Prepping Your Home for a Vacation

Vacations are a time to relax and escape from regular life. When you’re miles from home, the last thing you want to worry about is the safety of your home. If you plan on taking a vacation this summer (or any time this year), here are some simple tips on prepping your home for vacation.

Stop Your Newspaper and Mail
One sure way of being absent from your home is a pile of newspapers in the driveway. Contact your newspaper delivery person and stop service while you’re gone. If you don’t have a locked mailbox, contact the post office and have them hold your mail. You can also ask a trusted neighbor to collect mail, newspapers and deliveries and have him/her hold the for you until you’re back.

Park Your Car in the Garage
The last thing you want is to get home from a vacation and have your car gone. If you can, park your car inside the garage, or have a family member park it at his/her house. You can also ask a neighbor to park their car in your driving, making it look like someone is leaving each morning.

Put a Light on a Timer
A dark house stands out in a neighborhood, especially when all of the other homes are lit up. Before you leave, buy a timer and install it on a lamp in your home. It’s also a good idea to install a motion-activated sensor on the outdoor floodlight that will be triggered should someone walk by it. You can also ask a neighbor to turn on the front porch light in the evening.

Mow Your Lawn
Grass can grow pretty fast in two or three days. If you have a lawn, make sure it’s trimmed before you embark on your trip. If you’re going to be gone longer than a week, ask a family member or neighbor to cut the grass in the front yard while you’re away.

Some of these items are easily overlooked, but could cause major issues when you’re away:

Unplug Small Appliances and Electronics
Small appliances and electronics can be energy vampires when plugged in, and some are still active even when they look like they’re turned off. Before you leave, unplug those items that won’t be used while you’re gone (coffee maker, toaster, espresso machine, etc.). It’s also a good time to make sure all smoke detectors work properly throughout your home.

Turn Down the Thermostat
Your thermostat makes sure your home maintains a specific temperature throughout the day. Before you leave, set the thermostat to a lower temperature if the house is going to be empty. This will help conserve energy while you’re gone. If you do turn down the thermostat, be sure to keep your home at a temperature that will still protect plants, pets and furniture.

Put the Water Heater in Vacation Mode
Traditional water heaters heat water throughout the day, even when you’re not using water. Before you head out on a vacation, out the heater in vacation mode. Check to see if your water heater has a VAC setting – which is for vacations. If it doesn’t you can turn down the thermostat to the lowest setting. But don’t stop the water heater: turn off water valves to the dishwasher, washing machine and any sinks. The last thing you want to come home to is a flood in your house because a pipe broke or a hose burst.

Tidy Up the Kitchen
Before you leave it’s always a good thing to clean out the fridge and dispose of anything that will go bad while you’re gone. The sink can harbor things that cause bad smells – run a half cup of vinegar and some water through the garbage disposal to alleviate any potential buildups, and make sure to take out any trash and recycling so you don’t come home to a smelly house. If you have a trusted neighbor, ask them to put your garbage, recycling or yard debris bins out on pickup day.

Leave Emergency Contact Info with Neighbors
You may tell your family that you’re heading out, but you should also let a neighbor know. Neighbors live near you and can be your first point of contact should something happen to your home while you’re away. Let a trusted neighbor know you’re going out of town – provide them with information on where you’re going, how long you’ll be gone, and contact information for yourself and family members in case of emergency

Home Designs for Busy Families

With their calenders crammed with things to do and places to go, today’s busy families what to spend as little time as possible handling mundane household chores. To help families stay organized, newer homes are being built with customized floor plans to allow more flexibility and better use of space. Here are a few examples of these home design trends.

Mudrooms
While mudrooms have been around for at lease a decade, they have evolved into a larger, more centralized area for each member of the family, complete with individual cubbies for books and backpacks, drawers for hats and gloves, and a bent for removing wet shoes and boots.

Most mudrooms are 6 feet by 8 feet, although some can be as large as 8 feet by 12 feet, and some include USB outlets, walk-in closets and windows with natural light. These rooms once shared space with washers and dryers, but laundry machines have moved closer to the bedrooms where most of the dirty laundry collects, builders say.

Study/Computer Stations
Parents want to keep a close eye on their kids as they do their homework, but where that study space is located differs among households. In many homes, kitchen islands double as a study area as well as an area for cooking and eating. Other homes are built with study nooks on the upper floor, a separate study in the lower level or a pocket office located off the kitchen.

Self-Service Kitchens
Newer homes are designed with the kitchen or pantry set up so family members can grab their own meals while on the go. These self-serve areas are located away from the mail food prep area and are equipped with a mini refrigerator or refrigerator drawer to hold fruit and snacks, and a microwave at child-sized height for easy access.

Home design features like these can help today’s families stay organized as they go through their busy lives.

