Houston and Gulf Coast Real Estate News & Updates

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Jan. 9, 2021

Top New Kitchen Counter Materials

Top New Kitchen Counter Materials

What is the reigning kitchen counter material today? If you’re ready to replace your kitchen counters, the quick answer is, quartz is king. The more useful takeaway for you, however, should be that quartz is only one of many high-quality, interesting materials you can choose from. And more is always better.

It was not always this way. If you’re not quite old enough to remember 1970s-era kitchen counter materials, be glad. Laminate countertops were king. The problem with laminate? It was about the only material to choose from at the time. The 1980s saw solid surface counters succeed laminate, followed in the 1990s by the next in line to the throne—granite—which at that time had become a more affordable kitchen counter material. Today, granite is still glorious, but it’s porous, which is a big reason why the crown passed to the non-porous quartz.

Which Kitchen Counter Material Should You Choose?

wood kitchen counterMost kitchen designers are recommending quartz more and more. A big reason for its dominance is that quartz is an engineered stone, so its non-porous surface makes it a solid barrier against germs. Quartz is also stainless and does not require sealing—two big drawbacks to granite. A more recent engineering development may be the biggest reason why quartz countertops have eclipsed granite. Quartz manufacturers can now replicate the more natural patterns that are the appeal of real stone granite countertops. But while quartz may be today’s designer choice, you have options. If quartz is not your king, take some time to research these other top choices in kitchen counter materials:

  • Butcher block
  • Ceramic tile
  • Concrete
  • Copper
  • Corian
  • Granite
  • Laminate
  • Marble (such as Carrara)
  • Paper composite
  • Recycled aluminum
  • Recycled glass
  • Soapstone
  • Solid surface
  • Stainless steel
  • Stone tile
  • Wood (such as bamboo, beech, maple, teak, walnut, as well as reclaimed wood)
  • Zinc

Are you a first-time homeowner, starting a family, empty nester, or maybe a real estate investor? Your lifestyle plays a big role in choosing the right kitchen counter material. The appeal of today's materials may be the many options you have, but thinking about what fits your life is paramount. Consider what you need, then plug any of the materials listed here into a web search and do your homework.

Posted in Home Owner Tips
Jan. 8, 2021

Should You Convert Your Garage?

Should You Convert Your Garage?

 

You’ve moved into a new home and already you’re bursting at the seams. You’ve discovered what most homeowners eventually learn: it doesn’t take long to fill every available space in a home. When that happens, and an addition is not in the budget, you do have another option. Convert your garage to a usable space. Sometimes, you just need more house, more than you need to house the car.

Converting vs. Adding to Make More Room

According to HomeAdvisor, “the average national cost of adding a room or building an addition is $43,892, with most homeowners spending between $20,899 and $67,431.” Depending on what you plan to use your garage for, converting it could cost as little as $1,500. In a separate survey, HomeAdvisor found that homeowners “paid between $5,997 and $19,281 [or] on average, converting a garage costs $12,043.” Bottom line: It can be more cost-effective to convert your garage.

Pro tip: You should also check with your local building department to see if a garage conversion requires a permit. You may not need one, or may only need one if you intend to have plumbing and/or a kitchen as part of a conversion. Regardless, permitting can be an added cost to consider.

Ideas for Your Garage Makeover

Once you have decided to convert your garage, it’s time for the fun part—deciding what type of room to create. Here are some of the most popular uses for a converted garage, sorted according to generally less- and more-expensive ideas. Often, a conversion can cost less when you already have the items you need more space for, like kids toys for a play room, or equipment for a gym, gaming, or office space. The biggest expense, after you convert a garage, will be buying those items that complete certain kinds of rooms, like a home cinema, bar, or a guest house.

 

Less Expensive
More Expensive
Less Expensive Kids Play Room More Expensive Artist Studio
  • Kids playroom
  • Parents retreat
  • Family room
  • Workout room or home gym
  • Game room
  • She shack
  • Man cave
  • Gardening or potting room
  • Rental space
  • Guest house
  • Lounge and bar
  • Home office or work space
  • Movie theatre or home cinema
  • Art studio
  • Music room
  • Library

Tips for Converting Your Garage on Budget

When you convert your garage, consider keeping the conversion simple. The benefit to that is you'll be able to more easily convert it back later. There may come a time when you no longer need the extra space, or your budget allows you to add room onto the house; or you may someday decide to sell. (Keep always in mind that, depending on your location, converting may potentially be a double-edged sword. Be sure to do your homework so you understand how any changes you make could affect your home’s resale value.)

The biggest benefit to keeping it simple? You can do the work more inexpensively, which is the focus of the updates and improvements described next. Most of these ideas you can also do yourself, which can help keep your costs down. (For even more ideas and inspiration, check out our Pinterest page.)

Heating and Cooling

If you have an attached garage, your current HVAC system may be able to support the extra space. For about $200, you can hire an HVAC inspector to assess whether or not your system can cover the garage. The cost of expanding a system with additional ducts and vents depends on the square footage of your garage, but typically, expanding a system can range between $500 and $2,000. It's important to also check with your local building department about any life-safety code issues with expansion to a garage. If an inspector assesses that your system won’t accommodate an expansion, you may have the option to update it, but that would also up your cost considerably.

For a standalone garage, or when central heating and cooling expansion is out, reasearch these less costly options:

  • Forced air heater
  • Floor unit or overhead heater
  • Infrared heater
  • Gas or wood burner
  • Window air conditioning unit
  • Portable room air conditioner

Insulation

No matter how you heat or cool your garage, you should add insulation. Look into less expensive alternatives such as recycled foam board or spray foam. You can DIY either with a little help from the internet—there are scores of video to walk you through installation.

If you live where winters are cold and want to create a comfortable environment for year-round use, you may need the more expensive, higher R-value insulation like what you have in your home. Factor your climate into every decision you make around converting the garage.

Walls

If your garage walls are unfinished (stud walls only), you’ll need to finish them before adding insulation. The problem is, most standard materials for finishing, such as wallboard (a.k.a, drywall), plywood, or paneling are expensive. There are less costly options to consider, including materials such as shiplap or galvanized metal. You’ll want to buy them pre-cut into panels if you DIY, so shop around for the best price when looking at these options.

