Autumn: the perfect time to whip that mudroom into shape

Folks who live in areas of the country with wild winter weather use a vocabulary that sounds like a foreign language to those who live in more mild climes.

One of the words not in the Hawaiian’s or Floridian’s vocabulary is “mudroom.”

But, whether it’s an entryway retrofitted in the winter to hold wet, muddy shoes or an entire room devoted to winter over-clothes, boots and recreational equipment, a mudroom is something many Americans can’t fathom living without.

After all, it helps keep the rest of the home clean.

That’s the beauty of the mudroom. Located at a home’s entry point, it’s a corral for grimy gear.

Whether you need to create a mudroom or want to deck out the one you already have, we’ve rounded up some brilliant tips for its floors and walls.

The best location for a mudroom

If you’re starting from scratch (creating a new mudroom), the first thing to know is that it needs to be a room off of an exterior door.

Depending on how much space you have, you’ll ideally want it out-of-sight from the rest of the house. Sure, that’s not always possible, but it’s the ideal.

After that, the sky is the limit.

Here are some tips to consider if you’ll be creating a mudroom:

If the design and décor will be more utilitarian than decorative, site the mudroom near a side or rear entryway.

If you lack space inside the home, consider turning a corner of the garage or carport into a mudroom. One of the trends in new-home construction is to combine the mudroom and the utility room.

This way, soiled clothing goes right into the washer instead of being piled in a basket (or on the floor) awaiting a trip to the laundry room.

The designers at HGTV claim that the best location for a mudroom is the room accessed first by the door to the home that you use most.

Durability is key in choosing mudroom flooring

Everything in a mudroom should be durable and efficient to use. Start with durability and you’ll thank yourself later.

Skip carpeting and opt for a flooring product that is easy to clean yet still slip-resistant. This means no tile (unless it’s labeled as slip-resistant).

Good options include:

  • Vinyl – There are some gorgeous luxury plank vinyl flooring options available today (see examples here). Some look and feel like wood and many are waterproof.

 

  • Natural stone – Yes, some types of natural stone can be quite slippery when wet. According to a study published in the Journal of Materials in Civil Engineering, it’s the composition of the stone product and not the rough finish that determines how slick it will be.

Products with more quartz, such as mica schist, are less slippery, but granite, with a high quartz content, is quite “slippery in wet conditions” because of other minerals included in the rock wear down easily. Shop carefully if you’re considering natural stone floors for your mudroom.

 

  • Concrete – Wait, don’t turn your nose up at the thought of a concrete floor. Installers are doing wonders with finishes nowadays. Take a look at examples of “Why Concrete Floors Rock” at HGTV.com.

Buy a bunch of throw rugs and some boot scrubbers and your floors will be a snap to clean.

Move on to the walls

Paint or wallpaper? Again, you’ll want to keep the focus on durability when considering how to cover the mudroom walls.

Either one, if chosen wisely, will stand up to the gunk that gets flung around a mudroom.

Semi-gloss painted walls are the easiest to clean, but choose a color that won’t show the grime (forego white).

The folks at HGTV recommend, aside from paint, wainscoting and beadboard.

When you’re considering wallpaper, look to the vinyl selections first. They clean up easily and hide a lot of “sins.” Take a look at how some homeowners have used wallpaper in their mudrooms at Houzz.com.

Find additional mudroom makeover ideas at ElleDecor.com and Pinterest.com.

Here’s what you need to know about the current real estate market

Whether you’re entertaining notions of buying or selling a home, you’re no doubt keeping up with housing news. And, what you’re seeing may concern you.

Doom and gloomers, naysayers and, curiously, even some experts are claiming that they are worried about the housing market.

The fact is, the real estate market is the one bright spot in the economy right now, and there are three reasons we can say this with confidence:

  • Pending home sales
  • Mortgage rates
  • Consumer confidence

Let’s take these one-at-a-time and break it down for you.

Pending home sales

When a homebuyer signs an agreement to purchase, the home moves from an actively for-sale status to a pending status. It is sold, pending the outcome of the contract’s details. At any rate, it is no longer on the market.

