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Five Tips for a Hassle-Free Moving Day

Moving vans are criss-crossing the nation in great numbers these days, as consumers take advantage of historically low mortgage rates to upgrade their living space and grab their piece of the American Dream.

The New York Times reported recently that moving companies are so busy, they are turning people away, and in most areas of the country, movers need to be booked way in advance of your moving day.

But the big day will arrive sooner than you think and you’ll want it to go as smoothly as possible. Moving professionals offer five tips for ensuring that it does:

  • List last-minute chores. You’ve spent weeks sorting, packing and preparing for your move, but certain tasks cannot be accomplished in advance, like emptying and/or cleaning out the fridge and freezer, getting kids or pets to scheduled sitters, or taking out the last of the trash. Making a list will make it easier for you to check off last-minute needs.
  • Prepare a go-bag. Pack a box or suitcase with stuff you’ll need on moving day or the day after, as well as documents and valuables you don’t want to load onto the moving truck, such as phone chargers, toiletries, medications and an extra set of clothes for each family member. For a long journey, you may also want to fill a small cooler with water and healthy snacks or pre-made sandwiches.
  • Leave out basic cleaning supplies. You’ve likely done a thorough house cleaning by now, but once the furniture and packed cartons are gone, you may see dirty areas you didn’t notice earlier. Keep rags or paper towels and a few basic cleansers handy for tackling dust bunnies behind the now-gone sofa, or grime where the fridge once stood.
  • Do one last walk-through. Anything left behind may be difficult to retrieve later, so open all kitchen and bathroom drawers and cabinets, bedroom closets, coat closets and any other built-in areas where items may have escaped notice. 
  • Have some cash on hand. While a credit card can cover unexpected stops for lunch or other purchases, you may want to have cash to tip your professional movers. Such tips are not mandatory, but if they’ve done a good job, consider tipping $20 per helper.

Ten Tips for Reducing Your Electric Bill

The coldest weather of the year is upon us, and if you are like most Americans, you are looking for ways to keep your energy costs low. Following these simple tips will help you reduce energy consumption and lower your bill:

  • Use a programmable thermostat. It will save you money because it can set the temperature to the most cost-effective levels during periods in which no one is home or when you’re asleep. 
  • Replace the air filter. That will keep your unit in proper working order, which is key to energy-efficient central air and heating systems. 
  • Lower the temp on your water heater. Lowering the temperature a few degrees will shave some money off your electric bill. The ideal temperature for water heaters is 120 degrees Fahrenheit. 
  • Use the right lights. LED bulbs are the most energy efficient lighting option, using 75 percent less electricity than incandescent bulbs. They have no mercury and last about 25 times longer than traditional incandescent bulbs.
  • Turn off the lights. Even LED bulbs use electricity. The simple act of turning off the lights when you leave a room can save power and money.
  • Check doors and windows for air leaks. Caulking, weatherstripping or replacing seals on your windows and doors will keep cold air from coming in and warm air from escaping. This will save you dollars and improve the comfort of your home.
  • Manage hot water use. Wash only full loads of clothes and dishwashers, and use cold water washes when appropriate.   
  • Dress for the weather. It’s a lot cheaper to put on a sweater or sit under a toasty blanket in the evening than to turn on an electric heater.
  • Shut down your computer. Computers are big energy users. Turn your monitor off at night and ditch the screensaver. Opting to shut down over using a screensaver does not affect your computer’s lifespan.
  • Unplug idle electronics. Devices like televisions, microwaves, scanners and printers use standby power, even when off. Unplug them when not in use.

Traditional vs. Open Floor Plans: Which One Is Right for You?

For years, open concepts have been touted as more conducive to modern living, yet traditional floor plans certainly have their own benefits, particularly for those who are spending lots of time at home. If you’re trying to determine which is right for you, read on to find out what each one has to offer.

Open Floor Plans
Great for Entertaining.
One of the main arguments for an open layout is that it’s ideal for hosting small get-togethers with friends and family. Combining your cooking, living and dining areas makes it easy to communicate and interact with everyone.

Provide Versatility. Often centered around a large, multi-purpose area, open concept homes offer a lot of flexibility. You can create different spaces, such as a workstation, a reading area and even a media room, all in the center of the home. 

More Natural Light. With fewer walls, sunlight is able to flood your home from all angles. If you want a living space that feels bright and airy, an open floor plan will most likely have the edge in this department.

