No Comments

Should You Refinance Your Mortgage to Build Equity Faster?

Home equity is the difference between your house’s current market value and the amount you still owe on your mortgage. Speeding up the rate at which you pay down your loan balance can help you build equity faster.

How Can Refinancing Help You Build Home Equity?
If you refinance your mortgage and switch to a shorter term, your monthly payments may increase substantially, but you will chip away at the principal faster. Refinancing to a mortgage with a shorter term may also help you qualify for a lower interest rate. Because of that, plus the fact that you will be paying interest for fewer years, you will pay less in interest overall with a shorter loan term.

Is Refinancing to Build Home Equity a Good Idea for You?
If you refinance your mortgage, you will have to pay thousands of dollars in closing costs. It may take several years for you to reach a breakeven point when the amount you saved in interest by refinancing equals the amount you paid in closing costs. If you move before then, you won’t save money by refinancing.

A higher monthly payment can allow you to pay off your mortgage faster, but you should think carefully about whether you can afford it now and will be able to afford it in the future. If you take on a higher mortgage payment that you can’t cover, you may wind up with a lower credit score and may even lose your home in foreclosure. If your or your spouse’s job security is in question, you may regret taking on a higher mortgage payment.

If you haven’t contributed as much as you would like to retirement accounts or college savings accounts for your kids, increasing your monthly mortgage payment may not be a smart financial move. Doing so may not leave you with enough room in your budget to put money toward those other important long-term goals.

What are Other Ways to Build Equity Quickly?
There are several ways to pay down your mortgage balance and build equity faster without refinancing. For example, you can pay more each month, make 13 payments per year instead of 12 or pay a lump sum when you receive a gift, bonus or income tax refund. Check your loan terms so you don’t get charged a prepayment penalty.

If you take one of these approaches, you won’t have to pay closing costs like you would for a refinance. Another benefit is that you will have flexibility. If money is tight one month because of an unanticipated expense, if you or your spouse experiences a job loss or pay cut or if you decide to focus on another priority, such as saving to put a down payment on a new car, you will be able to simply make your regular required mortgage payment.

No Comments

4 Tips to Reduce Water Consumption at Home

Luxury homeowners are increasingly demonstrating a preference for properties that have been designed with sustainability in mind, which is just another reason to embrace eco-friendly features in the home. For those who want to reduce their water usage, following are several tips that are sure to help conserve this precious resource.

Low-Flow Fixtures
Updating all of the faucets, toilets and showers in your home with low-flow fixtures can go a long way. In the past, this often came at the expense of water pressure, but these days there are plenty of excellent options that offer high-performance by adding air pressure to the water. With a high-quality low-flow showerhead, you can enjoy a relaxing rain shower while feeling good about conserving water at the same time.

Greywater Irrigation
Keeping our lawns and gardens healthy requires a lot of water, but the good news is there’s an easy way to considerably lower the impact that this has on the environment. With a greywater system, you can save all of the water used in your house for showering, laundry and dishwashing and reuse it to water your lawn, as well.

Pool Cover
A cover does far more than keep your swimming pool clean when not in use. In fact, it can significantly reduce water evaporation, thereby requiring less water to refill your pool. According to Energy.gov, a cover can lower the amount of “make-up water” needed by as much as 50%!

Smart Technology
There are many advantages to installing a smart water monitoring system, and one of them is that you’ll be able to save water by tracking usage and catching undetected leaks. You can even monitor your daily habits and set goals to lower consumption. If that’s not reason enough, you’ll also be eliminating the risk of water damage to your home and will have complete control to shut the water off via your smartphone.

No Comments

4 Ways to Give Your Backyard a Farmhouse Look

With spring in full effect, more people are looking at their outdoor spaces to create a stylish place to spend time with family and friends. For those who love a farmhouse aesthetic, items like reclaimed wood and wicker can be a great addition to your deck, patio or yard. To pull off a rustic look, try these four design tips for your outdoor living area, including your garden.

Use Natural Materials 
When you think of traditional farmhouse design, it includes a lot of natural materials. When choosing your patio furniture, be sure to consider reclaimed wood tables and wicker chairs for a truly rustic feel. Wrought iron is another great option, and when treated correctly, may be your best option for all weather conditions. Add in a few vintage pieces—check estate sales and tag sales—to add some extra charm to your yard.

