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Transform Your Bathroom with Layered Lighting

Categories: Interior Design | Posted: December 10, 2015

Renovate your bathroom with a simple project of layered lighting. Layered lighting is using multiple lighting sources to create the perception of more space and depth in your bathroom, transforming the space with a fresh look.

Homeowners are looking for sunnier brightness in their bathrooms, but they also want the sense of calm when relaxing in the tub. Layering the lighting in your bathroom creates a pleasant blend of light and shadow, with enough brightness for the task, but adding the softer lighting where you want it.

Dimmers give you the power to control the intensity of the light, but don’t stop after installing these switches. You can also create the ambience you desire with the right choice of bathroom light fixtures that utilize the four types of light to include in your bathroom:

  • Task lighting—First and foremost, plan for lighting the necessary chores that require good visibility, like shaving and putting on makeup. A pendant or canister light over the vanity’s mirror can be complemented by sconces on both sides, to give you the best cross lighting.
  • Ambient lighting—Natural light streaming in the through windows and skylights is a softer light that lessens shadows. If you don’t have these sources in your bathroom, you can fabricate the effect by bouncing light off the ceiling.
  • Accent lighting—Just as in any other room of the house, your bathroom can benefit from accent lighting to bring focus to specific details, like wall art of decorative tile.
  • Decorative lighting—Lighting designer Randall Whitehead refers to this as “architectural jewelry”. A chandelier over the tub or in the center of the bathroom used to be unheard of, but is now a common trend in bathroom lighting.

When designing your bathroom lighting, look at this room as any other. Blend décor with functionality to achieve the style that carries throughout your home.

Build your new home or sell your current home: Which comes first?

Categories: New Homes | Posted: December 3, 2015

A first-time homebuyer has it easy in some ways. They don’t have a home they need to sell before purchasing one. If you’re in your own home and thinking about building a new home, you have a big question to ponder.

“Should I sell my home before I build a new one?”

The answer will depend on many things—most importantly, your personality. Are you a worrier or a risk-taker? Do you need a safety net or can you walk the tightrope supported by your confidence that you’re not going to fall?

Less Risk, More Inconvenience

Selling your home in advance of buying a new one is the safest way to ensure you’re not carrying two mortgages at once, but this scenario has certain issues attached.

You might need to find temporary housing, unless your buyers are willing to give you extra time. If you have to move out—and can’t stay with family or friends—you’ll need to find a short-term rental. With school-aged children, you might be required to live within the school district in order for your children to attend their school. Check the regulations before making your decision of when and where to rent.

Pet owners sometimes have difficulty finding a rental that accepts their four-legged family members. You might need to make temporary arrangements for them elsewhere.

Finally, you’ll essentially have to move twice—which means changing your address twice. Initially, you’ll move out of your current home and put your furniture and possessions in storage. Then you’ll move again when your new home is ready.

More Risk, A Simpler Move

Can you afford to two mortgages if your current home is still on the market when you’re ready to close on the new one? If you quality for the additional mortgage, the problem ends there, although no one wants to carry the additional debt.

You could rent your present home once your new home is ready, and use that rental income to cover the mortgage cost. You might also secure a bridge loan to cover you until you sell your current home.

Certainly, homebuilders will offer a contingency option that gives you an “out” if your existing home hasn’t sold, but that means you give up the dreams of this new home—in addition to the time and money already invested. And someone else is going to live in the home you created.

Before you make your decision of whether to build your new home first or sell your existing home, talk to a Realtor about current housing market conditions in your area. How long are comparable homes on the market? This information gives you an estimate to work with. Your home could sell much sooner or take longer.

Holiday planning: How to give thanks without getting stressed

Categories: Home maintenance tips | Posted: November 19, 2015

Every year, Thanksgiving creeps up, bringing thoughts of the family seated around an elegantly festooned table and the aromas of home-cooking. Or maybe you’re recalling nightmares of Thanksgivings past. The turkey fryer that seemed like a clever idea at the time but started a fire that almost burned down your garage. The inevitable family squabbles that arise every year. You somehow once neglected to get the right kind of cranberry sauce and your uncle reminds you every year. The dog ate the pies, and they didn’t sit well with him.

Thanksgiving brings people together, and that’s a good thing. It won’t always go smoothly, but some basic preparation can guide you toward greater success. So, for your holiday planning, here’s how to give thanks without getting stressed—well, not TOO stressed.

Do as much ahead of time as you can. Pace yourself. Don’t leave five days’ worth of preparation to the day before everyone is coming!

The guests.

