New Construction at Hampton Rhodes Sterling MA

Searching for the Perfect New Home

The real estate market is very tight and many people are afraid to put their homes on the market.  Because they don’t know if they will be able to find the next new home they want, they just keep looking.  Since many of the existing homes do not meet their specific needs, they continue to wait for the right home.  If you have been looking for your next new home for a while, perhaps you might consider new construction.  Building a new home means you will be able to choose everything you want.

Outstanding Quality New Construction in Sterling MA

If you are searching for new construction, this beautiful neighborhood at Hampton Rhodes in Sterling MA has much to offer.  The homes at Hampton Rhodes are all very unique, with no two homes alike.  The builder made a decision early in the development process that there would be no cookie cutter homes.

The designer and builders pay special attention to make sure you can think about every possible detail.  They provide professional assistance with choices of lighting, flooring, custom tile work, and paint colors inside and out.  They will make this an exciting journey to the perfect new home.

Custom designed new construction

Take a Video Tour

Take a tour of the neighborhood at Hampton Rhodes and see what this outstanding neighborhood has to offer.  And then contact us to explore what it would take to build your perfect new home.

How to Choose Hardwood Flooring That Will Get Your House Noticed

As a house flipper, ensuring my renovated properties look great is very important to me. I love walking into homes with hardwood floors. From bamboo to cork to parquet, oak, pine, and mahogany, wood floors give an immediate feeling of quality and luxury. There are seemingly endless varieties, styles and textures of hardwood flooring to complement your home and the region where you live.

If you’re thinking of selling your home in the next few years or simply want to love where your feet fall, hardwood flooring can add value and give your home the design boost it needs.

Solid Wood vs. Engineered Hardwoods

With so many options available nowadays, making the right decision can be difficult. Consider these key differences when evaluating flooring for your home.

Solid Wood Flooring is milled from trees, and each plank is composed of natural wood. Within the realm of solid wood, there are varying degrees of hardness. The Janka Hardness Scale rates the hardness of wood and can help you choose the right flooring for your home.

Engineered Wood is made up of pieces of wood and composite materials that are layered to create each plank.

There are pros and cons to each option. Solid wood flooring can swell and retract based on humidity and climate, requiring proper installation to limit the chances of these occurrences. In most instances, hardwood flooring means paying a premium in the cost. On the other hand, engineered wood flooring doesn’t react like solid wood to humidity, but it can’t be refinished multiple times if it gets deep scratches.

Installation and Other Considerations

Engineered floors come prefinished, which saves a step or two in the process of completing your flooring project. They can be installed quickly, in as little as one day, and are ready for immediate move-in. Hardwood requires several additional steps in the process: installation and cleaning, and staining (often several times) prior to adding a final coat of varnish.

Weather conditions matter as well. High humidity requires a longer drying time between coats, and stepping on floors that have not cured properly is out of the question. Those with sensitivity to strong odors will want to wait until the smell disappears before returning home.

Color and Pattern Choices

Style can be imparted not only through your choice of a particular wood but also through the color of stain you apply. Light floors appear breezy and beachy, while dark floors feel sophisticated and urban. The direction you lay the flooring – vertical, horizontal or in a pattern – also influences how formal or informal the space appears.

Durable, Practical and Stylish

Installing hardwood flooring is one of those rare instances in life where the practical choice doesn’t leave you feeling like you’ve made a series of compromises to arrive at a responsible decision. Hardwood is beauty and brains wrapped in one tough package. The main choice to be made, really, is whether to install natural or engineered hardwoods.

Because each type has different properties, where you plan to put the flooring could supply you with the quickest answer to the type of hardwood you should select. Due to the expansion and retraction qualities of solid hardwood, it’s best to keep it out of spaces that have a lot of moisture, like the bathroom or kitchen, or in spaces where the flooring would be laid directly on top of a concrete slab. For this reason, basements and bathrooms are great places to use engineered wood flooring instead.

Rental Property Considerations

If your home is an investment property for rent, you may want to opt for solid hardwood over engineered. Solid hardwood floors can be refinished up to 10 times before they need to be replaced. This will allow you to refinish the floors between tenants. Conversely, engineered hardwood, while very durable, has a useful life that does not extend beyond one or two sandings.

Pet-Friendly Flooring

Hardwood flooring is a practical choice for pet owners as it’s relatively easy to clean and doesn’t trap dust and other allergens the way carpeted floors do. Although engineered wood can be more scratch resistant, its thin layer of wood can’t be refinished multiple times like hardwood can. So if you have active dogs, you may want to opt for solid hardwood floors that can be refinished multiple times.

Noise Reduction

If you prefer that the pitter patter of little feet – or big feet, for that matter – be muffled, cork flooring has sound-absorbing properties to keep your home quiet. Its leathery look and comfort underfoot make it an attractive option. Cork is also an eco-friendly product because it’s derived from the bark of the cork tree and doesn’t require constant replanting.

Written by Jacqueline Falla

Things to Do to Enjoy Fall Weekends

As you plan for Halloween and winter travels, remember to savor today’s pleasures before they flit by

We’re thick into fall now — it’s a good weekend to rake leaves, and then curl up with an engrossing book and a mug of something warm to drink. Here are seven weekend could-dos, including watching monarch butterflies and getting ready for trick-or-treaters.

Put fall leaves to good use. Spy some beautiful fall foliage outside your door? Before you rake and bag it, consider other uses for the leaves. They would make good mulch for your lawn or garden. Or, if the leaves are still more on the trees than on the ground, cut a bundle and bring it inside for a long-lasting display.

Improve your soil and yard the organic way with a valuable garden booster that grows on trees.

Why are leaves valuable to the gardener? It’s simple. When incorporated into soil, fall leaves:

  • Add nutrients, including phosphorous and potassium
  • Increase the soil’s microbial life
  • Boost its water-holding capacity
  • Improve its structure, known as tilth

And did I mention that leaves are free? It takes little effort on your part to get them working for you, so instead of sweeping them to the curb, here are five ways to use leaves in your garden.

Fall leaves

Fall leaves

1. Mow them into the lawn. Together, shredded leaves and grass clippings add carbon (leaves) and nitrogen (grass) to the soil, reducing your need to add store-bought fertilizers later.

2. Add them to vegetable beds. You can incorporate whole or chopped

Vegetable garden

Vegetable Garden Design Plans Ideas |

leaves into any cleared-out vegetable beds. They will mostly decompose over the winter, then in spring you can mix in whatever is left. If you don’t want to see leftover leaves in your beds, shred them first.

Don’t have a shredder? A garbage can and a string trimmer will work. Use a 55-gallon garbage can. Fill it three-quarters of the way with leaves. Put the string trimmer in, turn it on and move it through the layers of leaves. Be sure to wear eye and ear protection.

 

3. Make leaf mold. Leaf mold is simply wet leaves that have decomposed into a rich, black, soil-like substance that makes a perfect mulch for plants. Pile the leaves in a spot where they’re out of the way and won’t blow away. Or make large (3- or 4-foot) circles of chicken wire, 3 feet high, and pile the leaves in them. Wet the leaves as you go so they’ll rot. Turning the pile a few times during the winter will accelerate the process.

4. Mix leaves — shredded or not — into a compost pile now, where they’ll break down over winter. Even better: Stockpile dried leaves, in garbage bags or piled in that out-of-the-way place, for summer. In warm weather there’s an abundance of succulent green material (nitrogen) for your compost pile. But to keep the composting process aerobically working, and not rotting, it needs lots of “browns” (carbon), in the form of dried material.

Potted plants5. Protect outdoor potted plants. When the weather turns cold and potted plants (the hardy ones, not houseplants or tropicals, which must be brought indoors) go dormant, pick a sheltered place on the north, west or east side of your house. Cluster the pots together against the house, ideally beneath an overhang. Pile dried leaves over, under and between the entire grouping of pots.