“U.S. pending home sales are at their highest level since the middle of 2017,” according to Neil Dutta, former senior economist at Bank of America-Merrill Lynch for the U.S. and Canada.

Pending home sales are a “leading indicator” of the health of the housing market, Dutta says in an article at BusinessInsider.com.

Pending sales are up in all regions across the country.

On a side note, despite what you’ll read in the news about the slowing of new-home sales, they have increased 15 percent so far this year as well.

Mortgage rates

Mortgage applications for home purchases have increased roughly 15 percent from last year. This is proof-positive that a decrease in mortgage rates is most definitely stimulating the market.

Especially when one crunches the numbers, it’s easy to see that buying a home when rates drop may just beat the cost of renting. Plus, you’ll accumulate wealth in the process of owning the home.

“Let’s say you considered buying a $300,000 home on a 30-year mortgage in the fall, but held off,” explains Gretchen Frazee, deputy digital editor for PBS NewsHour.

“If you were to buy the same house now, the interest rate drop could decrease your monthly payments by $160 per month and save more than $60,000 over the life of the loan,” she concludes.

Consumer confidence

Consumer confidence is measured by a number of governmental offices and universities. The University of Michigan, for instance, recently released its August consumer confidence poll which showed consumer sentiment, overall, declining.

Keep in mind when you read news about consumer confidence that it is a measurement of confidence in the economy as a whole.

Fannie Mae publishes the Home Purchase Sentiment Index which focuses solely on consumer confidence in the housing market. That is the measurement to watch when you’re keeping tabs on the real estate market as a consumer.

“According to the Conference Board, buying intentions for new homes have exploded to levels not seen since before the financial crisis,” claims Dutta. And, he is correct.

So, while journalists and other non-real estate professionals spread doom and gloom about the housing market, as you can see by Fannie Mae’s graph, consumers are feeling the opposite.

What about the predicted recession?

The U.S. economy, or “business cycle” includes four phases:

  • Expansion
  • Peak
  • Recession
  • Trough

Our economy’s “natural state” is expansion, where we experience robust sales, consistent wage growth, increasing GDP and low unemployment rates.

Many economists are saying we’ve reached the peak of the current economic cycle which typically lasts 10 years, so we’re long overdue for a recession.

Don’t allow recession talk to frighten you out of realizing your real estate plans, whether that means buying or selling a home.

Especially if you hope to sell this year or next, you’ll be happy to know that in all but one recession in recent history, homes actually sold for more than they did before the downturn in the economy.

None of the top economists who are predicting an oncoming recession blame it on the housing market (which played a large part in the 2008-2010 recession), so it should survive, relatively unscathed.

It’s important to keep in mind that, right now, the market is in the process of normalizing, coming down from the heady sellers’ market of the past few years.

Take a deep breath, ignore the doomsayers and continue on with your real estate plans.

4 signs that your HVAC system is in trouble

From handling summer’s heat to keeping us toasty when it’s chilly outside, our HVACs are one of the hardest working systems in our homes.

As they chug through their lives with nary a problem, it’s frighteningly easy to become complacent about routine maintenance and checkups.

Since a new system can run you between $1,900 and $5,100 (on average), according to HomeAdvisor.com, it only makes sense to start paying attention for signs that the system may be in trouble.

Let’s take a look at some common symptoms to watch for.

1. Something stinks

Strange, nasty odors in the air inside your home may indicate a number of problems with your HVAC system.

If the air smells like something may be burning, it could be a “problem within the motor or the wiring,” according to the pros at compactappliance.com.

They suggest that when you turn the heating system on at the beginning of the season, it may blow out stale air that may have a tinge of an odor similar to something burning.

Let the system run for about 20 or 30 minutes and if the odor doesn’t go away, call an HVAC repair specialist before using it again.

If, on the other hand, the system is emitting a rotten egg smell, turn it off, leave the home immediately and call your gas company. A rotten egg smell is the sign of a natural gas leak.

Does the air smell moldy? One of the most common problems with HVAC systems is a failure to drain moisture adequately. If the moisture gets into the ducts, it can cause mold.

