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Last Build Date: Fri, 13 Apr 2018 15:33:33 +0000

 



Zillow getting into the home-flipping business

Fri, 13 Apr 2018 15:33:33 +0000

Zillow Instant Offers will buy and sell homes in Las Vegas and Phoenix

By Mark Huffman of ConsumerAffairs
April 13, 2018

(image) Zillow is one of the go-to websites for consumers seeking to buy or sell a home. Now, the real estate marketplace is getting into the business of buying and selling homes itself.

Instead of just listing homes for sale, Zillow will begin to buy homes directly from owners, renovate them, and list them for sale -- a move with potential to disrupt the traditional brokerage model for selling houses.

The program, called Zillow Instant Offers, is launching first in Las Vegas and Phoenix. It is similar to the smaller operators found in every market who post signs in neighborhoods declaring "we will buy your house for cash!" Zillow, of course, can operate on a much larger scale.

Targeting motivated sellers

Zillow says it will target "motivated" sellers, those who need to sell quickly or might not have the money to make needed improvements to put a house on the market. These sellers are more likely to accept below-market offers, adding to profit margins on each home.

Zillow makes clear it is not trying to remove traditional real estate brokers from the equation. The company says it will initially partner with three real estate brokers in the Phoenix market, providing business for affiliated agents.

"Even in today's hot market, many sellers are stressed and searching for a more seamless way to sell their homes," said Zillow Chief Marketing Officer Jeremy Wacksman. "They want help, and while most prefer to sell their home on the open market with an agent, some value convenience and time over price."

Competing with house-flippers

The move will also make a Zillow a deep-pocketed competitor to mom and pop house flippers, who have made a living since the 2008 housing crash buying and renovating foreclosed houses.

Zillow says that when it buys a home, it will make necessary repairs and updates and get the home back on the market as quickly as possible. In all transactions, it says it will use a local real estate agent. It says it will also charge the seller a fee, in addition to commissions paid to listing agents.

While Instant Offers is designed to help sellers, it could assist buyers in the long run. With the current shortage of homes for sale, getting distressed properties back in move-in condition and back on the market should give buyers in search of a home more options.




The cost of selling a home is on the rise

Thu, 12 Apr 2018 13:39:25 +0000

A recent analysis puts the average total at more than $18,000

By Mark Huffman of ConsumerAffairs
April 12, 2018

(image) We know how hard it is to buy a home in today's market, with rising prices and declining inventories.

But it's no picnic for sellers, at least when it comes to opening their wallets. Yes, they likely stand to clear thousands of dollars on the sale, but that can sometimes obscure the costs of selling a home, which can be considerable.

Real estate marketplace Zillow and home service website Thumbtack have totaled up the expected and unexpected costs of selling a home and found the average seller will pay $18,342 in selling expenses.

The anticipated expense includes closing costs. If a full-commission Realtor is involved in the sale, the seller pays 6 percent of the sale price. Other closing costs may include paying a lawyer, local taxes, and fees to file assorted documents.

Closing costs

On a national average, home sellers pay $13,357 in agent commissions and closing costs, but that total is a lot more in the expensive housing markets on the coasts.

Zillow calculates closing costs on a median home in San Jose, Calif., one of the pricier housing markets, are nearly $75,000. But selling a median-priced home in Indianapolis costs a lot less -- $8,604 on average -- because homes there cost a lot less. Indiana has no transfer tax, which also helps to keep the cost down.

But closing costs aren't the only expenses a home seller faces. Zillow found that 78 percent of homeowners putting their houses on the market will make at least one home improvement.

Hiring a professional to perform basic seller prep projects like painting, staging, carpet cleaning, lawn care, and gardening costs an average of $5,000. Then, once a buyer has performed a home inspection, there could be other repairs or modifications required to close the deal.

"Even in the hottest housing markets in the country, selling a home takes time and costs money," said Jeremy Wacksman, Zillow's chief marketing officer. "From decluttering and staging to pre-inspections, agents and homeowners often spend months behind the scenes prepping a home well before it's listed on the market."

What to do

Wacksman's advice? Before listing your home for sale, do some research to determine what costs you may be responsible for and how they could affect your profit or budget for your next house.

Carefully consider the cost of any improvement you think will make your home more attractive to a buyer. Real estate experts say most buyers these days want a home in "move-in" condition, so improvements should be focused on painting and flooring and repairing things that are broken.

However, major upgrades usually don't pay for themselves in a home sale transaction. It's often more cost effective to lower your price slightly than remodel a kitchen or bath.




Texas-based company reveals plans for 3D printing affordable homes

Wed, 21 Mar 2018 13:42:01 +0000

The company says homes could cost under $10,000 and benefit those in need

By Gary Guthrie of ConsumerAffairs
March 13, 2018

(image) ICON, a Texas-based construction technology company, has made a breakthrough in affordable housing by 3D printing a single story, 600-800 square foot home in under 24 hours for less than $4,000.

The company demonstrated its innovation in Austin at SXSWs annual Interactive Festival, constructing their prototype in real time.

ICONs zero energy, thermally efficient model features a living room, bathroom, bedroom, a study that could double as a second bedroom, and a wraparound porch. The companys co-founders told The Verge that it will be using the model home as an office to see how its idea shakes out.

These homes arent part of the tiny house movement and you wont see suburbs of these 3D houses popping up across America. ICON is focused on creating homes in parts of the world that dont have the economic wherewithal to house the poverty-stricken.

While the companys main objective is to help reverse the global housing crisis, it also plans to build community-wide buy-in through the creation of manufacturing jobs that utilize local labor in those impoverished areas.

How these houses are built

The spotlight on this breakthrough falls on ICONs proprietary 3D printer Vulcan that uses a unique mix of concrete that hardens as it is printed. Vulcans technology is a perfect match for ICONs vision as it was designed to work in the worst of circumstances and places where things like potable water and technical assistance are lacking.

The walls of the printed house are stronger than cinder blocks after a few days of hardening, said Icon co-founder Evan Loomis, although the house is ready for human occupation after the home is set up which entails crew members installing windows, a wooden roof, basic plumbing, and electrical plumbing as the house is printed.

The plan

For this venture, ICON is collaborating with New Story, a California-based non-profit that describes itself as a non-profit working to create a world where no human being lives in survival mode. To date, the company has built more than 1,500 low-cost, high-efficiency homes in developing countries like Bolivia, Haiti, and Mexico.

New Story has been working to provide safe shelter for the last 3 years. But we knew traditional methods wouldn't make the linear change that's needed to impact the 1 billion people in need, New Storys CEO, Brett Hagler, told ConsumerAffairs.

We set out researching new and unique models to get homes faster & cheaper without sacrificing quality. 3D printing had been our on radar but it wasn't until we got connected to ICON that we felt it would be a feasible possibility.

Now that the proof of concept has been finished, ICON and New Story will be moving into phase two by taking the idea to El Salvador and printing its first homes there. The companies are targeting the end of 2018 for the first homes to be printed and expect to have the first 3D printed community completed by 2019.




Annual remodeling survey finds small projects pay off the most

Tue, 13 Mar 2018 13:51:02 +0000

Labor costs make big jobs less practical

By Mark Huffman of ConsumerAffairs
March 13, 2018

(image) Consumers considering a major home remodeling project, with an eye toward resale, would do better to think small.

In its annual Cost Vs. Value Report, Remodeling Magazine finds that homeowners undertaking big kitchen and bathroom upgrades in hopes of selling their homes won't recoup as much of the expense than if they target smaller, less expensive projects.

