All posts by vera@tmafarmnet.com

The savvy homeowner’s 5-point outdoor winterization checklist

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(BPT) – As temperatures drop, you’re reminded that Old Man Winter will soon rear his ugly head. Before the first flurries fly, it’s important to take some winterization steps to ensure your home is ready for whatever the season brings.

This five-point checklist will help safeguard your home against winter’s woes for another year. For additional winterization ideas and detailed project plans, visit Real Cedar.com.

Inspect windows

Inspect each window from the outside to see if any gaps or cracks are present. These small openings let in cold air and are also inviting to small critters looking for protection from the cold.

If you find some gaps, it’s important to seal them quickly. Apply caulk to the openings to prevent cold air from seeping in, helping to cut down on heating bills. Plus, you won’t have to worry about bugs making your home their hibernation haven. Note: never caulk above or below the window and door openings, as this may block moisture drainage.

Prep the deck

The amount of work you have to put into winterizing your deck depends on your decking material. For example, a durable, long-lasting material such as Western Red Cedar requires the least amount of maintenance. That said, all decks require some upkeep.

To preserve your deck’s luster, start by cleaning it with a warm, soapy solution and a soft-bristle brush. Do not power wash as this can damage the wood. It’s important that you remove all dirt and debris from the surface as well as in between the boards to improve ventilation.

Next, inspect the deck for mold. If present, wash the deck with a mild oxygen bleach solution and leave on the surface for 30 minutes before rinsing thoroughly. Finally, remove anything that might leave marks on the deck’s surface such as furniture, planters and mats.

Protect planter boxes

The majority of planter boxes are made with Western Red Cedar. That’s because the wood is naturally resistant to rot, decay and insects; and therefore, doesn’t require treatment from potentially dangerous chemicals that can leach into soil and plants. But like all garden beds, real cedar planters need protection during the winter months.

Start by removing all soil and cleaning the boxes as you did the deck. Then, if possible, store emptied planters in a garage, shed or under the porch. If you don’t have the space to store them this way, then cover them with a water-repellent tarp to protect from moisture buildup, but don’t seal the tarp. As with decks, it’s very important that you allow for proper ventilation.

Trim trees

Look for weak trees or those with dead branches, particularly those near your home. As snow accumulates, the weight may bring down a tree or branches, potentially damaging your house.

Eliminate this risk by removing any dead trees or dangerous branches now before the first snow. Be safe by using the proper equipment for tree trimming and removal, or, consider hiring a pro to do so. Remember, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and handling this issue now could prevent costly damage to your home down the road.

Clean the roof

Your roof is a large portion of your home, and it also holds a lot of snow over the winter. To prevent ice dams and other roof problems when freezing temperatures arrive, it’s important to clean gutters and check your roof for problems now.

Start by taking all debris out of gutters to ensure free flow for water. Next, walk around your roof and inspect it for any damage. Repair loose shingles and make sure the chimney and vents look intact and secure. Your roof takes on a lot of weight from ice and snow during the winter months and you want it to be as strong as possible.

A few simple steps now can mean a cozy, safe winter for you and your entire family. Add these five steps to your winterization to-do list for this weekend and give yourself valuable peace of mind.

Are You Ready To Sell?

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The reasons for selling are not the same for every homeowner. What is the same are the issues and decisions facing sellers when they decide to put their house on the market or not.

Making a decision if you are ready to sell will depend on how you can answer some leading questions, such as: “Is now a good time to sell? If I sell my primary dwelling, where will I live? Do I know what my property is worth? Where do I begin?”