Thankfully, this isn’t a serious problem and can be remedied by an HVAC technician. Don’t let the problem fester, though, or you it may cause health problems.

2. The A/C is blowing hot air

According to pippinbrothers.com, there are many reasons an air conditioning system blows hot – instead of cool – air.

The most common reasons include:

The thermostat is set incorrectly. “It may sound silly, but we’ve seen it happen before,” say the Pippin Brothers. They suggest the first thing to check when you aren’t getting cool air is the thermostat. It may be set to “heat” instead of “cool.”

If that isn’t the cause, ensure that the thermostat is set to “auto” or “on.” “If it’s set to ‘on,’ that means the fan will blow even when the air conditioner isn’t actually cooling,” according to the brothers.

Switch it to auto and adjust the temperature to start the unit. If it’s still blowing hot air, you may have a more serious problem and it’s time to call in a specialist.

3. Little to no air coming from the HVAC unit

Check the filters if the airflow from the HVAC unit is restricted. Often, all it takes to remedy the situation is a new or clean air filter.

If you don’t have routine maintenance done on the unit, it may be dirty coils restricting the airflow. If you can’t determine the problem, call in a professional. Allowing this problem to fester can cause the compressor to fail.

The compressor is one of the main parts of the system and it’s costly to replace. Depending on the system, it may cost between $1,500 and $2,000 according to the pros at AceHomeServices.com.

4. Weird noises

The professionals at American Home Shield, the home warranty company, say that there are eight different noises that may come from your HVAC system.

“Ignoring the mysterious noises from your AC can turn minor issues into major expenses, as these noises could signal anything from needing a simple tune up to costly repairs, to —worst case — replacement of the entire unit,” they caution.

Banging, clanging, clicking, buzzing, squealing, screaming, humming or rattling may be an indication of

  • A refrigerant leak
  • High internal pressure within the compressor
  • Loose parts
  • A clog in the system
  • Bad fan motor or indoor blower
  • Dirty condenser coil

Any noises coming from the system indicate a problem (which may not be serious). Turn off the system and call an HVAC technician for a diagnosis.

Having the A/C fail during summer heat or the heater give out during winter can largely be prevented with routine maintenance of the system.

Homebuyer tip: Don’t commit these negotiation blunders

As a homebuyer, unless you are buying direct from the owner, you’ll not negotiate with the seller of the home you have your eye on.

That’s your real estate agent’s job. But he or she negotiates on your behalf. So, when we talk about buyer negotiations with sellers, we’re referring to indirect negotiations through your agent, as middle-person.

Unless you’re an attorney, a salesperson or in another occupation that requires negotiating skills, we think it’s safe to say that it’s not something you do on a regular basis.

If done correctly, negotiation requires subtlety and the ability and willingness to find a win-win for all parties.

Certain negotiating tactics can railroad a real estate deal, instantly. Let’s take a look at some of these to help you avoid losing out on that home you want.

Using the home inspection as a negotiation excuse

The one blanket statement that we feel safe in making to all homebuyers is that they must get the home professionally inspected. Yes, even recently-built homes.

After the inspection, the inspector will issue a report, listing all of the problems or potential problems he or she found during a visual inspection of the home.

Some of the problems may be significant but most are not. If you find the report somewhat acceptable, but would like a few items repaired or replaced, we will reopen negotiations with the seller.

This is where some homebuyers become unreasonable, using nit-picking in an attempt to drive down the price of the home.

Keep in mind that, unless the home was listed for sale “as-is,” homeowners are only obligated to remedy defects that your lender or insurer will require (typically those of a health and safety nature), those specifically named in the purchase contract and those required by law.

The seller is not required to adjust the price instead of making repairs. And, most sellers won’t even consider replacing or repairing defects that can be remedied easily and inexpensively.

Everything, however, is negotiable and your choices in the deal include:

  • Asking the seller to make the repairs
  • Asking the seller to decrease the price of the home to compensate for the cost of repairs
  • Walk away from the deal

The homeowner’s choices include saying yes or no to the first two, coming up with a list of what he or she is willing to deal on, or deciding not to continue with the sale.

