No Comments

4 tips to help keep your home warm, comfortable and energy efficient this winter

(BPT) – With winter comes the holiday season, a time that’s supposed to be associated with “comfort and joy.” But how joyful will it be if pests invade your house, or if your home is cold and drafty? Help stay warm all winter long by addressing factors like air leaks from gaps and cracks that can make your home feel uncomfortable.

“Drafts and heat loss are common problems in the winter, and they affect homes of every age, size and construction,” says Gary Parsons, fellow at The Dow Chemical Company. “Those factors can seriously affect your home’s energy efficiency and how comfortable it feels. Fortunately, it’s not difficult to deal with issues like air leaks and insulation, and doing so can significantly improve your home’s function and livability.”

Parsons suggests these steps to help ensure a draft-free, pest-free and comfy home this winter season:

Seal cracks and gaps

Gaps and cracks throughout the home allow hot air to escape and cold air and pests to enter. Energy Star estimates that homes can have a half mile or more of cracks around doors, windows and sill plates alone, and those aren’t the only places in a home where gaps can exist. Air duct joints, points where piping enters a home, and anywhere wood meets concrete (such as around the foundation) are locations where cracks and gaps can occur.

Sealing cracks can help prevent air leakage, improve a home’s overall energy efficiency and block out pests and insects. In fact, homeowners can save an average of 15 percent on heating and cooling by air sealing their homes and adding insulation, according to Energy Star.

Even do-it-yourself novices can easily and quickly seal cracks and gaps in their homes. Products like GREAT STUFF(R) Gaps & Cracks and GREAT STUFF(R) Pestblock Insulating Foam Sealants are specially formulated to seal gaps and cracks, blocking out air, moisture and even pests. The ready-to-use insulating foam sealants can fill gaps up to 1 inch. When using the product, be sure to follow safety guidelines, including covering all skin, using gloves and safety goggles, and keeping the work area well ventilated.

Check insulation

Insulation is like a blanket that your home wears to help keep everyone inside warm and cozy. If your home doesn’t have the right amount or type of insulation for your climate, it can lose heat, energy efficiency and comfort. About 90 percent of existing homes don’t have enough insulation, according to the North American Insulation Manufacturers Association.

Follow Energy Star’s guidelines for more information on how to check your insulation to see if your home could benefit from adding more.

Take care of the HVAC system

If your heating, ventilation and air conditioning system isn’t working as well as it could, you’re sacrificing comfort and increasing your energy bills. Make sure to check the cooling system in the spring and the heating system in the fall to ensure they are operating efficiently.

Have the ducts inspected and seal any leaks. Be sure to change air filters regularly, per the system manufacturer’s recommendation for filter type and frequency. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, dirty air filters restrict airflow, making HVAC systems work harder and consume more energy to heat your home.

Don’t overlook little things

Things as simple as a forgotten window left cracked in summer months or neglecting to close the flue in your wood-burning fireplace can all affect the amount of heat and comfort that escape your home in the winter.

Before the weather turns very cold, make a sweep through your home and check for these minor but important points:

* Windows — Are all your windows closed? If you’ve recently sealed around windows, you probably opened them for ventilation. Double check to be sure you remembered to close them.

* Thermostat — Is yours properly programmed to optimize energy use by adjusting the temperature when you’re out of the house? Proper use of a programmable thermostat can cut energy bills by nearly $200 per year, according to Energy Star.

* Ceiling fans — you can use ceiling fans to supplement your furnace during the winter, but you have to remember to reverse the air flow. Most ceiling fans have a switch that allows you to reverse the direction of the fan blades to spin clockwise, which pushes warm air down from the ceiling during winter.

No Comments

DIY projects to increase the resale value of your home.

(BPT) – Whatever you’re passionate about, you know hobbies cost money. People who haven’t shaken the travel bug need to negotiate time off work, pay for lodging, airfare and more. If you’re a big football fan, the amount you spend on food, snacks, game tickets and clothing adds up during the course of a season. Even simple hobbies like fishing can require a seemingly endless number of gadgets and electronics.

Fortunately, for anyone who likes to roll up their sleeves and isn’t afraid of taking on a new house project, their DIY hobby can actually save them money. In particular, homeowners who are getting ready to make a move and want to get top dollar for their property can take on a number of home renovation projects that will increase the value of their home.

With today’s powerful, easy-to-use tools, it’s never been easier to fix up your house in a way buyers will notice and you can cash-in on. Even veteran DIYers are amazed at the quality of workmanship they’re able to do thanks to a new generation of drills, saws, sanders and other tools. One versatile saw that’s perfect for home renovations is the RotoZip RotoSaw+, which can plunge and cut through tile, stone and drywall, providing precision control that is equal to its power.

