Although Munich’s 2015 Oktoberfest ended on October 4th, for those of you who missed it, or would just enjoy celebrating the German tradition a bit closer to home, Bethlehem’s Oktoberfest is definitely a fun and festive alternative. The festivities start Friday night and extend through Sunday. Check it out!
Experience a free, authentic German Oktoberfest with a special Pennsylvania flair. Highlighting the event is the giant Yuengling Festhalle tent at PNC Plaza, featuring German food, beer and polka, rock and party bands.
Found this great “primer” article on Hummingbirds and how to attract them to your garden. The article features all the species in the Americas (did you know Hummingbirds are unique to the Americas?), but in our region, we only have Ruby-Throated’s. My family and I get so much pleasure out of watching the behavior of these dazzling little jewels on my farm. They’re really amazing. So . . . read about them, feed them and enjoy them!
Check out the Halloween Safety Tips below. The Tips are offered in a catchy graphic form that you can print out for your kids to read or post on your social media “Bulletin Boards.” And remember . . . light up the night, have fun and be safe on Halloween.
This fun graphic on Trick-or-Trick-Safety is courtesy of Delaware Valley University, a great community “treasure” that we are fortunate to have in our own backyard. Check out their calendar of events http://www.delval.edu/events/calendar for more information.
Sat, September 19, 2015 to Sun, September 20, 2015
The Annual Scarecrow Festival is a weekend of fall family fun including scarecrow-making workshops, pumpkin pie-eating contests, pumpkin painting, live musical entertainment and children’s activities.
Pumpkin Painting on the Street Road Green until pumpkins run out!
Saturday- Starting at 10am
Sunday- Starting at 11am
Fundraiser by CB East Marching Band
Stroll among the colorful scarecrows on display in the Annual Scarecrow Competition and Display, then pick up a ballot and vote for your favorites! Scarecrows will be on display until November 1st.
10am – 6pm
Free Admission and Parking
Our annual Scarecrow-Making Workshops on the Street Road Green have been a family favorite for years. Step by step instructions and building materials are included in the workshop fee. Choose from a variety of clothing, decorations and plenty of straw to construct your very own life-size scarecrow to take home. Call (215) 794-4000 to learn about workshop sign ups. We still have weekend availability!
Trying to decide which Town(ship) in Bucks best fits your budget for your next home? Use the handy map below to compare 2014’s average Single Family Home sale prices by municipality.
This boldly colored map is so informative at-a-glance. I love to share it with Buyers and Sellers!
If you have any more questions about properties in Bucks County, just give me a call.
Copyright 2014 Relocation and Referral Centre. All Rights reserved.
Located close to the center of the County, Bedminster is among its most scenic Townships. The gentle, rolling hills, fertile farmland and abundant woodlands appealed to settlers in the 18th and 19th centuries, and continue to attract home buyers today.
While dairy farming was the major occupation in earlier times, Bedminster boasted many businesses and trades including creameries, taverns, mills, general stores, butchers, cigar makers, shoemakers, saddlers and harness makers, and tinsmiths. Today, many of the historic structures that housed these businesses still exist, as do some of the taverns, schools and post offices. Bedminster still has a fair share of working farms scattered throughout its 31.1 square miles, allowing the Township to retain its much-loved bucolic, rural nature.
Loux Covered Bridge
Among Bedminster’s many landmarks and important sites are the Stover-Myers Mill, in a 21-acre county park and the Loux Covered Bridge, built in 1874, both listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Ralph Stover State Park has 45 acres of scenic vistas, walking trails, picnic areas and the “High Rocks” section, beloved by experienced rock climbers who scale the 200-ft sheer rock face. The Nockamixon State Park covers over 5,000 acres along the northern edge of the Township. The park with its Lake Nockamixon is a popular recreation destination for boating, fishing, hiking, hunting, cycling and hiking. An environmental study area includes 3.5 miles of hiking trails.
In past centuries, Bedminster’s residents lived on farms or in one the five villages located at the junctions of old roads. These villages – Pipersville, Bedminster, Deep Run, Elephant and Kellers Church – continue to be home to residents who trace their roots back to the early settlers, as well as newer home owners who have found the vintage, character-rich structures so alluring.
The open, flat land that worked so well for farming is also highly prized by builders, and though still essentially rural, between 2005 and 2011, at least 7 new developments were built: Bedminster Crossing, Bedminster Hunt, Bedminster Square, Cliffside, and Wickham. These communities are singles, townhouses, and a mix of both. Bedminster Square, a community of town houses and single-family homes and 50 acres of open space, dates to 2005. The singles range from 2,400 to 3,100 square feet and command prices up to the mid $400,000s. The town houses are 1,900 to 2,400 square feet with prices between August 2014 and August 2015 from $285,000 to $324,000.
A 30 unit development on 70 acres, Estates at Deep Run Creek is newer with luxury, estate-style homes on 1+ acres with wooded or clear home sites. The prices here are mostly in the mid $500,000 range, up to mid $600,000’s.
An older community of twins, singles and townhomes, Stonebridge was built in the mid to late 1980s. The prices of these relatively small homes range from $125,000 to $206,000. In the last year, between August 2014 and August 2015, only two relatively-new properties sold between $685,000 and $715,000. Both homes had over 4,000 sq. ft., and one was in Peerless View, a small development of custom, luxury homes on median lot sizes of 3.5 acres with more than 4,000 square feet of living space.
Over the past several years, a handful of estate properties with stone farmhouses and beautiful barns have sold for over $1 million, and a few very special “Gentleman’s Farms” have sold for around $1.3 million.
This weekend, there’s another fun and interesting event in Bucks County – it’s the annual antique show in Tinicum Park. This is my home neighborhood, it’s a gorgeous park, and I’ve scored some great “antique finds” there. Happy antiquing!
Join us September 12-13 for the 24th annual Doylestown Arts Festival! Our 2-day juried festival features some of the best culture and art in the area. Our festival is free to the public and runs from 10am-5pm each day. Featuring over 160 artists, 5 stages of live music, a food court, activities and more this is not a weekend to miss! The Thompson Bucks County Classic bike races will also be held on Sunday around the festival. Come out and enjoy the biggest weekend in Bucks County!
Where: Doylestown Bucks County 19 N Main Street, Doylestown, PA 18901
Come see The World Famous Budweiser Clydesdales in Doylestown, Bucks County
Great event for the entire family – 30+ Restaurants and Bars – Shopping and Plenty of Parking. The Clydesdales route will Include State Street and South Main Street. – See more at: http://gretzbeer.com/event/budweiser-clydesdales-in-doylestown/#sthash.TDy3SX0d.dpuf
Located in the northeast quadrant of Bucks County, Bridgeton Township was named for the old arch and truss wood covered bridge that once spanned the Delaware River between the village of Upper Black Eddy and Milford, NJ. Part of neighboring Nockamixon Township until 1890, Bridgeton is best known for its extensive riverfront, sheer rock cliffs, its many creeks and streams, state game lands and numerous regional and local parks. It is a small municipality, with 6.5 square miles of land and a population of under 1500.
The section of Delaware River that flows along Bridgeton’s shores is designated by the federal government as “Wild and Scenic,” and is considered a national treasure. The Delaware River, by the way, is the longest free-flowing river in the eastern United States.
Canoeing, kayaking and fishing are popular pastimes for the area’s many visitors, as well as for residents.
While the river itself draws people to Bridgeton, its river and canal fronts are equally impressive. At the boundary of Nockamixon and Bridgeton, there is a 3-mile formation of 500 ft. high crescent-shaped cliffs, called Narrowsville by locals and is sometimes referred to as the Pennsylvania Palisades. Legend has it that at one time buildings near the cliff did not receive direct sunlight for weeks at a time during the winter months due to the height of the cliffs and the density of the trees. In the 1930s, blasting for the then- new canal removed a great deal of those sun-blocking rocks and trees, though enough remain today to create breathtaking vistas.
As in most of Bucks County, tiny hamlets sprang up at the crossroads in the early years of its population. Narrows Creek, where Bridgeton and Nockamixon meet, was one such settlement. Today, it’s home to the Indian Rock Inn (circa 1812), a popular restaurant and bed & breakfast that offers banquet and party facilities, live music, art shows and other events. Their promotional material states, “Because of the extreme geography of our location, the view from your room is unique among the inns of Bucks County. Every room comes with a river view that is striking in any season” (<a title=”Indian Rock Inn” href=”http://www.indianrockinn.net/”>http://www.indianrockinn.net/</a>).
Another popular bed & breakfast is the Bridgeton House on the Delaware, which is the only bed & breakfast in the County situated directly on the Delaware River (<a title=”Bridgeton House Inn” href=”http://www.bridgetonhouse.com/”>http://www.bridgetonhouse.com/</a>). Located in the village of Upper Black Eddy next to the bridge to Milford – a newer metal bridge that replaced the old covered bridge which was swept away in a flood in 1903 – Bridgeton House was built in 1836 and has served as a general store, bakery, pool hall, real estate office and apartments. In 1981, its current owners restored the building uncovering vintage fireplaces and original floorboards. Today it is a popular overnight destination for honeymooners and other seeking a romantic Bucks County experience.
Upper Black Eddy was a busy place in the mid 19th century, with 40 homes, two inns and rafts on the river transporting lumber to mills downstream
Nearby is another Bridgeton village with the quaint name of Ruppletown, once the home of canal boatmen and their families. The hamlet had its own school until 1902.
One of Bridgeton Township’s most popular assets is the Ringing Rocks Park (<a title=”Ringing rocks park” href=”http://www.buckscounty.org/government/parksandrecreation/parks/RingingRocks”>http://www.buckscounty.org/government/parksandrecreation/parks/RingingRocks</a>). Located on the eastern side of the Township, Ringing Rocks is the site of the unusual geological formation that gives the park its name. Large and small rocks, when struck with a hammer, give off strange metallic sounds. In geologic terms, the park has a diabase boulder field, one of the largest in the eastern States. The boulder field formed during an ice age 10,000 to 1.8 million years ago. That those ancient boulders are what are now called the ringing rocks.
Though many people don’t realize it, the entire length of the Delaware Canal is a State Park. There are nearly four miles of the canal within Bridgeton Township, representing significant historic, scenic, recreational and natural resources. The canal towpath is a National Recreational Trail and is popular with walkers, serious hikers, bikers and sometimes people on horses or cross-country skis.
With a population of only 1500, Bridgeton does not have a large number of homes to begin with, so at any given time, few are on the market, all of them single family homes (with one 4-unit riverfront condo “community.”) In the last five years, 53 homes were sold ranging in price from $110,000 to the low-mid $500,000’s, with one home selling for $924,000. Eleven of the 53 properties were between 75 and 150 years old and include Cape Cods, farmhouses, Victorian-style and arts & crafts style homes. They are constructed of clapboard, brick, stone and stucco with a few remaining barns. Thirteen other homes were between 50 and 75 years old, eleven were between 25 and 50 years old and sixteen were newer than 25 years including ranch, bungalow, log and contemporary styles. The ages of half of those 16 homes were clustered between 10-15 years, at time of sale.
Children from Bridgeton Township attend the Palisades School District, which has three elementary schools, a middle school and high school. Some area children attend the River Valley Waldorf School which offers a curriculum based on ongoing study and insights into the children and their stages of development. In addition to traditional academic subjects, at this school “students engage in a wide range of other studies including foreign languages, handwork, physical education, eurhythmy and the full spectrum of arts with an aim toward social responsibility and healing the earth.”
Five stages of live music, two food courts, and over 160 artists will be featured at this year’s Doylestown Arts Festival.
The 24th annual event will take place on the weekend of September 12th and 13th.
The festival is a free event and will be held rain or shine.
The festival will host a juried selection of more than 160 artists. This year’s festival features everything from fine art and photography to wood, pottery, jewelry, apparel, recycled art, face painting and more. Plus, five stages of live music will feature solo acts, rock, pop, folk, big band and music for kids, according to organizers.
This year, the food court will be in two locations and selections will include traditional festival fare, vegetarian options, food trucks, desserts and more.
The main food court, which has 10 vendors, will remain at State and Hamilton streets. Two more vendors will be added to the lot at Pine and State streets, organizer said.
This year’s highlights:
The Michener Museum will provide hands on activities for kids
Berg Cart rides will be setup in the Pine Street parking lot
Pro and amateur cycling races will take place on Sunday
Holiday House will provide free doggie art at their booth
Live pottery, sewing and art demos will be featured throughout the weekend
CB Cares will provide music and art at a booth near State & Hamilton Streets
Community tables will be present featuring local businesses and non-profit groups
Free parking will be available for the general public at the County Parking Garage and other locations
The Doylestown Arts Festival is organized by volunteers at the Doylestown Alliance.
Doylestown’s Central Bucks HS West Ranked 473rd Best In America
Central Bucks HS West made the cut for the top 500 nationally. See who else was ranked among the best in the Keystone State.
Doylestown’s Central Bucks HS West Ranked 473rd Best In America
Just in time for the start of the school year, Newsweek released its annual list Wednesday of the top public high schools in America for 2015.
Pennsylvania had 21 schools on the list of the top 500 across the nation, led by Conestoga High School in Berwyn, which was ranked 51st.
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Central Bucks HS West was ranked 473rd.
Here are the top 10 high schools in the United States, according to Newsweek:
Thomas Jefferson High (Alexandria, VA)
High Technology High School (Lincroft, NJ)
Academy for Mathematics Science and Engineering (Rockaway, NJ)
Union County Magnet High School (Scotch Plains, NJ)
Bergen County Academies (Hackensack, NJ)
Gretchen Whitney High (Cerritos, CA)
Middlesex County Academy for Math Science & Engineering (Edison, NJ)
International Academy (Bloomfield Hills, MI)
Academy of Allied Health and Science (Neptune, NJ)
Walter Payton College Preparatory HS (Chicago, IL)
Nearby New Jersey has six of the top 10 public high schools in the country, while Virginia, Michigan, California and Illinois had one each. The list includes 500 schools.
Thomas Jefferson took the top spot for the second year in a row. High Technology High School rocketed to No. 2 from No. 185 last year.
Neither Academy for Mathematics Science and Engineering nor Bergen County made the list in 2014, while Union County dropped to the No. 4 spot from No. 2.
See the full rankings here.
In Pennsylvania, the southeastern part of the state was very well-represented on the list, with seven schools from Montgomery County, four schools from Chester County, four from Bucks County, and two from Delaware County making the top 500.
Council Rock School District turned in an especially impressive showing, with CR North ranking 111th and CR South placing 333rd.
Here’s the full list of the 21 best schools in the state, according to Newsweek:
51. Conestoga High School, Berwyn
64. Lower Merion HS, Ardmore
111. Council Rock HS North, Newtown
131. North Allegheny Senior High School, Wexford
134. Franklin Regional Senior High School, Murrysville
136. Jenkintown Middle/High School, Jenkintown
168. Garnet Valley HS, Glen Mills
188. Harriton Senior High School, Rosemont
201. Quaker Valley HS, Leetsdale
208. Upper Dublin HS, Fort Washington
234. Wissahickon Senior High School, Ambler
246. Peters Township High School, Mcmurray
290. Lower Moreland HS, Huntingdon Valley
333. Council Rock HS South, Holland
342. Owen J. Roberts HS, Pottstown
392. New Hope-Solebury HS, New Hope
420. West Chester East HS, West Chester
440. Haverford Senior High School, Havertown
454. Abington Heights HS, Clarks Summit
455. West Chester Bayard Rustin HS, West Chester
462. Downingtown HS East Campus, Exton
473. Central Bucks HS-West, Doylestown
The rankings were compiled using several metrics, including graduation rate, college enrollment rate, SAT and ACT scores, AP and IB scores and participation, teacher-student ratio and dropout rates.
“Some factors are more important, especially since our rankings focus on college readiness,” Jim Impoco, editor in chief of Newsweek, told Patch via email. “We place emphasis on criteria like college enrollment and graduation rate since we know that those are some of the biggest indicators of whether students are prepared for college.”
This year’s rankings were weighted by:
Enrollment Rate—25 percent
Graduation Rate—20 percent
Weighted AP/IB/Dual Enrollment composite—17.5 percent
Weighted SAT/ACT composite—17.5 percent
Change in student enrollment between 9th-12th grades, to control for dropout rates—10 percent
Counselor-to-Student Ratio—10 percent
“The top 20 schools on the ‘America’s Top High Schools’ are neck and neck. They all have perfect or near-perfect college enrollment and graduation rates,” Impoco said. “You start to see more variation as you look further down the list and also when you look at the factors that have less weight, like test scores.”
Published: January 24, 2013
By: Lisa Kaplan Gordon
This homeowner created kitchen storage out of thin air. Here’s how to create your own rolling pantry.
Space-saving can storage next to refrigerator
Mallory of Classy Clutter fit a rolling pantry in the 6-inch space between her refrigerator and wall. All images in this post: Classy Clutter
Finding hidden storage in the kitchen is always a treat. That’s why we’re sharing Classy Clutter’s rolling pantry, which gives slivers of space new purpose.
Mallory (half of the Classy Clutter team) built the portable pantry to fit the 6-inch space between her refrigerator and wall — a common underused place in many kitchens.
The neat thing about this project is that it’s adjustable. You can make it as big or small as you need. And it’s totally DIYable if you have basic skills with a drill, hammer, and screwdriver.
Here’s what else you’ll need:
Wood boards — Mallory used primed pine (about $15 per foot for 1-inch-by-4-inch)
Dowels to hold cans in place ($1.50 for 1/2-inch-by-4 feet)
Sheet of beadboard (75 cents per square foot)
4 casters ($3 each)
Handle or pull
Mallory has construction details, plus a handy diagram on her post about the project. Her rolling pantry was 64 inches high and 31.5 inches wide, and she only needed seven shelves. (Nine were on the plan.)
The other cool thing with this project is that you can jazz it up as much as you want. Mallory wanted the pantry to match her kitchen décor, so she spray-painted a blue-green chevron design on it, which made a really nice background for spices and soup cans.
Mallory says she got the idea on Pinterest. (We’ve been collecting other great ideas on our Perfect Pantry Projects page on Pinterest.)
lisa-kaplan-gordon Lisa Kaplan Gordon
is an avid gardener, a member of the Fairfax County Master Gardeners Association, and a builder of luxury homes in McLean, Va. She’s been a Homes editor for Gannett News Service and has reviewed home improvement products for AOL.
New project for a new year: Increase daylight and maybe even your home’s energy efficiency by opening a room to the sky
Houzz Contributor, designer, and LEED AP based in Northern Italy.
In the gloom of winter, seeing a bit of the sky from inside your home can often be quite soothing. Daylight not only can do wonders for our psychological comfort, but can also be used as part of an integrated design strategy for efficient and passive heat gain. That’s why a skylight can be invaluable.
To help you decide whether or not this is a good project for you to tackle this year, here are some considerations, along with how to get it done.
Contemporary Kitchen by David Churchill – Architectural Photographer
There are some important things to consider before selecting a skylight or light tube. Access to more sunlight can have profound effects on the efficiency of your home’s building envelope, or skin. It’s always best to assess your house from a whole-building design approach (read more about this concept on the National Institute of Building Sciences website).
In new constructions we have the liberty to consider daylighting from the initial design stages. Skylights can be an integrated part of the design of a house, allowing the interior to feel as though it’s connected with the exterior. The proportion of glass compared to the rest of the house can be calculated to reach certain energy-efficiency goals.
In a renovation, on the other hand, we have to consider what effect a new skylight will have on the efficiency of the existing building.
In some cases the additional sunlight (and therefore heat) can help reduce the amount of energy needed to heat the house. It depends greatly on the local climate, but also on the design of the building envelope of the house.
Rustic Dining Room by Sullivan Building & Design Group
Why install a skylight: For some people it’s as simple as wanting to get more light in the dark corners of the house without paying for electricity to illuminate them. For others skylights can also offer another way to get some fresh air in and let hot air escape in the summer.
It’s a good project for you if: You are working on your roof anyway or if you are adding on to your home. It’s also a great project for homes with zero lot lines or particularly close neighbors. It’s a way to let light in without sacrificing privacy.
Modern Kitchen by mark pinkerton – vi360 photography
Who to hire: If the energy efficiency of your home is important to you, you should start by hiring a green building professional to calculate the effect a skylight will have on your overall building envelope. If you want to skip right to installation, you’ll need a general contractor or roofer to give you a quote.
Whereas windows are usually sized individually as per the project and installed by the window company, a skylight is usually selected from a range of options, delivered in a box and installed by your general contractor. Most roofing companies also offer skylight and light tube installation as part of the package when they’re working on your roof.
Cost: Light tubes are on the cheaper end of the spectrum, starting at a few hundred dollars with installation. The more complex and the more energy efficient and high quality the skylight, the more expensive it will be. Fixed and manually operable skylights with installation can cost a couple of thousand dollars each; automated systems can cost up to $5,000 installed.
Much of the cost depends on the type of glazing and the type of frame. For example, skylights that are suitable for highly energy-efficient homes like Passive Houses are wood framed, certified for efficiency and triple glazed, and can even be clad in copper (as opposed to aluminum) on the exterior.
The cost for a light tube, on the other hand, is relative to the amount of piping and whether or not a combined electrical light system is being installed as well.
Typical project length: A skylight or light tube on its own doesn’t take too long to buy and install; you could make a nice little weeklong project out of it. If you are doing it as a part of a roof retrofit, however, it will be scheduled appropriately by the roofer as part of the overall work.
Best time to do this project: As a favor to your contractor, you should probably do it when the weather is nice, since he or she will have to be on the roof during installation.
Important notes: Any opening is a weak point in a home’s thermal envelope, and skylights and light tubes can be especially tricky because they are on the roof. While the glass itself can be selected to meet high energy-efficiency standards, it is much more difficult to find frames that have good insulating qualities. And, of course, any opening must be installed with super attention to detail, so you don’t end up with a big leak where heat can escape or cold can enter.
Transitional Sunroom by Kyle Hunt & Partners, Incorporated
First steps: If you’re not sure what kind of natural light you’d like to bring into your space, you may want to try out the Velux Daylight Visualizer. It’s free software that is very easy to use, and allows you to simply render a space with various Velux skylights to get a better understanding of what kinds of light they create.
Give your pup pride of place in your home with a bed built into a cabinet or under the stairs.
By Rachel Grace, Houzz Contributor, interior designer, homeowner and founding blogger…
I am a dog person. I cannot see myself ever living without a four-legged friend. I’m also a house person. I care very much about what my home looks like, how it’s presented and if it’s Houzz-worthy. Often I’m discouraged by the appearance of our big old boxer’s cedar-filled dog bed. It doesn’t scream well-designed home or attract humans (just dogs). And to be honest, until I compiled this ideabook it had never occurred to me that I could create an attractive nook for Tyson and his bed, but I’ve been inspired.
Designers, homeowners and pet owners across our country are creating built-in niches for their dogs and their beds. Often located in the mudroom or kitchen, these areas are out of the way of humans and accommodating for pups.
The THE BAND Band will pay tribute to The Band and celebrate original Band member Rick Danko’s birthday on Dec. 27. Danko, whose birthday was Dec. 29, passed away in 1999 at age 56.
While iconic The Band may be long gone from the stage, The THE BAND Band is keeping their sound and spirit alive and well with authentic, true-to-form renditions of the legendary repertoire. This group of veteran musicians showcases the breadth and depth of The Band’s distinctively original Americana music with classics such as Up on Cripple Creek, The Weight and The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, as well as deeper cuts from The Band’s vast catalog.