Let Your Landscaping Inspire a Rustic Design
What’s nice about a farmhouse look when it comes to your garden is that the aesthetic works best in an organic and rustic setting. Invest in plants that don’t need much maintenance and be sure to have neutral colors and tones, sticking to mostly greenery. Natural shades will compliment the design, so don’t go overboard with colorful flowers and bushes. You’ll likely have some large trees and bushes on your property, so use them as inspiration for seating areas, or add some decor to draw attention to these spaces.

Highlight Glass Accents 
Mixing glass into your natural materials adds an interesting contrast to your farmhouse aesthetic. Milk pails, pitchers and crocks are great accent pieces and can even be used to hold flowers as a centerpiece. White glass is your best option aesthetically, but green glass will also help tie in the natural surroundings. If you are looking to add in a pop of color, opt for a brighter piece, such as red or blue, just don’t go too colorful as your space may lose that rustic appeal. For an added visual interest, hang a stained glass window on the side of your home or from a large tree branch in the yard.

Get Creative With Details
To truly embrace the farmhouse aesthetic, each detail matters. Of course, you have already brought in the glass accents and natural furniture, but there is much more to consider. Bring out white or off-white pillows with small embroidered details, and even mix in a few patterns with neutral tones, as well as a touch of red or blue. For a chilly spring evening, be sure to have blankets available, stored in a dry corner in a wicker basket to keep the rustic look. Add vintage lighting, such as an iron lantern, and even hang up reclaimed shutters to mimic a classic farmhouse or barn look.

No Comments

How to Paint Brick the Right Way

If you have a brick wall inside or outside of your home and you’re looking to make a dramatic change, you may consider painting it! However, painting brick is not as easy and simple as drywall. There are some specific rules to follow when it comes to painting brick the right way. To avoid flaking paint or a dull topcoat, here are some things you should know.

Never Paint Brand New Brick 
As odd as this may seem, newly-built brick is a terrible canvas. This is because fresh brick can exude a chalky substance on the surface before cured. This powder will not allow the paint to stick to the wall, creating a messy and overall unfinished look. Make sure to get the right curing products and wait at least a month before painting the brick.

Make Sure the Wall is Clean 
Whether you are planning to paint new brick or a wall that has been in your home since before you lived there, the first step for this project will be to clean the surface. You want to make sure that the wall is clear of all loose debris and grease. Similar to new brick, unwashed brick may have sand, dust and other small debris, preventing the paint from sticking to the wall. A light powerwash should do the job, but consider washing with soap and water for a deeper clean. Once completely dry, patch up any cracks or missing mortar.

Primer—Most Important Step
Do not forget to prime your brick! This is undoubtedly the most important step in the painting process when it comes to this type of surface. Be sure to get a primer that will soak into the holes and crevices of the wall. You can find specific primers made for brick and masonry at your local hardware stores. This primer has more alkaline resistance, which keeps the top coat of paint from getting alkali burn. Choose a water-based primer for latex paint and an oil-based primer for oil paints.

Choose Your Tools Wisely 
Because the surface of the wall is porous and has plenty of divots, traditional paint brushes won’t work. You will need to get an applicator sponge or brush, depending on the final look you are going for, that can stand up to wear and tear. Start with synthetic bristles, as they are stronger and will hold up nicely. For larger areas, such as a fireplace or the exterior of your home, opt for a paint roller with a high nap. If you choose to go the airbrush route, brush a paint roller over the wet surface to ensure the paint gets into all of the nooks and crannies.

Start Your Painting Project
Once you have finished all of the important prep steps, you are ready to paint! Choose a top color of your choice, no matter the sheen or formula. Higher sheen does better on brick, as it is more resistant to staining. A latex paint will dry faster and have easier cleanup than an oil-based paint, which is much harder to finish.

No Comments

5 Money-Savings Strategies to Start Today

When it comes to money, stress is never far behind. Whether you are a recent college grad just starting out on your own or you have a mortgage to pay and mouths to feed, it is important to get your money-saving strategies under control. And there is no better time to start than now! Here are five money-saving tips that will help you day-to-day as well as in your future.