If the area is windy, corral the pots with chicken wire so the leaves won’t blow away. Pile the leaves inches deep, covering the pot and as much of the plant as possible. Under this insulating blanket, both plants and pots should come through the winter just fine. With this method, even terra-cotta pots can stay outdoors, as long as water can’t get into them and freeze.

 

 

How The Equifax Hack Affects Homebuyers And How You Can Protect Yourself

Half of the country is freaking out. That’s about how many people are potentially affected by the unprecedented Equifax hack. If you’re the average person who’s afraid of having your data stolen – and by data, we mean your name, Social Security number, birth date, addresses, credit card numbers, and driver’s license number that were reportedly involved in this breach – you may have already taken some steps to limit the damage. But what if you’re in the process of buying a home or are getting ready to do so? How does this hack affect you, and what can you do to make sure you are protected?

Potential fallout for homebuyers

“Take this scenario: Say your Equifax file was looted but you’ve done little or nothing to detect fraudulent activity on one or more of your credit accounts. You sign a contract to buy a house, and you apply for a mortgage. The lender pulls your credit and confronts you with shocking news: Your FICO credit score is too low for you to qualify for the loan because you’ve been running up too much debt on one or more accounts. Your ‘utilization ratio‘ on your available credit is too high, and that has depressed your score,” said the Washington Post.

“Or there’s a newly established account in your files that has put you deep in debt, even though you had nothing to do with it. It turns out that financial thieves have been racking up thousands of dollars in debts at your expense, and now – smack in the middle of a major lifetime investment – you’re stuck with having to get the file corrected, which takes time and can be a pain. In the meantime, what happens to your purchase contract? Will the sellers bear with you, essentially putting off the transaction indefinitely and possibly blowing up their own plans to move into another house on a specific date? It could all get really messy.”

Those who are already in escrow could also be derailed when the lender runs your credit before the loan closes and discovers fraudulent new accounts or charges that raise the debt-to-income ratio beyond what is allowed. “At the very least, whatever rate locks you had could be blown as you scramble to get your files corrected,” they said. “Or your entire loan transaction could be jeopardized if the process takes too long.”

Steps to take now

Have you still not checked to see if you were potentially impacted by the hack that affected as many as 143 million people? Not having dealt directly with Equifax doesn’t guarantee your safety. “You may have never used Equifax yourself, or even heard of it,” said CNN. “Either way, the credit reporting agency could still have a lot of your personal information. To find out if your data was compromised by the hack, go here.”

Keep in mind that you’ll have to enter your last name and the last six numbers of your Social Security number to check. Regardless of whether or not they believe you were impacted, you’ll be prompted to enroll in their TrustID Premier credit monitoring service, which will be free for a year. Despite earlier concerns, “Equifax has confirmed that signing up for TrustID Premier will not prevent you from joining a class-action suit over this issue,” said PCWorld.

Armed with this information, you can go about taking further steps to protect your credit and prevent thieves from stealing your identity. Pull your credit reports for free once a year at www.annualcreditreport.com. Look them over carefully to make sure there are not any fraudulent accounts and/or charges. If you see anything, get on the phone with the creditor right away and start the dispute process. If you’re in the process of applying for a home loan or are under contract, you’ll also want to call your lender immediately to alert them to what you found.

To freeze or not to freeze

There has been quite a bit of discussion about credit freezes since news of the breach broke, with some consumers concerned that “turning off” their credit could potentially damage their score or negatively impact them in some other way, especially during the homebuying process. The fact is that a credit freeze is “the most extreme method, but it’s also the most effective” at preventing your information from being stolen and used to open new accounts, credit expert Barry Paperno, who blogs at Speaking of Credit, told NerdWallet. And, it can be turned on and off as needed for, say, a mortgage application or credit re-check before a closing.

“There are no downsides to this: You can still use your credit cards with the freezes on,” said Realtor.com. “But no one will be able to check credit scores and personal information without your permission—so no bad apples can open up fraudulent new cards or get loans under your name. And you can undo the freezes at any time – typically for a small fee.”

That fee varies depending on the state, and Equifax has said it will offer free freezes for 30 days, but the need for freezing will extend long after that is over. “Because a freeze can prevent fraud, it’s better than a credit monitoring service, which only alerts you that fraud might have happened,” said NerdWallet. “It’s the difference between using a deadbolt to keep thieves out rather than a security camera to catch them after the fact.”

You can easily request a freeze online for the three credit unions: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.

Fraud alerts

“If you don’t want to lock out all creditors – perhaps you’re in the middle of mortgage shopping or refinancing – you can place a 90-day fraud alert on your credit,” they added. “This tells potential creditors to verify your identity before issuing credit in your name.” A fraud alert is a good idea whether or not you freeze your credit. In this day and age, when hacks are more frequent and more damaging to more people, ongoing monitoring just makes sense.

“The biggest fears of identity theft “center around identity theft on an epic scale. It isn’t tough to conjure up worst-case scenarios,” said Realtor.com. “Think about it: Bad guys with all of someone’s information could, at least theoretically, try to buy a home under that person’s name. It’s more likely, though, they would use those stolen credit card numbers – or use SSNs to open up new credit cards – and rack up lots of debt in that unsuspecting victim’s name. And that damage could make it much harder for someone to qualify for a mortgage or refinance an existing mortgage.”

Consumers have largely been turning to ID theft protection company LifeLock, who the Los Angeles Times said could be “one of the big winners from the big data breach suffered by Equifax.” Not surprisingly, the firm has upped its advertising outreach in the wake of the breach. The result: “An executive of Symantec, LifeLock’s parent company, told Bloomberg that since the Equifax breach was reported, LifeLock’s Web traffic has increased sixfold and enrollments per hour are running 10 times ahead of the pre-Equifax era.”

But, there’s a rub: “Here’s what LifeLock isn’t advertising so widely: When you buy its protection, you’re signing up for credit reporting and monitoring services provided by, yes, Equifax. LifeLock signed a four-year contract with Equifax in December 2015,” and the relationship is still active.

If any (or all!) of that makes you queasy, there are alternatives to LifeLock you may want to consider.

Written by Jaymi Naciri

City Or Suburbs: Where Should You Buy A Home?

Getting ready to buy your first home? You’re probably caught in that age-old dilemma of whether to buy in the city or move to the suburbs. There are plenty of reports out there that detail how millennials want to stay in the city to be where all the action is. Walkability isn’t just a catchword; it’s a life goal. And, the reports out there that detail how being within close proximity to a Starbucks, a Trader Joe’s, and a Target can raise your home value only strengthen the argument for urban living. Of course, don’t discount all those reports that show that millennials are moving to ‘burbs to buy homes.

“A recent report from the National Association of REALTORS® shows that, instead of settling down in urban areas, young homebuyers are increasingly scooping up properties in the suburbs,” said smartasset. Conventional wisdom may say that’s primarily an affordability issue, and that factor can’t be ignored. However, there are several additional reasons why the suburbs are calling out to millennial buyers. And, on the flip side, there are those who can’t even conceive of leaving the city for the ‘burbs, affordability notwithstanding.

So how do you know where to go? These are some of the key factors.

Being close to what you need

In a city, you can be close to bars, shops, restaurants, and everything else that makes the area so dynamic. Of course, the density can make it hard to find parking, limit the open space, and make it unappealing for young families who want to live among other young families. Millennials who have kids or who are thinking of having kids in the near future have to weigh the importance of being in what they consider an exciting location against the practicality of being in a more family-friendly area.

Schools

The schools may be better in the suburbs. “It should come as no surprise that urban districts tend to have lower graduation rates than suburban ones,” said The Hechinger Report. The reason: “They often have more disadvantaged students and fewer resources.”

While individual cities and districts continue to tackle this important issue, families move to the suburbs, where they’ll likely pay higher taxes on their home to accommodate newer schools and expanded resources. Stay in the city, and you may have to pony up for private schools or seek out a charter to get a comparable education for your present (or future) kids.