If you really want the home, think twice about reopening negotiations unless the home’s defects are major and will require great expense.

Insisting on making a lowball offer

We understand that you want the best deal possible, but a very low offer on a home you truly want to purchase is typically a foolish negotiating tactic.

In a buyers’ market, when there are lots of homes for sale but few buyers, you may get away with an offer under asking price. But a ridiculously low offer will most likely be treated as an insult by the seller.

It also makes you appear like a bargain hunter, ruining your credibility in the eyes of the seller.

A homeowner has several choices when confronted by a low offer. Unfortunately, many of them feel so insulted they won’t even respond.

So, instead of getting a chance to haggle on the price of the home, you’re shut out. Completely.

Assuming the seller wants to part with personal belongings to get the home sold

Sure, in slow markets, sellers may do almost anything if their home has been sitting on the market and they need it sold quickly.

But, before you demand that they leave the home’s furniture, appliances and the dog, keep in mind that desperation on the seller’s part is the exception, not the rule.

Unless expressly stated in the contract, the homeowner is selling their home, not their personal belongings.

Asking for too much makes you appear greedy – and not someone a seller is likely going to want to negotiate with.

The most important thing to remember, especially in a market that favors sellers, is that the seller may very well be negotiating with other buyers. Go in with your best and highest offer and try to keep it as “clean” as possible.

We’re happy to show you how.

5 Mistakes to avoid when hiring a plumber

From $45 to $200 per hour. That’s what you’ll pay, on average, to hire a plumber, according to HomeAdvisor.com’s True Cost Guide. But, that’s for small tasks, such as faucet, toilet or sink repair.

Need a water heater installed? That will run you around $1,000, on average, nationwide.

Not all plumbers are alike, with the same amount of experience and the same skills. Assuming they are is probably the most common mistake consumers make.

Let’s take a look at five additional mistakes that homeowners commonly make when hiring a plumber.

1. Choosing “cheap” over qualified

Go to any local social media platform, such as Facebook neighborhood groups and NextDoor, or sites such as Craigslist.org and you’ll find lots of people offering their services for a variety of home repair and maintenance tasks.

Group members often offer referrals. Far too often, however, the person seeking the referral is looking for the lowest price, not the most qualified contractor. Inevitably, this same neighbor will be back posting a month later, bemoaning the horrible job that was done.

Yes, it’s always smart to save money. But, remember, you truly do get what you pay for. When the job is something important to your family’s comfort and safety, such as many plumbing tasks, hire a professional plumber.

2. Not ensuring the plumber is licensed

Some states require that plumbers be licensed, while others require registration with the state. You can find each state’s requirements at HomeAdvisor.com.

A license is proof that the plumber has passed an exam that tests his or her knowledge. Always ask if the plumber is licensed and ask to see the license.

Also ensure that the business the plumber works for is licensed.

3. Not inquiring about bonding and insurance

Ask the plumber you are interviewing if he or she carries general liability insurance. This insurance covers any damage caused as a result of the plumber’s work.

Then inquire about bonding. A bond guarantees financial protection against a number of issues, such as work that doesn’t meet local codes or an incomplete job. Ask for written proof of the bond.

Finally, if the plumber works for someone else, ask if his or her employer carries worker’s compensation insurance. This insurance pays for injuries incurred during the time the plumber is working in your home.

4. It’s a huge mistake to not ask for references

When a friend, colleague or neighbor recommends a plumber, do yourself a favor and do some additional checking.

Go to the plumber’s website to find reviews. If you can’t find any there, check Yelp.com. Then, ask the plumber for the names and phone numbers of his or her last three clients. Call each one for a review of the plumber’s work.

Finally, check to see if the plumber is rated at the Better Business Bureau and whether any complaints have been filed against the plumber and/or the business.

5. Not getting the agreement in writing

Ask that all the details of the job, the agreed upon time for completion and the price be put in writing, signed by the owner of the plumbing company.