As the premier tribute to The Band, The THE BAND Band celebrates the intricacy and genius of The Band’s harmonies, preserving the spirit of their live performances, often including the addition of a four piece horn section. Drawing their set list from The Band’s seminal period – from Big Pink to The Last Waltz – they bring theses songs to life again.
Rex Fowler of renowned folk-rock duo Aztec Two-Step said, “Sadly we’ll never see or hear The Band perform live again, but if you want a close second and want to be transformed by the magic and spirit of The Band’s music….The THE BAND Band…delivers big time.”
The THE BAND Band takes the stage at 8 p.m.; doors open 7 p.m. at New Hope Winery, 6123 Lower York Road, in New Hope. Tickets are $25 and can be bought online or call 215-794-2331.
The Newtown Athletic Club is helping local families put this year’s holiday vacation to good use with free swimming lessons for kids between 3 1/2 and 12 years old!
Participants must be new swimmers to the NAC that have never taken swimming lessons there before or who have been out of swimming lessons at the NAC for at least one year. Read more about the aquatic programs at the NAC.
All participants must register by December 21st at the NAC programs desk or by calling 215-968-0600 ext. 112. Direct all questions to Justin at email@example.com.
Between shopping and celebrating with family and friends, don’t forget to attend some hometown events! To help you out, check out our guide for Thursday, December 11th, 2014 – Sunday, December 14h, 2014 below. We have included some of the best events happening in Bucks County this weekend. Also, make sure to check out more fun things to do on our sortablecalendar of events, 2014 Bucks County Holiday Guide, & restaurant guide.
Upper Southampton Township’s Dickens Holiday Open House
Tamanend Park Farmhouse, 1255 2nd Street Pike, Southampton, PA
6:00 – 9:00 PM
Watch the tree lighting ceremony while listening to carols. Come into the house and enjoy warm apple cider and homemade cookies. The children will have fun making snow globes and Mom and Dad can take chances to win some wonderful prizes. Enjoy a wagon ride. Bring your list because there will even be a visit from the jolly old man himself! Bring your camera to take a picture with Santa.
Bucks County Playhouse, 70 S. Main St, New Hope
The boys from FOREVER PLAID are back with their Christmas special featuring holiday standards like ‘Jingle Bells’, ‘Mele Kalikimaka’ and ‘The Dreidel Song’ in perfect, Plaid harmony! Don’t miss their three minute version of The Ed Sullivan Show with the Rockettes, the Chipmunks & the Vienna Boys Choir, or the Plaid Caribbean Christmas medley. Get ready for a new Bucks County Christmas tradition that’s toasty, cozy, musical holiday cheer at its funniest…. you’ll have the whole family singing long after the curtain comes down!
The chill of winter is in the air as Keith Baker and the BRT Concert Band, along with fabulous entertainers, take the stage to perform your favorite carols, classics and heartwarming songs. You won’t want to miss this opportunity to celebrate the holidays in style.
“Cheaper by the Dozen” is the story of the Gilbreth family and how they cope with some changes familiar to many families. The story follows members of a large and unique family whose father is one of the great pioneers of industrial efficiency. He applies his unorthodox methods to his large family, running his household like a factory. The results are terribly embarrassing, funny and—it must be admitted—extremely effective! Anne, the oldest, rebels; both Dad and she are upset by the lack of understanding between them. But there is a reason behind dad’s methods
Once On This Island.presented by Acting Naturally is a feast for the heart, mind, and soul. This theatrical Caribbean adaptation of the popular fairy tale The Little Mermaid garnered eight Tony nominations for its Broadway run. With non-stop song and dance, the Story Tellers tell the story of Ti Moune, a peasant girl who rescues Daniel, a wealthy boy from the other side of her island. The Gods sing and dance as they puppeteer their lives in this family friendly, upbeat Caribbean musical
A Very Town and Country Christmas
St. Cyril’s Church, 1410 Almshouse Rd, Jamison
The Town & Country Players present their very own take on the Christmas holiday with their Annual A Very Town and Country Christmas! A delightful excursion from the usual fare of plays and musicals, the Players present this festive Christmas themed show complete with classic Christmas songs for a unique Christmas event to enjoyed by the whole family! Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for children.
The Fulper Family of Lambertville will be hosting an old-fashioned holiday farmstead event featuring holiday-lighted tractors leading hayrides, with stops at the maternity barn to see newborn calves, holiday music, and a special visit from Santa Claus.
It all happens on Dec. 5 from 6-8 p.m. Also available will be a bonfire, s’mores, homemade and far-fresh snacks, hot chocolate, hot apple cider, and other activities.
Visit the farm’s website or call (609) 651-5991 to reserve a parking spot. Early Cow Special: $12/vehicle, or drive in Dec. 5 for $17/vehicle. Ticket price includes all activities; refreshments offered at nominal cost.
Fulper Family Farm is located at 281 Rocktown Lambertville Road in Lambertville, NJ.
From left: DelVal Student Government Board President Rebecca Jones ’16, Associate Professor of Biology Dr. Cynthia Keler, Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley, Susan Ward, M.D., ’80, chair of DelVal’s Board of Trustees and DelVal President Dr. Joseph Brosnan at the meeting where DelVal announced it has received approval to become a university April 8. Credit: Delaware Valley College.
DOYLESTOWN — Delaware Valley College will officially become Delaware Valley University on April 8, 2015.
On Dec. 5, DelVal announced that The Pennsylvania Department of Education had approved its application to become a university. A news conference is scheduled for Wednesday, April 8, 2015 to introduce Delaware Valley University as the school unveils new signage, a new website, a new logo and the vision for its future. There also will be celebrations on campus and in the local community throughout the month of April to recognize the milestone.
University status ushers in a new era for the institution and reflects DelVal’s expanded academic offerings, improved facilities and progress. It will also make the institution much more attractive to graduate and international students.
“We have been working for years to move DelVal forward to this point and this approval is recognition of how far this institution has come,” said College President Dr. Joseph Brosnan. “We intend to build on our rich history and what DelVal is already known for – 118 years of teaching science with practice, a commitment to bettering the world through education, and a small, personal community where we know our students by name. We’re taking everything that makes DelVal such a strong institution and raising it to a higher level with expanded graduate programs. Delaware Valley University is going to be an exemplary, small, independent university focused on teaching.”
To be classified as a university in Pennsylvania, an institution must offer a minimum of five professional master’s degrees and a doctorate. The institution must demonstrate a commitment to and evidence of scholarship that enriches the teaching and learning. Through the implementation of its strategic plan, in the past three years, DelVal has launched three new master’s degrees and the inaugural doctoral program.
“The name change reflects the development of DelVal,” said Susan B. Ward, M.D., ’80, chair of the board of trustees. “We started as an agricultural school, but today that’s one part of who we are. We now offer three undergraduate schools, which include a total of 27 academic programs such as business, counseling psychology, education, food science, criminal justice, media and communication, biology and chemistry. We also offer excellent graduate programs in education, counseling psychology, policy studies and business.”
Students from all majors gain real world experience in their fields through the Experience360 Program, which is designed to help students develop skills like leadership and communication that employers want. As a university, DelVal plans to have one of the nation’s most well-known and respected experiential learning programs, which will prepare students to make a difference right away in their fields.
“When engaged minds come together, great things happen,” said Dr. Bashar Hanna, vice president for academic affairs. “Delaware Valley University will be known as the destination of choice for students who want to make the world better, healthier, more livable. It will be an ideal environment for students to gain both knowledge and experience so that they leave campus with the tools to lead.”
University status will enhance opportunities for students to collaborate with faculty.
“At DelVal, faculty cherish the opportunity to provide the type of personal mentorship that helps students reach their full potential,” said Dr. Jack Schmidt, chair of the liberal arts department. “While this close collaboration between faculty and students can be more an exception than the rule at many universities around the country, at DelVal, it’s part of our DNA. Though faculty research and scholarship activities will no doubt increase as we move to university status, we remain first and foremost a teaching-centered institution.”
Madison Moore ’15 is proud to be a member of the University’s first graduating class.
“I think students should be proud of this new university status,” said Moore, a media and communication student. “It shows how much we’ve changed, but in a good way. We have so much to offer as a college. As a university, we will be able to offer so much more. I would want university on my diploma. It’s a higher level and you can still keep that small, personal touch with this new status.”
The New Hope–Solebury & Lambertville Community Choir begins its third season with a concert at Carversville Christian Church on Sunday, Dec. 7 at 2 p.m.
In what has emerged as a trademark of NHS&LCC performances, the concert will include a mixture of choral pieces and songs led by individual members of the group.
Choral music comes in a variety of composers, including Handel, Tindley, Paulus, P.D.Q. Bach, and more. Individual performances include songs from choir members Elizabeth Bowman, Jennifer Guglielmi, Jamie Brown, George Tilton, Tony Peterman, Virginia ZIegler and Giuseppe Minniti.
NHS&LCC is made up of members of the immediate New Hope, Solebury and Lambertville communities as well as several singers from the surrounding areas. The Choir is under the direction of Episcopal minister of music, male a cappella group Cordus Mundi founder, and New Hope resident Rick Rosen.
“We truly are a community choir, and we’re representative of this unique place where we live,” noted Rosen. “The idea is to sing an equally wide variety of music, to match the music to our abilities while still challenging ourselves, and to then end up with quality music and a truly fun, enjoyable and rewarding experience for everyone, including our audience.”
Tickets for the NHS&LCC Dec. 7 concert at Carversville Christian Church, 3736 Aquetong Road, can be purchased at the door or reserved by contacting NHS&LCC at (650) 219-2748, or on the group’s Facebook page.
The Wailers will be playing at Havana for one night, Dec. 6, at 8 p.m. to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary and re-release of their renowned 1984 album Legend. The emblematic reggae group willbe performing the album in its entirety throughout their tour.
Named by Time Magazine as the “Best Album of the 20th Century” and #46 on Rolling Stone Magazine‘s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, Legend is also the best-selling reggae album of all time, with over 30 million copies sold worldwide.
“Legend is a sure example of how music that moves people will always stand up to the test of time,” said lead singer Dwayne “Danglin” Anglin. “We honor the songs on Legend to spread the message of Rastafari across the globe on our musical journey.”
Reggae music is still defined to a large extent by the songs of Bob Marley and the Wailers. It’s their heartbeat rhythms that have inspired so much of what’s followed since, as evidenced by the enduring popularity of the “one-drop” reggae sound. Their nucleus formed in 1969, when Bob Marley, Bunny Wailer, and Peter Tosh recruited the Barrett brothers, bassist Aston “Family Man” and drummer Carly, from Lee Perry’s Upsetters to play on hits such as Lively Up Yourself, Trenchtown Rock, Duppy Conqueror, and many more besides.
Apart from Marley, the Wailers have performed with international acts such as Sting, Stevie Wonder, Carlos Santana, as well as reggae legends Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer and Burning Spear.
The Havana show on Dec. 6 starts at 8 p.m.; doors/will call at 6 p.m. Tickets are General Admission Standing Room Only. Advance $35.00, Day of Show $40.00. Buy online or call (215) 862-1933.
This past Saturday, Cub Scout Pack 99 of Newtown, PA delivered almost 2,500 pounds of food and donations to the Penndel Food Pantry as part of the annual Boys Scouts of America “Scouting for Food” Drive. The Cub Scouts collected non-perishable food items at home, from family and neighbors and during a food drive held at McCaffrey’s Market in Newtown on Saturday, November 15th.
The Cub Scouts, in grades first through fifth, brought their donations to the monthly pack meeting at the Newtown Grant Recreational Center where it was weighed and loaded and then delivered to the pantry. Volunteers unloaded the food from four SUVs into the storage area of the pantry for distribution this week for the holiday. “Scouting for Food” has been an annual, national service project of the BSA for decades.
Pack 99 is chartered out of the Newtown Grant HOA. For information on becoming a scout in your area, please visit www.beascout.org.
Maple Point Student Council members pose with Thanksgiving items collected during its annual Food Drive. Photo courtesy of the Neshaminy School District
Compiled by Jeff Werner [Article from Bucks Local News]
BUCKS COUNTY – The needy won’t be left behind on Thanksgiving Day thanks to an outpouring of generosity from individuals, groups, schools and organizations who organized collection drives in the days leading up to the big feast.
At Maple Point Middle School in the Neshaminy School District, more than 40 families will enjoy a complete Thanksgiving meal thanks to the efforts of the Student Council which organized teams of parents and students in unboxing, organizing and then re-boxing hundreds of donated items on Tuesday.
The school launched the Thanksgiving drive November 5, encouraging each homeroom to collect specific items as part of a complete Thanksgiving Day feast, from sweet potatoes and vegetables to cranberry sauce and stuffing. Once the drive was complete, the items were placed into decorated boxes along with some basic cooking supplies including disposable roasting pans.
In addition to the 40 meals, more than 1,000 pounds of non-perishable food items were collected and donated to the Emergency Relief Association of Bucks County.
The non-perishable food drive was coordinated by the Maple Point Student Council, co-advised by Neil French and Jason Pienta. The turkey donations were coordinated by the Maple Point PTO. Homemade baked goods were also provided by Girl Scout Troop 2978, which consists of students from Maple Point.
And the students at Maple Point are not alone in lending a helping hand.
In Yardley Borough, Patrick Slavtcheff, Liz Lapiska and Jacob Rea, all three acolytes at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Yardley, were seen loading the first of 72 turkeys into a car for transportation to the needy of Bucks County.
The turkeys, donated by church members, are being delivered to residents living at the Robert Morris Apartments in Morrisville and to the clients of the Penndel Food Pantry and the Salvation Army in Levittown.
Meanwhile, Cub Scouts from Pack 99 in Newtown delivered close to 2,500 pounds of non-perishable food items to the Penndel Food Pantry on Nov. 22 as part of the annual Boy Scouts of America “Scouting for Food Drive.”
The non-perishable food items were donated by family members and neighbors in addition to customers who contributed to a food drive the Cub Scouts held at McCaffrey’s Market in Newtown on Nov. 15.
The Scouts, in grades one through five, brought their donations to their monthly pack meeting at the Newtown Grant Recreational Center where everything was weighed, loaded into four SUVs and then transported to the pantry. Volunteers then unloaded the food into a storage area at the pantry for distribution during the week of Thanksgiving.
“Scouting for Food” has been an annual, national service project of the BSA for decades.
Also in Newtown, the staff at Pickering Manor, along with family members of the residents, came through with more than 300 pounds of non-perishable food items for local pantries. The collection drive coincided with Pickering’s annual Thanksgiving dinner attended by more than 150 people.
While many organized food drives, there were several who opted to serve their own Thanksgiving dinner.
In Bristol Borough on Saturday, retired high school baseball coach Tony Mangiaracina and members of his church – Faith Hope Love Fellowship – partnered with the Bristol Borough Active Adult Center to serve a pre-Thanksgiving feast. The senior center offered the space and the food while the church provided the cooks and the volunteers.
For anyone who missed Saturday’s dinner, there’s another opportunity on Thanksgiving Day to enjoy a sit-down feast.
Bristol Elks Lodge No. 970 will serve a Thanksgiving Dinner on Thursday, November 27 from 2 to 5 p.m. at 95 Wood Street.
The meal is compliments of the lodge and includes roast turkey/dressing, ham, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, rolls and butter and dessert.
Make the most out of this weekend before all your parties and celebrations commence with the holiday season! Our guide forThursday, November 20th, 2014 – Sunday, November 24th, 2014 has the best events Bucks County has to offer this weekend. Also, make sure to check out more fun things to do on our sortable calendar of events, 2014 Holiday Events Guide, &restaurant guide. And if you wanted to get some gifts in advance, don’t forget to check out our Holiday Shopping Guide!
55th Annual Holiday House Tour and Tea
11:00am – 8:30pm
Experience an old fashioned slice of Holiday Americana! Visit spectacular holiday floral display set amid stately historic homes and buildings. All can enjoy tea and cookies at the Middletown Country Club. Tickets are $25 day of the tour. They are available local Langhorne Shops.
Unik Cakes Grand Opening!
315 E. Street Rd, Warminster
9:00am – 7:00pm
Celebrate the grand opening of Unik Cakes, where you can sample some tasty treats and win prizes!
The Shops at Valley Square
Route 611 & Street Road, Warrington
Come see Santa arrive at The Shops at Valley Square. There will be free gifts for all children who attend (while supplies last)!
Grand Illumination Celebration
Peddler’s Village, Lahaska
6:00pm – 10:00pm
It’s the annual lighting of Peddler’s Village with the Big Man himself turning on the lights at 6:15. Santa begins his weekend visits with children at Giggleberry Fair. Marshmallow toasting and hot apple cider will be available. Admission is free!
Bristol Tree Lighting
100 Mill Street, Bristol
Historic Bristol Borough is gearing up for its annual riverside tree lighting ceremony which promises to be bigger and better than ever. Located at the juncture of Mill Street, the commercial center of town; Historic Radcliffe Street, and overlooking the the landmark Bristol Wharf, the 40 foot spruce tree, complete with over 7000 lights, will be the focal point of family festivities that include free tractor pulled “train” rides for the children, carolers, an ice skating demonstration, a DJ, a “Griswold” decorated storefront, hot chocolate, snacks, free glow sticks and more. The 100 block of Mill Street will be closed to traffic and converted into a visual Christmas wonderland.
Once On This Island Jr
125 Upper Holland Road Richboro, PA
Nov 22nd 7:00 pm – 8:15 pm
ONCE ON THIS ISLAND JR. presented by Acting Naturally is a feast for the heart, mind, and soul. This theatrical Caribbean adaptation of the popular fairy tale The Little Mermaid garnered eight Tony nominations for its Broadway run. With non-stop song and dance, the Story Tellers tell the story of Ti Moune, a peasant girl who rescues Daniel, a wealthy boy from the other side of her island. The Gods sing and dance as they puppeteer their lives in this family friendly, upbeat Caribbean musical on Saturday,
Under the Tree: A Century of Holiday Trees & Toys
Mercer Museum, Doylestown
12:00pm – 5:00pm throughout the holiday season
An annual museum tradition that captures the excitement of Christmas from a child’s point of view. Amidst trees decorated to the tastes of earlier eras, from the 1860s to the 1960s, visitors discover an array of toys and games like those that once delighted children on Christmas mornings. Exhibit features decorations and toys from the Mercer Museum and major private collections, with new objects on view each year.
Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope will offer a chance to grab a few laughs and maybe the match of your life as it hosts a special singles night with comedian Robert Dubac on Saturday, Nov. 22 at 7 p.m.
“Even if you’re not single, you must have friends who are, so be sure bring them down to the Playhouse this Saturday night for a one of a kind, hysterical evening,” says the Playhouse release.
The special singles event features rear orchestra seats for only $22 and a special drink menu at theater bars, followed by a “one-of-a-kind interactive audience talk back” with the comedian, say organizers.
Visit BcpTheater.org or call (215) 862-2121, and remember to use code “SINGLES” for $22 rear orchestra seats. Bar open at 6 p.m.; show starts at 7 p.m.
Historic Bristol Borough is gearing up for its annual riverside tree lighting ceremony which promises to be bigger and better than ever. Located at the juncture of Mill Street, the commercial center of town; Historic Radcliffe Street, and overlooking the the landmark Bristol Wharf, the 40 foot spruce tree, complete with over 7000 lights, will be the focal point of family festivities that include free tractor pulled “train” rides for the children, carolers, an ice skating demonstration, a DJ, a “Griswold” decorated storefront, hot chocolate, snacks, free glow sticks and more. The 100 block of Mill Street will be closed to traffic and converted into a visual Christmas wonderland.
Joanna Schneyder, co-chairperson of the event, Said, “There are so many wonderful family activities, but the highlight, of course, is the tree lighting and the arrival of Santa Clause. Our riverfront gazebo, used for concerts in the summer, has been converted into a beautiful space for children to visit Santa.”
Ralph DiGuiseppi, Borough Council president said, “This is a free activity the council provides for the public as a way of saying thank you for their support throughout the year. The borough crew does an outstanding job of securing, transporting and mounting the tree. This year’s ceremony promises to be bigger and better than ever.”
Mycle Gorman, a board member of Raising the Bar, the Borough’s Economic Development Committee, committed the organization to expand the activities for kids and recruit volunteers to assist with the festivities. “We’re confident people will be pleasantly surprised when they see how much the event has expanded. We’re excited about how things are falling into place.”
Bill Pezza, Chairman of Raising the Bar and Master of Ceremonies for the event, said “For one night each year, this is our Rockefeller Center.. Last year more than 3000 people attended. We expect much more this year as word spreads. It’s a free, wholesome, old fashioned Christmas, and it’s fun. With four wonderful restaurants within a block of the festivities, we invite our neighbors to join us for a very good time.
Festivities begin at 6:00pm on Friday, November 28th, and the tree lighting is at 7:00. followed by visits to Santa. The annual Christmas Parade takes place the following day, Saturday, November 29, at 1:00.
NEWTOWN >> The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) will be conducting a one-day, antlered and antlerless deer hunt on Wednesday, Dec. 3 at Tyler State Park, Bucks County.
The hunt is held every year to reduce the deer population in order to maintain a balance of the parks ecosystem, park officials said.
“The regulated deer hunt is needed to manage the deer population within the park,” said park manager Brian Flores. “Deer are impacting the delicate balance of the park’s ecosystem by over-browsing on tree saplings, forest understory, shrubs, and wildflowers.”
On December 3, 150 hunters will be allowed to hunt with only manual, semi-automatic, or muzzleloader shotguns with “00” buckshot ammunition for both antlered and antlerless deer. During the hunt, the park will be closed to general public use for the entire day.
Hunters have already applied and have been selected by a lottery system. Successful applicants will be given complete packages of safety rules, procedures, and maps showing open-hunting areas. Immediately prior to legal hunting time, a mandatory information and safety session will be held for the participants conducted by DCNR State Park staff and Pennsylvania Game Commission Wildlife Conservation Officers.
“The hunt is a partnership between the local hunters and the park. Also, every year, hunters give back to the local community by donating extra deer to food banks.” said Flores.
This regulated shotgun hunt is in addition to the late season antler and antlerless archery hunt scheduled from December 26 to January 24. The archery hunters have been selected via lottery and the hunt area of 500 acres is located in the northern portion of the park. Total of 60 permits have been issued and only 12 hunters per day will be permitted to hunt in the designated hunting area. The entire park will remain open to the public during the late season archery hunt. Hunters are required to attend an information and safety orientation.
For more details on the hunt or information on Tyler State Park, call 215-968-2021.
Representatives from Delaware College, Doylestown Food Co-op, and Rolling Harvest Food Recovery spoke with New Hope-Solebury eighth-grade students seeking some extra credit on the evening of Oct. 17, and projected the documentary Ingredients onto an exterior wall of the New Hope-Solebury Middle School building.
They also provided information about American farmers, their struggles, and the benefits of eating fresh, raw foods without any chemical “bonuses.”
The event was hosted by New Hope-Solebury Middle School English teacher Mrs. Jaeger, with appearances by Mrs. O’Donnell and Mrs. Hamill. Students and parents laid out blankets or sat in chairs for the occasion, and some just sat in the grass.
After the movie, a small panel was held where the guests from the three organizations answered questions posed by students, teachers, and parents. Fresh fruits were offered as snacks, along with some great apple cider for drinking.
