Month: December 2014

3 Bright Ideas to Light Up Your Home

The best way to brighten a drab and dreary home is with light. However, you can turn on the light even without wattage.

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Here, we offer three lighting tricks—with and without light bulbs—to light up your home.

1. Lighten Your Décor

If your home appears dark and dismal, keep two principles in mind: Dark, matte surfaces absorb light, and light, glossy surfaces reflect light. In other words, anything dark and dull in your room will act like a black hole and suck up your room’s available light. Anything light and glossy will enhance natural light.

If your walls, trim or ceiling are painted or wallpapered in a dark hue—or your floors are covered with a dark wood, stone or tile—your room will appear darker and smaller.

This principle applies to the color of your décor, too. The darker the color in hard furniture, upholstery fabrics, window coverings, tablecloths and pillows, the more natural light they will absorb.

To brighten a room, re-cover or repaint any dark walls, trim or ceiling in a lighter, more reflective color and finish. You also can lighten your home by refinishing, painting or re-covering your floors. Consider a light, possibly pickled, stain for wood—or a light-colored porch paint. Replace dark linoleum, tile or stone, or you can cover the floor with a light carpet or a large area rug.

Sofas, chairs, tables and pillows can be upholstered or covered with lighter fabrics and throws. Although light colors show dirt, they don’t show as much dust. Patterns, particularly those with flecks, hide dirt better than solids.

2. Maximize Natural Light

Your home will appear sunnier if you maximize your use of natural light. Use each room in a way that will make the most of the sun’s rays. A sunny morning room has a south- or east-facing window. A sunny afternoon room has a south- or west-facing window (a room with a south-facing window will be sunny all day).

If you spend most of your day in a home office, then choose which room will take advantage of the sun without casting a glare on your computer. But to let the sun shine in, clear your windowpanes and consider living without window dressing. For decorative relief, consider mounting lightweight, glossy white exterior shutters on the inside walls around your windows.

If you need daytime privacy, use a panel of lace or sheer fabrics. If you want to have curtains or drapes, make sure they are tied back away from the window when you’re ready to let in light. You also can choose a drape with a light-colored, satiny lining and then expose the lining during the day.

For a room with blocked windows, north-facing windows or no windows, get creative. Mirrors are naturally reflective: Can you bounce light off one area to another? If you like mirrors but not mirrored walls, consider creating a picture wall using mirrors instead of pictures in a variety of frames.

As another alternative, consider stealing natural light from a neighboring room by breaking through part of a wall. Could you link this room to a brighter room by installing an interior window or French doors? If your room is on the top floor, could you add a skylight?

To assess your home’s suitability for such structures, consider hiring a professional with the necessary expertise. This person also should be able to assist in securing the proper permits before embarking on a construction project to light up your home.

3. Augment Artificial Light

To maximize your use of lamps and light fixtures to light up your home, evaluate the quantity and quality of light sources in your room. Make sure bulbs are fresh and have sufficient wattage, because light bulbs lose their intensity over time.

Consider replacing fixtures with ones that can accommodate a higher wattage. Use full-spectrum daylight-simulating bulbs, such as Chromalux, during the day to give the look and feel of natural light. Choose light, translucent lampshades over dark or opaque ones.

Remember to pick light placement carefully. Pathway lights can make your walkway safer. Indirect reflective lights will subtly enhance natural light and won’t shine directly in your face. “Up” lights in canister fixtures hidden behind plants will let their glow bounce off your ceiling and back into the room. Recessed lighting, such as in the ceilings or cabinet, can provide subtle or romantic light.

Remember, the best use of natural light, lamps and light fixtures will not only make your home seem brighter, they also will make tasks easier and put you in the right mood.

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6 Things to Consider When Buying Your Vacation Home

Whether you’re itching to escape the icy grip of winter or just want a place to take the family on the weekends, a vacation home can be a profitable investment—provided you know what to look for.

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Remember, you have the luxury of finding a home without plans to leave your old spot. Consider money spent on hotel rooms or at bed-and-breakfast inns as part of the investment—and take your time to find the right house.

What Can You Afford?

The median home price for vacation homes in 2013 was $168,700, according to the 2014 National Association of REALTORS® Investment and Vacation Home Buyers Survey.