Of course, if your garage has finished walls, painting them does not have to be the only option. Peel and stick wallpaper is so inexpensive, easy to work with, and comes in so many variations, you can create any look for your space and apply it in a day. From brick to barn wood to tin and more, you can peel and stick your way to a new room.

Flooring

Depending on what you plan to use the new space for, you’ll find many options for garage flooring. Some less expensive options include:

  • Concrete paint kit (epoxy-based) for coating floor
  • Resurfacing kits for concrete floors
  • Acid-staining kits for concrete floors
  • Garage floor mats
  • Rubber or vinyl flooring rolls
  • Engineered wood flooring
  • Garage floor tiles

You can DIY all of these options with a bit of research and some prep time. Should you ever decide to convert the space back to a garage, the first three options in list above can stand up to cars as is, while the last four are removable, so you can return to the original concrete floor.

You could also consider carpeting, but it is a more expensive option, and the space needs to be well-insulated to avoid mold and moisture issues. A less expensive option is to use throw rugs, especially indoor/outdoor rugs. These work great, come in so many colors and patterns, and if you shop around, you can find many for under $100.

Garage Door

Many online articles recommend you change the garage door. If you think you may want to use garage for cars again someday, consider instead simply purchasing a garage door insulation kit. Most cost under $100, but read reviews before you buy, and consider insulation thickness, R value, and ease of DIY installation.

A fun option to consider for your project might be adding a rolling or retractable mosquito screen added to your garage door. Be prepared to spend more—prices range from under $300 up to $1,000 including installation.

Want to keep the garage door but change its face? Check out GarageSkins. The wood veneer in this new product will apply quickly to a metal door and give the outside of the garage door a new look.

Windows

Be sure the windows are well insulated, or insulate them during wall installation. If your garage does not have any windows, consider adding one or two to provide the new room with more natural light. If you hire a contractor, the framing and labor to install a standard window typically costs under $1,000. Shop around for the best price on a new window and be sure it matches the look of windows in your home. And don’t skimp on price because it will be for the garage; purchase energy-efficient double-paned windows.

Room Design

Once you have completed converting your garage, you are ready to add the furnishings, wall coverings, and appropriate decor to complete the look. Even if you have opted for a more expensive conversion, say for creating an extra bedroom or guest room, watch for estate sales, or visit local consignment and antique stores. Shop around for unique, less expensive finds for your new space. Then just sit back, relax, and enjoy a little more room!

Posted in Home Owner Tips
Jan. 7, 2021

Beginner's Guide to Composting

Beginner's Guide to Composting

Did you know that up to 30% of what we throw away is yard and food scraps that can be composted? That’s a lot of material that doesn’t need to be taking up space in a landfill and producing greenhouse gasses. Best of all, that organic matter can become plant-feeding nutrient-rich compost you can use in your garden or for potted plants.

Benefits of Composting

If you like to garden, you’ve probably considered starting a compost pile or bin. Even if you’re not an avid gardener, composting has other environmentally friendly benefits too, including:

  • Reducing what goes into the landfill. As mentioned, about a third what goes into the landfill is organic material such as yard and food waste.
  • Recycling kitchen and yard waste. When this material decomposes in a landfill it contributes to methane gas (a type of greenhouse gas).
  • Helping soil retain water and reduce water loss. This not only reduces water use, but can help save on your utility bill.
  • Enriching soil. No matter the type of soil you have, adding compost can help. Is your soil sandy? Compost will help it retain water. Is your soil hard clay? Compost will help loosen it.
  • Reducing need for synthetic chemical fertilizers. Did you know chemical fertilizers in water runoff is a major contributor to pollution in our waterways?

Where to Compost

Composting can be as simple as creating a pile in your backyard, making a homemade bin, or purchasing special boxes, cones, and even tumblers (barrels or drums that rotate to mix the materials). Some cities and areas requires enclosed bins if you are composting food scraps, so check with your local government or waste company for guidance.

Here are the pros and cons of different composting methods and containers:

  • Piles:
    • Pros: simplest, least expensive method, as it needs no special equipment. Easy to access and turn the pile. Works great if you have lots of space and yard waste.
    • Cons: Can easily get too wet or too dry. Not a great choice if you have pets or critters who visit your backyard (raccoons, rats, possums, etc.)
  • Bins:
    • Pros: Looks nicer, contains compost, keeps moisture in, and helps keep animals out. Fairly easy to make if you are handy.
    • Cons: Can be expensive to purchase, depending on the type you choose.
  • Tumblers:
    • Pros: Makes compost quickly and easily. Good when space is an issue.
    • Cons: Can be expensive to buy and more involved to DIY.

Don’t have an outdoor space for composting? Consider vermicomposting, which works well indoors or in smaller spaces. Vermicomposting or worm composting is easy to maintain and doesn’t cost much, plus it can be a fun activity for young children to help with. You can buy a special bin for worm composting or make your own, but it will need to be inside so the worms don’t freeze in the winter or get too hot in the summer.

How to Start Composting

Composting works by decomposing organic material such as yard waste and kitchen scraps into a great amendment you can add to improve the quality of your soil. Making compost the right way (so it’s not smelly or messy) is a bit like following a recipe. For this recipe, you need four main ingredients:

  • Brown, or carbon-rich materials. This includes dry (hence “brown”) materials such as dried leaves, straw, woodchips, branches, etc. You can also add shredded recycled paper and cardboard to your compost.
  • Green, or nitrogen-rich materials. Fresh grass, tree, and shrub clippings are ideal. But you can also add kitchen scraps and manure (from horses, cows, and poultry), which are considered “green” materials—even though they aren’t “green” in color.
  • Water. Compost needs water, as dry materials are resistant to decomposition. To make compost, you need to keep things damp. But don’t let it get too wet, as excess moisture can keep out the last key ingredient, oxygen or air.
  • Air. While it might be tempting to try and tamp down your pile, the bacteria that help things decompose need oxygen to live. If your pile gets too wet or compacted, the good bacteria will die and things won’t decompose properly. You can keep your pile aerated by turning materials occasionally or poking holes in the pile with a pitchfork or stick.