One of the main points Ingredients made was about the benefits of eating locally, which helps ensure that the food you’re eating is not months old by the time it reaches your mouth. One middle school student asked about the ability of local farms to meet the needs of the local population: “If everyone ate locally, would there be enough for everyone in the area?”
The answer was ‘no,’ only because so much land is used for housing and shops that there simply is not enough land available for farming. However, one solution to this would be using lawns as gardens to provide fresh food.
Although the night was chilly, and blankets and sweaters were definitely needed to sit through the movie and interview, not to mention the lone bat that spent a good 15 minutes terrorizing unsuspecting middle school students, it was an enjoyable and informative experience about healthy foods and how to access them. The documentary Ingredients is a highly recommended watch for anyone interested in health and nutrition.
Tomorrow is national recycling day in America, organized by Keep America Beautiful. There are so many ways to get involved, from official events being hosted across the country to creating your own way of participating.
Looking for ways to celebrate and participate? Think about this….
Did you know that only 15 percent of textile waste is recycled and nearly 100 percent of clothing can be recycled? I would have thought that number would have been much higher since we have so many easy ways to drop off our used clothing so they don’t end up in the landfill. Why not designate a spot in your closet to store clothes that don’t fit or have hung on the shelf for more than a season without wear. When that pile gets big enough, drop it off at a nearby clothing recycling bin or your local thrift shop.
Most of us are forced to constantly monitor our closet space because our homes never seem to have enough room for all our goodies. Think about hosting a neighborhood clothing swap party if the pile idea doesn’t suite your fancy. You could promote it on Nextdoor and meet some of your neighbors. You could even theme it around all the outgrown kid clothes you have piling up and little Jonny and Suzie might meet a new friend too. However, here are some homes that don’t seem to have a closet issue. A girl can always dream, right?
Even if you think clothing items can’t be resold, don’t toss it in the garbage, add it to the donation pile. When you think that shirt or pair of jeans is ruined because it either shrunk in the wash or you spilled wine all over it, don’t be so quick to toss. Clothing can be broken down and used for cleaning rags, carpet padding, rubberized playgrounds and insulation. The EPA estimates that the average person throws away 70 pounds of clothing per year. That adds up to 3.8 billion pounds of unnecessary waste added to landfills. I know we can reduce this number if we all pitch in so why not start tomorrow and join the movement.
A new exercise studio has opened in Doylestown. Barre3 is now open in the Shoppes at Blueberry Hill, located at 611 and Almshouse Rd.
It is the second barre3 studio to open in Bucks County. The first was opened by Lauren Ziel in Newtown in 2013. Ziel said she was motivated to open the second Bucks County location because she found clients were driving from Doylestown to take classes in Newtown.
Clients can attend classes at both locations under one membership or class package, she explained.
Barre3 combines ballet, yoga and Pilates for a total body workout. Each 60-minute session is for all levels. The workouts are known to strengthen your core, arms and legs while improving posture.
“The studio is a big, bright, beautiful space drenched in natural light with the most amazing second floor views,” Ziel said.
She added the barre3 community is already beginning to flourish in Doylestown. “In addition to the fun, effective, and addictive workout, clients are finding the connection and energy in the studio contagious,” she said.
The Doylestown studio is managed by Eleni Pappas, one of the founding instructors from the Newtown studio. Classes are offered seven days a week at a variety of times. Click here to see the current schedule.
Childcare is offered at the studio during morning classes on Monday through Friday.
The Shops of North Main Street in New Hope are holding a family-fun day to benefit the Bucks County SPCA on Saturday, Nov. 8 from 12-5 p.m.
The SPCA will bring out both dogs and cats for adoption, and will have cat cages strategically placed on North Main Street, while the dogs will be on leashes with SPCA volunteers. Tables will be set up at various locations to accept applications for adoptions, say organizers. And the SPCA will be selling pet leashes, collars and toys, and an array of water bowls and pet treats will abound on the surrounding blocks.
The Shops of North Main Street also say that owners are invited to bring their pets downtown and parade them about, and that participating businesses will contribute a portion of their receipts from that day’s sales to the SPCA of Bucks County.
In October, Bucks Happening revealed the official 2014 selection for the Top 10 Movers & Shakers of Bucks County. Three of this year’s fabulous female winners- Kimberly Cambra, Kristine Quinby, and Nancy Bragin- sparkled at the winner’s photoshoot, adorned in custom jewelry designed by Washington Crossing’s talented Diana Vincent.
Left to right: Kimberly Cambra in the Sterling Silver Leaf and Pearl Pendant, Oxidized Sterling Silver Leaf Cuff; Kristine Quinby in the Dancing Twizzle Sterling Silver Lemon Quartz Pendant; and Nancy Bragin in the Oxidized Sterling Silver and White Topaz Kaleidoscope Necklace with Heart Cuff
Kimberly Cambra models the Pearl and Sterling Silver With Black Ruthenium Finish Leaf 3-Strand Necklace and Oxidized Sterling Silver Leaf Cuff
Nancy Bragin wears Diana Vincent’s Oxidized Sterling Silver and White Topaz Kaleidoscope Necklace with Heart Cuff
Kimberly Cambra checks out the Pearl and Sterling Silver With Black Ruthenium Finish Leaf 3-Strand Necklace
Kristine Quinby poses with her adorable dog in the Oxidized Sterling Silver Wave Necklace
Nancy Bragin models the Oxidized Sterling Silver and White Topaz Kaleidoscope Necklace with Heart Cuff
If you dream of never cleaning again (don’t we all?) then sorry, you’re out of luck. We’re not magicians. But if you’re thinking of renovating your home, we can help you make some strategic choices that will pay off down the road.
1. Master the mud room — Get one – even if the size of your entryway dictates that it might only be a good doormat and place to leave your shoes. Having a barrier between the outside and your inside is key for keeping that inside cleaner longer. If you can spare the space, this is a game changer.
2. Forget wall-to-wall — If you want to be a slave to your vacuum then, by all means, choose carpet. If you’re after ease of cleaning however, hard floors are really the way to go. Keep things comfortable by adding plenty of area rugs which can be removed and cleaned periodically or even replaced if need be. It’s so much easier and cheaper than ripping up your stained wall-to-wall.
3. Embrace black grout — Black grout will hide a multitude of sins in both the kitchen and the bathroom and no one has to know you chose it because it you don’t like scrubbing grout.
4. Just say no to open shelving — You know what lazy people love? Closing the door on a mess and calling it a day. Pick classic cabinets and you won’t have to worry about color coding your mugs or think about dust falling on your plates.
5. Eschew stainless steel — High-end, glossy appliances may be trendy (although that’s slowly changing) but they can be murder to maintain. Can you say streak city? If you don’t want to deal with specialty cleaning products and constant fingerprints, then consider choosing a more classic appliance finish.
6. Choose cabinets that reach the ceiling — Every lazy person’s nightmare is that awkward space between the top of the kitchen cabinets and the ceiling. Not only is it useless, it’s almost always got a combination of grease and dust going on that is nearly impossible to reach and clean properly. Pick longer cabinets and not only can you avoid this particular cleaning nightmare, but bonus, you’ll get some extra storage space as well.
7. Pick the right paint — Matte paint may look chic but if you know you’ll need to wipe it frequently, don’t even think about it. The glossier the finish, the easier it will be the clean and the better your paint will hold up to wear and tear (that’s why bathrooms and kitchens usually use semi-gloss). Must have matte? Try the ceiling!
Writer and graphic artist Jessica Graves, of the fashion and style site The Love List, shared these photos of the living room of her Atlanta home. She’s captured the classic style of the Southern interiors she’s always admired and combined it with the light, beachy feel of Florida, where she grew up, to create a space that’s lovely to look upon but still begs you to make yourself at home.
I’m a freelance writer and I work from home these days, so making my little house a cozy, comfortable place to be is important. I also entertain frequently, so everything has to be functional and friendly — pillows meant to be smushed, coffee tables that invite putting your feet up, surfaces clear for cocktails and lots of places to sit.
I was raised in the Florida Panhandle near the Georgia state line, which anyone will tell you is culturally as “Southern” as where I live now in Atlanta (just with more salt water), so I wanted my home to feel like where I grew up in Tallahassee — hospitable, warm, traditional and unpretentious — with all of the natural light and relaxed vibe of Florida’s beaches.
There are some family heirlooms I’ve pilfered from my Mom and Aunt mixed in with new purchases and sentimental things I’ve picked up along the way. Most importantly, everything is dog-friendly: the real boss here is Maggie, my rescue retriever. I got her from an awesome organization here in Atlanta called GRRA.
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Influenced by the warm, saturated colors of captivating landscapes, the sun and misty sea air, Mediterranean style brings an unbeatable combination of cultural flavor and low-key luxury into a home. On my travels through European and Mediterranean countries, I have noted key concepts that consistently define this style. Here’s how you can embrace an eclectic mix of elements that has been developed over the centuries.
Earthy tones of terra-cotta, turquoise, ocean blue, yellow and rusty red are a hallmark of the Mediterranean concept, because they draw on the heavily saturated hues of surrounding landscapes. Jewel tones work well in tile applications, where mixing many colors is visually pleasing. These hues bring that distinctive Spanish-inspired element into a space.
Handmade tiles are a great way to bring pattern into a Mediterranean-style bathroom, but they can be costly. To save money, look to the wall in this photo for guidance and create a focal point by installing just a strip of tile while keeping the surrounding areas in simple white ceramic.
Or completely tile one wall, leaving the other walls and the floor white. Here a feature wall in oceanic tiles makes a statement, but simplicity is present in the sleek lines of the stand-alone tub.
My five favorite Mediterranean-inspired paint colors are Starburst Orange,Sun Porch, Cool Aqua,Mediterranean Breeze andSimply White, all from Benjamin Moore. But if you’re hesitant to go bold with color, focus on shapes and lines instead. Try a Moroccan-influenced tile shape and pair the tile with a border in a contrasting color for definition or a contrasting grout. Add accents of rich earth tones for a lively atmosphere like the one here.
Reflective of historical landmarks, Moroccan-inspired archways feel exotic and stand out even in a stark space.
Tip: You can evoke this look affordably with easy-to-apply wall murals.
Mirrors are flexible accessories that are staple design elements for a Mediterranean-inspired space. They can include many elements of design, such as color, texture, pattern and shape, in one piece. Curved mirrors like the ones here nod to dramatic archway elements without a permanent commitment. A mirror with or without ornate carvings can bring a taste of history into a space when a full renovation is not an option.
Try tumbled ceramic lanterns or a pierced vase in white for a soft glow. The pattern of the light holes creates a unique flow of light and a cozy atmosphere, while the lantern speaks to a delicate design.
Ornate lanterns, sconces and vase lamps can bring unique ambient lighting into a small space. The delicate piercing of the pendant here creates beautifully detailed patterns for light to shine through, touching on rustic ornamental inspiration without feeling too country.
Notice how the wood in this space balances the darkness of the iron and adds a relaxed feeling with its weathered look.
Whether you bring them in through a rich wood door, seating or window frames, warm wood tones are distinctive of Mediterranean culture. Usually intricate in this style, they create a relaxed, rustic feeling. Try choosing wood accents with a visible grain or an organic carved shape to strengthen the connection to nature.
Since bathrooms are filled with hard finishes, rugs are a great way to add a touch of plushness. The one pictured here elevates the Mediterranean concept with its pattern, draws on the color of the wood and the warm tone of the tile, and unifies the look. Area rugs also can be easily changed out as your taste for the Mediterranean culture becomes seasoned.
If you’re looking to warm up your home for winter, nothing gets the job done faster than draping a fur over a couch or chair. It’s a great way to instantly give your home a bit of that cozy-Danish-meadhall vibe. As you’ll notice from the inspiration photos, this is an especially popular option for modern pieces that are minimal and elegant, but maybe a little less than completely comfortable. Definitely beats sitting on cold wire mesh all winter long.
If you love the look, IKEA’s Rens sheepskin ($29.99) is a good budget-friendly option. And if you’d prefer not to decorate with fur, they also have a faux sheepskin that’s only $9.99. This post has plenty of other options, in all different colors, and Black Sheep White Light sells Icelandic sheepskins (and reindeer hides) that are a bit bigger than the IKEA ones and have a nice, wild, rustic feel.
The two candidates vying to represent Pennsylvania’s 8th congressional district will debate at Bucks County Community College later this month.
Incumbent Mike Fitzpatrick, a Republican, and Kevin Strouse, a Democrat, will debate on October 23 at the Lower Bucks Campus in the Student Commons. The debate begins at 12:15 p.m. is expected to last until 1:30 p.m. No tickets are required.
U.S. History and Political Science teacher William Pezza will be the moderator.
After the candidates’ opening statements, Pezza will ask six questions ranging from economic issues to social issues to foreign policy. Each candidate will also have the opportunity to make a closing statement, according to information from Bucks County Community College.
The Student Commons can hold 180 people. Overflow crowds can view the debate from a nearby classroom with a closed-circuit TV monitor. The event will be broadcast to Upper Bucks Campus and Newtown Library Learning Studios, the college said.
Bucks County Community College’s Lower Bucks Campus is located at 1304 Veterans Highway, Bristol.
In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Doylestown Hospital will host a Pink Party on Oct. 13 at the Health & Wellness Center in Warrington.
The evening will feature a Health Fair at 5:30 p.m. followed by a discussion at 7 p.m. The Health & Wellness Center is located at 847 Easton Rd, Warrington.
During the Health Fair, clinicians and staff members from The Breast Center of Doylestown Hospital and its community partners will provide health information, giveaways, raffles, chair massages, therapy demonstrations, refreshments and more.
Starting at 7 p.m., breast surgeon Donna Angotti, MD and radiologist Michele Kopach, MD will host a health discussion. The program is called, “Lessons from ‘The Art of War’ for Breast Cancer Prevention,” and will cover the biology of breast cancer, what women need to know about breast density and personal plans for risk reduction.
The event is free and open to the public. The first 200 guests will receive a free gift. Registration is required for the health discussion. To register, call 215-918-5900 or visit www.dh.org/pinkparty.
Childcare will be available compliments of Cornerstone Fitness. Reservations for childcare are required; call 215-918-5900.
Doylestown Bike & Hike Committee will host its first Neighborhood Trail Awareness Day this Sunday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The free event will be held at Doylestown Hospital Parking Lot A-2, which is at the base of Memorial Drive off of route 202.
The weather forecast looks good for Sunday. Weather.com is calling for partly sunny skies and temperatures in the low 80s.
Neighborhood Trail Awareness Day is a chance for community members of all ages and abilities to get out and experience the extensive bike & hike trails in Doylestown. The day kicks off with a 10K run and continues with multiple guided bike rides.
A two-mile garden walk will finish up the day.
“This is an opportunity for community members to really get active in their neighborhoods and learn how to get around in a fun and safe way,” according to an announcement form the township.
There will be a public hearing relating to the construction of a new Hallowell Elementary School on Oct. 13.
The meeting will begin at 7 p.m. and will be held at the Keith Valley Middle School auditorium, 227 Meetinghouse Rd., Horsham. The hearing is being held in accordance with Act 34.
Plans for the new Hallowell Elementary School were presented to the school board in June. The two level, 88,000-square-foot building will be constructed to meet LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) Gold standards, school officials have said.
Over the summer, the district sought input from residents and staff via an online feedback form.
While this might improve your credit score, that’s not the only thing lenders will look at when examining this account for your mortgage application.
In the example of a parent adding you to their credit card account as an authorized user, consistency with the age of the account and the age of the borrower needs make sense.
For example, it would not make sense for a 25-year-old mortgage applicant to have a credit account that is 15 years old.
A lender would ignore that account in the mortgage-approval process, and here’s why.
The Two-Trade Line Minimum
A trade line is simply an industry term for a credit obligation. It can be a credit card, a student loan, an auto loan—any open loan account really, ideally in good standing. Trade lines within the lending industry are also sometimes dubbed credit accounts.
A closed-out credit card does not count as an active current trade line and unfortunately has no financial significance to a mortgage lender deciding whether or not to grant you a home loan.
When applying for a mortgage, a lender is going be looking for at least two open trade lines: without any active trade lines, you probably don’t have a credit score, or if you do have a credit score, it is probably very low—because there is no active credit account supporting your credit score, a necessity in securing a mortgage.
In order to get a mortgage these days, you’re going to need a credit score of at least 620 for most loan programs, including the conventional and FHA types.
Another Way an Authorized User Account Could Backfire
Authorized user accounts may carry some financial benefit for improving a credit score, but if you are on someone else’s account—and they carry a balance with the subsequent monthly payment—your debt-to-income ratio could be adversely affected, resulting in less borrowing ability when you apply for a mortgage.
You might not be able to purchase as much house or qualify for as much loan.
A simple remedy to the situation would be to have the other party simply remove you as an authorized user, and then your mortgage company can omit the liability from your name—and subsequently the entire credit account.
What If You Don’t Meet the Two-Trade Line Minimum?
The simple fix to meeting the minimum is to open a new credit card.
A secured credit card would be an ideal approach if you can’t qualify for a standard credit card. The idea here is to get a trade line in your name alone without the authorized user status.
Doing so, if you are approved, would show a short history of the account as though it was just opened; however, it still does count as an active trade line to meet mortgage standards, thus allowing you to meet the two-trade line requirement and/or support and better credit score.
You would need to let this account age for about two months if your credit score is already above 620 (and six months if it’s lower than 620) in order to use it to qualify for a mortgage, although it will begin impacting your credit score immediately.
To Get a Loan, Remember the Basics of Good Credit
Authorized user accounts are sometimes billed as a way to “trick” lenders by piggybacking off of another person’s good credit. But lenders aren’t tricked by this: they have too much information.
The credit score generated from each credit bureau for mortgage-related purposes is not the same credit score you might get when you request one from a credit bureau or when an auto lender pulls your score. When lenders pull your credit scores and reports, they get all three scores, one from each bureau: a tri-merge credit report.
By applying for credit on your own, you can build your own credit score—and make it easier to get an additional trade line you might need for loan approval down the road.
The basics of good credit rarely change, so if you need to build your credit before applying for a mortgage, here are some god tips:
Talk to mortgage lender. Ask your lender if there’s anything you can do to increase your score and/or if you’re lacking in trade lines if there is an alternative option to get your loan approved. Some lenders will make exceptions and allow just one trade line if you have a long history of on-time payments
Treat your accounts well. Once approved for a credit account, pay your bill on time. And, if possible, pay off your account balance in full every month. Over time, this will do wonders for your credit score.
You’ll be ready for winter’s worst and head off expensive repairs when you complete this checklist of 10 essential fall maintenance tasks.
1. Stow the mower.
If you’re not familiar with fuel stabilizer, you should be. If your mower sits for months with gas in its tank, the gas will slowly deteriorate, which can damage internal engine parts. Fuel stabilizer ($10 for a 10-ounce bottle) prevents gas from degrading.
Add stabilizer to your gasoline can to keep spare gas in good condition over the winter, and top off your mower tank with stabilized gas before you put it away for the winter. Run the mower for five minutes to make sure the stabilizer reaches the carburetor.
Another lawn mower care method is to run your mower dry before stowing it.
1. When the mower is cool, remove the spark plug and pour a capful of engine oil into the spark plug hole.
2. Pull the starter cord a couple of times to distribute the oil, which keeps pistons lubricated and ensures an easy start come spring.
3. Turn the mower on its side and clean out accumulated grass and gunk from the mower deck.
2. Don’t be a drip.
Remove garden hoses from outdoor faucets. Leaving hoses attached can cause water to back up in the faucets and in the plumbing pipes just inside your exterior walls. If freezing temps hit, that water could freeze, expand, and crack the faucet or pipes. Make this an early fall priority so a sudden cold snap doesn’t sneak up and cause damage.
Turn off any shutoff valves on water supply lines that lead to exterior faucets. That way, you’ll guard against minor leaks that may let water enter the faucet.
While you’re at it, drain garden hoses and store them in a shed or garage.
3. Put your sprinkler system to sleep.
Time to drain your irrigation system. Even buried irrigation lines can freeze, leading to busted pipes and broken sprinkler heads.
1. Turn off the water to the system at the main valve.
2. Shut off the automatic controller.
3. Open drain valves to remove water from the system.
4. Remove any above-ground sprinkler heads and shake the water out of them, then replace.
If you don’t have drain valves, then hire an irrigation pro to blow out the systems pipes with compressed air. A pro is worth the $75 to $150 charge to make sure the job is done right, and to ensure you don’t have busted pipes and sprinkler head repairs to make in the spring.
4. Seal the deal.
Grab a couple of tubes of color-matched exterior caulk ($5 for a 12-ounce tube) and make a journey around your home’s exterior, sealing up cracks between trim and siding, around window and door frames, and where pipes and wires enter your house. Preventing moisture from getting inside your walls is one of the least expensive — and most important — of your fall maintenance jobs. You’ll also seal air leaks that waste energy.
Pick a nice day when temps are above 50 degrees so caulk flows easily.
5. De-gunk your gutters.
Clogged rain gutters can cause ice dams, which can lead to expensive repairs. After the leaves have fallen, clean your gutters to remove leaves, twigs, and gunk. Make sure gutters aren’t sagging and trapping water; tighten gutter hangers and downspout brackets. Replace any worn or damaged gutters and downspouts.
If you find colored grit from asphalt roof shingles in your gutters, beware. That sand-like grit helps protect shingles from the damaging ultraviolet rays of the sun. Look closely for other signs of roof damage (#5, below); it may be time for a roofing replacement.
Your downspouts should extend at least 5 feet away from your house to prevent foundation problems. If they don’t, add downspout extensions; $10 to $20 each.
6. Eyeball your roof.
If you have a steep roof or a multistory house, stay safe and use binoculars to inspect your roof from the ground.
Look for warning signs: Shingles that are buckled, cracked, or missing; rust spots on flashing. Any loose, damaged, or missing shingles should be replaced immediately.
Black algae stains are just cosmetic, but masses of moss and lichen could signal roofing that’s decayed underneath. Call in a pro roofer for a $50 to $100 eval.
A plumbing vent stack usually is flashed with a rubber collar — called a boot — that may crack or loosen over time. They’ll wear out before your roof does, so make sure they’re in good shape. A pro roofer will charge $75 to $150 to replace a boot, depending on how steep your roof is.
7. Direct your drainage.
Take a close look at the soil around your foundation and make sure it slopes away from your house at least 6 vertical inches over 10 feet. That way, you’ll keep water from soaking the soils around your foundation, which could lead to cracks and leaks.
Be sure soil doesn’t touch your siding.
8. Get your furnace in tune.
Schedule an appointment with a heating and cooling pro to get your heating system checked and tuned up for the coming heating season. You’ll pay $50 to $100 for a checkup.
An annual maintenance contract ensures you’re at the top of the list for checks and shaves 20% off the cost of a single visit.
Change your furnace filters, too. This is a job you should do every two months anyway, but if you haven’t, now’s the time. If your HVAC includes a built-in humidifier, make sure the contractor replaces that filter.
9. Prune plants.
Late fall is the best time to prune plants and trees — when the summer growth cycle is over. Your goal is to keep limbs and branches at least 3 feet from your house so moisture won’t drip onto roofing and siding, and to prevent damage to your house exterior during high winds.
For advice on pruning specific plants in your region, check with your state extension service.
10. Give your fireplace a once-over.
To make sure your fireplace is safe, grab a flashlight and look up inside your fireplace flue to make sure the damper opens and closes properly. Open the damper and look up into the flue to make sure it’s free of birds’ nests, branches and leaves, or other obstructions. You should see daylight at the top of the chimney.