  • Don’t guess who’s coming to dinner. Write a guest list. You’ll need an accurate tally to buy the right amount of food.
  • Send the Thanksgiving invitation. Some people are happy with a casual invitation, but if you want your holiday to be an event, send a more formal one, either a card in the mail or an evite. Here are some invitation writing tips.
  • Confirm the head count. Since you’ll likely buy the turkey at least five days in advance, contact every guest and confirm if they’re coming and how many people will be joining them.

The food.

  • Create your Thanksgiving menu a month in advance. From appetizers and drinks through dessert and coffee, keep a grocery list on your phone. As you see items on sale, buy them. Put the perishables away and freeze the others.
  • Delegate food assignments. Many of your guests will want to bring something. Let them. It makes for a wonderful blend when the meal is prepared by more than one person.
  • Cook and freeze what you can. Many side dishes, including mashed potatoes and soup, can be prepared and frozen.
  • Use hands-free cooking. A slow cooker is a great way to “set it and forget it”. Prepare the ingredients the night before and use the crock pot for mashed potatoes, side dishes, stuffing, hot cider, warm dip, and even pudding cake for dessert..
  • Remind people not to forget. At least three days before Thanksgiving, contact everyone who has offered to bring a dish to confirm that they are still doing so.
  • Get ready to serve. The day before Thanksgiving, set out the serving dish and utensil for every item on the menu, including appetizers. Mark each one with what will fill it. This way, you can be sure you have all the pieces you need, and others can help transfer the food to these dishes at serving time.
  • Prepare your leftover containers. Invest in some storage containers for guests to leave with leftovers so you’re not scurrying to find something to give away that you don’t want to lose forever.

The table.

  • Plan your holiday décor. Like your menu, plan in advance. Decide where you want to add accents. Make a list of what you need to buy, like fresh flowers, a wreath for the door, candles, and gourds. As you gather your bounty, stash the décor in one place, so you can pull them from a box when it’s time to decorate.
  • Inventory your dinnerware. Make sure you have enough dishes, silverware, and glasses for the number of Thanksgiving guests. If you want something different, consider going “eclectic” and purchase plates in different patterns that complement each other (thrift shops are great for this). Whatever you choose, check for chips and cracks. Then wash and set them aside two days ahead.
  • Clean and press the linens. Check your tablecloth and napkins (if you’re using cloth) for stains and tears. Wash, iron, and place them in a clean plastic bin until the night before Thanksgiving.
  • Set the table ahead of time. Don’t leave this job to Thanksgiving day, when you have plenty of other things to do. The evening before, take your time and set the table and the bar as you like. Cover it with a clean sheet.

The fun stuff.

  • Make a playlist. Review your music library and build a playlist of songs. Blend different genres, giving everyone something to enjoy.
  • Plan activities. Certainly, this is optional, but if you have kids coming, come up with ways to entertain them. Visit Pinterest to find creative yet simple games.
  • Make a Thankful Jar. Before dinner, invite every guest to write down at least one thing they’re thankful for and put it in a jar on the table. When you sit down to eat, start by passing the jar around and letting each person pick out one piece of paper and read it.

The un-fun stuff.

  • Create a cleaning list. From dusting the ceiling fans to sweeping the front walk, do an inventory of the household chores. Then delegate them by making a list and assigning family members, with deadlines.
  • Set up trash cans. You’re going to have more garbage than usual. Make it easy by placing a few extra trash cans. They don’t have to be the unsightly 20-gallon variety either. Use smaller ones here and there.

Happy holidays! May you have a stress-free Thanksgiving with the people who matter most to you.

Make your new home more accessible with universal design

Categories: Home Design Trends | Posted: November 12, 2015

Universal design tips for your new home.

Building a new home, versus buying a resale, gives you many advantages. You can customize the layout to your personal taste, incorporate energy-efficient throughout, and move into a home that is fully warrantied.

Another distinct advantage of choosing a new home is that you can incorporate universal design. Also known as “barrier-free design”, this thoughtful approach accommodates details that make your home accessible to anyone. Households with elderly or disabled family members experience challenges that others haven’t considered. Whether you need extra space to maneuver a wheelchair or single-story living to avoid climbing stairs, there are many details that can be easily built into your new home, like wider hallways and doorways, lower countertops and sinks, and ramp access.

Universal design removes barriers and creates free flow throughout the home, for anyone. The goal is to provide functionality, comfort, and convenience, so that no member feels challenged in their own home.

Even if you don’t have the immediate need for universal design features, ask yourself if this new home is where you want to stay. “Aging in place” is a concept that reflects the Baby Boomers’ lifestyle trend of staying in the same house beyond retirement, instead of downsizing to accommodate life changes.

