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Tips for choosing the right wall colors for your home

Categories: Home Design Trends, Home Owner Tips, Interior Design | Posted: October 12, 2017

For some people, changing colors in a room is like changing your hairstyle. It’s nice to try something different—and it’s easy enough to change back if you don’t like the result. For others, the prospect of switching is a scary proposition.

Painting a room is one of the most affordable ways to make a big change in your home. The only hard part can be the color choice. Looking at the array of paint chips in the store can be overwhelming. Before you head there, narrow down your choices.

Here are some tips for choosing the right wall colors for your home.

Look at your wardrobe. What colors do you like to wear? That’s a big clue to your color preferences. If you’re drawn to neutral colors, you’re comfortable with those soft shades, making this palette a smart choice for your interior walls. If your penchant for lime green or sunshine orange feels too daring for your walls, tone it down a bit.

Inspect your photos, artwork, and other accents. What colors prevail? You chose these decorative pieces for the message they communicate, but was color a factor as well?

Pull the paint color from a print. You might have a favorite pillow, upholstered chair, or even table linens. Zoom in on the shades that might work well on your wall. Take the fabric to the paint store and ask them to match it.

Use a color wheel. See how colors relate to each other. A color wheel gives insight into the hues that work harmoniously together. You might like a monochromatic color scheme, with variations of a particular color (lightness and saturation). A complementary color scheme uses colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel, usually a warm and a cool one (yellow and blue, for example). An analogous color scheme combines colors that are next to each other, like blue and green, or orange and red, and varying shades of those colors. There are several other options for color schemes, but this will get you started. Once you choose the color scheme, you build your palette of specific colors.

Check out color trends. Home décor colors are like fashion. They change with the seasons and the years. Greenery was the 2017 Pantone Color of the Year. The foliage-inspired shade is like a springtime refresh. Home décor watchers are expecting 2018 interior color palettes to move from pastels to more intense hues. With palettes named “Far-fetched”, ”Resourceful”, and “Resourceful”, you might find one to suit your taste.

Think holistically. Your house is a sum of its parts, which includes your wall colors. Make sure you have smooth flow from room to room. This is where organizing a whole-house color palette will help.

Which is the best smart home assistant?

Categories: Home Owner Tips | Posted: September 30, 2017

If your name is Alexa and you’re an actual person, you’re probably getting asked a lot more questions these days. ”Alexa, what time is it?” “Alexa, when is the next full moon?” “Alexa, how far is it to the nearest coffee shop?”

And you can thank Amazon for this annoyance.

Amazon launched the Echo in 2015 in the U.S. This cylindrical speaker connects to a voice-activated, computer-generated, smart home assistant named Alexa. Alexa is capable of answering questions (when properly phrased), playing music, acting as a timer or alarm clock, requesting an Uber ride, checking your calendar, making lists, reading audiobooks aloud, and reciting the news and weather updates. Of course, Alexa can also place your Amazon orders, too.

Yes, Alexa is smart, but is she the best smart home assistant for you?

Google Home emerged soon after Echo, and at a lower price point, while offering the same type of assistance. The Echo Dot, a hockey-puck-sized version of the larger Echo, gives you a very affordable entry into the smart home assistant experience.

If you want the most accurate “intelligence”, Google Home appears to have a slight edge. Digital agency Stone Temple quizzed both devices. Google Home was able to answer 3,383 questions, while Alexa was only able to answer 1,030. Of those responses, Google Home was correct 89.5% of the time, and Alexa achieved 86.9% accuracy. Alexa relies primarily on Wikipedia for information, while Google reaches a wider range of third-party sources, like Google Maps for checking traffic conditions.

Google Home can also remember your last question. So, if you ask, “Who won the last Super Bowl?” and followed up with “What was the score?”, you’d get both answers. With Alexa, your second question would have to be, “What was the score of the last Super Bowl?”

Amazon Echo, however, currently has the edge on managing your smart home devices, like your thermostat, lighting, security, home entertainment, and appliances, but Google Home is gaining ground. Compare the Alexa-enabled smart home devices with Google Home’s list of supported devices and partners.

Google Home will also connect your videos, photos, and television, via Chromecast. You can even tell it to skip ahead 30 seconds on a video, and show photos of a selected person, location or time period. Alexa isn’t quite as savvy.

Both Google Home and Echo offer hands-free calling. Tell them to call a contact from your list or ask your smart home assistant to find a phone number.

Apple is finally responding to the demand for the smart home assistant. The Apple HomePod is scheduled to launch before the end of the year. It promises to have superior audio, but like all Apple products, will also emerge in limited quantities and at a higher price than Google Home and Amazon Echo.

