When to Use a Professional

As homeowners, we want our properties to reflect our styles and the designs of the current day. If you have purchased an older property, or you just want to update your current home, a certain degree of work and projects are required to bring your property up to the level you strive for. While many of us have experience with home projects, there are some of us that don’t. Below are some of the common projects homeowners embark upon, and suggestions on when it’s best to do it yourself or call a professional for help.

Walls
Most painting jobs are DIY, pending you have a steady hand. Should you have structural repairs or water damage, call a pro, especially if you’re going to demolish the existing wall, replace or re-frame anything, install new Sheetrock or drywall or anything else that is labor intensive.

Floors
Floor repairs can be fairly easy, from cleaning to repairing small nicks in the flooring. If you want to take on a larger project, it might be worthwhile to hire a pro if your project requires installing hardwood floors or laying tile. With the amount of work required to install a new floor, hiring someone with the experience can save you time, money and a lot of body aches.

Windows
If you’re doing minor maintenance and repairs (like repairing or replacing wood sills and caulking around windows), you should be able to do this type of project no sweat. But if you’re looking to replace a window, or need to rebuild a window frame, count on calling a professional for help.

Electrical
If you have no experience, with the electrical system of your home, keep your improvements limited to changing outlet covers and switch plates. You can also change all your current light bulbs to energy saving bulbs.

Tile
Tiling a back splash or replacing dirty old grout are projects most homeowners will be able to tackle on their own. But if your project requires tiling floors, walls, or large tile installations, it might be worthwhile to contact a professional for help, especially if your project requires cutting any tile.

Plumbing
DIYers should be able to do small projects, like replacing a toilet flapper, addressing drips, upgrading shower and sink fixtures, and other small things that don’t require a lot of tools. If your project requires moving or installing any plumbing or pipes, call a pro for help.

Home Repairs for a Professional:

Plumbing
Small leaks can mean thousands in repairs if they’re not caught in time. If you need to modify your plumbing system, then you should definitely call a professional. Welding pipes together requires a torch, and if you don’t have that experience, it’s best to rely on the experts for this type of work.

Electrical
If your project requires direct contact with electricity, call a pro. This includes rewiring, adding power to areas that do not currently have power, and any installation of large or heavy light fixtures (think a chandelier). Electricity is no joke, and the last thing you want is to cause yourself harm, or harm your home, during a DIY project.

Asbestos, Mold and Lead Paint
If you have a new home, you will not encounter asbestos or lead paint. But if you are interested in older homes, asbestos and lead paint are a possibility. Once used as insulation, asbestos is toxic, and there are laws that govern how it’s removed and disposed of. Lead paint is also highly toxic, and removal should be done by a lead professional. Should you have mold in your home (certain types are toxic), it’s best to leave the removal of all of these to the professionals: they know how to remove and dispose of all toxic materials, and they can do it safely.

Roofing
Repairing a roof shingle might seem like an easy task, but there is more danger in getting on and off a roof than most homeowners realize. Tools, multiple trips up and down a ladder, and constant attention paid to the incline of the roof make roof repairs tiring, and if you’re not prepared, dangerous. Stick with the professionals – they have the proper gear and the experience required to do the job right.

Anything with Gas
Gas is similar to water: if it can find a way out, it will escape. If you’re replacing appliances that run on natural gas, it’s best to hire someone to help with installation. The last thing you want is for gas to escape and result in a buildup of carbon monoxide in your home.

Financing Your First Home

Although financing a first home can be challenging, buyers who are prepared and know what they can afford up front can expedite the process and save themselves unnecessary headaches later. Before starting your home search, follow these financial tips from the National Association of Home Builders and Bankrate.com.

