Hints and Tips for Homeowners

10 Home Design Trends for 2018

Houzz, the online home design resource, is predicting 10 Design Trends for 2018. Are you on trend?

  1. Color in Kitchens. Although white kitchens will always be popular, homeowners and home sellersyoung couple talking in their kitchen are finding in color a way to stand out from the norm. The trend is toward natural wood finishes and other neutral colors, such as blue and gray.
  2. Rich Colors Everywhere. Cooler neutral colors are giving way to warmer colors. Houzz expects to see earthy shades of camel, rust, tobacco, brown-blacks, red, and burnt yellow.
  3. White and stainless steel sinks are out. Houzz is predicting popularity of gray, bronze or black sinks made of concrete, stone, copper and granite composites.
  4. Large, bright, high-energy prints. These are expected to be high-contrast colors (black and white, teal and gold) and oversized blooms.
  5. Vintage-style lighting fixtures. The trend is running toward aged copper pendant lights, for example.
  6. Trough or bucket sinks. These large and deep sinks, perfect for laundry rooms and children’s bathrooms are a nice complement to the popular modern farmhouse style.
  7. Surprising Concrete Accents. Expect the unexpected, including accents in furniture, wall coverings, countertops, tile, and decorative items.
  8. Millwork walls and detailing. This trend goes beyond the use of shiplap and other wood panels and detailing. The expected trend will add feature walls made of these materials in bedrooms.
  9. Backsplashes that look like wallpaper. A new type of tile is available that has the elaborate patterns of wallpaper in tile that will hold up to frequent wiping and scrubbing.
  10. Bedrooms styled for quality sleep. Bedrooms, says Houzz, will become almost minimalist and be decorated in soothing neutral shades and soft fabrics that enhance good sleep.

In general, these trends reflect a desire for more color, richer colors, functionality of a room, and the warmth of wood.

 


Tips for Homeowners: Making Your Small Kitchen Feel Larger

A common struggle for many homeowners is making your small kitchen feel larger. In recent years, we have been encouraged to want a large kitchen with plenty of open space and open to other rooms of the home. Yet this trend toward large kitchens simply will not work in many homes – both single-family homes and condominiums. Sometimes, you just need to learn to function with a small kitchen.sleek small kitchen

Many people prefer a large and spacious kitchen. Many other people, however, prefer a small kitchen. Some people like the economy of space and movement in a small kitchen. I have heard people say that they love being able to stand in the center of their kitchen and reach everything with no more than one or two steps. Yet even those who prefer a small kitchen often wish the kitchen looked and felt larger than it is. 

If you are interested in making your small kitchen feel larger, here are some ideas you might want to try.

  1. Capitalize on the 2018 trend toward smaller appliances and toward varied sizes and types of refrigeration units. Instead of one large refrigerator, you might either work with a smaller appliance or supplement it with refrigerated drawers or small specialized refrigerators.
  2. Get rid of the range hood if possible. Either removing your range hood or replacing it with a smaller unit will make the room appear larger. One alternative is to install a surface exhaust fan that is placed beside the cooking surface.
  3. Eliminate clutter and increase countertop work space by mounting small appliances (such as a microwave) under a cabinet. In many cases, your microwave can be installed above your cooktop and will include an exhaust fan.
  4. Light and bright. Any space feels larger if it is well lit. This also facilitates the function of the kitchen. Natural light is usually preferable, but well-placed lighting fixtures can also brighten the room.
  5. Wall-mounted shelves to replace cabinets. Wall-mounted shelves are not as overwhelming as wall-mounted cabinets. You might need to invest a bit more thought and creativity in deciding what to store on those shelves to keep it tidy.
  6. Trade the double sink for a single sink. The single sink will be a little bit smaller and will appear smaller within the kitchen. You might decide quickly that you prefer the single sink.
  7. Choose smaller sleek cabinet designs. Choose cabinets that are not as deep from front to back, at least in part of the kitchen. You will need to rethink your kitchen storage priorities, but your room will appear larger.
  8. Use mirrors for backsplashes. Reflecting light and images tends to make everything feel larger. A mirror backsplash may require some extra attention, but it will make your kitchen feel larger.
  9. Fit some of your cabinets with glass-panel doors. If you choose carefully, the items you store in these cabinets will also be a decorative element in your kitchen.
  10. Choose sleek, smooth cabinet doors with no hardware. These smooth surfaces will add to the feeling of space.

Whether you love or hate a small kitchen, implementing a few of these ideas should help you in making your small kitchen feel larger.


Fall Landscape Design Trends

The National Association of Landscape Professionals has identified five landscape design trends for the Fall. Fall is, of course, the optimal time for landscape work. This is expected to be particularly true this fall due to expected warmer temperatures than usual. The primary trend is “desire to bring the indoors out.” This trend has been growing over the last few years.

The five landscape design trends identified are:

  1. High-Tech Fire Features. Not only are homeowners adding fire pits and fireplaces, they are rapidly embracing high-tech automation and control features. As homeowners incorporate smart home technology indoors, they also want to enjoy the same technology in their outdoor living spaces. At this time, much of the available technology includes automated control of irrigation systems and to program outdoor lighting and fire features – or control it with a smart phone.
  2. New uses of fortified classic plants. A number of classic and traditional plants used in landscaping have been “fortified” to be stronger and longer-lasting. Landscape professionals are combining these plants in new designs and combinations. These new designs typically are marked by “clean lines” and “simple sophistication.”
  3. Greater attention to lighting for beauty, but primarily for safety. The fall and winter months, and their “shorter days” suggest attention to safety within complex landscapes. Use of LED lighting can keep walkways clearly visible.
  4. Low-maintenance “natural-looking materials.” Many homeowners are choosing manufactured materials that give the appearance of wood and stone, but require none of the usual maintenance. Porcelain is one of the popular materials. This trend also extends to faux finishes and manufactured materials on outdoor furniture.
  5. Beautiful “Interiorscapes.” Interior landscapes that bring the outdoors in are also growing in popularity. Beyond basic and traditional houseplants, this trend often includes focal points of greenery edible trees are both functional and beautiful.

The association recommends that homeowners engage the assistance of professional landscapers to help them match their landscapes to the location and to their lifestyle.


Can You Really Cut the Cable Cord?

Many of us are accustomed to paying more than $100 per month for cable or satellite TV. Many of us are tired of the cost and of the cable companies. Some people resent the rate hikes after the initial subscription period. Many people are afraid, however, to cut the cable cord. Most fear that they will not be able to watch the programs they like.

Cable and Satellite TV companies are losing subscribers in droves. According to Kiplinger, “In the first quarter of 2017, providers of cable, satellite and telecom lost 762,000 subscribers, compared with a 141,000 drop a year earlier.” [www.kiplinger.com/article/spending/T057-C000-S002-new-strategies-to-cut-the-cable-cord.html].

 

In the past, sacrifices (in programming) were necessary when transitioning away from these providers. Now, however, local programming and live sports can be included in several internet-delivered services, as well as live streaming of the leading networks.

Internet-delivered services are expanding their programming offering rapidly. DirectTV Now and Sling TV now offer a number of live TV options. Their program options typically include ESPN and other sports channels. By fall, Amazon Prime will stream 10 NFL games.

Most people claim that the average household will save money by migrating away from cable and satellite. Equally attractive to some will be no long-term contracts, fees for digital boxes and other equipment and other costs when transitioning to internet-delivered programming.

If you decide to cut the cable cord, you will need some specific hardware, most of which is quite affordable. You will also need to do some research to determine which internet-delivered services are the best match for your needs and interests. You might need to do something extra for local programming or for some sports channels. Yet, even with the hardware and the add-ons, most customers who make the change find that their monthly cost will drop below $100. There are also antenna options for local programming.

In short, if you want to cut the cable and satellite cord, you should be able to do so relatively easily and at lower cost than your current cable or satellite service. You should be able to find all of the information you need online. A search this week for “cut the cable cord” returned 12,600,000 items on Google.