Traditional Floor Plans
Distinct Spaces
. The way that we use our living space is always changing. These days, many luxury buyers are looking for a home where they can work remotely and their kids can learn virtually. If you want separate rooms that are free of distractions and can be used for distinct purposes, a traditional floor plan may be the better fit.

More Privacy. Rather than having one main space where the family congregates, this layout provides more privacy throughout the home. For those who like to have their alone time, this is certainly a benefit. Additionally, it can make your home quieter because there are more walls to absorb noise.

Easier to Decorate. Decorating a multi-purpose space can be a challenge when it comes to getting the flow right and might even require having furniture custom made. Rooms that have a specific purpose, however, are much easier to furnish because the space is more defined. 

How to Figure Out if You’re Ready to Buy Your First Home

Don’t rush into buying a home unless you’re sure that you’re ready. Here are some things you should do to prepare.

Get Your Finances in Order
Your debt-to-income ratio can affect your ability to qualify for a mortgage. Credit card debt and auto or student loans can also make it difficult to afford monthly mortgage payments. You don’t necessarily have to be debt-free before you buy a house, but you don’t want to get in over your head. It may be a good idea to wait a year, or two, or five to pay down your other debts so you can buy a house you can comfortably afford.

Your credit score will affect your ability to qualify for a mortgage and the interest rate on the loan. If your score is low or marginal, raise it by making payments on time and reducing your credit card balances.

Save Enough for a Down Payment and Other Costs
You may be able to get a house with a low down payment, but you will have to pay for private mortgage insurance if you put down less than 20 percent. That may add hundreds of dollars per month to your overall cost of homeownership. A larger down payment can help you avoid PMI and lower your monthly mortgage payments.

You will need money for closing costs, moving expenses, furniture and appliances. Be sure to have funds set aside for maintenance and repairs.

Figure Out How Much You Can Really Afford
The amount a lender preapproved you for is not the amount you should spend. That estimate may not consider all the costs of homeownership or some of your other expenses, such as childcare, or your savings for retirement and for your children’s college education. 

Think About How Your Life May Change
Consider how secure your job is and whether you have a large enough emergency fund. Think about possible changes that may occur in the coming years. For example, you may have one or more children, your kids may go to college or you may start a new job. Those changes may cause your monthly expenses to rise significantly. Ask yourself if you would still be able to afford a mortgage.

Consider How Long You Plan to Stay Put
Think of a home as a long-term investment. You don’t have to stay there forever, but it may not make sense to buy a house if you don’t plan to live there for at least five years or so. If you sell too quickly, you may barely make enough to cover the amount you paid on closing costs and break even. You may even lose money.

Are You Ready to Be a Homeowner?
Many people feel pressure to buy a house to fit in with their family and friends, but rushing into homeownership unprepared can lead to serious financial and emotional stress. You should only buy a home when the time is right for you. 

How to Find the Right Waterfront Property for You

Investing in a waterfront property is a way to ensure a maximum return while also providing you with a unique opportunity to enjoy a luxurious and exclusive view. If you’re thinking of purchasing a waterfront property, here are a few things to keep in mind to prevent overspending and to ensure your investment is sound.

Set a Budget
Have a budget in place before you begin researching and comparing different waterfront properties near you or on your preferred lake or other body of water. Without a set budget in place, you may find yourself wasting time or feeling let down after discovering a property you desire but cannot afford.
Research Property History
Research the history of the waterfront properties you’re most interested in and their previous owners. Compare listing and sale prices from previous owners and timeframes, as well as property taxes and fees, that were required from the homeowner at the time of sale or ownership.
Learn About Different Types of Water

Choosing to purchase a waterfront property is a way to instantly gain access to a body of water, which is why it’s wise to familiarize yourself with the different types of water your preferred waterfront properties are on. When you are shopping around for waterfront property, consider what type of water you’re interested in. Saltwater and freshwater both provide different environments and opportunities, which is why it is important to choose a property near the type of water that’s right for you and your family.
Research Weather and the Potential for Natural Disasters
If you’re making a waterfront property investment near the ocean, or even near a gulf, it’s a good idea to research the area for potential natural disasters, as well as disaster history. While some waterfront locations may be more protected and secluded than others, many waterfront properties that are located on oceans pose an inherent risk and danger compared to waterfront properties that are located on a freshwater source, such as a traditional beach or lake.
Taking the time to research local waterfront homes, as well as taxes and other property fees you may encounter, is essential for anyone in the market for waterfront property. With the right research and an understanding of your own budget and needs, you can find a waterfront property that is truly ideal for you.
This article first appeared on RISMedia’s blog, Housecall.