  • First, figure out what you can afford to pay each month. In addition to principal and interest, figure expenses for local taxes, insurance, and if buying a condominium, monthly assessments. Once you have this calculation, don’t be tempted by lenders to pay more than that. Free mortgage calculators, which are available on many real estate and financial websites, can help you estimate monthly payments based on current interest rates and down payment. Generally speaking, no more than 28 percent of gross monthly income should be allocated to housing costs.
  • Pay down your debts. Any credit card debt you have can limit how much you can borrow from a lender. Check your credit report thoroughly for any errors or unpaid accounts, and resolve those issues before moving ahead. Allow at least six months to iron out any credit problems before shopping for a home, experts suggest.
  • Determine your monthly cash flow. Track your spending for two or three months to see where money is going. Once you know what you can afford and what your cash flow is, you can determine your down payment.
  • Organize documents, especially those that validate income and taxes. Most lenders may want to see two recent pay stubs, W-2s and tax returns from the previous two years, and the last two monthly bank statements. Having these documents ready ahead of time can help the lending process run more smoothly.

If you are getting started, check out local home-buying seminars or sites like HUD.gov, which provides information for shopping for and financing a home. Ask friends, family and co-workers for referrals for lending professionals they’ve worked with previously, and talk with lenders and credit counselors to find financing options that will work best for you.

Holiday Staging Tips

You may be trying to sell your home during the festive holiday season, but that doesn’t mean you have to forgo the holiday decorations completely. Just don’t overdo it, say the staging experts at Frontdoor.com. Instead, stick to a few simple decorative touches, such as a pinecone centerpiece or an evergreen wreath. Avoid religious themed decorations, which may turn off potential buyers.

Avoid using decorations that might clash with your current color scheme. For example, if the decor in the living room is blue, silver and white, choose accessories that complement that color scheme, such as blue glass ornaments and sliver or white candles.

Use accessories to draw attention to the home’s best features. Hang a few tasteful ornaments form the mantel to showcase an elegant fireplace or hang an evergreen garland around the bay window.

Keep inflatable characters in storage while your home is on the market. Instead, use simple string lighting to showcase a fir tree in your front yard.

Make your home extra inviting by lighting a fire in the fireplace or turning up the heat a couple of degrees on chilly days. Offer tasty treats like hot apple cider and fresh-baked cookies to create a welcoming environment.

With a little creativity and common sense, you can enjoy the holidays while trying to sell your home.

You Can Buy and Sell Real Estate During the Holidays

It’s common knowledge that most people are advised to get their home on the real estate market in late spring or early summer as that is ‘real estate season.’ While the majority of homes do sell in the spring and summer, listing your home or looking for a home during the holidays or in winter is not as taboo as some would lead you to believe. There are actual benefits to listing and looking for a home during the holidays, and if you’ve missed out on the real estate scramble of the spring and summer, starting a home search or listing your home now might just be in your best interest. Here are some of the top reasons why you shouldn’t avoid listing your home, or looking for a home, during the holidays.

Buyers Never Stop Looking
Many would lead you to believe that the real estate market comes to a complete stand still during the holidays or in the winter, but that’s not the case. Every state’s real estate market is thriving year-round, and that even includes during the holiday season. Serious buyers never stop looking, and a serious seller (or a seller who wants or needs to sell their property) will keep their home or property on the market all year long. The holidays bring out the buyers and sellers that are determined – they need something or want to sell now, and they’re not willing to wait for the spring or summer.

Many people with school-age children want to wait to buy a new home with their kids are not in school, but the reality is that a family or anyone looking for a new home can move at any time of the year. Perhaps if you’re in an area with inclement winter weather, you might want to put off your search and move until better weather arrives, but for those that live in a mild climate, moving in November or December is just as easy as moving in May or June. Buyers can also sign up for new listing emails, which alert them to whenever a new property has come on the market, and sellers have the ability to sign up for sellers reports, so they can stay on top of the market in their neighborhood.

Inventory and Competition
While it is known that home inventory is largest during the spring and summer months, the MLS always has homes and properties listed on it. Fall and winter will have properties available, but the number of properties will be lower. Unless you’re total transfixed on a certain home, or you have a  list of needs and wants a mile long, you can be sure to find a property that will fit your housing needs throughout the year.