While this agreement will keep the plumber on task, it will also protect you in the event something doesn’t occur as agreed or there is another problem.

Ensure that their refund policy is clearly outlined in the agreement.

Like those in most industries, honest, ethical plumbers suffer from those among them who are unscrupulous, dishonest and who perform substandard work.

Avoid going the “cheap” route and hire a professional.

 

Start preparing now for a fall or winter home sale

Did you know that winter is one of the best seasons to sell a home?

Fewer homeowners list their homes during winter so naturally, fewer homes sell. But homes that are listed in winter have a better chance of selling than those listed for sale in summer, fall and, yes, even spring.

Home sell quicker in winter too and, best of all, they sell for more than they do in fall and summer and only slightly less than in spring, according to a study by a national real estate brokerage.

The study looked at how much above list price homes eventually sold for during each season:

  • Spring: 18.7%
  • Summer: 15.1%
  • Fall: 14.7%
  • Winter: 17.5%

What’s equally surprising is that the winter numbers remain consistent regardless of the season’s severity. So, from Miami to Minneapolis, Anchorage to Las Vegas, the likelihood of selling and the percentage of list price realized is the same. Snow or no snow.

Get even more with this one brilliant tip

The way to get even more for your home, regardless of season, is to make it stand out among the competition. This is a bit more challenging in winter, when everyone’s deciduous trees appear lifeless and everyone’s lawn looks the same.

Since most homebuyers shop online, however, a photograph of your home is most likely how they’ll be introduced. By photographing it now, while the sun is shining and greenery is actually green, you’re giving your home a leg up on the competition.

Imagine scrolling through winter listings online and landing on one that completely stands out from all the rest. The chances are excellent that this home would go on your “let’s go see this one in person” list.

It’s called “green photography”

Surprisingly, it hasn’t dawned on the majority of other real estate agents to take advantage of this marketing opportunity, so the chances are excellent that your home may be the only one with sunshine in it’s “hero” shot (the first photo people see on the MLS).

To accompany the summer feeling in a winter home sale, we suggest you tour your landscape and make a diagram or notes on what is planted where.

We can then blow up an exterior photo and make notes directly on it as to where the mock orange is planted, what color roses they can expect in spring and which of those twiggy trees bears delicious peaches in the summer. We’ll leave it out for buyers to see when they tour the home.

Winter curb appeal is still important

Even in the most frightful weather, a home’s exterior appearance can make or break the homebuyer’s decision to leave the warmth of the car to venture up the walkway to your home.

Color is inviting, so anything that can be done to add color outside will pay off. Some of our clients repaint the mailbox and front door in summer or fall in preparation for a winter sale.

Others add pathway lighting for those after-work hours showings. You’ll find additional winter curb appeal tips that you should think about now at BobVila.com, HGTV and Pinterest.com.

It’s not easy to think about the thicker socks, scarves and hats we’ll be donning in just a few months. But winter will be here before we know it and when it comes to a future home sale, it pays to be prepared.

If you’re among those who will be selling in fall or winter, call us to get those photos taken now.

September is National Preparedness Month: Are you ready?

Each September, since 2004, National Preparedness Month “reminds Americans to be prepared for disasters or emergencies in their homes, businesses, and communities,” according to Ready.gov.

And, how is this working out for us?

After 15 years, 75 percent of us have set aside emergency supplies but fewer than 50 percent of us have an emergency plan.

After compiling your supply kit, it’s important to make an emergency plan for the family. To be completely prepared, you may want to get some emergency preparedness training.

Prepared for what?

According to the president’s annual proclamation, preparedness is not meant for only weather and natural disasters. Since those are the most common, let’s start there.

If you live in a disaster-prone area, you’ll want to take extra precautions. Just in the past few years, Americans have experienced catastrophic losses from:

  • Hurricane
  • Wildfire
  • Tornado
  • Flood
  • Volcanic eruption
  • Earthquake

But there are other dangers to prepare for as well:

  • Hazardous materials leaks and spills
  • Extreme heat and cold
  • Power outages
  • Active shooter
  • Terrorist-related incidents
  • Drought
  • Landslide
  • Tsunami
  • Infectious disease outbreaks
  • Community unrest
  • Nuclear explosion

Yes, the list can be frightening, especially if you’re unprepared. In fact, the 2019 Preparedness Month theme is “Prepared, Not Scared.”