Check the firebox for cracked or missing bricks and mortar. If you spot any damage, order a professional fireplace and chimney inspection. An inspection costs $79 to $500.
You fireplace flue should be cleaned of creosote buildup every other year. A professional chimney sweep will charge $150 to $250 for the service.
You’ve signed the contract. Time to start picking out furniture for your new place, right? Not so fast.
As easy as it is to settle into your new role as a homeowner, there’s an important step that shouldn’t be overlooked: the home inspection.
Bill Loden, president of the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI), has been inspecting homes for the past 10 years. The ASHI believes strongly in continuing education, but he says some home headaches simply don’t reveal themselves during a standard inspection. And, some things are outside an inspector’s scope.
“There are things homeowners think we can do, but we can’t,” he explained. “And, honestly, most people don’t want to pay for [a specialist].”
Like some illnesses, some house problems don’t show up overnight. A partially blocked or damaged sewer line often falls in this camp.
“We’ll run water through the fixtures, but we’re there for a limited time,” Loden explained. “Two to four hours might not be long enough for the problem to reveal itself.”
Inspectors will likely determine the type of drain pipe used and estimate its age. They may also look for trees or stumps in the line of the sewer pipe that could cause damage. However, when it comes to sewer-pipe scoping (sending a camera down the line), it’s not typically included in a standard inspection.
Failing HVAC equipment
Similar to damaged sewer lines, HVAC equipment can be fine one day and stop working the next.
“If I check an air conditioner when temperatures are moderate, it can seem fine,” Loden explained. “But under stress, when temperatures shoot up, it can fail.”
Loden says inspectors can bring an HVAC contractor with them for the inspection, but typically it’s not worth the investment when you compare the cost to buying a new unit.
“It will cost anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000 [to hire a contractor] and could take two to three days to complete,” he said.
Cracked heat exchanger
One exception where you may want to pay for a HVAC contractor is an old furnace.
“In my area in Alabama, we have a lot of package units [furnace/AC combined] that sit outside. It’s not part of the standard inspection to examine the heat exchanger, but a lot of them develop cracks that can allow the indoor air to mix with combustion air that has carbon monoxide,” he explained. “You don’t want that in the house.”
As a general rule, Loden recommends having a HVAC contractor come out to examine the heat exchanger if a furnace is more than 10 years old.
“If the HVAC contractor does find such a crack, by law he has to replace it before the furnace can be used again,” he said.
Loden says the best way to think about a standard home inspection is a “visual inspection” because when it comes to electrical issues, inspectors can’t always determine the source of the problem.
“If I find a receptacle that doesn’t have ground, I know it’s disconnected somewhere, but I don’t know where,” he said. “You’re going to have to have an electrician find the disconnect in the system.”
A legitimate question you might be asking is whether the roof is sagging or whether it’s part of the architectural style of your new home. Luckily, a home inspector should be able to tell.
“All roofs — at least wood roofs — will have some inconsistencies. A home inspector knows what’s normal and what’s not,” Loden said.
However, when it comes to identifying how bad a problem is or how much it’s going to cost to repair, an inspector isn’t the right person to ask.
“Because we’re not licensed structural engineers, we’ll refer homeowners to one,” Loden said.
Leaks may not be there one day and show up the next. For this reason, they may be hard to detect by an inspector.
“A lot of times we go into homes where no one lives there,” Loden explained. “With the plumbing system not being used on a daily basis, if there were leaks, they may have all dried up. And, it may take a couple days after the water is turned on for the leaks to make themselves visible.”
Loden recalls his own home inspection when it was pouring rain. “The roof was not leaking when I moved in, but 6 weeks later it was,” he said. “A home inspection is not a guarantee that the house is not going to have problems in the future.”
The best thing he says you can do is carefully check the drains in cabinets before and during your move. “A lot of times homeowners place belongings under there. Sometimes they will pull those items out after the inspection to pack up to leave and will bump the drain traps, causing them to start leaking. The same thing can happen when you move in.”
At the end of the day, the key is to take precautions and make sure you find a certified inspector who has been inspecting for a long time in your area.
“They learn where failures are likely to occur,” Loden said.
If you’re getting ready to sell your home, there are a few things you should do first. At the top of the list are repairs, decluttering, and staging your home for a super sale. With the help of your agent and/or homestager, you can create the perfectly staged home that’s eye-catching at first glance.
In today’s market that’s vital; buyers typically begin their search online. That means they’re going to view photos and videos of homes before they decide if they want to actually go to see the home in person.
Start with rooms that tend to be the biggest attractions: the kitchen, master bedroom, and bathrooms. Declutter first. Gather up large trash bags and boxes, then sort through the clutter by either packing up things that will move with you or throwing out trash and unusable items. Use another bag for items that you’ll sell or give to charity.
Don’t go on to another room until you have cleared away the clutter and the personal belongings in the first room. This process can become highly unsuccessful if you bounce between rooms, moving clutter from one room to the next. The idea is to get organized by having three categories: moving boxes, charity bags, and trash.
Once, you’ve cleared some space, now lighten and brighten the room. If you have dark or heavy curtains or window coverings and you’re selling your home in the spring or summer, consider swapping them out for a lighter color and material that’s more seasonal. They don’t have to be expensive. They should, however, convey a tone of cheerfulness and help to open up the room and show off its best features.
Chipping and peeling paint, cabinets that look worn, and stained countertops are all signs of wear and tear. While these things alone may not deter buyers, they do give them cause to think twice about your home. However, it’s a good thing there are quick and relatively simple tricks like applying fresh paint on the walls and refinishing cabinets and/or built-in shelf-tops. These fast renovations seem like huge improvements and add value to your home.
While setting the stage for a super home sale sounds like it’s all about the physical appearance, just like in life, a successful relationship evolves from having understanding and accurate expectations. In the case of selling your home, be sure you understand how your agent will market your property. Having a solid marketing strategy is key to a successful sale. Patience is also required. Even in a seller’s market, being patient is important. Sometimes offers come in that are disappointing. This is when you have to have the stamina to wait things out. A willingness to negotiate and take action when the right offers come in is equally important.
Sellers are usually very busy. Life still goes on during the listing process. Selling a home adds another layer to an already busy lifestyle. So, getting the home show-ready, preparing necessary paper work, and taking timely and efficient care of other personal matters will benefit everyone. If you work with your real estate agent to do your part and set the stage for a super sale, it’s likely you’ll achieve exactly that.
Are you a pro at procrastination? Get off the couch for these 5 critical maintenance jobs; left undone, the consequences could cost you thousands — or worse.
Homeownership means regular maintenance and repair chores, but some are more important than others. Here are five that should top your priority list:
1. Make Sure Your Appliances Aren’t Being Recalled
Why it matters: The non-profit “Consumer Reports” magazine wrote an eye-popping piece about how often home appliances catch fire: more than 150,000 residential fires each year from 2006 to 2008, resulting in 3,670 injuries, 150 deaths, and $547 million in property damage. About half the fires appear to have been caused by faulty appliances. Some had been recalled for defects that could cause an appliance fire, but the home owners weren’t aware.
What you need to do: Write down the model and serial number of each appliance, then check at www.recalls.gov for recalls and what action to take if something you own is involved. Keep your list so it’s easy to recheck; it sometimes takes years for problems to become evident. Keep tabs at HouseLogic for notices about recalls.
Maintenance cost: Free
Worst case if you put it off: You don’t learn that your dishwasher or clothes dryer has a safety defect, and the machine catches fire and burns your house down.
2. Check for Leaks and Fix Them
Why it matters: Water does more damage to houses than anything else, since persistent leaks lead to mold and mildew, rot, and even termites and carpenter ants (they like chewing soggy wood since it’s soft). Yet if you fix a leak soon after it starts, there may be no long-term damage at all.
What you need to do: Inside, keep your eyes open for dark spots under pipes inside sink cabinets, stains on ceilings, toilets that rock, and of course drips. At least once a year, inspect the roof. If you find leaks, fix them immediately. Otherwise, call in a plumber.
Maintenance cost: Negligible for a simple fix, such as a new washer. A visit from a plumber might set you back $250; a roof repair, a few hundred dollars to $1,000.
Worst case if you put it off: Drips ruin the cabinet under the kitchen sink, and run down into the floor sheathing and joists underneath, so you need a structural repair, plus new cabinets and new kitchen flooring. Or the roof rots, so you need a new roof and repairs to rooms directly beneath.
3. Test Your Sump Pump and Backup Pump (or Install a Backup Pump If You Don’t Have One)
Why it matters: The middle of a storm isn’t the time to discover your basement sump pump is clogged, nor is it the time to begin planning for a backup pump. You need them ready before the water arrives.
What you need to do: Fill the sump pump pit with water and make sure the pump switches on and sends water out the discharge line. If you have a backup pump, repeat the test, but unplug the main pump first. If the backup pump runs on batteries that are more than two years old, replace your sump pump. If you don’t have a backup pump and are on municipal water, get one that runs on water pressure. If you’re on well water, your only option is the battery kind.
Maintenance cost: Testing is free; a water-powered backup sump pump, including installation, costs $150-$350; a new battery for a battery-operated sump starts around $200.
Worst case if you put it off: The pump or pumps don’t work when you need them and your basement floods, ruining everything in it and forcing you to tear out drywall and carpeting.
4. Renew the Finish on Your Hardwood Floors
Why it matters: Every wood floor needs to be refinished periodically, but the trick is to get to the job before the old finish wears through. Then you can apply a fresh coat without having to sand into the wood. Since sanding wears away some of the wood, being able to skip that step can extend the life of your floor by decades.
What you need to do: If your floor is dull but OK otherwise, repair scratches and apply a hardwood floor refinisher ($6-$18 per quart). If the old finish is really scratched up, call in a pro to buff it and apply a fresh finish.
Maintenance cost: If you just need the refresher coat and apply it yourself, you can do 500 sq. ft. for around $25. If you hire a pro, figure on $1 per sq ft.
Worst case if you put it off: The finish wears through. If your floor is thick enough to sand, expect to spend $2.50 per sq. ft. for a new finish. If the floor can’t be sanded, you’ll need a whole new floor — $8-$20 per sq. ft., if you stick with wood.
5. Protect your Foundation
Why it matters: If anything goes wrong with your foundation walls — serious cracks, uneven settling — you could be in for one of the most expensive home repair jobs possible.
What you need to do: Every year, check to make sure the soil around your house slopes away from your foundation walls at least 6 inches over 10 feet (rain gutter downspouts should extend at least 5 feet away from your house).
That slope keeps water from getting down right next to your foundation, where it could cause basement walls to lean, crack the masonry, and cause leaks. (For houses with crawl spaces, keeping water away makes sure excess water doesn’t pool underneath your floor, making for damp conditions that encourage mold, rot, and insects.)
Maintenance cost: Topsoil is $10-$20 per cubic yard, plus delivery. You’ll pay $50-$100 per cubic yard if you buy by the bag.
Worst case if you put it off: Hydrostatic pressure causes your foundation to settle, cracking your basement walls. A full excavation is necessary to stabilize, repair, and seal the foundation walls — a $15,000 to $40,000 job.
Extended warranties, or service plans, offer consumers longer terms of coverage on service, repair and replacement for their home’s appliances than the standard out-of-the-box warranty from the manufacturer.
These warranties are highly profitable for retailers, as they deliver 50% profit, but they also run up the total cost of your washer, dryer, or or refrigerator by as much as $118, according to Consumer Reports.
Are service plans actually worth it? You can argue the benefits both ways.
In the fast-paced world of home electronics, future technology will far outclass today’s products by the time the extended warranty expires. Digitaltrends.com states that household electronics have seen great improvements in product reliability, making the price of most extended warranties about the same as a repair bill. The same is true with most appliances today too.
Consumer Reports data concludes that products “usually don’t break during the two-to-three-year period after the manufacturer’s warranty expires and the service plan is in effect.” And if they do break, the repairs, on average cost only $16 more than the service plan. Most defects will reveal themselves within the first year of use, while the manufacturer’s warranty is still good.
If you’re tempted to buy a service plan, follow this rule — the cost of the warranty should be no more than 10% of the purchase price. That said, extended warranties should be purchased for some items, including those that are difficult to repair or high-priced items that would be painful to replace.
Or you could buy a home warranty for about $500. Explains Amy Hoak, correspondent for MarketWatch, “A home warranty is a service contract that commonly covers the repair or replacement of your home’s appliances and systems, including your heating and air conditioning systems.”
No matter which appliance breaks, you make one call and the service plan call center dispatches the appropriate repairperson. The problem is that service providers pay for these leads, which means they make less money, so be prepared to be upsold to a “cleaning” or more expensive repairs.
In addition to the annual fee, you’ll also pay a $60-$75 service fee when a contractor is dispatched to your home.
Home Warranties are ideal for rental properties and as incentives for homebuyers, and they come in handy when multiple appliances break down, saving an average repair bill of $840 or a replacement at an average of $1,200, says Hoak.
Ultimately the choice and risk are yours to assume. Extended warranties or home warranties can be worth the cost in terms of peace of mind, but only if it’s for a product you don’t intend to change for a few years.
And if you decide to skip the warranty, be prepared to shoulder the cost for assessment (service calls), repair (time in labor plus parts) and shipping.
Consumerreports.org says you shouldn’t have to pay extra to get manufacturers or retailers to stand behind their products, but sometimes, you have to. If you have older products and systems, a home warranty may be your best bet.
It’s easy to spend thousands cultivating an idyllic lawn and garden. But a little ingenuity and patience will go a long way to keeping some green in your wallet, as well.
By Ann Archer of MSN Real Estate
Traditional thinking says you should expect to pay anywhere from 5% to 15% of your home’s value on landscaping. Even at the low end of that range, you’re looking at spending $10,500 if you live in the median-value American home worth $213,000.
That’s tough to stomach no matter how much you love the outdoors. Thankfully, you can do it right and still spend a fraction of that amount. Here’s how.
Get the most visual bang for your buck: First of all, realize that budget gardening can still be beautiful. Let’s say you’ve got less than $1,000 to spend. The first things you should focus on are improving your soil and adding trees, recommends Joanie Clarke, a design consultant for Classic Nursery and Landscape Co. in Redmond, Wash. “You can spend $500 on plants, but they’re not going to grow in clay or sand,” she says. Clarke advises amending your soil with compost and other ingredients to improve its quality. Buying soil, in comparison, can cost as much as $27 a yard plus delivery.
Take advantage of freebies
Your city, your friend: Cities often give away free trees, mulch and compost. In Seattle, for example, groups of neighbors can request 10-40 trees from the city in exchange for planting and maintaining them.
Demolition sites: These are great sources for bricks and stones, but make sure you have permission to remove them.
Fellow gardeners: See something you like in a neighbor’s yard? Offer to trade cuttings. Also, set up seed exchanges with other gardeners or check out existing exchanges online such as those on iVillage’s GardenWeb and GardenHere.com.
Avoid costly mistakes: Really think about how you’re going to use your outdoor space. If you plan a water feature but are annoyed by the noise of babbling brooks, you’re going to spend more money ripping it out and replacing it with something else later. Take the time to educate yourself and you’ll avoid common pitfalls such as planting a tree too close to your house.
Work with what you have: Preserving existing plants and trees can help you save the cost, materials and resources needed to establish a new planting. Educate yourself about plant care and pruning; that 12-foot magnolia in the back yard would likely cost you $65 and five years of growing to replace. (For tips on pruning, check out this page on the U.S. Forest Service site.) Similarly, knowing which areas in your yard are flood-prone and which are always in the sun can help you buy the right plants for the right conditions. Some areas might be better for swing sets or patios.
Hire yourself: The best way to save money in landscaping is to do as much work as possible yourself. A 3-gallon bush may cost $20, but the price skyrockets to $30 or $40 when it’s planted by a landscaping professional. A $3-to-$4 perennial will cost about $12 installed.
When using pros, try to get a packaged deal: Check out nurseries that offer landscaping services. Many will offer discounts on plant material to their landscaping customers. Classic Nursery and Landscape Company in Redmond, Wash., for example, offers a 20% discount on all plant material for one year to their clients.
Hire a consultant: A full landscape design that includes drawings and a planting plan can cost anywhere from a couple of hundred dollars to more than $1,000, depending on the complexity of the design and the overall budget of the project, according to Katz. A less-expensive route is to draw your own plan and hire a landscape designer to review it. “I charge $100 to $150 an hour to consult. I’ll make notes and add to the plan,” said Katz.
Take a phased approach: Divide your plan into phases and pay as you go with funds on hand. You’ll save on loan or credit costs and be able to evaluate your progress and adjust plans before moving to the next phase.
Time your purchases: Buy trees, shrubs, perennials, soil and mulch late in the season when retailers want to be rid of them. Depending on your region that could be early fall, a great time for planting because it gives the plant time to develop roots before the summer heat arrives.
Check alternate resources: Look beyond stores for bargains. Arboretums, botanical centers, plant societies and gardening clubs often hold plant sales. You can join The National Arbor Day Foundation for $10 and receive 10 free trees shipped to you at no cost. At Free Trees and Plants, a retail Web site that helps train and employ the disabled, you only pay shipping and processing fees on all your orders.
Buy small: Purchase small-sized plants; five 1-gallon Shasta daisies at $3 apiece cost the same as one 3-gallon plant at $15 at Armstrong Nursery in Carlsbad, Calif. Depending on the species, the smaller plants could double in size in two years, giving you more plant for your money.
Protect foundations: Roots can damage concrete blocks, driveways and sidewalks, so plant large trees at least 30 feet from those areas.
Divide: Look around your yard for any perennials that can be divided and used elsewhere in the landscape. A one-gallon perennial can cost about $9 at a nursery, but you can easily divide the one you planted last year into four plants, saving $27.
Compost: Save money on fertilizers and mulch by composting your own, using yard waste and food scraps. Compost piles can be made of recycled 2 x 4s and chicken wire. All you need is access to the pile and enough space to turn it every now and again. You’ll pay as much as $5 per small bag of compost at your local home improvement store.
Think about maintenance: A large lawn is great if you don’t mind mowing. But if paying a yard guy $50 a week is part of your plan, make sure that goes into your budget.
Be water smart: According the Environmental Protection Agency, outdoor water use constitutes almost 20% of total home water use. Look for plants that are drought-tolerant to save on your water bill.
Finally, be patient. Plants will not fully mature for a good two to three years, longer for trees and many shrubs. Enjoy the process — and the money you saved.
After years of dead open houses, price reduction after price reduction and failed attempts to sell homes, many real estate markets are picking up. This could be welcome news to someone who has been forced to have kids share a bedroom, suffer through a long commute or any number of reasons why folks would want to sell their home. Even though sales activity is up, sellers still must be ready to do what it takes to get their home sold. It’s still not the good old days. Buyers continue to be cautious and don’t want to make a bad decision. It’s more important than ever to do what it takes to work with potential buyers and prepare as best you can to get your home sold.
Here are five mistakes that serious sellers must avoid when going on the market today.
Not taking your first buyer seriously
Ninety percent of the time, your first buyer is your best buyer. Real estate agents everywhere will tell you that they have seen this happen time and again. Generally speaking, the potential buyer who makes the first offer is highly motivated and ready to do business. The first offer might be lower than you’d like, but that’s what negotiations are for.
You can hold off in hopes of better offers, but many times properties sit on the market too long growing “stale” because the seller didn’t work with the first buyer. Three months later, the seller ends up taking 5 percent less than the first offer they received. By this time, that first buyer has already bought and moved on. The seller is kicking themselves for not making it work.
Offering buyers credits for work you’d rather not do
Do your back steps have dry rot? Do you know of a leaky faucet and a few windows that won’t open or close properly? Does the HVAC system act up sometimes? Then invest the time and money needed to make your home as problem-free as possible before you put it on the market.
Buyers are busy, too. They don’t want to deal with repair or maintenance work after they close. What they will do is call out these faults, either with a low offer price or in asking for credits after their property inspection.
Instead of offering credits against the purchase price, invest some money up front and get the work done yourself. Your home will sell faster. And most likely, you’ll get your money back and then some, in the form of a higher price. A $500 visit from the plumber or electrician, before going on the market, could save $5,000 in a lower offer or requests for credits down the road.
Making highly personal changes to your home
Recently, a seller of a new construction home in San Francisco was adamant about adding a shiny sealant to his concrete garage floor. Why? Because, for some reason, he’d always wanted a clean garage floor and assumed a new buyer would as well. And yet, he was about to put his house on the market. His real estate agent advised him to skip the shiny sealant because the time and money would be better spent on small kitchen or bath improvements.
So, think carefully about any home project before selling. If you need to make choices on colors or styles, go with something neutral. If you’re not sure, ask your agent for a designer or stager referral. Remember, most buyers expect to add their own touch to the home once they close. Don’t try to do it for them.
Overpricing your house
When you price your home too high, you’re not fooling anyone. Informed buyers know the comps in your neighborhood. And if they don’t, you can bet their agent does. If your asking price is too high, your home could sit on the market longer. The longer it sits, the staler it becomes to the marketplace. You may end up having to reduce the price — sometimes more than once. As agents or buyers flip through listings, they may simply ignore yours because the “days on market” is so high. They’ll assume something must be wrong with it and move on to the next listing. If you price your home just right from the beginning, the odds are in your favor that the final sale price will be higher than if you’d priced it too high and reduced it a few times. Plus, you’ll have saved yourself months and months of carrying costs, including mortgage payments and property taxes.
Making your home difficult to show
With the market picking up, buyers and their agents are shopping online all the time. If your home is priced right and shows well, chances are you could get showing requests within hours of listing the home with your agent.
A serious seller must make the home easy to show to potential buyers. This means agreeing to broker tours or caravans up front and a few open houses right out of the gates. You should plan on having the home ready to show within 24 hours. Turning away prospective buyers or making it difficult to show sends a negative message — that you’re not motivated or serious about selling. If you have young children or pets or you work from home, plan showing times with your real estate agent up front. If you know you’re away on Monday and Wednesday afternoons, let your agent know, and they can work around those times.
Markets change, and buyers and sellers need to adapt to these changes. If you’ve been on the sidelines waiting for the right time to sell, this could be your chance at getting that number you needed. But it’s not as easy as just putting your house on the market. If you’re serious about selling, be wary of these mistakes. Hire a good real estate agent and make sure you put your best foot forward.
How to Investigate the Neighborhood Where You Want to Live
Author:Brendon DeSimoneYou’ve gone to the open house. You’ve had a private showing. You’ve read the disclosures. You’ve decided this is the house for you, and you’re ready to make an offer.
Before you take that step, though, you should fully check out the neighborhood. After all, this is where you’re going to live for years. Is there something you don’t know about that could negatively affect the resale value later? Is there a neighbor who comes roaring home late at night on a muffler-free motorcycle? Is the next-door neighbor operating a day care for pre-schoolers?
Given the high stakes of homeownership, it pays to do your homework before making an offer. For example, a potential buyer was ready to sign on the dotted line for a home in San Francisco, a city famous for its microclimates. The buyer had only been to the home during the day, when it was sunny and warm. On his real estate agent’s advice, the buyer returned at night — to find the house blanketed by cold, windy fog. He continued his home search elsewhere, relieved he hadn’t unknowingly bought into the city’s “fog and wind belt.”
Here are five ways to investigate a neighborhood before you buy.
