6 Smart Home Products That’ll Make Your Home More Functional Today

 

Woman in a smart home with a smart mirror

A couple are super fun to use and may even enhance your home’s value.

Image: Ghislain & Marie David de Lossy/Metamorworks/Getty

Home trends come and go. But it’s functionality that wins in the end. Because smart functionality almost always adds some intrinsic value to your home.

That’s why these smart home products, especially the ones that make you safer, are some of our favorite home upgrades.

#1 Video Doorbell

smart-home-products-video-doorbell-standard_1fdb190dde953528c537f40da9cb576a_860x860_q85

A video doorbell with a Buddha statue beside itImage: Photo and installation by James Wesolaski, GET LIT Electrical Services LLC

WiFi-enabled video doorbells will let you see, hear, and speak to whoever is at your door via a smartphone, even when you’re not home.

It’s like Facetime but for your house. It alerts your phone and turns on the camera when someone rings the bell or comes near. You can tell the UPS guy to leave the package at the door or say, “Be there in a minute!” — whether you’re in the bathroom or thousands of miles away. So much for casing the joint while you’re out of town.

Video doorbells can even help catch a thief because you can see them on camera.

They’re not expensive — at most, around $200 — and you can install one yourself with some basic tools

#2 Smart Door Locks

smart-home-products-smart-locks-retina_standard_0de9a908a86db674b6bf6d6c260bff6e_860x953_q85

Keys are so 20th century. With a smart lock, you can lock or unlock your door with your smartphone or voice. You can text digital keys to friends, the dog sitter, or the delivery guy, giving them temporary access, which is waaaaaay safer than the old key-under-the-doormat routine.

Plus: Think you forgot to lock the house? You can whip out your smartphone and check. On the stoop with arms full of groceries? Just tell the lock to open.

Check out the August Smart Lock or the Kwikset Kevo.

#3 Home Generators

 

The number of power outages from bad weather has more than doubled in the last 15 years, so generators are becoming a thing.

But not those noisy, portable, diesel ones. You want a generator that’s built into your home. They look like an HVAC unit and run on propane or natural gas, so they don’t belch out smelly gases or require refueling every couple of hours. They’ll kick on automatically when the power goes off and can even be operated from a smartphone.

It might not be a home investment you’ll eagerly Instagram upon installation, but when you’re still scrolling and posting during a killer snowstorm, you’ll be feeling pretty fancy.

#4 Smart Mirror

smart-home-products-smart-mirror-standard_b3a6dd5384f8b67a753ec7ae2fab449b_860x467_q85

Smart mirror in a home bathroomImage: Billy Ives

Even the ol’ looking glass is getting smart. Bathroom mirrors with voice-activated digital assistants can tell you the weather, give you traffic updates, and play your favorite podcasts. You can even tell your mirror to order more moisturizer the moment you realize you’re getting low.

Check out Kohler’s Verdera Voice Lighted Smart Mirror, an Alexa-enabled smart mirror. It also has motion sensors that turn on the light when you stand in front of it, giving you one less germy thing to touch in the bathroom.

There are prototypes out there for mirrors that advise on your wardrobe, health, and skin care, too; they’re just not on the market yet.

Obviously, everything in your home is not about ROI, and a smart mirror is no exception. Will it up your home value? Nah. Is it fun? Yes. Does it make life in one of your home’s most hectic rooms easier? Oh yeah.

#5 Indoor Gardens

smart-home-products-indoor-garden-standard_bfba552f7a685d688de46bed57aed4c1_860x851_q85

Houseplants have been having a moment for a while, but edible gardens are coming indoors, too.

More than a third of Millennials are growing herbs indoors, and a gardening industry report predicts the number of people growing plants inside is going to increase about 25% by 2021. It’s an especially good idea for homes that have little or no yard space.

We’re not talking pots of basil on the windowsill but permanent setups — like a built-in planter that also works as a room divider (mid-century, retro-cool factor included).

Or you can turn a whole wall into a hydroponic, vertical garden with PVC panels. Install a few smart grow lights, and you’re good to go.

#6 Smart Blinds

Throw some shade on high cooling and heating costs with WiFi-enabled blinds you can control with your smartphone or voice. They’ll even work with Alexa and Siri.

Program them to open or close at certain times of day, or when the room hits a specific temperature. Or if you’re reading and you want to open the blinds to let in more light, you don’t have to get out of your chair. “Alexa, open the blinds.” Done.

You can also pre-schedule your smart blinds to make your home more secure.

written by Leanne Potts
Looking to buy or sell a home?

Chris Lee and Rusty’s Team at RealtySouth  205-233-5183

9 Ways to Disaster-Proof Your Home Against Summer Storms

 

How to prevent problems when there is a natural disaster

Turns out a tidy yard and clean gutters do way more than just look nice.

Image: Jodi Jacobson/Getty

Sure, cleaning your gutters and trimming your trees may not seem like heroic tasks, but hey, when a thunderstorm is doing its worst outside, those mundane little jobs are your home’s armor.

So suit-up the whole place. These nine tips will get your home ready for summer disasters, like water damage to your home, power outages, and fires. (You’ll save yourself a pretty penny, too.)