In addition to the Kiplinger article mentioned above, there are some resources that seem to offer real help to those making a decision or cutting the cables. These include:

https://www.tomsguide.com/us/cord-cutting-guide,news-17928.html  If you are familiar with Tomsguides, you can expect to find helpful and complete information.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/home/finally-cut-the-cable-tv-cord-in-eight-easy-steps/2017/04/18/6cae6086-1ed8-11e7-be2a-3a1fb24d4671_story.html?utm_term=.8ef2f6f86b67 an 8-step process for making the transition from the Washington Post.

https://cordcuttingreport.com/cord-cutting-guide/, which claims to be the definitive guide.

You will also find abundant help in choosing the right hardware and the right services for your family’s needs.

Happy cord-cutting! 

 


A Few Organization Tips to Save Time and Frustration

Many of us become frustrated when we look for things in our homes. Searching for the item you want takes time. The secret to finding things quickly and maximizing space in your home is often organization. Here are a few tried and true organizational tips to help you:

  1. Always put like with like. For example, put all of your socks in the same place and use drawer dividers to organize them and make it easier to find the pair you want. This also applies to your refrigerator and freezer, and to kitchen drawers. Use acrylic or plastic bins or baskets to organize items in your refrigerator.
  2. Use the back of closet and pantry doors. Attach a towel bar or a curtain rod to the back of the door for compact but easy to use storage of scarves, neckties, jewelry, etc. Use a clear shoe storage bag for shoes. Use the back of cabinet and pantry doors to make spices and other smaller items easy to find.
  3. Never hang pants or slacks over a pants hanger. This will double your space and prevent that ugly crease or wrinkle in your pants.
  4. Creating a designated space for particular types of items. This will save time and frustration when you know exactly where they are.
  5. Use dividers and containers where possible to use wasted space above or below a shelf.

Organizing items and devising clever ways to keep them neat and accessible will save time and frustration. You will waste less time looking for things or “straightening up” and you will always know where an item should be, making it easier to find. A stroll through a container store might ignite a wealth of ideas to better organize your spaces.

 


Beautify and Purify with These Houseplants

It will soon be time to close up the windows. That means it is time to start thinking the air inside your home. You can purify the air in your home by just bringing in some of the right houseplants.

Here are the most popular houseplants that purify the air throughout the world. Drumroll! Here is the countdown:

  1. Aloe Vera – Begin with its medicinal value and move on to its air purifying capabilities. This is a cost saving – and quieter – alternative to all of those filters that burn electricity.
  2. Rubber Plant – This plant is particularly useful in absorbing CO2 and drawing formaldehyde and trichloroethylene from the air. This might not be the best option for those with young children or pets in their homes. When the plant is trimmed or a branch is broken it secretes latex.
  3. Garden Mum – This plant is particularly good at removing benzene, ammonia, xylene and formaldehyde from the air. It is low-maintenance: just water it. But it should be kept out of the reach of pets and children.
  4. Peace Lily – This is a beautiful plant that is easy to care for. This plant typically improves indoor air quality by 60 percent. It also absorbs mold spores and uses them as food. It is a great way to keep your bathroom free of mildew.
  5. Bamboo Palm – This plant is an easy-care and attractive addition to your home. It will eliminate a number of toxins and can moderate moisture levels during winter.
  6. Spider Plant – Often found in homes, the spider plant can remove 90 percent of toxins in your home in just 2 days. It also removes several allergens.
  7. Golden Pothos – These plants are lovely and they can be placed in various types of containers throughout your home. They can even remove formaldehyde from the air in your garage. It grows quickly, and can be divided for additional plants in your home or to give to friends.
  8. Chinese Evergreen – This beautiful plant is easy to grow. It also draws several toxins out of the air in your home. You will need to re-pot it every three or four years.
  9. English Ivy – This may be the best indoor plant for homes with animals because it removes airborne fecal matter. On a desk, it will improve your focus by removing benzene from the air.
  10. Boston Fern – These beautiful plants (often found in hanging pots) are natural humidifiers and they eliminate traces of formaldehyde from the air.

 

One of these plants is sure to be a purifying addition to your home. Enjoy the beauty and better health with purified air.

 


Tips for Homeowners: What Your Home Needs from You This Month

Some maintenance activities in your home are necessary each month.

Every homeowner quickly learns that without attention, any small issues in your home can become large and costly problems. These maintenance tasks protect your home, keep it in top condition, and maintain the value of your home.

Because the summer months are typically dry during the summer, it is a good time to attend to several outdoor projects. These include:

1.           Inspect, repair and protect your roof. Take a look at all of the shingles on your roof. Identify and replace any loose or broken shingles (tiles, shakes) and replace them. Also look carefully at anything attached to the roof, such as skylights, satellites, tube lights, to find any cracks or breaks around them. Replace loose or damaged shingles and re-seal as needed. Carefully remove any moss from your roof (do not pressure wash), and get the roof treatment you need.

2.           Care for your chimney well before you plan to use it again. Check flashing and seals in or around your chimney. Engage a chimney sweep every 2 years to prevent a buildup of creosote. Failure to maintain your chimney properly could set the stage for fires in the flue or carbon monoxide entering your home. Finally, check all brick for cracks and have them repaired.

3.           Maintain your gutters and downspouts. Examine the guttering when you are inspecting your roof. Clean your gutters and ensure there are no clogs. Also check fastenings that attach the gutters to the roof. Check all downspouts to be certain that they are directing water down from the roof and that they carry the water away from the foundation of your house.

4.           Maintain your decks, patio, and other outdoor areas. Although you might not need to re-seal concrete areas, you will certainly want to clean and re-seal or paint wood decks, porches and balconies. You might also need to do the same with fences and even with some types of siding. You might be surprised to see how this improves the appearance of your home and property.

5.           Have your Heating and Air Conditioning professionally checked. You may or may not need to clean your system every year, but you should have all fluid levels checked and topped off. Summer is the best time to attend to your HVAC systems, when it is dry and when you have less need for heat or air conditioning. 

You know the old adage: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. This is very true of home maintenance. By performing key maintenance tasks each month, you should be able to prevent many problems and improve the appearance of your home.

 


Dramatic Change Fueling Immense Interest in Urban Living

There is a dramatic change emerging in home buying throughout the nation. This is an interest in urban living. To some extent, walkability (the ability to walk to nearby locations) is a critical factor in new home buying.

In the Seattle, with urban density and traffic, residential areas offering easy walking access to shopping, food and services are very attractive. Most home buyers appreciate far more than in the recent past place a high value on walkability. An exception to this trend seems to be young families with children, who want homes in neighborhoods where good schools, local parks and peaceful community are important. The younger and older age groups (56 percent of millennials and 46 percent of boomers) now place an emphasis on walkability when buying a home.

In Seattle, many neighborhoods have a vibe and a centric feel. This is what gives many Seattle neighborhoods their “walkability.” Often these centric areas feel like “mini downtown.” My favorite walkable neighborhoods are Ballard, West Seattle and Fremont. In Ballard, the area around Market Street; in West Seattle the Junction, and in Fremont the “Fremont Rocket” are very “walkable.” In fact, Fremont is so centric that it considers itself the “Center of the Universe.”

Seattle is currently ranked as the eighth most walkable city in the nation. The city’s Walk Score is 73.1, which is considered very walkable. Among Seattle’s most walkable areas cited by Walk Score are the International District, Downtown, and First Hill. Most of their most walkable areas are adjacent to Downtown. There are, however, other communities with their own unique vibe that are highly walkable.

Walk Scores are determined by “Walk Score,” a company owned by Redfin. The rankings and scores from Walk Scores has become the industry standard. The new rankings were released recently.

But what does the Walk Score mean for home buyers and sellers in Seattle? The value of walkability in home pricing is calculated as a percentage of the median home price. In Seattle, a single Walk Point increases the value of a home by $3,603 or 0.96 percent, based on a median sale price of $375,000.

