having rat and roach infestations, people often forget about termites because their effects aren’t as visible. Termites are small insects that eat through and live in wood. If you reside in an area where termites are common, it’s important you know what to look for:

The Sounds
Despite their small size, termites are actually pretty noisy creatures. In fact, one of the most notable signs that you have termites is the sound they produce, often described as a loud banging. You may be wondering how something so small can make that kind of noise. It’s because the worker termites are very loud eaters. If you start hearing this sound, then you may need to call an exterminator.

You Think You Have Ants
At first glance, a termite looks very similar to an ant. Small in size and large in numbers, it’s easy to mistake them for ants. However, there’s one distinct feature that termites have that ants do not: their color. Termites are often white, which makes them look somewhat transparent. Ants, on the other hand, are either red, brown or black. There’s no such thing as a white ant, so if you see an ant that looks transparent, call a termite expert immediately.
 
Doors and Windows Aren’t as Easy to Open

You may be thinking that since termites tend to eat through door and window frames that these areas would be loose and more easy to open; however, this usually is not the case. As termites chew their way through the wood, they leave behind moisture, which causes the wood to become warped. When wood starts to warp, it can make opening your windows and doors more difficult than usual. There are plenty of termite solutions for this, but be sure to act quickly to avoid further restoration costs.

Termite Droppings
The last notable sign that you have termites are finding their droppings. Also known as frass, termite droppings will surround the area they’re inhabiting. Frass is usually black in color and the pellets are tiny. The frass they push out of their tunnels may resemble a mound of black pepper.

If left untreated, termites can cause devastating damage to your home. Make sure to take precautions in preventing them, and call an exterminator should the need arise!

This was originally published on RISMedia’s Housecall.
 

Reprinted with permission from RISMedia. ©2020. All rights reserved.

Tips for Buying a Foreclosure

Are you considering buying a foreclosure or bank-owned home? It can be tempting to look at foreclosed properties if you want a bargain, but are the lower prices really worth the potential problems? A different approach is needed when you are looking to buy a foreclosed house. Below are some tips and tricks to make the process smoother.



It’s essential to know that these kinds of real estate transactions can be a bit riskier than your traditional purchase. Quite often, first-time homebuyers are under the impression that foreclosure properties are the bargain of the century. While at times there is a discount, don’t expect it to be monumental. If only going from a renter to a homeowner translated into instant equity. Unfortunately, it rarely ever works that way.
Keep your eyes wide open and use these simple tips for buying a foreclosure:

Is It a Good Idea to Buy a Foreclosed Home?
A foreclosed property has been recovered by the lender when the owner was unable to keep up their mortgage payments. The lender wants to get as much of their money back, and they want to do it quickly. This leads to foreclosed homes coming on the market for less than the value they really offer.

For buyers, this can present an excellent opportunity to save thousands on the house. There are some downsides and potential pitfalls to purchasing a foreclosed property, and it won’t be for everybody. If you’re happy with the higher risks involved and can move quickly on a deal, this could be a way to get a decent discount on a home. Here’s what you’ll need to do to secure a foreclosure bargain:

Get the Right Real Estate Agent
It’ll be helpful to get the services of a buyer’s real estate agent who’s knowledgeable about the foreclosure market. To find an excellent REALTOR®, check the online listings for foreclosed properties in your area. Look for agents with specialized qualifications, like the Certified Distressed Property Expert and the Short Sales and Foreclosure Resource training certificates.

Buyers will sometimes go directly to the seller’s agent, which, frankly, isn’t smart. The thinking for doing so most often is getting savings in commission. Keep in mind that the listing agent works for the seller. Their fiduciary duty in every way is to the seller. Getting a discount in commission isn’t beneficial if you make a terrible mistake or overpay for the property.

If you find a great agent, you can expect them to look out for properties that meet your needs. You have to be ready to do things quickly, however, as these listing don’t usually remain on the market for long.

There are specific online search tools you can use to find foreclosure properties.

Have a Preapproved Mortgage
If you aren’t able to pay cash for the property, you’ll need to show a preapproval mortgage letter to prove that you’re serious. It will show that you can close on the property quickly, being able to pay the amount offered.

Having a loan ready will mean that you can better compete with offers from real estate investors, which will normally be offering cash. Lenders will need the property appraised to find the value. You need to take this into account when making an offer so that the loan amount isn’t below the offer you’ve made. If this happens, you may have to find the difference if the sellers won’t reduce the price to match.

Comparative Market Analysis
It can be challenging to judge the right amount to offer for a foreclosed home. Analyzing the recent sales information can provide a better understanding of the bid you should offer to get the house. Your agent should be able to run this analysis for you. They should also be able to give you some idea about how quickly sales go through, which will inform you on how much you need to bid.

Your agent needs to realize when running comparable sales data to be comparing apples to apples. The condition will play a vital role in the value. The agent will need to have decent skills at estimating necessary improvements.