But that doesn’t take into account the other costs of owning a vacation property. You’ll also need to pay for the following:

-Property tax
-Insurance
-Furniture/furnishings
-Utilities, water and trash (remember, they’re year-round costs)
-Winterization and de-winterization
-Security systems
-Exterior maintenance (trees, lawn, garden)
-Some kind of caretaking service (to prevent against things like frozen pipes and to check for damages)
-Homeowners association fees, if applicable
-Those items don’t even take the costs of into account of owning a vacation home rental, where you’d also need to pay a property manager, more maintenance costs and assorted other expenses.

Sit down and make sure your budget allows for these extra costs. Then add in some extra money (at least a month or two) of living expenses to your emergency fund—which should already be about six months of living expenses, hopefully—to cover emergency costs specifically for the vacation home.

Proximity to Other Areas

A home in the hills miles away from town might sound attractive to you, but that doesn’t mean anyone else will want it. Always keep resale value and rental potential in the back of your mind when you’re looking for a vacation home.

Current housing trends indicate homebuyers—particularly young professionals—are ditching the ‘burbs for city life. If this trend doesn’t reverse, it may mean houses far away from a major city will have a smaller pool of interested buyers.

View Your Vacation Home as an Investment

When shopping, view a potential vacation home as an investment property even if you have other plans for it. Check out important factors for home buyers including nearby schools, neighborhood safety and access to highways or public transit.

You may never sell this home, but if you do have to sell at some point, you’ll ensure an smoother sale.

Check Local Rents

Likewise, even if you don’t plan on renting your vacation home out, check out nearby rental prices. You don’t have to be a full-time landlord to make a little extra cash on the side: You’re allowed up to 14 days of renting your home, tax-free, each year.

You may have to sacrifice some prime vacation time to maximize your rental return, but additional cash could help with something like needed repairs or updates.

Consider the Drive

How far away is too far? According to the National Association of REALTORS®, 180 miles is the median driving distance for a vacation home. That’s about three hours of highway driving without traffic.

The best vacation homes are easy to get to and have alternate routes to avoid gridlock.

Invest Your Time

Whatever town or city you choose, spend more than just a few weekends there. You’ll want to be aware of any not-readily-apparent limitations, including any day-to-day hassles you might encounter. Talk to locals and spend time in different neighborhoods.

How to Protect Your Home From Severe Cold Weather

Homeowners in cold-weather climates—such as the Northeast, Midwest, and mountain areas—face icy conditions, blizzards and other cold-weather storms.

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Beyond requiring a quick trip to the convenience store for milk and bread, severe cold weather can threaten your home’s structure and your safety.

Therefore, it’s important to take measures and invest in the resources you’ll need to deal effectively with winter’s challenges before it gets into full swing.

Understand the Threats of Severe Cold Weather

Blizzards: Storms with heavy winds and large amounts of snow accumulation can cause roof or other structural damage and leave you isolated.

Ice storms and ice dams: Ice storms coat structures, trees, power lines, cars, roads and virtually everything else with ice. As the ice melts, large chunks can fall and cause injury to anyone below. When ice melts during the day and then re-freezes at night, ice dams—which block water from flowing in the gutter—may form. This condition can force water back under the roof line and cause leaks.

Sleet or freezing rain: Combinations of snow and freezing rain may cause slippery conditions and coat roads, sidewalks and driveways with ice when temperatures drop.

Protect Yourself From Severe Cold Weather

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends that home owners have shovels on hand, as well as melting agents such as rock salt. Some of the new, more environmentally friendly deicers include calcium magnesium acetate and sand to improve traction. Be sure to stock up early in the season, as these agents tend to be in short supply during periods before a well-publicized storm.

FEMA also advises you have enough fuel to maintain heat in your home, as well as a backup heating source: firewood if the home has a working fireplace or a generator to power heaters in case of power failure. However, use caution as these can represent fire hazards when not used correctly. Be sure to follow directions explicitly and keep a fire extinguisher. Some generators and fireplaces also require proper ventilation, according to the Institute for Business and Home Safety—so follow directions carefully and keep them away from curtains or other flammable items.

Stock up on extra blankets, warm clothing and enough food/water to sustain your family in case of a few days of isolation. And a transistor radio with fresh batteries can help keep you updated on news and information in case of a power outage.

Protect Your Home From Severe Cold Weather

Before winter, there are some precautions you can take to protect your home from the ravages of severe cold weather storms.

Winterize your home: Check shutters, siding and other exterior materials to ensure they’re secure, says retired contractor, home improvement expert and writer John Wilder of Jacksonville, FL. High winds, ice and moisture from winter storms can easily strip off such outside elements if they’re loose.