If you are planning to buy or sell a home in Seattle, and you would like to know more about the effect of your neighborhood’s walk score, please give me a call. I would be happy to discuss this with you.

Tips for Homeowners – Why Every Seller or Buyer Needs a Real Estate Agent

There is an old adage that is particularly appropriate for people anticipating a Real Estate transaction: “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” There are many potential mistakes, as well as many opportunities to fail in negotiating a workable deal. Above all, as is true in many other professions, laypeople simply don’t know what they don’t know. A mistake in what is probably the largest investment of your life could change your future. There are many reasons why every seller or buyer needs a Real Estate agent. The following are among the

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most important reasons.

  1. The knowledge you are able to obtain online is not sufficient to make a good deal in a Real Estate market. You can visit a website, enter an address, and receive an immediate estimated home value for that property. What you do not know about these estimates could result in a disastrous property transaction. What you need to know is:
    1. The specific properties used as a value basis.
    2. What those properties had that your property does not have.
    3. What your property has that other properties might not have.
    4. When those transactions were closed, and what were the details of the transaction.
  2. Your knowledge of the intricacies of the market is typically quite limited compared to the depth of knowledge an agent brings to a Real Estate transaction. Sellers are not likely to know the needs and desires of potential buyers; agents have deep knowledge. Buyers are not likely to know where to find the home they need at a price they can afford. A professional Realtor will keep your feet grounded in the real world and help you find the best available properties for your needs. This alone could save you from a big mistake.
  3. Realtors are experts at finding good solutions to difficult challenges. Most Real Estate transactions encounter difficulties. These can be very stressful for the buyer and for the seller. An experienced, professional Realtor will calmly deal with challenges or difficulties on your behalf, keep the process moving smoothly, whether the challenge is finding a contractor to make a repair quickly or matching you with the mortgage broker you will be most comfortable working with. Often, you will know about problems only after they have been solved.
  4. Realtors respond to buyer objections or to features of a home that potential buyers view as deal breakers. Most buyer objections or challenges to transactions can be handled with surprising ease by an experienced Realtor because the buyer simply needs more information. They also know far more than homeowners about how to position a home in the local market.
  5. Realtors and Agents have the specific skills to create a sound offer and to negotiate a good deal. Many buyers and sellers have excellent negotiation skills. Negotiating a Real Estate transaction is different, particularly in a very competitive market such as we are experiencing now.
  6. Experienced professional Realtors have a wealth of knowledge of the market and of local properties. This experience enables them to anticipate issues and challenges that could derail a deal. What is more, they can take steps (or help you take steps) to prevent these issues and challenges to affect your deal. This knowledge can help a seller to get the best price for their home. It can help a buyer to save money by taking the right steps at the right time, saving time for both buyer and seller, and ensuring that the deal you are making is a good deal.
  7. Experienced professional agents possess the marketing skills to position your home in the market, to spread the word to potential buyers, and to focus the buyer’s interest on the specific features today’s buyers are seeking. They know what photos will show your home in the best light. They know how to market to potential buyers. They know how to navigate in a volatile and complex market.
  8. Realtors know how to use and capitalize on a broad reach on the various social media. They know how to use the media and how to reach the right audience. They have developed a following of people who are interested in buying or selling a home. They know how to use their visibility to draw the right parties to a deal.
  9. Realtors have complex, broadly based, and valuable relationships with other agents, with the people you need to complete a transaction (attorneys, inspectors, mortgage brokers). These relationships often smooth the process of bidding and help to accelerate the transaction.
  10. An experienced agent will pick up on clues to your fears, concerns, and worry. As these are identified, your agent will help you allay those fears and reduce your worries. These trusted professionals know how to help you understand the market and the deal. They can resolve the confusion created by advice from your friends and family and guide you in sifting through all of the conflicting suggestions.

Particularly in a market that is both confusing and complex, your Realtor or agent will do the behind-the-scenes work, find the people who can help in resolving  problems, do all of the complicated and overwhelming paperwork, and generally carry you through a process that will end in a satisfying transaction.

 


Hints and Tips for Homeowners: Time to Attend to Your Yard

Some of the hottest trends in home care and remodeling are spring tasks. Everyone thinks about spring cleaning. But spring is also a time to look to the outdoors. Beyond the typical cleanup t

asks, Realty Times has identified the top trends for spring outside your home.

  1. Seamless transition from inside to outside. Make your yard, patio or deck an extension of your home. Make it comfortable and functional. Choose the kind of furniture and décor items that look like they could belong indoors.
  2. Add a Patio Cover. This, if done in a style that matches your home, enhances the transition from inside to outside. If this is more expensive than your budget, consider a gazebo or a pergola. If you want to spend even less, you might consider an awning or a large umbrella.
  3. Add some lighting. This is a great way to improve safety and draw attention to the best features of your yard or other outdoor space. According to recent survey by Houzz, 70 percent of homeowners are adding lighting of some kind to their yard.
  4. Consider urban farming. People across the country are following the farm to table option; they are adding gardens to grow their own food. (If you recall, my wife and I are raising some chickens in your yard.)
  5. Outdoor kitchen. This is not your mother’s outdoor cooking area. The trend is to take a step beyond the recent trend in outdoor kitchens and add specialty pizza ovens as well as ovens to bake outdoors.
  6. Add smart tech. A range of features and products have become available to help you control your outdoor tech, just as you control indoor appliances with your smart phone.
  7. Add a water feature. This is not about adding a swimming pool (although this is a possibility). This is about adding a waterfall or a fountain to your outdoor space. The sounds are soothing, the possibilities are endless, and you can add a feature that is less expensive, if you wish. Don’t forget to add lighting!

Some of these trends might be right for your yard or outdoor living space; others might not. Each of these trends can be fun and exciting to design, create and build. Is one of these ideas right for you?

 


How Does Your Garden Grow?

Spring is finally here! That means it’s time to plant your garden and spruce up your yard.

We all know about some of the most commonly used plants and flowers. Any yard or garden can benefit from roses, hostas, pansies, and petunias. But if you want to create a memorable garden or add something unique to your landscape, you might want to consider less common plants. If you are listing your home for sale this spring or summer, a stand-out yard or Google arden will greatly enhance yourWebmaster home’s curb appeal.

Gardening is always interesting. You can choose and combine a range of plants for a perfect combination. And, most people have fun creating and maintaining a garden or landscape. To help you make great selections for your yard, here are the top selections for our area in several classes of plants and flowers. Happy planting!

Top Perennials That Won’t Fail                                                              

  • Dahlia
  • Lupine
  • Shasta daisy
  • Primrose
  • Solomon’s seal
  • Sword Fern
  • Wild Ginger
  • Cardinal Flower                                                                 

 

Top Deer Resistant Plants  

 

  • Jerusalem Sage
  • Foxglove (digitalis)
  • Epimedium
  • Ligularia
  • Lupin
  • Meadow Rue
  • Pigsqueak
  • Mullein
  • Yellow Waxbells
  • Mullein
  • Bellflower
  • Corydalis
  • Bigroot Geranium

 

Top 15 Native Plants of the Pacific NW

                                                                                   

  • Alpine Strawberry
  • Goatsbeard
  • Broadleaf Lupine
  • Camass
  • Blanket Flower
  • Lewisia
  • Satin Flower
  • Tufted Hairgrass
  • Blue Columbine
  • Pacific Bleeding Heart
  • Shooting Star
  • Broadleaf Sedum
  • Miniature Hollyhock
  • Oregon Grapeholly
  • Fireweed

 

Most Fragrant Perennials for our Area

  • Peruvian L
  • Botanical Crocus
  •              

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  • Peonies
  • Dutch Hyacinth
  • Garden Phlox
  • Red Valerian
  • Chocolate Cosmos
  • Lily of the Valley
  • Cheddar Pink
  • Pinks
  • Lemon Lily
  • Plantain Lily
  • Trumpet Lily
  • Matillja Poppy
  • Woodland Phlox
  • Sweet Violet