In 2018, the magazine's editors found that replacing garage doors will provide the biggest return. The average cost is $3,470 and the average addition to the home's sale price is $3,411 -- a return of 98.3 percent.

Of course, garage doors aren't what they once were. Today, smart garage doors can be controlled from a remote location by using a smartphone app -- something today's tech-savvy homebuyers may find appealing.

Better curb appeal

The second most cost effective remodeling project is adding manufactured stone veneer to a home's exterior. The idea is to improve curb appeal.

Removing a 300-square-foot continuous band of existing vinyl siding from the bottom third of the street-facing exterior gives a home a dramatic new look from the street, and first impressions are important.

This project costs an average of $8,221 but adds $7,986 to the sale price, a return of 97.1 percent.

Another simple and inexpensive upgrade that pays off in resale is replacing the front door. The average cost is $1,471 but it adds an average $1,344 to the sale price, a return of more than 91 percent.

It's easy to price your home out of reach

Because home prices have risen so quickly in the last four years, major remodeling projects can push the price of a home out of reach for many potential buyers. That's why expensive kitchen and bathroom upgrades have fallen out of favor.

In 2018, a major kitchen remodel costs an average $63,829 but only adds $37,637 to the sale price, a return of just 59 percent.

A major bathroom remodel costs an average of $61,662 but returns just $34,644 -- less than 57 percent.

Overall, the magazine's editors found a slight decline in the average payback for 20 common professional remodeling projects in 100 major markets. They attribute the modest change to the cost of doing those projects -- costs rose for all 20, while values rose for only about two-thirds of them.




Tips for getting organized in the New Year

Thu, 04 Jan 2018 12:30:03 +0000

Cut through the clutter by organizing a little each day and donating non-used items By Sarah D. Young of ConsumerAffairs January 4, 2018 January is National Get Organized Month, and with good reason. Get organized is consistently on just about every list of the most popular New Years resolutions. If youre among those starting off the New Year with a goal of getting organized, you may be wondering where to begin. Cutting through the clutter starts with setting attainable and realistic goals, says professional organizer Chris McKenry. If being organized is a goal, spend a few minutes each day decluttering just one area of your home or office. Before you know it the clutter will be gone and you can focus on other goals, he told ConsumerAffairs. Organize holiday decor Holiday decorations can take up a sizable chunk of space in an attic, basement, or other storage area. To prevent yourself from holding onto decor you no longer use, McKenny suggests taking stock of what you enjoyed having on display this year. Get out all your containers and see what was NOT used this year, he suggests. Items no longer used or loved should be set aside for donations. Before taking decorations down, take pictures and then place items in containers to help remember what you liked next year. You can sort decorations as they come down by category or by room, he says -- whichever will make decking the halls easier next year. He also recommends labeling boxes of holiday decoration with the year the decorations were used. This will help you remember what possibly is no longer wanted. Before closing the container place a new package of ornament hooks. Now you are ready for next year! Edit, Sort, Contain, Maintain Keeping clutter at bay throughout your home can be a challenging feat, but one that can be made easier by practicing the edit, sort, contain, maintain technique. Here are the key principles: Edit. Throughout each month, collect items around your house that you no longer use, want, or love. Then donate them to your favorite charity. You can even mail them to charity in an old Amazon box you may have lying around. Remember that charities dont want trash, says McKenny; sometimes things should just be trashed or recycled. Sort. Categorize what is left. In your closets, keep pants together, shirts, etc -- then sort each clothing category by color. In the kitchen, create zones. Keep all food in the food storage zone, all cookware in the cooking zone, all towels and cleaning supplies in the clean-up zone, and so on. Contain. Containing doesnt necessarily mean using containers, but containers may be helpful, says McKenry. He recommends grouping similar items together and keeping things where they are used. This may mean the ironing board goes in the hall closet not the laundry room if ironing is done in front of the TV. Maintain. The above-mentioned three steps are just the beginning. Staying organized is a continuous journey, McKenry says. Things happen, and clutter comes at us every day. Plan to do maintenance throughout the year to keep your life organized. [...]



Study finds a majority of U.S. homes have multiple allergens

Mon, 18 Dec 2017 19:38:45 +0000

Heres how you can reduce allergens in your home

By Sarah D. Young of ConsumerAffairs
December 18, 2017

(image) Findings from the largest indoor allergen study to date showed that over 90 percent of homes had three or more allergens, and 73 percent of homes had at least one allergen at elevated levels.

After looking at levels of eight common allergens in homes, researchers from the National Institutes of Health found that several factors -- including the presence of pests and pets in the home and the type of housing -- had a major influence on allergen levels.

Specifically, the researchers say certain types of homes -- including mobile homes, older homes, rental homes, and homes in rural areas -- were more likely to have elevated levels of multiple allergens. Homes in rural settings were also more likely to have higher levels of cat and dust mite allergens compared to urban settings.

Health impact

Indoor allergens can trigger asthma and cause a number of other adverse effects on health, including itchy, watery eyes, runny nose, sneezing, coughing, and wheezing. In order to reduce your risk of experiencing these symptoms, its important to know which allergens you are most affected by.

In an interview with ConsumerAffairs, Dr. Susan LeLacheur, a primary care clinician and infectious disease expert, explained that allergens come from a variety of sources depending on the individual's specific allergy.

Common respiratory allergies in homes are from animals, both the welcome kind (pet dander from dogs and cats) to the unwelcome (cockroaches are highly allergenic), she said. Allergies are basically an excessive or abnormal immune response to an external thing.

Reducing allergens in your home

Fortunately, there are several things consumers can do to reduce their exposure to indoor allergens and irritants.

To minimize common household respiratory allergens, LaLacheur recommends keeping things as clean as possible. Vacuum carpets and upholstered furniture and wash sheets and blankets in hot water every week to kill allergy-triggering dust mites and their eggs.

For some allergy sufferers, it may be best to avoid having pets altogether -- but for others, pet ownership may still be in the cards. LeLacheur recommends consulting an allergist for help determining if you have a specific pet allergy. If you are only allergic to cats, for example, you may be able to share your home with a dog.

Pet owners should keep pets off of furniture and bed linens. Letting pets curl up in your bed isnt a good idea, experts say; pet dander that settles on bed linens becomes a food source for dust mites. Special allergen-impermeable mattress and pillow covers can be purchased to help keep your bedroom free of dust mites and other allergens.

To keep bugs at bay, seal any possible entry points and remove their food and water sources. Never eat on the floor or on furniture since crumbs can attract cockroaches.

To make your home less hospitable to mites and mold, use a dehumidifier in bedrooms and other areas to keep humidity at 50 percent or less. For more tips on boosting your indoor air quality, click here.




Tips to save energy in your home during winter

Thu, 07 Dec 2017 14:25:08 +0000

Heres what you can do to keep your family warm and your energy bills low this winter

By Sarah D. Young of ConsumerAffairs
December 7, 2017

(image) A recent study by University of Pennsylvania and Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers found that one of the best ways a consumer can lower their greenhouse gas emissions is through their home.

If every homeowner in the U.S. adopted energy-conservation initiatives, researchers say we could see an average drop in housing-sector emissions of 31 percent. But cutting a homes energy use during winter is often easier said than done.

When temperatures drop, heating systems must use extra energy in order to heat up the home, explained Mike Nicholson, owner of Nicholson Plumbing, Heating & Air Conditioning in Framingham, Massachusetts.