Your answers to these questions will be unique to your situation, your goals, the current market, and your property, but the following insights into each of the five questions reveal what your answers might involve:

#1. Why now? What is driving you to feel you “must” sell now, not in a few months or next year? What problems or inconveniences could arise if you don’t sell now?
Is there one main reason you are considering a sale now? Need the money? Is it the benefits of selling in a hot sellers’ market to lock-in the profit? Is it a new job or relationship that drives the selling decision? Or, have you lost your job or do you face a divorce? Are other circumstances, like escalating costs, including taxes, or the necessity for major repairs making the property too expensive to keep?
As your real estate professional, I will be able to help you arrive at an accurate market value determination. Real estate professionals can offer practical suggestions and alternatives. Weigh expert input in view of your priorities to resolve issues and identify ideal alternatives. Add to this analysis a brutally-honest assessment of what you love about your current real estate and what you do not truly care for.

#2. What is next? Where will you move to? Do you have the next step figured out – smaller residence, larger home, cross-town shift, cross-state move, cross-country leap, switch to condominium lifestyle, or cash out and move to a rental property? Are you aiming for a mortgage-free lifestyle?

Who is directly involved in the move? Decisions should be made by those who will use the property and shoulder costs. For instance, parents may decide to sell the family home and downsize when their grown children leave ‘the nest’, but this is no longer an automatic logical step for everyone. What if children return home after college to enroll in graduate school in hometown? Also, parents may choose to grow old in their home instead of moving into an institution.

#3. What would a “successful sale” include? How much do you need to net from the sale of your real estate? It’s not unusual for owners to have inflated views of the value of their home that are tied to the pride of ownership. If you are planning to purchase real estate with the proceeds of this sale, do you know how much you will need to sell for to buy that next property? Will you need to sell your current property first to be sure exactly how much you have for the next step? Or, can you accept the risk of temporarily owning two properties or needing outside funding to purchase the next property before you sell the current one?

What do you need to achieve through the sale of your real estate? Beyond financial concerns, what other factors will make this a successful sale? For instance, is there a moving date that holds value for you because an earlier closing and moving date would represent additional expenses? Do you want to sell all furniture and appliances or take them with you?

#4. Who will help you achieve this success? As your real estate professional, I have the expert knowledge and skills necessary to successfully list your property, attract ideal buyers, complete the transaction with your best interest in mind, and finalize the sale as quickly as possible and with little or no hassle. I am trained to provide real market data that will put your expectations in the context of current market conditions and buyer alternatives. xxx

Sweet Roasted Rosemary Acorn Squash

Roasted Rosemary Acorn Squash

Ingredients:
2 acorn squash
Salt
1 stick butter
1/2 cup brown sugar (firmly packed)
2 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary
1/4 teaspoon chili powder

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Cut the acorn squash in half from top to bottom using a sharp knife. Use a spoon to scrape out the stuff inside. Cut each half into 4 equal wedges, and then place the wedges, skin-side down, in a baking dish. Sprinkle lightly with salt.

Combine the butter, brown sugar, salt, rosemary and chili powder in a bowl and mix into a paste. Smear the paste all over the squash.

Roast in the oven for 20 minutes. Then baste with the butter mixture from the bottom of the pan and return to the oven for another 20 minutes.

Serve in the baking dish, drizzling more sauce at the end.

Fall Housing Market Predictions

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We are fully engulfed in pumpkin spice, football, and everything that makes fall nice. But what does the fall season bring to the real estate market as we run up to the end of the year?

INTEREST RATES: It is anticipated that interest rates will remain steady but increase slowly throughout the rest of the year.

INVENTORY: In most of the country inventory is holding steady, but is lower than ideal. November is the end of the second busiest inventory season of the year: if a move is in your future, it is time to put your moving plan into action now.

DAYS ON MARKET: When inventory is low, it typically leads to a correspondingly low number of days on market. That happens because buyers are waiting and watching for properties in good condition that are priced well. The more repairs the home requires or higher the price point, the days on market can creep up.

Typically, if homes do not sell within the first 10 days on the market, it can take 45 days to grab the attention of an interested buyer. It is critical to price your home appropriately from the start. You want to avoid having your property sit on the market over the holidays when buyer traffic slows considerably.