Home energy efficiency ratings, explained.

Categories: Home Owner Tips | Posted: September 15, 2017

Energy efficiency is one of the top priorities for homeowners. No one wants to waste energy (or money) on a home, appliances, or systems when there are ways to avoid it.

You’ve probably seen many of the ratings systems and codes tossed around, but do you know what they mean? Here’s a quick guide to the most common energy efficiency ratings and how to interpret the scores.

HERS. The Home Energy Rating System (HERS) measures the energy efficiency of a home and assigns a performance score. This rating is based on the efficiency of a standard new home. A home that was built according to the 2004 International Energy Conservation Code receives a HERS score of 100.

The survey, which must be conducted by a certified HERS professional, examines your home’s construction and systems:

  • Ceilings and roofs
  • Exterior walls, both above and below grade
  • Attics, foundations, and crawl spaces
  • Garage and basement floors (over unconditioned spaces)
  • Windows, doors, vents, and ductwork
  • HVAC, water heating system, and thermostats

A score of 70 indicates that your home is 30% more energy efficient than a standard new home. U.S. Department of Energy estimates that an average resale home has a score of 130, meaning a home that is 30% less efficient than the standard.

The program was developed by RESNET (The Residential Energy Services Network), which created the training and certification standards for HERS Raters and Home Energy Survey Professionals. Look for a RESNET qualified home energy professional to conduct a HERS survey.

What this means to you: The lower the HERS score, the greater your energy savings. A score of 80 or below might qualify you for an energy-efficient mortgage and increase your home’s resale value.

ENERGY STAR. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency developed this program in 1992 to assess the energy efficiency of products, systems, and even buildings. ENERGY STAR certification can be awarded to anything from a major appliance to a light bulb, from your central air conditioning system to a ceiling fan. Even those strings of holiday lights are measured for energy efficiency. Your home’s electronics account for 21% of your annual energy usage, so all those televisions, external power adapters, printers, and small appliances account for a significant amount of the overall expense. Compare that to your major appliances, which constitute about 12% of the annual usage.

ENERGY STAR certification is awarded after a third-party organization tests and verifies that the product or home meets the stringent requirements of the program. An ENERGY STAR-rated home is evaluted with a HERS index, as well as other criteria.

What this means to you: The average annual energy cost for a single-family home is estimated at $2,060. By investing in ENERGY STAR products and systems, you can lower your cost and contribute to preserving our natural resources.

SEER. The Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) was established by the U.S. Department of Energy to identify the efficiency and operating costs of air conditioners. SEER is a measurement of the total cooling output (measured in BTUs) divided by the total energy used for that output—similar to the MPG rating for a car. A higher SEER rating indicates a more efficient air conditioner.

In 1992, a SEER 10 was the standard, but that rating was increased to 13 in 2006. A central air conditioning system was required to have a minimum 14.5 to qualify for ENERGY STAR.

What this means to you: The higher the SEER, the greater the energy efficiency. A higher SEER will cost more to purchase, but can save you up to 40% in cooling costs.

Yes, you DO need a home theater system

Categories: Home Owner Tips | Posted: September 1, 2017

Televisions keep getting bigger and “smarter”. Video streaming selections keep getting broader and better. Siri, Alexa, and Google make it easier than ever to find the movies and programs you want,

A home theater system is no longer a matter of enjoying the occasional movie in the comfort of your home. Today, it’s how people are experiencing entertainment—from sports to movies to everyday programs

So, if you’ve been wondering whether you should invest in expanding your viewing quality, the answer is, yes, you DO need a home theater system.

To retrofit your current home with an integrated home theater system, you’ll need more than televisions. Preferably, speakers are fit into the wall, rather than exterior speakers mounted on them, and cables must be run to give you the connectivity. For true surround sound, you’ll be installing a speaker in the ceiling as well.

Are you considering a move to a new home? If you’re building from the ground up, adding a home theater is not complicated. Your builder can work the design and infrastructure into the plans so that it fits seamlessly. This opportunity also allows the homebuyer to expand the system into more rooms. For example, add the viewing to your kitchen, where your family and guests often congregate, and install a wall-mounted television for your outdoor living space.

A home theater system isn’t as complicated or expensive as you might think. In addition to the televisions, you’ll need a home theater receiver (also known as AV receiver or surround sound receiver) with Bluetooth connectivity, and the speakers. You might also want to consider the lighting in your media room. It’s easy to add dimmer switches for the existing light fixtures. Do you need room darkening shades?

