Make Unpacking a Breeze

Although many people don’t find unpacking nearly as stressful as packing, it can be tedious. Make the process less of a chore by following these tips before you move.

  1. Clean before you move in. While the previous owners may have cleaned when they left, give your new home a thorough cleaning to ensure it is move-in ready for you. Also, take the time to stock the bathrooms with toilet paper and put snacks and paper towels in the kitchen. You’ll be glad you did when it’s moving day.
  2. Store hardware for furniture, curtain rods, etc. in sandwich bags. If you disassemble any furniture, this ensures you don’t lose any screws or important pieces. Tape the bags to the underside of the furniture.
  3. Take photos that show how your electronics are connected. If you’ve tossed the instructions to your gadgets, taking photos of the back of your television, stereo or computer will help you match each cord to the correct plug.
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How to Move with Children and Pets

Moving with children and pets can be stressful. Since they thrive on routine, breaking it will often cause them to act out, especially when they’re younger. Make it easier with the following tips:

  1. Start preparing them ahead of time. For children, have a question-and-answer conversation about where you’re moving and why. While older children will understand right away, younger ones may not. For toddlers and younger school-aged children, discuss the move with them several times. For children of all ages, give them a time frame for the move so they can get used to the idea and prepare to wind down their school and athletic activities.
  2. Visit the new area. Take your children and pets to parks and trails located near the new house. Visit your children’s new school and pick up flyers for activities offered through the school or local recreation center to get them excited about the new area. Visit the local dog park to meet your neighbors and fellow pet owners while allowing your pet to meet other dogs in the community, too.
  3. Include the children in the moving process. Give them age-appropriate tasks to help with the move, from moving light boxes to packing their own rooms. Getting them actively involved will give them some ownership of the move and make them feel more comfortable and in control of their circumstances.
  4. Hire a sitter. Having someone watch your children or pets the day of the move will ensure you can pack and load the truck safely and efficiently. Knowing your little ones and furry friends may be stressed,anticipate that your sitter’s duties may be intensified and plan ahead. Provide plenty of meal options and treats to keep everyone nourished and happy. For after meals and during drives, make sure your sitter has favorite game and toys to keep the group entertained.
  5. Reward everyone’s hard work. Give everyone something to look forward to after the move. Go out for a nice meal and take time to relax in your new home for the remainder of the day. Give your pet their favorite treat or take them for a nice walk.

Make Moving Easier

Spring and summer are busy times in the real estate market. Although many people look forward to having a fresh start in a new place, they may be anxious about the moving process itself. Here are a few tips to help make it easier.

  1. Lighten up. Whether you’re hiring movers or renting a truck and getting help with the heavy lifting, it pays to lighten the load of stuff you plan to move. Now is the time to go through your belongings and be intentional about your goal – if it’s broken, underused or you don’t see yourself needing it in the future, it’s time to donate it. If you don’t use it now, chances are you won’t use it at your new home.
    • Sell or donate unused items that are still in good condition. Sites like Craigslist and eBay, or apps like Letgo, allow you to sell your items easily. Start the process at least a month before your moving date. Similarly, look into local charities that accept donations and be sure to get a receipt if you plan to write it off on your taxes
    • Recycle items that are broken or worn out. Call a junk removal service to responsibly dispose of items that should not end up in our landfills.
  2. Take breaks. One of the reasons people find moving so stressful is they’re overwhelmed by all of the tasks that need to get done. While trying to stay on top of everything, it’s easy to forget to take breaks and eat. Taking a break will give you the energy you need to recharge before you tackle the next room or task.
    • Pack a bag of snacks to munch on during the day, and don’t forget to stay hydrated by drinking lots of water.
    • Set an alarm halfway through the day to take a meal break. Order pizza or sandwiches, especially if you have others helping out.
    • If you find yourself getting anxious, take a few minutes to breathe. Repeat a mantra that helps you focus and calms your spirit.
  3. Pack smart. Be mindful of what you are packing and when you pack it to ensure your valuables are not lost or broken.
    • Start early. The earlier you start packing, the better you’ll be able to organize and prioritize your items. If you know you’re not going to use it until after you move, pack it away.
    • Pack by room and number your boxes. In a notebook or app, write what’s in each box (e.g., Box 5 Kitchen: utensils, blender, crock pot). Take it a step further and pick up colored stickers from an office store to color-code each box by room.
    • Pack valuable items yourself. After all, only you can give them the extra care they need to survive the move in one piece. Use bubble wrap or wrap items in soft linens or clothing, such as pillow cases and bedding, towels and t-shirts.
    • Will you need certain items right away, such as toiletries, work clothes or home office items? Pack them in clear plastic bins. This saves you from having to open all of your boxes to find what you need. Label as “open first.”