Bidding Higher
If you find that foreclosures are selling quickly in your area, you will need to bid more to make sure you’re successful. Your agent should be able to help you create an offer that has a good chance of success. The foreclosure price may be discounted by the lender already, so putting in a low-ball offer may not be a reliable approach. In fact, you may find that bidding the asking price or slightly above is the best way to win the purchase. You may need to waive some of the contingencies which seem essential in a regular purchase. While it may seem crazy to do so, some buyers will waive a home inspection when buying foreclosure homes. As an agent who has been in the business for 33 years, I wouldn’t recommend it, but it certainly happens.

The waiver of a financing contingency, even when you’re not paying cash, is also a possibility. This will make sure the sale goes through faster, which is what the lender is looking for. If you decide this is the route you’re going to take, make absolutely certain you’ll have no problem getting the mortgage. Otherwise, you would be putting your earnest money at risk.

Condition of the Property
Often, a foreclosed property will be in a worse condition than you would expect from a typical house sale. The previous owner may not have cared much about the state of the property when they left it. Quite often, bank-owned properties are fixer-uppers that need quite a bit of work. The lender isn’t going to be particularly interested in making any repairs, either.

You should have a home inspection done to make sure you fully understand the problems the property may have. As previously mentioned, not having one is foolhardy. Things may be uncovered that were unknown to the lender, and a better deal could be possible if that happens.

While lenders aren’t going to care about routine maintenance items, if something significant pops up, like a non-functioning heating system, there may be some consideration.

Final Thoughts
Buying a foreclosed home is not for everyone. When purchasing this type of property, it is essential to make sure you do extra due diligence. It’s not out of the realm of possibility there could be the next problem you weren’t aware of lurking around the corner.

This was originally published on RISMedia’s Housecall.

Bill Gassett is a nationally recognized real estate leader who has been helping people buy and sell Metrowest Massachusetts real estate for the past 33 years.

Reprinted with permission from RISMedia. ©2020. All rights reserved.

How-To Protect Your Pipes This Winter

During the winter, many homeowners are vigilant in keeping their driveways clear of snow and their front steps free from ice, but how much time do you spend thinking about your pipes?

“Frozen pipe issues are more than just a minor hassle,” says Max Rose, owner of Four Seasons Plumbing. “Damage caused by frozen pipes bursting can cost thousands of dollars in repairs, property damage and loss. Fortunately, most homeowners can avoid untimely expenses like this by being proactive instead of waiting on freezing lows to arrive.”

Rose and the Four Seasons team list the following tips to prevent freezing pipes:

Survey the home’s exterior – Small air leaks near pipes can cause them to freeze very quickly. Use caulk or insulation to seal any troublesome cracks.

Monitor indoor air temperatures – It’s a great money-saving practice to lower the thermostat at night or during absences, but temperatures should never be set below 65 degrees to prevent pipes from freezing.

Pack-up outdoor hoses – Stow away outdoor hoses in the winter months and make sure the indoor valve is completely shut off. Make sure hose bibs are completely drained before covering.

Let faucets drip – On nights where a below freezing temperature drop is in the forecast, be sure to let faucets drip with warm water. Even a trickle of water helps prevent pipes from freezing.

Open cabinets – Cabinet doors can prevent warm air from getting to pipes under kitchen and bathroom sinks. It’s an important practice to leave them cracked so that the heat can circulate around the pipes.           

“Cold weather is troublesome enough on its own, and more so around the holidays,” Rose says. “If you do happen to fall victim to a frozen pipe disaster, turn off the water at the main as soon as possible, then call a professional right away.”

5 Tips to Refresh Your Home in the New Year

Each new year gives you the chance to reset and start new routines. When you’re considering new approaches to healthy living – whether eliminating or adding habits to improve your daily life – beginning with your home is an optimal choice.

Your living environment has a strong influence on your life, and it’s worth evaluating how you can make updates that create a positive space for you and all that the new year will bring. Consider these ideas to refresh your home and simplify your house cleaning routine so you can spend more time focusing on your goals this year. 

Start by Decluttering. It’s practically impossible to get excited about a fresh start when you’re surrounded by last year’s junk. Make decluttering and purging unnecessary items a top priority for your refresh. Clear counters and tables to create more inviting surfaces and force yourself to assess which items are worth keeping. Get rid of items you don’t need by donating, selling or disposing of them. Tackle piles of things you’ve carelessly tossed aside and find (or create) purposeful places for them to belong. 

Simplify Your Laundry Routine. Whether it’s the frustration of having no clean laundry or never-ending baskets filled with clothes that need folding, laundry is an area where nearly every home can use a refresh. Start with the basics to make laundry easy and quick. A streamlined laundry system starts with the right tools for the job, such as single-dose detergent pods that release while inside your machine, so you can simply toss one in and start the load.

