Walk on Wood

Hardwood flooring is one of the most sought-after features in new and existing homes. This eco-friendly feature can turn your home into a warm and inviting space to relax and entertain. Selecting the right flooring can be a challenge, however, depending on your design style, budget and personal preference. Before choosing a wood floor for your home, here are a few things to keep in mind, courtesy of the National Wood Flooring Association:

There are two basic types of wood flooring. Solid wood flooring can be sanded and refinished many times and can be used in all rooms, including kitchen and powder rooms. Engineered wood is manufactured with multiple layers of wood veneers, so it expands and contracts less than solid wood flooring when temperatures and humidity fluctuate. Engineered wood is a better alternative for basements and other below-ground living areas.

Hardwood floors come in different finishes. Satin gloss offers the most shine and reflects the most light, so scratches and normal wear and tear are less noticeable, while matte finishes offer the least shine.

Light woods like as or maple help make a room appear more open and airy, while darker woods like walnut or mahogany can give a room a more stately and refined appearance.

To keep floors looking new, clean them frequently using a dust mop or vacuum. Avoid using a wet mop as water can dull the finish and damage the wood over time. To prevent scratches, place scatter rugs at all entrances and floor protector pads on the bottom of furniture legs.

When spills occur, wipe them immediately with a dry or slightly damp cloth. When floors begin to look dull, us a wood flooring cleaner to renew the luster. Use only products that are compatible with your wood floor type. The wrong cleaning product can damage the finish and possibly the wood itself.

With these simple tips in mind, hardwood floors can provide comfort and enjoyment for many years.

Real Estate Tips for Buyers and Sellers

Thinking about starting a home search or selling your home soon? The 2016 real estate season is upon us, and if you are anticipating a home search, or selling a property, here are some top tips to help you navigate the real estate market in your area this spring or summer.

For Buyers

Don’t go overboard with an offer
While you might be inclined to get into a bidding war over your dream home (the market is pretty competitive), don’t overspend to the point where if the market stabilizes your home will have an overly inflated price and make it difficult to resell in the future. If you plan on living in the property for a long time, paying a high price isn’t a bad thing, but it’s a good idea to set a limit on how high you’re willing to bid for a home.

Start your search ready
If you’re already looking into purchasing a home or property, and you know you’ll need a mortgage, you should already be shopping for a loan. Buyers with a mortgage pre-approval are a step above those that haven’t even looked into loans. You can also have your purchase game by having fewer contingencies or conditions that affect the purchase. If you can start your home search with some of your bases covered, and the ability to be flexible, you’ll already be far ahead of those just entering the real estate race.

New doesn’t mean pristine
While we all dream of buying a brand new home, complete with absolutely no projects, it’s quite common for brand new construction to have issues. The reality is that builders can and do cut corners, and the last thing you want is to invest your money into a brand new home only to find out that certain things were not completed 100 percent. If you’re looking to buy new construction, it’s not a bad idea to hire an independent inspector to make sure your new home is up to all current building codes and standards.

Beware of hidden costs
While you might find a home that is the perfect price for your budget, beware of the hidden costs that come along with buying a property. You may or may not have a mortgage, but you will have yearly property taxes that will either be monthly payments or a large payment once a year. If you do need a mortgage, you can expect an origination fee, and depending on the amount of your down payment or your credit rating, you can also expect to pay private mortgage insurance. You can also expect fees by way of the home inspection, appraisal, and in some communities that will be monthly HOA fees.

Don’t be afraid to go outside your comfort zone
Many buyers have a specific neighborhood, town or city picked out before they begin their property search. With the U.S. real estate market being a competitive as it is for buyers, don’t be afraid to look into areas that are developing when you look for your new home or property. Homes and property prices might likely be lower in developing areas, and if you can find an area where new businesses are being introduced and other amenities will be available, home values may significantly increase over the coming years.

For Sellers

Play to your advantage
The U.S. real estate market is being called a seller’s market, meaning there are more people trying to buy houses and properties than there are actual properties to buy. Because of this, as a seller, you can play to your advantages: you can likely get away with not paying closing costs; you can dictate the terms of the sale and any contingencies a buyer might have; you can entertain multiple offers and choose the best one for you. But in all of this, don’t try to price your property outside of your area – you want to sell your home, not keep it on the market forever.

Know the best areas of your property
If you’re considering selling your property, there are two room updates almost ever buyer appreciates: kitchens and bathrooms. If you have the time and money to invest in updating these two areas of your home, try a basic face lift (you don’t need to go overboard!) Add some fresh paint, clean up the cabinets, and install new lighting or hardware. Make the kitchen and bathrooms pop: buyers always react best to a fresh, clean and clutter free kitchen or bathroom.

Do you have a replacement property picked?
You might be considering selling your home or property – have you started your property search yet? With the market being as competitive as it is, it’s a good idea to start your property search when you put your own property on the market, and sometimes even before. You don’t want to sell before you have a place picked out. If you do find yourself in a bind, you can always work with your agent to make the closing period longer. Whatever you decide to do, make sure you start your property search as soon as possible.