Living Space

“The closer you get to a city center, the smaller the living spaces tend to be, even in Texas where things are bigger,” said Square Cow Movers. “This could be doable for some single professionals or couples, but for families it can be an issue. The suburbs provide more space to spread out, which is part of the reason they are still so popular today.”

 

Jobs

“One thing to consider before heading to the suburbs is where you’ll work,” said smartasset. Do you currently work in the city? How long will your commute be, and are you sure you can live with it?

It’s also important to think in terms of a big, unpleasant, “What if?” What if your job situation changes? What will the prospects be like in the area you are considering? Asking yourself how much time you are willing to spend in the car every day and taking a good look at how that translates to options in the area can help you key in on some areas and nix others.

Outdoor space

In some urban areas, parks give residents a respite from all the high rises and commercial spaces. However, living in the city often means having to make tradeoffs, and ample access to nature is one of them.

Safety

While crime rates and data vary depending on the specific location, overall, the suburbs have a reputation for being safer. Obviously if this is an issue for you, you’ll do your due diligence to ensure the safety of your family. It’s important to keep in mind, though, that transitional neighborhoods can provide a great value for money-conscious homebuyers – as long as you’re willing to put up with some potentially unpleasant realities while the transition is under way.

This guide from Forbes can help you identify a neighborhood that’s about to take a turn for the better and might be a good buy. Or, you can heed these tips from Property Brothers’ Drew and Jonathan Scott. “This is when it’s really important to work with a real estate agent that knows the area. Proximity to downtown, transit, shopping, amenities, and schools are really important,” they said on POPSUGAR. “You can also go to the city planning department and find out any major developments that are going into the different communities. Also, drive through the neighborhoods that you are considering and look to see if there are a lot of recent sales. Trying to invest in emerging communities can be risky, so if you are new to real estate, then we suggest sticking to areas you are comfortable in.”

Age of properties

If you want something newer, it may be harder to find in the city. Infill projects tend to be rarer, depending on the location, largely because of their cost. “Real estate is generally more expensive in infill locations than in outlying areas because land is relatively scarce, sites are closer to services and infrastructure, and zoning and the market often support uses that have higher revenue potential,” said the EPA. “However, the assembly process itself involves additional costs.” And then, of course, the higher cost has to be passed on to the buyer, which ties right back in to that affordability issue.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written by Jaymi Naciri

How To Buy A House Without Going House Poor

How much house can you really afford? Is it the amount the bank tells you when pre-approving your loan? That’s what most people go by, oftentimes spending up to their max approval amount to get as much house as possible – or to be able to afford something at all in tight markets.

The debt-to-income (DTI) ratio, along with your credit score, is what is used by lenders to determine your loan approval and amount. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) efforts to keep this number low notwithstanding, it has been rising to levels that are concerning to industry insiders who fear a widespread wave of home buyers overextending themselves and becoming unable to support their mortgage payment and other obligations.

The CFPB’s Qualified Mortgage (QM) Rule went into effect in 2014, intended to curb over leveraging by capping a borrower’s debt-to-income (DTI) ratio at 43 percent. “This means that a borrower’s total debt expense (including total mortgage payment) does not exceed 43% of their gross income (before taxes are withheld),” said the National Association of REALTORS (NAR). The rub: Many loans Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), are exempt from the 43 percent DTI limit.

The impact higher DTIs are having on the market is clear; a new WalletHub report “analyzed data from 2,533 U.S. cities and ranked all of them on the basis of a ‘WalletHub Home Overleverage Score,'” said 24/7 Wall St, finding that, in many cities, over leveraging is becoming the norm. “The score was derived from a city’s median mortgage debt, median house value, median income, mortgage debt-to-income ratio and mortgage debt-to-house value ratio.” The top 10 are all well over the 43 percent threshold, with the top three – San Luis Obispo, California at 59.62; Williamsburg, Virginia at 58.76; and Brooksville, Florida at 57.44) pushing 60 percent.

Getting in over your head with a house, either from the get-go when first purchasing, or later on with a home equity line that increases your monthly payments, is a dangerous scenario for homeowners (and for the market in general). So how do you keep yourself in check to make sure the house you’re buying is one you can actually afford and that you’re not in danger of becoming house poor?

Do your own calculations

The bank may be telling you that a $350,000 house is within your means, but are you OK with the monthly payment attached to that price? No one is more familiar with your spending habits than you. Are you really going to be able to cut $500 a month in discretionary spending (eating out, movies, clothes shopping, morning lattes) to comfortably make your new house payment?

Don’t forget about the extra expenses

If you’re buying your first home, you may not be estimating your new monthly expenses accurately. Did you include the HOA fee, if the community in which you’re looking to buy has one? What about any special assessments, if there are any? And private mortgage insurance (PMI) if you have an FHA loan and are putting less than 20 percent down on your home. That couple hundred dollars could put you over the top.

Have you also considered your utilities? You may not be accustomed to paying gas and electricity and water and trash if you’ve been living in an apartment. There could also be an increase in the cost of electricity if you have more square footage to heat and cool.

Watch out for HELOCS

A home equity line of credit (HELOC) can seem harmless. I mean, it’s your money, right? And you’re using it improve your home, which will only raise its value, right? But what seems like a great idea can also get you in trouble when you tap your home equity. You may be calculating the additional payment for now, but what happens later?

That’s the conundrum thousands are facing right now, as “HELOCs are resetting higher rates and over leveraging homeowners,” said Inman. “An analysis by Black Knight Financial shows that 1.5 million home equity lines of credit will see interest-only draw periods end this year with outstanding unpaid principal balances that average $62,500 per HELOC. The data reveals that average borrowers whose lines of credit reset will face an additional cost of $250 per month, more than double the current average payment.”

Keep an open mind

Finding a house you can afford may be challenging – especially for first-time buyers and those in competitive markets that push the affordability index. If you have tight parameters for your house hunt that are making it hard to find something within your budget, consider:

  • Extending your area search. You may not be aware of (but your Realtor probably is!) adjacent cities or communities that offer a similar lifestyle at a lower price or up-and-coming areas that provide a great value because they’re still slightly under the radar.
  • Buying a condo or townhome instead of a single-family home. Some buyers have an automatic aversion to condos and townhomes because they don’t like the idea of living attached. But your real estate agent may know of properties that are end units, that have private yards, and that are two-story units with no one above or below you. It may be that this is your best bet for homeownership you can really afford at this point, and you may find you like it far more than you expected – especially because so many of these communities come with great amenities like a pool and gym, plus front-yard landscaping that is taken care of, saving you time and money.
  • Looking at fixer-uppers. A little-known loan called an FHA 203(k) mortgage may be your “in” to a home you can afford and make your own. The bonus is that it’s also great for borrowers who may not have the credit and/or down payment to qualify for conventional loans. “The FHA requires a credit score of at least 580 if you want to make the minimum down payment; if you have 10% down, your score can be as low as 500,” said Interest.com. “You can borrow more than the home is worth, as long as the repairs will increase its appraised value. The most you can borrow is 110% of what an appraiser estimates it will be worth after renovations, or the cost of the home plus the estimated renovation cost, whichever is less, minus your down payment. The minimum down payment on an FHA loan is 3.5%.”

Written by Jaymi Naciri

 

New Advances In Technology Make Going Green A Breeze

Did you know that an automatic dishwasher uses less hot water than doing dishes by hand, which equals an average of six gallons less per cycle, or more than 2,000 gallons per year? Considering that an individual American uses about 2,000 gallons of water per month, that’s a pretty significant number.

The idea of “going green” has come a long way in recent decades. In the 1950s, some kinds of energy efficiency weren’t really a choice. From drying your clothes on a clothesline, to cutting your grass with a mechanical push mower, people often lived green without ever consciously considering their carbon footprint. These days, the story is a little different; you can’t turn a corner or pick something up without seeing some kind of “save the earth” signage or packaging.