Saving energy during the holidays

Cold weather brings with it stress on a homes heating systems, he told ConsumerAffairs. That stress can be increased if the home has small cracks or gaps around windows and doorways. Additionally, if the homes system is older, it could be operating at less than peak efficiency adding to energy costs.

Holiday lights -- especially older ones -- can be an energy drain since they are less energy efficient than the newer LED lights that are on the market today. To minimize energy use and keep costs down, Nicholson suggests using the following energy-saving tips during the holiday season.

  • Invest in LED lights. Opt for Energy Star certified LED Christmas lights instead of inefficient older lights.

  • Tune up your heating. Ensuring your heating unit is working at peak efficiency can help guarantee your family stays warm when its extremely cold outside. A system tune-up and filter replacement can go a long way to preventing problems from putting a chill on your holiday plans, Nicholson said.

  • Clean air ducts. To make sure fresh, allergen-free air flows through your home throughout the winter, clean your ducts. When your ducts are filthy, your filters clog up faster and force your system to work harder to distribute air, Nicholson said. Removing the registers and vacuuming the outlet is a good start, but you may want to opt for a whole-house duct cleaning to really do the job.

  • Seal up cracks. Minor cracks and gaps in windows and doorways can allow cold air to seep in, leading to higher energy bills. Apply caulk or weather stripping where cold air might creep in, such as around doors and windows.

  • Take advantage of sunlight. When possible, naturally heat your home by opening curtains on south-facing windows during the day. You can also close your curtains at night to keep your home from losing heat through the windows.




Tips for keeping holiday waste down

Mon, 27 Nov 2017 13:25:55 +0000

Focusing on energy-efficiency and waste reduction can help you have a greener holiday By Sarah D. Young of ConsumerAffairs November 22, 2017 The holiday season is an especially wasteful time of year for most households, but you can do your part to avoid this by keeping the planet in mind while decorating, shopping, and entertaining this holiday season. From curbing gift wrap waste to employing a few eco-friendly decorating strategies, here are a few ways you can help cut down on holiday-related trash and excess energy consumption. Focus on sustainability Regardless of whether youll be buying a live or artificial Christmas tree, you can take steps to minimize its impact on the planet. If you will be taking home a freshly cut tree, consider buying one that you can plant outside or keep as a houseplant after the holidays. After the holidays, dispose of your tree at a chipping facility or return it to the environment in other eco-friendly ways, such as mulching or compost. While live Christmas trees are nice, they tend to produce a lot of waste after the holidays are over. To that end, you can consider alternative means of decorating with nature. Why not go out in your yard or in the woods and gather fallen branches and decorate those with LED tree lights, says Juliette Haas, sustainability coordinator for the Green Committee of Egremont, Massachusetts. Artificial trees can be a boon to the health of the planet since they can be used for years to come. If you choose to purchase an artificial tree, be sure to keep safety and energy-efficiency at the forefront of your mind when decorating it. Use energy-efficient lighting Festive string lights are a central element of holiday decorating, but some can be a big energy drain. To keep your lights from adversely affecting the planet (and your energy bill), consider using minimal lights in your holiday decorations. If you do choose to decorate with lights, opt for more energy efficient LED strings. Additionally, use a timer for indoor and outdoor lights to save electricity. Avoid extra packaging Tis the season for gift wrap, shopping bags, and packaging -- but paper used to wrap gifts creates a staggering amount of waste each year. Americans throw out about 25 percent more trash between Thanksgiving and New Years Eve than any other time of year. To cut down on the amount of trash your family creates this holiday season, consider wrapping presents in reusable materials or using gift wrap saved from previous years. A few creative ideas for wrapping include: Scarves, fabric, handkerchiefs Old maps, sheet music, advertisements or newsprint Reusable tins, baking pans, or other home or garden items. What about all those Amazon boxes that may be showing up on your doorstep? Instead of throwing them out, consider flattening them until next spring and using them as the first layer of sheet mulching. Use real plates Another way to help avoid extra packaging is to skip disposable containers. Use your actual utensils, plates, and glasses when possible, and avoid sending guests home with take-away containers. Buy snacks and beverages in bulk to reduce the amount of packaging you bring into your life this holiday season, and consider steering clear of using coffee makers with one-time use filter bins. Finally, remember to recycle. Things get hectic and recycling can seem like an additional chore, Haas told ConsumerAffairs. Have bins close by to separate your clean papers, glass bottles and aluminum cans for recycling. Also, if you are doing a lot of cooking, composting kitchen scraps like onion skins, carrot and potato peels and coffee grounds greatly reduces the amount of waste you produce, she added. [...]



Preparing your home for holiday visitors

Thu, 16 Nov 2017 15:32:08 +0000

A few simple ways to get your home guest-ready

By Sarah D. Young of ConsumerAffairs
November 16, 2017

(image) A record number of consumers are expected to travel over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. If youre not among those who will be traveling, you may have weary travelers headed your way.

There are a number of things you can do to get your home ready for guests before they show up on your doorstep. Even those who are short on time can turn their home into a comfortable and relaxing place to spend the holidays.

From leaving empty shelves for guests belongings to stocking up on toiletries, here are a few low-hassle ways to help guests feel welcome in your home.

Ways to prepare

  • Corral clutter. Declutter guest rooms and main living areas. Clear away anything unnecessary from countertops, coffee tables, and ottomans. Dont have much time? Simply bag up the clutter, store it in an out-of-sight place (such as a closet or basement), and wait until after your guests leave to go through and organize it.

  • Create space for guests belongings. Make room for your guests belongings by clearing out closets or racks for coats and setting out baskets to hold shoes and purses. Additionally, make sure theres a spot for guests to set down their bag or suitcase. If you dont have a luggage rack, a small table or chair will do.

  • Move your coffee station. To prevent guests from clogging up the kitchen when youre busy cooking, move your coffee preparation station to a family room. Better yet, consider putting a small coffee pot or water heater for instant cider or tea in your guests room. This can help ensure early risers dont wake anyone up while getting their morning caffeine boost.

  • Create a kid-friendly space. If your guests have small children, you may want to kid-proof your home. Add outlet covers, put breakables out of reach, and secure window treatment cords. To keep kids entertained, fill a safe play area with toys, games, pillows, and perhaps a TV/DVD player for playing movies.

  • Stock up on supplies. Prepare for guests by making sure youve got plenty of toilet paper and other necessities, and keep them out in plain sight so guests can find them easily. Keep towels color-coordinated and distinct from others. Finally, add a bath mat to each tub to prevent falls and make sure there is a plunger near each toilet.

  • Print out your wifi password. Amid the holiday hustle and bustle, your guests may not remember to ask for your wifi password until everyone has gone to bed. For a polished way to display wifi information, consider printing out an editable PDF with your network name and password. You might also want to provide instructions on how to operate your TV and sound systems.




One in five renters struggle to pay the rent

Wed, 01 Nov 2017 15:43:38 +0000

Apartment List study finds increase in evictions, renters struggling to keep their homes

By Mark Huffman of ConsumerAffairs
November 1, 2017

(image) Despite an improving economy, a new report from online rental marketplace Apartment List finds one in five renters have not been able to pay their full rent at least once in the past three months.

Falling behind on the rent leads to costly penalties and ultimately, eviction. Apartment List found the number of people reporting a prior eviction rose from 2.8 percent in 2015 to 3.3 percent in 2017.