#1 Clean Gutters to Prevent Water Damage

It’s a fairly simple task, but so easy to put off. Who wants to schlep out a ladder for an afternoon of gutter cleaning?

But clogged gutters mean storm water can overflow, saturating — and possibly penetrating — your home’s foundation. Gutter build-up can also contribute to water seeping into your attic and damaging walls.

While you’re scooping debris, check the downspouts for clogs by flushing them with water from a garden hose.

Or skip the hassle and hire a pro.

#2 Protect Your Roof from Storm Damage by Trimming Trees

You know what happens in severe storms. Tree limbs break away and fall. If huge tree limbs are dangling over your house, you’re at risk for major roof damage. Cut back limbs to reduce their weight.

Also, make sure they’re at least four feet above the roof. Tree limbs make great balance beams for critters to tumble into your attic; don’t make it easy on them.

#3 Install a French Drain to Keep Storm Water Away

Prevent fires with a French drainImage: Aquatarkus/Getty

French drain — named after a guy named French, not the country — is a lightly sloped trench (1 inch per 8 feet) filled with round gravel and a pipe that diverts water away from your house.

The drain can be shallow or deep depending on whether you’ve got a soggy lawn or a bigger problem with water entering your basement during heavy storms.

#4 Prepare for a Power Outage with a Generator

An hour in the dark is an inconvenience, but a power outage of a day or two — especially when it’s 100 degrees outside — can be hazardous to your health (and pricey, as all your refrigerated and frozen foods spoil).

Invest in either a portable or standby generator, depending on how much you want to spend and how much power you need.

Generators vary by wattage output — the amount of power they can generate at one time. So check appliance needs: a four-slice toaster might use a whopping 1,650 watts – way more wattage than a portable AC unit (often under 500 watts).

#5 Prevent Fires with Hardscaping and a Tidy Yard

Hardscaped back yard to prevent firesImage: YinYang/Getty

And you thought a well-maintained lawn and that flagstone patio were just for fab curb appeal (and to make the neighbors jealous). Au contraire. Stone doesn’t burn.

You can also deprive flames of fuel by keeping the grass short and irrigated, removing dry leaves and dead plants, and pruning dead branches. If you needed extra motivation to get off the patio and get that yard work done, there you go.

#6 Install Impact-Proof Doors and Windows

Think a door is just a door? When it’s rattling on its hinges mid-storm, you’ll change your mind.

Impact-resistant windows, doors, and garage doors can inhibit high winds that cause structural damage from entering your home.

Bonus: Impact-resistant features can also Save on InsuranceImpact-resistant windows and doors may get you a discount on your home insurance.protect your home from intruders, reduce outside noise, and stop warm or cool air from escaping.

#7 Update Your Insurance

Sometimes you really do need to read the fine print.

Once a year, review your homeowners insurance to make sure you can rebuild your whole house in case of a disaster. See if you’re adequately covered for things like flood damage, too.

Plus, make updates based on recent home improvements, like that fancy burglar alarm you just installed, and ask about any new discounts for bundling with your car insurance.

#8 Check Fire Extinguishers

Scary stat alert: 660 people died in home fires in just the first two months of 2018.

While a fire extinguisher doesn’t technically expire, it’s possible for its seal to weaken over time, causing the pressure to drop and rendering it useless. Check that the locking pin is intact and the pressure gauge or indicator is pointing to “full.” (Sometimes this is a green bar.)

And did you know you’re supposed to keep a fire extinguisher on each floor? Or that different rooms require a different type of extinguisher? If not, a fire-safety shopping spree might be in order.

#9 Pick Wildfire-Wise Plants

Prevent fires with fire-resistant plants like hydrangeImage: Shippee/Getty

Speaking of fires, homeowners too often don’t consider how their plant choices help or hinder them.

Plants with stems that contain wax, terpenes, or oils are super flammable — as are junipers, hollies, eucalyptus, and pines.

Particularly if you live in a wildfire-prone area, choose fire-resistant foundation plantings like azalea, boxwood, hydrangeas, and burning bushes. (Ironic, right?)

Succulents, like sedum, have high water content and are less flammable. If you use bark mulch, which is highly flammable, keep it moist. Less flammable mulches are gravel, decorative rock, or bark-and-rock combinations. You can find a whole bunch of plants appropriate for your area at Firewise.org

Looking to buy or sell a home?

Chris Lee and Rusty’s Team at RealtySouth  205-233-5183

How to Get Stains & Grease Off Walls

 

A child writing on a wall with crayonImage: Carrie Robinson

Learn how to clean 7 tough stains off your walls — and ensure a lasting paint job.

You can’t wait to cover up that nasty beige on your walls, but as you take a close look at all the areas you’re gonna have to prep you see a lot of grime, gunk, and stuff that looks too stubborn for your standard vinegar wash.

Any cleaning rookie can wipe off dust and cobwebs. But it takes a cleaning pro to scour grease stains, watermarks, and kids’ crayon and ink wall art.

Kitchen Grease on Walls

Grease is an occupational hazard of cooking. If only it wouldn’t ind it’s way onto your walls and cabinets, trapping all kinds of gunk. Yuck!