Take the following steps now to increase your family’s protection (both physical and financial) in the future.

Get insured

“Insured losses due to natural disasters in the United States in 2018 totaled $52 billion,” according to the Insurance Information Institute. While that sounds like a rather large chunk of money, consider 2017’s losses: $78 billion.

More than one-third of those losses were due to droughts, wildfires and heat waves. Other losses incurred were due to tropical, winter and severe thunder storms, floods and earthquakes.

It is estimated, however, that half of the total dollar amount of losses caused by natural disasters are uninsured. The costs are therefore passed on to the victims or the taxpayers.

Natural disaster damage that is not covered under standard homeowners policies include:

  • Floods – If you live in an area prone to flooding, you can purchase insurance coverage through the National Flood Insurance Program. Learn more about it at Fema.gov.
  • Earthquakes – Most large insurers offer either separate earthquake coverage or an endorsement to your current policy.

If you cannot afford to replace your home, either in its entirety or any portion that is damaged, purchase insurance.

Protect important paperwork

Gather, copy and protect all of your vital documents. These include:

  • Driver’s licenses
  • Adoption papers
  • Social security cards
  • Birth certificates
  • Passports
  • Citizenship papers
  • Child custody papers, military ID or DD Form 214
  • Current photos of your pets along with copies of  vaccination records and chip ID numbers.
  • Title to your home or loan information
  • Car registration
  • Insurance policies (homeowners, flood, earthquake, auto, life, etc.)
  • Health insurance cards
  • Detailed photos of the home and its contents

Ensure that physical copies of the documents are kept away from the home, such as in a safe deposit box or with a relative in an area not prone to disaster.

Stash cash

The experts at Ready.gov suggest that the average family should have cash in the amount of $2,400. Yes, that’s easier said than done. Any amount of cash will help, so start small and keep adding to your stash.

Prepare an emergency kit

Supplies that you’ll need during the recovery from disaster vary according to the size of your family, your age and the ages of your children, the weather and more.

For instance, older Americans living alone won’t have to stock up on baby formula and diapers but may want to ensure they have extra prescription and over-the-counter medications they use frequently.

For a good overview of what to consider adding to your supply list, consult Fema.gov. And, don’t forget your pets. Although this list at TheSeniorDog.com is based on the needs of a senior dog, it can be used for any dog or cat.

Add to the list collars, harnesses, leashes, feeding bowls and food.

Develop a family emergency response plan

The chances are good that your family won’t be together if a disaster hits. How will you contact one another? Where will you meet up?

Especially if your children are young, a family emergency plan is imperative. Get help creating one online at USA.gov.

What to do in the fall garden

With fall just around the corner, many new gardeners naturally assume that the gardening season is over. It doesn’t have to be; many vegetable crops do best when planted out in fall (fresh lettuce for your salads!).

If you are strictly an ornamental gardener, however, fall typically signals the end of active gardening until next spring. If your garden wasn’t all you’d hoped it would be, take steps now to ensure that next season is a winner.

Evict pests

It seems counterintuitive, right? What with fall coming and all the junk that is bound to blow in, why bother cleaning now?

Bugs and diseases.

All that “stuff” laying on the soil – you know, the dead plants, the leaves and other detritus – provides shelter over the winter to pests and disease organisms.

Unless you want to deal with the onslaught in spring, stop it now. Rake it all up and bag it or compost it, but get it out of the garden.

Fix the soil

The best thing you can do for next season’s plants is to provide the soil in which they’re grown with yummy nutrients right now.

Combine about 4 inches of shredded bark with the same amount of compost and dig the mixture into the top 6 inches of soil. Top it all off with another 4-inch layer of the wood chips to sit on top of the soil.

Over the winter, this combination will go to work, lightening clay soil and decomposing to provide an amazingly rich environment for plant roots.