You can expand your technology from the basics, depending on your desired home theater experience. Here’s a great guide to all the bells and whistles.

Are you ready to go from renter to homeowner?

Categories: Home Owner Tips | Posted: August 17, 2017

For the past few years, you might have been watching the real estate market with interest, but didn’t feel ready to make the leap from renter to homeowner. You can still take advantage of low interest rates.

Why are you hesitating?

Here are some telltale signs you might be more ready than you think.

You’ve been paying rent on time for years. That monthly payment shows you’re responsible, and that you’re used to committing a sizeable sum each month to your living expenses. When you consider that your monthly mortgage payment could be even less than your rent, then you should feel confident that you can handle it.

You have a secure job. You’re getting good performance reviews and your employer is in a solid position, possibly even growing. If you like your job and see your future there, you have the job security that’s important when you commit to a mortgage.

Your credit is good. A good FICO score is 700 or higher, but you can get a loan with a lower credit score, as long as your debt-to-income ratio is within the acceptable range (e.g., your total debt is less than 30% of your annual income). The higher your credit score, the better you will do, both in terms of how much you can borrow and at what rate. Talk to a lender about mortgage pre-approval so you know where you stand before you start your new home search. Many lenders can give you direction for improving your credit score to qualify for the home you want.

You know what you want in a home—and it’s probably not roommates (or parents). You’re becoming more aware of home designs, wandering through home centers, and exploring neighborhoods. You’re imagining yourself as a homeowner, instead of seeing it as a distant reality.

Seeing is believing. That image of homeownership could be closer than you think. Talk to a real estate professional and a lender to explore your options. You’ll never know if you’re ready to buy a home if you don’t make the move!

5 Outdoor kitchen trends for 2017

Categories: Home Owner Tips | Posted: July 27, 2017

Outdoor living spaces have evolved dramatically in the past decade. The backyard grill has transformed to an outdoor kitchen, complete with everything you need to prepare, serve, and clean up after full-course meals.

Thinking of updating your al fresco culinary space? Here are the latest outdoor kitchen trends for 2017.

Expand the function. A kitchen requires more than a grill and a prep area. This year, homeowners are adding refrigerators, ice makers, sinks, dishwashers, side burners, smokers, and pizza ovens, so they can handle all the kitchen tasks outdoors, and avoid running in and out of the house. They’re installing more elaborate cabinetry for the added storage they need in the expanded outdoor kitchen (powder-coated metal cabinets offer style with durability). They’re adding or upgrading countertops, with materials like granite, soapstone, concrete, and stainless steel. Quartz, although a popular choice for the indoor kitchen, doesn’t stand up to direct sunlight.

Hatch an egg. The Kamado-style grill—like the Big Green Egg—has caught on in recent years, but the concept has been in use for thousands of years. These versatile ceramic grills can be used as a smoker, grill, and even a pizza oven. The design enables a broad range of cooking temperatures, from low (for smoking) all the way up to 800°.

Entertainment is a bigger priority than ever. You’ll be spending more time in your upgraded space, so your outdoor kitchen might include a separate bar or drink station, a large-screen television, wine cooler, and keg.

Fan the flames. An outdoor fireplace or fire pit add form and function to your outdoor living space. Cook over the open flame. Cozy up by the crackling fire. Mount your outdoor TV above the fireplace mantle. What better place to enjoy football games in the fall?

Chandeliers have stepped outside. While you’re installing or expanding the electrical wiring in your outdoor living space, now is a great time to change your exterior lighting. Chandeliers have found their way outdoors, and enhance the aesthetics.

Most commonly overlooked home maintenance chores

Categories: Home Owner Tips | Posted: July 13, 2017

Owning a home comes with lots of responsibilities. In addition to paying the bills, you also need to keep up with the upkeep. There are some basic, routine maintenance chores that will increase your peace of mind while also decreasing the repair bills that come with neglect.

Here are the most commonly overlooked home maintenance chores.

CLEAN…

Gutters. Dirt and debris builds up in your gutters and prohibits the flow of rain and melted snow. If the water backs up, it can cause damage to your home. Clean your gutters in both the spring and the fall.

Exterior dryer vent. You might remember to clean the dryer’s lint trap after every load, but don’t forget that lint is also collecting in the exterior vent. A clogged dryer vent is a fire hazard. Have your exterior vent checked and cleaned once a year, or when you notice that your laundry isn’t drying properly.

Refrigerator coils. Dust collects on the coils on the back of your refrigerator, reducing the appliance’s efficiency. Twice a year, summon up your courage and go where very few people ever venture.