Reasons to Go Green

There are a plethora of reasons to go green, most falling into either the money-saving or the earth-saving categories. On one hand, you could seriously put some green back into your wallet with things like energy-efficient appliances, and green building tax credits and rebates. Also, simple things like carpooling, limiting eating out, and starting your own vegetable garden are great ways to save money and help the environment.

On the other hand, eco-friendliness means making your community and the planet a better place to live not only for us, but also for future generations. Examples of things you can do in your home are unplugging unused electronics to prevent “phantom” energy consumption, switching to LED light bulbs, conserving water by taking shorter showers, and using reusable items like Tupperware and canvas shopping bags rather than plastic.

Home Automation Technology

New advances in technology are taking much of the guesswork out of going green. With home automation systems like the Wink Hub and free app, you can control the settings on many of your home devices with the push of a smartphone button or even just with your voice. The Wink ecosystem interconnects all of your smart home devices either first through the Hub, or directly to the app. Wink’s simplicity is one of its most attractive features: according to Home Depot technology professional and Wink test user, Ramesh Chaparala, “It’s very, very simple and self-explanatory,” continuing, “Installing the Hub is a no-brainer; in five steps you’re connected.”

What Can You Control?

With the Wink home automation ecosystem, you no longer have to “set it and forget it” when it comes to your home devices. You can control many of your smart devices from your couch, bed, work, or anywhere you are in the world. Here are just a handful of devices you can install in your home that will not only bring you into the 21st century, but also make your home a smoothly running, highly efficient machine.

Smart Thermostats

Thermostats are a great way to control your home’s energy consumption, and when you apply smart technology, you can control it from anywhere. One Wink App Ready device is the Honeywell Wi-Fi Smart Thermostat, which not only adjusts to your schedule, uses automatic energy-saving settings, and Smart Response technology for precise temps, but also has a full-color, customizable screen to match your decorating scheme. You can be sure your home is aesthetically pleasing and at your exact desired temperature at all times.

Custom Window Shades

Motorized window shades allow for a clean, uncluttered look, are safer for pets and children with cordless technology, and help insulate your home with the setting of a timer or the push of a button. One quality option, Bali Custom Blinds and Shades with Somfy® automation & controls, utilizes a single control, wall switch, remote or programmable timer to operate single or multiple window coverings. Keep the shades drawn during summer to keep your home naturally cool, or leave them open in cooler months to let the sunshine warm your space.

Remote-Access LED Lights

Huge energy and money savings start by simply swapping out incandescent and even compact fluorescent light bulbs in your home for LED bulbs. LED solutions outlast incandescent and halogen bulbs up to 35 to 1, consume 85% less energy than incandescent bulbs, and emit less heat, which altogether drastically reduces replacing costs and landfill waste. Once you’ve decided to install LEDs, take it to the next level by installing smart light bulbs, like the TCP Connected Smart LED Light Bulb Kit with (2) A19 LED light bulbs. With this kit, you can remotely control lighting, dimming and smart lighting features from anywhere in the world with any computer, tablet, smart phone, or connected remote control. They have an estimated yearly cost of $1.32 and a life expectancy of 22.8 years (both figures based on three hours of use a day.)

Home Automation Technology is an Environmental No-Brainer

When it comes to eco-friendly new gadgets, it’s clear that home automation takes the cake. Having nearly complete control of your energy-consuming home devices right at your fingertips is certainly a big step forward for earth-conscious homeowners. In addition to these devices, several other smart green products are energy sensors, HVAC systems, irrigation systems, and outlet controls.

Which environmentally friendly automated devices will you install in your home?

Written by Sarah Kellner

6 Ways To Create A More Serene Stress-Free Home

Your home is supposed to be your haven, the place where you can relax and wash away the stresses of the day. But, if your house is messy, cluttered, or designed in a way that opposes certain Feng Shui principles, it could actually be adding to your stress. Apply a few tips to make your home the serene spot it should be.

Plant a garden

It might seem seem like getting dirty in the yard could raise stress levels, but it turns out just the opposite is true for many people. It’s “so effective at combating depression, stress, and anxiety that it’s often used in ‘horticultural therapy‘ at psychiatric hospitals,” said Rodale’s Organic Life.

Perfect Backyard Vegetable Garden Design Plans Ideas |

For maximum benefit, choose crops that “can also have an impact on your mood,” they said, including “potent antidepressant foods and herbs” like Swiss chard, which is “packed with magnesium, a nutrient essential for the biochemical reactions in the brain that boost your energy levels. Cherry tomatoes are another great choice because, “Tomato skin is rich in lycopene, a tonutrient that actually stops the buildup of pro-inflammatory compounds linked to depression.”

Bring some plants indoors, too

A little greenery sprinkled throughout your home can be beneficial physically because it improves air quality. Researchers have also found a link between houseplants and a person’s emotional state.

According to the Royal Horticultural Society, say that ‘bringing the outdoors inside’ can offer some of the benefits that are lost by retreating indoors,” said the Daily Mail. Plants reduce stress levels, improve mood and filter polluted air. A review of the scientific evidence suggests that workers are more productive when their office is filled with greenery, and hospital patients even tolerate pain better if there is a plant on the ward.

Perhaps most importantly, plants also trap and filter pollutants that are linked to thousands of deaths a year.”

Declutter

There’s a big difference between having a few too many knickknacks on the shelf and dishes in the sink and being a full-blown hoarder, but too much clutter can definitely have an effect on your emotional state. In fact, there is a proven link between clutter and depression, researchers at UCLA’s Center on Everyday Lives and Families (CELF) discovered. Among their findings: “A link between high cortisol (stress hormone) levels in female home owners and a high density of household objects. The more stuff, the more stress women feel,” said Houselogic. “Men, on the other hand, don’t seem bothered by mess, which accounts for tensions between tidy wives and their clutter bug hubbies. Women associate a tidy home with a happy and successful family. The more dishes that pile up in the sink, the more anxious women feel.”

A few Houselogic’s easy decluttering tips include:

  • Adopt the Rule of Five. Every time you get up from your desk or walk through a room, put away five things. Or, each hour, devote five minutes to de-cluttering. At the end of the day, you’ve cleaned for an hour.”
  • Don’t let dishes pile up. “A clean sink will instantly raise your spirits and decrease your anxiety.”
  • Pare down photos. “Put snapshots in a family album, which will immediately de-clutter many flat surfaces.”
  • Aim to actually see your refrigerator again. “Researchers found a correlation between the number of items stuck to the fridge door and the amount of clutter throughout the house. Toss extra magnets, file restaurant menus, and place calendars in less conspicuous places.”

Add a water feature

Live on a busy street or have other noise you’d like to mask? Maybe you just need an easy way to add a relaxing feature to your environment. A fountain may be your answer.

“Studies show that being near water reduces stress levels. As little as five minutes with nature can help reduce stress hormones, but being near water may have a stronger impact,” said Masterplan Landscape Design. “Evaporating water produces negative ions, which are invisible, tasteless, odorless molecules that we inhale. Negative ions have been shown to boost moods and lower stress hormones.” 

If you’re building a pool, keep the fountain idea in mind. Not only will it add the de-stressing benefits to your yard and provide a great focal point, but pool fountains and waterfalls have an added benefit in helping keep water cool – great for areas where hot temps can make the pool feel like a bath by mid-summer.

Reconsider your color

Color theory shows that certain hues can bring energy and excitement while others can help us feel more relaxed and serene. For instance, if you find yourself unable to sleep in a red bedroom, blue might be a better choice.

Color can have a huge impact on our experience of a space – but that doesn’t mean it has to be colorless to be calming,” said Houzz. “Color is personal, so spend time getting to know how color (or a lack of it) affects you, and intentionally choose your home’s colors to create a tranquil feeling. For some, an all-white space would be the ultimate in calm and relaxation, while someone else may get that same calm, cool feeling in a rich mineral-green room.”

Apply the principles of Feng Shui

Color therapy, decluttering, and bringing nature indoors are all considered principles of Feng Shui, but a few more can impact how you feel at home.