The Benefits of Gardening

It seems as though in the past few years gardening and backyard farms have become more and more popular throughout the United States. With spring quickly approaching in the northeast hemisphere, many homeowners throughout the U.S. will take to the outdoors with the intention of sprucing up winter-wrecked yards. While many homeowners will concentrate on their yard, many others will focus on their backyard gardens. Traditionally, a garden is assumed to be a place to grow fruits and vegetables, but gardens can take on many different looks and styles. Whether mainly for food, or for the beauty and aroma only flowers can produce, home gardens have a number of benefits for homeowners and should you consider giving your yard a revamp this spring, consider adding a garden or small garden area to your outdoor space.

Benefits of Home Gardens
Gardens, whether for the joy of flowers or for fruits and vegetables, come in a number of shapes and sizes. While providing a great sensory experience and a way to reconnect to the natural world around us, gardens also help to keep the body limber and improve overall mood. A study done in the Netherlands suggests that the relaxing nature of gardening can help fight stress, and a study in Norway found that people who suffered from depression and other mood disorders showed measurable improvements in their symptoms after three months of gardening (where six hours per week were spent in the garden). If you’re not interested in the potential health benefits of gardening, adding plants and flowers to your yard is a great way of updating a meager outdoor space and makes a backyard more enticing to potential buyers from additional textures, scents and organization. Also, adding touches of color by way of plants and flowers is an excellent way of improving curb appeal should you consider putting your home on the market in the coming months.

Community Gardens
Don’t have time for an outdoor garden, or are you lacking a space large enough for a garden? There are a number of alternatives to bring the joy of gardening into your home or life. A very popular option that has popped up around the U.S. is community gardens. Located throughout communities from the east to the west, community gardens have helped provide a place of retreat from urban areas plagued by noise, or from those individuals who want a relaxing place to go to when they have free time. Community gardens provide a number of benefits, from a place for recreation and exercise, to providing health benefits by easing stress and helping to improve overall mood. Studies have also shown those who participate in a community garden generally eat healthier, more nutrient dense diets, and a community garden helps to create and foster relationships throughout a community.

Container Gardens
Another option for those who don’t have a yard or outdoor area large enough for a traditional garden is a container garden. Another trend gaining popularity throughout the U.S., container gardens allow homeowners to have small gardens in tight spaces. Plants (which can be anything from traditional flowers and shrubs to fruits, vegetables and herbs) are placed in containers, usually one plant per container, and allow the gardener the ability to choose specific plants for their needs and wants. Only interested in succulents, or just interested in plants that require little water and maintenance? A container garden is a great option. Container gardens can range from small to robust, and they provide an excellent alternative to a traditional garden. Other popular options for ‘alternative’ gardens are hanging gardens and indoor gardens. Those gardens can be fully indoors and very much take on a container garden feel. Container gardens can also help add pops of color to porches and patios, and they are a great way of adding appeal to drab areas for potential home viewings.

Backyard Farm
Do you feel particularly adventurous when it comes to adding a garden or outdoor feature? If you have the time, resources and space, consider a backyard farm. Chickens have become  popular backyard feature throughout the U.S., in both urban and rural communities. Chickens can provide a number of benefits to a yard or outdoor area: they act as a natural pest control; they produce eggs; they will eat table scraps as well as weeds and garden clippings, and chicken manure is also considered one of the best fertilizers for gardens due to its high nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous content. While not for every homeowner, backyard chickens can be fun for every member of a household.

What’s the Deal with Flipped Homes?

Americans love their home improvement and design shows. With entire channels dedicated to DIY, home decor and design, and everything related to U.S. real estate, we love the possibilities that lie within the real estate market in America. On popular aspect of many shows and publications in home or house flipping. We hear a lot about flipping homes, but what does that really mean? Is it feasible for everyone? Are there risks? Should you buy a flipped home, and what questions should you ask if your property search lands on a potentially flipped property?

What is Flipping?
Flipping is a predominately U.S. term used to describe purchasing a property with the intent of quickly reselling it for profit. Most of the time, properties that are purchased with the intent to flip are those that are distressed, abandoned, or otherwise in need of repairs that make the property less desirable to other potential buyers. Flipping has become increasing popular throughout the U.S. in the last decade, and many people have become successful real estate flippers with the vast and varied real estate markets throughout the United States.

Can Anyone Flip a Property?
Many programs on television make flipping looking easily attainable to anyone and everyone. The fact remains that flipping a property is risky business that requires a large amount of work, experience, funding (preferably case), excellent credit and a good understanding and almost intuitive knowledge of the real estate market. If you’re interested in flipping properties, the best way to get started is by talking to someone who has experience and has had success in flipping real estate. There are many things to know about flipping real estate that should be addressed before the idea is even entertained.

What are the Risks of Flipping a Home?
There are risks with any kind of real estate investment, but inexperienced flippers can make a number of mistakes. There are a number of costs that come with flipping a property, and new flippers can make the mistake of not having enough money to cover the entire project – from the acquisition of the property, the renovations, taxes, utilities and more. Another risk of flipping properties is time, or lack of time. Finding the right property can take months, and once you own the property there is a time commitment to renovations, commuting, inspections, and ultimately the marketing and selling of the property.