1. Talk to the neighbors
Without being intrusive, look for an opportunity to chat with your potential neighbors. What’s their opinion of the block and the neighborhood? Do they know of any problem neighbors? Are they aware of any recent car or home break-ins? Is anyone planning a big remodel that could impact other homes or their values? Do they know of someone on the block who might be getting ready to sell? An even more desirable home could be coming on the market.
2. Visit day and night, weekday and weekend
As the San Francisco example shows, don’t just visit the house during the day. Check it out at night to get a sense of what’s going on in the neighborhood after hours. Is it noisy or calm? Visit on the weekend and early morning, too. The more times of day you go, the more chances you’ll have to get the feel for the neighborhood.
3. Check out the local newspaper and the neighborhood blog
Some neighborhoods still have their own newspapers. If there’s one published for the neighborhood you’re considering, check it out for local stories. Pay particular attention to the “police blotter,” which typically lists crimes reported in the area. Also, some neighborhoods have blogs where locals ask for tips and advice, or post issues or concerns affecting the neighborhood. A Google search should help you find out whether there’s a blog for the neighborhood you’re considering.
4. Get an app
Some smartphone apps, such as CrimeReports for iPhone, provide information about crime based on your location or address. Among the problems you may see displayed on a map are noise nuisances, sex offenders and vehicle break-ins. The CrimeReports app gives you some specifics, such as when and where each incident occurred.
Zillow’s real estate apps allow you to see estimates of properties on the block. They also allow you to search recent sales or see rentals, a good indication of whether your neighbors are renters or homeowners.
5. Google the street address
If you Google the home’s street address, you might be amazed at what you find. You might, for instance, discover a nearby home-based business with employees (which could reduce street parking spaces). Using Google’s Street View, where photos can be months if not years old, you might discover that the ground-floor bedroom window once had bars on it.
Be a sleuth before the sale
The Internet is an amazing resource of information. Too often, though, potential home buyers don’t fully use it to find out everything they can before entering into a contract on a home. As soon as you’ve identified a home you want to buy, get online and do your homework. You might be pleasantly — or unpleasantly — surprised by what you learn.
With low real estate inventory in many parts of the country, properties in some markets are receiving multiple offers and sparking bidding wars among eager buyers. National real estate brokerage Redfin reports that in March, 63.4 percent of offers submitted by Redfin agents across 19 markets faced competition from other buyers, up from 58.7 percent in February. That’s below last year’s bidding peak of 73.4 percent last March. Still, Redfin real estate agent Mia Simon, who serves Silicon Valley buyers, says in this climate, “it’s very rare to have [an offer] where we’re the only one.”
Here’s a look at strategies for homebuyers competing in a bidding war.
1. Line up financing in advance. Nowadays, you may be competing with all-cash buyers, so if you need to get a mortgage, having financing ready to go can help reassure sellers.
“Preparation is key,” says Gary Malin, president of Citi Habitats, a Manhattan real estate firm. “How much of a mortgage are you prequalified for? Do you have your commitment letter set up? Demanding a mortgage contingency will likely knock you right out of the box.” Some lenders now offer a process called pre-underwriting, where the lender puts borrowers through a more rigorous screening process than prequalification before they submit an offer.
Redfin data show that in 19 markets, more than one-third of properties sold for over the asking price in March. If you’re engaged in a bidding war, keep in mind that your lender may not want to finance significantly more than the appraised value of the property. If you offer more than the home’s appraised value, you may need to make up the difference in cash.
“If you’re putting down 50 percent purchase price, it’s very unlikely that an appraisal is going to derail your deal,” Malin says.
2. Make a competitive first offer. If you’re serious about a property, don’t risk insulting the seller with a lowball offer. “For my buyers, I always tell them to put their best foot forward and present their best offer from the beginning, allowing a little wiggle room for negotiation,” says Lisa Harris, a Re/Max real estate agent serving the northeast Atlanta area.
Malin reminds buyers that in addition to submitting a thoughtful offer, making sure your paperwork is complete and organized can help make a good impression on sellers and their agents. “It’s not only the money,” he says. “It’s every little thing that you do along the way.” Also be flexible on the closing date if you can to fit the seller’s needs.
3. Minimize contingencies. Financing or inspection contingencies can make sellers nervous about potential delays, so avoid these conditions if you can. In some states, you may be entitled to an inspection even without this contingency. In Georgia, for instance, buyers have a seven-day due diligence period once they go under contract. “The buyer has free reign over the property to do any type of inspection that they would like,” Harris says. “[If the inspection brings up issues] they can negotiate, or if the negotiation doesn’t come to their liking, they can get their earnest money back.”
Redfin estimates that waiving financing and inspection contingencies each improve an offer’s likelihood of success by 15 percent.
4. Be available to your agent. Once you make an offer and the seller responds, you may have a limited window for accepting or countering the offer. Harris says the common practice in the Atlanta market is if sellers have multiple offers, “they’ll give everybody the chance to come back and give [their] highest and best offer.” If that happens, time is of the essence, so your agent may need to reach you quickly. If you turn off your phone or ignore emails during a bidding situation, you may miss out on the property.
Some buyers get emotional during a bidding war and make decisions they’ll later regret.
“Let your broker do the negotiating for you,” Mail says. “You want them to do what you engage them to do so it doesn’t become a personal thing.”
5. Write a love letter about the property. One strategy buyers use to tug at sellers’ heart strings is the “love letter,” a cover letter explaining why you personally love the house or the neighborhood. This can be especially effective when you’re planning to use the property as the family home, but you’re competing against investors who plan to rent it out.
“Oftentimes sellers appreciate the personal touch,” Simon says. “I recently had a seller who had raised three children in this house and was in tears hoping the next family would be a family whose kids could play in the cul-de-sac.” Include a photo, ideally of you and your family standing in front of the property, if you can. This won’t always trump a higher offer (or one in cash), but for the right seller, it may tip the scales in your favor.
Looking to skip the hotel room and enjoy life on the water from your own private abode? Consider finding a home in one of the waterfront cities included in Zillow’s Best Places to Buy a Vacation Home list.
To make the interactive list, the city had to have more than 15 percent of its real estate dedicated to vacation homes. The homes in this Second Home Index also had to be within five miles of a body of water spanning more than 40 square miles.
If you’re hoping to turn that vacation home into an investment property, homes in these cities are expected to see strong home value gains (making for a better investment) and they also have good rental income potential (due to a low price-to-rent-ratio).
Here’s a look at 10 great places to buy a vacation home for beaches and boating under $500,000. Anchors aweigh!
If you are looking to purchase a property with the intention of offering it as a rental, Englewood is an excellent choice due to the area’s low price-to-rent ratio. With 3 bedrooms, an onsite community pool and clubhouse, and dock/moorage/storage access, this waterfront townhouse is well worth its price tag. See more homes for sale near the Intracoastal Waterway.
Perched on Delaware Bay, about one-third of Downe Township homes are vacation homes. The township also has a low price-to-rent ratio, making this 4-bedroom beachfront home a great investment. See more homes for sale near the bay.
The city of Astor offers something for everyone — proximity to the thrills offered by Disney World and the serenity of Ormond Beach. This 2-bedroom riverfront home offers ample boating and fishing access. See more homes for sale by Lake George.
High on our Second Home Index list of beaches and boating destinations, Crisfield is an excellent place to invest in a vacation home. Overlooking the Annemessex River, this 4-bedroom townhouse has access to a community pier and beach. See more homes for sale near the Chesapeake Bay.
Fort Myers Beach is a thriving vacation home community and half of the city’s homes are vacation homes. This 2-bedroom waterfront home can accommodate up to a 70-foot yacht and has a 15,000-pound boat lift. See more homes for sale in Fort Myers Beach.
This 3-bedroom 2,589-square-foot Oak Hill waterfront home has abundant fishing opportunities and ample space to dock a boat. The area’s location offers easy access to some of Florida’s best beaches. See more homes for sale near Daytona Beach.
One-third of homes in Bonita Springs are vacation homes, making this an ideal community for those shopping for a second home. This 2-bedroom, 2-bathroom remodeled home features a boat dock and a 10,000-pound boat lift with new motors. See more homes for sale near Estero Bay.
Deal Island homes located on Chesapeake Bay have a low price-to-rent ratio and about one-third of homes are vacation homes. This 3-bedroom updated home is directly on the waterfront. See more homes for sale near the bay.
Adjacent to ritzy Jupiter Island and beautiful beaches, Hobe Sound is high on the Second Home Index list of beaches and boating destinations. This updated, 2,362-square-foot home is located “between two inlets on pristine waterways,” according to the listing. See more homes for sale in Hobe Sound.
Port Salerno ranks at the very top of our Second Home Index list of beaches and boating destinations, with the region expecting to see strong home value gains. This 2,326-square-foot townhome listed as “a boater’s dream come true” has a deep water dock that can accommodate up to a 52-foot boat. See more homes for sale in Port Salerno.
What kind of mortgage you can afford and what kind you can get are important things to know when you begin the home-buying process. You might have a ballpark price range for your next home, but you run the risk of setting your sights too high—or too low—without some additional legwork. Narrow down your range by getting pre-qualification and then pre-approval.
Pre-qualification (sometimes abbreviated as ‘prequal’) is a basic overview of a borrower’s ability to get a loan. You provide all the information, without any kind of paperwork to back it up.
Pre-approval is more in-depth. The lender will look at your bank statements, credit score and other information to demonstrate your financial capability. Neither is a guarantee you’ll get the loan, but a pre-approval is more reliable and more favorably viewed by REALTORS® and potential sellers when you start home shopping.
So why get pre-qualified?
It’s quick and can be done online or over the phone
It can give you a basic idea of what kind of mortgage you can get
A Good Idea, Not the Final Step
While pre-qualification is relatively easy, don’t rely entirely on that information. Mistakes can be made and discrepancies can and will be found during the pre-approval or the final approval process.
Being pre-approved is not a sure-fire way of obtaining a loan, either. For example, if you are pre-approved one month, but then you take out a loan for a new car next month, you can damage your ability to get a mortgage. You do not want to change careers, spend too much money or take out loans during the home-buying process. If you do, you can hurt your loan eligibility.
While being pre-qualified and pre-approved won’t guarantee you a loan, it’s recommended you do both. At the very least, get pre-approved. Many REALTORS® and sellers won’t consider you as a strong home-buying candidate without a pre-approval letter.
So when you’re looking for a new home to buy, it’s in your best interest to do the following:
Shop for a home based on your pre-approval amount
Apply for the loan
If you follow these steps in order, it can save you a lot of time and aggravation during the mortgage loan and home buying process.
Mortgage rates for 30-year fixed mortgages rose this week, with the current rate borrowers were quoted on Zillow Mortgage Marketplace at 4.03 percent, up from 3.98 percent at this same time last week.
The 30-year fixed mortgage rate steadily increased last week, spiking to 4.26 percent on Friday before declining to the current rate over the weekend.
“Last week, rates jumped after the jobs report exceeded expectations by a wide margin, lifting rates to three-month highs heading into the holiday weekend,” said Erin Lantz, vice president of mortgages at Zillow. “On Monday we saw rates fall sharply and expect they will continue to drift slightly lower as the exuberance of the jobs report fades.”
Additionally, the 15-year fixed mortgage rate this morning was 3.04 percent, and for 5/1 ARMs, the rate was 2.81 percent.
Mortgage Application Activity
Zillow predicts tomorrow’s seasonally adjusted Mortgage Bankers Association Weekly Application Index will show activity for both refinance and purchase loans will decrease by 4 percent from the week prior. Refinance volume for the week ending July 4, 2014 is predicted to increase by 17 percent while purchase volume is predicted to increase by 2 percent. To learn more about this Zillow analysis, click here.
What are the interest rates right now? Check Zillow Mortgage Marketplace for mortgage rate trends and up-to-the-minute mortgage rates for your state. *The weekly mortgage rate chart illustrates the average 30-year fixed interest rate in six-hour intervals.
Nobody decides to sell a home overnight. Getting the best price for your home, with the least amount of stress, takes time and planning. Here are the five steps you should follow as you prepare to put your home on the market.
1. Learn your home’s market value
Most homeowners have a relatively good idea of their home’s value. They get fliers in the mail, look at nearby homes for sale online, or even go to open houses. Maybe they recently refinanced and saw an appraisal.
But when it comes time to think about selling, you need a firm idea of your home’s “market” value. Market value is what a buyer is willing to pay on the open market.
Having a local agent look at your home is the first step toward getting a practical idea of your home’s value. Any good agent would welcome the opportunity to meet a potential seller and put together what insiders call a Comparative Market Analysis (CMA). After touring your home, the agent will get back to you with some information about the market, recent comparable sales and an opinion of your home’s value. Even if you’re months or years away from selling, having an agent over early on engages you in the process and allows you to start gathering information.
2. Assess your home’s physical condition
Every homeowner thinks of their home as simply their home: a place to live and make memories. But when you look to sell, you should start thinking like a seller. That means seeing your home as a ‘product’ and its potential for sale on the open market. By looking at it this way, you’ll understand that the deep purple living room paint or the overly cluttered office, which doubles as a guest room, may not look enticing to buyers.
In most cases, you’ll have some work to do to sell your home. A good agent, along with a CMA, will give you ideas for home improvements to consider. This could be as minor as moving things into storage or as major as a full paint job with kitchen and bathroom renovations.
Additionally, you need to know your home’s overall condition. A property inspection could be an excellent investment. If you discover you need a new roof or that the furnace is about to expire, you’ll have time to address it before a buyer catches it. Ultimately, this can save you time and money. Knowing what your home needs, early in the process, will help orient you towards a successful sale.
3. Start watching the comps
The train to a successful home sale truly pulls out of the station once you’ve gathered all of the information. Armed with knowledge about your home’s current market value and what you would need to make it “market ready,” you should start watching the comps, going to open houses and fully engaging with the local real estate market. The more homes you see, either in person or via your agent (who should be keeping you in the loop), the better you’ll understand what it will take to get your home sold. Pay attention to how homes that go before yours fare on the market. Get a sense for what the highest and best price would be for your home in your neighborhood.
4. Do your homework
After speaking to a good local agent, you may have any number of assignments or things to do before you can list your home for sale. Start speaking to painters, general ‘fix-it’ contractors, landscapers, and stagers. Ask your agent for referrals. Get bids for what would need to be done. Start understanding how much work you’re willing to do, what needs to be fixed and how much you want to spend. Working with your agent, prioritize the work and get things lined up.
In this next generation of real estate, sellers need to stay one step ahead of buyers. Google your address, check your home’s records with the building department, check your title report and find out as much as a buyer would if they were about to make an offer on your home. Things come up, and it’s better to find and fix them now — before you get into contract with the buyer.
5. Set a deadline and get to work
You and your agent should pick a date to get the property officially “listed” and then work back from there to plan the work. Your home should be “open house ready” for the photo shoot. Listing photos are people’s first impression of your home today. While curb appeal still matters, photos are the single most important part. Plan to get all the work done before the photo shoot. The hardest part for most sellers is these weeks and months leading up to a sale. Once the home is on the market, the home is out there, in its full glory for all the buyers to see.
No two homeowners or sellers are alike, of course. The process is filled with bumps along the way, and red flags can appear out of nowhere. Engaging with a good local real estate agent early on in the process is the best first step to becoming a successful home seller. Take your time and do your due diligence. The more you plan, the better off you’ll be and the quicker your home will sell — and for top dollar.
When you are selling your home, make sure you follow the law to the T. If you deviate from the law, you could end up losing a lot. Typically, when you and the homebuyer decide to close the deal, you have to sign the purchase agreement. Once you pen your signature on the agreement, you are legally bound by the terms and conditions mentioned therein. Hence, make sure you read the contract carefully. If you don’t understand any part or section, consult your lawyer. If the purchase agreement specifically mentions that you, the seller, have to make specific repairs, you are obligated to do them. Whether there is a liability is a different matter altogether.
Any prospective homebuyer will always have a home inspection done before negotiating the deal with you. This inspection tells the potential buyer the problems that the house has and the expenses he may incur in the future to rectify those problems.
As the seller, the home inspector will also forward a copy of his report to you. This report will contain details of the areas of the house that require repairs. Some of the repairs may be minor, others could be quite comprehensive.
What Happens After Home Inspection
Once you and the prospective buyer get the home inspector’s report, the next step depends on the state of the real estate market in your area. Just like everything else, even the housing market is controlled by supply and demand. If the number of houses for sale in the area is high, the buyer has more options. Hence, he can ask you to make the repairs listed in the home inspection report.
However, if the number of homes in the area is limited and the buyer is keen to own a home, he may forgo asking you to make the repairs.
Home Owner’s Liability
Once you sign the purchase agreement and it mentions a list of repairs, you, the seller, are liable to complete those repairs. Furthermore, if you do the repairs, there is a possibility the buyer will waive his rights to get a second home inspection done. If this happens, it is good news for the seller, as it ends his liability. This said, you need to be honest with your dealings. If you falsify the repairs or give false assurance to the buyer about the repairs, the buyer can take legal action against you.
Making Complete Disclosure
As a home seller, you are obligated by law to make complete disclosure of the defects that your home has. Many states have rules that necessitate home owners to fill out multiple disclosure forms stating the condition of their home. You cannot deliberately hold back information from the buyer if you know there is a problem with your property.
Unreasonable Buyer Demands
Sometimes, homebuyers discover issues after signing the agreement and these issues are not mentioned in the purchase agreement. This prompts the homebuyer to start making unreasonable demands of getting the issues fixed. Remember, you do not have to perform any repairs not mentioned in the purchase agreement just because the homebuyer feels they are needed. But, if there are some repairs that you were aware of before closing the sale of your home and still did not mention the same to the buyer, you should get them fixed.
Repairs after Closing House Sale
Any repair after closing the sale of the house depends on how well you have negotiated with the house buyer. If the home inspection has found major problems with the house, it is in your interest to perform the repairs or lose the buyer. Even if you manage to find another buyer, he too will get a home inspection done and the same issues will once again be highlighted. So, if you are serious about selling your home, you should get the major problems fixed after getting the home inspection report. You do not have to agree to any type of cosmetic repair.
When repairs have to be done after closing, there are a few options that you have as the seller. These are as follows:
You can give the buyer a lump sum amount that covers the repair costs.
You can pay a contractor to perform the necessary repairs.
The seller can withhold a certain amount from the final payment for the house in a trust and use the same to do the repairs.
The option you choose will depend on the severity of the problem and the amount of repair required. Make sure the terms and conditions of repairs and payment for the repairs are mentioned in the purchase agreement.
Much as we’d all love to sell a flipped property within a week of putting it on the market, we all know it doesn’t always happen that way. Indeed, it probably shouldn’t: A big part of the engine that drives flipping profits – at least in the flippin insider way of thinking, is to find sellers who are in a hurry to sell, without being in such a hurry yourself.
And so you may well find yourself with a property that’s just going to take some time to get ready. It could be because of extensive renovations, or because your contractor just can’t get to it, or it could be because you don’t have all the money needed on hand and can’t get or don’t want a bridge loan.
In any case, sooner or later, you’re going to have a vacant home on your hands for a while. And you’re going to need to insure it.
Warning: Insuring a vacant home is not the same as insuring a home that has people in it. Insurance companies don’t look at the risk the same way.
Vacant vs. Unoccupied
First of all, insurers draw a distinction between an “unoccupied” home and a “vacant” home. In an unoccupied home, the normal occupants are away for a while, but are expected to return. Meanwhile, there are belongings there, and often someone is keeping up the property, so it’s not obviously unoccupied to the casual observer.
A vacant home is a home where substantially all the furniture and other elements of daily living have been removed. Anyone peeking through a window can tell that no one is living there. These homes invite vagrants, vandals, and thieves that go after copper plumbing, roof fixtures, appliances, and other items of potential value.
Flippers need to be aware of the difference, and when they need to get specialty coverage to protect themselves against loss due to a vacant home.
Homeowners insurance policies are usually written to a standard form, and under that form, glass breakage and vandalism are not covered on homes that are vacant for more than 60 days.
Furthermore, most homeowners insurance carriers do not want vacant homes in their risk pool, and if they get wind that your property is sitting vacant, they are quite likely simply to cancel their policy. That’s going to force you to the specialty vacancy insurance market. This is usually quite a bit pricier – perhaps 4 to 5 times pricier – than standard home insurance policies. So you want to do what you can to keep the home from falling into the legal definition of “vacant.”
One idea: Let a trusted friend or family member house-sit the property inexpensively.
Another technique: Keep some cheap spare furniture in storage. When you have a property you expect will be sitting idle for a while, move in a basic living room set, a dinette set, and a bed. Case law has defined a vacant property as one that doesn’t have enough furniture for someone to live there in reasonable comfort.
If you can’t be bothered with it, rent some furniture (this can be an expensive habit, over time), or even have a home staging company do it for you. This could potentially increase the value of a home, if done well.
In some areas, if the home is exceptionally nice, you can even get a designer to use the place as a model home to show off, though this is unusual. (My spidey-sense tells me this is a possibility with very small homes and spaces, especially in gentrifying areas, because there’s an emerging design movement specifically for this market.)
Warning: If you have a standard homeowners insurance policy on a house, and you file a claim, but investigators find out that the home was actually vacant at the time – with all the furniture gone, etc., your homeowners insurance company could deny the claim.
Real estate deals are never done until the deed is recorded. Until that time, a real estate transaction can be a topsy-turvy ride filled with red flags, bumps in the road and unexpected issues that need to be addressed, both on the side of the buyer and the seller.
The best way to prevent deals from going sideways is to prepare as best you can. All parties involved —buyer, seller and agents — need to do as much due diligence as possible before getting into the transaction. This may sometimes include having tough conversations, doing some work upfront and being open to collaborating when things get a little challenging.
Here are some of the biggest places where deals can get hung up — and how to avoid them.
Homes not appraising at the contract value have been a problem since the housing crisis and will likely continue to plague the industry for years to come. Particularly in strong markets, where multiple buyers compete for the same property, the price sometimes creates a new comp for the area. Even if multiple buyers have offered to pay a price, a third-party appraiser, who isn’t part of the deal, sometimes won’t agree on the seller’s price.
The best way to avoid appraisal issues is for banks and buyers to work closely once a deal is in contract. If you have a hot property that hit a number that the comps may not support, start speaking to the mortgage professional. Understand the appraisal process and make sure the listing agent is present at the time of the appraisal to tell the story to the appraiser. Seeing a contract price and address on paper is one thing. But to know there were 100 people through the home in three days and six offers received provides color and context.
It’s the call no buyer’s agent, seller or seller’s agent wants to get: The inspector found some major problems with the home. When that happens, the deal can easily fall apart.
When this happens, it’s helpful for all parties to put emotions aside and work together. If the buyer wants to buy, and the seller wants to sell, it means compromising, particularly for the seller. If this buyer walks, the next buyer could have the same problem. The best way to avoid deals going south due to inspections is to have the property inspected before going on the market. Iron out any issues that may arise and then price the property accordingly. Every seller should do a pre-sales property inspection in this next generation of real estate.
Buyer’s remorse happens all the time in real estate. The buyer gets excited about a property and makes an offer, only to second-guess it once buyer and seller have come to terms. It happens in situations where there are multiple offers and bidding wars. A buyer gets caught up in the excitement and wants to compete, only to find themselves scared and feeling remorseful once the dust has settled.
Before you make an offer, or before the final round of counteroffers, ask yourself: Do I really love this home? The price may be up to 10 percent more than the original offer, which means the deal has potentially changed, so ask yourself again: Does the price make sense? Do I love this home for this price? It’s better to walk away before you get too emotionally involved in the process.