Talk to your home builder about adding these universal design features to your new home:

  • 5-foot clearance space in hallways and 36-inch wide doors
  • Gentle sloping walkway to all entrances
  • Touch lights or rocker switches instead of traditional toggle switches, and placed at the same height as the door handle
  • Walk-in tubs or step-in showers with no threshold (with wider doors) and grab bars and adjustable height shower head
  • Front-loading washer and dryer
  • Ovens and cooktops with controls on the front
  • Bathroom vanities with knee space underneath
  • Lever-style door handles instead of knobs
  • Even floor height, with no thresholds
  • Closets with adjustable rods and racks
  • Kitchen cabinets with varied heights
  • Slip- and trip-resistant flooring
  • Motion light sensors
  • Anti-scald valves provides 10 checklists that cover every space of your home. Most of the universal design features are easy to integrate when building your home. Discuss these adaptations with your builder so you can enjoy many years of comfort in your home.

How to Select Your Mortgage Lender

Categories: New Homes | Posted: October 29, 2015

Real estate investment

Before you start searching for your new home, make sure you know how much you are qualified to borrow. Not only will this knowledge help you focus your house hunting on the right properties, but pre-qualifying gives you more leverage when a seller knows you can get the mortgage to buy their home.

The first step is to select the right institution. Here are some tips on how to select your mortgage lender. You might be tempted by the lure of low interest rates and no closing costs, but protect yourself by ensuring you work with a reputable, responsive, and experienced lender.

  1. Ask for referrals. Your Realtor can offer suggestions for mortgage lenders that meet your particular criteria (e.g., first-time homebuyer, FHA or VA loan). Talk to family members, friends, and co-workers who have recently purchased a new home about their experience with mortgage companies.
  2. Check references. Look at online reviews to see what others are saying about the mortgage lenders. Check the Better Business Bureau’s ratings, which include any complaints lodged against the company. Be sure that the lenders you’re considering have the necessary licensing.
  3. Interview the lender. If you apply online, you will be instantly deluged with phone calls. When you speak with the representatives, ask about the various loan products they offer, and the pros and cons of each. Discuss the approval and closing process, so you understand the information and timing that will be required. Ask for a written list of the costs and fees associated with the mortgage, like points, legal fees, title insurance, and closing costs. Explain your situation and ask for a recommendation about the right mortgage.

Here are 25 questions that Zillow suggests you should ask your mortgage lender.

Once your questions have been answered, ask yourself a few questions. Did the lender seem knowledgeable? Did they listen to your concerns and address them clearly? Did you feel like you were getting a cookie-cutter response or truly personal attention? Did the lender seem to push you towards borrowing more than you feel comfortable with? This is a major financial commitment, so you need to work with a professional who takes the time to understand and respect your needs and concerns.

4, Compare rates, fees, and products. Once you have gathered the information, look at what each mortgage lender has to offer. Your choice should reflect your needs. If you don’t have a stellar credit rating or a sufficient down payment, consider a lender who understands your situation and can offer guidance to qualifying for the best option possible. Maybe you’re looking for a VA loan. You should find a lender who has experience navigating this process.

Before you pre-qualify for your new home mortgage, pre-qualify the lender!

New Home or Resale? It’s What You Can’t See That Matters.

Categories: New Homes | Posted: October 22, 2015

Thrifting has become a popular trend. People are looking for used items that still have value. Some will re-purpose them, others will do a makeover, and some will use as is.

When it comes to homebuying, does this approach deliver the same value? You’re making a huge investment—probably the biggest financial one of your life. What do you expect in return?

A resale or older home is often perceived as a better deal, because you can buy more house for less money—or so it seems. Whether you’re looking a buying a new home or a resale, it’s what you can’t see that matters.

Here are a few things for comparison when you’re looking at purchasing a home.

  • What will need replacing soon? In a new home, you can be confident that you won’t have to spend money on a new roof, HVAC, appliances, windows, plumbing, or other features that have a lifespan. Calculate any replacement estimates into your purchase price.
  • Is it “green”? From drafty windows and doors and insulation to energy-guzzling appliances, how energy-efficient is the home you’re considering? What’s the air quality? Appliances and plumbing (e.g. toilets, faucets, showers) have become much more energy-efficient over the past few years, and the newest ones can save hundreds on your annual utility bills.
  • How much do you need to invest on cosmetic improvements? This is where many homeowners underestimate the cost of their “dream home”. It’s never “just a few coats of paint”. You’ll probably change light fixtures, wall coverings, and flooring, to say the least. You might want to knock down a wall to open up the floor plan, or replace the kitchen cabinetry. Maybe you need to rewire in order to accommodate today’s electronics. In addition to the cost of any remodeling, there’s the time involved. Do you have the patience to see it through?
  • What’s the resale value? Never buy a home without considering the resale value. Situations change. No matter how certain you are when you sign the mortgage papers, there’s always the chance that you will move again. Be clear about what you can expect to regain from this investment.
  • Are there any purchasing incentives? Interest rates are still incredibly low, although they will continue to creep upward. Homebuilders frequently offer incentives, like no closing costs.