“The benefits associated with the promotion of organization, relaxation and productivity that’s central to Feng Shui” could be realized by something as simple as leaving your shoes at the door – a “purposeful way of leaving all outside events and potentially negative stressors out of your home or ‘safe haven,'” said HealthCentral.

Another top tip: Create sacred sleep quarters. “Sleep deprivation is linked to maladies ranging from anxiety to heart disease to breast cancer,” they said. “Feng Shui suggests choosing a bedroom away from a noisy street and positioning the bed in the back corner of the room, diagonally opposite from the door. Additionally, while in the bedroom, avoid artificial light from electronic devices, as this stimulates the brain to stay awake.”

 

Written by Jaymi Naciri

Is This The Ultimate Example Of ‘What Not To Do’ When Listing Your House For Sale?

There’s a new home listing that’s been making the Internet rounds this week, and it’s a must-see for anyone who is selling their house, considering selling their house, or just wants to do a little point-and-stare. Oh, and for mannequin lovers. Let us explain.

The house in question is a large, gated estate on Jones Creek in the desirable Houston-area city of Richmond. I’ts listed for $1,275,000. At five bedrooms, five baths, and 7,406 square feet, with two acres of pastoral grounds backing to a scenic creek with a cattle ranch on the other side, and features including an art studio, game room, trophy room, swimming pool, outdoor kitchen, and a garage apartment, it’s seemingly a gem.

But that assumes you can actually see any of what the home has to offer. The owner of the home, whose identity is undisclosed, is an artist. And the home is her canvas. Oh, and her tools aren’t paint, they’re…well, see for yourself.

Did you notice the figure hanging on the stair railing? That’s a mannequin. And he’s not alone. In fact, one notable real estate insider has even teased a contest to guess the number of mannequins in the home. “Our team has been chatting about this house now for a few days,” said CandysDirt. “Home stagers are running for Xanax.”

It definitely begs the question, “What is art and what is clutter?” It also makes you wonder what the initial conversation was like between RE/MAX FINE Properties agent Diana Power, who’s listed the home, and her seller. We assume it, at least, included the words, “de-cluttering,” and “staging” and “storage.

It goes without saying that this array of art and accessories may be just a tad excessive and perhaps also a little bit distracting. And maybe also kind of weird, or at least eccentric. It makes for a great spectacle – and certainly brings a lot of attention. But will it sell the home? “She has lots of collections,” Power told Huffington Post. “It’s not hoarding or clutter; it’s art.”

But that’s hardly the end of the discussion, and it brings up a few more keys for selling your home.

Mind your curb appeal

A house that’s picture-perfect on the inside but questionable from the street isn’t doing a seller any favors. It takes just a few seconds to form a first impression. If the mannequin standing at the front gate (presumably, the community’s HOA either limited the number of mannequins to one or made sure it was inside the gate, or both) doesn’t raise an eyebrow, perhaps the knocked-down and haphazardly restacked mailbox will. I mean, we presume it was knocked down and haphazardly restacked. It could be “art,” after all.

 

Don’t creep people out

Yes, the clutter in this master bedroom is overwhelming. But beyond the sheer amount of stuff in the space, why is there a mannequin at the foot of the bed? Even more curious: all the dolls stuffed into the bookcases. One look and I’m heading right back out the door. You?

Bonus question: Where do you even get all those mannequins?

 

 

Wait. Foot-of-the-bed mannequin has a friend. Or two? Who’s that climbing under the table?

Show off the goods

Most sellers, and, certainly their agents, would insist on framing that view out to the pool and creek. But, between all the taxidermy (real or faux), pelts, knickknacks, dolls, blankets, and furniture, it’s hard to even focus the eye, even with that grand expanse of glass.

 

Maybe this serene view of Jones Creek makes it all better? Is that a mannequin riding the lawnmower?

 

This home has great features throughout. In the living room, there are beautiful built-ins, gleaming hardwoods, an elegant fireplace, and detailed dental molding all around. But you have to look hard to notice any of it.

“You can see the charm of the house underneath it all, from its $300,000 foundations to the way the windows are framed in cement and stone,” Powers told ABC13. “I think that the person who will end up buying this house can see the forest from the trees.'”

Let’s test that theory in the kitchen. This gourmet space has professional grade appliances and a huge island – and every inch of it has been covered with something to distract potential buyers from the great features.

At least the seller staged a mannequin at the island to showcase the eating bar. That is a mannequin, right?

 

 

 

Look at the features in this library. Behind all the books, papers, rugs, birdcages(?), and a mannequin that is WALKING ON THE CEILING, there are some stunning bookcases, and French doors that lead out to a patio and pool – if you can manage to get to them.

Does it make you more interested in seeing the home, and, if you do want to see it, is it only to count the mannequins?

And, P.S., don’t get any ideas about trying to buy the home with everything in it. The owner has stated she’s “taking everything” with her when she moves on.

Written by Jaymi Naciri

How Green Can You Go? Eco-friendly Solutions For Every Commitment Level

It’s hard to ignore the influence of big oil in Texas. Thirty-five miles to the Southwest of Frisco, TX, this year’s second-fastest-growing city in the nation and home to thousands of suburban families like my own, whose electric bills climb up into the $300-plus range while cooling their 3,000-square-foot house, Irving-based Exxon is the biggest oil producer in the world – and that’s just the tip of the oil well. Frisco is also among the Texas cities where deregulation among power options is still not a thing, BTW. Oh and there’s also a fun Texas law that “allows builders to restrict solar-energy devices while a housing development is under construction,” said the Dallas Morning News, and when they would be most convenient, and most cost-effective to install, in most cases.

This is not the place you’d expect to see, oh, I don’t know, a luxury community of eco-friendly homes with features including grass rooftops.

But that’s precisely what is being proposed by architecture and design firms Stantec and Total Environment, who presented the concept “for a 57-acre, single-family home development” with luxury homes featuring low-energy, environmentally friendly products” to the Planning and Zoning Commission this week, said Frisco Community Impact. “These types of homes are popular in other countries such as India and Dubai, and, if approved, would be the first in the U.S., according to developers.”  

 

It begs the question: Did green living just move from the fringe to the forefront? If eco-friendly homes can come to oil-rich, fracking-loving Texas, are we talking game-changer? Could be.

We’re still a long way from hiring landscapers to manage our rooftops en masse. But, in the meantime, it’s easier and more rewarding than ever to live a leaner, greener life. So it might be time to ask yourself: How green can you go?

Here’s our breakdown of some of the best ways to incorporate a more eco-friendly way of life into your world, no matter your commitment level.

Green “lite”

You may already have thought of some of the easiest ways to go green, like recycling at home, watering plants early or late in the day when the sun is not at full strength, and doing laundry and dishes during the coolest part of the day to save your air conditioning from working overtime.

Compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFL) are probably already on your radar, which is a great thing, since, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), CFLs use as much as 75% less energy than those old incandescent bulbs and can also last up to 10x longer.

Here are a few easy changes you can make that you may not have considered:

Replace nonstick pans with cast-iron. “To create the slick surface of nonstick cookware, manufacturers apply chemicals called fluoropolymers, which are released into the air when you cook at high temperatures, according to the Environmental Working Group,” said Prevention. “Worse, the chemicals break down into compounds such as perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a likely human carcinogen that’s also been linked to heart disease, and can get into your food.”

Do your wash in cold water. Energy Star says that close to 90 percent of the energy used for laundry goes to water heating. Buy some cold-water detergent and you’re good to go.

Set your TV picture to “normal” instead of the manufacturer setting. “Many flat screens are shipped from the manufacturer with a picture setting that makes it stand out in retail displays, but are brighter than you need at home and consume 10 to 20% more energy (and cash) at this setting, reports the NRDC,” said Prevention.

Ditch your regular house cleaners. Many of them can include toxic ingredients that can harm the environment and are also potentially dangerous to members of your household. The only things you really need to clean just about everything in your house: baking soda, white vinegar, and lemon.