The fall market is a great time to make a move and this year it may be a particularly good time for both buyers and sellers.

Make Small Spaces Bigger: 5 Ways to Show Off Space

Make Small Spaces Bigger

Size does matter when it comes to the perception of space in a home. That’s why it is important to make sure you show off every square foot of your listing so that buyers can visualize enough room for all their belongings.

However, homeowners often crowd spaces with oversized furniture, bulky accessories, and piles of clutter that makes a room look much smaller than it really is, according to the International Association of Home Staging Professionals.

So how can you show off that space in your listings? Besides the obvious task of removing clutter, try these simple ideas:

1. Scale down the furniture: By having too many large pieces of furniture in a small room, space can feel more cramped. Select smaller-scale furniture over large, chunky options. A good choice: furniture with wooden legs or un-skirted chairs, so that you can see through the furniture to the floor underneath to open up a room.

2. Beware of overly busy patterns: Too many bold patterns in a room with fabrics and accent pieces can make a room feel smaller. Big prints, bold plaids, and large floral patterns can be too busy for a small space. Stick to solids and use texture in fabrics to add interest.

3. Lighten Up: Dark colors absorb the light making small rooms look even smaller. The general color rule for small spaces is lighter is better. Lighter colors on walls — such as creams, light blues, light greens, tan, and soft yellows — help expand the room. Plus, softer, cooler tones are soothing and relaxing, she adds.

4. Add height: Bring in anything that is tall to show off the height of the space. Whether it’s a piece of furniture, such as a bookcase, or an object like a tall tree, the height of the object will draw the eye upwards. Also in a house where you want to show off the height, hang the curtains above the normal window’s top level. To widen the window, tie the curtains back with a rope tieback.

5. Use the reflection: Hang mirrors on walls to help add visual space. When the room is reflected in the mirror, it can make us feel like there is more space as we see ‘another room’ in the mirror. Mirrors can also reflect light and views, which will help lighten up the room and make it feel open and airy.  xxx

Quick Cleaning Routines

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Keeping up with an ever-expanding list of cleaning chores can get overwhelming. So, what is the secret to making it more manageable? Breaking your routine down to small chunks of time, setting a timer, and staying focused until you hear the “ding!” can help. Below are your go-to plans when the time is tight. When an out-of-town friend stops by at the last minute or you only have 30 minutes before your favorite show starts, these are the routines that will get your space tidy quickly. Depending on how much time you have, choose from the 10-minute quick tidy up, a 30-minute whole-house pick-up, or the 2-hour cleaning plan.

If You Have 10 Minutes –This is not enough time to really clean your house, but for those moments when friends drop by unexpectedly or when you get home from a long day and simply cannot stand how messy your house looks, this 10-minute plan works wonders.
#1: Divide the Room: One of the biggest time-wasters when straightening up is that we tend to go back to the same spot multiple times. We find a misplaced item on one side of the room, and cross the room to put it back where it belongs, only to end up getting distracted by another out-of-place belonging, or a spill that needs cleaning, or dust that needs wiping. To make a speed-clean more efficient, visually divide the room into a clock, with the door or sink at 12 o’clock. Move around the room clockwise, guaranteeing that each area will only be visited a single time. When you arrive at each segment of the room, return any collected items that belong there, and save items that belong in another room for later.

If You Have 30 Minutes – When your parents say they are stopping by later that afternoon, use this plan. A little more than just putting things away and wiping down surfaces, this routine involves vacuuming, cleaning mirrors, and replacing bathroom towels, too. The key to this method is that it targets the areas you (and any last-minute guests) are most likely to notice and use, such as the main living area and bathroom.