Follow a Budget 
Creating a budget for your personal finances is the key to start your journey of savings. Whether you want to write it out with pencil and paper or utilize a handy budgeting app on your phone, make a list of all of your current expenses, including bills and groceries. You may find that you are losing $20 a month on a subscription service you do not use. Or, you may review your weekly or monthly grocery total and decide what you can do without in your fridge. No matter how to tackle this list, having everything written down in front of you can help you determine where each dollar you make goes.

Have an Emergency Fund
Putting money aside dedicated to an emergency situation is always a good idea. Whether you have a leaky pipe or your car breaks down, having funds available to cover these expenses will allow you to manage your budget better. Experts recommend having at least 6 months worth of expenses in your emergency fund at all times. Consider setting up an automatic deposit to this fund with each and every paycheck.

Make Financial Sacrifices
If you are saving up to purchase a home, a new car or planning ahead for retirement, sacrifices are necessary. Instead of splurging on a new pair of shoes or the newest television on the market, hold off. Or, if you find that you only use a streaming service for one show, it’s probably wise to forego this monthly payment. Maybe you use a cleaning service for your home. Instead, set aside a day every week or bi-weekly to tackle cleaning on your own. Sacrifices are never fun, but when you are saving up for something special or planning to make a large purchase in the future, they must be made.

Check Your Accounts Often 
In addition to creating a visual of your budget, it is important to keep a close eye on your checking account. This is also a good strategy to ensure that your account has not been hacked and your identity has not been stolen. Make sure that your recurring payments, especially those on auto-pay, are coming out of your account on the right date and for the correct amount. This is also a good way to keep track of your non-recurring spending, such as a shopping trip or after you book a vacation.

Become Financially Independent 
Financial independence is defined as having the monetary foundation to comfortably maintain all of your bills and cover all of your expenses, no matter what they are, without relying on support from family members or spouses. The reality of life is that you never know what may happen or where you will end up. There is no better feeling than knowing that, if necessary, you can fully support yourself and still live your day-to-day life comfortably. By setting up a budget, maintaining an emergency fund, making financial sacrifices and keeping a close eye on your account, you will be financially stable and independent in no time!

No Comments

Consider Natural Light When Designing Your Custom Home

If you’re planning to design and build your next home, you may be focusing on the number and size of the rooms and the type of floor plan. With the right placement of your house on the lot and the right positioning of windows, you’ll be able to control the amount of light that each room receives at different times of day and in different seasons. That can make your home comfortable and relaxing and can help you keep your utility bills down.

How Natural Light Can Benefit Your Health and Your Wallet
Exposure to natural light can make you feel relaxed. It can also help you sleep better, which can have positive effects on your mood, productivity, relationships with others and overall health.

Designing your house in a way that maximizes sun exposure is an easy way to save money. Using artificial lighting can lead to high utility bills, but opening blinds or curtains costs nothing. The more natural light your home gets during the day, the less you’ll have to rely on artificial lighting. In the winter, the sun can naturally warm your house so you won’t have to rely too much on the furnace. Low year-round utility bills can lead to significant savings for as long as you live in your home.

How Your House’s Placement and Design Can Affect Natural Lighting
When designing your custom home, think about the position of the sun at different times of day and when members of your family will use each room. If you want the master bedroom to be bathed in sunlight in the morning, you can place it on the east side of the house so light from the rising sun can filter in through the windows. If you would rather limit early morning sun exposure, you can position the master bedroom in another part of the house and put a common area, such as the kitchen or living room, in an area that will face the sun.

It’s also important to consider the position of the sun in the sky at different times of the year. Placing common areas where they’ll get plenty of winter sunlight can help you control your heating costs. A room that receives the perfect amount of sunlight in the fall and winter may be unbearably hot in the summer, however.

Discuss Your Goals and Concerns With Your Architect
Think carefully about how your family will use your new home and how much light you’ll need at different times. If you focus on using the sun to your advantage, you can design your house in a way that will make it comfortable and will help you keep your utility bills down. Your architect may recommend using different sizes and styles of windows and skylights in various parts of the house, as well as outdoor overhangs, trees and a fence to help you achieve your desired results.

No Comments

Why You Should Keep Receipts for Home Repairs

If you have repairs made to your house, hold on to your receipts (or copies of them). They may be important when it comes time to sell your home.