Good news. Any decent dish soap can remove grease stains on walls.

For small stains, mix: 1/4 teaspoon of soap in a cup of warm water, and wipe. Rinse with clean water, and blot until dry. Clean stubborn grease stains with solution of 1/3 cup of white household vinegar with 2/3 cup of water.

Dirt and Grime Buildup

The oil from your hands gets onto walls, cabinets, doors, and door frames. A wall eraser, like the Mr. Clean Eraser ($3 for 4 pads), easily wipes away these stains.

Wet the sponge and rub gently to avoid taking bits of paint off with the stain.

Or make your own homemade wall cleaning sponge:

  • 1 cup ammonia,
  • 1/2 cup white distilled or apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup baking soda
  • one gallon of warm water.

Wipe the solution over walls with a sponge (or cloth), and rinse with water.

Crayons

Wall erasers work like a charm on crayon marks. If they don’t do the trick:

  • Rub marks with toothpaste (not gel).
  • Erase marks with an art gum or a pencil eraser; use a circular motion.
  • Swipe marks with baby wipes.
  • Sprinkle baking soda on a damp sponge and scrub marks.

Permanent Marker

Permanent markers are tough to remove from walls. Soak a cotton ball with rubbing alcohol and dab the stain. Or spray marks with hairspray, then wipe drips.

Ink

Ballpoint ink, which is oil-based, often melts away if you use foaming shaving cream, dry-cleaning solvents such as Carbona, or nail polish remover.

Make sure you open windows when using cleaning solvents and polish remover.

Mildew

Mildew is a fungus that eats soap scum and body oil. To remove from walls, spray with vinegar water: 1 tablespoon white vinegar to 1 quart water. Also, try an enzyme laundry detergent; follow the pre-treating directions on the label. Blot it on the stain, and then rinse thoroughly with water.

Water Stains

After you’ve solved the problem that caused the water stains, rinse with a solution of 1 cup bleach to 1 gallon of water to prevent mold and mildew from growing. Thoroughly dry with a hairdryer or fans. If bleaching doesn’t remove water stains, you’ll have to repaint. Prime the walls with a stain-killing primer, such as Kilz Paint.

 

 

Looking to buy or sell a home?

Chris Lee and Rusty’s Team at RealtySouth  205-233-5183

new team photo

Do you really save money selling your house without an agent?

fsbo pic

Selling a home by yourself can seem like a great way to save money.  Selling by yourself typically takes longer than listing with an agent. You will spend much more time researching the market and interpreting contracts when it comes down to the offer.

If all parties work you will have to leave work to open the house each time there is a showing.  What if you are in an important meeting or out of town and a cash buyer is in town looking at home?  Can you say lost opportunity?

The amount of money you are loosing here only depends on how much your time is worth unless you lose a sale because you were unable to show the property.  But, lets get down to real cost of not selling your home with an agent.  Lets start off with the hidden costs.

 Hidden costs

1. You’re paying for lots of extras, signage, flyers, photography, home inspection, an attorney if you need legal help. not to mention your portion of the buyers closing costs which can be thousands of dollars.( most buyers don’t have resources for down payment and closing costs.)

2. Marketing

Most owners have limited resources. A recent profile of home buyers and sellers showed that 42% relied on a yard sign and 32% rely on friends and family to share. Only 15% use social media to share. Sellers are unable to know who the buyer demographic is for their home and how to reach those nor are they aware which print media is effective.

3. Paperwork

According to a recent profile of home buyers and sellers, understanding paperwork was a difficult task for FSBO’s. There are a variety of legal forms that are needed which include but are not limited to sales contract, lead base paint disclosure, Amendatory clauses, and much more. There is no one size fits all contract.

4.Getting stuck in a bad deal

Without an agent you are either stuck using an attorney to review each offer or risking it yourself. Many times sellers signed on the dotted line and then realize their is an error. Some even have to pay thousands in discount points and extra closing costs they can not get out of legally. Review of this by an attorney or real estate agent can save them from headaches and these mistakes.

5. By owners typically sell for less

Across the nation for sale by owners typically sell for 16% less sales price with a median sales price of 210,000. Whereas an agent assisted home sold for around 249,000.  In 2015 if a for sale by owner sold to someone they knew the median sales price dropped from 210,00 to 159,000.

6. You’re willing to pay 3%

Most for sale by owners are willing to pay 3% for an agent to bring them a buyer. The agent represents the buyer and in turn the owner is paying the agent 3% to negotiate against them with no representation themselves and the lack of understanding some real estate terms can end up costing them thousands in excess closing costs and repairs/upgrades.

7. Inspections/Repairs

When a buyer has an inspection done and some things are not to code many buyers will say those are needed to get financing. Although some of these repairs are needed some are likely to code when house was built and will not cause any issues. Many sellers aren’t aware that there is a difference between appraisal and inspection repairs.  Not knowing the difference can cost hundreds or thousands of repairs.