5 Ways to Protect Your Plumbing in Winter

For those of us who live in a climate where temperatures dip below freezing during winter, special attention needs to be given to protecting our homes against harsh temperatures. Pipes, in particular, are prone to damage from freezing then bursting, leading to potential flooding and costly repairs.

house in winter – heating system concept and cold snowy weather with model of a house wearing a knitted cap

As with most home emergencies, preparedness is your best defence. From Oklahoma’s Champion Plumbing, here are some important steps to take to help prevent a plumbing nightmare this winter.

Prepare water heaters. Making sure your water heater is in good working condition is essential during the winter months. Insulate exposed water heater pipes to make sure your water remains hot and to prevent the pipes from freezing.

Seal any cracks around pipes. Pipes often run along the floor and behind walls, leaving them more exposed to cold weather. That’s why it’s important to seal up any holes on the interior and exterior portion of the wall using caulk or spray.

Flush water heaters. Flushing the water heater helps remove any built-up sediment in the unit. Eliminating the sediment will help extend the life of the unit while also preventing rust and clogs in the drain valve.

Keep your home warm. Making sure your home is well-heated during winter will help keep interior pipes warm. Keep interior doors open to allow the heat to warm the pipes as well as increase circulation in the home. Open cabinet doors on especially cold days to bring extra warmth to pipes located under sinks.

Add extra insulation. Increasing insulation inside of a home will help increase and maintain heat. Consider adding extra insulation in attics, crawl spaces and basements.

The Best Homebuying Strategy

You don’t want to throw money away on rent anymore, do you? Instead, you can build an asset that can grow large if you handle your money wisely. Your best strategy? Prepare financially—now.

Down-payments. Small down-payments spell risk for lenders. You’ll pay a higher interest rate and you’ll have to get private mortgage insurance, about 0.5 to 1.0 percent of your mortgage. That’s about $2,000 a year on a $200,000 mortgage, which will add about $167 to your monthly bills.   

While 20 percent down is ideal, paying PMI allows you to get into a home faster with less money down. You’ll benefit in a desirable housing market where home equity is rising.

The costs of homeownership. According to The Motley Fool, you should prepare to pay about two to five percent of the transaction in closing costs. Afterwards, expect to pay for maintenance and repairs, which average about one percent of your home’s annual value. 

Property taxes can be reassessed annually by multiplying your home’s value by the mill rate (percentage) for your county. Prepare for utilities to rise in winter and summer.

Debt management. Money guru Dave Ramsey says buying a home when you’re in debt is like running a marathon with weights chained to your legs.

Rutgers University economists suggest your monthly consumer debt service should be no higher than 10 percent of your net income. At 20 percent or more, you’re in the danger zone. Divide your monthly consumer debt payments by your total net income to find your percentage.

New Trends for Nurseries in 2021

If you’ll be bringing home a baby in the next few months, you may be thinking about decorating a nursery—a cozy space designed to nurture, inspire and grow as your little one does.


Whether or not you know baby’s sex, recent trends are to gender-neutral colors over traditional blues or pinks, partly because many parents don’t want their little boys or girls conditioned from early on, but also because neutral backgrounds allow for greater decorative freedom. 

Here are some of the top decorating trends for nurseries in 2021:

Gray is the new yellow – While yellow still works as a gender-neutral shade, gray provides a fresh, modern update that is versatile enough to pair with almost any color palette. Bright hues in décor or furniture look especially beautiful against a light or medium gray.

Wall murals are back – …and they’ve gotten a major upgrade. Gone are the days of the simple baby duck murals. Beautifully illustrated trees or a choice of playful scenes are now available via wall decals. A bold, graphic wallpaper is another great idea for upping the design game in your space, typically on only one wall.

Gallery walls add interest – Instead of hanging one or two larger pictures, consider a gallery wall featuring a dozen or so illustrations from children’s fairytale books displayed in varying sizes of simple white frames, or choose any theme of your liking. You can even choose a mix of subjects to add more visual interest.

Animals are timeless – Animal decor is always a fun option for a gender-neutral nursery. Again, you can choose to stick to a theme—woodland, zoo or farm animals for example—or feature one type of animal throughout the space. Add a giant stuffed animal and/or an animal-shaped hamper for extra fun.