What to Include in Your Compost

Here’s what you should and shouldn’t include in your compost:

 

OK to Compost

Not OK to Compost

GREENS

  • Fresh grass clippings
  • Fresh yard trimmings
  • Manure from cows, horses, or chickens
  • Fruit and vegetable scraps
  • Bread, rice, pasta (non-greasy)
  • Coffee grounds
  • Eggshells
  • Tea bags
  • Nut shells
  • Herbicide-treated clippings
  • Seed heads and roots for invasive weeds like ivy, morning glory, crabgrass, etc.
  • Pet waste
  • Meat, poultry, fish
  • Fat or oil
  • Greasy food scraps
  • Dairy products and eggs

BROWNS

  • Dried leaves
  • Twigs and small branches
  • Hay and straw
  • Woodchips, sawdust, or shavings
  • Shredded paper, cardboard,  paper towels
  • Wood ashes

 

  • Evergreen leaves (a little is OK)
  • Branches over a half-inch in diameter, blackberry stalks, and rose stems
  • Treated wood
  • Coated, colored, or wax paper
  • Charcoal ashes

What to compost infographic

Creating the Right Compost Recipe

  1. If you have the option, it’s a good idea to place your compost pile or bin near a water source, and in a shadier location, if available.
  2. Your compost pile should have an equal amount of “green” and “brown” materials in alternate layers. So start with a layer of carbon-rich “brown” material, then one of nitrogen-rich “green” material, and repeat.
  3. Keep your compost pile moist, but don’t let it get too wet. This is where a lid on the bin helps, but you can use a tarp over your pile instead.
  4. Turn your pile with a pitchfork or shovel every week or two to make sure it gets air, and the temperature stays even. When your pile gets to about 3 ft. wide and 3 ft. tall, you can stop adding materials and start a new pile.
  5. It can take anywhere from three to six months to produce compost, depending on how balanced the mixture is and how attentively you tend to your pile.

How to compost infographic

Composting Tips and Troubleshooting

  • You can easily collect kitchen scraps in a store bought or DIY container.
  • If your compost is smelly or soggy, there may be too much “green” material, or not enough air. Add more “brown” materials, or turn the pile if it seems too compacted.
  • If your compost is too dry it will take a longer time to decompose.
  • If your pile attracts wild critters, make sure to bury your kitchen scraps to the middle of the pile.
  • Have too much yard waste? Your local waste company may also provide you with a separate barrel (often green or brown) for yard waste and other compostables. This material is then collected and composted at one or more central locations. Check with your waste company about what you can add to the barrel. Some places only allow yard waste, while other allow kitchen scraps as well.
Posted in Lifestyle
Jan. 6, 2021

Delicious Hot Drinks for Winter

Delicious Hot Drinks for Winter

Whether you live where the winter temps stay chilly day and night, or you live in a milder clime, where a warm nighttime beverage is just the ticket, here are five recipes for deliciously hot drinks that each offer a twist on favorite wintertime beverages.

Hot Apple-Cranberry Cider

4 cups apple cider
4 cups cranberry juice (not cranberry cocktail)
Brown sugar to taste
4 cinnamon sticks
Pinch of whole cloves

Combine apple cider and cranberry juice in a large pot. Add brown sugar to taste if you like a sweeter cider. Add cinnamon sticks and cloves. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 5-10 minutes. Strain to remove spices and serve warm.

Easy Hot Chai Tea Apple Cider

Combine chai tea (regular or decaf) and apple cider to make a quick sweet-and-spicy treat.

1 chai tea bag
1 cup apple cider

In a microwave safe mug, microwave apple cider on high for 1-2 minutes, or until hot. Add chai tea bag and let steep 3-5 minutes.

Peanut Butter Hot Chocolate

8 oz. milk (or non-dairy milk)
1 Tbsp. smooth peanut butter
1 Tbsp. cocoa powder
1 Tbsp. sugar or equivalent sweetener

Toppings: Chocolate chips, chopped peanuts, whipped cream

Heat milk in a saucepan over medium heat until it just starts to simmer. Add peanut butter, cocoa powder, and sugar. Whisk together until dissolved. Remove from heat, and top with whipped cream, and chocolate chips.

Quick Nutella Coffee

2 tsp. Nutella
1 cup hot coffee
Half-and-half or milk (optional)
Whipped cream

Start with a hot cup your favorite freshly brewed coffee. Add Nutella and stir until it melts. Add milk or half-and-half to taste and top with whipped cream.

Hot Chocolate with Toppings

Hot chocolate with melted snowmanTry these hot chocolate recipes and experiment with the many fun toppings options.

Toppings

Crushed peppermint or candy canes
Caramel sauce or caramel pieces
Sweetened coconut flakes
Candy sprinkles
Cocoa puff cereal
Chocolate cookie crumbles Peanuts

Bonus Topping

Make some Marshmallow Snowman Toppers to add for fun or to delight a loved one:

Large marshmallows
Pretzel sticks
Candy corn
Chocolate syrup (or cake decorating gel)

Connect three marshmallows with pretzel sticks, then add the pretzel sticks for arms (and legs if you want). Add candy corn for the nose. Use melted chocolate or cake decoration gel to add eyes, mouth, and buttons.

Posted in Lifestyle
Jan. 4, 2021

Tips for Buying the Right Kitchen Appliances

Tips for Buying the Right Kitchen Appliances

 

Buying major kitchen appliances can be almost as overwhelming as buying a new car. There are so many choices, and an ever-evolving stream of new features and technology. Here are five tips that can help your decision-making when you’re ready to shop for new kitchen appliances, along with some of the latest features you may want to consider for three major kitchen appliances: dishwasher, oven, and refrigerator.

1. Ready, Set, Budget!

You can find quality, reliable kitchen appliance brands and models in almost every price range. Things such as finishes (stainless costs more), features, high-tech, and capacity will definitely drive prices up, however. Deciding your budget before you start shopping can help narrow down your options, and keep your spending on track.