"Eviction is one of the leading causes of homelessness," Chris Salviati, Apartment List's housing economist, told ConsumerAffairs. "You're generally being put out on very short notice. The most common reason for eviction is a missed payment, so these are people who are already struggling financially."

Other issues

Eviction carries with it many other issues. Silviati says it's very difficult to find new housing on short notice if you have few resources. If the eviction is carried out by a court order, there is an official record that can make it much more difficult to find a new home, since landlords are often reluctant to rent to tenants who have been evicted.

"There's a lot of research that ties eviction to poor health outcomes, poor educational outcomes for children; people who can't pay rent are obviously cutting back on other necessities, like food and healthcare," Silviati said.

Many renters are struggling at a time when the economy has posted solid growth numbers and unemployment has declined. The U.S. housing market has also shown strength in recent years, but Silviati says that doesn't help everyone.

"I think when people talk about the housing market recovery, they're talking about home values going back up," he said. "But when you think of it from the renter's side of things, rents have also grown very quickly. So rents have gone up but renters' incomes haven't kept pace."

Factors associated with eviction

As a result, families or individuals renting homes are being squeezed. The study shows renters without a college education are twice as likely to have been evicted. African American households are twice as likely as white households to have gone through an eviction.

Evictions are more likely in the South and Midwest but less likely on both the East and West Coasts. The report finds households with children are more likely to face an eviction threat than those with no children. Making things more difficult, Silviati says, is a growing housing shortage.

"There's a very severe shortage of starter homes, so a lot of people who would be potential first time homebuyers just aren't finding anything, so that's keeping people in the rental market longer, creating tightness in the rental market," he said.

The report concludes that government policy could alleviate renters' difficulties. Silviati says increasing funding for low-income housing programs would go a long way toward alleviating what he calls a growing rent affordability problem




What you can do to prepare for Thanksgiving dinner

Wed, 01 Nov 2017 16:34:19 +0000

Planning ahead can help take the stress out of cooking on Thanksgiving day By Sarah D. Young of ConsumerAffairs November 1, 2017 Thanksgiving is still weeks away, but its not too early to start gearing up for the big meal. Taking small steps to plan and prepare for Thanksgiving dinner can help reduce your overall workload when the day arrives, meaning youll be able to spend less time in the kitchen and more time with loved ones. From planning your menu to making and freezing recipes ahead of time, here are a few things consumers can do to help set the stage for a less stressful day of cooking. Prepare your guest list Now that November has officially arrived, its time to start finalizing your Thanksgiving guest list. Think about how many people you can comfortably accommodate around your table for a sit-down meal. If youll be hosting a more casual, potluck-style meal, you may be able to invite more guests. Be sure to ask each guest about their dietary preferences and figure out what (if anything) they will be bringing to share. With this information in mind, you can start planning your menu. Start your Thanksgiving meal planning by selecting a turkey recipe, then plan other dishes around the turkey. Be sure to work in a few plant-based options for any guests who dont eat meat. Plan your shopping list Approximately three weeks before Thanksgiving, start planning and organizing your shopping list. Look at each recipe and decide how much of each dish youll need, then create a list of all the ingredients youll need. By finalizing the list now, youll have ample time to order hard-to-find ingredients online. You may also want to order your turkey ahead of time since specialty turkeys can sell out earlier in the month. To figure out what size turkey you need to purchase, look at your guest list. Martha Stewart recommends approximately 1 to 2 pounds of poultry per person. You can also use Butterballs turkey calculator to get a recommended size based on your guest list. Wine, liquor, and non-alcoholic ciders and sparkling drinks can be purchased early, since these beverages keep well. But wait until the day before Thanksgiving to buy perishables such as vegetables, seafood, and bread. Make and freeze recipes Many Thanksgiving staples can be made ahead of time and stored in the freezer. Here are a few sides that you can make in the coming weeks to serve on Thanksgiving day. Pie. Your holiday pie can be baked up to two weeks advance. Just bake it, freeze it, thaw itin the fridge the night before Thanksgiving, and warm it in the oven just before serving. Here are a few freezer-friendly pie recipes. Gravy. Flour-based gravy can be stored in the freezer (in freezer bags) for up to four months. Roux-based gravy can be made up to four days before Thanksgiving. Rolls. Prepare your rolls and prebake them 75 percent of the way through, then put them in the freezer. They can stay there for up to two weeks. On Thanksgiving day, simply heat the rolls in the oven and brush them with butter before serving. Cranberry sauce. Cranberry sauce can be made and stored in an airtight container in your fridge for up to a week. Green bean casserole. Green bean casserole can be made and stored in the refrigerator for up to three days before baking. Save the fried onion topping for just before you plan to bake the casserole. [...]



What to do to protect your home from holiday break-ins

Tue, 19 Dec 2017 14:10:34 +0000

Taking proper precautions and installing security features can deter unwanted intruders By Christopher Maynard of ConsumerAffairs October 31, 2017 The holiday season is nearly upon us, and many consumers are planning to get their shopping done early. Unfortunately, stockpiling brand new products in your home can make it a prime target for burglars. Luckily, there are plenty of ways consumers can protect their homes from intruders. Taking commonsense precautions to protect your home at all hours of the day, as well as integrating smart home technologies, can keep you and your loved one safe and secure. Taking precautions Last year, there were over 1.5 million burglaries in the U.S., accounting for nearly 20 percent of all estimated property crimes, according to the FBI. That translated into $3.6 billion in property losses, with affected consumers losing an average of $2,361. To reduce your chance of becoming a victim, HomeAdvisor suggests conducting a thorough examination of your home to identify any vulnerable spots. Walking around the exterior of your home and checking low windows or side doors and clearing areas that can easily conceal a prospective burglar (overgrown shrubs or trees) can give you a good idea of where to focus your attention. Here are some precautions you can take to protect your home from the outside: Lock your doors. Renters and homeowners should always keep their doors and windows locked, even when theyre at home. This includes closing and securing garage doors, gates, and side and back entrances. Keep areas around entrances and walkways trimmed and open. Trimming back hedges and other shrubbery can help eliminate places where thieves can hide. Homeowners should also consider trimming trees that could provide access to second floor windows or balconies. Install security lights. Motion-sensing security lights are a homeowners best tool against nighttime break-ins. Be sure that security lights cover all of the approaches to your home, including all walkways and any dark corners. Put away expensive items. Expensive items like grills, bikes, and even cars should always be kept secure in the house or garage after use. Install smart security features While there are plenty of practical steps consumers can take to protect their homes, an even better option might be to invest in some smart home security features. When it comes to these tools, its important that consumers do their research to find which products will work best for them. For example, consumers may want to contact several companies and compare products and prices before installing a security system. Other technologies -- such as electronic locks, smart lights, and video cameras can help consumers stay on top of their homes security, both at home and remotely. Consumers can find more information on these and other top home security gadgets here. [...]



Popular home improvement projects on a budget

Thu, 26 Oct 2017 15:02:57 +0000

Empire Today surveyed homeowners across the U.S. for 2017 trends

By Mark Huffman of ConsumerAffairs
October 26, 2017

(image) Most people make home renovations because they want a new look, according to a survey by flooring retailer Empire Today.

Homeowners who take on home improvement projects tend to focus their effort in the kitchen, the survey said, adding everything from appliance upgrades to new cabinets and countertops.

About 54 percent of homeowners renovating their homes made improvements to the kitchen, 45 percent updated bathrooms, and 42 percent renovated bedrooms.

Painting, flooring, and outdoor renovations were the the most common home improvement projects. Half of all projects included a fresh coat of paint, often to change a room's overall color scheme.