 6 Plants to Attract Hummingbirds

                                       

  • Sage
  • Bee Balm
  • Crocosmia
  • Hummingbird Mint
  • Fuchsia ‘Gartenmeister Bonstedt’
  • Beard Tongue

6 Flowers that are Easy to Grow

  • California Poppy
  • Hardy Verbena
  • Columbine
  • Heuchera                                                              
  • Lupine
  • Chrysanthemum

Top Bulbs to Plant in Spring 

  • Allium
  • Begonia
  • Oriental Lily
  • Gladiolus
  • Fragrant Gladiolus
  • Crocosmia
  • Bearded Iris
  • Nectaroscordum
  • Dahlia

 

Sources:

http://www.bhg.com/gardening/gardening-by-region/pacific-northwest/types-of-pacific-northwestern-perennials/

http://www.bhg.com/gardening/gardening-by-region/pacific-northwest/top-native-plants-of-the-pacific-northwest/

https://www.gardenia.net/guide/most-fragrant-perennials-for-the-pacific-northwest-gardens

https://greenwoodhardware.com/top-pacific-northwest-plants-attract-hummingbirds/

http://www.greatplantpicks.org/

Images courtesy of Pixabay

 

 

Tips for Homeowners: Home Projects You Can Do Outdoors With Your Kids

Sometimes your children will want to help you with projects around the house that look fun or interesting. Including them in some of these tasks creates some pride of ownership of the project and an understanding of what it takes to maintain a home. Some projects can offer them an opportunity to unleash their creativity. And, you improve the curb appeal of your house.

Before you include them in any project, be certain that they will

·       Be safe. Keep them away from potential hazards; have them use gloves, safety glasses, etc.

·       Be able to complete the project and end it with a sense of achievement. So, keep it reasonably simple and something you know they have the skills and the interest to do it.

·       Make it quick. Because children tend to have a short attention span, it is typically best to choose a project they can complete in an hour or less.

Here are a few ideas to spur your imagination.

Make Stepping Stones. This has been a popular project for many years. Buy a 40 lb. bag of concrete or mortar mix; things like beads, pebbles, colored glass pieces, tiles, marbles, etc. And the materials needed to make frames for your stepping stones. You can build frames with wood, or use cake pans, etc. You can use most anything as long as it will make a stone that is 2 inches thick. Mix the concrete and fill the forms. Then while the concrete is still wet, turn it over to your kids to decorate. Then wait 48 hours, and remove it from the form. Cost: about $6 for concrete. A 40 lb. bag will make three to five stones.

Paint your Mailbox. Remove the mailbox from its mounting. Clean it, and coat it with primer. Then let your kids go to work. You might want to have some stencils on hand to help with the design.  Cost: Primer, $5; Acrylic paint set of 10 colors, $20 - $40; plastic stencils, $1-2 each.

Plant a shrub or some flowers that will attract butterflies and hummingbirds. Restrict the digging by planting only one or two plants. Have your child add outdoor potting soil to the hole and water. Let them place the plant if possible. Make the plant their project to water while the plant takes root. You might have a family contest to see who spots the first hummingbird or butterfly. Among the best plants that produce sufficient nectar are: Hibiscus, flowering quince, Lantana for birds; and Butterfly bush or Potentilla to attract butterflies.

Build a Garden Gate Arbor.  Pick up a kit in a home improvement store. Spend 1 to 2 hours building the arbor. If your children become bored, let them do something else until you finish. Then let your child help you carry the arbor to its designated location and set it in the ground. Cost: $150 – 250 for the kit.

Add solar lights. This is a very easy project. Purchase or gather solar walkway lights (on stakes). Let your children place them along your sidewalk, a path, or along the edge of a garden bed. Then let them watch the lights come on at dusk. Cost: $50 or less for a package of 8 lights.

Make a Tipped-Pot Plant Tower. Get a ½ inch dowel or piece of copper pipe, and stick it into the ground or a large plant pot. Run the pipe through the drain holes of several clay pots (which could be decoratively painted by your children). Fill the pots with soil and plant flowers. Then tilt the pots at crazy angles. Plants that are low-maintenance include impatiens and petunias. Cost: $3 per foot for copper pipe; 8 inch clay pots cost about $4.

These projects can be great fun for your children and for you. You will also have a great feature for your yard and improve curb appeal.

 

Spring and Summer Home Maintenance Tasks to Prevent Costly Repairs

It is important to perform some routine maintenance tasks throughout the year to keep your home in good condition and to prevent costly repairs. Several tasks should be performed during the spring and summer months. Completing these tasks will help to prevent structural damage, keep your home’s systems running smoothly, and save energy (and cost).

The dry spring and summer months in the Northwest make it a good time to attend to outdoor tasks. The critical maintenance tasks in the Pacific Northwest for spring and summer are these:

Key maintenance tasks to perform

  • Follow up on moss treatments for your roof. Assuming you applied anti-moss treatments in the fall, spring is a good time to apply repairs after winter damage. Remove any remaining moss with a garden hose and a broom. Never use a pressure washer on the roof. The force of the water too powerful. It can damage the shingles and force water underneath them, where moisture can rot sheathing and roof joists.
  • Attend to trees, shrubs and plantings. Spring is the best time to trim back shrubs and bushes that are close to the house. Trees should not be given more than a modest trimming of ranch tips. All major pruning or removal of limbs should only be done in the fall. Ensure that vines are not in contact with the house. No matter how attractive they are, vines can do costly damage to the exterior surface of your house by holding in moisture that causes rot, introducing insects, or even rooting into the mortar between bricks.
  • Inspect the roof and chimney. Spring is the perfect time to inspect for and replace any shingles that are missing, brittle, curled, or damaged. To prevent mishaps, walk on your roof only when the weather is dry. Better yet, stay on the ground and inspect with binoculars. Minor repairs of this kind typically cost $100–$350 to a contractor.
  • The chimney should be inspected for damage to bricks, boards, and flashing. If you use your fireplace regularly, it should be cleaned (or “swept”) every two years by a chimney sweep certified by the Chimney Safety Institute of America. Chimney sweeping prevents flue fires and creosote buildup. Expect to pay $200 and up; a chimney sweep usually charges $75–$200.
  • Check gutters. Even if you cleaned your gutters in the fall, they’ll likely need another once-over in spring. Be sure to check for areas where the gutters may have pulled away from the house, and for bent or twisted spots that allow water to puddle. You can usually make minor repairs to gutters yourself for $50 or less by adjusting brackets, gently hammering out bent spots, and replacing any damaged sections.
  • Schedule your biannual HVAC check. In preparation for the cooling season, have your HVAC professional come for your air conditioner’s spring tune-up; expect to pay $50–$100. Ensure that the tune-up includes checking thermostats and controls, checking the refrigerant level, tightening connections, lubricating any moving parts, checking the condensate drain, and cleaning the coils and blower.
  • Duct cleaning, probably won't hurt anything, but it is not necessary. Be cautious if your contractor wants to coat the inside of the ducts with antimicrobial agents. There is no research that proves the effectiveness of this practice. Consider, as well, that any chemicals used in your ducts will likely become airborne.  Also, change your air filters, and inspect and vacuum out all your floor registers.

Spending a weekend or two on maintenance can prevent expensive repairs. It will identify developing problems before they become serious.

 

Are These Design Trends Over

A recent article published at Realtor.com (the website of the National Association of Realtors) offered a list of 10 design trends that they believe are over for 2017. Of the plethora of new design ideas introduced over the past few years, some provoked head-scratching, others were definitely keepers, and some just did not work in many homes.

Here are the 10 trends the designers believe should go. As we all know, a designer’s opinion is just an opinion. You might have incorporated some of these trends and love the outcome.