Both new homes and resales have their unique appeal to homebuyers. Regardless, don’t fall in love with what you see. Think about the other factors that contribute to the actual cost of buying your new home.

Gas Fireplaces: Cozy, Warm, and Energy-Efficient

Categories: Home Owner Tips | Posted: October 16, 2015

Nothing warms up a room like a crackling fire in the fireplace—both in heat and ambiance, Gas has replaced the wood-burning fireplace mode in new homes, and for good reason. A gas fireplace is easy to maintain. You turn the fire off and on with a switch, instead of messing with kindling and babysitting the flames. Plus, you have no wood to buy and stack. With gas, you also avoid messy ashes to clean up, glowing embers to worry about when you leave, and the cost of a chimney sweep.

In addition to the convenience, a gas fireplace is more energy-efficient than the wood-burning alternative. Only 15% of wood’s energy is converted into useful heat when logs burn in a fireplace; the rest goes up the chimney. Compare that figure to today’s gas fireplaces, which generate up to 85% heating efficiency. One gas fireplace can efficiently and effectively heat up to 1,000 square feet of space.

  • When shopping for a gas fireplace, consider the efficiency rating. A 70 rating means that 70 percent of the gas consumed is converted into heat and the remaining 30 percent is used for combustion and ventilation. The higher the rating, the better the heating efficiency.

What are your options for harnessing the value and comfort of a gas fireplace in your home?

  • If you already have a fireplace, consider a gas fireplace insert. The insert fits into your existing firebox. It can be connected to your home’s gas lines or, if you don’t currently use propane, to a propane tank located outside.
  • Gas log sets are also placed inside an existing fireplace. These ceramic logs are available in vented and unvented. The vented log set ventilates through the chimney, but doesn’t produce significant heat. The unvented gas log set provides more efficiency but poses a risk of combustion leftovers (water vapor, particulates, carbon monoxide) when run for a long period of time. Gas log sets are more for appearance than warmth.
  • A built-in gas fireplace is ideal when you’re building a new home. Installation is easily handled during construction, allowing you to create the hearth style you prefer—from traditional stone to sleeker contemporary design. A ventless fireplace doesn’t need a chimney, making it an easier installation. The system uses sensors to monitor the oxygen levels in your home. A direct-vented unit uses a chimney or a venting pipe that goes through your home’s roof. This roof-venting option allows you to install a gas fireplace in any room. The most efficient of the gas fireplaces, the direct-vented unit offers up to an 85% efficiency rating!

With any type of gas fireplace unit, you have the option of choosing from a variety of styles and options, like a circulation fan to distribute the heat better. A remote control is a convenient option for controlling the fireplace operation. Plan now to cozy up to the fire this winter, and start shopping for the gas fireplace that fits your home and your lifestyle.

Smart Thermostats – Boost Your Home’s Energy Efficiency

Categories: Home Owner Tips | Posted: October 8, 2015

What to look for when buying a smart thermostat

With the winter chill just around the corner, it’s time to get your home heating system in order. A great way to start is to install a smart thermostat. Boost your home’s energy IQ with a digital thermostat that can be pre-programmed to control the times your heat is turned up and down. A smart thermostat can store six or more daily settings, automatically adjusting the thermostat without you being there to monitor it.

By reducing the temperature on your thermostat by 10° to 15° for 8 hours a day (like overnight or when you’re at work), you can save 5% to 15% per year on your energy bill, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Here’s what you need to look for when shopping for a programmable or “smart” thermostat:

  • Temperature control. Choose a unit that includes control of programmable fans, like the air conditioner’s fan, so that it can better manage the temperature.
  • Keypad lock. Protect your settings so that unauthorized people in your home (kids, in-laws) can’t mess with your energy controls.
  • Wi-Fi enabled. The software that drives the smart thermostat should allow you to program it from your smartphone or tablet. Make sure the mobile app is supported by your technology.
  • 7-day scheduling and away controls. A smart thermostat should include programming for at least seven days, as well as the ability to pre-program the temperature control when you’re away from home for days at a time.
  • User-friendliness. Simplicity is the key to effectiveness. If your thermostat is too hard to program, you’ll probably lose energy savings.
  • Some smart thermostats will let you know when you have an equipment malfunction or just need routine maintenance.
  • Before you buy, be sure the unit will work with your HVAC system.
  • Easy installation. Installation shouldn’t require a Ph.D. in rocket science. A good programmable thermostat can be set up without a pro, using online tutorials. Of course, hiring an installer is always an option!