Questions to Ask at an Open House

Open houses are an excellent way to view a property on a whim. They provide an opportunity to look through the property, and they give buyers a chance to get up close and personal, to glean as much information as they can about the property. If you’re on a search for a new home, and you are looking to attend some open houses, here is a list of important questions to ask while there.

“What is the neighborhood like?”

An experienced agent will know and be able to provide information on the neighborhood if asked, and an open house is a great opportunity to ask. Not only are things like safety of the neighborhood, local schools and amenities important, you can also get information on things only locals will know: how the local traffic is during rush hour (and how noisy it is), if there are any parks nearby, if the community is friendly, etc. Don’t be afraid to ask, and if you get a vague answer, it might be worthwhile to ask a neighbor if you get the chance.

“What’s the interest like?”

Open houses are a great way to judge the popularity of a property, as the number of people present can be a good indicator of interest (although some of those people could be neighbors or people looking with no intent of buying). Asking the agent about the interest on a property is one way to judge any competition from other potential buyers. You can ask the agent about any current interest: if the response is vague, ask if there have been any offers. Tons of interest doesn’t necessarily mean many quality offers. It’s also important to check to see how long the property has been on the market, and if there are offers, ask if any are contingent.

“How much are utilities?”

Utilities make up a large part of a monthly budget, and for some buyers, utility costs may be higher in a new area than in their current property (especially if a renter is looking to buy). When attending an open house, ask the agent how much the monthly utilities cost the current owner. Also find out if the neighborhood or complex has an HOA: how much the monthly fees are, what they cover, and how often the fees are assessed. It’s up to the HOA to decide what the fees go toward, but for many HOAs the fees cover basic maintenance of the community, municipal services (trash removal, water and sewage), and lawn care or maintenance of any shared outdoor spaces (a community greenway or park). If the property is in an exceptional community, it could cover a clubhouse, community pool, fitness center and more (but with these additional items monthly HOA fees can be in the hundreds).

“How motivated is the seller?”

Buyers have specific needs when it comes to housing. They may be renters looking to buy and have a date when their current lease ends; they may already own a property and have an offer on their current home; or they could be living with family or friends and looking to buy something as soon as possible. At an open house, ask the agent how motivated the seller is. If the seller wants to be out of the property as soon as possible, he or she may be more willing to negotiate when it comes to offers. If they’re not motivated, or are hoping for a long closing, they may not be as interested in negotiations.

“Have there been any recent improvements?”

As a buyer, you want to know if a property has had recent upgrades or any construction done on it. Not only will this tell you what may or may not need to be replaced or upgraded after purchase, it also lets you know if the current owner has taken care of the property. You’ll be able to spot new appliances or modern cosmetic changes, but as a buyer you won’t be able to tell if the furnace is on the fritz, how old the electrical system is, or anything else that may be ‘hidden’ in the property. If any recent additions or large renovations have taken place, you’ll know to ask if the proper permits were obtained from the city, county or other government agency prior to the start of the work.

Sometimes buyers get caught up in the opportunity to look through a house during an open house and forget to use the time to ask important questions. Before you embark on your open house tours, remember your list of questions, as they’ll certainly help you make a decision on whether to pursue a property further or move on to the next one.

Taxes and Your Home or Property

 With the U.S. tax season still so fresh in our minds, as homeowners we are reminded of all the taxes we pay on our properties. But what exactly are property taxes? Are there any tax breaks for homeowners? Below you will find useful tax information that may help you should you own a property or plan on buying one this year.

Property Tax

Property tax (also called millage tax) is specifically a levy on the value of a property. Property tax can be levied by a number of governing authorities: the national government, a state, county, geographical region or municipality. In the United States, it’s very likely that your property will be taxed by a number of jurisdictions, most likely by your local governments (city or town, and the county you live in – but this is specific to each state). With multiple jurisdictions taxing a property, property tax is generally referred to as property taxes because of the combination of taxes. Property taxes are calculated based on an appraisal of the monetary value of a property. For Americans, property taxes go toward supporting local schools/education, police/fire services, local governments, local infrastructure and even possibly free medical services.

Most states determine their property tax rates based on their independent state budgets, and the tax is generally paid in portions when homeowners pay their local real estate tax. Local taxes are made up of county and municipality (city or town with a local government) levies, and they’re based on the assessed real estate value of a property. These taxes generally go to pay for the local infrastructure, public services, and city/county operation and administration costs. Property taxes also include school tax, regardless of whether or not a homeowner has children in local schools. School tax goes to local school districts and helps pay for public education (land and buildings, teacher salaries, textbooks, administration expenses), and depending upon where you live, school tax may even go to local community colleges.