Return on Investment

Remodeling and replacement projects can add value to your home, but some projects recoup their costs better than others. According to Remodeling Magazine’s 2015 Remodeling Cost vs. Value Report, small and exterior projects return the most value on your money.

The project that offered the best value overall was a steel entry door replacement, which recouped 101.8 percent of its costs when the home was sold. The steel entry door is consistently the least expensive project named in the reporting, costing about $1,200 on average. The second best value is the addition of a manufactured stone veneer, which can recoup 92.2 percent of it’s original cost, but be prepared to invest at least $7,000 for the improvement.

Replacing a garage door can return 82.5 percent for an upscale project and 88.5 percent for a midrange project. Replacing your home’s siding with fiber cement will return 84.3 percent of the costs, while replacing vinyl siding recoups 80.7 percent. Adding a wood deck will return 80.5 percent and replacing wood windows earned 78.8 percent.

A minor kitchen remodel is a strong bet to add value to your home. An investment of $19,226 can return 79.3 percent of its costs. A major kitchen remodel recoups 67.8 percent and a bathroom remodel returns 70 percent.

To find out which home improvement projects bring the most value, give us a call!

Common Pests and Your Home

The list of new responsibilities can seem overwhelming when you buy a home or become a first-time homeowner. One responsibility that tends to get overlooked until it becomes a larger issue is that of household pests. A household pest is “a destructive insect or other animal that attacks” your home. Pests range throughout the U.S., but the most common pests are those that have become almost commonplace in our lives. Here are some of the most common pests encountered by homeowners throughout the U.S., and what you can
do to help prevent pests in your home.

Most common Spring and Summer Pests:

Termites:

Termites are generally grouped by their nesting and feeding habits: subterranean, soil-dwelling, dry wood, damp wood and grass-feeding. They feed on dead plant material, generally in the form of wood, leaves, soil and animal dung. Termites can cause significant structural damage to buildings. Those classified as subterranean and dry wood are those that are responsible for the damage to homes.

Ants:Ant

Ants are the most common household pests in the north central states. They are social insects, and they have a wide variety of nesting habits. Ants can build nests in soil, behind moldings, baseboards and counter tops, and some types nest in decaying or moisture damaged wood. Ants will feed on all types of food, and ant damage varies. Most ants cause little damage, but carpenter ants can weaken wood structures similar to termites, and the majority of ants don’t transmit diseases.

Flies:

Large fly on a green leafFlies are some of the most annoying pests in the home. They land on almost every surface, and their diet includes a wide variety of foods: human food, animal food, animal carcasses, garbage and excrement. Flies also carry germs and diseases. They are known to transfer over 100 pathogens, some of which include salmonella, anthrax, tuberculosis, and the eggs of parasitic worms.
Spiders:

Spiders are generally not harmful and they do feed on other insects like flies and other spiders. Most spiders found in the home are not venomous, but there are some that homeowners don’t want to find inside their house. The Black Widow and Brown Recluse are two of the most talked about spiders homeowners do not want to find in their homes. Black Widows can be found throughout the U.S., and Brown Recluse are predominately found in the Midwestern States, most notably Oklahoma, Arkansas and Missouri. All spiders have the ability to travel to all states by ways of hiding in boxes, packages and produce.

Most Common Fall and Winter Pests:

Stink Bugs:
stinkbug
Stink bugs are found throughout the U.S., and most of the time homeowners don’t know they have an issue until early fall, when stink bugs turn up on the sunny side of homes where they can warm themselves. During the summer months stink bugs live outside, feeding on fruits, grains and other crops. During the colder months, stink bugs will hide inside walls or in attics and crawl spaces. These bugs get their name from the unpleasant odor they produce when they feel threatened.

Rodents:
Side View of Head Field Mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus)
Rodents are warm-blooded and are found throughout the U.S. The most common types of rodents are mice and rats. Both rapidly breed and are capable of squeezing through spaces that appear smaller than their bodies. Rodents seek warm shelter in the cold months, particularly mice, who seek food, water and warmth within homes. Generally, if one rodent is found, many more are hiding nearby.

How to Avoid Pests:

Most home pests can be avoided by doing simple, everyday things. As a homeowner, make sure your doors and windows are closed, as these are the most common ways for pests to enter a home. Make sure window and door screens are in good repair or working order. By eliminating moisture buildup in small areas and basements you reduce the risk of creating hospitable environments for pests. Sealing openings in a home’s foundation will help reduce access to your home.

Trees harbor pests — by keeping tree branches trimmed and away from the home you deter pests (especially spiders) from having easy access to your home’s roof. Moisture attracts pests — direct rain water away from the home and foundation to prevent possible moisture buildup. If you have fire wood, store it at least 20 feet away from the house. Flies and other pests are attracted to garbage, so ensuring that garbage cans are sealed tight and all animal deposits are picked up will help reduce the risks of attracting pests into your home. The best deterrent to pests remains a clean, uncluttered home, where food, crumbs, and anything else that has the potential to attract pests is put away, covered or thrown away.