If You Have 2 Hours – You do not have to set a timer for each specific task on the checklist but use the timeline as a general guide.
5 minutes: Strip the beds and put the dirty sheets into the washing machine.
5 minutes: Grab an empty laundry basket. Go through your entire house and grab anything that doesn’t belong in each room. Do not spend time organizing—just gather the misplaced items.
15 minutes: Clean up the kitchen. Collect all the dirty dishes, load the dishwasher, hand wash any pots and pans, put away clean dishes, and wipe down the sink and countertops.
10 minutes: Quickly vacuum all the floors in your home.
10 minutes: Quickly mop your hardwood, tile, or vinyl flooring.
10 minutes: Grab your favorite all-purpose cleaner and wipe down the bathrooms. Start with mirrors, countertops, and faucets, then scrub the toilets. Close the shower curtain and add a fresh hand towel. Make sure the toilet paper is stocked and the hand soap is refilled.
5 minutes: Gather all dirty laundry and sort it into two piles: towels and clothes. Switch the sheets to the dryer and start a load of clothes.
10 minutes: Put away the items you’ve collected in the laundry basket at the beginning.
15 minutes: Grab some wood cleaning spray and, starting at one end of your home, quickly dust all the wooden surfaces in your home. Don’t be too picky. Remember, this is a quick clean-up plan.
10 minutes: Pick up some window cleaner and, starting at one end of your home, quickly clean all the glass surfaces.
10 minutes: Unload the sheets from the dryer and add the clothes. Start a load of towels in the washer. Go make all the beds with the clean sheets.
5 minutes: Light a candle, grab a cup of coffee, put your feet up, and enjoy your clean home! (Just don’t forget to switch out the laundry when it finishes!)

Five tips for staying on budget and keeping the holidays jolly

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Candy cane cache: Maintain your holiday budget through these 5 tips

(BPT) – If you’re one of those savvy consumers already strategizing how to best fund gifts and other expenses this holiday season, you’re not alone. Sixty-five percent of U.S. adults who give holiday presents establish a budget for these purchases, according to a recent Coinstar survey. Yet 85 percent admit they still tend to go over budget when it comes to gift buying, entertainment, travel, decorating and other holiday expenses.

Fortunately, planning ahead can reduce the risk of overspending. Consider how implementing the following ideas can help you stay on task and on budget when it comes to this year’s holiday expenses.

1. Estimate all of your anticipated holiday expenses, not just gift purchases. Consider costs for decorations, food/alcohol, travel and special events to gain a realistic idea of your projected cash output. If the total is out of reach, consciously decide where to cut back so you’re less likely to spend impulsively. You may have to acknowledge that you’re not able to host a lavish party or buy generous presents for everyone on your list.

2. Reduce your stress by starting your shopping early and taking advantage of sales throughout the year. These strategies will help spread your costs so they don’t all hit at once and reduce your overall holiday spending budget. A full one-third of U.S. adults shop throughout the year, according to Coinstar’s survey, and 27 percent buy the majority of their presents on sale. Only 14 percent are last-minute shoppers. Looking for bargains and unique gift items at stores, at special events, and on websites can even be fun when you’re not in a panic.

3. Think of ways to boost your spending power. One method is turning to the spare change you’ve stashed away in a coin jar, in vehicles, and around your home. It’s easy to take your change to one of about 20,000 Coinstar kiosks located at grocery stores throughout the country. For many, that’s found money that can be converted into cash or transformed (at no fee) into e-gift cards from popular vendors such as Amazon, Best Buy, Sephora, Lowe’s and Starbucks.

4. Draw names and set gift-spending limits for family gift exchanges. As families grow through marriage or children added to the brood, it’s easy to allow spending and gift giving to get out of control. White elephant exchanges can be great for the kids in the family. Have them gift one of their toys or possessions to another child in the family. That will not only be softer on the wallet but will teach them the power of gifting and reusing.

5. Consider gifts big on thoughtfulness and small in cost. Perhaps a handcrafted work of art, homemade baked goods or a meaningful service, such as childcare, would mean more to some recipients than a store-bought knickknack, electronic gadget, or sweater.

Finally, don’t be too hard on yourself if you go over budget despite your best efforts. You can always make up for it by cutting expenses outside the holiday season when you may face less temptation and pressure to buy.