For sellers, it’s best to vet your buyer before signing on the dotted line. If they don’t seem to be fully committed, haven’t seen the home enough or don’t appear to have their ducks in a row, it might be better to wait for another buyer than to tie up the listing and have to go “back on the market.”
There are rare issues that come up that are completely unexpected. A neighbor makes a random disclosure, or the inspector finds something nobody else knew about or that a previous inspector missed. Maybe there’s an odd lien on the title report or something happens to the buyer, unexpectedly. In these cases, keep an open mind and go to plan B. A good listing agent will never change the status of the listing to “pending” unless the deal is truly done.
From late April through the end of May, 30-year mortgage rates fell for five consecutive weeks. These lower rates created new opportunities to refinance — and a natural tendency to wait to see just how low rates could go. By mid-June, however, it was clear that waiting to refinance can be a risky strategy.
Mortgage rates still down in 2014
Mortgage rates followed that string of falling for five consecutive weeks by rising in each of the first two weeks of June. However, this bump up in rates is still minor compared to how much they had fallen.
In all, by mid-June, 30-year fixed mortgage rates had fallen by 28 basis points so far in 2014, and by 38 basis points since the recent high reached last August. Those drops are big enough to make the difference in whether or not to refinance for some homeowners.
Of course, a further drop in rates would create an even bigger money-saving opportunity.
However, recent news suggests it might not be wise to wait for another drop in rates.
The employment trend is good — but it is bad for refinancing
In early June, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 217,000 new jobs had been created during the month of May. This is 20,000 better than the monthly average for the past year — and perhaps more significantly, it represented the fourth consecutive month in which job growth topped 200,000.
Employment growth has been up and down since the end of the Great Recession, so this recent stretch represents an unusually consistent period of strong job growth. That is welcome news for the US economy, but a stronger economy could also bring higher mortgage rates. This may be the wrong time to hold out for lower refinance rates.
Refinancing is a potential money-saving opportunity that cannot be guaranteed to last, or to come back again. Economic trends can change, but you can insulate yourself from changing trends if you lock in your opportunity to refinance.
If you’re ready to remodel your kitchen and want to go green, here’s how to create the healthy, energy-efficient, eco-friendly kitchen of your dreams.
If you’re planning a kitchen remodel, why not go green? Going green with your kitchen remodeling project means making choices based on your lifestyle and your budget. The decisions aren’t always simple. For example, a certain green product may outlast and use less energy but cost more than a similar product that performs equally well. Fortunately, an expanding marketplace for smart, stylish green products is helping to lower costs — making it easier to have a green kitchen and love it, too.
If products you’d like to add to your project aren’t readily available, schedule visits to showrooms or green home improvement expos to examine materials first-hand before making decisions. To help you plan, here are key products, ideas, and tips to put the green in your kitchen.
• Sustainable kitchen cabinets are made from wood and wood products certified by the Forest Stewardship Council to be produced using sustainable forest management practices. They feature formaldehyde-free glues and finishes with low volatile organic compounds that give off little or no toxic fumes. Check product literature closely to ensure the cabinets you choose meet these criteria.
When shopping for cabinets, ask if the cabinet boxes are built with wheat board or straw board. These products are made from agricultural waste, such as the chaff left over from farmers’ wheat crops. As a rule, they feature formaldehyde-free binders. They’re strong and rated to exceed the standards set by the American National Standards Institute for medium density particleboard—the material commonly used to make cabinet boxes.
• Green countertops offer variety but all share similar characteristics: recycled or sustainable content, low-toxicity binders, and eco-friendly manufacturing processes. In addition, they’re highly durable. Examples: Squak Mountain Stone is made from recycled paper, recycled glass, reclaimed fly ash, and cement. The finished countertop slabs resemble limestone and soapstone. Eco-top counters consist of renewable bamboo fiber, post-consumer recycled paper, and water-based resin glue. Vetrazzo makes countertops that are 85% recycled glass—almost all the glass comes from curbside recycling programs. Craft-Art includes a line of wood countertops made of reclaimed wood from older barns, warehouses, and commercial buildings.
• Eco-friendly flooring includes linoleum and cork. Both are made with renewable resources that make them sustainable choices. They’re good-looking and durable, but require periodic maintenance.
Linoleum is made from renewable, biodegradable materials including linseed oil and cork. It produces no harmful vapors and comes in many patterns and colors. Linoleum stands up well to traffic and offers some cushioning underfoot. It’s resistant to moisture but susceptible to staining, so some manufacturers add a coating to protect against spills and scratches. Without this protection, linoleum must be cleaned and polished every two years. Cost: $2 to $4 per sq.ft.; installation adds $5 to $7 per sq.ft.
Cork is a sustainable flooring product made from tree bark; the bark grows back and can be harvested repeatedly. Harvesting practices are carefully regulated to ensure future supplies, reducing environmental impact. Cork is waterproof and slightly soft underfoot, which makes it both moisture-resistant and comfortable. It’s made in 12×12-inch tiles and 1×3-foot planks, each with a distinctive grain pattern. The surface is slightly textured and slip-resistant.
Treat cork flooring with a sealant every 3 to 4 years to prevent scratches and stop moisture from penetrating seams between tiles. Natural wax and water-based polyurethane work well. Cost: $2-$6 per sq.ft.; installation, $5-$10 per sq.ft.
• Choosing Energy Star products reduces energy consumption and saves utility costs. Energy Star appliances are tested and rated to be the most energy-efficient models in any product category. In addition, some states and regional utility companies offer rebates for buying Energy Star appliances.
• Dishwashers go green when they feature an energy-saving or quick-wash cycle. These cycles operate for shorter periods of time, saving water and energy. Also, look for dishwashers that include an air-dry option, which dries dishes with circulation fans rather than energy-draining heating elements. Or, simply open up the dishwasher door when the wash cycle is complete and let dishes air dry.
Energy Star models are 25% more energy efficient than the federal standards for energy consumption. If you replace your pre-1994 dishwasher with an Energy Star model, you’ll save as much as $40 a year on energy costs.
• Buy a new refrigerator and you’ll save on energy costs. That’s because manufacturers are constantly improving technology and insulating techniques. In fact, today’s new models are 75% more energy efficient than those manufactured just 20 years ago, saving about $100 per year on energy costs. An Energy Star-rated model will save an additional $20-$30 per year.
Choose models featuring the freezer on top and use 10% to 25% less energy than a same-sized model with a side-by-side configuration.
• An under-the-counter water purifier cleans water of contaminants before it reaches the kitchen tap; it has about 10 times the filtering capacity of a faucet-mounted purifier. A model with a top-quality activated carbon filter will remove heavy metals, bacteria, and pesticides. In addition, it removes odors and bad tastes. Expect to pay $150-$200 for an activated charcoal purifier with a replaceable cartridge.
• Energy-efficient lighting includes fluorescent and compact fluorescent lamps that use 50% to 90% less energy than comparable incandescent lamps. In fact, according to EnergyStar.gov, a single compact fluorescent bulb will save $30-$40 during its expected lifespan of 10,000 hours over conventional incandescent bulbs of similar luminosity. However, consider the correct quality of light, such as an efficient halogen and LED lighting sources, for task areas.
• Being an active recycler is one way to ensure your kitchen is green. Most cabinet manufacturers offer options for lower cabinets that include pull-out recycling bins that keep contents organized and out of sight. In some instances, these bins are designed to be positioned conveniently beneath holes in countertops so that you can sweep food scraps into them. You can also retrofit existing cabinets with recycling bins—rotating lazy Susan-type recycling centers feature multiple bins and are designed to fit in lower corner cabinets.
Whether you’re a new home buyer or longtime homeowner you’re likely familiar with the lackluster ambiance of an outdated room. It’s challenging to determine which interior design element causes that undesirable feeling. Is the space insufficiently lit, overwhelmed by hardwood accents, flooded by a dusty odor or cloaked in an old-fashioned color scheme?
We asked design bloggers for their best do-it-yourself advice to refresh drab interiors. Here are their recommendations.
What’s the best way to enliven dated room decor?
I think that the best way to update an outdated room is with paint. A fresh coat of paint on the walls can really set the tone for a room. Don’t be afraid to paint outdated furniture, either. I’ve been made to feel bad about painting over wood tones before. But the truth is, if I don’t even like it, and a new color or finish will make me love it again, why not? I’m all about trying to use what you have to save on cost. — Corey Willis
How frequently do you revamp your interior design to keep it up to date?
I redecorate my home quite often, but it’s mainly because I’m a designer and enjoy change. My suggestion is to decorate your home for the holidays, and that will give you the diversity you might be looking for. I’ve noticed that after the holidays are over and I take down my holiday decor, I fall in love with my old decor all over again! — Amy Walton
If you planned to fully redecorate an outdated room, how would you begin?
The most important design feature of a room is functionality. Don’t get me wrong, I am all about detail and finishing touches, but if a room does not function well, all the vignettes in the world are not going to make it a happy place. So, I would start with determining how that room needs to function. Ask yourself, “What is going to go on in here?” Then decide how to furnish the room. From a purely design sense, every room, no matter what the function, will benefit from beautiful molding. Molding is also relatively inexpensive to install. The impact it makes when done right is definitely worth the minimal cost. — Kelly Wilkniss
What is the most important accent in any given room?
We are huge fans of statement lighting, so we often use a great light fixture to set the tone of the room. The most important thing is not that one element draws the focus, but they all work well and complement each other. — Kristy Harvey & Beth Woodson
How do you keep older rooms smelling fresh?
Opening windows should be done as much as the weather permits! Nothing is better than the smell of fresh air! Aside from that, I do my best to keep the floors vacuumed and cleaned. I also have a scented candle that does the trick. — Alison Royer
What is the quickest way to add flair to a drab, older room?
Reducing clutter makes your space more open and clean, and infinitely more appealing. If you have a hard time getting rid of stuff, but you don’t like the clutter, buy some storage containers and some labels; tuck the items away in a closet. Next, infuse your space with color through paint, colorful rugs, painting a piece of furniture or adding vibrant curtains. Artwork will definitely add flair to your space. Paintings, photos, vases, pottery or any other type of accessories will help create a beautiful design scheme and pull your room together. Personalize your space with small and unique touches. Get inspired by something you are passionate about, such as travel. You could decorate a space such as your home office with maps as inexpensive wallpaper, or frame some maps to display on your wall. — Lori Smith
New Generation of Investors Rewriting the Fix-and-Flip Playbook
By Daren Blomquist, RealtyTrac Vice President
Editor’s Note: This article is excerpted from the May 2014 issue of the Foreclosure News Report, an award-winning newsletter published monthly by RealtyTrac.
A kinder, gentler fix-and-flip philosophy is proving to be successful for a new generation of real estate investors operating in a low-inventory housing market still reeling from the recent foreclosure crisis — created in part by irresponsible house flipping.
Recent trends in home flipping provide evidence of this emerging flipping philosophy. In the first quarter of 2014, 3.7 percent of all U.S. single family home sales were homes that were flipped — meaning they had been purchased and resold within a six-month window. That was down from 6.5 percent of all home sales in the first quarter of 2013.
At the same time, the average gross profit for a property flipped in the first quarter was $55,574, a 30 percent return on the average purchase price. That was up from a $51,805 average gross profit representing a 28 percent return a year ago.
The combination of rising returns on home flipping and a smaller share of flips indicates that, by and large, flippers are behaving responsibly and rationally, making savvy decisions that get them the best returns even if that means completing fewer flips.
Not Your Father’s Flipper
Maria Giordano was happily employed as a nurse when she decided to jump into the home flipping business full-time a year and a half ago — after three years of studying the market in her hometown of Phoenix and some encouragement from her husband, who thought she would be good as a real estate investor.
Turns out he was right.
Giordano and her husband were in the process of flipping their 22nd house in April, a journey that began with the purchase of a bank-owned property in serious need of life support.
“That property needed everything,” she recalled, noting that her father, a longtime investor himself, thought she was getting in over her head when he saw the property’s inspection report that listed nearly every item as substandard. “If you looked up you could see the sky. But we were so naïve.
“We had such a margin in this particular property, short of it burning down … I don’t think we could have lost money on it,” Giordano added, claiming that first flipping experience got her hooked on a new career in healing homes.
“I kind of became a rehab junkie ever since,” she said, noting she grew up pouring concrete with her brothers in the Midwest during summers to help with her parents’ real estate investing business. “The core of our business is fixing and flipping houses. To me it’s kind of like the house is my new patient. (I am) bringing it to life and putting a family in that new house.”
Giordano’s use of the words “new house” is no mistake when referring to her rehabs. Her philosophy is to give each property an extensive makeover that makes it look and feel like a new home even it was built several decades ago.
“I am one of those flippers who is not just replacing paint and carpet,” she said, adding she hires a designer to help guide her rehab. “(I am) doing a really modern look that 80 percent of the buyers in our market are wanting.”
Giordano said her typical fix and flip is a home built in the 1960s or 1970s, but she also does extensive rehab on newer homes built in the 1980s and 1990s.
“Even if it’s a house that was built in the 1990s, I’m gutting the master bath, usually the hallway bath, taking out walls, really changing the floor plan,” she said, noting she intentionally rehabs to accommodate the “modern palette” of the majority of buyers in today’s market. One example of that is her consistent inclusion of white shaker style cabinets in the kitchen — a popular amenity for buyers in Phoenix.
“Even if the cabinets are great, I still know I’m going to rip them out and donate them,” Giordano said. “I’m giving that brand-new-house feel in that older home.
“I know a lot of people like these older neighborhoods,” she continued. “So really you’re giving someone the look of a brand new house in an older neighborhood.”
But that rehab-like-new philosophy can come with a hefty price tag.
Giordano said she typically spends between $35,000 and $45,000 on rehab for properties that will eventually sell around $250,000. But it’s not uncommon to go over that budget given her above-and-beyond philosophy. For example, the property she is in the midst of flipping, which she purchased for $150,000, is close to costing $60,000 in rehab. She plans to list it for $295,000, but her “low” sell price is $280,000.
Adding in an additional 12 percent in holding and listing costs, she will still come out of the deal with a nice profit.
“I always make my number high because I never don’t want to make my numbers,” she said, adding that the primary source of funding for her flips is private money and she is “more careful with other people’s money than my own.”
Arthur Botting is also well over-budget for rehab costs on his second home flip since becoming a full-time real estate investor operating in the Los Angeles area about a year and a half ago.
Botting and his wife, Jennifer Laske, work together on their flips. He focuses mostly on acquisition while she takes over project management for the rehab phase. The couple’s infant daughter sitting in her car seat is a regular fixture on the flipping site, and a favorite of the construction crew according to Laske, who walked through the couple’s second property flip, explaining the changes made.
“Our expectation when we started was just to rip up the floors, repaint everything and make it look beautiful,” said Laske, who set her daughter’s car seat down to show some of the changes made to the house. “But as we started tearing pieces away … we kept finding more problems, more problems, more problems. Putting lipstick on the problem wasn’t going to end us up with a beautiful house.”
There’s no doubt about it: Lenders have tightened the guidelines they use to evaluate loan applications. That means borrowers who want to refinance their mortgage to take advantage of low interest rates may wonder whether they will qualify for a new loan. This summary should help you understand what lenders look for when they evaluate mortgage refinance applications:
How much you make and how much you owe
Lenders weigh your monthly income and debt payments through a debt-to-income (DTI) ratio. Conventional wisdom is that lenders look for a DTI that’s no more than 38 percent. However, some programs are more flexible and allow a larger DTI ratio.
DTI is a complicated calculation, so you should discuss your income, debts and housing costs with at least a few lenders to determine if you’ll qualify to refinance your mortgage. If you have a high debt-to-income ratio, you may want to concentrate on paying off some of your debts prior to refinancing.
Also keep in mind that most lenders will require that you document your income with recent paycheck stubs, W-2 Forms or federal income tax returns.
How much you want to borrow and how mch your home is worth
Another factor that contributes to whether you can qualify for a mortgage refinance is your loan-to value (LTV) ratio. To calculate your loan-to-value ratio, divide the amount you want to borrow by the current value of your home. For example, if your home is worth $250,000 and you want to borrow $210,000, your LTV is 84 percent.
Most lenders look for a loan-to-value ratio of less than 80 percent to refinance. However, again, some loan programs are more flexible.
One example is the new Making Home Affordable program, which allows refinancing with up to 105 percent LTV. This program is open to borrowers who have a good track record of making their mortgage payments and whose loan is owned or backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.
A second example is the streamlined refinancing program offered by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), which doesn’t require an appraisal. This program is open to borrowers who have an FHA-insured loan.
Have you paid your bills?
Your credit score also can be an important factor in your ability to qualify to refinance your mortgage. While there is no specific minimum credit score that you’ll need to refinance, keep in mind that if your credit is impaired, the interest rate and terms you’ll be offered might not make refinancing an attractive option. If you have a strong credit score (and a good track record of paying your bills on time), you’ll likely be offered a lower interest rate and better terms.
Remember, lenders will look at a combination of the factors mentioned above —your debt-to-income ratio, loan-to-value ratio, and credit history—along with other aspects of your financial situation to determine whether you’ll qualify to refinance your mortgage. Either way, it is best to speak directly with a lender or multiple lenders to determine your options. You can get no-obligation rates and offers from multiple lenders through LendingTree.
Also keep in mind, if you do qualify to refinance, you should still consider whether refinancing makes sense for you. The free LendingTree refinance calculator can help you figure out how long it will take you to recover your refinance closing costs through a lower monthly mortgage payment.
Your home is listed for sale but you aren’t getting showings, let alone offers. It’s been six weeks and even though you’ve listed your home with an agent and put the sign on the front lawn, you aren’t seeing any action on your home. Meanwhile, all you hear is that the real estate market is back. It’s now a seller’s market and homes are selling quickly with multiple offers. So why isn’t your home feeling the love?
To better understand this, it helps to take a step back and look at how you came to the decision to list your home for sale in the first place. In good markets, when a home is priced right and shows well, it should see positive action within four weeks. If not, something’s wrong.
A serious, motivated seller doesn’t simply list their home on a whim. It’s something that happens over the course of time. A life change generally dictates a home sale and, although there are times when life changes happen abruptly, generally you know about them in advance and have time to plan. Deciding to sell your home, whether you’ve been there two years or 22 years, is a decision not to be taken lightly.
What role did you play?
In these situations, it’s easy to blame the real estate agent for not doing enough to market and sell your home. Of course, there are bad agents out there as well as good ones.
But what role might you have played? Were you truly ready to sell? Ask yourself:
Did you interview multiple agents prior to signing a listing agreement?
Did your agent (or other agents you interviewed) suggest changes or modifications to the home to show it in its best possible light?
Did you listen to those suggestions or ignore them?
Was the ultimate list price you chose in line with what the agent suggested?
Did all the agents you interviewed come in with similar prices?
If you just spoke to one agent, dictated the price and didn’t do any work to get the home ready for sale, you’re probably not a ‘serious’ seller. That’s OK; it happens to a lot of people. But in the next generation of real estate, going on the market when you’re not truly ready to sell and you’re not putting your best foot forward will result in a lower selling price on your home.
If you go on the market over-priced, with poor listing photos, cluttered rooms, outlandish paint on the walls, and toys sprawled all over the place, you’re not ready to sell. As a result, your home will sit on the market and the days on market (DOM) will start ticking for all the buyers in town (and their agents) to see. Everyone will know your home’s history. The chances are you’ll receive only low offers. And no buyer will take you seriously.
Advice to sellers
Selling can be an emotional and financial decision, and sometimes sellers think they’re ready even when they aren’t. They go through the motions, but something prevents them from putting their best foot forward. Maybe they have nowhere to go. Or their reason for selling is in response to some personal life situation. Therefore, they resist selling as a way to avoid what’s going on in life.
Because so much information about listings, past sales, transaction history and even old photos are online today, you should never list your home on the open market if you’re not truly ready to sell. A truly ready-to-go seller will have interviewed multiple agents and had multiple price discussions. They’ll have made small alterations to their home to get it “showing ready.” They have a plan in place and a place to go once they sell. And they’ll have studied the market, learned the comps and understood what is happening locally in real estate.
If you haven’t done all of this, it might be best to start now. Instead of going live on the market, take a step back, do your research and wait until you are truly ready. If you’re live on the market and it’s not going in your favor, take it off the market immediately and go back on only when you’re fully ready to sell.
Bic DeCaro has a psychology degree that comes in handy when she’s showing homes, especially to first-time buyers. They get emotional. They fall in love. They get caught up in bidding wars they can’t afford.
They make mistakes.
“The big thing is buying for the moment and not looking down the road,” she said.
That sums up the regrets of many first-time home buyers Zillow surveyed after their boxes were unpacked and their infatuation had faded. Almost half of them said they would do things differently if they had it to do over.
Here are their biggest regrets.
Size and layout
Of buyers with regrets, 62 percent said they wish their homes were bigger or laid out differently. They wish they had bigger kitchens, more storage space or just more space in general.
“Almost always, they outgrow it faster than they think,” DeCaro said.
“Friday night is a really good night to drive the subdivision,” she said. “Is your subdivision going to be crowded with cars to where you can barely drive up and down the street? They’ve got their garage doors up, their lawn chairs out and their beer coolers out?”
(If that’s what you like to do, she added: “You’re home.”)
Almost 1 in 4 homeowners had a regret about their yard. Of the 24 percent who cited lessons learned, 12 percent wish for bigger yards, and 12 percent wish they had easier yards to maintain.
That means you should be realistic about what you want in a yard before you buy. And DeCaro tells buyers in Virginia, “If you’re going to want bigger and more outdoor space, you’re just going to have to move farther from the city center.”
Nearly 17 percent of first-time buyers with regrets wish they had a different parking situation — another practical matter that might get lost in the emotional swirl of a first real estate transaction.
That’s where a good agent comes in, Harding said. He likes to insist first-time buyers look at three to five homes, at least. While they fantasize about paint colors and kitchen remodels, he points out problems with floor plans, parking and resale.
Agent Phil Faranda agreed: “It’s simply a matter of not thinking it through enough. They’re so invested in the emotions. It’s almost like they rush to the altar just to say they were married, instead of choosing the right guy.”
Twenty Household Solutions Using Stuff You Already Have
Written by Jaymi Naciri on Wednesday, 28 May 2014 12:55 pm
We’ve all been in this predicament, with an itch in the center of our back and no one there to scratch it, right? That’s what hairbrushes and serving forks are for.
Have a dog-hair-in-the-house problem? A dog brush with metal teeth does more than remove hair from a shedding dog. It is also a great solution for eliminating hair from a tight weave rug.
Items you already have around your house can be great solutions for everyday household problems. Read on for 20 surprising uses.
1. Need to light a bunch of candles but don’t have a long lighter? Try a piece of uncooked spaghetti instead. “Simply light the noodle, and you can make it around your patio twice without burning your finger tips,” said Yahoo.
2. It’s inevitable there will be a power outage when you’ve just burned through your last candle.
If you have an orange and a bottle of olive oil, you can create a makeshift candle in under one minute. Check out this video to learn how.
3. Need some tunes while you’re cleaning and organizing? “Hack a bowl to blast your music,” said Yahoo. “Simply place the speaker end of the phone in a bowl (or juice glass) and press play.”
4. Make a simple stencil. It’s polka dots the easy way when you hack off a piece of your extra laundry basket and tape it to the wall.