A Buyer May Request Proof That Repairs Were Made
You may make repairs to your house that increase its value and make it more appealing to a potential buyer. For example, you may replace the roof or install new electrical wiring. A buyer who is interested in your home may ask for receipts to verify that the information in the listing is accurate.

A buyer may also be interested in the dates when those repairs were performed to know approximately how long they will last. A roof, for example, has a limited lifespan. Knowing whether the roof was replaced last year or five years ago may influence a prospective buyer’s decision.

An interested buyer will request a home inspection, which may identify significant problems. The buyer may ask you to make repairs as a condition of the sale. You may be asked to provide receipts to prove that the repairs were done, especially if the work isn’t visible because it’s hidden behind a wall.

Home Repairs May Reduce or Eliminate Your Tax Burden
You may have to pay taxes on money you earn when you sell your house. Money that you spent on capital improvements, or projects that increase your home’s value, extend its useful life or adapt it so it can be used in a new way, can save you money on taxes (provided the house you’re selling is your primary residence and you lived there at least two of the past five years.) Capital improvements can include projects such as building an addition, adding a deck or garage, repairing the driveway, replacing the roof or siding, upgrading the HVAC system, installing a new water heater and replacing damaged flooring.

Your tax bill will be determined based on your adjusted basis, which is the amount you paid for your home, plus the cost of qualifying capital improvements and related expenses, minus depreciation and depletion. Those costs will be deducted from your home’s sale price to determine your gain or loss.

If you have a gain of $250,000 or less, single or $500,000 or less or you’re married and file a joint tax return, you won’t have to pay any taxes on your gain from the sale of your house. Making qualified capital improvements can therefore help you reduce the amount you will have to pay in taxes or avoid paying taxes altogether when you sell your home. Keep your receipts in case the IRS requests documentation.

No Comments

4 Steps to an Organized Pantry

Just like any other closet, the pantry is prone to clutter, forgotten items and outdated junk. With these organizing tips from the KonMari method, however, you’ll be on your way to a clean and efficient pantry in no time:

1. Get rid of expired foods. The grocery items we tend to accumulate in our pantry are not immortal. Jarred and canned goods come with an expiration date, so make getting rid of anything that has expired your first step. If you come across items that are getting close to expiring, get out your recipe book and whip up a few dishes that call for those ingredients.

2. Reevaluate ingredients. Your pantry may be cluttered with sauces you bought on a whim, protein powders and supplements you stocked up on during a health kick, and other ingredients that are just not getting used. Take a hard look at what’s in your pantry and donate anything you’re not using to a neighbor or soup kitchen.

3. Store things so you can see them. The key to an efficient pantry is being able to quickly see what you have. Categorize your items—i.e., grains, vegetables, condiments, etc.—and make sure everything is standing upright for maximum visibility. Invest in shelf risers so that items don’t end up hidden behind another. Consider using canisters to help further organize your dried goods, such as pasta, cereal and coffee.

4. Reduce, reuse and recycle. As with any organizing project, creating the least amount of trash possible is the best way to go. If you have a surplus of food that you won’t be able to use in time or that you just don’t like, give items to a neighbor or food bank. Empty jars and cans of expired food then recycle the containers. Finally, see if you can use unwanted items in creative ways—such as craft projects that call for pasta and baking decorations.

No Comments

Get Your Yard Ready for Summer

If you’re getting ready for a great summer spent enjoying your backyard, be sure to follow this to-do list from loveyourlandscape.org to help ensure a vibrant, healthy yard all season long:

1. Inspect trees and shrubs. Take a careful look around your yard to identify any broken branches. Prune as necessary and call in a professional when needed.

2. Test your soil. Every few years, you should have your soil tested to make sure it has the proper pH balance and mix of nutrients. Ask your landscape professional or local lawn and garden center where you can get this done in your area.

3. Fertilize your lawn. The results of your soil test will help determine if and how to fertilize your lawn; for example, if your test shows that your soil needs nutrients, be sure your fertilizer includes them. Make sure you’re fertilizing your lawn at the optimal time; while some grass requires fertilizer in the spring, other varieties benefit from June of fall fertilization. Slow or controlled-release fertilizers are usually the best option.

4. Fertilize trees and shrubs. A slow-release fertilizer applied just before mulching is the best option for trees and shrubs.