REPLACE…

Curled or damaged roof shingles. Twice a year, inspect your roof as a proactive measure. Replace any shingles that aren’t in stellar condition, because ignoring this task could lead to leaks.

HVAC filters. A dirty filter makes your air conditioner and furnace work harder, which not only boosts your energy bill but reduces the air quality and the life of your HVAC system. Replace the air filtert monthly.

 

DRAIN

Water heaters. Sediment—sand, grit, and other minerals that haven’t dissolved into your water—collect at the bottom of your water heater. By flushing the water heater once a year, you enable your system to function at its best.

Outdoor faucets. Water expands when it freezes, and this ice can lead to burst pipes. Before the cold winter arrives, turn off the shut-off valve and drain any water remaining in the line.

CHECK…

Water pressure. Excess water pressure can burst hoses (e.g., washing machine). Low water pressure causes that rush of cold water in the shower when someone flushes a toilet. Use a simple pressure gauge to check your water pressure once or twice a year, or when you’re experiencing water flow issues.

Invest a little time in your home to keep everything working safely and efficiently. After all, you’ve invested so much in it already.

10 ideas for a pet-friendly home

Categories: Home Owner Tips | Posted: June 15, 2017

Your pet is part of your family, so make sure your furry friends feel like they’re also part of your home. Here are 10 ideas for pet-friendly home.

  1. Remove temptation. Dogs and cats have a powerful sense of smell, so they’re drawn to fragrant items and places, which could include your garbage, pantry, and countertops. Keep a strong lid on your trash can and keep food out of the reach of pets. Remember, certain foods are toxic to dogs and cats, like grapes, raisins, chocolate, onions, mushrooms, and xylitol (artificial sweetener). In addition, a dog can choke on small bones discovered in a trash can.
  2. Get rid of dangerous plants for pets. Some common house plants present a risk to pets, who often can’t resist chewing on foliage. English ivy, lilies, azaleas, mums, tulips, and oleander should be removed from any areas where your pets roam freely. Click here to browse the ASPCA’s complete list of toxic plants.
  3. Another reason to put down the toilet lid. The toilet bowl is a curious place for animals. Dogs and cats may go there for a drink, and end up ingesting chemicals. Small animals—hamsters, kittens, guinea pigs, gerbils—have been known to fall in and drown. For safety sake, make sure everyone in your family closes the toilet lid.
  4. Tuck strings, cords, and wires out of reach. Animals may chew or become tangled in the cords from your electronics or window treatments. Protect your animals and your home by keeping those pet hazards out of reach.
  5. Put a latch on cabinets. Cabinet doors can be easily opened with the nudge of a nose or paw. Prevent your pet from getting into your stash of cleaning supplies by putting a child-safe latch on your lower cabinet doors.
  6. Secure your screens. Cats and dogs love to look out windows. They might get a little too excited when they spot a squirrel or bird. If your window screen isn’t firmly secured, your cat or small dog can push the screen and fall out the window. Check your window screens to make sure they are tightly secured.
  7. Provide safe chew toys and scratching posts. It’s natural for dogs to chew and cats to scratch. Cats mark territory with scent from glands in their paws and also scratch to sharpen their claws and stretch their muscles. You can prevent them from taking out their natural instincts on your furniture, flooring, door trim, and windowsills by presenting palatable alternatives. Put healthy chew toys in various places for your dog. Place scratching posts and boards (preferably with coarse surfaces, like sisal rope) near the areas where you cat likes to scratch. Rub catnip oil on the scratching surface to entice the cat.
  8. Give them their own space. You have your bedroom, so why not give your dog or cat their personal space? A dog bed with toys and perhaps a blanket with your scent on it is perfect for your canine companion. Cats prefer to hide away in a secluded space, so a quiet retreat away from bustling activity will be ideal. A perch on a windowsill is also a welcomed space for a cat to relax.
  9. Shop wisely for home furnishings. Be sure your upholstery and carpets are stain-resistant and sturdy. Avoid anything with a thick nap or pile because pet hair will find its way in there and become difficult to remove. You might also consider purchasing furniture that blends in with your pet’s fur color!
  10. Top your bed with washable duvet covers. A majority of homeowners welcome their pets into their beds. A duvet cover is easy to remove and wash—and far less bulky that a comforter.

When you create a safe environment for your pet, you’re less likely to have those “oh no!” moments.

Tips for choosing a mover

Categories: Home Owner Tips | Posted: June 1, 2017

Moving to a new home is exciting. However, packing up your home and making the move can be stressful. You can make your life much easier by knowing how to choose a moving company that is reliable and affordable.