8. Transaction management

Now that you signed on the dotted line what’s next?  Who will be handling the closing?  What items should you be following up on?   What time frame does the inspection have to be completed or is there a time frame?  Does the buyer have a period that they can back out?  How will you handle it if the property doesn’t appraise for contract sales price?  What happens if you have spent money on repairs and buyers financing falls through?

 

The bottom line is if you get sick are you going to take care of it yourself or will you go see a doctor, if you have dental issue will you fix it yourself or go to the dentist. Hiring a professional is a small price to pay with one of the biggest investments of your life.

Looking to buy or sell a home?

Chris Lee and Rusty’s Team at RealtySouth  205-233-5183

9 Irritating Things About Summer Heat (and How to Nix Them)

The Most Annoying Household Problems Solved!

Man with swim float illustration

9 Irritating Things About Summer Heat (and How to Nix Them)

Like bugs. And leggy flowers. And sky-high energy bills.

Image: Malte Mueller/fStop/Offset

Dog days of summer? More like the mosquito days. And super sweaty days. By the end of summer it can feel like bugs, grime, sweat, and heat have taken over your home. And you get to pay for it with high cooling bills. Ugh.

Here are the most annoying things about summer and how to get rid of them:

#1 Spiders and Ants

Girl looking at spider trapped under a glass at homeImage: Jessica Lewis/Getty

When the days are long and hot, bugs get thirsty, just like we do. So they may be invading your home in search of water.

To cut them off from your homey oasis, you’ll need to make sure your doors and windows are sealed, but also check where pipes and wires enter your house for tight seals, too.

How to get rid of spiders:

Vacuum your home thoroughly, clear away any cobwebs, and throw away the vacuum bag. (Vacuums typically kill spiders, but their egg sacs are pretty hardy.)

Peppermint oil, diluted with water in a spray bottle, can also help drive away some spider species.

How to get rid of ants:

When you catch an ant on the march, you’ll need to do more than un-premeditated murder to halt the parade.

Ants leave a scent trail wherever they go, so clean the area with soap and water to knock out the parade route.

Then go after the whole colony with a cup of warm water, 1/2 cup of sugar, and 3 tablespoons of boric acid. Dip cotton balls in the mixture, and place them in dishes in areas where you’ve seen ant

#2 Stinky Garbage

In late summer, everything is ripe — including your trash. Alas, garbage is garbage, but you can deodorize your trash can in a couple of ways:

  • Make the night before the garbage truck comes “Clean-Out-the-Fridge Day” to minimize stinky leftovers piling up in the bag.
  • Sprinkle a little baking soda in the bottom of each new liner, and add a bit more to the trash every morning. Tossing a dryer sheet in the bottom of every trash bag — even if it’s already been used in the dryer — can also help neutralize nasty odors.

#3 Hot Feet on the Patio or Deck

Foot burns are the worst.

Soothe your soles. Add a pergola over your patio or deck, and you’ll increase your home’s value while protecting your bare feet.

Other options, such as a retractable canvas awning or a shade sail, can also do the trick while adding versatility and color to your outdoor space.

#4 Ugly, Leggy Plants

By late summer, your plants may begin to look leggy, meaning they’re just long stems with a meek flower at the end.

Rather than looking foliage-full like they did a month or two ago, leggy plants look thin, spindly, and sad. Not so good for curb appeal.

Grab your clippers for an easy fix. Just cut back about half the stems two-thirds of the way to their base. Within a couple of weeks, those cut stems will be blooming with new flowers, and you can cut back the other half.

Your refreshed pots and beds should keep looking good (and getting enviable looks from neighbors) for a few more months.

#5 Mosquitoes

Cheesy pun alert: Mosquitoes are the ultimate summer buzzkill. (We warned you.)

But it’s true: Nothing ruins outdoor fun faster than swarm of these pesky stingers.

Clogged gutters with standing water are basically a mosquito maternity ward, so keep them clear of debris at all times.

Look for other areas that contain standing water, and clean them regularly: the dog’s outdoor water bowl, the bird bath, and that wagon the kids left out before it rained.

Also, it may seem obvious, but: Install an outdoor fan! Mosquitoes are wimps when it comes to breezes.

#6 Pop-Up Thunderstorms

Tree that has fallen because of a stormImage: Chris Sadowski/Getty

Those pop-up summer storms can be a refreshing break from a hot spell. But when a freak storm leaves a large branch or tree in your yard — or worse, on your home or fence — it can be downright scary.

The good news is that when a tree — even your neighbor’s tree — lands on your home or other insured structure, your homeowner’s insurance should cover it.

If it simply landed in your yard and didn’t hit a structure, you’re likely on your own when it comes to removing the debris. In that case, take comfort in the fact that your house is safe.

 

#7 Sky-High Power Bills

Ceiling fan spinning in a houseImage: jajaladdawan/Shutterstock

As summer heat rises, so do your utility bills.

To fight back against the annual assault of energy bills, start with the basics: Install a programmable thermostat — and program it. Get your AC maintained regularly to increase its efficiency, and replace the air filters regularly.

Beyond that, some creative cooling strategies can help you save even more. So turn off your central air, and employ these cheaper cooling techniques.