While property taxes can be a real hit to a homeowner’s pocketbook, there are tax deductions specifically available to property owners.

Tax Deductions for Homeowners

While all homeowners pay property taxes, they also have the ability to claim valuable tax breaks specifically related to property ownership. Be advised: it is always best to get help and have your questions answered by a tax professional who is up-to-date on all current U.S. tax codes.

Property Taxes

Property taxes are eligible for a tax deduction on your personal taxes. If you purchased a home, you can also include any taxes you reimbursed the seller for (unless they were delinquent). But be forewarned: property taxes can only be deducted if you itemize your tax return. For many homeowners, property tax payments will be included in your monthly loan payment, so you should receive an annual statement that will have the total property taxes you have paid over the year.

Mortgage Interest

Again, this deduction is available if you itemize your return, but in the U.S. if you own a home, condominium, co-op, mobile home, or boat/recreational vehicle that you use as a residence you can deduct the interest you pay on your mortgage. You should get a 1098 from your mortgage lender, which will state the total mortgage interest paid for the year.

Points

Did you buy a home or are you going to buy a home this year? If you plan on having a mortgage loan, you can deduct any points (also called discount points) you may pay directly to the lender in exchange for a reduced loan rate. You are allowed to deduct the points the year you paid them if: the loan is for a primary residence; was used to buy, improve or build a home; you live in an area where paying points is common; the buyer’s settlement statement clearly outlines the points; and the amount of cash you put toward the purchase of the home is at least equal to the amount charged for the points on the loan. If you refinance your mortgage loan you may also be eligible, but check with a tax professional to make sure.

Energy Credits

For the 2016 tax year the federal government offered two energy tax credits: the Residential Energy Efficiency Property Credit and the Nonbusiness Energy Property Credit. The credits are available to homeowners that improved the energy efficiency of their properties by either installing alternative energy technologies (solar, wind, geothermal, or fuel-cell) or through upgrading current home equipment or materials to be more energy efficient. If you are thinking about upgrading some of your home’s systems to alternative energy sources, or you want to update your windows, insulation, water heater, furnace or central air system to a more energy efficient technology, you may be able to claim a tax credit for the improvements (it is best to have a tax professional determine your eligibility for this credit should you make the improvements).

Casualty Losses

Casualty losses are property damages during the year that are sudden, unexpected or unusual – anything from a car crashing into your property to a hurricane, tornado, or even vandalism. There is a process to go through, but casualty loss deductions can be used when your insurance company does not reimburse you for the damage, and the loss deduction has to exceed 10% of your adjusted gross income, so it is not for minor issues. If you find your property has major damage, and you are hit with a large out-of-pocket payment toward it, you may be eligible for a casualty losses deduction on your taxes.

Taxes can be confusing, especially when you are a homeowner. If you have any questions, contact a tax professional who is knowledgeable on all property tax deductions and credits available to homeowners.

 

Historic Homes and Properties

For many Americans, the lure of historic homes is sometimes pretty strong. Many home decor shows and publications sell the idea of an updated historic home as an attainable real estate goal. The reality is that historic homes do have a certain charm that is hard to find in modern construction, and many of the small details of historic homes (wainscot paneling, decorative crown molding and more) have been introduced into current architectural design but with modern twists.

Even though historical design elements are easily obtained in modern properties, real historic homes still draw buyers and history enthusiasts alike. Depending on your location in the United States, certain areas have many more historic homes available than others, and certain geographic areas are prided on their historic homes and properties. For a property or home to be considered historic, it needs to meet a number of criteria set by the National Register of Historic Places, otherwise it’s just an ‘old’ property. Whether you’re specifically looking for a designated historic home, or yearning for the charm and character of an old home, there are things you need to know before you sign the sale papers.

Historic Districts

Many historic and old homes are located within a city’s historic district. While there are plenty of old homes not in historic districts, if you choose to purchase a home within one, you may run into some issues when it comes to changes you would like to do to the property. This means homes within historic districts usually have to abide by a set of criteria for exterior updates (meaning paint colors, window types, etc.). While this could seem limited in terms of expression, the bright side is that other homes and properties have to abide by the same rules, meaning all homes will have similar exterior features. It’s also important to note that it’s more likely a state or local historic registry will have restrictions – districts on the National Register of Historic Place do not have restrictions.

Renovations

Historic homes and properties have stood the test of time, and rightly so as they are generally structurally sound. But this is not the case for all of them, and time does do a number of things to a property. If you have a dream of buying a shabby historic home and updating it, practice caution. Updating, renovating or remodeling historic or old homes can be a huge budget buster, especially if the property is in ruin or hasn’t been taken care of over the years (or centuries). A steady income or large budget may be needed depending on the amount of work to be done; it is also possible to receive a grant or tax program though a state historic preservation office, but not all states offer such programs.