Painting has two big advantages; it's an easy do-it-yourself project and a can of paint isn't that expensive, when measured against the effect it can have on a room.

Painting tips

Here are some painting tips:

  • Soaking brushes in fabric softener after use will keep the bristles soft for the next day of painting. A good mixture is a half cup of fabric softener to one gallon of warm water.
  • In addition to painters tape, keep plastic wrap close by. It's perfect for protecting large items that can't be moved.
  • Painting around hardware can be a challenge. Smear some petroleum jelly on the metal and if any paint gets on the screws or hinges, it won't stick.

Also, spend a few extra dollars and buy a premium grade paint. It will not only look better on the surface, you might be able to get away with one coat instead of two.

Easy kitchen projects

In the kitchen, you might not need to replace cabinets if they are in good shape. Consider a fresh coat of paint and some custom knobs and pulls to give them personality. Vintage knobs are trendy and you can probably install them on all your kitchen cabinets for less than $100.

Lighting is another area where homeowners can make significant improvements on a budget. According to HGTV, lighting requirements differ for each room.

In a living or family room, the HGTV experts say layered lighting often works better than recessed lighting. Light that bounces off the ceiling will provide soft, ambient illumination.

Kitchens usually require a combination of ambient and task lighting. Task lighting is especially functional over counter tops and the sink.

New faucets

Replacing old sink fixtures is an easy and inexpensive way to update a kitchen or bath. Faucets are things you use every day and a modern model that matches your dcor will not only add beauty but function too.

Adding molding to a room is an easy project that provides a finished look. Chair rail makes living and dining rooms a little more formal, while crown molding can create a finished look for any room




Why first-time homebuyers should be shopping now

Mon, 23 Oct 2017 16:59:46 +0000

Trulia report indicates an Autumn price drop that budget shoppers should keep in mind

By Mark Huffman of ConsumerAffairs
October 23, 2017

(image) Spring is typically perceived as peak homebuying season, but a new report from real estate marketplace Trulia suggests now is a better time to look if you are a millennial in the market for your first home.

Contrary to popular wisdom, the inventory of starter homes peaks in October and rises seven percent during the Autumn months. In 70 of the top 100 housing markets, the survey finds the strongest season for starter homes is between October and December.

Prices are lower as well. With more homes on the market, listing prices tend to be around 4.8% less in the winter than in the summer.

The Trulia Inventory and Price Watch report also finds the fall season is especially good for first-time buyers who are looking in the western states. It recorded the largest increase in fall inventory levels and steepest drop in list prices in California, Colorado, Oregon and Arizona.

San Jose, which tends to be one of the most expensive housing markets in the country, leads with a 42 percent seasonal difference in number of starter homes on the market in the fall and spring.

Homebuyers in Wichita, Kansas stand to enjoy the best affordability and seasonal price drop. Trulia predicts starter homes will list for 18.6 percent less in the fall than they will in the spring.

Inventory levels continue to fall

House-hunting during the Autumn months does not guarantee you'll find what you're looking for, however. The housing market continues to deal with a shortage of homes for sale, especially in the categories of starter and trade-up homes.

The number of starter homes has dropped 8.7 percent during the past year while the number of trade-up homes the homes people buy when they sell their starter homes has declined by 7.9 percent. The decline has emboldened sellers to increase asking prices, making affordability a pain point in many markets.

Realtors this fall continue to say the primary impediments stifling sales growth are the same as they have been all year: not enough listings especially at the lower end of the market and fast-rising prices that are straining the budgets of prospective buyers, said Lawrence Yun, the National Association of Realtors' chief economist.

First-time buyers who wait until spring and summer to shop for a home are going to find fewer homes to consider and will likely have to pay more for it if they find the one they want.

This past summer, the Trulia report found the volume of starter home listings plunged 20.4 percent from the sale period in 2016. Trade-up shoppers found 12.5 percent fewer homes on the market




How to prepare your home for trick-or-treaters

Mon, 23 Oct 2017 14:19:32 +0000

Follow these tips to keep kids safe this Halloween By Sarah D. Young of ConsumerAffairs October 23, 2017 Halloween is meant tobe a fun-filled night for young trick-or-treaters, but it can also be dangerous if homes arent preparedfor visitors. To reduce the chance of an accident or injury, its important for consumers to prepare their porch and front yard for the arrival of Halloween visitors. By making sure your home is scary for all the right reasons, you can help ensure that trick-or-treaters have a safe and enjoyable experience. Here are a few safety precautions you can take to prepare for the spookiest night of the year. Prepare your lawn and walkway When candy and excitement converge, giddy little ones may sprint to your door instead of walking. To reduce the risk of falls or injuries, make sure your lawn, driveway, walkway, and stairs are clear of trip hazards. Cut off access to exposed tree roots or other unsafe areas, and be sure to repair any wobbly railings, cracks in stairs, or loose pavers. You should also sweep the sidewalk leading to your home to clear away loose gravel, sticks, or wet leaves. If your front yard is decked out in light-up seasonal decor, make sure electrical cords are safely out of the way so they don'ttrip up young children or their supervisors. And although Fido might want to mingle with Halloween revelers, its probably best to keep him indoors. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends restraining pets so they dont jump on or bite a trick-or-treater. Light up the night Another way you can get your home ready for the holidays is to make sure its well-lit. Signal trick-or-treaters that youre open for business by turning your porch light on. You can also brighten up the path to your door by turning on floodlights, laying down rope lighting, or putting up walkway lights. However, its important to ensure that all exterior illumination is safe and wont cause a fire hazard. Consider using battery-powered lighting in candles and jack-o-lanterns, and keep any candle decorations on a sturdy, level surface that is well away from anything that could burn. Halloween is unfortunately one of the top five days for candle fires, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Without proper precautions, a seemingly innocent candle decoration or a flowing costume can quickly turn the holiday into a true horror, says Lorraine Carli, NFPAs vice president of communications. Make safe candy choices When buying Halloween candy, consider avoiding treats that pose a choking hazard to toddlers. You might also want to purchase candy that will be safe for children with peanut allergies. When shopping for allergy-safe candy, check the candy bags label carefully. Even if it doesnt contain peanuts, it may have been made in a facility that processes peanuts. Another option is to purchase alternative treats for kids with food allergies, such as stickers, coloring books, or games from the party favor aisle. If you plan to provide a non-food trick-or-treat alternative, be sure to put a teal-colored pumpkin on your doorstep. Participating in the teal pumpkin project lets others know you have allergy-friendly treats on hand. [...]