5. When’s the last time you used that old magazine holder? Dig it out of the back of the closet and put it to good use as a storage container for your plastic wrap, baggies, and foil, or your cutting boards. The shape of the holder helps to keep different shapes wrangled and easy to access.
6. Have a broken light bulb you can’t get out of the socket? Raid your fridge. A carrot, or a potato cut in half, shoved into the socket can help you get out all the broken bits.
7. Create a prettier laundry room. Turn that unused drink dispenser into a laundry dispenser and kiss the ugly detergent bottle goodbye.
8. Company’s coming over and your bathroom mirror is a mess. Where’s the glass cleaner when you need it?! Forget the spit-shine and grab a coffee filter for clean windows and mirrors in a pinch, said Good Housekeeping.
9. And about that toilet…you can clean it even without the blue stuff. Drop in a couple of tablets of Alka Seltzer, and “wait 20 minutes. The citric acid will dissolve the grime,” said Buzzfeed.
10. Soap is great, but the only thing that can remove the smell of onions and garlic from your hands is time. Unless you use this Good Housekeeping tip: “Keep coffee grounds in a can near the sink. Rub a small amount over your hands after peeling onions, chopping garlic or handling fish to get rid of the odor.” Of course, then your hands will smell like coffee, but that’s probably preferable to fish fingers.
If you’ve got a bottle of olive oil, you have more than the beginnings of a good salad dressing. Real Simple says you can also use olive oil to:
11. Shine stainless steel
12. Keep wax from sticking to a candle holder when rubbed on the base of the holder
13. Unstick a zipper
14. Dust wooden furniture
15. Lubricate a squeaky door by dabbing oil on the hinges
Baking soda is another multi-purpose item Real Simple says you can use to:
16. “Erase crayon, pencil, ink, and furniture scuffs from painted surfaces” with a damp sponge
17. Unclog a drain. “Pour 1/2 to 1 cup of baking soda down the drain, then slowly pour 1/2 to 1 cup of white vinegar after it. Let sit for five minutes (covered, if possible). Follow with a gallon of boiling water.”
18. “Remove tough stains from enameled cast iron and stainless steel” and remove crusted food from casserole pans
19. Clean up small oil and grease spills in the garage floor or your driveway by scrubbing with a wet brush
20. Ants marching through your home? Forget the bug spray and head for the spice rack. “Cinnamon is a natural deterrent for bugs,” said Business Insider.
“If you want to keep ants at bay, cinnamon may be all you need. Use it to deter the six-legged critters from invading your home by spreading powdered cinnamon anywhere you catch sight of them.”
“Our problem is an obvious one — debt,” said Mike Kennedy, a 32-year-old marketing director who lives in Northboro, Mass. “My wife just graduated with her master’s and I’m still paying off mine.”
Even without the $50,000 in student loan debt they owe, affording a home in their town is difficult, he said. Single-family homes there cost $300,000 and up.
Russell Cragun, an online marketing manager, and his wife, Chalay, are both 25. They are looking at homes in the Orem, Utah, area, where the median home price is more than $230,000.
Lured by tax incentives, tech companies have been relocating to the area and creating many high-paying jobs. That has heated up demand — and home prices.
But with $15,000 in student loan debt to pay, it’s hard to save enough for a downpayment, said Russell.
Tech and other high paying industries have had the same impact on home prices in many of the cities where young adults most prefer to live. Places like San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles are unaffordable to most residents seeking to buy a home, but even more so for those who have not hit their high earning years.
Competition is so stiff in these markets that young buyers can’t compete with older, deep-pocketed buyers who are often able to pay for homes in all-cash.
Thomas Bright of Richmond, Va., lost out on two purchases that way.
“When you are a first-time buyer, you aren’t poised to compete with all-cash buyers,” he said.
Usually, the good homes go quickly, according to Richard Ernsberger, 34, an attorney who lives in Pittsburgh.
“I have been in the market for a one- or two-bedroom townhome or condo for several months,” he said. “It seems as though a good number of homes go within days of being listed.”
Josh Czupryk, 29, who works as an education coach, and his wife, Bailey Cato, 28, a teacher, wanted to live in a safe Memphis, Tenn., neighborhood with good schools and nice older houses.
“Every one we looked at had a fatal flaw,” he said. One house had a blighted one next door. Another had a completely paved backyard.
Eventually, Czupryk and Cato found a four-bedroom for $295,000. Working in their favor was the fact that neither had built up any student loan debt.
There is a ray of hope for young wanna be homeowners, said Fannie Mae’s Deggendorf. “Mortgage lending is getting a little less tight, with lenders approving buyers with a little lower credit score and who have less of a downpayment,” he said.
If that trend continues, young buyers just might be able to buy homes again.
About 20 to 30 percent of home buyers purchase properties within common-interest developments, commonly referred to as homeowners associations (HOAs). Before weighing the pros and cons of owning a property in an HOA community it’s important to understand what HOAs are, how they are governed and how they affect a homeowner’s bottom line.
Here are some basic facts home buyers should know.
What is a common-interest development?
In a common-interest development individual owners typically share some parcel and the buildings on that parcel as co-owners. A common-interest development would generally be a condominium building, a town home community or lofts, or could be a single-family home community, private neighborhood or other similar arrangement. Buyers in the development or building agree to live by the community rules and regulations.
These regulations mean that as an owner you have certain rights and restrictions as outlined by development documents commonly called CC&Rs (covenants, conditions and restrictions). The CC&Rs govern your allowed ownership, use and behavior at the property — everything from use of your unit to parking restrictions, insurance, architectural rules, paint colors, storage of RVs or boats, pets, allowed inhabitants and more. These rules and regulations can be changed, subject to approval by a majority of the owners.
How are HOAs governed?
To interpret and enforce the rules and regulations, most HOAs elect a board of directors who follow the regulations of the community and make prudent financial and operational decisions. As an owner, you get to vote for the board members (this process is usually outlined in the community bylaws).
However, most owners in a typical community don’t go to board meetings and don’t get involved in the operations of the community. And that’s fine, as there’s no requirement for an owner to vote or otherwise be involved. Most owners only show up to meetings when HOA fees are raised or if they are affected by a particular issue. Keep in mind though, if you have an issue or disagree with a restriction in your community, you should attend the board meetings and work with the HOA toward finding a solution that the majority of owners can agree with.
Are there financial risks with HOAs?
HOAs are nonprofit organizations, but their complex financial and legal operations can sometimes cause owners significant financial pain in the form of unexpected dues increases and special assessments. Unfortunately, few buyers know how to evaluate HOA documents ahead of time, which could help mitigate the considerable risks.
Many people don’t like having to follow rules and decide to avoid living in an HOA-governed community altogether. But don’t forget, the HOA makes sure your neighbors don’t park cars in their front yards and/or that a neighbor doesn’t paint a house pink or carry out other nuisance behaviors — any of which could easily occur in an area not governed by an HOA.
As a serial remodeler, I’m looking forward to spending part of my winter holiday curled up on the sofa planning the wonderful things I’m going to do to my home in 2014. If you’re also day-dreaming about your next home improvements, these ideas (plus some eye candy) from the experts at realtor.com can help you balance the impulsive and emotional (I must have purple countertops!) with the long-term value-adds (Buyers don’t like my purple countertops!) of remodeling.
Plus, if you’re thinking of financing your project — with equity or a refi — we’ll help you plan with the a housing market forecast.
I’m nearing the end of what turned out to be a nearly two-year long kitchen remodel, but if you’re still in the contemplation stage, consider some of 2014’s top kitchen remodeling trends care of property listing site realtor.com:
Modern design with white or gray cabinetry
Appliances that blend into the cabinetry
Hammered, matte brass hardware
Several of these kitchen “trends” — particularly white, minimalism, and simplicity — are actually not trendy, but enduring. You’ll find most of them on HouseLogic’s definitive list of timeless kitchen features. They’re the features you’ll love now and in 10 years — and that will be marketable when it’s time to sell.
The hordes of relatives visiting your house this year say they’re staying just a little while, but chances are, one of them will want to move in with you at some point. Embrace the multigenerational trend, says realtor.com, by creating flex rooms.
Adding or converting a bedroom to include a sitting area and bathroom makes a lovely sanctuary for your guests now and a cozy space for your mother in her later years. Consider a separate entrance, too. When you get up there in age yourself, you can supplement your retirement income by renting out the space.
The official color of 2014 (according to the official arbiter of color, Pantone) is radiant orchid — a souped-up lilac. Purple accent pillows for the sofa? Definitely yes. But radiant orchid as a dominant color in your house? Not so much.
“Be wary of any trend that has the potential for a short shelf life,” realtor.com advises. Stick to neutral colors for anything in your home (inside and outside) that’s not as easy to replace as a pillow.
Home Equity Rising
OK, now for the brass tacks part of remodeling: paying for it. A few real estate predictions for 2014 might help your sort out your options.
Experts predict home prices should rise in 2014, which means you could have the home equity you need to fund your next renovation. Areas where foreclosures are falling and buyer demand outstrips the number of homes on the market have the best chance of seeing rising prices.
Interest Rates Headed Up
You may have more home equity in 2014 than you did in 2013, but doing a cash-out refinance to pay for your remodel will be harder and more expensive to do in the year ahead due to rigid underwriting rules and rising interest rates. Lenders say loan files are now routinely hundreds of pages long, so lower your expectations about how fast and how easy it is to refinance. Don’t let your frustration with the process wreck your enthusiasm for your remodeling dream.
And Now for that Eye Candy
Whenever you’re remodeling, it’s smart to make sure you don’t over- or under-improve compared with neighbors’ homes. So check out some of the home listings on realtor.com in your Zip code, many of which include interior pictures.
Once you’ve spied on the Joneses, check out these hilarious pictures of the wildest home features of 2013.
I won’t even guess what installing a rowboat bathtub or cathedral-themed wine room would do to your home’s resale value, but looking at them could sure amuse you on a long winter’s night.
Choosing your architect isn’t a decision to take lightly. The person you select will be the brains behind your project, an invaluable problem solver, a good listener, and the one keeping your budget on track.
Here are seven questions to use as a starting point to get the candidate that’s right for you and your house
1. What are the biggest challenges and attractions of this job?
An architect may have a beautiful portfolio and great references, but those won’t indicate how he or she will approach your project. During initial interviews, ask about the architect’s vision for your project:
What’s working now, and what can be improved?
How will a remodel blend with the rest of the house?
What will be the challenges?
The answers are important, but you’ll also want to use these early conversations to make sure you have a good rapport and that your personalities are compatible.
“You can hire any number of architects who’ll come up with creative solutions to your job,” said Pittsburgh architect Gerald Morosco, author of the book “How to Work With an Architect.” “The differences are in how well the architect matches his design to your taste and your lifestyle.”
2. Do you have a signature style?
Most architects pride themselves on their adaptability, which allows them to tailor their style to fit each house and client.
But some have an overriding design sensibility that they bring to every project. For example, an architect might specialize in sleek modernism, a beach cottage feel, or reinterpretations of historic houses.
By talking about the architect’s signature style up front, you can decide whether it’s the right fit for you.
3. Who will design my project?
Unless you’re hiring a sole proprietor, there’s a good chance the person you meet initially isn’t the one who’ll handle the actual design work.
That’s OK, as long as you understand it up front. Because good communication is crucial to a successful job, you need to meet the lead architect for your job before you hire the firm.
You’ll be interacting with this person a lot, so be sure to get necessary contact information, and ask to receive a schedule of meetings with mutually agreeable times.
4. What project management services do you provide?
Architects can do more than come up with the design and blueprints. They also can:
Manage the project
Help you hire a contractor
Check the contractor’s work as the job proceeds
Make design adjustments as the work progresses
Review invoices to ensure that payments never get ahead of the work
Obtain necessary lien waivers [on HouseLogic.com] from all contractors so no one can make a claim against your property later
Ask your architect which of these services he provides, and what they cost. Some services, like site inspections and revisions, should be part of your contract. Others likely will be a la carte.
5. How do you charge?
Architects usually charge a percentage of the total project cost, anywhere from 5% to 20%, depending on the services provided, the complexity of the job, and the renown of the architect. Ask what percentage the architect will charge for your project, and when and how payments will be due.
Architects typically bill monthly, starting as soon as they begin work. But most up-front design work happens before you bring in a contractor and know the total project cost.
In the interim, the architect may bill by the hour or charge a retainer—a fixed monthly fee—with any necessary adjustments occurring once the real numbers are known. Each billing approach can work well. What’s important is utter clarity about the plan so you can manage your remodeling budget.
6. Can you provide three-dimensional drawings?
Reading a standard two-dimensional plan isn’t easy. Even if you can tell where the walls, windows, and doors [HouseLogic.com] are, you may not get an accurate feel for how the design will look in the real world.
Ask your candidate how the ideas and drawings will be presented. Most architects now use software to render 3-D images that can be rotated and viewed from multiple angles. A lack of 3-D rendering capabilities may mean the candidate isn’t up to speed on the latest building techniques and methods.
7. Will you recommend two or three general contractors?
Good architects can recommend reliable general contractors in your area and help you evaluate portfolios and bids. They may even recommend someone they’ve worked with before and set up some meet and greets.
That’s a boon to the homeowner, since it means you won’t have to do another big search to find the right contractor. But don’t stop your search with the first contractor you like. It’s always a good idea to get multiple bids, which may give you some bargaining power with the one you ultimately pick.
Should I buy or rent? That’s a question most people face at some point in their adult lives, and though every situation is different, the primary factor to take into consideration is how long you plan to stay put.
According to Zillow’s recent breakeven horizon analysis, in half of metros in the U.S., buying beats renting after only two years. Rising rents and low mortgage rates have helped skew the rent vs. buy decision toward buying for those who can afford it, leaving renters wondering why bother renewing a lease when they may be able to break even on a home purchase in less time.
Because conditions for buyers and renters can vary dramatically even within cities themselves, Zillow produces breakeven horizons down to the neighborhood level in order to give potential buyers and renters the most insight into local conditions where they’re considering living. To determine the breakeven horizon in your city or neighborhood, use our interactive tool on Zillow Research here.
Zillow’s breakeven horizon calculates the point, in years, at which buying a home becomes less expensive than renting the same home. It incorporates all costs associated with buying and renting, including upfront payments, closing costs, anticipated monthly rent and mortgage payments, insurance, taxes, utilities, maintenance and renovation costs. We also consider the different asset streams available to buyers and renters. For buyers, the home equity grows. Alternatively, renters can invest some of the money they would have spent on a home purchase and earn interest. It then factors in historic and anticipated home value appreciation rates, rental prices and rental appreciation rates.
See the 20 largest metro areas with the highest and lowest breakeven horizons in the graphic below.
Buying a home can be overwhelming, especially for first-time buyers who might be unfamiliar with all of the detailed steps involved in the process. But investing time now to sort out your goals and devise a plan for how you’ll achieve them can make your house hunt smoother and less stressful.
Here are some areas your house hunting blueprint should cover.
Find a real estate professional
Purchasing a home, especially your first home, typically involves a lot of uncertainty. Having a real estate professional to guide you through the process is very comforting and may help you avoid costly home buying mistakes.
In addition to finding listings that meet your criteria, an agent will provide details about neighborhoods, traffic volume, schools, homeowners associations and other buying considerations. When it’s time to make an offer, a buyer’s agent will pull data on comparable sales to help you set the initial offering price, explain the advantages and disadvantages of different mortgage products, guide you through the mass of transaction-related paperwork and more.
The real estate agent’s fee is almost always paid by the seller out of the proceeds from the transaction. As the buyer, you can take advantage of the agent’s best advice while letting someone else foot the bill.
And remember, you aren’t obligated to use the first agent you come across. Hold out to find someone you’re confident will represent your best interests.
Get pre-approved for a mortgage
Many home sellers today prefer that prospective buyers be pre-approved for a mortgage before putting in an offer to buy a property. From the seller’s perspective, this lowers the risk of a deal falling through. As a buyer, obtaining a pre-approval before making an offer strengthens your hand in negotiating with the seller. Your real estate professional can offer referrals to local mortgage brokers. You can also find one through friends or online.
Remember, just as you’re not locked in to the first real estate agent you interview, neither are you obligated to finance the transaction through the lender who pre-approved you upfront. Shop around for the best loan and terms for you.
Identify the right home
Once you’ve been pre-approved by a lender and have selected a real estate agent to represent your interests, it’s time to find your ideal home. How many bedrooms and bathrooms do you need? What about overall square footage and amenities? You’ll also need to decide whether you prefer a single-family home, duplex, condominium or town home. These and other considerations play into the type of neighborhood you’ll be living in once you find the perfect place to call home.
Homes can take a bad hit during the winter, particularly after this year’s harsh winter. Seasonal damage to a home isn’t always easily visible, but if it’s not repaired, spring and summer storms can add to the problems, says Paul Sullivan, National Association of Home Builder’s Remodelers chair.
NAHB provides home owners with the following 10 tips for preparing a home for the warmer months ahead:
1. Inspect the roof. Roofs should be checked for any loose, warped, or missing shingles. Also, home owners should check the chimney flashing and skylight seals are intact.
2. Clean and repair gutters. Home owners should clear winter storm debris from gutters and downspouts. Also, they should doublecheck that they are still securely attached to the house. Blocked or loose gutters can allow water to seep into your home and damage the trim, according to NAHB.
3. Check for any leaks. The most common culprits for “hidden” leaks: Attics, crawl spaces, and washing machine hoses. Also, look under sinks for damage from frozen pipes, and check your water heater for signs of corrosion.
4. Clear exterior drains. Remove any leaves from underground or exterior drains to prevent any backups from rain and storms.
5. Inspect siding. Inspect siding for pieces that may have come loose during winter storms.
6. Check window and door seals. Examine the exterior caulking on door and window seals to ensure it remains watertight.
7. Patch cracks. Patch cracks in concrete driveways, sidewalks, and steps to keep water out and prevent further expansion.
8. Paint the exterior. This is a good time to paint or touch up the paint on the exterior to help protect it from the weather.
9. Inspect the HVAC. Hire a qualified technician to service the home’s HVAC system to make sure it is running properly. Also, this is a good time for home owners to replace their HVAC filters.
10. Check the home’s grading. Ensure the grading of the yard slopes away from the home’s foundation to keep excess moisture at bay.
The 5 Worst Things You Can Do Before Buying a Home
Cynics may scoff, but getting under contract on the right home can turn even the most stoic shopper into a bit of a dreamer. From paint colors to planting a garden, picturing yourself in that property is critical for many buyers.
But leave a little room for pragmatism. Remember that getting pre-approved for a mortgage and even under contract isn’t a guarantee. That prefix is there for a reason. Loan pre-approval is not loan approval.
You’ll have more hurdles to clear before a lender legally commits to funding your home loan. Buyers who don’t know any better can inadvertently add obstacles to that path – or even kill the entire deal – between contract and closing day.
Some missteps can be costlier than others. Here’s a look at five of the worst things you can do before buying a home.
1. Go Credit-Crazy
It’s almost become cliché in the mortgage industry, but the warning still bears repeating: Don’t buy a truckload of furniture until after your loan closes. The prohibition goes beyond sofas and settees – avoid obtaining credit for any major expense, such as a car, a boat or, yes, a new bedroom set.
Be careful with even minor expenses. If you absolutely need to obtain new credit or accrue debt before closing, talk with your loan officer as soon as possible.
New payments are going to affect your monthly debt-to-income ratio (and residual income on a VA loan), and not in a good way. Hard inquiries on your credit report could also lower your credit score. That might hurt your interest rate if you haven’t locked or even knock you out of qualifying range all together.
2. Shuffle Dollars and Cents
Lenders will scour your most recent bank statement as part of the pre-approval process. It’s not like they forget about it after that. They’ll take another look at your assets and bank records again during the underwriting process.
You’ll need to explain any unusual deposits or withdrawals. Lenders will require clear documentation and a paper trail if you’re putting gift funds toward a down payment or closing costs. Stuffing a wad of undocumented cash into your account is going to raise some red flags.
3. Get Behind on Bills
Having a late payment hit your credit report before closing can devastate your deal. Payment history comprises about a third of your credit score.
Possibly. But if that 30-day late blemish is a mortgage or rent payment, some lenders will boot your application altogether. Many will require at least 12 consecutive months of on-time payments to qualify for a home loan.
4. Co-Sign on a Loan
Co-signing a loan is arguably a bad financial move whenever you make it. But it’s especially risky during the mortgage lending process. It means you’re financially liable for someone else’s debt.
Yes, that someone else might be the most responsible person on the planet. Lenders will still need to factor that new monthly obligation into your overall affordability profile. Adding one more debt to the list could stretch too thin your debt-to-income ratio and assets.
5. Changes in Employment
Probably goes without saying, but losing your job is going to be a big problem. Even job-hopping can present some major hurdles. Lenders crave stable, reliable income that’s likely to continue.
Lenders are likely to slam on the brakes if you take a new job in a different field. Or if you decide to start your own business. Or even if you get a promotion but see some or all of your income shift to a commission basis.
The bottom line: Any change to your employment is significant. Keep your loan officer in the loop, and ask questions when in doubt. The last thing you want is to waste time and money on a home loan you’re never going to get.
Throughout the mortgage process, it can also be helpful to monitor your credit scores for changes so you can know whether you need to address any problems. To do that, you can use a free tool like Credit.com’s Credit Report Card, which updates your credit scores and an overview of your credit report every month.
An irrigation system saves water, keeps your lawn looking great, and helps maintain your curb appeal. We’ve gathered the info to get you started.
An underground irrigation system delivers water to your landscaping at the right time, and in just the right amount, so you don’t water too much or too little. It’s relatively easy to install and makes a good DIY project.
You’ll also save money doing it yourself. A professionally installed system for a typical ¼-acre lot is $3,000 to $4,000. You can DIY it for under $1,500.
The heart of an underground system is pop-up sprinkler heads. When working, the heads raise up a few inches to spray water on your landscape. When not in use, they drop to ground level so you can mow or walk right over them.
Plus, today’s systems are pretty darn smart. Automated features decide when it’s been raining too much or too little, then adjust the amount of water your landscaping gets. That lowers the worry quotient for you, heads off costly over-watering, and makes the whole system almost maintenance-free.
Getting in the Zone
An irrigation system divides your property into zones. Each zone can be different in terms of the amount of water it gets, and at what time of day it’s watered. Examples of zones include:
Lawn zones have pop-up heads with just the right spray radius and range to cover a broad area of grass.
Landscaping zones have high-rise heads to water shrubs and ground cover.
Flower and vegetable zones may be equipped with bubblers and tiny spray heads that gently water plants without bruising edibles or knocking petals off blooms.
Everything functions on an automatic timer that controls water flow throughout the system. You can elect to include sensors that monitor rain and humidity — self-adjusting timers that prevent unnecessary watering.
Start with a Plan
Your irrigation journey starts with a plan that maps out:
Your yard, house location, and major landscaping features, such as trees.
Your irrigation zones.
The location of sprinkler heads and bubblers.
The location of underground water supply lines.
The location of a water-supply shutoff valve.
Any automatic sensors.
But planning is a challenge for first-timers. Manufacturers recognize this hurdle and go out of their way to provide planning help. After you give them some info on the size of your lot and your water supply system, they give you an irrigation plan tailored to your property.
You’d be crazy not to take advantage of their services. For one, they’re free. Second, they’re very thorough: downloadable guides and step-by-step videos take you through every part of creating a home irrigation system.