Historic homes can also come with historic or out-of-date construction materials: bad electrical wiring, outdated plumbing, smaller doorways or alcoves that won’t accommodate modern appliances and furniture, lead paint, asbestos, and a number of other things. If you’re not ready to potentially address all of these issues, an old or historic home might not be the best choice for you.

Restrictions

Restrictions can come in a number of forms, from limits on renovations to financing. Very rarely are additions allowed on historic homes, and windows, shutters and roofs generally have to embody the original design style of the property. Living in a historic neighborhood can mean higher taxes than a regular neighborhood, and sometimes it can be difficult to get a general mortgage loan for a historic or old home (especially if it’s in need of many repairs). Home insurance can also be hard to come by, as the home may need many costly repairs or replacements of historic elements that might not be easily attainable. If the home is not on a state or local historic registry, it’s generally easier to get home insurance if an owner can update the property as they see fit.

Old and historic homes are something to cherish in our country. They are a testament to often forgotten time periods, and for many history enthusiasts their story, and their architecture, stand as a reminder for today’s generations of what once was in the U.S. If you have a yearning for a historic home, take some time to research your local historic property market and talk to other historic home owners to understand all that goes into these beautiful properties.

Home Emergency Preparedness

 Many of us in the U.S. might be conscious of natural disasters happening, but we might not realize that they can happen to us. Depending on where you live in the U.S., the risk of a natural disaster occurring is fairly slim. Whether it’s a flood, blizzard, wildfire, tornado, tsunami, hurricane or earthquake, owning a home or property (or even being a renter) should prompt you to have an emergency preparedness plan, first aid kit and survival kit readily available in your home or vehicle in case of a natural disaster or unforeseen emergency.

Be Informed

As a property owner or renter the first thing you should do is be informed about the type of disasters or emergencies that have occurred in your area. If you live on the west coast, there is an active threat of earthquake and perhaps a volcanic eruption if you’re in the Pacific Northwest. If you live on the southern east coast, the threat of hurricanes or tropical storms is yearly. Certain parts of the Midwest and south are prone to tornadoes. Knowing the type of disaster that could strike your area is important as it can dictate how you and your family react.

Another important part of being informed is knowing how you’ll be notified by local authorities if disaster hits. For your own benefit, having a radio (battery operated) on hand may be very useful. Many agencies will communicate via local radio, local television channels and NOAA Weather Radio stations. While many of us depend on our computers or mobile devices for our news and information, electricity cannot be guaranteed when disaster hits, so having battery operated electronics can help keep you and your family up to date on what’s happening around you.

It’s also important to be informed about your community – are there certain protocols in place in case of disasters? If you live in an area prone to tornadoes, does the community have an alert system for residents? If you live in a coastal town, are there evacuation routes in place in case of a tsunami? When you move to a new area, become acquainted with the community’s disaster response protocols and inform anyone else in your household of what to do if disaster strikes.

Be Prepared

If you live in a household with other adults or children, an important part of being prepared for an emergency is having emergency contact cards available to those you live with. These cards have contact information for all members of the household (such as home, work, school and cell phone numbers) and they can list pertinent health information for certain people (such as drug or food allergies) that may be needed in an emergency situation. It is also important to make sure all occupants old enough know how to contact 911 as well as the Fire Department, the Police or Sheriff’s Department, immediate utilities, and poison control. As a homeowner or renter, ensure everyone who is able knows how to turn on and off any gas lines, electricity, water, irrigation water and propane tanks in or outside the home/property.

Another important aspect of being prepared is having supplies on hand in the event of an emergency. An emergency preparedness kit can take many shapes, but the most important items are basic supplies: water: one gallon per person, per day (for a home it’s suggested to have a 2-week supply on hand); food: non-perishable and easy-to-prepare (again, for a home a 2-week supply is suggested); a flashlight and battery-powered or hand-crank radio (with extra batteries); a first aid kit; a 7-day supply of any medications; and any other supplies that might be deemed essential to one’s household. It’s also a great idea to make sure all of your smoke alarms, carbon monoxide detectors and fire extinguishers are in good working order on a regular basis.

More often than not, disaster doesn’t strike an entire community or city, and many times the threats are predictable (a home fire, gas leak, etc.). Because of this, being prepared for all emergencies might not be a top priority within a household. As homeowners, renters or property owners, the last thing we want to happen is to be caught off guard by something that could have been prepared for. In the case of natural disasters or home emergencies, this means being prepared in advance. Should disaster strike, it’s very unlikely help will immediately appear. Do yourself a favor and have an emergency plan in place. Disaster may not strike, but if it does, you’ll certainly be ready to react to whatever comes your way.