Trade your regular mulch for rubber. Mulch is great for your yard because it keeps moisture in and also makes it look nice and tidy. But rubber is a step up from the bark-like texture you’re probably used to seeing. “Made from 100-percent recycled tires, rubber mulch is suitable to use on most landscapes,” said HGTV. “It has several benefits: a safe play surface for children, prevents weeds, does not attract insects and water and air can easily flow through it.”

Green medium

Looking to make a larger commitment to green living? There are changes you can make outside of daily efforts like watching your water and electricity usage and choosing products with a more eco-friendly profile for everyday use.

Seal it up. Sealing up any leaks can make a big difference in the heating and cooling loss that’s driving up your bills – as much as a 20 percent difference, according to Energy Star. It’s also a pretty DIY-friendly task, but to get the best results, you may want to hire a professional Home Energy Auditor who can give you the lowdown on where your home is deficient and recommend changes.

Start composting. “Compost is organic material that can be added to soil to help plants grow. Food scraps and yard waste currently make up 20 to 30 percent of what we throw away, and should be composted instead,” said the EPA. “Making compost keeps these materials out of landfills where they take up space and release methane, a potent greenhouse gas.” Their easy composting guide will give you all the info you need to for a DIY compost.

Replace your appliances. That old fridge is working hard to cool what’s inside, and that’s costing you – literally. It, and its friends the old dishwasher and washer and dryer, are sucking up energy and dollars. Swapping them out for newer, Energy Star versions, is good for the environment, and your bank account. Whether you get a new refrigerator or not, these tips from Prevention will help you save even more: “Keeping your fridge pushed tight up against the wall limits circulation and makes the unit work harder, increasing your energy use and costs. Keep it a few inches away from the wall, and follow the manufacturer’s instructions to safely keep the fridge’s coils clean. If you’re one of the 25% of U.S. households using a second, older fridge, considering recycling it. Running an older – model fridge – ones commonly used in basements or garages – could cost your family up to $300 a year. Temperature makes a difference, too. Proper fridge temp should fall anywhere from 35 to 38 degrees – anything lower wastes energy.”

Hardcore green

Window replacement falls here because it can be a big dollar commitment. “All-new vinyl windows for an average 2,450-square-foot house run about $15,000, according to the ‘Remodeling Impact Report’ from the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®,” said Houselogic. But, the good news is that you’ll save “$126–$465 a year when replacing single-pane windows, according to Energy Star. And, “For average-quality vinyl windows, you can recoup 80% of the project cost in added home value, according to the ‘Remodeling Impact Report,'” said Houselogic. Based on the vinyl window replacement projects in the report, that’s a value add of about $12,000 if you should decide to sell your house.”

Other “major commitments” include:

Use spray foam insulation. Give that old pink stuff the heave-ho. “An alternative to traditional fiberglass and cellulose insulation, spray foam traps more conditioned air within the home, allowing for significantly less leakage and consequently, reduced energy use year round,” said CBS. “Containing rapidly renewable material, spray foam insulation does not produce harmful emissions and is also water and shrink proof, which translates into zero framing distortion over time — a huge construction plus. A study done on side-by-side homes, one with traditional insuation, and one with spray foam, “found that the use of spray foam to create an unvented attic (Home CP2a) lowers the HERS (the industry standard by which a home’s energy efficiency is measured) score from 84* to 79, and results in a net annual energy savings of 16%. When spray foam is used to provide an unvented attic and insulate the exterior walls (Home CP3a), the HERS score is reduced from 84 to 78, and the annual energy savings increases to 22%.”

If you’re building from scratch, consider the material. You already know that bamboo is a top choice because it is renewable. But have you thought about recycled steel? “Two out of every three tons of new steel are recycled from old steel, making it the most recycled material on the planet,” said CBS. “According to the Steel Recycling Institute, steel also uses less energy and emits fewer harmful CO2 emissions than many other building materials, making it an optimum green choice. You also can’t beat steel for durability.”

Choose sustainably harvested materials. You can get a natural wood look without the guilt by looking for eco-friendly options. “Put in formaldehyde-free cabinetry to avoid releasing environmental toxins,” said Nolo. “Better yet, go for wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), which will be sustainably harvested.”

Go solar. Forget those ugly solar panels. Elon Musk and Tesla are in the process of upending the roofing industry with their Solar Roof glass tiles, which are “offered in four styles of Tuscan, Slate, Textured, and Smooth” and which “look like regular roof tiles from ground level, but embedded with photovoltaic solar cells underneath,” said Teslarati. The first installations are expected soon, and are also said to be less expensive than many traditional roofing materials.

Reclaim your water. Water reclamation is an easy enough undertaking that it could go in the medium category above. But, for many, people, the idea of recycling water is slightly traumatizing, so it’s going here instead. The thing is, you don’t have to recycle all the water in the home to reap the benefits from an eco-friendly perspective. If the idea of blackwater, which includes wastewater from toilets as well as dishwashers and garbage disposals,gives you the shivers, you’re not alone. Companies are busy working on black water recycling systems, but, for now, you only need to concentrate on gray water, “which is tap water soiled by use in washing machines, tubs, showers and bathroom sinks,” said How Stuff Works. “Gray water reclamation is the process by which households make use of gray water’s potential instead of simply piping it into overburdened sewage systems with all the black water.

The advantages of gray water reclamation for your wallet include lower water and sewage bills. Additionally, reusing gray water’s otherwise wasted nutrients from soap (nitrogen and phosphorous) and food (potassium) can sustain plant life and recharge topsoil.”

Written by Jaymi Naciri

The Do’s And Don’ts Of Tapping Your Rising Home Equity

If you bought a home recently, it may already have increased in value. Equity growth goes hand-in-hand with pride of ownership (and fun stuff like tax breaks) when it comes to homebuyer goals, so say a big, “Yay!”

“Nearly 91,000 homeowners regained equity in the first quarter of 2017, according to real estate data firm CoreLogic’s latest housing report, said Realtor.com. “Since the end of the most recent housing crisis, 9 million owners in total have regained equity, the report notes. About 63 percent of all homeowners have seen their equity increase since the first quarter of 2016, with the average owner gaining about $13,400 between then and the first quarter of 2017.” According to Frank Martell, president and CEO of CoreLogic, that’s the “largest increase since mid-2014.”

But, before you go making plans for all that equity, either by doing a cash-out refinance (if possible and prudent) or getting a home equity loan, take a pause. That money may be best left right where it is. If you still want to tap that equity, here are some of best – and worst – ways to use it.

Home renovations

When your home has equity, it can be tempting to use it for home renovations, which, presumably, will further raise your home value – or at least make your home prettier or more functional. Knowing which renovations pay you back is key to making smart choices. Review Remodeling magazine’s Cost vs. Value Report, which “compares average cost for 29 popular remodeling projects with the value those projects retain at resale in 99 U.S. markets.” You can then take your research further, viewing data for your regional area. This will help you decide if that $50,000 kitchen is a good investment, or if that attic renovation you were considering will be a bust from an ROI standpoint.

A new car

That fancy new car is calling your name, right? Does it make sense to use some of your home equity to finance or buy it outright? Ask yourself this: Is this a car you can’t afford without using your home equity? Can you afford to pay the difference in your current monthly payment and what will be your new payment – plus the monthly cost of the car?

“During the housing bubble, consumers used home equity borrowing to pay for everything from boats and gambling junkets (clearly bad) to cars and kitchen renovations (not so bad), said Interest.com. “The problems these homeowners experienced during the financial crisis and recession taught us that even some ‘not so bad’ spending should be scratched from our list of acceptable uses. So, while we used to say that financing a car with a HELOC was OK, we no longer believe that. Besides, auto loans are now one of the few types of consumer loans that are cheaper than home equity loans or lines of credit.”