If you love the satisfaction of fixing things and are hoping to get a high offer on your house, here are five DIY projects that may increase the resale value of your home.

Install lighting fixtures. Lighting has a tremendous effect on how potential buyers perceive your house. While it’s important to keep the rooms and hallways well lit, you’ll want to make sure the source that produces the light is also stunning. Using a RotoSaw+ to make precise plunges and cuts in the wall or ceiling, you can easily install glorious new fixtures.

Cap it off with crown molding. It’s odd how many people look up when deciding if the house is right for them. That’s why so many realtors suggest adding crown molding. It’s a simple addition that adds a touch of charm and makes a big statement about the value of the home.

Add a backsplash. Buyers pay a lot of attention to the kitchen and the bathroom. One of the most eye-catching effects you can add is a backsplash around the sink and the counter space. To get the full effect, use high-quality tile and a RotoSaw+ to get the precise cuts needed for a perfect fit.

Front yard. Backyards are great but when you’re selling your home, the front yard is where buyers make their first impression. Go beyond well-trimmed hedges and green lawns by building decorative fixtures such as a bench, flower crates made of reclaimed wood or other such projects that combine craftsmanship and taste.

Get rid of carpet. Carpet is fast going the way of wallpaper, and there are few home buyers out there who prefer carpet to wood floors. Rip that carpet up! Depending on your skill level, you can choose to cut, sand, stain and install the floorboards yourself, or invest in interlocking boards that snap in place.

Your DIY remodeling project doesn’t have to be complicated. RotoZip offers two models of RotoSaws able to cut multiple materials. Call 1-877-ROTOZIP or visit www.rotozip.com for more info.

 

No Comments

How to get the most out of your lawn and snow tools

(BPT) – Remember when you actually had to leave the house to do things?

Today, you could use your smartphone to do all your holiday shopping, order groceries and have them delivered, and then watch all the Oscar nominated films without ever getting off the couch.

It’s pretty amazing, but for all the convenience we enjoy with our digital lifestyle, sometimes you need a hands-on, personalized approach. And no one knows this better than those who have taken up the DIY lifestyle, or the millions of Americans who obsess over their lawn.

There might be an app for everything, but when it comes to the tools you use to keep your lawn in shape, your best bet is to find an outdoor power equipment dealer who can share their expertise with you. Here are five reasons why.

1. Get personalized service. Everyone cares for their lawn differently. One size doesn’t fit all, and this kind of personalized care needs personalized options. Working with a dealer can help you learn what’s best for you and best for your lawn.

2. Make the best decisions. With so much lawn equipment out there, making up your mind can sometimes be overwhelming. Dealers can help you sort through all the products and explain the different options available to you, such as choosing between gas-powered and battery-powered outdoor power equipment.

3. Learn about service and maintenance. Dealers offer invaluable advice that even yardwork veterans can benefit from. They can tell you the best way to winterize and care for the next generation of lawn care products. In addition, they work closely with top manufacturers so they can give you valuable information about sales, promotions and warranty offers. Dealers also have service shops that can fix broken equipment or give tools a tune-up to prepare for spring lawn care work.

4. Learn about equipment accessories. Dealers have been working in the lawn care industry for years. With this level of expertise, they can point you towards the equipment accessories that will help you get the most out of your outdoor power equipment. Dealers stock and sell the largest variety of accessories for your outdoor power equipment needs.

5. Try before you buy. There’s a reason you don’t buy a car without driving it. The same should apply to lawn equipment. You want something that feels comfortable in your hands, that isn’t too heavy and has the power you need. Most of the time, you really have to use something before you know if it’s right or not, and some dealers will allow you to try out products at the store before making a decision.

To see what a difference personalized service makes, check out www.husqvarna.com/us/dealer-locator/ to find an outdoor power equipment dealer near you.

No Comments

3 reasons why winter is a smart time to buy a home

(BPT) – Don’t give up on buying a home as winter nears. In fact, December through February may be better for buyers than the busy season in spring and summer.

Enjoy less competition and lower prices.

Fewer properties are typically available during the winter, as sellers and buyers aim to complete transactions before the school year begins. You can turn that to your advantage.

“In winter, there are fewer properties, but it’s less competitive, with fewer buyers per property,” says Greg Jaeger, president of USAA Residential Real Estate Services Inc., and former real estate agent.

The more favorable supply-demand balance can lower prices. In the winter, “negotiations are slower-paced and there is more negotiating room,” Jaeger says. Also, winter sellers may be more motivated, especially if they’re forced to sell by divorce or by corporate or military transfers.