Despite the fact that inventory will be lower in the fall and winter, people still list their homes, especially if they are serious sellers. While the market is slower, it also is less competitive in terms of other buyers looking for homes. It’s likely the fall and winter won’t create scenarios of multiple, high dollar offers on one property; buyers and sellers like will have more opportunities to actually think about offers, and especially for buyers, low competition guarantees that you’re not making a rushed or rash decision based on emotions or other offers when you do find the perfect property.

Affordability
This is specifically for buyers, but it’s widely know that home prices slightly fall in the fall and winter when the market has cooled down and more serious sellers are keen to get a sale. This is mostly because real estate sales are seasonal. But that’s not to say if you list your home in the fall or winter you’re going to have to drastically slash the price in order for your property to sell. While it might sit on the market a little longer than it would in the spring or summer, fall and winter sales happen, and if you’re a serious buyer or seller, you know you’ll want to do all you can to make your dream of buying or selling a home a reality.

Homes Look and Feel Charming
You’ll see a lot of articles on how to spruce up a home to ready it for the real estate market, and while the tips are definitely valuable, it’s not a secret that many people decorate their homes over the holidays. There’s something warm and inviting about a decorated home, or a home that feels cozy, and people who list their homes in the fall and winter can take advantage of a fireplace or wood stove to make a room more inviting.

If your property doesn’t have a fireplace or wood stove, you can use candles and other things to make the home smell inviting to buyers. While it may seem cumbersome to sell a property during the holidays or in the winter, you do have some ways to play up the season. And if you are truly set on avoiding the holidays, you can always put it on the market the first of January, when the chaos of the holidays is over.

Why It’s a Smart Move to use a Real Estate Agent

Buying or selling a home seems to be a way of life for a lot of people in today’s world. When you buy, you definitely want to get the most for your money. Many people think they can go it alone when it comes to buying or selling a house, and it’s definitely true that some people are able to handle all of the details of buying and selling a home or property, but in reality the real estate process is intricate and requires a lot of knowledge about the local real estate market, contracts, escrow, appraisals and referrals. While some home owners and buyers are in a position to go it alone, for those intimidated by the market or those who don’t have the time or energy to sell or buy a home on their own, here are some reasons why it’s a smart move to use a real estate agent during your next real estate transaction.

Local Expertise
You’ve lived in an area for some time – but while you may know about local amenities, and activities, do you have a lot of knowledge on the local real estate market? Real estate agents know their markets: they know how much homes are selling for, they know what areas are highly desirable and they know which ones are up-and-coming. You can trust an agent to know the local inventory and know how to get the best price for a home or property.

Access
Real estate agents have a number of access points that a regular buyer or seller doesn’t. They have access to listings before they are put in the MLS, and they have access to the homes! Many sellers are only willing to grant access to agents, which means that most buyers going it alone can only access homes during open houses. An agent working for the seller is only going to provide information with the seller’s best interest at heart, so when you go it alone you might be only getting partial information from any questions you may have. Working with an agent will help provide private access to homes, and an agent will be able to get more information from the seller’s agent.

Experience
Buying a home is an intimidating experience – you’re making one of the biggest financial decisions of your life. As a buyer, you want to make sure stress and emotions don’t get the better of you, especially when it comes to making important decisions. Real estate agents know what buyers and sellers go through – they’ve been there, as it’s more than likely they too have made a real estate purchase of their own. While they have personal experience, they also have an experienced rational eye when it comes to the business portion of a real estate transaction. They possess clear judgement, and agents are a seller and buyer’s biggest advocate for a successful negotiation. Real estate agents have the experience, knowledge and acumen to make the process as smooth and stress-free as possible.

Connections
The real estate transaction process requires a number of professionals and services. From a lender, home inspector, contractors and handmen for repairs, lawyers and a number of other professionals and tradesmen, knowing the right people is beyond important when you want to have a smooth and successful transaction. Real estate agents are in the business, and their past experience has provided them with a number of respectable and dependable contacts and referrals that you’ll find asking friends and family. A ready agent will come prepared with connections and people they are willing to refer because they’ve worked with them in the past and they know their track record. When you choose to work without an agent, you sacrifice the networking that naturally comes with being a real estate agent.