For more information on how Coinstar works, visit www.coinstar.com.

House hunting and credit: What you need to know

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(BPT) – By now it is something of a cliche to call homeownership the American dream. But even if sitting on your own deck, looking over your picket fence and sipping lemonade doesn’t move you, homeownership is still one of the best ways to build wealth.

For many, owning a home is cheaper than renting and, in the long run, the biggest investment they will ever make. It is also a practical financial move thanks to the fact that you’re likely building equity while getting a mortgage interest tax break.

So although it is perfectly fine to dream about backyard barbecues and the smell of fresh-cut grass, the path to owning your own home should also involve taking the time to do some financial sightseeing.

As a leader in creating credit scoring models, VantageScore Solutions has made it a priority to educate consumers on the important role a good credit history plays in buying a home.

Whether you’re about to set out to buy your first home or if you are getting ready to sell and buy another home, here are the basics of how credit impacts the home-buying process.

Basics

If you are like most people, you will probably need to take out a loan. If you are able to pay cash for your home instead, count yourself among the lucky few!

A huge part of taking out a loan involves your credit history and credit score. Basically, you must prove to lenders that you can be a responsible borrower and can be trusted with a mortgage of many thousands of dollars. A strong credit score may provide proof of this trustworthiness.

Different types of loans have different credit requirements. Some loans require you to have a credit score of at least 620, although it is possible (with some difficulty) to be approved for a loan with a credit score as low as 580. But getting loan approval is only part of the story.

Better credit, better rate

Home loans come in all shapes and sizes. Some are fixed interest mortgages, some have adjustable rates or longer terms and the list of variables goes on. Just like anything else, some loans are better for you than others. To get the loan that has the lowest interest rate, which right now is around 4 percent, usually requires a higher credit score. Rates can be considerably higher when you have a lower credit score, and the result is paying significantly more monthly over the life of the loan.

The reason is that a higher credit score demonstrates that you are skilled at managing debt and have a history of responsibly paying back many types of loans. Therefore, the lender is taking on less risk when lending you money. The less risk for them, the better the interest rate for you.

While there are, of course, more nuances to the process, your credit score plays an instrumental role in determining the type of loan you may qualify for. Therefore, before you go to your first open house, check your credit score to better understand the factors that typically impact your scores. Many websites provide free access to your VantageScore, which is a perfectly fine barometer to use to directionally gauge your creditworthiness. Mortgage lenders use FICO scores in their underwriting.

You can stay on top of things by subscribing to the monthly credit scoring newsletter, The Score. In The Score, you can find information on VantageScore 4.0, the fourth-generation scoring model that will be available to consumers in early 2018.

Knowing your credit history and understanding the factors that could impact your credit score will help you plan, budget and come up with a realistic wish list for your house.

5 DIY home upgrades anyone can do in a day

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(BPT) – Do-it-yourself home projects are sweeping the nation, and it’s easy to see why. DIY is typically budget-friendly and fulfilling to complete; simply find the right project to match your skill set and needs.

To get started, here are five inexpensive projects that can be tackled by any DIYer, each of which will have an impact on the entire home.

* Make a hardware swap. Replacing your kitchen cabinets changes the entire look of your kitchen — but it’s expensive and requires considerable skill. For a simpler, smaller project that can still have a big impact, replace the hardware on your cabinets instead. Select the hardware type first — knobs for doors and pulls for drawers, for example — then move on to style. Crisp, sleek hardware goes best with a modern kitchen, while more detailed offerings work well with classic, traditional kitchens.

* Refresh your space with a fresh coat of paint. Repainting a wall or room is the perfect way to showcase your style, without breaking the bank. The Unity palette from Sherwin-Williams® 2018 Colormix Forecast offers unique color choices that pair together perfectly, making it easy for homeowners to create a cohesive look in their space. Try going bold with pops of a peacock on an accent wall, such as Sherwin-Williams 2018 Color of the Year, Oceanside SW 6496, or you use the palette’s grounded browns to put a new spin on traditional hues. It’s easy to recreate a space that reflects who you are, without making expensive renovations.