The ZIP codes millennials are devouring

Wed, 01 Nov 2017 18:44:36 +0000

As millennials hit their prime home buying years, certain areas see a big influx By Mark Huffman of ConsumerAffairs October 19, 2017 Home prices have surged in Silicon Valley, Denver, and Dallas in recent years, but they aren't the "hottest" real estate markets in America. According to real estate marketplace realtor.com, home sales occur at the fastest pace in suburbs where millennials find a combination of affordable prices and desirable amenities. The site has just released its list of "2017's Hottest ZIP Codes in America." Watauga, Texas, (76148) tops the list for the second year in a row. The neighborhood is in Tarrant County, in suburban Ft. Worth. Its residents are mostly young, it has a strong economy and schools that have been rated among the best in the state. Part of the Dallas Metroplex, it is surrounded by great restaurants and cultural attractions such as the Kimbell Art Museum and Fort Worth Zoo. Easy proximity to a resurgent major city Livonia, Mich. (48154) is second. It's a suburb just west of Detroit that offers suburban living with easy proximity to a resurgent major city. Another attractive feature is its location near the headquarters of Ford Motor Company in Dearborn, Mich. and Beaumont Health in Royal Oak, Mich. Third on the list, Kentwood, Mich. (49548), is a suburb of Grand Rapids. It offers a booming economy, a major public art competition and a vibrant food and microbrewery scene. Boston may be prohibitively expensive for a millennial first-time buyer but nearby Medford, Mass. (02155) definitely is not. It shows up as the fourth hottest ZIP Code because buyers value its recreation and dining options, as well as its easy access to Boston. Located just outside Denver, Littleton, Colo. (80123) is realtor.com's fifth-hottest Zip Code. Its attractions include great shopping options, a historic downtown area and plenty of affordable housing options, including condos and single-family homes. The list also includes Castro Valley, Calif. (94546), Colorado Springs, Colo. (80922), Overland Park, Kan. (66210), Mira Mesa, Calif. (92126), and Hilliard, Ohio (43026). Homes sell in an average of 21 days Realtor.com compiled its list after analyzing 32,000 ZIP codes, based on average time properties spent on the market and frequently viewed properties or areas on their site. It said homes in the 10 hottest markets spend an average of 21 days on the market before going under contract, 50 days faster than the country as a whole. Danielle Hale, chief economist for realtor.com, says the list is proof that millennials are becoming a major force in the housing market. "Increasingly, the hottest housing markets are the ones that appeal to millennial preferences, and right now the standouts are relatively affordable suburbs with local 'it' factors such as hiking trails, great restaurants, and nightlife," she said. And that's not about to change anytime soon. With the biggest group of millennials just now entering their prime home-buying years, Hale expects these often overlooked suburbs to remain in demand over the next several years. [...]



Orkin lists America's ‘rattiest’ cities

Wed, 01 Nov 2017 18:43:45 +0000

Learn how you can keep your home pest-free for the coming winter By Mark Huffman of ConsumerAffairs October 18, 2017 Cities often compete to make various "top 50 lists," but there probably arent many that want to make an appearance on Orkin's Top 50 "Rattiest" Cities in America. The national pest control company ranks metro areas each year by the number of rodent treatments the company performed from September 15, 2016 through September 15, 2017, including both residential and commercial locations. Not surprisingly, the list is dominated by America's largest cities. Chicago holds the top spot for a third straight year, followed by New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco-Oakland, Washington, DC, Philadelphia, Detroit, Baltimore, Seattle-Tacoma, and Dallas-Ft. Worth. Plenty of smaller cities also make an appearance further down on the list. Hartford-New Haven, Conn., takes the 16th spot; Portland, Ore., comes in at 17th; Richmond, Va., ranked 25th on the list; and Grand Rapids, Mich., slid into 34th place. Here is the entire list, including the change in ranking from 2016: Chicago New York Los Angeles (+1) San Francisco Oakland (+1) Washington, DC (-2) Philadelphia (+1) Detroit (+2) Baltimore (-2) Seattle Tacoma Dallas Ft. Worth (+4) Denver (-1) Minneapolis St. Paul (-4) Cleveland Akron (+2) Atlanta (+2) Boston (-3) Hartford New Haven (+1) Portland, OR (+3) Miami Ft. Lauderdale (-5) Indianapolis Houston (+1) Milwaukee (+2) Pittsburgh (-4) New Orleans (+15) Cincinnati (+10) Richmond Petersburg Sacramento Stockton (+6) Kansas City (+3) Charlotte (-1) Norfolk Portsmouth Newport News (-5) Buffalo (-1) Columbus, OH (+6) St. Louis (-4) Raleigh Durham (-11) Grand Rapids Kalamazoo (-1) San Diego (+12) Albany Schenectady (-10) San Antonio Tampa St. Petersburg (-7) Rochester, NY (-4) Nashville (-1) Champaign Springfield Decatur Greenville Spartanburg (-2) Memphis Phoenix (+1) Syracuse West Palm Beach (-10) Orlando Daytona Beach (-1) Madison (+1) Flint Saginaw (-8) Green Bay Appleton (-6) Rodent invasions increase in autumn Autumn is prime time for rodents. The National Pest Management Association estimates more than 20 million rodents invade homes each year during this time; just like humans, they want to get out of the cold. Rats and mice begin looking for warmer, more insulated places to get through the winter, and these too often happen to be our homes or businesses, said John Kane, entomologist and technical director of Orkins Midwest Region. Unfortunately, rodents are fond of chewing on wood and wires, and if they get into your walls they can increase the risk of fire. Kane explains how these pests can use almost Houdini-like skills to fit into tight spaces. Rats can squeeze through a hole the size of a quarter, while mice can fit through a hole the size of a dime, Kane said. Even if they cant find an opening, they can often chew their way in. How to keep rodents out To keep rats out of your house, start by looking for signs of their presence. Tell-tale signs include droppings, burrows, and rub marks along walls and baseboards. Check around your house, both inside and out, for possible entry points. Installing weather strips around and under doors can help keep rodents out. Ensure that you also store food in tightly sealed containers made of either plastic or[...]



Wait times for home renovation projects are on the rise

Tue, 17 Oct 2017 14:42:59 +0000

Professionals are plagued with growing labor shortages

By James Limbach of ConsumerAffairs
October 17, 2017

(image) If you're planning a home renovation project using the services of professional remodelers and designers, it may take a while to get things started.

Houzz Inc., reports 78 percent of general contractors, remodelers, and design-build firms are reporting persistent labor shortages, translating to higher costs and longer project timelines for homeowners.

Fifty-six percent of renovation firms report increasing costs of subcontractors in in the June September quarter, with 54 percent reporting increasedproject lengths because of these shortages.

Wait times now average five to eight weeks before companies can take on new projects. General contractors, remodelers, and design-build companies report the longest average backlog.

The hurricane effect

Within the first two weeks of landfall, Hurricanes Harvey and Irma caused 28 percent of renovation-related businesses in the Houston metropolitan area and 41 percent in Southwestern Florida to suspend business operations in these areas.

Among those suspending operations, 91 percent of those affected by Hurricane Harvey kept their doors closed for a week or longer; 65 percent of those affected by Hurricane Irma were similarly shut down.

The storms made existing labor shortages in the Houston and Miami areas even worse, and increased project backlogs by nearly two weeks, on average.

Renovation-related companies calculate the average total cost of repairs and renovations to homeowners to be $13,000for the hardest Irma-stricken areas, and $111,000for the hardest Harvey-stricken areas.

Widespread skilled labor shortages leave little wiggle room for businesses to absorb sudden demand pressures such as recent hurricanes in the South or more localized damage from wildfires in the West, driving up wait times, said Houzz Principal Economist Nino Sitchinava.

Industry confidence abounds

Still, folks in the home remodeling and design business are feeling pretty confident about the future.

Houzz says its third quarter Renovation Barometer reading of 62 shows bullishness is evident in all industry sectors Any reading above 50 indicates rising confidence; below that suggests erosion.

And, if that's not enough good news, expectations for all sectors are strong for the final three months of the year.