Create a Fitness Space. One way to stay committed to a new workout regimen is to create a place where you enjoy spending time. Even if you don’t have a room to dedicate to fitness, you can make a fitness corner feel more intentional and less like an afterthought with some simple changes. If possible, locate your fitness area near a window so you can soak up the energy of natural light. Clear away unnecessary items and make room for the equipment or floor space you need. Add inspiring posters or make frames to hold your current workout guide. Add storage for hand weights, resistance bands and other small equipment to create your own home gym. 

Reconfigure Your Furniture. A full-fledged renovation may not be in the cards (or budget), but you can give your living space a quick facelift by simply rearranging the furniture. Beyond simple aesthetic changes, think about how you can make better use of natural light and improve traffic patterns. You might also eliminate extra pieces if the space feels overcrowded or consider borrowing functional items that add storage or seating from other rooms in the house.

Add Greenery. The middle of winter may not seem like an ideal time to hone your green thumb, but adding a few plants can make your home feel more inviting and chase away the cold weather blues. Plants can also help serve as a natural air purifying system; they absorb carbon dioxide to help stimulate their growth and are believed to absorb a host of other airborne pollutants.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Feel a Draft? 4 Places Your Home Is Probably Losing Heat

Winter is on its way and you know what that means… soon, you’ll need to turn on your furnace. In fact, if you live in a colder climate, you might have already done so.
 
Keeping your home warm while keeping your electric bill low is the goal for most homeowners. If it seems like your home is always chilly but your energy bill is high, you may be losing heat. Here are some of the most common places your home can lose heat:
 
1. Around Windows
Your windows are one of the prime places for heat loss. Old windows are known for letting heat escape while letting drafts in. Triple-glazed windows work well to keep the heat inside your home when the furnace is running. Since air isn’t really conducive of heat, triple-glazed windows act as a three-layer barrier to keep cold air out and warm air inside.
 
However, if you can’t afford window replacement, invest in high-quality curtains to help keep warm air inside. It’s estimated that drapes can reduce heat loss by approximately 10 percent during the winter. You can also install weather stripping, which help to fill in ill-fitting windows.
 
2. Doors
Similarly, doors that are in need of repair or replacement are a leading source of heat loss. To prevent this from happening around your door, make sure that the perimeter around the door frame is insulated well. You can use weather stripping or foam tape to fill in gaps. You should also install new door sweeps to keep cold air from entering underneath the door. If your doors are past the point of repair, replacement doors may be in order.
 
3. Through the Roof
Even if your windows and doors are tightly insulated, you may still be losing a good amount of heat through your roof. If your roof is old or in need of repair, heat can easily escape through cracks in the shingles or worn-out insulation. If only minor repairs are needed, you can easily seal up any holes and add insulation.
 
4. Power Outlets and Switches
Areas around power switches and outlets are also prime areas of heat loss. If the outlets aren't insulated well, heat may be escaping through the walls. However, adding insulation is usually a quick fix. If you're handy around the house, you simply disconnect the power, remove the face plates and carefully add on external outlets and light switches. If you aren't handy, enlist the help of an experienced electrician to avoid injury.
 
Keeping your home warm and toasty this winter is easier than you may think. Take time before the first deep freeze to ensure your home is ready for whatever Mother Nature throws at you!
 
This was originally published on RISMedia's Housecall.
 
Anita Ginsburg is a freelance writer from Denver, Colo. She studied at Colorado State University and now writes articles about health, business, family and finance. A mother of two, she enjoys traveling with her family whenever possible. If you're in the market for a replacement door, Ginsburg recommends Pella.

Reprinted with permission from RISMedia. ©2019. All rights reserved

4 Not so Obvious Fall Gardening Tasks

You might be spending your weekend raking and bagging leaves, maybe planting some spring bulbs, too. But there are actually a wide variety of important – and time- and money-saving – gardening tasks you could be embarking on this seasons as well. Check out the following ideas before you roll up your sleeves and head out into the yard:

Put down mulch. The fall is a great time to spread a layer of mulch as many plants get ready to go dormant and hibernate for the winter. This will make the job easier as you won’t have to worry about damaging young plants as you’re spreading mulch around. Also use this time to dig out new beds you’re planning to plant in the spring and cover those with mulch as well.

Collect seeds. Save some money on next year’s annuals’ bill by collecting seeds to start inside over the winter and plant in the spring. Look for seeds from sunflowers, zinnias, cosmos and any other fall plants still blooming in your yard. Same goes for your fall vegetable harvest.

Divide plants. Fall is a great time to thin flower beds, especially native plants. Using a shovel, separate about one-third of a plant and house them in pots over the winter, keeping them well watered and fertilized. They make a great gift for neighbors and friends, too!

Prepare for the birds. If you take care of the birds during the winter, fall is a great time to stock up on and organize your bird seed, before snow and ice make the task more difficult. Clean and inspect your bird feeders and hang them in easy to access spots that also allow you to easily view your feathered friends.

Source: The State Journal

Reprinted with permission from RISMedia. ©2019. All rights reserved.

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