Here’s how to lower your power bill in the summer:

  • Get a couple of cheaper window units for key rooms and use only when there. Like the bedroom when you’re sleeping, or one near the dog’s crate when you’re gone.
  • You can also free yourself from AC completely, using fans.
  • And during the daytime, when the sun is beating down, draw your blinds and curtains — a simple step that can drastically reduce the sun’s effect on your home’s indoor temp.

#8 HVAC Noise

Who can enjoy the birds chirping and crickets cricketing with your AC whizzing all day?

Don’t sweat the noise pollution; take the opportunity to drown it out with something beautiful, like a water feature in your backyard. There’s nothing like the sound of rushing water to lull you into relaxing, forgetting the heat, and soaking up the last few weeks of summer.

Or just switch that baby off. Who needs to cool the house when you’re sipping ice tea on the patio?

 

#9 A Crunchy, Brown Lawn

A crunchy, brown lawn thirsty for waterImage: Simon McGill/Getty

By late summer, we’re all wilting a bit. But when your once-lush lawn seems to have brown highlights — or a complete brown color wash — your home’s curb appeal will start drying up.

Brown grass isn’t always nature’s fault. Your brown grass may be the result of mowing your grass too short. Leave at least 1-3 inches of grass above the root so the grass can absorb enough water to combat the heat.

If your grass is browning because of drought, make sure your sprinklers are adjusted properly, and water less often for longer periods.

If you live in a drought-prone area, you may be better off removing most of your grass and opting for hardscaping or another drought-friendly groundcover.

What’s not to like about stone walls, gravel paths, or paved patios? Install enough of it, and you can ditch your lawn completely.

Looking to buy or sell a home?

Chris Lee and Rusty’s Team at RealtySouth  205-233-5183

team photos
 

What You Should Really Know About Browsing for Homes Online

Shopping for houses online illustration

It’s fun! It’s exciting! It’s important to take everything with a grain of salt!

Image: HouseLogic

Oh, let’s just admit it, shall we? Browsing for homes online is a window shopper’s Shangri-La. The elegantly decorated rooms, the sculpted gardens, the colorful front doors that just pop with those “come hither” hues.

Browser beware, though: Those listings may be seductive, but they might not be giving you the complete picture.

That perfect split-level ranch? Might be too close to a loud, traffic-choked street. That handsome colonial with the light-filled photos? Might be hiding some super icky plumbing problems. That attractively priced condo? Miiiight not actually be for sale. Imagine your despair when, after driving across town to see your dream home, you realize it was sold.

So let’s practice some self-care, shall we, and set our expectations appropriately.

  • Step one, fill out our home buyer’s worksheet. The worksheet helps you understand what you’re looking for.
  • Step two, with that worksheet and knowledge in hand, start browsing for homes. As you do, keep in mind exactly what that tool can, and can’t, do. Here’s how.

You Keep Current. Your Property Site Should, Too

First things first: You wouldn’t read last month’s Vanity Fair for the latest cafe society gossip, right? So you shouldn’t browse property sites that show old listings.

Get the latest listings from realtor.com®, which pulls its information every 15 minutes from the Be First Through the DoorAsk your agent to send you automated emails from their MLS with new properties that meet your specs. Multiple Listing Service (MLS), regional databases where real estate agents post listings for sale. That means that realtor.com®’s listings are more accurate than some others, like Zillow and Trulia, which may update less often. You wouldn’t want to get your heart a flutter for a house that’s already off the market.

BTW, there are other property listing sites as well, including Redfin, which is a brokerage and therefore also relies on relationships with brokers and MLSs for listings.

The Best Properties Aren’t Always the Best Looking

A picture, they say, is worth a thousand words. But what they don’t say is a picture can also hide a thousand cracked floorboards, busted boilers, and leaky pipes. So while it’s natural to focus on photos while browsing, make sure to also consider the property description and other key features.

Each realtor.com® listing, for example, has a “property details” section that may specify important information such as the year the home was built, price per square foot, and how many days the property has been on the market.

Ultimately though, ask your real estate agent to help you interpret what you find. The best agents have hyper-local knowledge of the market and may even know details and histories of some properties. If a listing seems too good to be true, your agent will likely know why.

 

Treat Your Agent Like Your Bestie

At the end of the day, property sites are like CliffsNotes for a neighborhood: They show you active listings, sold properties, home prices, and sales histories. All that data will give you a working knowledge, but it won’t be exhaustive.

To assess all of this information — and gather facts about any home you’re eyeing, like how far the local elementary school is from the house or where the closest Soul Cycle is — talk to your real estate agent. An agent who can paint a picture of the neighborhood is an asset.

An agent who can go beyond that and deliver the dish on specific properties is a true friend indeed, more likely to guide you away from homes with hidden problems, and more likely to save you the time of visiting a random listing (when you could otherwise be in the park playing with your canine bestie).

Want to go deeper? Consider these sites and sources:

Just remember: You’re probably not going to find that “perfect home” while browsing listings on your smartphone. Instead, consider the online shopping experience to be an amuse bouche to the home-buying entree — a good way for you to get a taste of the different types of homes that are available and a general idea of what else is out there.

Once you’ve spent that time online, you’ll be ready to share what you’ve learned with an agent.