  1. Faux Mid-Century Modern. This style has been very popular as a retro statement in homes. Some of its popularity coincided with the television run of Mad Men. The designers believe real mid-century pieces still have value; the knock-offs, not so much. They think it has been overused, but it might be perfect for you.
  2. Shiplap. Popular among the television designers, shiplap made sense in some homes, but came to be overused. It was once considered “quirky and quaint,” but it is not a fit for every home or decorating style. In some homes it is still perfect.
  3. Interior sliding barn doors. Once prized as doors for places where there was not enough space for a traditional door, barn doors were more interesting and attractive than pocket doors. These designers believe this trend also came to be overused. If this is not a style that is particularly suitable for the style of your home, it might be good to replace it before you put your home on the market. Some potential buyers might like it. But if it works with your décor, why replace it?
  4. White on white kitchens. While these kitchens look clean and bright but it is just too much white in one place for some homeowners, and it can feel sterile. White in kitchens will never disappear entirely, but if your kitchen is white on white and you like it, keep it. The designers think it will being replaced this year by floors in a contrasting color, darker cabinetry, and more exciting countertops and backsplashes.
  5. Copper. Copper was very popular in kitchens for a while, and then use of the metal began to creep throughout many homes. Essentially, the opinion of the designers is that copper is best used in small items or for a statement, perhaps in a stove hood. They predict a return to more enduring metals.Interior Barn Door
  6. Gray. Gray became a very popular neutral color because it is soothing. When it became the color of choice, people started painting everything gray. Once again, too much of a good thing can become boring. The designers predict the use of more color in 2017.
  7. Monochromatic designs. When first introduced in Scandinavian style, this use of same and close color tones seemed calm and fresh. This is still true. Like a number of other trends, it became very popular and was incorporated into many homes. Some people appreciate its calming effect, while others find it boring. The choice is yours!
  8. “The Glam Look.” This “luxe” look is defined by sharp whites, bright silver, and deep black. It is a kind of minimalism. Some designers now think it looks cold to and expect it to be replaced in 2017 with warmer colors and less austere design.
  9. Carrara Marble. Of course, it is beautiful. But this marble stains and requires a good deal of maintenance. The gray lines running through the marble is very distinctive. The designers think it has also been overused, and thus it is time to make a change. But why replace it if you like it?
  10. Heavy industrial themes. When introduced, the industrial look was a change of pace. But to some, it felt like the warehouses it was taken from. Minimalism has value, and it might be perfect for your lifestyle. The designers think that what remains will be warmed by color and by mixing in softer fabrics.

The assessments of these designers do not need to be taken as law, certainly. And their opinions do not necessarily suggest that you should rush out and remove the elements from your home. Trends are trends, and they will eventually fall out of fashion and eventually come back into fashion. Used moderately and sensibly in your home, the end of a trend might not seem to require a complete décor overhaul.

The designers want to remove everything that became extremely popular and was adopted by too many people. Keep in mind that they are selling change and new design styles. If you have incorporated these elements into your home, nothing says you need to replace it. But if you are planning to sell your home, you might want to think twice before adding these elements today.

 

 

Tips for Homeowners: 9 Perfect Features for the Bathroom

If you want your bathroom to provide perfect comfort, convenience and enjoyment – and a boost for your home’s resale value – here are the 9 features you will probably want to include.

  1. Heated Ceramic Tile Flooring. It is wonderful to step out of a nice, hot bath or shower and not put your foot on an ice-cold floor. The installation cost for radiant mats is just $5 to $15 per square foot, and they use only the same amount of electricity as three 100-watt incandescent bulbs. Ceramic tile bathroom floors are at the top of the wish lists of most buyers this year.
  2. Curbless Walk-in Shower. These showers are increasingly popular for people of all ages and abilities. They are stylish, the ceramic tile floor can run continuously throughout the bathroom, and they are much easier to clean.
  3. Quartz Countertop. Natural stone is beautiful, but synthetic, low-VOC quartz will stand up to all of the “products” used in the bathroom, continue to look good for years, and is impervious to bacteria. Perhaps best of all, it does not need to be re-sealed every year.
  4. One large sink replaces two small ones. The single sink will save counter space, and still let you clean up at the same time. An under-mount sink (with no protruding lip) pairs well with a quartz countertop and makes cleaning very easy.
  5. Single-hole, Motion-Activated Faucet. Motion-activated faucets are the perfect aid to water conservation. You will not waste water while brushing your teeth or worry about kids leaving the water running. These faucets run between $200 and $650. Some are low-flow and some have temperature controls so no one gets scalded.
  6. Humidity-Controlled Exhaust Fan. This is one of the top requests of homebuyers. These fans have a humidity-sensing on/off switch that turns the fan on when moisture levels are high and turns off when things are back to normal.
  7. High-Efficiency, Dual-Flush Toilet. These toilets have been around for ten years or more, and they are increasing in popularity. You can save water by choosing a light flush when appropriate and a more thorough flush when necessary.
  8. Pocket or Sliding Barn Door. A traditional swinging door requires up to 14 square feet of space. Sliding pocket or bar doors add a visual feature and free up lots of space for storage or bathroom layout.
  9. Calm Colors. Most people want their bathroom to be a calming sanctuary. Calm colors, especially in permanent elements like floor tile, countertops, and fixtures help to set the mood. You can still add color and interest with painted wall surfaces or pieces of art. The most popular neutrals today are white, beige and gray.

These features and trends are also worth consideration when remodeling a bathroom prior to listing your home for sale. 

 

Tips for Buyers and Sellers: 2016 Kitchen Design Trends

Kitchen design and décor trends change frequently. Today’s hot trend will be gone tomorrow, replaced by the next hot trend. Sometimes it is best to find a kitchen design style that makes sense with the architectural style of your home and with your personal decorating taste. But for many people, change is good from time to time. If you are planning to sell your home, or if you think it just might be time for a change, here are the top kitchen design trends according to the 2016 Design Trends Survey from the National Kitchen and Bath Association.

According to the survey, transitional, traditional and contemporary styles continue to be the most popular. However, two styles are growing in popularity: farmhouse and industrial. Neutral colors continue to dominate. Two-tone décor or more than two colors are used by 60 percent of those responding to the survey. This two-tone trend is also popular in cabinetry, as well. Forty percent of designers surveyed said they used a mix of color cabinets in their recent remodels. Some are also using different countertop materials for the island and for the perimeter countertops.

  1. Transitional Style, with contemporary emerging.
  2. Gray, white, off-white cabinets.
  3. Pull-outs, tilt-outs and tilt-ins for storage.
  4. Wood flooring
  5. Quartz and granite countertops
  6. Outdoor kitchens (mostly in the Southeastern part of the country)
  7. Built-in coffee stations and wet bars.
  8. Pocket doors
  9. Special pet places. For example, pull-out feeding stations, crate areas under counters, pull-out or tip-in storage spaces for food and toys.
  10. Docking and charging stations for electronic devices.

You might be on top of these trends already. If not, these are good ideas to consider for a kitchen remodel. 

 

5 Things about Installing Central Air Conditioning

The thought of checking and installing window air conditioning units might be unappealing as summer begins. You might be thinking the time is right for installing central air conditioning. Doing so is a good investment for many homeowners. It can increase the value of your home by as much as 10 percent. Depending upon the size and complexity of the installation, the project will cost between $6,000 and $15,000.

Before you get started, there are 5 things about installing central air conditioning that you need to know.

First, your central air conditioning system needs to be the right size.  Air conditioning is measured by the ton (the cooling energy released by a one-ton block of ice melting over the course of a day). If the unit is too large it will cool the house too quickly and it will not dehumidify properly (critical to comfort). If it is too small it will run constantly and it will wear out quickly and be very expensive to operate. 

Second, take advantage of all incentives for energy efficiency. Your central air conditioning system should cut your cooling bills almost in half. But you need to think about energy efficiency. The minimum efficiency for a central air system today is 14 SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio). This is a measure of how much cooling you get per watt of power used. Yet for an additional $500 to $2,000, you can select a system with greater efficiency (as much as 24 SEER). You might find that there are financial incentives to do so provided by local, state, or federal agencies or by the power company.