Alternative Energy and Your Home

 We all appreciate electricity — each one of us uses it in some capacity every day. Heating and cooling our homes is one of our top priorities, not only for our comfort but also for our safety. In recent years more and more information about alternative and green energies has become available to consumers. Green or alternative energy is energy that is produced from renewable resources: wind, water, or sunlight. Here are some of the most-readily available options for alternative energy systems offered to home buyers right now:

Solar Power

Solar power is “the power obtained by harnessing the energy of the sun’s rays.” This is done through solar panels and photo voltaic cells on the panels, which convert the sunlight into usable energy. Solar power is the most common and popular option for homeowners looking to take the first step toward alternative energy. Solar uses the power of the sun, so this option is best for homes or properties located in areas where sunlight is strong year-round. There are three types of solar panel systems: On-Grid Battery Systems, which are connected to the grid but also contain batteries that can store excess energy; On-Grid Systems without batteries – these are more simple and easier to install, but if the power goes out in the area the system will shut off; and Off-Grid Systems, which are not tied to the electricity grid and generate all their power independently.

At the current moment, solar power accounts for three-tenths of one percent of the total energy consumed in the U.S. (instituteforenergyresearch.org/). For those who live in year-round sunny climates – California, Arizona, Hawaii, etc. – a solar panel system can pay for itself in as little as three years (judithcurry.com).

Wind Power

Another popular alternative energy option that has been seen throughout the U.S. is wind power. Wind power is the “power obtained by harnessing the energy of the wind.” Modern wind power uses wind turbines to harness wind’s kinetic energy, which is then turned into electricity. There are different types of wind power: Utility-scale, which are the large wind turbines seen on the side of hills– these are larger than 100 kilowatts and deliver electricity directly to the power grid; Distributed, which are smaller turbines, 100 kilowatts or less, and these deliver electricity directly to a home or small business. There are also offshore wind turbines, but these are mostly found outside the U.S. At the current moment, the U.S. receives about 4.1 percent of its electricity from wind power (www.awea.org/).

Wind power is an excellent option for those who live in areas where there is a good source of wind all year long. Initially, wind power systems can be expensive, and the turbine prices vary depending on the type, manufacturer and the area you live in. Many people look to the advantages of wind power over the initial investment – utility bills are cut and the homeowner has control of knowing how his/her energy is generated, and there are generally federal tax credits available to those who buy a wind power system.

Geothermal Power

Geothermal power is “the heat from the Earth.” Geothermal power takes advantage of the earth’s natural heat. Geothermal energy is harnessed in two ways: tapping extremely hot temperatures via steam at great depths, or the use of moderate temperatures at shallow depths (http://instituteforenergyresearch.org/). In almost all parts of the U.S., the shallow ground (upper 10 feet of the Earth’s surface) maintains a nearly constant temperature of 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit. To use this naturally occurring heat, consumers can install a geothermal heat pump. The pump utilizes air or antifreeze liquid in pipes. The liquid or air is pumped through the pipes, which are buried underground, and comes back into the building. In summer, when the temperatures are hotter above ground, the liquid or air moves heat from the building into the ground; in the winter, when temperatures are colder, the pipes pump pre-warmed air or liquid into the building. Geothermal power is also a renewable energy that can supply continuous power (www.ucsusa.org/)

Geothermal systems can be expensive to set up, with estimates into the low $40,000s. There are tax credits available, which can cover 30% of the total cost of a new geothermal system. Geothermal systems last about 20 years before needing new parts, and over the course of a 20 year lifespan, these systems can save homeowners upwards of $60,000 in electricity costs (www.esquire.com/).

 

The U.S. relies heavily upon fossil fuels for its energy sources. Currently, 82 percent of U.S. energy demand is met by fossil fuels (coal, petroleum (oil) and natural gas) while the other 18 percent is met by renewable energy and nuclear energy (instituteforenergyresearch.org/). Electricity is a vital part of the U.S. economy, and it helps a household run every day. Homeowners have options in every facet of their lives, and energy is no different. Fossil fuels are a finite resource – exploring other options available to homeowners not only opens up access to other technologies and ideas, but it also helps the Earth. Alternative energy also presents more reliable and efficient energy sources. When a homeowner or consumer gets more reliance and efficient energy, more money is saved in the long run, making for a happy, safe and sustainable home.

End of Year Market Recap

New Year’s greetings from your RE/MAX real estate specialist! I wanted to share with everyone my End-of-Year Market Recap for the Berks County Real Estate Market.