Don’t forget the ceiling – Wallpapering the ceiling is another great nursery option when you want to up your design game. Pair the theme of your ceiling with curtains for an unexpected, super modern look.

How to Avoid Becoming ‘House Poor’

If you’re searching for a new home, you may want to buy a house that has plenty of bedrooms, a sizable yard and various amenities. It’s easy to spend too much and wind up being “house poor.” Here are some tips to avoid that.

What Does It Mean to Be ‘House Poor?’
Being house poor means that homeowners devote such a large percentage of their income to a mortgage, private mortgage insurance, homeowners insurance, utilities and maintenance that they struggle to pay for other things. Homeowners who are house poor may find it difficult or impossible to cover car payments and credit card bills, build a significant emergency fund, save for their own retirement and their children’s college education, and pay for entertainment and vacations.

How Can This Happen?
When prospective buyers seek mortgage pre approval, lenders tell them how much money they can borrow, but that doesn’t mean that they should borrow that amount. Lenders may not consider other expenses such as healthcare, childcare, retirement savings, college tuition savings, new cars and hobbies. 

When looking for a house, many people don’t factor homeowners insurance and PMI into their calculations, or they greatly underestimate how much they will have to spend on maintenance. Some buyers feel a desire or pressure to buy a house that is similar to or better than those their family members and friends own and end up getting in over their heads financially.

How to Choose a House You Can Afford
Be realistic about the costs of homeownership and don’t plan to borrow the full amount a lender pre approved you for. Make a list of all your current monthly bills and estimate costs for mortgage payments, private mortgage insurance, homeowners insurance and other expenses. Leave room in your budget to save for long-term goals and build an emergency fund to cover unanticipated costs.

It may be a good idea to postpone a home purchase so you can save more money for a down payment. That can allow you to enjoy lower monthly mortgage payments and may help you avoid PMI. It can also allow you to build up a substantial emergency fund to cover unanticipated housing costs or a potential job loss or pay cut. 

Make a Wise and Informed Decision
Many people, especially first-time buyers, are shocked by the costs associated with homeownership and often find themselves overwhelmed. Even if you can afford all the costs now, your family’s financial circumstances may change in the future. If you buy a house at the lower end of your price range, it may not have all the features that you would like, but you may not mind that if you can cover your bills, have fun with your family and plan for the future, all without stressing about how to afford it.

Should You Lock or Float Your Interest Rate?

Interest rates can go up or down on a daily basis. If you’re planning to buy a home or refinance your mortgage, locking or floating the interest rate may help you save money over the term of the loan.

Rate Lock
Locking an interest rate can protect you from market fluctuations. If you choose a rate lock, your lender will honor the current interest rate for a period of time, usually 30 or 60 days. 

If interest rates go up during that time, in most cases, you will still be eligible for your locked-in rate. If you lock in a rate and the rates drop, you will most likely be stuck with the rate you locked in. If you decide to apply for a different type of mortgage than you initially chose, if your credit score changes or if the house appraises for more or less than you expected, that may affect the rate lock. 

Locking in an interest rate does not mean that you are required to take out a mortgage through that lender. You can walk away if you find a lower rate elsewhere, but you may have to forfeit any fees you paid to lock in the rate.

A float-down option can be included in a rate lock so you can be eligible for a lower interest rate if rates fall between now and when you close on your mortgage. A lender may charge a higher fee for a float-down than for a standard rate lock.

Lenders typically offer several interest rates for borrowers with different credit scores. Before you choose a float-down, make sure you know how the lender will decide which rate you are eligible for. 

With a float-down, you may only qualify for a lower interest rate if it is a specific amount below your original rate. If rates will have to fall substantially for you to have a shot at a lower rate, you may decide that it’s not worth it to pay the extra fee. If you choose a float-down and lock in a lower rate, you won’t be able to get an even lower rate if interest rates drop again before you close on your mortgage.

Floating an Interest Rate
Floating an interest rate means not locking it in. If you decide to float the interest rate, you may wind up with a rate that is higher or lower than the one that was available when you applied for a loan. That may be risky since interest rates can be volatile. 

Which Option Should You Choose?
Choosing a float-down may be a smart move if you think interest rates may go down significantly. Floating the interest rate may make sense if rates are following a general downward trend. The fees associated with each option may vary from one lender to another. 

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