Third, have your current ducts checked before you decide not to replace them. Without checking you cannot make an informed decision. If your existing system has cracks or damage that allows leaks, you will lose a good bit of the efficiency you are buying. In that case, it will probably be worth the cost ($1,000 - $3,000) for new ducts. You can also choose to install a ductless system, if you wish, at an additional cost of about 30 percent.

Fourth, add a high-efficiency filter. A good filter will keep the air conditioning unit cleaner and operating more efficiently.  A “media filter” with a MERV (minimum efficiency reporting value) rating of 12 will increase the installation cost by $500 to $1000, but it will also reduce your maintenance costs by about $250 per year.

Fifth, the best time to purchase and install a central air conditioning system is in the winter. The best time to buy anything is when demand is lowest. This applies to air conditioning systems, too. Coping with the window units for one more summer could save you 10 to 20 percent off the cost of installing it now.

Investing in a central air conditioning system can be a very smart move. It can increase the value of your home. If you want to save money on the unit and the installation cost, haul out the window units one more time, and buy it this winter. 

 

Tips for Homeowners: Little Things Mean a Lot

When putting your house on the market, there are small maintenance and sprucing up tasks that can make a big difference when potential buyers see your property. These are generally inexpensive and relatively easy to do, but they convey a strong message to buyers about you have cared for your home. They also make the property safer. Together these tasks can underscore the value of the home.

First impressions:  the exterior.

  • Inspect, repair, and/or paint the “fascia boards.” These are the vertical boards just below your gutters. They face outward from the house. Because gutters can leak, these boards are often the first to show wear and tear or decay.
  • If the exterior of the house is painted, check for any cracked or peeling paint. Sand, if necessary, and re-paint. The house will look much more inviting.
  • If you have exterior siding, inspect it carefully for any damage or any pieces of siding that are not aligned properly with other pieces. Also check for any missing pieces of siding, and make the repairs.
  • Dirty, stained or damaged screens make a house appear to be poorly maintained. Clean or replace screens as appropriate.
  • Check all weather stripping around windows and doors. If it looks bad, replace it.
  • Inspect the “kick boards” and other door frame boards. Poorly maintained doors and frames present an instant bad impression.
  • Clean and make any necessary repairs to decks. Then paint or stain the deck.

Address trouble spots inside, as well.

  • Check the floors, walls, wood trim, and plumbing fixtures in the basement. Check carefully for any leaks (or other signs of water). Waterproof if appropriate. Also check your sump pump, if you have one.
  • Check attic insulation to be certain it is adequate for the local weather. Also check for any signs of moisture in your insulation. If you find wet or damp insulation, replace it.
  • Check attic ventilation and make any needed repairs.
  • Clean sensors on all alarms – smoke, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, etc. Also test all batteries.

These small maintenance checks and repairs will make your home safer and more appealing to potential buyers. People who can see that you have attended to the small details will recognize that you have taken care of your home. 

 

2016 Garden Trends

Spring is here! It’s time to get outdoors and enjoy the sunshine. It’s also almost time to start making your garden beautiful. To help you start planning, here are seven hot garden trends for 2016.

  1. Choose low-maintenance plants. Forget the showy landscaping. Go with breezy flower beds. Choose more sustainable and less thirsty perennials, such as hibiscus, yarrow, and lavender.
  2. Produce gardens and cool again. You can start small and restrict your efforts to herbs or go big and plant some fruits and vegetables. Choosing local varieties will be more successful.
  3. Create a cozy seating area (or two). Choose some nice, relaxing colors (maybe spa colors) and create a small nature break space. Don’t forget to make time to enjoy it.
  4. Hanging plants are in. Choose the size of your containers that are just right for a balcony or porch. Don’t be afraid to be a little creative with shape and color of your containers.
  5. “She Sheds” are all the rage! These playhouses for women are the escapes equivalent to man caves. Take a shed or get a nice tent and spruce it up, furnish it with relaxing colors and furniture, and make it unique.
  6. Consider a patterned outdoor rug for your seating area(s). It’s a great way to introduce some different colors and add a point of interest.
  7. Add a colorful point of interest with some fresh florals in this year’s colors: rose quartz and serenity (a calming blue). It’s a perfect idea for the side of a refurbished shed or a quiet corner of your garden. 

 

 

Tax Deductions for Your Home

Your house might take a bite out of your tax bill if you claim all available deductions and credits. Always check with your tax preparer or accountant about deductions and credits. If you are eligible, your home might bring significant tax savings with the following:

  1. Mortgage Interest Deduction – No matter what the shape or description of your home, if you can sleep and cook in it, and it has a toilet, it qualifies as a home. You can deduct the interest you pay on your mortgage (up to $1 million – or $500,000 if married filing separately). Whether the loan is used to buy, improve or build a home. If you take the deduction for another home, the amount you claim counts toward the $1 million limit. This is claimed on Schedule A.
  2. Prepaid Interest Deduction – Prepaid interest is the points you might have paid when you borrowed to purchase your home. The entire amount is typically deductible in the year you paid it, and it is claimed on Schedule A. Points paid if you refinance and use the money for home improvements are also deductible in the same year. Ask your accountant if you refinance and use the money for something other than home improvement or if you refinance again a few years down the road.
  3. Property Tax Deduction – Property Taxes you pay on your home are also deductible on Schedule A.
  4. Mortgage Insurance Premium Deduction – If you purchased your home in 2007 or later, and you were required by the FHA, the VA, or the Rural Housing Service, or from a private lender to purchase private mortgage insurance (PMI), perhaps because you did not have a 20 percent down payment, you can deduct the premiums paid for that insurance if your income is less than $100,000 ($50,000 for married filing separately). If you earn more than $100,000, you can deduct a percentage of the premium.
  5. Vacation Home Tax Deduction – If you own a vacation home, you are eligible for tax deductions under very specific conditions, depending on the number of days you use your home and the number of days you rent your home. Ask your accountant if you qualify for this deduction. It will be important to maintain detailed records of both expenditures on the property and on daily use of the property.
  6. Homebuyer Tax Credit – The federal government offered first-time homebuyers tax credits in 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011. The date of your claim of the tax credit is important because it determined how much of the credit must be repaid, and when it is repaid. It is important to discuss this tax credit with your accountant or tax preparer.
  7. Tax Credits for Energy-Efficiency Upgrades to Your Home– This credit has a lifetime limit of $500. If you have used the credit in previous years, you must calculate the amount you can claim this year. Purchases that qualify for this credit should be reported on Form 5695, and might include such items as:
    1. Insulation
    2. Roofing
    3. Windows, doors and skylights
    4. Non-solar water heaters
    5. Heat, ventilation and air conditioning systems
    6. Biomass stoves

Despite the complexity of some of the regulations and record-keeping, these tax deductions and tax credits for your home can add up to a nice savings when you reach the bottom line of your tax return. 

 

Home Seller Tips

Many brokers, agents and lenders in our area anticipate a market that heats up early this year. If you are planning to list your home, your Realtor will likely suggest an open house. Here are some “first impressions” buyers are sure to take into account:

Throughout the house: remove personal photos from display, garbage cans should be empty, dust and vacuum, open windows blinds or shades, turn lights on, play calm music.

Bedrooms: beds made nicely, dirty clothes out of sight, toys put away.

Bathrooms: non-essentials out of sight, shower and tub are clean, towels folded neatly, toilet lid down.

Kitchen: sink clear of any dishes, countertops clear of small appliances (coffee maker, toaster), range and microwave are clean.

Living room: pillows and cushions are tidy, TV screen is dusted.

Pets: food bowls are put away, litter box and cages are clean.

Yard: tidy for the time of year, walkway/doorstep swept, outside lights on, outdoor toys and tools are put away.

These small steps will help you make a great first impression during an open house when you list your home for sale. If you need other help, please give me a call. 

 

 

How Long Do I Need to Keep these Records?