No Cost When Buying
If you’re searching for a home or property to buy, having an agent is free. An agent’s commission is paid by the seller, but most buyers don’t realize this and entertain the idea of going with a Realtor during their home search. If a seller pays the commission, there is no loss to a buyer to take full advantage of all the services a real estate agent offers. It’s also important to understand that even if you choose to go it alone when buying a home, you do not receive the commission a buyer’s agent would. Commission rates are negotiated before the final sale and are included in the contract, meaning if you don’t use a buyer’s agent, the entire commission is paid to the listing agent.

Documents and Paperwork
Unless you’re working with a brand new agent, most agents know the ins and outs of all the documents and paperwork required for a home sale or purchase because they’ve been through a number of transactions. From finding the comps of your market and drafting a purchase agreement, to contacting any other agents and the title company, a real estate agent will be able to provide help in the forms of knowledge, time and resources during the real estate transaction process. Agents also know the important parts of an offer or contract, especially when it comes to line items that could cost a lot in the end or things that are negotiable. Having an agent that knows the process, the paperwork and the documentation is a valuable asset when it comes to making one of the biggest decisions of your life.

The Heat is On

As the weather gets cooler, it’s a good time to check your HVAC (heating, ventilating and air conditioning) system to make sure it’s operating properly. While it’s wise to have your HVAC inspected by a heating professional every fall and spring, you can increase the efficiency of your system by following these simple maintenance tips from American Home Shield.

Now: Use a high-efficiency pleated filter with an electrostatic charge that works like a magnet to grab the tiniest particles. Replace the filter every 90 days and check it monthly. If it looks dark and clogged, change it, and if you have pets, you may need to change it more often.

Keep the air-conditioning unit free of leaves, pollen, grass or branches that can interfere with its future efficiency. make sure there is at least two feet of space cleared around outdoor units.

Monthly or Seasonally: Inspect the insulation and refrigerant lines monthly. Before winter sets in, replace the humidifier filter and turn on the water.

Annually: Replace the battery in the carbon monoxide detector. Walk around the exterior of your house and check that outdoor AC units and heat pumps are on firm and level ground. Pour one cup of bleach mixed with water down the AC condensate drain to prevent buildup of mold and algae, which can clog the drain.

Always: Keep at least 20 percent of a home’s registers open to avoid putting unnecessary strain on the HVAC system.

Following these simple tips can prolong the life of your HVAC system and help you be prepared for whatever the winter season may bring.

Shopping for Green

Today’s buyers are more concerned than ever about living green, and that means finding an eco-friendly home. How do you know the home you want is truly green? Green means different things to different people. Buyers focused on energy cost savings prefer home s that have basic energy-efficient features, such as Energy Star appliances, weatherproofed windows, and good insulation. Buyers concerned about personal health issues prefer homes that use non-toxic materials, such as low VOC paints and bamboo flooring. Still other buyers want to contribute to a more sustainable future. They look for building materials that are produced locally or used reclaimed wood.

At the most basic level, Energy Star appliances, double-panned windows and efficient heating and cooling systems can lower energy bills and give buyers peace of mind .Other factors to consider include:

  • Cost. Expect to pay more for a green home. A recent study by the University of California find that green-certified, single family homes sold for 9 percent more than a comparable home that wasn’t green.
  • Square footage. The larger the home, the more energy it consumes. Buying a smaller home is more economical.
  • Paint. Use water-based paints that contain lower levels of VOCs than conventional oil-based paints. VOCs emit gases that can cause health issues.
  • Carpeting/flooring. Choose carpeting made from recycled or renewable materials. For wood flooring, bamboo or reclaimed wood are popular choices.
  • Utilities. Review past utility bills to determine typical monthly energy costs. Also request documentation on any green features that have been added to the property.
  • Landscaping. Choose plants and trees that don’t require the same level of maintenance as a lawn.

If in doubt, ask questions. The more questions you ask, the more confident you will be that you are getting a truly green home.