* Illuminate a simple change. It doesn’t always take a huge change to reinvent a room; it can be as easy as changing the light fixture. You could choose to repaint your existing chandelier, or you could give your ceiling fan a new look by replacing the blades. If you’re on the crafty side, try making your own shade for an existing lamp with some of your favorite fabric.

* Invite people to your gallery. Can’t decide on the one perfect image for your wall? Then why not go for several? Gallery walls are a great way to show your favorite prints and photos artistically. Pick the wall and apply a fresh coat of paint before building your gallery — after all, this wall will now be part of the exhibit. Once the wall is ready, pick your photos or prints and set them in frames you love. Now the fun part lay your works of art on an open floor space and rearrange them until you find the perfect layout. Once you’ve found it, grab your hammer and nails and bring your gallery wall to life.

* Bring a new vibe to your existing furniture. If a chair or loveseat is starting to show its age, reupholstering it is a great way to give the piece fresh life. Remove the current fabric and replace it with a new fabric of your choosing. Apply staples or stitching to hold the new fabric in place, and that old piece of furniture will have a distinctive new look.

How to use your home’s equity to your advantage

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Your most valuable asset is around you all the time. It is above you, it is below you and in many cases you do not realize how much it can do for you.

According to the Urban Institute in Washington, D.C., “Americans have a staggering amount of untapped equity in their homes.” How much? Altogether, $11,030,000,000,000. That is 11 trillion, 30 billion dollars.

Yet despite this huge wealth possessed by homeowners, using it is not as simple as writing a check. You have to capitalize on your home’s equity.

What Is Home Equity?
Your home’s equity represents the difference between its current market value and the money that you owe on it.

Let us say, for example, your home has a market value of $200,000, you made a down payment of $40,000 and you took out a $160,000 mortgage. At that point your equity is $40,000. You can always calculate this number by taking your home’s initial price and subtracting the amount you still owe.

Now, let us say 10 years later you have paid off $60,000 of your $160,000 mortgage. At this point you still owe $100,000 on your home’s initial price of $200,000 so your equity is $100,000, assuming the home’s value has remained the same.

A little at a time
Each month when you make a mortgage payment, some of your money goes toward interest, some goes toward real estate taxes and homeowner’s insurance (if the lender is collecting for these and making the payments on your behalf), and some goes toward paying off the mortgage itself. This last portion grows your equity because it subtracts from the amount you still owe.

Your home equity can also grow if your home increases in value because the amount you still owe has not changed. A rise in value may be due to increased home prices in your area and/or improvements you make to the home.

Market home prices may rise and fall from one year to the next but given enough time, most real estate tends to increase in value. For example, current economic forecasts from CoreLogic project a 4.8 percent increase in home prices year over year in 2017.

Gaining access to your equity
Now that you understand what equity is and how much equity you have, your next question may be “How do I use it?”

Your first step is to contact a knowledgeable mortgage professional. They will be able to answer your questions as well as show you loans that use your home as collateral. You will want to do your research to determine which type of loan is best for you. You should also take the time to compare interest rates, offers, and loan features.

And if you are age 62 or older, you are also eligible for additional home equity options such as a Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM), which is an FHA-insured Reverse Mortgage loan. This loan may be taken as a lump sum, a line of credit, through fixed monthly payments or a combination and the loan can never be frozen or reduced.

The equity in your home empowers you with several financing options and the specifics of each loan may vary from lender to lender, so ask questions and do your own research. Once you understand all your options you will be able to determine which loan offering allows you to make the most of your most valuable asset.

To learn about HECM Reverse Mortgage loans and other special home-equity options available to homeowners 62 and older, visit www.reversemortgage.org/HomeEquity. v