 

We all know we need to keep vital records concerning our homes and taxes. But if we try to keep everything forever, we will soon be pushed out of our homes by all of the paper. We know we need to keep records of major purchases and warranty information for tax deductions, repairs and insurance claims. When we sell a home, we need records of upgrades and improvements. The question is how long we need to keep each type of records. 

Unfortunately, there are no official guidelines about how long to keep most records. We do know that the IRS has three years to audit a tax return. Therefore tax records should be kept for at least three years. However, the IRS can demand records up to six years after filing if they believe someone failed to report 25 percent or more of gross income. And, if they suspect fraud, there is no limit on an audit by the IRS. 

 

HOME SALE RECORDS

Home Sale Closing documents, including HUD-1 Settlement Sheet          

As long as you own the property +3 years

Deed to the House                                                                  

As long as you own the property                            

Builder’s warranty or service contract for new home

Until the warranty period ends 

Community/condo association covenants, codes, restrictions (CC&Rs)

As long as you own the property                                          

Receipts for capital improvements         

As long as you own the property + 3 years

Section 1031 (like-kind exchange) sale records for both your old and new properties, including HUD-1 settlement sheet

As long as you own the property + 3 years

Mortgage payoff statements (certificate of satisfaction or lien release)                 

Forever (in case a lender says you still owe money)

 

 

ANNUAL TAX DEDUCTIONS

Property tax payment (tax bill + canceled check or bank statement showing check was cashed)

3 years after the due date of the return showing the deduction

Year-end mortgage statements

3 years after the due date of the return showing the deduction

PMI payment (monthly bills + canceled check or bank statements showing check was cashed)

3 years after the due date of the return showing the deduction

Residential energy tax credit receipts

3 years after the due date of the return on which the credit is claimed (including carryforwards)

 

INSURANCE AND WARRANTIES

Home repair receipts

Until warranty expires

Inventory of household possessions

Forever (remember to make updates)

Homeowners insurance policies

Until you receive the next year’s policy

Service contracts and warranties

As long as you have the item being warrantied

 

 

INVESTMENT (LANDLORD) REAL ESTATE DEDUCTIONS

Appraisal or valuation used to calculate depreciation

As long as you own the property + 3 years

Receipts for capital expenses, such as an addition or improvements

As long as you own the property + 3 years

Receipts for repairs and other expenses

3 years after the due date of the return showing the deduction

Landlord’s insurance payment receipt (canceled check or bank statement showing check was cashed)

3 years after the due date showing the deduction

Landlord’s insurance policy

Until you receive the next year’s policy

Partnership or LLC agreements for real estate investments

As long as the partnership or LLC exists + 7 years

Landlord insurance receipts (canceled check or bank statement showing check was cashed)

3 years after you deduct the expense

 

MISCELLANEOUS RECORDS

Wills and property trusts

Until updated

Date-of-death home value record for inherited home, and any rules for heirs’ use of the home

As long as you own the home + 3 years

Original owners’ purchase documents (sales contract, deed) for home given to you as a gift

As long as you own the home + 3 years

Divorce decree with home sale clause

As long as you or spouse owns the home + 3 years

Employment records for live-in help (W-2s, W-4s, pay and benefits statements)

4 years after you make (or owe) payroll tax payments

 

You might consider making and retaining digital copies of these and other documents so you do not need to keep so much paper. If you do so, be sure to store at least two copies in two different places. 

Finally, this information is provided as a guide. Always check with your attorney or accountant before destroying important documents. 

 

 

Care of Christmas Poinsettias

 

Poinsettias are the popular plants that are displayed at Christmas. Whether red, white or pink, the vibrant colors are ideal for Christmas. When cared for correctly, poinsettias will last for six to eight weeks. Here are a few poinsettia care tips:

  1. Choose a healthy plant: lush and filled with leaves, colored leaves fully colored and without green perimeters, displayed without plastic sleeves (used only when transporting the plants), balanced from all sides, and proportioned so that the plant is two-and-a-half times taller than its diameter.

  2. If necessary, wrap the plant when transporting to ensure it is not exposed to temperatures below 50 degrees.
  3. Display the plants where they are not in heat or air conditioning drafts, and where they will receive about 6 hours per day of indirect light.

  4. You might need to move the plant around your home to keep it at the proper temperatures of 60 to 70 degrees during the day and at 55 degrees at night.

  5. Do not over-water.  If you keep foil around the pot, puncture the bottom to allow excess water to drain (and prevent root rot). Water when the soil is dry to the touch when the plant is blooming, and empty drip trays after each watering.

  6. Feed plants every two to three weeks when blooming (use a water-soluble plant food). After blooming, water monthly.

It is possible to keep plants and nurture them to bloom again the next year, but it is a complicated task.  If you like gardening challenges click here or consult a local florist for instructions. Meanwhile, enjoy the beauty of your Christmas poinsettias.

 

 

 

Fall Maintenance Checklist

 

Here are ten essential fall maintenance tasks that will protect your property during the winter and prevent costly repairs.

  • Store your Mower. Add fuel stabilizer to the gasoline in your mower and top off the gas tank to prevent damage to engine parts. Once you add the stabilizer, run the engine for 5 minutes to ensure the stabilized gasoline reaches the carburetor. Or you can drain the gas from the mower. Then, when the engine is cool, remove the spark plug and pour a capful of engine oil into the plug hole and pull the starter cord 2 or 3 times. This distributes the oil and keeps the pistons lubricated. Finally, turn the mower on its side and clean out accumulated grass and gunk.

  • Prevent drips that can lead to frozen hoses and pipes. Remove and drain all garden hoses to prevent water from backing up in the faucets and pipes and freezing during the winter. Prevent any drips or leaks by turning off all shutoff valves on the water supply lines.

  • Prepare your sprinkler system for hibernation. Drain your irrigation system (even underground lines can freeze and cause broken pipes and sprinkler heads). Turn off the water supply at the main valve. Turn off the automatic controller. Remove all water from the system by opening the drain valves. Remove all above-ground sprinkler heads, shake water out, and replace.

  • Seal air and water exchange points. Get a couple of tubes of color-matched caulk. On a day when the temperature is above 50 degrees, seal all cracks around the exterior of your home. Particularly, look for cracks between trim and siding, around windows and doors, and where pipes and wires enter the house.

  • Clear the gutters and downspouts. Even with gutter covers, it is important to clean out all gutters and downspouts. When leaves or other gunk remains in the gutters or downspouts, you create the opportunity for frozen blockages and ice dams. This is also a good time to tighten gutter and downspout hangers and brackets. Ensure that your downspouts extend at least 5 feet from your house to prevent foundation damage.

  • Check for roof damage. It is not necessary to climb up on the roof to conduct a fall check. Just use binoculars. Look for buckled, cracked or missing shingles, or rust spots on flashing and make these repairs immediately. Also check for mold, moss or lichen buildup on the roof. This usually indicates mold beneath the surface. Also, check the rubber collar (boot) on all plumbing vent stacks.

  • Check drainage away from the foundation. Check soil around the foundation. It should slope away from the house at 6 vertical inches over 10 feet. This will prevent cracks and leaks.

  • Tune up the furnace. Schedule your annual heating system checkup. Have the contractor replace the filter on a built-in humidifier, as well. Be sure to change the filters every two months, as well.

  • Prune the plants. The best time to prune plants and trees is in the late fall. The goal is to keep limbs and branches 3 feet (or more) from your house to prevent exterior damage.

  • Check and clean the fireplace. Use a flashlight to look up inside the fireplace(s) to ensure proper operation of the damper. Look up into the flue to check for birds’ nests, obstructions or debris, and remove anything you find. Also check for cracks or missing bricks or mortar in the firebox. Finally, have the flue cleaned of creosote buildup every other year.

 

Performing these tasks in the fall, will protect your home and prevent costly repairs later.


 

 

 

4 Financially Smart Home Improvements

 July 2015

 

Four home improvements you can make at relatively low cost will increase the value of your home when you sell it while also making your home more enjoyable now. 