Zillow plans to offer 3D tours of houses and apartments

Fri, 13 Oct 2017 16:46:58 +0000

The company says it wants to 'democratize access' to 3D home tour technology By Sarah D. Young of ConsumerAffairs October 13, 2017 Real estate listings website Zillow says it will soon offer easy 3D house tour creation and viewing via a new app called Zillow Group Home Capture. Zillow created the app with the goal of expediting the home renting and buying process, enabling house hunters to virtually walk through a property before seeing it in person. The app is currently in testing with an anticipated rollout in 2018. The new technology may be especially well-received by millennials, as Zillow research shows more than 70 percent of first-time home buyers are millennials who consider 3D media to be as important as open houses. 360-degree views Sellers and agents may also benefit from 3D tours; Zillows research shows 44 percent of home buyers and 46 percent of renters look for a new home remotely. Rich media, like these new 3D Homes, will help buyers and renters more easily visualize themselves living in the home, no matter how far away they happened to be, said Jeremy Wacksman, Zillow Group chief marketing officer. The app allows users to shoot 360-degree panoramic photos of all the rooms in a home, which are then uploaded to the app. Zillow Group then stitches together the uploaded photos to form an interactive house tour in a few hours. No expensive equipment required All photos can be shot directly from an iPhone using the free app, says the company, noting that a 3,000 square foot home can be captured in about 30 minutes. Photos have always been vital to the home search process and now 3D tours can give buyers and renters a realistic understanding of what it would be like to live in the home, Wacksman said. Similar services rely on expensive equipment, but Zillow says it is the only mobile solution capable of capturing 3D tours at no cost. By integrating directly with the iPhone, a device many people are already using, agents can just pull out their phone, and capture a panoramic photo. By removing the hardware barrier, more real estate pros can add 3D Homes to their listings, giving them a new way to market all of their listings, and improving the search experience for buyers and renters, Wacksman said. Check out one of Zillows 3D tours here. [...]



How first-time homebuyers can protect their budget

Wed, 11 Oct 2017 12:18:40 +0000

Financial experts say it's wise to expect the unexpected By Sarah D. Young of ConsumerAffairs October 10, 2017 Millennials are dominating the housing market for the fourth consecutive year, according to research from the National Association of Realtors (NAR). However,49 percent of Millennials dont have the necessary funds set aside to cover a $500 emergency expense. An unforeseen expense can be a crushing blow to a budget. Thats why homeowners especially first-time Millennial buyers should take steps to protect themselves from the unexpected. Unanticipated expenses are almost guaranteed to occur. As David Bach writes in his bestseller "The Automatic Millionaire" -- "No matter how well you plan or how positively you think, there are always things out of your control that can go wrong." Protecting your home and budget A FedEx truck might accidentally back into your house, leading to a $900 gutter repair bill. The air conditioner or washing machine could break. You may discover that your neighborhood is prone to power outages, so youll need to invest in a pricey backup generator. Unexpected costs like these can wreak havoc on a budget, but preparing for them can go a long way toward protecting yourself. Here are a few steps first-time buyers should take in order to help keep their budget intact. Determine how your house fits into your budget. When figuring out how much of your income you can comfortably afford to put toward mortgage payments, think about what might happen in the future. What if you become a parent, buy a car, or lose your job? To ensure you're not house poor if any of these things happen, the U.S. Census Bureau recommends that borrowers spend no more than 30 percent of their income on housing. Shop around for homeowners insurance. Your lender will require you to buy homeowners insurance, which can help protect your home and possessions in the event of accidents, disasters, fires, theft, and more. However, be sure to look closely at what is and isnt covered in the policies. Going with a less-expensive policy means fewer protections and more out-of-pocket expenses if you file a claim. Consider getting a home warranty. Not to be confused with homeowners insurance, a home warranty covers repairs and replacements on systems and appliances due to normal wear and tear. It is an optional purchase, but youcan rest assuredthat your budget wont be destroyed if your heating and cooling system, electrical system, plumbing system, or one of your appliances breaks down. The older your home, the greater the odds are that something will break --and the more helpful a home warranty might be. Decide if you need flood insurance. If your new home is in a flood-prone area, you may want to buy separate flood insurance. Flood damage isnt covered by homeowners insurance. Get help if needed. If you're having trouble combing through the fine print, consider letting an experienced agent help guide you through the process of figuring out which policy will provide the best protection for your household. [...]



How to boost your home's appeal to sell in the fall and winter

Mon, 13 Nov 2017 20:40:33 +0000

Prospective buyers appreciate a cozy, inviting interior By Sarah D. Young of ConsumerAffairs October 6, 2017 While its true that a large number of buyers plan their home purchases during the warmer months, there are a few advantages to selling your home during the colder months. Namely, motivated buyers and less competition. However, selling a home during fall or winter does come with a few drawbacks. Cold, gloomy days and dreary landscapes can make showing your home in its best possible light a little more challenging. But making your home look as cozy and inviting as possible can make it easy for buyers to envision their families celebrating the holidays in your home next year. Here are a few tips for making your home look bright and cheery when the weather outside is anything but. Find flattering light The right interior lighting can make your home feel warm and welcoming. Retractblinds and widencurtains to allow daylight to flow in.Experimentwith lightbulbs to find the most flattering light for each room. According to the homeexperts at HGTV.com, a bathroom looks great with daylight bulbs (5,000-6,500K) and living spaces, such as bedrooms and living rooms, look best with soft white bulbs (2,700K). In general, your homes design and color palette will play a part in what looks most appealing, writes Emily Fazio for HGTV.com. Go for cozy and bright. If youre upgrading bulbs in hard-wired fixtures, consider going all LED. Let the buyers know youre leaving the bulbs for them. Declutter Decluttering is an important piece of home staging advice to put into action year-round, but its especially important to keep your home clean and clutter-free during colder months -- a time whenhomes can easily get bogged down by winter gear and seasonal decor. Keep your familys winter gear hidden in a closet or trunk, clean your entryway mats to remove any dust and dirt that may have been tracked in, and keep toys tucked away. Keeping clutter at bay can help make your home feel larger. Seasonal touches should be kept simple and neutral. Skip the ceramic pumpkins and opt for modest, neutral fall accessories instead. Simple, white string lights, green wreaths, and a decorated tree can make your home feel cozy during the holidays. Amp up curb appeal Stay on top of leaves and pine needles by raking every few days,and make sure your sidewalks and driveway are cleared of snow, branches, and dirt. Enhance the look of your garden beds by adding fresh mulch. The experts at Houzz.com recommendusing structural elements -- such as large urns and planters, benches, and other garden structures -- to add interest to your outdoor space sobuyers can imagine its potential. Warm it up Consider lighting a small fire in your woodstove and making sure your house is warm when prospective buyers come through. It's better to heat the house a degree or two warmer than usual and then set the temperature at normal, say the experts at The Balance.com. This prevents the heat from kicking on when the buyer is present, because some HVAC systems are loud. Finally, give each room a cozytouch, such as a plush throw over an armchair, a quilt folded at the foot of the bed, textured window treatments, oran area rug in a warm hue. [...]