Be sure that gutters are clear of debris and walkways are even—and don’t represent tripping hazards that can be exacerbated with snow or ice. Caulk drafty windows and apply weather stripping to doors, both inexpensive strategies that can keep heat in your home. Air sealing can help you save about $350 in energy costs or one-third of your average annual heating and cooling costs. The average annual home energy bill is about $2,200, according to Energy Star—of which about $1,000 represents heating and cooling. An assortment of air sealing materials and tools—including silicone foam, caulk, aluminum flashing for flues and additional insulation—will run roughly $100 to $350.

Winterize pipes: Be sure your pipes, especially those exposed or in unheated areas like crawl spaces, are wrapped in insulation to prevent freezing and bursting. Also, learn where your water shut-off valves are so you can turn off the water supply in case of a leak. Six feet of insulation can cost anywhere from $7 to $17; it’s available at most home improvement stores.

Trim tree branches: Branches that overhang roofs or areas where you park your car—or which are simply overgrown—represent a risk to structures, vehicles and people. Keep trees trimmed and remove those that are weak or sickly to prevent them from falling on or near your home. Tree trimming and removal pricing varies greatly, and you may have additional restrictions if you live in an historic community—or if the trees are close to power lines.

Check with your municipality about any regulations and contact your local Chamber of Commerce, municipal offices or contractor rating sites like MerchantCircle.com or AngiesList.com to get the names of reputable pros. Tree trimming and removal can be dangerous, so don’t attempt it on your own unless you’re experienced.

By keeping your home in good repair and stocking up on the supplies you’ll need before the rush for rock salt and shovels begins, you’ll be as ready as possible to tough out the storm.

The Pros and Cons of Owning a Home in the Wilderness

Wilderness area lands in the United States can be breathtaking: fresh air, clean water, quiet days and nights, animals and plants you’ll never see in the city.

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But these areas also differ in terms of amenities, access to wildlife and property restrictions.

If you’re buying a wilderness property for fun and as an investment, consider how the pros and cons will impact your ability to rent or sell in the future.

Amenities

In some areas, local and national laws restrict amenities. Investigate which facilities are available in any area you are planning to invest in. Never buy a property you haven’t personally visited.

Pros: Wilderness areas often offer hiking, fishing, cycling, snowmobiling and other recreational activities. Some wilderness areas will have ski facilities as well as boating and guided tours. Perks like these will make your property attractive to potential buyers and renters.

Cons: Some homes come without amenities you may consider basics: sewage pipes, fresh water, electricity, heating systems and Internet access. Hospitals, stores, schools or equipment rental could be miles away. If your property is far from police and fire service access, that could impact your insurance policy costs.

Weather

In wilderness areas, you’ll feel the effects of the weather more acutely than in the city. Consider how easy or difficult it may be to keep a wilderness home in good condition.

Pros: The sense of being at one with nature. Many potential renters will be attracted to the idea of vacationing in the wild.

Cons: How will heavy snows affect the condition of your property—and your access? Will you need to invest in a snowmobile? How about strong winds and heavy rains? Could the property flood? How often do forest fires rage? Do any seasons render the property uninhabitable? How will your insurance be affected by all this?

Wildlife

Proximity to wildlife remains a key selling point of a wilderness area property. But you may not welcome all creatures.

Pros: Hunters, fishers and bird watchers alike will want to stay in a property so close to nature.

Cons: What happens if birds or rodents invade, especially if the property will lay empty for weeks (or months) at a time? Damage caused by rodents and birds can prove costly. Not to mention the challenge of evicting a raccoon, for example, from a kitchen cabinet. Will you need to spend a lot of money preventing infestations? And what about larger animals? Are there bears? Have there been any recent wildlife attacks on people in the area?

Legalities

The Wilderness Act of 1964 severely restricts the use of motorized transport, building and other activities.

Pros: Wildlife is protected, and the area remains beautiful.

Cons: While not all wilderness areas fall under the 1964 laws, there may be other local regulations that restrict activity. Before you buy a property in the wilderness, investigate any laws or prohibitions that may affect you. Say you buy a cabin and plan to rent it out over the summer: Are you allowed to refurbish the building? Can you install electricity, boilers or widen access paths? Are you even permitted to rent out your own land?

Community

Wildlife area communities can be very close-knit.

Pros: Schools run smaller, and teachers may have closer relationships with parents. Crime is often lower. If there’s one store in town, it doesn’t take long to become friends with the proprietor. In an area otherwise isolated, neighbors often look out for each other.

Cons: It can be difficult at first to break the ice in a small, close-knit community. The lack of diversity in health care and shopping can be a disadvantage.