Other risks that new flippers run into are not having enough knowledge about the real estate market and failing to purchase the right property for a flip; a lack of skills when it comes to working on the property and putting in the sweat equity (hard work) required to get in up to market standards; and ultimately lacking patience when it comes to the entire project as a whole.

Should I Buy a Flipped Home?
Often, flipped homes have mostly cosmetic changes done in order to attract buyers and ultimately get the property sold. You might fall in love with fresh paint and brand new appliances, and generally speaking, most flipped homes attract many buyers because they have a smaller initial to-do list than other properties on the market. If you’re looking at a property that can be a flip, be sure to ask these questions: What is the home’s sale history? If the home recently sold for much less than its current asking price, it’s possible it is a flip. Does the outside of the home match what’s inside? If the exterior of the home is older, and the interior looks brand new, it’s very possible someone is trying to flip the property. Information is your best friend when it comes to a flipped home, so getting the most information up front will help guide you towards pursuing the property or not.

If you believe you’re looking at a flipped home, consider asking the seller what changes have been made to the property, and check to see if any permits were issued for the work. Also, some buyers might be blinded by all of the new interior cosmetic updates that they forget about the bones and foundation of the home. Regardless of whether a home is old or new, always hire an experienced and licensed inspector to check over the home to make sure you’re getting the most for your money when it comes to buying a property.

Common Household Hazardous Waste and What to do With Them

We want to believe our homes are as safe as they can be, and for the most part they are. But there are items we use every day that are in fact hazardous. Knowing what products are hazardous, and the proper ways of disposing household hazardous waste, is not only good for the environment, but it will help you feel even safer in your home.

Batteries
We all use batteries in our homes, and most of those will be the regular alkaline batteries purchased at the grocery or hardware store. These batteries can be thrown away in the garbage once used, but it is suggested that if you have the ability to recycle them you do so. But should have different batteries in your home, like rechargeable batteries, automatic batteries, or lithium, lithium ion or zinc air, these should definitely be recycled through a proper facility as the contents inside batteries are toxic and harmful to humans, animals and the environment.

Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs
Touted as a great way to save energy, compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) became popular in the mid-2000s and they continue to be a top choice for American households. But while these bulbs provide energy and money saving opportunities for homeowners, they do contain mercury, which is known to be a potent developmental neurotoxin. Because of the mercury in the bulbs, it’s best to not put them in the garbage, as they can end up in landfills (or end up outside landfills) and contaminate the environment. Recycle CFLs at your local hardware store (the larger retailers have places to put used bulbs) or contact your local jurisdiction to find out the best way of recycling your used CFLs. Should a CFL break in your home, wear gloves to pick it up, and contact your local hazardous waste disposal company to ask for information on disposing of the broken bulb.

Corrosives
Many household cleaners are considered corrosives, which means they can cause skin damage or corrode metal. Because of this, there should be caution when using them and when they are discarded. Yes, some corrosives are used in drains, but that doesn’t mean you should pour corrosives down the drain to get rid of them. If you need to dispose of corrosives, it’s best to bring them to a place that will dispose of household hazardous waste for you, and be sure to wear gloves and protective eye wear whenever handling corrosives.

Pesticides and Herbicides
If you have a yard, it’s likely you’ve used a pesticide or herbicide before. While these chemicals can come in handy when battling weeds or common yard pests (bugs and other insects), they are generally very toxic to humans and animals (especially pets!). When handling pesticides and herbicides, make sure you protect your eyes, face, arms, and hands with gloves and a mask or goggles, and should you need to dispose of these chemicals it is best to bring them to a hazardous waste drop-off site. Whatever you do, don’t put these items in the garage or dump them into a drain or onto the street.

Electronic Waste
We don’t often think of old electronics as waste, but that old computer or outdated television that’s been sitting in your garage for a few years is definitely waste. Electronic waste (also known as e-waste) can come in many forms: cell phones, computers, televisions, VHS and DVD players, and anything else that is electronic. While we may be inclined to just throw these items into the garbage can, many of these items contain hazardous materials within them, like lead or mercury, and they require special recycling. Should the materials in them get into the ground or find their way into a water system, it would be detrimental to the local environment. You can do a general Internet search to find companies that are more than willing to take any old electronics you might have in your home.

Aerosols
Aerosol cans come in many shapes and sizes, and whether they contain oil for greasing baking pans or WD-40, cans that are full or partially full have the ability to explode in punctured or exposed to heat. Empty aerosol cans can be put in the garbage, as long as they are indeed empty of contents, but if they are not, it’s best to take cans to a household hazardous waste drop-off point, especially if they contain chemicals or anything flammable in them.

Automotive Products
If you have a garage or a car, it’s likely you might have some automotive products; you might even have some if you have yard equipment like a lawn mower or a blower. Automotive products (fuel, oil or other fluids) can be highly flammable, and all of them are not safe to dispose of in a garbage can or in an outdoor drain. Because of their designations as hazardous materials, these fluids should be taken to a hazardous waste facility when being disposed of to ensure that they’re being properly taken care of.

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.