When you consider your appliance budget, think about how long you’re going to be in your home. If you’re simply replacing an old dishwasher in a house you plan to sell in a few years, you might not want to spring for a high-end model. If it’s your dream-kitchen remodel, however, the extra expense may be worth it.

2. Avoid Buyer’s Regret – Don’t Impulse Buy

It’s easy to be tempted by a big sale, new features, or great design. Before you’re tempted to buy, however, think about what your household needs, who will be using the appliances, and how they’ll be used. Then, just as you would when shopping for a new car, it is wise to do a little research.

Not a fan of shopping? Find a friend or family member who likes to shop and ask for their help. This can help prevent the temptation to buy the first thing that looks good.

3. Find Reliable Appliance Brands

It really pays to do your homework and find which appliance brands (and types) are most reliable. You might think the most reliable appliance brands would be the higher-end ones, but you’d be surprised.

Most people expect their major appliances to last about ten years, which is pretty close to what manufacturers expect as well. That doesn’t mean your appliances won’t need repairs before that, however.

Your friends and family, and even your online social network are a great place to get advice about must-have – or stay-away-from – appliances types and brands. People love to give recommendations about things they like—and don’t like.

Searching the internet always provides a wealth of information, but there can be a lot of conflicting and confusing advice about the best appliance models. The best features and styles can be subjective, so you may not find exactly what you’re looking for, but it’s a good place to start.

Brand reliability is definitely worth researching on the internet. Consumer Reports is a great place to start for brand ratings. If you don’t want to spring for an account, check your local library. They’ll probably have the printed magazine or an online account you can use.

4. Know What You Need in Your Appliances

Think about what your family needs. If you love to cook or like to entertain, splurging on high-end or large-capacity appliances can make sense. On the other hand, if you have a small household, or rarely use your kitchen other than the freezer and microwave, standard size appliances are probably fine.

Do you love takeout pizza? Then make sure that side-by-side refrigerator will fit those large pizza boxes. Similarly, if you’re a fan of all things frozen (that is, desserts), a fridge with a bottom freezer may lead to back strain from bending over to reach items.

If you’re on a first-name basis with the experts at the Apple Genius Bar, you may want to stay away from smart appliances, and those with lots of complex options and controls. On the other hand, if you’re comfortable with technology, smart appliances have a lot to offer (more about this below).

5. Choose Smart Appliance Features Wisely

Are smarter appliances a smart buy? Smarter doesn’t usually mean easier or simpler to use. It’s easy to be tempted by the latest high-tech gadgets and smart devices. Many “smart” features really can make your life easier— if you’re comfortable with technology. Buying the latest and greatest major appliances with high-tech computers isn’t always a good idea, however.

Smart appliances

Adding computers and more electronic components to appliances mean there’s more to break down. Technology is constantly evolving, but that doesn’t mean it’s meant to last. Think of your phone—you probably replace it every few years. While a new appliance should last longer than that, smart appliances may not last as long. And when items break, your local service professional may not be trained yet to fix the computer screen on your high-tech fridge or other cutting-edge appliance.

Popular Dishwasher Features

Pros and Cons of Hidden Controls

Yes, having the dishwasher controls hidden can give a sleek look. If you have small children around, hidden can also keep the irresistible lure of buttons away from tiny hands. On the other hand, hidden controls typically up the cost. You also have to open the door to operate the dishwasher and with some models you won’t be able to tell how long is left in the cycle.

Dishwasher with hidden controls

How Much Quiet Do You Want?

Price doesn’t always equate to a better-cleaning dishwasher, but it almost always equates to a quieter dishwasher. Higher end dishwashers are typically quieter than lower-end models. If a quiet dishwasher is important for you, aim for a dishwasher that is between 45 and 50 decibels (the unit of measure used for sound ratings). That said, if you have a ten-year-old dishwasher, even an inexpensive new dishwasher is going to be much quieter than your current one.

Flexible Racks

If you cook a lot or like to entertain, features such as adjustable or flexible racks – or even third racks for silverware -- are worth considering. You’ll pay more for these features, but the extra usability can be worth it. Drawer-style dishwashers (similar to double ovens), however, will definitely add to the cost, and these models haven’t yet proven their reliability.

Dishwasher racks

Popular Oven/Cooktop Features

Unless you’re doing a kitchen remodel, you probably aren’t going to change the current style of oven you have: typically either a freestanding range or a built-in wall oven with a separate cooktop. In most cases, you’ll also want to stay with the same fuel type (gas or electric) unless your kitchen is already set up for both, or you’re willing to spend money to have it modified.

Controls and Settings

If you opt for an electronic control panel, you can look for features such as control and door locks, delay timers, and settings to keep your food warm. Smart controls can get you even more options.

Convection vs. Convention Ovens

Conventional and convection ovens look almost the same, but the addition of a fan in a convection oven changes the way it heats and cooks. In a regular or conventional oven, the heat will rise to the top. A convection oven’s fan circulates hot air, which helps heat and cook more evenly. Convection ovens cook faster, typically at a lower heat, so this means they also use less energy (an average of 20% less). Convection isn’t great for everything however: breads, cakes, and cupcakes are better baked in a conventional oven.

Double Ovens

Double ovens are a big hit with those who love to cook and entertain, but who don’t have the space for two wall-ovens. If baking two items at different temperatures at the same time is your idea of a good time, the extra money for a double oven could be worth it for you.

The downside of double ovens? The lower oven opens practically right onto the floor in most models. Bending over to lift a big roast or turkey from the lower oven can be a challenge for some people. (Have bad knees or an iffy back? You probably won’t like it.) The low oven opening can also be an issue if you have small children or pets who like to get involved with what you are doing.

Popular Refrigerator Features

Ice and Water Dispenser: Popular, but Problematic

Think twice about in-door ice and water dispensers. Refrigerator water and ice dispensers are popular and definitely convenient, but they have significant downsides. First, refrigerators with these features not only cost more, they also have higher energy costs. Next, these dispensers also take up valuable door space. If you don’t need an ice dispenser, many refrigerators have water dispensers located inside, that take up very little space. Finally, according to Consumer Reports, refrigerators with water and ice dispensers tend to have much higher repair rates.