Additions

Adding on to a home can be a great way to make it more livable, especially if the space is inadequate for your family. The Cost vs. Value Report can be useful here, too. You might be surprised to learn that a midrange bathroom addition typically only pays back an average of 53.9%. But, if you bought an older home that only has one bathroom, adding another could have a much higher ROI that makes the addition worth it.

When it comes to larger undertakings, “Studies show that nearly all of the cost of a mid-range two-story addition may be recovered at the time of sale,” said The Spruce. “The key here is ‘may be recovered,’ as there is no predicting the real estate market years in advance. While this might seem like a ‘no-brainer,’ it needs to be mentioned. More space means higher heating and cooling costs, more windows to wash and gutters to clean, increased property taxes, and more house to clean. Even though additions offer the potential for higher cost-value ratios than other renovation projects, you still may not recover the full cost of the addition when you actually sell.”

Vacation

That European cruise or trip to Machu Picchu sounds like a great idea, especially because you’ve got some cash to pay for it with the rising equity in your home. But consider this: You may be paying back the money you spend on that vacation long after you return home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written by Jaymi Naciri

What You Need To Know Before You Buy In A Planned Community

A particularly active spring storm season left pockmarked roofs and tumbled fences throughout North Texas this year, including many in my master-planned community, thanks to an EF0 tornado that blew its way through the neighborhood (thankfully missing my house – this time). The process of repairs and replacements was as fickle as the tornado itself. Some homeowners received immediate or at least prompt approval from the community Homeowners’ Association (HOA) and its Architectural Review Committee (ARC), while others were forced to wait and wait and wait – which would be frustrating, even if this weren’t the wettest June in 13 years. In one case, a homeowner’s approval was inexplicably delayed so long, even though she was only looking to replace her damaged roof with the exact same roof, that she suffered leaks and damage to the interior of her home.

That’s one of the rubs of living in a community that is governed by an HOA: You need approval to do stuff to your house, even if that stuff is going to be an improvement over what it currently looks like. It’s not the only potential downside, but there are also plenty of advantages associated with an HOA. And with more than 40 million U.S. households “or 53% of the owner-occupied households in the America” living with an HOA, according to HOA-USA – a number that’s on the rise with new construction, of which more than 60% have an HOA – it’s something you might have to deal with. Get to know the pros and cons so there won’t be any surprises.

Pro: An HOA protects your investment. “HOA rules and regulations help ensure homeowners keep their homes well maintained and in compliance with overall appearance standards,” said Signature Homes. “Combined with proper care of amenities and common areas, the value of your home is more protected than one that does not have HOA oversight.”

Con: Limits your creativity and individuality. HOAs may offer limited options when it comes to updates. Older neighborhoods may have a small color palette available to owners and may be reluctant to expand it to current trends.

Pro: You won’t have to deal with neighbors painting their house pink or letting their grass grow to armpit height. “Homes within an HOA must meet the standards set by the association or face a fine, so you’re less likely to see unkempt lawns, peeling paint or a garishly painted house,” said Realtor.com. “Some HOAs have a design review board with the power to approve any changes to your home’s exterior.”

Con: Those restrictions can be Confining. An HOA demands that you ask permission before making any changes to your home – even if you’re just talking about staining your fence the very same color. Depending on how finicky your HOA is, you might also get fined because your landscaper took the week off or because the basketball net in your driveway is torn (true story).

Pro: File this under the umbrella of “protecting your investment.” Many HOAs have stipulations about how many cars, or what type, can be parked on your property, or even where they can be parked. That can help ensure that the neighbor down the street doesn’t turn his lawn into an auto body shop with multiple non-functioning cars up on blocks.

Con: Looking to park your RV or boat in your driveway? An HOA may nix that idea. Be sure you check ahead of time to make sure this is allowed.

Pro: An HOA decision may not be final. Get a rejection from the HOA on your submitted request to make changes to your landscaping? You can always appeal and state your case.

Con: Deciding to “ask for forgiveness instead of permission” rarely goes well, so, if you decide to go ahead with changes despite not receiving an approval from the HOA, beware: You might be fined.

Pro: Some HOAs take care of things like your front-yard landscaping and trash removal, which means you don’t have to pay for it or worry about it.

Con: That also may mean strict restrictions about what you can and can’t plant in your front yard. You may have to reconsider those rose bushes.

Pro: You might not have to put in a pool because there’s one in the community that you’re helping to pay for through your HOA dues, but don’t have to maintain.

Con: When the pool needs to be redone, it’ll be you and all your neighbors that are on the hook to pay for it – even if you never use it.

Pro: A pool is just the beginning. Planned communities with an HOA can have golf courses, tennis courts, clubhouses, playgrounds, and even private lakes for fishing and recreation.

Con: The more amenities you have, the more you’re likely to pay in HOA dues. In a large masterplan with a couple of pools, a playground, and a tennis court, you can pay as little as $50 per month. The more homes that are added, the more the overall cost is spread out. A more “typical range” is $200–400 per month, said Investopedia, adding that, “The more upscale the building and the more amenities it has, the higher the homeowners’ association fees are likely to be.” In some condos, the fees may be higher if parking and security are considerations, and, especially, in a luxury building with amenities including a fitness center and concierge. “Hollywood’s fancy Sierra Towers condo building, which is filled to the brim with amenities like 24-hour concierge service and valet parking. They charge residents of a 3,400-square-foot condo about $4,000 per month in HOA fees,” said Realtor.com.

Pro: You’ve got a built-in mediator. “Involved in a tiff with your neighbor over that big oak tree that’s losing limbs? You can settle some confrontations with your neighbors by taking your grievances to the HOA’s board or management company,” said RISMedia.

Con: Maybe you’re the type that wants to “handle” grievances in your own way?

Pro: Some HOAs allow you to pay monthly, quarterly, or annually.

Con: Falling behind on HOA dues can lead to foreclosure. “This is another reason you’ll want to make sure those HOA fees are in your budget,” said Credit.com. “An HOA can move to foreclose on your property if you fail to pay its dues and/or associated late fees. Laws can vary by state. A few, for instance, place limits on when an HOA can move to foreclose. So if you’ve fallen behind on payments, you may want to consult a local attorney about your best recourse.”

Pro: Part of what you’ll pay to the HOA every month goes to a reserve fund, which can be used for neighborhood repairs and emergency needs.

Con: The reserves may not be enough to cover large expenses. “In addition to monthly fees, if a major expense such as a new roof or a new elevator comes up and there aren’t enough funds in the HOA’s reserves to pay for it, the association may charge an extra assessment that can run into thousands of dollars,” said Investopedia.

Written by Jaymi Naciri

Early Planning For Retirement And Inheritance

Question: We are nearing retirement, and are becoming concerned about our future, and the future of our children.

Going through our books and records in preparation of our 2016 tax returns, we began to wonder what we should be doing now to make sure that there will be no surprises that can affect our future or the inheritance of our children.

Do you have any comments?

Answer: I could write a book on this subject. Too many of us live active lives, do not concern ourselves with future problems and basically are living on a “day-to-day” basis.

But if we take the time to think about these matters, and if we look around our house, we begin to realize that some careful planning is needed for the future.

Here are but a few ideas for you to consider. Clearly, you should discuss all of these matters with your family and your legal, tax and financial advisers.

Do you have adequate life insurance coverage? Many of us took out insurance policies years ago, and often have not reviewed the coverage to make sure it is adequate for the needs of our survivors.

More importantly, where beneficiaries change (because of divorce or death) the policy must be corrected to reflect the appropriate beneficiary. In recent years, insurance policies have changed, and the tax laws have changed. What you have obtained ten or fifteen years ago may not fit your current needs.

Indeed, some people begin to realize that as they get older, and their children become self-sufficient, the level of insurance can in fact be reduced. You should discuss all of these matters with your insurance adviser.

Is your house insurance adequate? Many insurance policies have automatic increase provisions to periodically boost the coverage.

Make sure the replacement value of your house meets industry standards, so you will not suffer a financial loss if your house is destroyed.