How to boost your indoor air quality this Fall

Thu, 14 Dec 2017 23:58:34 +0000

Eight ways to achieve and maintain healthy air quality By Sarah D. Young of ConsumerAffairs September 27, 2017 As temperatures drop and people start spending more time indoors, its crucial to ensure that your indoor air quality is as healthy as possible. Poor indoor air quality can lead to a number of adverse health effects, from sniffling and sneezing to itchy eyes or worsened asthma symptoms. To keep air quality-related health problems at bay, its important to know what causes poor indoor air quality in the first place. Experts say many of the things homeowners do during fall and winter can have a negative impact on indoor air quality. Tips to improve indoor air Seasonal candles, home renovation projects, and cold and flu season can amplify airborne dangers, as can using a fireplace. A few signs that the air in your home may not be as clean as it needs to be include: mold, chemical smells, foggy windows and mirrors, and lingering cooking smells. To help transform your home into a clean-air haven, consider adding the following tasks to your seasonal to-do list: Tackle seasonal maintenance. Change your furnace filter to make sure heating appliances are working efficiently. Clean out air ducts and chimneys to minimize dust, lint, and debris. Eliminate mold. Mold and moisture can wreak havoc on indoor air quality. To get rid of mildew buildup, give your showers and toilets a good scrub. Additionally, be sure to fix leaky sinks and faucets and keep bathrooms properly ventilated. Clean regularly. Wash linens frequently in hot water, vacuum regularly (making sure not to forget doormats), and remove shoes upon entering your home. Invest in an air purifier. Indoor air purifiers can help cleanse indoor air of pet dander, dust mites, viruses, and lingering odors. Look for low VOC. Fall is a great time to complete DIY home projects, but certain projects can negatively affect indoor air. If you will be re-varnishing or reupholstering furniture, look for low or no volatile organic compound (VOC) options. When bringing in new furniture or home goods, allow it to air out thoroughly before spending time in the room with it. Limit use of sneaky air quality offenders. Plush pillows, rugs and curtains, seasonal candles,paint, and glue/caulk can bring invisible but harmful particles and irritants into the home, say the experts at Blueair. Install a fan or hood. For optimal ventilation, your kitchen should have a range hood and your bathroom should have an appropriately-sized fan. Use fans every time after cooking and showering. Follow the 10-minute rule. Run your range hood for at least 10 minutes after cooking to eliminate lingering smells and particulates. Do the same after showering to remove humidity. [...]



Five outdoor home maintenance tasks to complete this fall

Wed, 27 Sep 2017 14:55:10 +0000

Exterior maintenance tasks to complete before summer bids its final farewell By Sarah D. Young of ConsumerAffairs September 15, 2017 In addition to taking steps to prepare the inside of your home to handle cooler temperatures, its important to also take steps to prepare the outside of your home for the coming fall season. As lush green lawns give way to blankets of crunchy leaves, lawn equipment and sprinklers will earn some much needed time off. But wheeling the lawn mower to the shed isnt all youll need to do to prepare the outside of your home for the onslaught of leaves, debris, and colder temperatures to come. Before putting the outside of your home to bed for the season, a few actions are necessary to help ensure your lawn and lawn equipment will be ready to return to business as usual when spring rolls around again. Outdoor fall checklist Here are a few fall home maintenance to-dos that will help to get your home ready for winter. Winterize your lawn mower. After giving your lawn its final mow of the season (usually around mid-October), drain the gas from the tanks of your lawn equipment. Gas that is left to sit in a tank for months can slowly deteriorate, which can damage internal engine parts. If you would prefer to save spare gas, add fuel stabilizer to prevent it from degrading over the winter. Fertilize the lawn. Fall is a great time to fertilize your grass, according to lawn experts. Fertilizing now helps keep the grass strong during winter and imbues it with the reserves necessary for a spring growth spurt. For fertilizing lawns in late fall, look for a product with a low middle number for NPK (for example, 32-0-10). Drain sprinkler systems. Freezing temperatures pose a major threat to irrigation systems. To prevent irrigationlines from freezing, take some time to drain them. Turn off the water to the system at the main valve, shut off the automatic controller, open drain valves to remove water from the system, and remove any above-ground sprinkler heads and shake the water out of them. Seal air leaks. Make sure the heat in your home will stay inside (and small rodents will stay outside) by sealing up any cracks in the foundation or near doors or windows with color-matched exterior caulk. Clean gutters. After leaves have fallen, be sure to remove them -- as well asacorns, sticks, and other debris -- so that melting ice can flow freely. Make sure your gutters and downspouts are in good condition. Replace if they are worn, damaged, or trapping water. [...]



Five household chores to tackle before fall arrives

Wed, 13 Sep 2017 19:46:03 +0000

Preventative maintainence can help save you time and money By Sarah D. Young of ConsumerAffairs September 13, 2017 With chilly weather just around the corner, now is the perfect time to perform a little seasonal home maintenance. Making sure your home is ready to handle fall weather can help you save time and money by staving off the need for costly emergency repairs later. To stay one step ahead of any issues that may be lurking on the horizon, experts recommend checking heating units and other household systems to make sure they are in good working order before cooler weather hits. Fall checklist Here are a few tasks to take care of now in order to ensure your home is up to the task of keeping you warm and comfortable in the months to come: Prepare your heating unit. Have a professional look at your heating system before it gets cold. This can help keep heating costs down, ensure your warranty remains viable, and prolong the life of your equipment.By having your heating system tuned up annually, you can make sure all the parts of your heating unit are functioning efficiently. Youll also be able to stay ahead of any problems that could become expensive issues down the line. Clean furnace filters. Dirty furnace filters can hamper airflow and increase energy demand. To make sure your furnace stays in good condition, be sure to check filters once a month and replace or clean as needed. Reverse ceiling fan blades. During the summer, ceiling fans help circulate cool air -- but summer isnt the only time fans can be of use. Ceiling fans that come with a switch that reverses the direction of the blades can make the room warmer and cut heating costs by as much as 10 percent. Service your HVAC. After a long summer of tirelessly working to keep your family cool, your ACs coils could probably use a good cleaning. This video can help you learn how to safely clean the condenser coil. Once clean and dry, cover the AC unit to shield it from potentially damaging debris and ice. Clean your humidifier. To keep dry winter air from adversely affecting your health, take steps to ensure your central humidifier is in good shape. If the plates or pads look to be in need of cleaning, do so by using vinegar or a strong laundry detergent. Rinse and scrape off mineral deposits with a wire brush or steel wool. [...]



Simple ways to give your bathroom a facelift

Thu, 30 Nov 2017 19:39:14 +0000

Quick and stylish tweaks to breathe new life into your bathroom

By Sarah D. Young of ConsumerAffairs
September 7, 2017

(image) Got a bathroom that could use a little updating, but a budget that wont allow for expensive improvements? Consider swapping out your bathrooms fixtures, faucets, and accessories.

Small changes like these play an instant role in changing the feel of a bathroom, say the folks at Brandpoint. Heres how to use accessories and fixtures to refresh the look of your bathroom on a modest budget.

Add a new faucet

Widespread faucets, which are named for having two handles and spanning an impressive 8 to 16 inches after installation, make a bold statement and can easily fit into a variety of styles. Whether your style is traditional or contemporary, a widespread faucet can fit in while making a big impact.

If youve got a vessel sink, you may be better off opting for a taller faucet with a single handle. Single-handle faucets can have just as big of a design impact as large faucets in some environments, experts say.

Coordinate your faucet color and finish with the rest of the fixtures and accessories in your bathroom.

Switch up accessories

Contrary to what you might think, robe hooks, towel bars, and other accessories are an important element of a bathrooms decor. Bring in towel rings, paper holders, and other accessories that complement faucets and fixtures.

Adding an aesthetically pleasing toilet can also enhance the look of your space. Pretty toilet might seem like an oxymoron, but toilets with concealed trapways have become increasingly popular in recent years due to their attractiveness and ease of cleaning.

If you are updating your whole vanity, consider adding intrigue by way of an under-counter sink with a little shape. Shape options include square, rectangular, oval, or circular. Under-counter style sinks can help keep the area looking clean and seamless.