Other wilderness factors

Consider a few other issues that may fall into pro or con, depending on your vantage point.

Price: Some wilderness area properties can be extremely cheap—but there may be a reason, like the distance from services or lack of amenities listed above. But if you’re just looking for an easy getaway, or a slice of nature without having to haul a tent around, that could work for you.

Traffic: Compared to a city, there is hardly any traffic in wilderness areas unless your property is next to a resort. Then it will be busy over the holidays or other peak seasons.

Employment: If you plan to live there year-round, will you work from home? Or in a nearby town? Some towns have hotels and restaurants that will need extra staff at peak times or tourism that calls for guides—but what about the rest of the year? How will weather affect your ability to work?

Like so many real estate options, buying a wilderness property could turn into a dream home—if you do the right homework for your lifestyle.

Want to Turn Quality Leads Into Closed Sales?

Successful agents know if their pipeline isn’t filled with potential buyers and sellers, they are quickly out of business. Quality leads mean everything.

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It’s easy to get inundated with the day-to-day transactional business of selling real estate. There are inspections to schedule, showings to get feedback on, and appraisal issues to contend with. All of that must be juggled with cultivating new business.

Quality online lead referrals must be a spoke in your prospecting wheel.

Every agent needs multiple streams of business—referrals from past clients, family members and friends, as well as strangers actively searching for a new home or considering selling the house they own.

Buyers and sellers start their search online. If you’re not capturing those potential clients when they are without representation and searching for advice, you are not optimizing all of your resources.

At least 20% of home buyers said they found their agent on realtor.com®—compared to 13% and 12% on the two top competitor sites, respectively, according to the February 2014 Consumer Brand Tracking Study by Westerberg Consulting.

ConnectionSM for Cobrokerage Works for You

Unclaimed buyers searching active listings on realtor.com® are funneled to agents signed-up for ConnectionSM for Cobrokerage.

Because realtor.com® listings are updated every 15 minutes from more than 800 MLS systems across the country, buyers are searching current inventory. There are sites that sell leads from closed or expired listings; that does you a disservice.

“We know you have choices,” says Steve Pacinelli, Vice President of Industry Events for Move, Inc., operator of realtor.com®. “Various companies offer leads. I say evaluate them on quality, time invested and ROI. Once you put that time in, you can’t get it back.”

Kimberly Grogan, a REALTOR® from Arlington, TX, won Rookie of the Year in 2012 for the national Keller Williams franchise. She credits ConnectionSM for Cobrokerage for her success as a new agent.

“There’s always that moment when you’re hesitant to call your sphere,” says Grogan.

She circumvented the fear by signing up for leads.

“When I first started, I was spending about $1,000 per month on leads,” she adds. “I was making about $8,000 a month off of those leads.”

She said she closed two deals a month as a direct result of ConnectionSM for Cobrokerage.

Realtor.com® delivers better leads, according to a June 2013 study by PAA research, an independent research firm. The study shows agents are 30% more likely to convert a realtor.com® lead versus the competition.

But it’s not just about getting the lead. Agents must also follow up on those leads quickly, as Grogan did.

“The moment a lead came in, I responded,” she says.

ConnectionSM for Cobrokerage Works Fast

For consumers thirsting for timely information, fast responses are the key to converting them into clients. A Harvard Business Review study noted 70% of buyers expect a response to an online inquiry within 30 minutes. Yet, it takes REALTORS® two hours to respond, according to the National Association of REALTORS®.

That disconnect has been addressed in the latest update to ConnectionSM for Cobrokerage.

Now, the system will automatically send a text or email response you can customize, to the client, within 15 minutes.

“It’s your words,” says Pacinelli. “Remember, the best agent is the available agent.”

ConnectionSM for Cobrokerage Just … Works

Grogan sold $6.3 million in residential real estate in her first year using ConnectionSM for Cobrokerage. Now three years into the business, she has a team, The Grogan Group, with a buyer’s agent to handle online leads.

With ConnectionSM for Cobrokerage, leads come with an actual phone number and email address. It will even import useful demographic information about the lead such as household income, marital status, place of employment and job title, when available. It also shows the last three houses the prospect looked at online as well as the ones saved as their favorites.

The point is to move the conversation along. The first conversation is no longer an expedition into their wants and price range; it’s a revelation of how knowledgeable you are.

“We make you smarter,” Pacinelli adds. “You can introduce them to new homes because you already know what they are looking for.”

For more information about ConnectionSM for Cobrokerage, call (866) 960-9471 or click here.