In January and February, homes cost 8.45 percent less on average than in June through August, according to NerdWallet research conducted using Realtor.com data from 2014 and 2015. That’s in line with what Jaeger sees, particularly in competitive real estate markets where supply is limited.

Lower prices help at closing — and over the life of your mortgage.

A lower price eases your home purchase in many ways, Jaeger says. It lowers your down payment, any closing costs that are calculated as a percentage of the home’s sale price and your mortgage payments. There’s also less of a seller’s agent commission bundled into the sales price. These savings help when you buy, and they add up over the life of your mortgage.

The right agent can help.

When supply is limited, the right agent can help you get a jump on other buyers. Agents who are well connected learn about properties before they are listed.

The right agent understands the market where you are buying. That includes doing competitive market analysis so you understand what the house is worth.

Look for an agent who suits your style. For example, if you’re a statistics geek, you need an agent who’ll provide them. “Just having access to statistics doesn’t mean they have analytical skills and will use them,” Jaeger says. He recommends USAA’s Real Estate Rewards Network as a source for seasoned agents who deliver great service to USAA members.

Many resources are available to help consumers find the right agent, including USAA Real Estate Rewards Network, a free program that gives members access to USAA’s network of real estate agents and rewards when they buy or sell.

No Comments

6 holiday-friendly home design features

(BPT) – Sponsored Ad Content by Clayton

Whether you’re shopping for a new traditional, manufactured or modular home or just attempting a renovation project, it’s important to consider the functionality of key spaces like kitchens and living rooms. These most-frequented rooms will host meals, family gatherings, movie nights, homework sessions and holiday celebrations, so they need to include features that facilitate all these uses and more.

If the layout of your current apartment or house isn’t working for you as well as you would like, it can seem even more unlivable during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. As you consider which home elements will be the best investment for your money, the home experts at Clayton suggest keeping these features in mind:

* Kitchen island — With the exception of galley kitchens, virtually every kitchen can benefit from an island. Kitchen islands are the perfect spot for serving Christmas morning breakfast, setting out dishes for a Thanksgiving buffet, food prep for a New Year’s celebration or a staging area for an all-night wrapping party after the kids are in bed. Utilize generous under-island cabinet space to store large items like a crock pot or large serving bowls. The island also makes a great space to add additional seating if you are expecting guests.

* Farmhouse sink — Also called apron sinks, farmhouse-style sinks are perfect sinks for holiday entertainers and very trendy in new homes. Larger and deeper than standard under-mount or top-mount sinks, a farmhouse sink gives you plenty of room for washing large kitchen items. The baking sheets you used to whip up a batch of holiday cookies, the big pot where you simmered chili and even the racks from your oven will fit easily into a farmhouse sink. What’s more, farmhouse sinks give any kitchen a comforting, homey, yet elegant look.

* Sweeping technology — With all the cooking and entertaining you’ll be doing in the kitchen, crumbs and spills are inevitable. The last thing you want to do with a houseful of guests is wrestle with a full-sized vacuum cleaner or risk having a hand vac prove inadequate for your needs. Sweeping technology like a central dirt-removal vacuum system can make cleanup much quicker and easier. The central dirt-removal vacuum system unit installs at the base of a kitchen cabinet, and you simply use a broom to move debris in front of the unit. A tap of the toe turns the vacuum on, and the unit sucks the dirt inside a pull-out pan. You can open the drawer and ditch the dirt immediately, or leave it for later while you entertain guests. Central dirt-removal vacuum systems are an optional kitchen appliance in select Clayton home designs.

* Fireplace — Few home features are more appropriate for the holidays than a fireplace that will add warmth and ambiance to any celebration, no matter how large or small. Gas log fireplaces set a festive atmosphere with the flick of a switch. It’s possible to install one in virtually any style home, from site-built to manufactured, and some versions can even work on interior walls of a home. Many homes will even feature a hand-laid stone or tile fireplace for a stylish, sophisticated look.

* Pet-friendly features — Four-legged friends are part of the family — and every holiday celebration. Homebuilders now offer a variety of features to make life more pleasant for pets and easier for homeowners. Clayton Built™ homes can be customized with a pet dish drawer that allows you to hide feeding dishes when they’re not needed. A windowseat or hideaway cubby can be the perfect escape spot for pets who feel overwhelmed by holiday activities and guests. And a built-in grooming station in a mudroom or utility room makes it easy to primp your pet before holiday guests arrive.

* Single-level construction — If you’re thinking of getting into a new home in time to celebrate the holidays, remember that a single-level design and an open floor plan will make holiday entertaining easier and more enjoyable. Having all rooms on one floor ensures guests never have to climb stairs to find a restroom or go to bed. Plus, an open floor plan allows you to work in the kitchen and interact with guests — or keep an eye on kids — in the living room.