Looking to buy or sell a home?

Chris Lee and Rusty’s Team at RealtySouth  205-233-5183

What to Do ASAP as a New Homeowner (“Future You” Will Thank You)

 

It’s finally yours. Your very own home. You can paint the walls whatever you like. Heck, even knock out a wall! There’s no landlord to fight you.

But if you’re serious about developing good homeowner habits (so your home makes you richer, not poorer), you’ll use it the minute you close on your home — if not before. Easier to do now than suffer some head-slapping regrets later.

 

Security & Safety

These are the very first things you should do after buying a house(for obvious reasons):

1. Change locks. Spares could be floating around anywhere.

2. Hide an extra key in a lockbox. Thieves look under flower pots.

3. Reset the key codes for garage doors, gates, etc. The former owners might’ve trusted half the neighborhood.

4. Test fire and carbon monoxide detectors. Who knows when the last time was. Definitely install them if there are none.

5. Check the temperature on your water heater, especially if you have young ones, so it won’t accidentally scald. Manufacturers tend to set them high.

6. Make sure motion lights and other security lights have working bulbs.

7. Put a fire extinguisher in the kitchen and each additional floor.

Maintenance Planning

Start your master maintenance plan (and good home-keeping habits) by setting reminders in your calendar to do these basic maintenance tasks:

8. Clean out the dryer hose and vent yearly. Clogged ones burn down houses. And you don’t know the last time the previous homeowner did it.

9. Change your HVAC filters at least once a season. You’ll save on heating and cooling — and your unit will last longer. (While you’re at it, go ahead and stock up on them, too.)

10. Schedule HVAC maintenance for spring and fall.

11. Clean your fridge coils at least once a year. It’ll run better and last longer. (Don’t see any coils? Lucky you! Newer fridges often have coils insulated, so there’s no need for annual cleaning.)

12. Drain your water heater once a year.

13. Clean your gutters at least twice a year.

14. And if all items on your inspection report were not addressed, make a plan to fix them — before they become bigger and more expensive repairs.

Emergency Preparedness

You really don’t want to be figuring any of this out in a real emergency. Do it now. You’ll sleep better and be less likely to ruin your home.

15. Locate the main water shut-off valve. Because busted pipes happen to almost every homeowner at least once. And water damage is value-busting and pricey to fix.

16. Find the circuit box, and label all circuit breakers.

17. Find the gas shut-off valve, too, if you have gas.

18. Test the sump pump if you have one. Especially before the rainy season starts.

19. List emergency contacts. You already know 911. These are the other numbers you often need in an emergency. You should have them posted where they’re easy to see.

  • Your utility companies
  • Your insurance agent
  • Plumber
  • Electrician

20. Assemble an emergency supply kit. Some key items are:

  • Flashlights and batteries
  • Non-perishable food and water
  • Blankets and warm clothing
  • A radio, TV, or cell phone with backup batteries

Home & Mortgage Documents

In case there’s a dispute with your mortgage lender or a neighbor over property lines, or if you’re a bit forgetful about due dates.

21. Store copies (the originals should be in a fireproof safe or safety deposit box) of important home documents so they’re readily available. Go paper, cloud, or better, yet, both.

  • Lender contact information
  • Property survey
  • Inspection report
  • Final closing documents
  • Insurance documents

22. Set mortgage and other bills to auto-pay so you’re never late.

Looking to buy or sell a home?

Chris Lee and Rusty’s Team at RealtySouth  205-233-5183

The Secret to Programming Your Thermostat the Right Way for Each Season

0c2ba9565bb45ccddeef9e20f62648ab_weather-thermometer-clip-art-clipart-download-thermometer-weather-clipart_1500-1600

Before you get started, you’ll need to pick a programmable thermostat you’ll actually use.

According to a study by the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, nearly 90% of Americans say they’ve rarely (or never) programmed their thermostat because they’re not sure how to do it.

But it’s really not that hard, and it’s definitely worth doing because it can save at least 10% a year on heating and cooling costs.

The U.S. Department of Energy says you can achieve that 10% by turning your thermostat back 7 to 10 degrees F from it’s normal setting for 8 hours a day.

The first step is to pick the thermostat that best suits your scheduling needs so you can “set it and forget it,” an approach the Energy Department advocates to get the most savings.

Pick the Right Thermostat

There are four types of programmable thermostats, each with a distinctive scheduling style:

7-day programming. Best for individuals or families with erratic schedules, since this is the most flexible option. It lets you program a different heating/cooling schedule for each day of the week.

5-1-1 programming. One heating/cooling schedule for the week, plus you can schedule a different heating/cooling plan for Saturday and Sunday.

5-2 programming. Same as 5-1-1 programming, except Saturday and Sunday will have the same heating/cooling plan.

1-week programming. You can only set one heating/cooling plan that will be repeated daily for the entire week.

You’ll need a program for both the cooler months and the warmer months.

TIP: Before buying a programmable thermostat, identify the type of equipment used to heat and cool your home so you can check for compatibility. For example, do you have central heating and cooling, or just a furnace or baseboard heating? Otherwise, you may not reap the rewards of energy savings and may risk harming your heating and cooling equipment.