Overall the market in Berks County was steady and active in 2014. Although off to a slow start in January and February, closed and pending sales were up 5% and 7% respectively from this time last year. Interest rates are still amazing. Not sure how the market will react once interest rates actually rise.

● Pending sales in 2014 were 4,046, up 7%. Fairly decent numbers
● Closed sales in 2014 were 3,930. Up 5% from 3,730 in 2013
● Days on the market was down to 93. Slightly better than 2013
● We are at 8.2 months of inventory. This is the best it’s been in a few years…
● Currently 2,624 homes for sale in Berks County. Down from 2,752 this time in 2013

I often hear the question, ‘why aren’t Berks County homes appreciating like some areas?’. In 2014 the first-time buyers just weren’t there. I believe that continues to slow the ‘move up’ market. The forecast is that the first-time buyers will show up in 2015! We will keep an eye on it.

New Year To Dos for Your Home

With the start of a new year, it’s always a good idea to assess your home and its needs. Taking stock of appliances, home systems, and other items that make a house a home will help guide you to home improvements needed, appliances that may be near the end of their lives, and any other updates that can help to boost your home’s worth. Listed below are major home systems to evaluate in the new year to help give you peace of mind.

Cleaning inside heating floor vent with Vacuum CleanerHVAC

In the winter and summer months a home’s HVAC (heating, ventilating, and air conditioning) systems are put to good use. January is the perfect month to replace disposable filters or wash permanent ones in your home’s HVAC or humidifier systems. Filters should be regularly replaced or washed when use is high or during peak seasons.

The start of a new year is an excellent time to vacuum all heat vents, especially those that are located on the floor. The vents are overly susceptible to dust, dirt, pet hairs, and other particles that float through the air. Vacuuming heat ducts helps clean your home’s HVAC system and can help with any problems brought on by indoor pollutants, mold, pollen or anything else that finds its way into an air duct. Vacuuming has also been known to help with any heating or cooling issues related to clogged air ducts. January is also a good time to check for any leaks in your home’s forced air heat ducts. If any are found, seal the leaks with duct tape.

Smoke Alarms and Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors save lives. Checking alarms and Smoke and a carbon monoxide alarmdetectors is especially important when cold temperatures in the winter leave homes closed up. This month inspect, clean and test your smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors, and be sure to replace any that are faulty, no longer working or old.

Fire ExtinguisherFire Extinguishers

Very few homeowners actually have to use a fire extinguisher; many times these important tools get overlooked for maintenance. January is a great time to inspect and charge any working fire extinguishers you may have in your home. Fire extinguishers should also be placed in all accessible areas of the home where fires are more likely to occur: kitchens, garages or areas that house furnaces, boilers, fireplaces and stoves.

Fire Evacuation Plan

Do you have a plan in place in case of a fire in your home? January is the perfect Clipboard with Emergency Evacuation Plan beside Exit Doortime to form a fire evacuation plan. Go over the plan with anyone who might live with you, and if you have kids dedicate a time to have a practice fire drill. Should your home’s bedrooms be on a second or third floor, invest in a fire escape ladder, many of which can be found at your local hardware store.

Leaking Windows and Electrical Outlets

With winter setting in, finding the weak points in your home will not only help keep your home warm, but it will also help cut down on heating bills. Identify any windows that may have broken seals by looking for condensation on the inside of the window. Examine electrical outlets throughout your home for any drafts, and insulate those that may be letting in cold air.

Check and Test GFCI Outlets

Ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCI) are a must have in your home. These Ground fault receptaclespecial outlets protect people from electric shock by monitoring the amount of current flowing through the outlet. If there is an imbalance of current, the outlet trips the circuit of the appliance, cutting off the electricity. You can test GFCI outlets with a circuit tester that has its own GFCI test button. GFCIs do wear out, and their lifespan is about 10 years. Replace GFCIs that no longer function properly — these outlets save thousands of lives each year.

Many homeowners have home safety and preparedness at the top of their priority list, and the New Year stands as the perfect time to discover what improvements and fixes your home will need in the coming months. Other items to look at in a new year:

  • If you’re in an area that is known to have inclement weather, make sure you have proper snow removal equipment and have alternative energy options in case of power outages
  • January is also a great month for reviewing warranties and product information on a furnace, large appliances, and any other big ticket items in the home

Preventative maintenance will not only save you money and keep your home safe, but houses that do not keep up with maintenance have been known to lose up to 10% to 12% off their appraised value. The US Census has estimated that annual maintenance can cost between 1% and 3% of a home’s initial costs dependent upon the geographic location of the home. With the New Year, getting a head start on yearly to dos, and anticipating yearly maintenance, will put you ahead of the issues and have you prepared for any upcoming and unforseen fixes.