Door Alarms and Child Locks

It’s easy to be distracted in the kitchen and not shut the fridge all the way, only to return to find the door has been partway open for who-knows-how-long. Some fridges have alarm systems that set off when the doors have been open for a certain time. The Child Lock feature can also be a helpful if you have small children in the home.

Adjustable Shelves and Drawers

New refrigerators come with a variety of shelving and drawer options. Sliding and split shelves give you added flexibility to customize the space to maximize capacity and organization. Some refrigerators have adjustable storage bins on the doors as well. Others offer doors within doors so that you can easily access frequently used items such as beverages and condiments without opening whole fridge door.

 

Posted in Home Owner Tips
Jan. 4, 2021

Should I Buy a Home Warranty?

Should I Buy a Home Warranty?

Thinking of buying a home warranty? Here are questions to ask and information to help you decide if a home warranty is right for you.

When you purchase a home warranty you get a year-long service contract that covers the cost of repairing or replacing many important home systems and appliances in your home when they fail. Plans can include plumbing, electrical, heating, air conditioning, as well as major kitchen and household appliances you use every day.

Like most people, you probably already have homeowners insurance. Many people choose a home warranty to complement homeowner’s insurance, which protects the structure of your home against damage from things such as fire, storms and severe weather, vandalism, and accidents, but which doesn’t protect other items in your home that break over time.

With a home warranty plan, when a covered item breaks:

  1. Call your home warranty provider to request service
  2. They’ll dispatch a prescreened contractor to fix the covered item
  3. In most cases, all you pay is a low service fee for the visit

And if a covered appliance or system can't be fixed, the home warranty company should replace it with similar equipment. Having coverage like this can add up to hundreds and thousands of dollars saved per year, plus someone else dealing with the hassle of finding a qualified contractor to fix the problem.

Is a Home Warranty Right for You?

When you consider if you should buy a home warranty, here are a few things to think about:

1. Are you on a tight budget?

Some experts suggest you should budget $1 for every square foot of your home each year to pay for home repairs and replacements. Other suggest saving 1% of your home’s cost (or value) in a yearly home maintenance fund. While it’s a great idea to have money set aside for unexpected (and even expected) expenses, putting aside thousands of dollars each year may not be feasible for many people.

With a home warranty you can rest easy knowing that if a covered appliance or system breaks, your budget is protected.

2. Do you have an older home?

You may have more reason to consider a home warranty if your home and its appliances aren’t brand new. Manufacturer warranties for new appliances typically last a year, but if you purchase with a credit card that includes extended warranty coverage that can add another year.

Home systems and appliances vary in their lifespan, but like many things, they often don’t last like they used to. How long can you expect your home systems and appliances to last? It depends, as reliability varies from brand to brand, but here are some general guidelines about how long things last.

3. Are you selling your home?

A home warranty can be a great way to help make your listing stand out against the competition. It can help the buyer feel more confident about purchasing your home, and submitting their best offer. Finally, a home warranty can help prevent the sale from being derailed or postponed if a covered item breaks down during the transaction. Ask your real estate agent for pricing and details.

4. Are you buying a home?

Buying a home can leave your budget a little tight for at least the first year. A home warranty is a great way to protect you from the unexpected expense of home system and appliance breakdowns. Plus, you’ll have an easy, time-saving way to find service providers when a covered item breaks. There are special home warranty plans for home buyers, so ask your agent for more information.

What Does a Home Warranty Cover?

When shopping for a home warranty, one of the first things you should check is to make sure it includes the items you need covered. Are you worried about appliances breaking? Many plans cover essential home appliances including your dishwasher, stove, refrigerator, washer, and dryer. Is your home older? Look for plans that cover systems such as plumbing, electrical, and heating.

Home warranty plans also offer optional coverage for items such as air conditioning, pools or spas, well pumps, and more.

Appliances

Kitchen Refrigerator

Washer & Dryer

Oven Range & Cooktop

Dishwasher

Built-in Microwave

Garbage Disposal

Trash Compactor

HVAC Systems

Central Air Conditioning

Heating System

Ductwork

Thermostats

Plumbing System

Stoppages

Leaks and Breaks

Water Heaters

Toilet Tanks & Bowls

Sump Pump

More Systems

Electrical System

Central Vacuum

Ceiling Fans

Attic & Exhaust Fans

Garage Door Openers

Pool & Spa Equipment

Well Pumps

If you’re buying or selling a home, there are special plans design to cover homes involved in a real estate transaction. You can see sample coverage for real estate home warranty plans, or ask your real estate agent for pricing and details.

 Is a Home Warranty Worth It?

When determining if buying a home warranty makes sense for you, it can be helpful to know the life expectancy for your home’s systems and appliances, and the costs to repair or replace those items. Here are some average costs for what you’d pay for repair or replacement bills without a home warranty:*

Home Systems:

  • Air Conditioner: $924 to $3,270
  • Heating System: $794 to $2,990
  • Plumbing: $473 to $1,130
  • Electrical System: $418 to $1,650

Home Appliances:

  • Refrigerator: $1,338 to $3,090
  • Oven/Range: $1,246 to $3,413
  • Washer/Dryer: $729 to $1,454
  • Dishwasher: $682 to $1,560

So what can you expect to pay for a home warranty? Home warranty costs depend on a number of factors, including where you live, the number and type of items covered, and if the home is involved in a real estate transaction. In general, however, basic home warranty coverage for homeowners starts at around $300 per year. You can easily get a quick home warranty quote to see what coverage could costs for your home.

Home warranty plans for home buyers and sellers in real estate vary even more in cost and coverage, so check with your real estate agent full details.

What isn’t Covered by a Home Warranty

A home warranty can protect your budget when inevitable breakdowns happen to essential home appliances and systems from normal wear and tear. But like insurance and other types of warranties, home warranty plans don’t cover everything.

For example, home warranties don’t cover:

  • Items that are already broken
  • Cosmetic damage
  • Misuse, neglect, or improper installation
  • Changing or modifying home’s structure

Learn more about home warranty plan coverage limits.