 

Change the Factory Settings

Most programmable thermostats have a pre-programmed setting that’s supposed to be for the typical American family. But what family is typical these days? You need to adjust the thermostat’s settings so it’s in sync with the life you and your family lead instead of some mythical family.

Programming options are based on:

  • Wake Time
  • Sleep Time
  • Leave Time
  • Return Time

The Department of Energy suggests the following settings as an energy-saving rule of thumb:

Winter months:

  • For the hours you’re home and awake, program the temp to 68°F.
  • Lower at least 10 degrees for the hours you’re asleep or out of the house.

Summer months:

  • For the hours you’re home, program air conditioning to 78°F.
  • For the days you don’t need cooling, manually shut off the AC. Keep in mind, it will kick back on if the house gets too warm.
  • Program it to be warmer than usual when you’re out of the house.

Here are a few programming timing tips that can help you create the best set-it-and-forget-it heating and cooling schedule for your home:

  • Shut down heat or air conditioning 20 to 30 minutes before you leave home each day.
  • Turn on heat or air conditioning 20 to 30 minutes before you come home each day.
  • Reduce the heating or cooling 60 minutes before you go to sleep each night.
  • Increase heating or cooling about 30 minutes before you wake up each morning.
  • Spend time tweaking your program for a few days to make sure it feels right.

TIP: With a Wi-Fi-enabled thermostat, you can control your home’s temperature while on the go. That way, you’re not wasting energy if you’re running late or forgot to create a new program before going on vacation.

FYI: A furnace does NOT have to work harder to warm a house after the temperature has been set low during the day.

Use a Wifi Thermostat to Make It Super Easy

Want something that’s simpler? Newer more high-tech models have simplified the process:

The Nest Learning Thermostat: It creates a custom heating and cooling schedule for your home based on motion detection technology. Plus since it is Wi-Fi, it can be controlled remotely. Price: Usually a bit more than $200.

 

Honeywell Wi-Fi Smart Thermostat: This device makes it easy to create a custom heating and cooling plan. Unlike conventional programmable thermostats, it has a large color interface that displays a simple menu that walks you through all the programming steps. It also “learns” your home and will send you personal notifications if the temperature is not right, or if there’s a power outage. Price: Usually under $200.

 

FYI: Thermostats made prior to 2001 may contain mercury. To see if your programmable thermostat contains mercury, check with the manufacturer. If you decide to dispose of a thermostat that contains mercury, check out how to do so safely in your area at Thermostat Recycling Corp. (Not sure why mercury is so bad? Here’s the skinny: It’s toxic and it never breaks down. When it enters the waste stream, it permanently damages the ecosystem.

 

Looking to buy or sell a home?

Chris Lee and Rusty’s Team at RealtySouth  205-233-5183

 

 team photos

How to Keep Your House Cool Without AC

cute dog

Dog sitting in front of fan keeping cool

How to Keep Your House Cool Without AC

Want summer comfort but hate the AC? Follow these tips on how to keep your house cool without frosty air conditioning.

Image: Melanie DeFazio/Stocksy

You don’t have to switch on the air conditioner to get a big chill this summer.

These tips will help you keep your house cool without AC, which will save energy (and avoid AC wars with your family.

Block That Sun!

When sunlight enters your house, it turns into heat. You’ll keep your house cooler if you reduce solar heat gain by keeping sunlight out.

Close the drapes: Line them with light-colored fabric that reflects the sun, and close them during the hottest part of the day. Let them pillow onto the floor to block air movement.

Add awnings: Install them on south- and west-facing windows to reduce solar heat gain by up to 77%, says the U.S. Department of Energy. Make your own by tacking up sheets outside your windows and draping the ends over a railing or lawn chair.

Install shutters: Interior and exterior shutters not only reduce heat gain and loss, but they also add security and protect against bad weather. Interior shutters with adjustable slats let you control how much sun you let in.

Apply high-reflectivity window film: Install energy-saving window films on east- and west-facing windows, which will keep you cool in summer, but let in warming sun in the winter. Mirror-like films are more effective than colored transparent ones.

Open Those Windows

Be sure to open windows when the outside temperature is lower than the inside. Cool air helps lower the temps of everything — walls, floors, furniture — that will absorb heat as temps rise, helping inside air say cooler longer.

To create cross-ventilation, open windows on opposite sides of the house. Good ventilation helps reduce VOCs and prevents mold.

Fire Up Fans

Portable fans: At night, place fans in open windows to move cool air. In the day, put fans where you feel their cooling breezes (moving air evaporates perspiration and lowers your body temperature). To get extra cool, place glasses or bowls of ice water in front of fans, which will chill the moving air.

Ceiling fans: For maximum cooling effect, make sure ceiling fans spin in the direction that pushes air down, rather than sucks it up. Be sure to turn off fans when you’re not in the room, because fan motors give off heat, too.

Whole house fans: A whole-house fan ($1,000 to $1,600, including install) exhausts hot inside air out through roof vents. Make sure your windows are open when you run a whole-house fan.