Do you have a Last Will and Testament? If not, you are strongly advised to give serious consideration to preparing one now.

And even if you have a Will, if it was written years ago, your legal and tax advisers must be consulted to make sure that the new tax laws will not adversely affect your Estate. With the new adminstration — and talk of serious tax reform — I recognize it is difficult to make decisions. However, don’t put your planning off; there is no guarantee that the tax laws will be changed in the foreseable future.

Additionally, you should consider signing Living Wills and Durable Powers of Attorney to cover situations where you may be in an accident and not able to handle your own affairs.

Indeed, the Supreme Court of the United States has made it clear that if you are medically diagnosed as totally “brain dead,” and you want the doctor to “pull the plug,” you must make your intentions quite clear — preferably in writing — so as to give guidance to the doctors. This is known as a “Living Will” or a “Declaration,” and will be necessary if you have to go into a hospital.

If you do not want to be artificially maintained by life-support equipment in the event of an accident, you should prepare a Living Will declaring your intentions while you are able to do so.

Are titles to the family assets in a form acceptable to you for inheritance and tax purposes? You should explore with your advisers the pros and cons of such things as (1) creating a revocable trust, or (2) preparing a “deed on death“. Many states have now adopted laws that allow you to prepare and file a deed that does not take effect until you die; but you have the abolute right to cancel the deed at any time during your lifetime.

You must also consider what will happen when your spouse dies. For every document that you enter into, always have an alternative person designated, just in case the person you do authorize to take certain actions is not able nor willing to assume that obligation.

Finally, if you die or are seriously incapacitated, will your family be able to find all of your legal documents and papers? Often, one party in the household handles the books and records. The other spouse has no idea whatsoever where things are.

Both of you should sit down one weekend and make a comprehensive list of your assets and liabilities. If you have stock certificates, certificates of deposit, life insurance policies, or other valuable documents, make a list where they are, so your family will not have to suffer more under the circumstances. You should also make a list of people who should be contacted in the event of a problem.

This list should include at the very least the names and addresses of your attorney, accountant, insurance adviser, executor of your Will and administrators of any pension plans.

Life has become quite complex. If you do not put your own “house in order,” the courts and the tax authorities will make decisions on your behalf (or on behalf of the Estate) which may not be in anyone’s best interest. Careful planning now can save considerable aggravation and frustration for your family in the long run.

Written by Benny L. Kass

Easy Ways to Make Your Patio Look Great This Summer

Summer is the perfect time of year to be outside with family and friends. The cold weather, snow and rain are gone, and you see bright, sunny days ahead of you. If you’re getting ready for a season full of pool parties and barbecues, here’s everything you need to make your patio look great:

Update Your Furniture

It’s a new season with new trends, so you might be in the market for new patio furniture, or your old furniture just needs some updating. Chances are your cushions and pillows are looking faded, worn out and tattered from last year, so replace them with new cushions or fabric covers to match the rest of your decor. Don’t be afraid to go with bold and bright colors or big designs because they won’t dominate the area since it’s an open space.

You also need enough furniture and seating to fit your family and friends. Get a large round table or a long rectangular table for your guests to eat, snack and set down their drinks. Add extra chairs or a love seat around your table so you can add more people than your immediate family when you host a party. Go for items that are easy to clean so dust, dirt and spills don’t permanently ruin your furniture.

Make Some Shade

The summer sun can be intense, so you need shady areas to give yourself and your guests a break. Get a table with an umbrella in the middle to provide some shade while you’re eating dinner on the patio. Or add an umbrella on the top step of your pool or behind lounge chairs to stay cool.

If you want a larger shady area, set up a pavilion with a canopy roof in a section of your yard. Add chairs, side tables and a reading area underneath. You also can build a pergola and cover the top and sides with growing vines or climbing plants. This will add some color and nature to your patio as well as provide you with shade.

Light It Up

Transform your patio into a summer wonderland by lighting it up at night. Once the sun goes down and the temperature drops, you’ll want to relax on your patio with a nice cocktail or dessert with a lovely glow around you. For a touch of glamour, install an outdoor chandelier or light fixture over your patio table and chairs. String up hanging lights from the roof and side of your pergola to light up your ivy or plants. Put a few candles in translucent vases on side tables surrounding your other furniture or in the middle of your table. This is a great place for you to include some of your accent colors and add a delicate touch to sometimes bulky furniture.

Make It Party Ready

Now that you have the necessities, it’s time to get to the fun part. You want people to see your beautiful summer patio, so give them an excuse to come over for a party. Set up a grill, cooler for drinks and counter space to prepare and display your summertime treats. If it tends to get cool at night, get a table with a fire pit in the middle or build your own fire pit where you can roast s’mores and tell ghost stories. You also should invest in some lawn games and board games that you can play well into the night.

Written by Realty Times Staff

Aging in Place – What Exactly Is It and Can You Do It?

I was recently on the Charlotte Today Show where i spoke about aging in place. Here is a taste for what we covered.

  1. What exactly is aging in place? The goal of aging in place is to help seniors live in the residence of their choice, for as long as they are able and get any help they need for as long as they can. That sounds kind of simple but there is more to it. It is about maintaining and/or improving quality of life. In order to do that, you need a good plan that focuses on your quality of life. This plan should be maintained over time as your situation changes just like you review your will from time to time. Aging in place is a choice and it not relegated to “old” people. We can all plan for aging in place sooner in life. A couple with a growing family who moves from the started house to a bigger one can imagine a day when the kids are grown and wonder if they could grow old in that house.
  2. So I imagine that it starts with your physical environment, your home. Yes. And there are two things to consider. Can you remodel your home so it is safe and efficient for aging in place or do you need to consider a new home? There are numerous areas to consider – Kitchen, Bathroom, Laundry Room, Bedroom, Home Exterior, Garage, Carport & Parking, Common Areas. So let’s pick one, the bathroom, because that is an area where falls can easily happen. Plus at 59 and 62 respectively, my wife and I just had our bath remodeled with aging in place in mind. The ideal situation is to have plenty of clear space to accommodate someone in a wheelchair around the toilet, bathtub or shower stalls. Having the toilet at the proper height can make an incredible difference in the comfort and safety of your bathroom. Replace the toilet with one that is the proper height or buy a seat extender. Installing grab bars can dramatically and economically increase safety in the bathroom. You can find stylish ones that don’t scream nursing home! Shower seats and an anti-slip coating to the tub floor are reasonably priced options. There are also a wide variety of walk-in tubs on the market. The most accessible option is a roll-in shower. An adjustable shower head is a great way to add accessibility to a bathroom. For help, there are a growing number of contractors that have earned the Certified Aging in Place Specialist designation from the National Association of Home Builders. If all of this is too much then you should consider an independent senior living community that incorporates these features.
  3. Health care is probably a major priority for older people. How can they plan so that they have access to health care when they need it? First the obvious. Keep yourself in the best shape you can. Really. I have seen too many people in elder care facilities where age did not catch up. They did not keep up. You can’t live in your own house if you have major health problems. Many senior communities are built with access to doctors and hospital locations nearby so that is an advantage of buying a home. If not, consider. Are there adequate health care facilities nearby? Do physician’s offices offer in-home visits or remote health care? Do you have proper transportation to and from appointments should you not be able to drive? Have you made your health care wishes known and do you have someone appointed to speak for you should you become incapacitated?
  4. What other services should be close by to age in place properly? Even with the best house for aging in place, if community supports are not nearby, it makes it harder to stay in your home. Faith-based institutions are important to many people. How close are they? Do they have transport. Can you find centers that provide for social activities, friendships or volunteer opportunities? What transport options are available? Is retail and restaurant establishments close by? Can you access home maintenance people delivery services for groceries, shopping services?
  5. What else should we consider? We talked about spelling out your health care wishes. You also have to plan for how you will pay for your long-term care needs so securing the services of a good and ethical financial advisor is key. Plan early.