For example, Rainbird and Toro offer planning guides that show you how to make a scale drawing of your property, and how to easily gather information on your water pressure and water flow rate that’ll help determine the design of your system.
When you mail in the drawing and info, the manufacturer returns a custom plan with a materials list and detailed installation instructions, all designed specifically for your property. Replies take several weeks. For a small fee ($20-$30), you can have your plans arrive in a few days.
Orbit shows you how to use Google Maps to make a scaled plan of your lot without ever stepping outdoors. Plans are available instantly.
Get Ready to Dig
Your next job is trenching — digging channels in your yard for the water supply lines and sprinkler heads. With plan in hand, mark out the locations of the irrigation lines using string lines, powdered chalk, or lawn marking paint — it comes in a spray can specially designed to be used upside down ($5).
At this point comes a heads-up about your local building codes. You’ll need to ask a couple of questions of your local building and planning commission:
Do I need a permit?
Is a licensed plumber required to connect my irrigation system to my home’s water system?
How deep should the trenches be? (Most building codes require you to dig down 18 inches to protect the water lines from freezing — in colder climates the required depth is more.)
Unless you relish the idea of hand-digging several hundred feet of trench, rent a gas-powered trenching tool for $100–$160 per day. This walk-behind tool makes short work of deep, narrow trenches.
Very important! To prevent injury, be sure to have all utilities marked before you begin digging. Call your local utilities or dial 811.
Installing the System
With excavation complete, you’re ready to buy all the stuff you need. You’ll build your system from plastic pipe, either rigid or flexible PVC. Both are good choices and use the same methods of assembly.
Rigid PVC pipe is inexpensive — ¾-inch diameter pipe is about 25 cents per lineal foot.
Flex PVC costs more at about $1 per lineal foot of ¾-inch-diameter pipe, but it installs faster, there are fewer connections, and it’s more forgiving of trenches that aren’t perfectly straight.
There are lots of other components, including sprinkler heads and bubblers, and each type has different ranges and arcs — the size and shape of their spray. That’s another reason to check out the manufacturer’s guides — they’ll give you a complete materials list.
Unless you’re an accomplished DIY electrician and plumber, you’ll probably need a bit more professional help:
An electrician to extend a circuit to the automatic timer; figure 2-3 hours at $90-$110 per hour.
A plumber to tap into your household water system. Budget another $200-$300.
Ready to Call In the Pros?
If the DIY approach is more than you want to tackle, or your lot is larger than a third of an acre (14,500 sq. ft.), consider hiring a pro. Expect to pay $3,000-$4,000 to have an underground irrigation system installed on a ¼-acre lot.
Aside from saving you a lot of work, a pro is going to get the job done quickly and with minimal disruption. He’ll also come with knowledge of what design best suits local conditions.
You have finally found the home of your dreams, but your adventure in homeownership has only just begun. First, you have to make sure everything, including the air conditioning, is in proper working order. Although you should always have your home professionally inspected, there are a few things you can check on your own to ensure the air conditioning unit is working well before you close on your new house.
Start With the Thermostat
It may sound obvious, but the first place to start with your hands-on check of the air conditioning system in your future home is the thermostat. Turn the temperature down several degrees to ensure the unit will remain running for at least 10 minutes before it cycles off again.
Make your way around the house while the unit is running, checking each vent for cool air output. Every vent should have air of roughly the same temperature and pressure escaping into the room. If one or two vents have a problem with the temperature or pressure, be sure to note it. This could be a sign of a duct that has come loose.
With the cool air still blowing, walk outside to observe the condenser unit in action. It should run smoothly, without making any unusual sounds, and it should run continuously until the house has reached the desired temperature. A unit that kicks on and off frequently may have a variety of serious problems and should be checked by a licensed professional.
You can use a probe thermometer to check the temperature differential between the return air duct and the vents. With the air conditioner running on a day when the outdoor temperature is above 80 degrees Fahrenheit, insert the thermometer into the vent nearest the air handler or furnace and leave it in place until the temperature reading is steady. Note the reading and move your thermometer to the return air duct, placing it inside the grill and leaving it in place for a reading. Subtract the conditioned air temperature from the return air temperature. A temperature difference of 14 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal.
Check the Outdoor Condenser
If everything looks good on the inside of the condenser, move outdoors to give the condenser a thorough once-over. On the back of the air conditioner, toward the ground, you’ll see two knob-like protrusions with tubes coming out of them. Carefully peel back the insulation from the insulated tube and feel it. It should be cool to the touch, especially if the air conditioner has run for more than 10 minutes. Check the other tube – it should feel warm. These two tubes are important parts of the condensation process. If the condenser isn’t working properly, you may be able to tell by the temperature of the tubes.
While you’re back there, look for a plate attached to the outside of the unit. On it will be several vital pieces of information about the air conditioner, including the manufacturer, model number, size, and the manufacture date. You can search the Web by the model number to find the manufacturing date if it’s not handy on the label. An air conditioner more than 10 years old is probably due for a replacement – these units have typical life spans of 10 to 15 years under ideal conditions.
Find the Evaporator Coil
More likely than not, the evaporator coil is located inside the furnace, so this is your next destination. Check that the filter is clean and the condensation line is flowing freely. The filter is easy enough – just slide it out and take a quick look. If it’s clogged with dust, it could explain low air pressure at vents or inadequate cooling. (But you should still have a professional check it.) The condensation line will have to be removed from the furnace to check how smoothly it’s running. Use a funnel to pour some water down the line and watch how quickly it comes out the other end. A clogged condensation line will empty slowly, if it empties at all.
The last things you should check, if you can access them, are the ducts themselves. This is pretty easy in a basement home, but if you’re dealing with a house with ductwork in the attic or crawlspace, get ready to get very dirty. Check the entire length of the ductwork for loose fittings, rusted out elbows, and sections that may be hanging and disconnected. Loose ducts invite dirt into the system and spew expensive conditioned air into spaces that don’t need it, robbing the interior spaces that do.
When you’re shopping for your next home, it’s important to understand the basics of checking the air conditioning unit. After all, replacing this complex piece of equipment right after you move in isn’t something to look forward to.
A living privacy screen of trees, shrubs, and hedges works as well as a solid fence, and looks better.
A living privacy screen around your small home’s yard does triple-duty: It promotes privacy, security, and beauty. Here’s how:
Block neighbors’ view from their second-story windows: Opt for mature, tall evergreens for year-round privacy. Plant tall, upright trees: American holly, Leyland cypress, cedar, pine (note size and circumference of the tree at maturity and choose accordingly).
Block street views: Use shorter, thicker shrubs and hedges. Plant fast-growing shrubs: Red and yellow twig dogwood, American hazelnut, forsythia, Chinese privet.
For security: Thorny hedges are dense, and the “ouch” factor discourages intrusion (you’ll want to consider these carefully if you have small children). Plant: Spanish bayonet (yucca), roses, flying dragon (poncirus), firethorn (pyracantha).
“Oohs” and “aahs”: Combine ornamental trees, hedges, and trellises of flowering vines for a living privacy screen of year-round beauty. Ornamental hedges: Burning bush, purple lilac, tri-color willow. Ornamental trees: dogwood, Japanese maple, smoke tree.
Small, confined areas: Tall grasses and bamboo work well to screen patios and garden sitting spots. Tall ornamental grasses: plume grass (Erianthus ravennae), maiden grass.
Get in the zone
Where you live makes a big difference in what you plant. The U.S. Department of Agriculture plant zone will help you decide.
Climate and soil conditions are key. If you’re unsure of local conditions, hire a landscape architect or landscape designer to help develop a plan, or ask your state cooperative extension service for advice.
How much will it cost?
Traditional fencing for an 70-by-90-foot lot could run $3,000 to $5,000, depending on materials. Privacy screening plants for the entire perimeter easily could cost double that, especially if you use a landscaper.
You can use smaller–and therefore cheaper–plants, but your privacy will be limited until they grow. Buy in bulk for the whole yard, and you’ll get a better deal.
How long you plan to stay in the house matters, too. Some plants grow several feet in a year. Stick around for a few years and you’ll have a full-grown privacy screen.
Bad smells are one the biggest deal-killers in real estate. If your home smells like pets, mold, smoke or pheromones, you’ll repulse buyers. If your home sells at all, it will go for less than it’s worth.
It’s time to do a dirty job — identify sources of stinks and deep clean your home.
Since you’re living with it, you may be oblivious to your home’s smells. Ask your real estate agent to walk with you through your home and not hold back. You need to hear the brutal truth. Does the carpet smell like a puddle-loving dog? Is there moldy smell in your bathroom?
You’ll be glad to know that every smell has a simple cure — better maintenance. When your house is on the market, you can’t let things slide as you normally do. You have to be vigilant for odors and keep your place super-clean every day.
Pets: Pets leave fur, slobber, and loose dirt wherever they go. Some dog breeds, like retrievers, are stinkier than others. If Rover sleeps on his own bed, wash it or replace it with fresh bedding. Don’t let your dog get ripe; bathe your dog more frequently than you normally would. Chairs and carpets should be steam-cleaned. If you can, remove pet beds, cat boxes and other signs of pet life during showings.
Mold: It takes a combination of standing water, dark closed-in places and absorbent materials to create mold. If you smell a musty, underground kind of odor, you’ve probably got a water leak somewhere. If you haven’t cleaned your pipes in a while, get busy with some industrial strength Drano. Recaulk tubs and sinks. Replace old discolored faucets and shower heads. If that doesn’t help, hire a plumber to help you find the source.
Smoke: Nothing will drive 80 percent of your buyers out of your house faster than stale cigarette smoke. Stop smoking in the house. Repaint every wall. Strip and rewax floors. Yes, smoke permeates everything. Everything. Steam-clean all carpets, draperies, curtains, and upholstered furniture. You may even want to move out and let your real estate agent stage your home with fresh showroom furnishings. It’s extreme, but so is the reaction of non-smoking buyers.
Pheromones: We humans stink. No deodorant and skipping showers may work for some people, but buyers don’t want to smell you and your pheromones, especially if you’re not home. Athletic gear, dirty clothes, unwashed sheets and towels, and old pillows and bedding are just a few things that can store body odor. The cure is easy — bathe more often and don’t let laundry build up. Change sheets often, no less than weekly.
We shouldn’t have to say this, but there are personal discards that should never be found by buyers, like your “love” towel. Believe it or not, buyers open trashcans. Your agent has probably seen it all – used condoms and feminine hygiene products, band-aids, balled-up Kleenexes, pregnancy tests, and so on. In other words, if it has bodily fluids on it, get it out of the house before your next showing.
If you thought this article was on the raw side, it’s only because we know how it is out there. Your real estate agent has seen it all, too, and can tell you that every word is true.
The majority of homes nationwide are more affordable now than they were in the years leading up to the start of the housing bubble, with home buyers currently spending a smaller share of their incomes on a mortgage than they have historically.
Nationwide, roughly two-thirds (66.4 percent) of homes for sale on Zillow are considered affordable, and in many metro areas, the majority of homes are more affordable now than they have been historically for typical buyers making the area’s median income, according to new research from Zillow.
But homes aren’t affordable everywhere. Among the 35 largest metros nationwide, more than half of homes currently listed for sale in Miami (62.4 percent), Los Angeles (57.2 percent), San Diego (55.3 percent), San Francisco (55.2 percent), Denver (52.8 percent), San Jose (50.9 percent) and Portland, Ore. (50.3 percent) are unaffordable by historical standards.
Mortgage interest rates are currently very low, which helps home buyers’ dollars go further when buying a new home. But mortgage rates are rising, along with home values themselves, and as both go up, maintaining home affordability will become more challenging in a number of areas. In fact, in some areas, particularly in California, affordability is actually worse today than it was during the pre-bubble years.
Home buyers making the median income in Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Jose should already expect to pay a larger share of their income today toward a mortgage than during the pre-bubble years. Zillow expects mortgage rates on a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage to reach or exceed 5 percent by the first quarter of 2015. Assuming rates at that level and another year of forecasted home value growth, home buyers in San Diego; Riverside, Calif.; Portland, Ore.; Sacramento; and Miami will also soon be paying a larger share of their incomes to their mortgage than they were during the pre-bubble years.
“As affordability worsens, we’re already beginning to see more of the kinds of worrisome trends we saw en masse during the years leading up to the housing crash. These include a greater reliance on non-traditional home financing, smaller down payments and a greater pressure to move further away from urban job centers in order to find affordable housing options,” said Zillow Chief Economist Dr. Stan Humphries. “We’re not in a bubble yet, but we’re beginning to see the early signs of one in some areas.”
Buying a home is an intimidating endeavor. The process can be time-consuming, it has its own language of unfamiliar terms and acronyms, and it involves one of the largest outlays of cash you’ll likely make in your lifetime.
Deep breaths. By doing your homework and thinking about the process as four smaller stages, shopping for a home can be less complicated and, perhaps, even enjoyable.
Step 1: Gather and prepare
Even before you start perusing real estate websites or visiting open houses, you need to find a local real estate agent you can trust. Get recommendations from friends and family; Zillow’s agent reviews can also be a great resource. Interview several agents before deciding which one you want to work with. You’ll want to hire an agent who is knowledgeable about the buying and selling process, knows your area and makes you feel comfortable. Once you’ve settled on an agent, you should set up a meeting to analyze your wants and needs.
Just as with your agent, you’ll want to shop around for the best possible lender. Again, rely on recommendations from friends and family, use sites such as Zillow to read online reviews and check with the Better Business Bureau to ensure potential lenders haven’t been fraught with complaints. Interview at least three mortgage lenders. In addition to technical knowledge you, again, need to find someone who puts you at ease.
Once you settle on a lender, you need to get pre-approved. A pre-approval is a preliminary commitment in writing from a lender stating that you will qualify for a particular loan amount based on your income and credit information. Getting pre-approved will give you an accurate idea of how much you can afford.
Step 2: Find
After meeting with your agent, you should both have a clear picture of which neighborhood you want to live in and the size home you’re after. Do you want a single-family home? Are you open to looking at condominiums or town homes? Do you need to be in a specific school district or near public transit? Is outdoor space important to you?
It’s likely you’ll do a portion of your house hunting online. Sites like Zillow allow you to look for properties within specific neighborhoods, price ranges and size parameters. These online searches can help you eliminate homes that don’t fit your needs and point you in the direction of more promising properties.
Once you’ve found a property you love, be sure to visit it at all times of the day. A street that’s quaint and quiet during the day could turn into party central on the weekend. Neighbors, too, can provide insight about your potential dream home.
Step 3: Buy
Your agent will write your offer to purchase. Most sellers price their homes a bit high with the expectation that back-and-forth negotiations will take place. A decent place to start is about 5 percent below the asking price. Your agent can tell you how much comparable homes have sold for, which will help you determine what you’re willing to pay. After you’ve made your offer, it’s likely the seller will make a counteroffer, to which you can also counteroffer. Once you’ve agreed on a price, you’ll make an earnest money deposit, which goes in escrow to give the seller a sign of good faith.
Typically, purchase offers are contingent on a home inspection to check for signs of structural damage or things that may need fixing. This contingency protects you by giving you a chance to renegotiate your offer or withdraw it without penalty if the inspection reveals significant material damage. Both you and the seller will receive a report on the home inspector’s findings. You can then decide if you want to ask the seller to fix anything on the property before closing the sale. Before the sale closes, you will have a walk-through of the house, which gives you the chance to confirm that any agreed-upon repairs have been made.
While the inspection is being arranged, you need to work with your lender to choose a mortgage. Many different types of mortgage programs are available. Three of the most common for first-time buyers are:
Adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs). These mortgages have an introductory interest rate that lasts a set period of time and adjusts annually thereafter for the remaining time period for a total of 30 years. After the set time period your interest rate will change and so will your monthly payment. The monthly payment amount is usually subject to a cap.
Fixed-rate mortgages. Issued for 15, 20, 25 or 30 years, these are fully amortizing mortgage loans. The interest rate on this type of loan remains the same throughout the term of the loan, as opposed to loans where the interest rate may adjust.
Interest-only. Both fixed and adjustable-rate mortgages can have an interest-only payment, which means for a period of time during the loan term, you’re allowed to pay only enough to cover the interest portion of your payment. You can still pay principal when you wish, but you don’t have to if your budget is tight. The benefit to interest-only mortgages is that you increase your cash flow by not paying principal.
Ask questions and provide a complete picture of your finances so that your lender can help you determine which type of mortgage is right for you.
Step 4: Close
Your real estate agent will help set a closing date that is agreeable for both you and the seller. Optimally, you’ll want to schedule your closing date to coincide with taking possession — either to move in or to begin renovations. You’ll also want to try to coordinate closing with the move-out date of the property you’re leaving so you don’t have to pay for temporary housing before your move.
Be sure you talk to your agent and lender so that you have a clear understanding of all the costs associated with closing. Closing costs likely will include your down payment, escrow deposit, title fees, loan origination fees, appraisal fees, survey fees, attorney fees, inspection fees, recording fee and points you may have bought to buy down your interest rate. Typically, home buyers pay between 2 percent and 5 percent of the purchase price of their home in closing costs. So, if you bought your home for $200,000, you might pay between $4,000 and $10,000 in closing costs.
Once the papers have been signed and the deal is closed, it’s time to move in. Whether you use a professional moving company is up to you and may depend upon your financial situation, how many boxes you have to move, how far you’re moving and whether you have friends who are willing to help for free.
Buying property is not without challenges, but by assembling an experienced and knowledgeable team of advisers, you’re taking the first step toward homeownership.
Homeowners hear that the real estate market has finally turned a corner and assume that means multiple offers and bidding wars are back. Even if your town is buzzing with real estate activity and sales are picking up, it doesn’t mean that you’re guaranteed multiple offers, or even one offer for that matter. For a seller to get lots of activity on their listing, there are three must-haves: location, price and presentation.
Must have a good location: One thing is common among all properties that receive multiple offers these days: the home is in a good location. Location is nearly always what drives homebuyers in their search. Before considering price, number of bedrooms or size of
Pricing isn’t an exact science, and it’s nearly impossible to pin a precise number to a home until buyer and seller sign a contract and close.
If your home is on a busy street, not in the best school district or near a freeway on/off ramp, chances are you won’t receive the kind of activity that a well-located home would. In that case, work closely with your agent to price the home correctly.
Must be priced right: Buyers in any market look for perceived value. Homes priced 10 percent (or more) over their market value won’t get noticed. Pricing isn’t an exact science, and it’s nearly impossible to pin a precise number to a home until buyer and seller sign a contract and close. Then, the price officially becomes the home’s market value. Until that time, agents can provide sellers with a value range. Have a good location? Does your home show well? Are you in a strong sellers’ market? Price your home on the bottom of that price range and you’ll be sure to attract buyers — and possibly multiple offers.
Must show well: A generation ago, sellers simply did some deep cleaning and maybe some de-cluttering before their first open house. Presentation wasn’t as important then as it is today, given online listings. More buyers today develop an emotional connection to a home. They want to imagine themselves in your home and not feel like they’re a guest. What does that mean? Appeal to the masses. If you have a good location and you plan to price your home realistically, then you need to make sure you give buyers what they want. If you can afford it, make cosmetic upgrades;
If you’re not in a strong sellers’ market or you spend a fortune on last-minute upgrades, you could be in for a giant surprise.
Invest in some staging and work to turn your home into a “product.” Emotionally disconnect from your home and try to see it more objectively.
Plan on having the home in perfect condition for the photo shoot. A buyer’s first impression of your home likely will be via the Internet or an email from their agent. Make them want to step inside. The more buyers you attract to your home, the more activity.
Know your market: Don’t assume that national trends apply to your region, city or neighborhood. If you’re not in a strong sellers’ market or you spend a fortune on last-minute upgrades, you could be in for a giant surprise. Just because you hear about bidding wars and multiple offers on the national news doesn’t mean that applies to your market. For example, while properties in San Francisco may receive multiple offers, a town like Port Chester, NY, still sees short sales and homes often spend many days on the market.
Work with a good local agent. A local agent has likely toured all the nearby homes for sale as well as ones that have sold over the past six months to a year. Knowing those homes, having walked inside and personally knowing the agents who have sold them matters. This is market data that an outsider just doesn’t have access to. This knowledge empowers good local agents to educate their sellers.
Mortgage rates for 30-year fixed mortgages fell over the past week, with the current rate borrowers were quoted on Zillow Mortgage Marketplace at 4.14 percent, down from 4.20 percent at this same time last week.
The 30-year fixed mortgage rate plummeted on Wednesday from 4.24 percent to 4.12 percent, where rates have continued to hover into this week.
“Last week, rates dropped to their lowest levels in six weeks as investors shifted out of stocks and into safer assets, like U.S. Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities,” said Erin Lantz, vice president of mortgages at Zillow. “This week, there is a full slate of economic reports scheduled for release, with the potential to nudge rates up.”
Additionally, the 15-year fixed mortgage rate this morning was 3.15 percent, and for 5/1 ARMs, the rate was 2.80 percent.
*The weekly mortgage rate chart illustrates the average 30-year fixed interest rate in six-hour intervals.
A common question from a buyer or seller is: what is the best time to buy or sell a home? In the clothing world, it makes sense to get the best “deal” on winter clothes at the end of winter and that you will likely will pay top dollar for a swimsuit in April. Does the same trend hold true for real estate purchases and sales? Not really. But there are some considerations a buyer or seller should make as they enter the market that could have an impact on the transaction.
Spring and fall are better times for buyers
Let’s be clear. You can’t ever time a home purchase. Buying a home isn’t like buying a car or an iPad. The home buying process is a journey, one that happens on your own time and only after you’ve done enough research, seen enough homes and have your financial house in order.
At any one time there is a brand-new buyer entering the market and then another who has done enough research and becomes a very serious buyer. Nobody can control the evolution. But something for a buyer to consider is that real estate inventory tends to fluctuate by season. Each spring and fall we tend to see an increase in home inventory due to the seasons. More inventory means more options for buyers.
Holidays and winter are best times for sellers
It’s not conventional for a seller to list their home before the holidays or in the dead of winter for obvious reasons. But serious, eager buyers don’t care about the season or timing. At any one point of the year, there will be a very motivated, experienced buyer ready to make an offer, no matter the season. I’ve written contracts on Thanksgiving, closed escrow on New Year’s Eve and even had a serious buyer make an offer using DocuSign from a beach in Hawaii. Sellers believe that it’s more conventional to list for the spring “selling” season and then again after the summer. If you go the conventional route, you will see more competition. If you can sell “off season” you might fare better because there are still serious buyers, but less homes for sale.
Best time of day to list a home
The Sunday open house, particularly the first Sunday, is the holy grail of real estate. For decades, agents and sellers worked hard on a listing with a deadline being the first open house. The “for sale” sign, which made the listing official a generation ago, would go in front of the house the days leading up the first open house. In the digital age, the listing goes “live” online. Sellers and agents work hard to clean, paint or prep the home in time for the photo shoot. Agents and sellers tend to rush to the finish and you will see many listings hit the market late Thursday afternoon or Friday morning, with Sunday being the first showing. Instead, try listing on Monday or Tuesday and don’t do any showings until the open house on Sunday. You can build momentum and have a very strong first open house.
As much as buyers and sellers try to strategize the timing of a real estate purchase or sale, its never that easy. Unlike Macy’s or Target, who control inventory and monitory competitive activity, there isn’t one seller in real estate. Sellers are unrelated and disconnected and the types of homes are different making it nearly impossible to “time” a purchase or sale.