Here are some useful tips for choosing a mover that will safely transport your belongings to your new location.

  1. Ask for recommendations. Talk to family, friends, neighbors, real estate agents, and co-workers about their experiences with movers. What did they like or dislike about the mover they chose? Did the mover show up on time, deliver as promised, safeguard their property, and stick to its estimate?
  2. Check reviews. Do an online search of each mover you’re considering. Check the reviews on Google, Yelp, Angie’s List, com, and MovingScam.com. Be sure to look at any responses and resolution offered by the movers when there was a negative review. If they made amends, they are trying to live up to a standard.
  3. Get in-home estimates from at least three movers. No mover can give you an accurate estimate over the phone, and don’t hire a mover who estimates by cubic feet. They need to see your home and your belongings. Do they need to maneuver heavy furniture from an upper floor? Is access a problem? Once a mover has actually seen what you want to move, he can’t complain later that he didn’t know you had a piano on the second floor or a lot of breakables to be packed.
  4. Clearly communicate your needs and expectations. Surprises are wonderful at birthdays, but not when you’re moving. Tell the mover what you need and want—the date of the move, desired delivery, amount of packing to be required, and the type and frequency of communication with the driver along the route. If it’s critical that they movers arrive at a specific time, be sure that’s clear. Make no assumptions that what you want is a standard practice with every mover!
  5. Know the mover’s credentials, safety record, and insurance. Get the mover’s Department of Transportation (DOT) license, and verify it with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). Ask which type of liability insurance they offer to customers, such as full value or released value. The FMCSA also has a website where you can check the safety record of a mover. Visit “Company Snapshot” on org.
  6. Know who is actually moving you. Some movers use subcontractors. Do you feel comfortable with this third-party approach? Also, take the time to visit the mover’s office. Look at the condition of the trucks and ask to see their storage facility. You’re trusting them with your life’s possessions, so they should respect your wish to know where and how your items will be handled, transported, and stored.
  7. Study the estimate. Carefully review each moving estimate so you understand what you will be agreeing to. Is there a “not to exceed” price? Is it a binding estimate? What are the possible additional costs? How much insurance is included? Are all the services you requested, like packing and unpacking, included? Finally, be clear about the payment process. When is payment required? What forms of payment are accepted? What is the cancellation policy?

Whether you are moving across town or across the country, you need a mover that will reliably handle the critical task of getting your belongings from your current home to your new one. Be sure you’re placing your trust in the right company.

Selling Your Home to the Millennial Homebuyer

Categories: Home Owner Tips | Posted: May 18, 2017

There’s a new generation of homebuyers out there, and they are distinctly different than those who came before them.

Millennials—a total of about 80 million people born between 1980 and 2000—constitute about 35 percent of today’s homebuyers, according to a 2016 National Association of Realtors study. Although many of them have school loan and credit card debt, they’re also living with their parents longer (a lot longer) to save money. It’s a market segment you can’t ignore, but you also can’t overlook the fact that they have strong preferences in their home choices. If you want to successfully sell to this generation, you need to learn how to appeal to the Millennial homebuyer. Here are some home staging tips.

They live lightly. Millennials aren’t clutterbugs. They aren’t likely to be weighed down by possessions, as they prefer to feel unencumbered, to pick up and go on a whim. They like simplicity in their surroundings. When you’re preparing to sell your home, be sure to remove all the extra décor and furnishings. What you might think of as “cozy” or “charming”, they might perceive as “mom’s house”.

DIY doesn’t cut it. This is a generation that has been accustomed to instant gratification. They want a home to be move-in ready. That means updated and clean. They want stainless steel appliances and granite countertops. Carpets are passé to this group; they prefer the natural look of wood flooring, so even manufactured wood, laminate, or wood-like tile is a plus.

Open spaces are preferred. This generation of homebuyer is looking for something more modern than their parents’ home. They want an open floor plan that is conducive to the frequent entertaining they anticipate. They prefer multi-purpose space to defined areas (like dining rooms). Show them how to use a space as a media room (with Internet connectivity, please) and you’ll get their attention.

Go for the green. Millennials are more committed to eco-friendly living than any other generation. They want energy efficiency in the construction (insulation, windows), systems (HVAC), appliances, and fixtures (toilets, showers, LED lighting). Be sure to point out any repurposed or recycled materials used in the home (cork or bamboo flooring, recycled glass surfaces).

Every year, more Millennials will prepare to buy a home. Are you ready to sell to them?