5. Add a layer of fresh mulch. Place one inch of mulch in plant beds and around trees, making sure not to let the mulch touch the tree trunk, or get deeper than three inches. While mulch works wonders for making your yard look neat, it also helps retain moisture for plants, keeps roots cool in summer and insulates them in winter. As it decomposes, it adds important organic matter to soil as well.

6. Inspect your sprinklers. If you have an irrigation system, be sure to turn it on and test it. If any sprinkler heads need to be replaced or repaired, take care of it before the weather gets too hot.

No Comments

How to Organize a Small Bedroom

Just because a bedroom is on the small side doesn’t mean it can’t pack a powerful design punch and use space efficiently. It’s all in the organization! Here, the experts at marthastewart.com share great organizing tips for small bedrooms:

1. Think multipurpose storage space. The key to keeping a small bedroom organized is thinking double-duty when it comes to furniture. For example, consider a captain’s bed with built-in drawers at the base, or invest in under-bed boxes, particularly those with wheels for easy accessibility. Make sure bed-side tables have plenty of drawers and consider a trunk for the foot of the bed that doubles as seating.

2. Think multipurpose storage space. The key to keeping a small bedroom organized is thinking double-duty when it comes to furniture. For example, consider a captain’s bed with built-in drawers at the base, or invest in under-bed boxes, particularly those with wheels for easy accessibility. Make sure bed-side tables have plenty of drawers and consider a trunk for the foot of the bed that doubles as seating.

3. Think vertically. Maximize wall space and stick to items that are tall as opposed to long, such as a chest of drawers instead of a horizontal bureau. Use decorative hooks to house jackets, hats and scarves, and think vertically when it comes to closet space, too, which is often limited in small bedrooms. For example, hang a vertical shoe holder on your closet rod to efficiently store your footwear. Floor lamps or wall-mounted lamps will also help free up space in your diminutive bedroom, as will a wall-mounted jewelry armoire to house your baubles.

4. Opt for small furniture. While you may be able to squeeze in that big bed, opt for the next size down instead— full instead of queen or queen instead of king. Also, many retailers offer “apartment sized” beds and dressers specifically designed for smaller spaces. A small, decorative wooden chair or ottoman can provide just the right amount of seating space, too.

Of course the key to keeping a small bedroom inviting and organized is to stay on top of cleaning. Preventing clutter from piling up is essential to maintaining a serene small space.

No Comments

Trouble Selling Your Home? Why You Should Probably Stick With the Same Agent

Selling your home is both exciting and stressful. Most homeowners head into the process without understanding the many nuances involved. Sellers can become frustrated if their home isn’t moving off the market as quickly as they had expected or they aren’t getting offers as high as they had hoped.

When this happens, you can easily fall into the trap of blaming your real estate agent. While it’s not out of the realm of possibility that your agent isn’t doing everything they can to get your home sold, most of the time it’s a result of market conditions, unrealistic price expectations or issues that need to be resolved. You might be inclined to switch agents, but here’s why that’s usually not a good idea.

Marketing Is Already in Place 
Odds are, your agent has already put together a solid marketing plan for your home, including online exposure through home-sale portals, social media coverage, print materials, photography, virtual tours and open houses, etc. Ask your agent to provide you with an itemized list of the marketing plan, and if it looks solid, stick with it. Switching agents means starting from scratch.

You Could Miss a Peak Sales Cycle
Switching to a new agent starts the process all over again from the beginning. This could mean you miss a key selling season as the new agent takes time to build their marketing plan.

It Could Throw Up a Red Flag 
When you switch agents, your home is temporarily taken off the market, then reappears being represented by a new agent with new branding and a new marketing plan. This could signal to buyers that there’s something wrong with your home and assume that it was the agent’s decision to abandon ship.

You’ve Wasted Relationship-Building
The time you’ve invested with your agent— sharing your concerns, needs and priorities—is critical to the home-selling process and shouldn’t be abandoned unless there is a serious conflict that can’t be overcome. When you switch agents you’re back at square one in terms of relationship-building.

Keep in mind that the most important factor in working with an agent is trust. If you trust your agent, ask them why your home isn’t selling as fast as you’d anticipated or garnering the price point you had hoped for. A professional agent will be able to explain the circumstances that are causing the delay and offer a few solutions for moving things along.