Find a Home Warranty That’s Right for You

Bottom line, if you want to protect your budget, don’t want to deal with the hassle of finding a qualified professional when things break, don’t have savings to cover expensive home system and appliance repairs, or your home systems and appliances aren’t brand new, buying a home warranty could be a good choice for you.

Posted in Home Buyers
Aug. 11, 2020

How Much Will It Cost Me To Sell My House?

How Much Will It Cost to Sell My House?

 

Are you thinking about selling your home? Whether you are sizing up, sizing down, or moving out of town, it’s important to be aware of the typical and often standard costs to selling a house. It’s helpful, for example, to know which costs are unavoidable and the likely dollar amounts they may cost. It’s also good to know which costs you may be able to avoid and which ones may be negotiable, either before or during close. In the end, like every home seller, you want to know how much money you can expect to walk away with at close. Understanding more about the costs to sell your home can help you better calculate your likely proceeds.

 

Set Your Expectations

The current seller’s market may provide potential advantages as a home seller, including more power at the negotiating table on selling costs; nevertheless, you should anticipate that about 10% of the selling price may go to commissions and various fees. Simply having that percentage in mind can help you set good expectations around likely net proceeds from a home sale.

 

Once you have contracted with a real estate agent, be sure you also take advantage of their expertise. Talk with your agent about the following eight costs and take an active approach in the selling process. Your agent is a pro and there to walk you through this big step in your life.

 

Listing Agent Commission

The first cost to expect if you sell your home is the payment to your agent in the form of a commission for the work they do. Your agent’s work includes marketing your home and all that entails, listing your home on the multiple listings service (MLS), fielding calls, reviewing offers with you, negotiating with buyers, scheduling inspections, managing the transaction, and much more.

 

Typically, the commission for the agent’s work is 6% of the cost of the sale of your house. Bear in mind, though, that the commission will also be split between your agent and the buyer’s agent and it may not be an even split between them. Additionally, the lenders for both you and the buyer will also take their fees out of the commission.

 

To determine what 6% means to you as the home seller, use the example of a $300K closing price for a home--the agent’s commission would be $18,000. Once you and your agent decide on the right price for your home, subtract 6% from that price in your mind to set your expectation about final proceeds right from the beginning.

 

Note: All examples in this article will use the same closing price of $300,000.

 

Home staging costs

You may think your stuff is great—and it is—but it may not help you sell your home. Your agent may suggest you stage your home using furniture that is not your own. That’s because “on average, staged homes sell 88% faster and for 20% more than non-staged homes,” according to Realtor.com.

 

However, staging can be costly. The same article stated, “the average cost for most stagers is $300 to $600 for an initial design consultation, and $500 to $600 per month per staged room.” You need to consider the square footage of your home when you calculate the potential cost. Weigh that against factors such as how quickly homes are currently selling in your area, rooms that may not need staging, and any added storage cost for your own stuff. Your agent can help you with these and help you determine whether staging will be cost-positive for you.

 

Home Inspection Cost

Typically, the buyer or buyer’s agent schedules a home inspection and the cost is included in the buyer’s closing costs. How much the fee will be depends on the square footage of a home, but fees range between $200 and $500 for a basic inspection. As a seller, you can be at your home at the time of the inspection, but if you would like to be prepared ahead of time and perhaps avoid any costly surprise repairs you may have to make, you can also order a home inspection report before you’re ready to sell.

 

Home Repairs

As a seller, be prepared to fix certain problems if a home inspection discovers them. These typically can include safety standard and building code violations, structural problems, and plumbing or roofing leaks. If you have followed the 1 percent rule as a homeowner—setting aside 1% of your home’s value each year to a savings fund for home maintenance—you can use those funds to repair any big problems that could arise when it’s time to sell.

 

Often, certain home repairs are negotiable and your agent can help with these details. In a seller's market, you also may have more negotiating power on paying for repairs.

 

Transition Costs

Most home sellers are also buying their next home. If that’s you, it’s a good idea to estimate the cost to rent back or lease your former home for a period of time, before you can move. Most agents recommend estimating 1% of the closing price for transition or overlap costs. Using our example of $300K house, estimate $3,000 for this cost.

 

Mortgage Payoff

You know how much you owe on your existing mortgage, so the payoff amount obviously is specific to your loan. In addition to paying off your mortgage, find out if you will have any other payments to factor into this cost. These can include a pre-payment penalty, missed payments, late fees, or any interest that accrues after your expected payoff date. Do your homework early in the closing process to avoid these sorts of surprises at close.

 

Attorney fees

While not required in every state, your agent will know whether you can avoid the closing services and/or the presence of an attorney to sell a home where you live. Your agent can also be a good resource if you need a real estate attorney recommendation. Typically, most attorneys charge either a flat fee or an hourly rate, but expect the bill to range between $500 and $1,500 for a straightforward real estate transaction.

 

Closing costs

You can expect to spend an additional 2% of your home’s price on this expense, or approximately $6,000 on our example $300K home sale.

 

Seller’s closing costs tend to be fixed and include items such as title search and insurance, property or deed transfer taxes, recording fees, and outstanding liens on the property. You’ll also pay remaining property taxes and a negotiated proportion of any outstanding utility bills.

Posted in Home Seller's
Aug. 10, 2020

Bought a New Home in the Last Year?

New Homeowner Tips and Resources

Wouldn’t it be great if homeownership came with a manual? Or at least a cheat sheet? These tips and resources can help. You'll find help with what you need to do first, when and how to do home maintenance tasks you may have never had to do before, and ways to budget and save money. No matter when you bought your home in the last year, these tips can help you ease into homeownership.

 

First Things First

1. Change Your Locks

You never know how many spare keys there could be (and who could have them) when you buy a new home. If you have a First American home warranty that was included with your home purchase, rekey service may be included in your coverage.

 

If you have traditional locks with a key, consider hiding an extra key in a lockbox. Tired of losing your keys? Consider switching to a keyless door lock that you can open with a code entered into the keypad, or a smart lock you can unlock with your mobile device, voice activation, and more.