Here are three models that fit this criteria:

The Nest Learning Thermostat is one of the most popular smart thermostats. Now available in version 3.0, the Nest’s intelligent programming learns your habits, and the “Heads Up” feature lets you track your furnace’s automatic shutoffs. You can also check your home’s energy usage via your smartphone.

The ecobee3 Wi-Fi Thermostat is consistently rated with The Nest. The ecobee3 measures temperature and room occupancy, adjusting the heat where it’s needed. You can add more remote sensors to cover a larger home.

The Homewerks Radio Thermostat CT-80 can set seven different temperature points during one day, features a large display, works with most HVAC systems, includes a built-in battery backup, and monitors both your humidity and temperature. Admittedly, the Homewerks model doesn’t have the sleekness of the Nest or ecobee3.

Depending on the model you choose and your current energy bill, the cost of the smart thermostat might deliver return on your investment in one year or less.

Mortgage rates are still low…but not forever

Categories: Real Estate News | Posted: October 1, 2015

Not long ago, homebuyers reigned in the housing market. Home prices dropped dramatically after the 2008 financial crisis, and mortgage rates fell to an all-time low. People who were ready and able to purchase a new home reaped the rewards of under-valued home prices and historically low mortgage rates.

In 2012, home prices were below the fair value of the properties, lower than they had been since 1998. Since March 2012, those prices have been creeping up. Bank of America Merrill Lynch Global Research predicts that prices will continue to climb slowly for the next few years.

While the real estate market has rebounded, we’re still seeing people who are waiting and watching. But why wait?

Mortgage rates are still extraordinarily low. A 30-year fixed rate is currently as low as 3.75%, not far from the record low of 3.31% in late November 2012. Like the housing price, these interest rates have come back, but not by much. In fact, Freddie Mac reported that current rates have risen half a point since February 2015.

That’s good news for homebuyers. You can still get a great value on a new home while leveraging the low interest rates. However, you need to act. Mortgage rates are expected to continue to rise over the next two years. Forecasts are predicting a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage to go as high as 4.61%, almost a point higher than the current mortgage interest rate.

You might also qualify for a loan with a low or zero downpayment. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) offer mortgage products that offer great rates with little or nothing down.

Remember, predictions are just that. We can only guess what is going to happen to the housing market in the near future. But with the current home values and low mortgage interest rates, now is the time to make the move.

Enjoy Your Outdoor Living Space All Year

Categories: Home Design Trends | Posted: September 25, 2015

When people talk about outdoor living space, all thoughts seem to head towards summer cookouts. Once the autumn weather slips in, however, you have plenty of time and activities to enjoy outside on your patio, deck, balcony, and yard.

Seasonal outdoor decorating is as festive outside as it is inside your home. Add autumn colors and décor, like pumpkins, gourds, corn stalks, and wreaths. Place easy-to-tend container gardens with hardy plants like kale, asters, mums, and sedum, which can tolerate the chill but keep your outdoors colorful and alive!

Change your outdoor color scheme by swapping out the cushions on your patio furniture. It’s a good time to clean and stash the summer cushions. Have some warm lap throws available for use outdoors, too. Lay down an outdoor rug to cozy up an area for fall.

When winter rolls around, turn your outdoor living space into a winter wonderland, with twinkling white lights around the area. Add splashes of blue decorations—hanging from the trees, perched on walls, or nesting in the snow—to accent the winter white.

A cozy fire is a welcome spot in fall and winter. Use your fire pit for warmth and cooking—or add an outdoor fireplace. Roast marshmallows for s’mores or try your hand at outdoor cooking. Check out some campfire recipes here.

Do you have a pergola? If not, consider adding one. It’s a fairly simple task. In any season, this minimal enclosure can define an area while still being outdoors. When the fall sets in, you can cover the pergola with a canopy for a bit more shelter.

Even when the temperature drops a bit, you can still go outdoors and play, no matter your age. In the fall, lawn games like croquet, bocce, badminton, and cornhole will keep you active enough to stay warm.

Even if you decide to stay indoors during the winter months, invest some time in decorating your outdoor living space so you can enjoy the view. Birdfeeders, solar lights, and a stack of colorful pots will perk up a barren landscape and stave off the winter doldrums.

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