Choosing a manufactured home can be a smart, affordable way to get all the holiday-friendly features you want — and be in your new home before the New Year. Because a manufactured home is constructed indoors, bad weather won’t delay the construction schedule. A manufactured home can be completed and set up on-site in a matter of weeks. To learn more, visit www.claytonhomes.com.

No Comments

An affordable way to qualify for a home loan without that big down payment

(BPT) – For many Americans, the biggest hurdle in buying a home is the 20 percent down payment they think is required for mortgage approval. According to a recent survey by the National Association of Realtors, 34 percent of respondents believe they need more than 20 percent. Meanwhile, low down payment mortgages account for a significant amount of home buying annually.

Families with down payments as low as 3 or 5 percent have been able to purchase a home thanks to private mortgage insurance (MI) for 60 years. Since 1957, MI has helped 25 million families become homeowners. In the past year alone, MI helped more than 795,000 homeowners purchase or refinance a mortgage. Nearly half were first time homebuyers and more than 40 percent had incomes below $75,000.

How MI works

Mortgage insurance is simple. In addition to the other parts of mortgage underwriting process — such as verifying employment and determining the borrower’s ability to afford the monthly payment — lenders traditionally required 20 percent down to ensure the borrower had some of their own money committed before the bank would provide a loan. This is where MI enters, bridging the down payment divide to qualify borrowers for mortgage financing.

Benefits of MI

* It helps you buy a home, sooner. For the average firefighter or school teacher, it could take 20 years to save the typical down payment. Private mortgage insurers help borrowers qualify with as little as 3 percent down.

* It’s temporary, leading to lower monthly payments. MI can be cancelled once you build 20 percent equity, either through payments or home price appreciation — typically in the first five to seven years. This is not the case for FHA loans, the federal government’s form of MI. The majority of which require MI for the life of the loan.

* It provides several flexible payment options. Your lender can offer several options for MI payment; the most common is paid monthly along with your mortgage.

* It’s tax-deductible. Subject to income limits, MI premiums are tax deductible — similar to interest paid on a mortgage. In 2014, 4 million taxpayers benefited from this deduction with the average being $1,402.

MI is a stable, cost effective way to obtain low down payment mortgages, and offers distinct benefits to borrowers. It’s been a cornerstone of the U.S. housing market for decades, providing millions the opportunity to own homes despite financial barriers. Ask your lender for low down payment options using MI. Visit www.USMI.org for more information.

No Comments

Autumn and early winter: The best times to be a homebuyer?

(BPT) – The long-held belief that summer is the only time to buy a home is fading fast. Savvy home-buyers are learning that when temperatures drop, numerous benefits emerge that simply aren’t available other times of the year.

“With warm weather and many homes on the market, summer is generally the busiest real estate season. However, autumn into early winter can be opportune times for people who are serious about buying a home, too” says Geoff Lewis, RE/MAX, LLC President. “This time of year has big advantages — like motivated sellers and less competition — that simply can’t be ignored.”

If you’re in the market to purchase a home, there’s no need to hang up your house-hunting hat until spring or summer. Lewis offers eight reasons why now might just be the best time to purchase a home.

Year-end tax breaks

As long as you close on the property on or before Dec. 31, any property tax and mortgage interest paid are tax-deductible for that year. This can dramatically impact the amount of money you owe Uncle Sam, or increase your refund.

Less competition

The National Association of Realtors(R) recently noted that, in an average year, nearly half of all home sales occur from May to August. Although most people wait until the hustle and bustle of the spring selling season, you’ll likely encounter less competition during fall and winter. That means less stress and a reduced chance you’ll be involved in a bidding war.

Eager sellers

Sellers become more motivated the longer their home is on the market, especially now that the summer rush is over. If a home has been listed for a while, it may allow buyers more room for negotiation and potentially a better deal.

Quicker transactions

Motivated sellers paired with less-busy title companies may mean a faster closing in fall and winter. Do you want a new home in time for the holidays or new year? It’s entirely possible when you house hunt now.

Cheaper moving prices

You’re probably planning to hire a moving company in some capacity, whether you’re moving across town or across the country. In the fall and winter moving companies tend to be less busy, which means you might have the options of more flexible schedules and lower prices.

Easier to outfit your home

Need a new couch, cutlery or curtains for your home? Year-end sales are perfect for scoring a deal on these otherwise expensive items. Plus, if you move in around the holidays, there are plenty of deals on house-warming gifts.

“In addition to all these benefits for buying post-selling season, interest rates for home loans are still at record lows,” says Lewis.

If you’re thinking of purchasing a home, find more helpful information at www.remax.com.