 

  1. Add decorative moldings. Nothing makes a room look finished like crown moldings. Some believe no dining room is complete without chair railing. Wide floor moldings and window frames add a sense of quality and elegance. Wainscoting can completely change the look and feel of a dark and boring stairway. Most molding can be purchased for $1.50-$2.00 a foot for the do-it-yourselfer; having it installed should cost $8-10 per foot. The impact on the sale price of your home later will be significantly higher.

  2. Plant Some Trees. Trees are good for you and your property. They will protect your home from the elements, prevent soil erosion, and reduce energy costs. What is more, they will reduce your stress! The cost of buying and planting young trees is relatively small. Selling a home with mature trees will increase property value.

  3. Upgrade home security. We are all concerned about security and safety. Install or upgrade a home security system to include security cameras and have your system monitored. You will protect your property and your family and you will increase the value of your home when you sell it.

  4. Add a patio. For a relatively small cost you can add a concrete, stone or a brick patio to your home. Not only will you create a great for the family to gather and for entertaining guests, but this home improvement will pay off in increased home value when you decide to sell. A simple patio is all you need.

 

 How to Choose Paint Colors

August 2015

 

 

Many homeowners overlook the power of paint colors to change the appearance and feeling of various rooms. For example, paint can be used to lighten, warm, enlarge, erase or attract attention in a room or an entire house. You can achieve several effects with paint. Here are a few examples.

 

  1. Use color to enlarge a space. Because these colors reflect light, they create the illusion of more space: white, cream, pastels, cool colors (tinged with green or blue). Use white on trim or paint trim with a color similar to the walls to create a seamless appearance that makes the space seem even larger. High-gloss white paint on the ceiling draws the eye upward and reflects light, which makes the room seem larger, as well.

  2. Use color to make a large room feel intimate. Use warm colors (tinged with red) to absorb light and make the space feel more intimate. High or vaulted ceilings can be made to feel more intimate by using a dark or warm color in a flat finish for the ceiling.

  3. Use color to create tranquility. Many people want a personal space that feels tranquil. This can be accomplished with soft, muted shades, such as pale lavender, light gray or green, and wispy blue.

  4. Use color to define and highlight architectural details. Architectural details like crown moldings, wainscoting, and baseboards can be highlighted with white high-gloss paint that clearly contrasts with wall colors.
  5. Use color to hide flaws or unattractive elements of a room. Just as you might have details you wish to highlight, you might have details you wish to hide. Conduits, radiators, baseboard heaters and other items can be disguised by painting them the same color as the walls so they seem to disappear. Flat paint absorbs light, and further hides flaws.

    

Painting walls, trim, and architectural assets or flaws can be an economical way to remodel a home. It can also facilitate a quick facelift for any home. By understanding the insights illustrated in these examples, you can use color and paint to make any living space fit your lifestyle and taste.

 

 Fall Maintenance Checklist

September 2015

 

 

 

Ten home maintenance tasks are often recommended for fall. When completed, these tasks will prepare you for winter and save money by preventing problems rather than making urgent repairs later. Here are the ten tasks on the fall home maintenance checklist.

 

  1. Prepare your sprinkler system for winter. Turn off the water supply at the main valve, turn off the automatic control, and open the drain valves to remove all water from the system. If you have above-ground sprinkler heads, remove them, shake any water out, and replace them.

  2. Protect outdoor hoses and faucets from winter freezes. Remove and completely empty all hoses and store them (basement, garage, storage shed). Turn off any shutoff valves for exterior faucets or pipes.

  3. Prune plants and trees. Late fall is the best time to do this. Branches and limbs should be cut at least three feet from your house foundation to prevent drips on roof or siding and to prevent damage to your house during high wind.

  4. Check and improve drainage around your house foundation. The goal is to route water away from the foundation at a slope of six vertical inches over 10 feet (minimum). Remove any dirt that is against your siding.

  5. Clean your gutters. Clogged gutters can cause serious damage to your roof. Carefully remove any leaves, twigs and other debris from all gutters. Check for loose gutter hangers and downspout brackets that can cause sagging. Replace any damaged gutters or downspouts.

  6. Look for indicators of roof problems. A visual check should be sufficient (use binoculars if necessary). Look for any indications of roofing trouble: check for missing, cracked or buckled shingles. Also check for rust spots on flashing. Replace any missing or damaged shingles or flashing. If you detect masses of moss or lichen, call in a professional to check for damage below the surface.

  7. Locate and seal any external cracks. Take a walk around your house and look for any cracks between trim and siding, where pipes and wires enter your house, and around window and door frames. Seal any cracks with caulk. Sealing will prevent potential water damage and will prevent air exchange during cold weather and keep your home warmer.

  8. Check your fireplace. Check your records to see when your fireplace was last cleaned of creosote buildup. This should be done every other year. Shine a flashlight up the inside of your fireplace to ensure proper functioning of the damper and to look for anything that might be blocking air flow to the outside. (You should be able to see daylight at the top of the fireplace). Also check the bricks and mortar of the firebox. Any cracks or other damage should be professionally repaired.

  9. Conduct fall maintenance of your furnace. Call a professional to service your furnace. Many homeowner’s insurance policies and warranties will not cover repairs or costs of damages if the furnace is not serviced annually. Change your furnace filters in the fall and every two months.

 

If you invest the time and the small cost of completing this fall maintenance checklist, you will be able to enjoy your home during the winter months. Your fireplace and furnace will be operating correctly and efficiently, your foundation and your windows will be protected, and you should not see any damage from freezing water.

 

 

Boost Your Home’s Value with 5 Upgrades that Add Luxury for You

 

 

 

It is always good to improve your property. There are upgrades that improve the value of your home. The best upgrades, however, are those that increase the value of your home while also adding a bit of luxury that you can enjoy immediately. Here are five upgrades that boost your home’s value and add luxury for you.

 

  1. An awesome kitchen. Kitchens are the most important room of the house for potential buyers. Focus on small upgrades that make your life easier or more enjoyable, rather than an expensive complete kitchen remodel if you live in an average priced home. If the remodel goes too far, it can make the rest of the house look outdated or drab. Think about things like a refrigerated drawer for snacks and drinks for the kids, or an under-counter wine cooler, or a new sink and faucet, or even new cabinets. According to Remodeling magazine’s Cost vs. Value report for 2015, the average cost for a minor kitchen remodel is $19,226, and it earns a payback of 79.3 percent.

  2. Add luxury to the bathroom. Bathrooms are the second most important rooms of the house to buyers. There are many luxurious upgrades for bathrooms to consider. Updated light fixtures, mirrors or wallpaper are a good place to start. However, more luxurious upgrades might include a heated floor, wall-mounted towel warmer, spa shower, or a rain showerhead.

  3. Look outside and think about making your deck more enjoyable. Not only does a deck add living space to your home, it can be a deck perfect for open air activities and entertaining. The national average cost for adding a wooden deck is $10,048, and can be expected to recoup 80 percent of the cost when the home is sold. But you can easily spice it up with an outdoor kitchen, decorative planters, comfortable furniture, and more.

  4. Upgrade to hardwood floors. According to the National Association of Realtors, 54 percent of potential home buyers are willing to pay more for a home with hardwood floors. In fact, according to HGTV, they are the top request of homebuyers today. It’s beautiful, it’s durable, and it is in high demand.

  5. Add a walk-in closet in the master suite. Zillow reports that a walk-in closet is essential on the wish lists of many homebuyers. The typical cost is between $1,151 and $2,643. Not only will you have a strong selling feature for your home, you will also have the extra storage and the luxury of a walk-in closet now.

 

Instead of doing something big and overwhelming that may or may not actually increase the total value of your home, think small and think about things that seem like a luxury to you. These things will probably be of value to others as well. Instead of a big remodel of one room, you might find better results – and more enjoyment of your home – with small luxury-added improvements throughout the house.