 

2. Learn Where Your Utility Shutoff Valves and Switches Are Located

Take a few minutes to walk around your house and learn where the shutoff values and switches are located. For your water, you’ll want to know where your main shutoff valve is located, as well as the shutoff for any irrigation or sprinklers. If a pipe bursts and you need to shut off the water in a hurry, you’ll want to know where to go. It’s also a good idea to label your circuits in your electrical box so you can easily tell if a circuit gets tripped and you have to reset it.

 

Not sure where to find your utility valves and switches? Here are tips on where to look. 

 

3. Create a Toolbox

Buying a home probably hasn’t left you with a lot of extra money, but every homeowner needs a few key items for their toolbox. Don’t worry—there will be plenty of time for you to grow your toolbox over the years. Here are 16 essential tools you can start with for your toolbox.

 

4. Get One or More Fire Extinguishers

Fire extinguishers are like insurance – you hope you never need them, but you wouldn’t want to be without them. And unlike homeowners insurance, fire extinguishers are fairly inexpensive.

 

If you only have one fire extinguisher, make sure it is in your kitchen, as this where over half of home fires occur. You should also consider keeping a fire extinguisher somewhere central in your home, where you can grab it in a hurry. If you have multiple stories, then consider keeping an extinguisher on each floor.

 

5. Make or Buy a Home Emergency Kit

If a natural disaster or unexpected emergency occurs, it’s important to have a home emergency kit ready to go. Here's how to get started building an emergency kit that you and your loved ones can rely on when you need it quick.

 

6. Create a Home Inventory

Take photos or create a video walk-through of your home to record all of your personal property. You’re paying for homeowners insurance, which you’ll hopefully never need to use, but if you do, the last thing you’re going to want to do is make lists of items from memory. A great way to make a fast inventory is to walk through your house video recording the contents and describing them as you go. If you want to go a little more in-depth, there are many home inventory apps.

 

Home Maintenance How-Tos

Maintaining your home is one of the new expenses that comes with owning a home. If it helps, think of it as maintaining one of your largest investments. Upkeep of home maintenance tasks not only keeps your home running smoothly, it can also help prevent headaches – or big repair bills – down the line. Fortunately, you can do many of these maintenance tasks yourself, even if you’re not that handy.

 

Get Organized with a Home Maintenance Log

Half the battle of home maintenance is knowing what needs to be done, and when. A home maintenance log can help you track maintenance and repair for your home and where you can keep track of improvements, updates, and upgrades you make. You can also use it to store appliance and system manuals and instructions, warranties, and other resources. Learn how to make your own home maintenance log.

 

Schedule HVAC Maintenance for Spring and Fall

Your heating and cooling systems work hard behind the scenes to keep you and your family comfortable all year long. Scheduling an off-season air conditioner tune-up is a great way to make sure these systems run efficiently to keep your heating and cooling costs down. Technicians can often spot small problems before they become big ones—and who wants their AC to suddenly stop working on the first really hot day of the season?  One thing you can do on your own is to stay on top of changing your HVAC air filter.

Posted in Home Owner Tips
Aug. 10, 2020

3 Smart Home Devices That Help Sell Your Home

3 Smart Home Devices That Can Help Sell Your Home

If you are ready to sell your home and looking for ways to help your real estate listing stand out, adding these three simple, low-cost smart home upgrades may offer you a win-win opportunity. Why? Because adding these smart home devices will not only appeal to your eventual homebuyer, they can also benefit you in the short-term as the current homeowner!

 

And, if you are planning to sell your home, chances are, you are buying another one, so when you install these smart devices in your current home, you will already know how to use the technology in your next home and be ready to use them when you move in.

 

A recent survey provides data that seems to back up the growing appeal of these three smart home devices for buyers. According to the survey, more than 60% of homebuyers were interested in smart security upgrades and more than 70% said that smart thermostats and smart smoke alarms were attractive features they look for in listings.

 

1. Smart Security

No matter which generation your potential homebuyers were born into, it seems they agree with their neighboring gens on the importance of buying a home in a safe neighborhood. With more than 90% of boomers, gen xers, and millennials all agreeing on this one idea, according to recent data, it’s a safe bet that if your home has smart security features, your listing will be equally appealing to nearly every age set of potential homebuyers. Any upgrades that can have such broad appeal are a good idea to have in a home for sale.

 

When it comes to smart security, here are two inexpensive upgrades you can install with ease:

 

Smart door locks

Smart locks pair with Bluetooth on your smart phone to your deadbolt making the need to find your keys a thing of the past. Smart locks can also detect your presence, reducing the chance of getting locked out of the house. Keyless entry via a smart lock also means you can easily share your "e-key" with family members and, as a home seller, even your real estate agent. Finally, if you drive off on an errand, you can remotely lock the door--no more driving home to check if your locked the front door.

 

Smart doorbell

Smart doorbells are internet-connected devices that alert you when someone is at the door. If a visitor presses the smart doorbell button, your smart phone chimes--it can sound just like a traditional doorbell. But unlike those, when you install a smart doorbell, it uses a video camera that lets you see who it is. You can even speak to the person without having to open the door. It's a safer way to be sure you know the person before you open your door, and even at night, you can clearly see who it is because of built-in night vision technology. The video camera in smart doorbells also let's you see who came to the door while you were away, and most of these smart devices can be integrated with an existing surveillance system.

 

2. Smart Thermostat

The biggest appeal to installing a smart thermostat for homebuyers and homeowners alike is that using one can help lower heating and cooling costs, typically a homeowner’s most expensive year-round utility bill to pay. Smart thermostats are WiFi-connected devices that you can control from your smart phone or tablet. From your phone, you can schedule temperature settings for different times of the day and evening, and if you have a home automation system, you can usually integrate a smart thermostat.

 

3. Smart Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarms

Thought experiment: If your smoke alarm sounds off while you are in woods, will anyone hear it? Traditional smoke alarms require you to hear them. If no one is home to hear the alarm, that can spell trouble. (Though any type of working smoke alarm in your home is still a better than none).

 

The biggest benefit to installing both smart smoke and carbon monoxide alarms is you do not need to be at your home to be alerted to trouble.