Power Down Appliances

You’ll save money and reduce heat output by turning off appliances you’re not using, particularly your computer and television. Powering down multiple appliances is easier if you connect them to the same power strip.

Don’t use heat- and steam-generating appliances — ranges, ovens, washers, dryers — during the hottest part of the day. In fact, take advantage of the heat by drying clothes outside on a line.

Plant Trees and Vines

These green house-coolers shade your home’s exterior and keep sunlight out of windows. Plant them by west-facing walls, where the sun is strongest.

Deciduous trees, which leaf out in spring and drop leaves in fall, are best because they provide shade in summer, then let in sun when temperatures drop in autumn. Select trees that are native to your area, which have a better chance of surviving. When planting, determine the height, canopy width, and root spread of the mature tree and plant accordingly.

Climbing vines, such as ivy and Virginia creeper, also are good outside insulators. To prevent vine rootlets or tendrils from compromising your siding, grow them on trellises or wires about 6 inches away from the house.

Speaking of shade, here are smart, inexpensive ideas for shading your patio.

Want more tips for staying cool this summer? Substitute CFL and LED bulbs for hotter incandescent lights.

 

Looking to buy or sell a home?

Chris Lee and Rusty’s Team at RealtySouth  205-233-5183

The Everything Guide to Selling Your First Home

Steps to Selling Your Home

First-Time Home Seller's Guide illustration

How to figure out exactly what you want, and how to work with the experts who’ll help you get it.

Image: HouseLogic

Selling, a famous salesman once said, is essentially a transfer of feelings.

You love and cherish your home. You want the next owner to fall in love with it, too — through photos, through words, and through the experience of walking through your front door. But, perhaps most, you want to get the price you want.

This isn’t a small task. Selling a home requires work. It requires time. The journey isn’t always easy. There will be frustrations. But when you seal the deal and move on to your next chapter  — wow, what a blissful, boss feeling.

Below, we preview and link to each step in your journey.  We’ll discuss how to know what you want (and what your partner wants, if you’re selling together). How to understand the market, and ways to make a plan. And most importantly? How to create relationships with experts and trust them to help you get the job done.

Now, let’s talk about selling your house.

 

Know, Exactly, What You Want

First things first: You need to know what you want (and what your partner wants) in order to sell your home with minimum frustration. Why are you moving? What do you expect from the process? When, exactly, should you put that For Sale sign in the yard? We can help you get your thoughts in order with this home selling worksheet.

Do Your Research

Unless you bought your home last week, the housing market changed since you became a homeowner. Mortgage rates fluctuate, inventory shifts over time — these are just a few of the factors that affect the state of the market, and every market is unique. Educate yourself on what to expect. Start with our study guide on the market. 

 

Interview and Select an Agent

This is the most important relationship you’ll form on your home selling journey. Pick the right agent and you’ll likely get a better sales price for your house. Here’s how to find and select the expert who’s right for you.

Price Your Home

How much is your home worth? That’s the … $300,000 question. Whatever the number, you need to know it. This is how your agent will help you pinpoint the price.

Prep Your Home for Sale

Today, home buyers have unfettered access to property listings online, so you have to make a great first impression — on the internet and IRL. That means you’ll have to declutter all the stuff you’ve accumulated over the years, make any necessary repairs, and get your home in swoon-worthy condition. Here’s how to stage your home.

Market Your Home

Home buyers look at countless listings online. The best-marketed homes have beautiful photos and compelling property descriptions, so they can get likes — which can amount to buyer interest — on social media. Some agents are even using videos, virtual tours, texts, and audio messages. It’s time to consider how to promote your property.

Showcase Your Home

One of the best ways to get buyers in the door is to have an open house. This is your chance to show off your home’s best assets, and help buyers envision themselves living there. Know how your agent will organize, advertise, and host the event to ensure it’s a success.

Receive Offers

Yes, you might get offers plural, depending on your market. Assuming you’ve collaborated with your agent, you’ve likely positioned yourself to receive attractive bids. Your agent will review each offer with you to determine which is best for you. (Read: The offer price isn’t the only factor to consider: Here’s why.)

Negotiate With the Buyer

To get the best deal for you, you’ll likely have to do some negotiating. Your agent will help you craft a strategic counteroffer to the buyer’s offer, factoring in not only money, but contingencies, etc. Let’s talk about how to ask for what you want.

Negotiate Home Inspection Repairs

Ah, the home inspection. It’s as much a source of anxiety for buyers as it is for sellers. Nonetheless, most purchase agreements are contingent on a home inspection (plus an appraisal, which will be managed by the buyer’s lender). This gives the buyer the ability to inspect the home from top to bottom and request repairs — some even could be required per building codes. The upshot: You have some room to negotiate, including about certain repairs. Once again, your agent will be there to help you effectively communicate with the buyer.

Close the Sale

Settlement, or closing, is the last step in the home selling process. This is where you sign the final paperwork, make this whole thing official, and collect your check. Before that can happen though, you’ll have to prepare your home for the buyer’s final walk-through and troubleshoot any last-minute issues. We’ve got you covered with this closing checklist.

 

Looking to buy or sell a home?

Chris Lee and Rusty’s Team at RealtySouth  205-233-5183