If you’re not a victim of clay soil, just spread a big, thick layer of compost on top of the soil and let it sit over winter. It will work its way down, into the soil.

If you won’t be planting winter vegetables, add 2.5 pounds of ammonium sulfate per 1,000 square feet of space. Mix it down at least 10 inches into the soil.

Pamper your perennials

Although most perennials should not be cut back in fall, some require it, according to Don Kinzler at AgWeek.com. These include:

  • Daylilies – prune the leaves after the first fall frost.
  • Hosta – avoid the mushy foliage of spring by cutting back hosta foliage (to 1 to 2 inches above the soil) around the time of the first frost.
  • Iris – not only should you cut back the foliage (to a “fan shape 2 to 3 inches high,” according to Kinzler), but division is best done in August and September.

Check the other perennials in the garden for signs of diseased branches or stems. Remove them and rake up the mulch beneath the shrub and dispose of it. Then, apply a fresh layer of mulch, even if it’s leaves or pine needles.

Inspect shrubs for any branches or stems that may be diseased, prune them off and then rake up the mulch under the plant (it may contain disease organisms or spores).

Get spring-blooming bulbs into the ground now

Spring is daffodil time (and tulip and crocus time) and you’ll only get all that deliciousness if you get the bulbs planted before the ground freezes.

Unsure of how deep to plant? Eyeball the height of the bulb and bury it two to three times that. If your bulb is 2 inches tall, the planting hole should be 4 to 6 inches deep.

Tender bulbs, such as canna, dahlia and gladiolus should be protected from being brought to the surface by frost heave during winter. Use pine tree boughs, wood chips or pine bark, according to the experts at Better Homes and Gardens.

Don’t forget the lawn

In fall, your lawn is preparing to go dormant, so it’s absorbing as much water and nutrients as it can. Help it out by aerating it and then, in late fall, fertilizing it with 24-0-10, slow-release fertilizer.

Finally, mow the lawn at the mower’s lowest height but don’t remove more than one-third of its current height in one session.

Your final gardening task is to ensure that you have enough gardening books and seed catalogs to get you through a long winter.

 

Your guide to understanding the home purchase offer

The seemingly endless hours searching for homes on the internet are finally over. No more open house visits, no more house tours with your agent. You found the one – the home you may have spent months waiting for.

“I want to make an offer.”

The statement that starts the process of turning your dream into a reality.

It’s easy to get overly excited. It’s far too simple to allow your desire to get the better of your common sense. Yes, you’re buying a home. But you’re also making a significant financial investment both now and for your future.

Of course, we’ll be with you every step of the way and you should feel free to ask us any and every question that pops up.

Read on for what you’ll need to know about your purchase offer and why weask some of the questions we do.

Decisions

Your first decision will be a financial one: how much should I offer? Although we will most likely know the home’s market value, we’ll run a comparative market analysis to ensure that you don’t offer too much, or too little.

Not only is understanding the market value important, but knowing how long the home has been on the market may affect how much you offer.

Why?

Homes that sit on the market for longer than comparable homes typically sell for less and the most common reasons for this are that the home is overpriced or it may have problems that impact its value.

If the average time a home stays on the market is 30 days, and the one you love has been sitting for 90 days, we’ll want to find out why.

Remember when we suggested that you keep your excitement and emotions in check? Imagine how disappointed you’ll be if we find out the home has significant problems when you’ve already emotionally moved into it.

How long?

After determining your offer price you’ll want to give the seller a specified amount of time to mull it over.

Too long and another buyer may sneak in with a better offer. Too short of an offer expiration date may anger the seller. We will counsel you on this, as it varies, according to the type of market we’re currently in.

Other time limits you can negotiate include:

  • Loan approval (although there’s not much wiggle room here)
  • Approval of the appraisal
  • Approval of the title report
  • Approval of the home inspection
  • Acknowledgement of disclosures
  • The closing date
  • Date you want to take possession of the home

Think carefully about the last two on the list. You’ll need enough time for your loan to be approved plus to get packed before closing.