Posted in Home Seller's
July 21, 2020

Home Maintenance Top Tips

Your home is likely your biggest investment and keeping it maintained is one of the best ways to help protect that investment. When you stay on top of home maintenance, it can also help:

  • Keep home systems and appliances working safely and efficiently.  
  • Save on utility bills. Did you know an HVAC unit that’s not regularly maintained can lose from 5% to 15% percent in efficiency each year? Small water leaks can also add up on your water bill.
  • Identify small problems before they become larger, more expensive ones. Don’t let a water leak turn from minor irritation to major water damage.

Regular home maintenance can also save you from unnecessary expenses and the headaches that happen when thing break.

Here are home maintenance tips that you can do yourself or with the help of a service professional.

Change HVAC Filters Regularly

Replacing your air filter regularly is probably one of the simplest things you can do to keep your heating and air conditioning system working its best. Keeping filters changed regularly will also help with indoor air quality and prevent contaminates and allergens build up in your home.

Dirty HVAC air filter

Most higher-end pleated filters have a three-month life (cheap ones don’t last as long). If constant air conditioning or heating is necessary where you live, you may need to replace your filter more often—even monthly. You may also need to replace your filter more often if you have allergies or asthma, and if you have pets.

Keep Your HVAC System Maintained

Have your HVAC system serviced twice yearly: once for the air conditioning system and again for the heater.

We recommend having your air conditioning system checked in late winter or early spring, before the temps heat up, to uncover any potential problems. You should also keep leaves, branches, dirt, and other debris away from your air conditioner’s outdoor condenser. Many people like to surround their condenser with plants to block it from view, but you try to keep foliage trimmed at least two feet away from the unit.

Your furnace or central heating system should also be serviced yearly, typically in the early fall before temperatures turn chilly.

Help Your Washing Machine Wash its Best

You may not think of cleaning your washing machine, but doing so will keep it cleaning (and smelling) its best. Many newer washers have a “self clean” feature, or you can clean it yourself using the hot water cycle with a cup of oxygen bleach or vinegar and baking soda. For front-loading machines, the pump or debris filter that should be cleaned monthly.

You should also regularly inspect the water hoses that attach to back of the washer. Check to make sure hoses attach securely to the drain hose and there are no leaks. Tighten them if necessary. Replace them if you notice any cracks or kinks. Hoses usually last about three to five years.

Washing machine hoses being tightened

Tips to prevent mold and mildew or odors:

  • Leave the washer lid or door open between cycles to help it air out.
  • Don’t leave wet clothes in the washer.
  • For front-loaders, dry off the rubber gasket around the door after each load.

Clean Your Dryer Vent

Dryer lint can build up in the ducting, reducing dryer efficiency, and even creating a fire hazard. At least once per year, inspect and clean your dryer vent and ducting. If you’re reasonably handy around the house you can clean the dryer ducting yourself, or you can hire a professional who will take care of it for you.

Cleaning dryer vent and ducting

In addition, you should:

  • Clean your lint screen after every load.
  • Occasionally, wash the lint screen with warm, soapy water to remove buildup from fabric softeners. Use a long-handled, narrow brush to remove excess lint from your lint trap opening.

Clean Your Dishwasher Filter

Most newer dishwashers have a manual filter that needs to be cleaned regularly. The dishwasher filter is typically a removable cylinder located at the bottom of the dishwasher tub, under the rotating arm.

A dirty or clogged filter means dishes won’t get as clean, and can also create unpleasant odors. If it’s been a while since you’ve cleaned the filter, you may want to clean the dishwasher by running an empty cycle with a cup of white vinegar. This can help deodorize it and clear out old food particles, as well as removing hard water deposits and stains.

Clean Your Garbage Disposal

Being smart about what you do and don’t put down your garbage disposal is the best way to keep it clean and working well. That said, food particles do build up in the disposal, so an easy way to keep it clean and odor free is to turn it on and pour ice cubes into it while running cold water. Small strips of lemon peel (not a half of a lemon peel) or white vinegar can also help keep it clean and odor free.

Prevent Plumbing Problems

For your plumbing system, prevention rather than maintenance is the key to avoiding many problems and larger issues.

  • Be cautious of what goes down the drain in your showers, sinks, and toilets. Install screens over your drains in your showers to catch loose hair, and only flush sewage and toilet paper.
  • Even if you have a garbage disposal, limit the amount of food scraps that go down your kitchen drain. Never pour grease down the drain since it can harden in your pipes and cause issues.
  • Take care of leaks promptly, before they become larger issues and cause problems such as water damage or mold and mildew.
  • Know where your shutoff valves are located. Your home’s washing machine, sink, toilet, and water heater all have shutoff valves. Know where they are as well as your home’s main water shutoff valve.
  • If you have a clog, follow these tips for how to clear clogged drains.

Prevent plumbing problems

Flush Your Water Heater

Many manufacturers recommend having your water heater tank flushed regularly to remove sediment and minerals that can build up, particularly in areas with hard water. This buildup can cause the water heater to work harder and use more energy to heat water. The anode rod protects your water heater tank from corrosion, and should be replaced every few years, or according to manufacturer’s guidelines.

Although tankless water heaters don’t store hot water, mineral deposits can still build up in the heating chamber (heat exchanger) and cause problems. How often you need to flush a tankless water heater will depend on the hardness of the water where you live.

Clean Your Roof Gutters

Keeping your roof gutters clean may be one of the single most important ways you can keep your roof leak-free. Clean gutters and downspouts keep water channeled away from your roof, walls, foundation, and landscape. When leaves and debris pile up, this can damage your roof as well as your gutters. If your home is surrounded by trees, you may need to clean gutters several times per year.

Gutter covers or “leaf guards” can be a good investment as they help prevent most debris buildup. Even with gutter covers, you should still do a visual check at least once per year.

Gutter covers

Other Important Home Maintenance Tips

These home maintenance tips are a good starting point. Consider creating (or downloading) a home maintenance checklist that you can use to remind you what appliances and home systems need to be maintained, and when. A home maintenance log can also help keep track of service and repairs to important systems and appliances. If you really want to stay organized, you can create your own home maintenance manual

Posted in Home Owner Tips