Closing and possession dates are often used as negotiating tools. For instance, if the seller needs more time because the home he or she is buying won’t close on the same day, offer to extend the closing date.

Or, offer to rent the home back to the seller for a specified amount of time (with stipulations).

Additional considerations

If we are aware of any problems with the home when we write up the offer, we can add a contract contingency stating that your offer is only valid if the problem is remedied.

You will have another chance to ask for additional fixes of items of concern in the home inspection report.

For instance, suppose the homeowner has disclosed that there are problems with the HVAC system. We can insert a request to have it fixed or replaced by the time escrow closes.

Then, the home inspection report mentions another problem of concern. We will then submit an amendment to the purchase offer asking for repairs. Sellers are under no obligation to agree to this but they often do to ensure the home sells.

While these aren’t the only contract considerations, we think these are among the most important that you should be prepared for.

As always, we are happy to answer any questions you may have.

4 tips to transform that spare room into a home gym

There are gym rats and then there are those of us who feel intimidated by them. Can you blame us? As we sweat and toil, we’re surrounded by effortless iron pumping, bench pressing and simulated bike riding, stair climbing and running.

It’s enough to make you wish you could work out at home. And, you can. Creating a home gym doesn’t have to bust the budget or take up an entire wing of your home.

You can remain committed to your fitness goals right in your own home.

1. Choose the room

Even if you have a room that is currently not being used for much more than storage, think carefully about whether it will work as a gym. The main thing to think about is ceiling height. You’ll need at least 8 feet, according to Scott McGillivray at YouTube.com.

If the ceilings are substantially lower, consider swapping (steal the kids’ room!). If you don’t have an extra room, you can still create a gym by partitioning off a larger space, such as the living room.

No, you won’t need to build a wall. Hang curtains to use as a divider. We found these very cool and extra-long tension rods online at RoomDividersNow.com. Or, check out Home Depot’s assortment of screens.

Once you have the required space set aside, clear the entire area. Will you add a mirror or two? Now is the time to do so.

2. Consider the floors

If the room is carpeted or covered with a textured vinyl floorcovering, you’re good to go. Hardwood, laminate, tile or other hard surfaces may be a bit more challenging.

Remember that you’ll be using heavy equipment and accessories. When dropped, they may damage the floor. Ceramic tile is especially prone to fractures and breakage. Consider as well that some of these materials may become slippery when wet.

No carpet? Consider rubber matting. Home Depot carries interlocking gym floor matting and you’ll also find solutions online at Amazon.com and AmericanFloormats.com. The beauty of these tiles is that you can lay them right over existing hard flooring materials.

3. Determine the layout before spending money on equipment

The square footage of the room will be the main factor when determining the equipment you’ll eventually choose.

Window shop for the equipment online, jotting down the height, length and depth of each piece. Then, draw out a placement plan. Keep in mind that you’ll need to allow extra room for some pieces, such as a bench press.

Hold one arm out to your side, as if you were holding a weight. Measure the distance from fingertip to shoulder, double that and add the result to the width measurement for the bench press you have your eye on.

The same holds true for extra-long dumbbells. If you use them, measure their length and add it to the width of the bench press.

You don’t need to spend a lot of money on high-end equipment. If your fitness routines are simpler, all you’ll need is room for some yoga props, a medicine ball, foam roller, Pilates equipment or whatever suits your simple workout style.

No room for a step machine? Check out these space-saving and affordable stackable aerobic steppers at Amazon.com, DicksSportingGoods.com and Walmart.com. We also like the Dual Action Swivel Stepper at SunnyHealthFitness.com.

4. Where to shop for equipment

Gym equipment can be pricey, but not if you shop carefully. Did you know that Amazon.com has an entire fitness “store” online? Indeed, they do and you can find inexpensive workout accessories and even machines.

If your budget is a bit tight, consider buying used equipment. Check out the inventories at:

  • Play It Again Sports (you can also shop online)
  • Garage sales and yard sales
  • Second-hand and consignment stores

Prefer to shop online?

Ok, you’re all set to get buff in the privacy of your own home gym.