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Solar Panels…Worth the Money?!

You’ve heard the pitch, “Save thousands of dollars by going solar!”. But is that true for you and how can you get through the hype and determine the truth.

Below are a couple of things to consider when considering going solar:

What are you currently paying for your electricity?Image result for free image of home with solar panels

This is probably going to be the most important factor that you will be considering since your goal from installing solar is to lower the cost of powering your home. If you look at your current electric bill, you’ll see that your bill is based on the number of kilowatt-hour (kWh) you use. Costs per kWh can vary greatly based on where you live. Make sure when determining your savings you are using your actual cost per kWh and not calculating your savings based on a generalized article or ‘worksheet’ you’ve found online. Obviously those homeowners with the highest electricity rates will most likely save the most by switching to solar power.

What will a switch to a Solar Panel System Cost to Install?

When considering the solar company you will use for this major investment, going with the lowest bid just because it’s the least out of pocket, may cost you far more in the long run. You must consider both your short term and long term gains when choosing equipment and the company that will design and install your system. Take your time. Meet with multiple companies and don’t be afraid to ask very specific questions about them, their installation team, their warranties, etc.  With all the research and details available online, prepare for your meetings with the companies by creating a list of specific questions you need answers to in order to choose. Take notes. Get all your questions answered. If they are trying to rush through your appointment, rush them out your door!

Don’t be afraid to ask about any incentives or discounts they may currently be offering BUT don’t get pushed into making an immediate decision “or else lose today’s special price”. That’s probably the first company you should cross off your list.  note: Odds are pretty high that if you called them the next week and told them you would like to hire them but at the discounted price, they will say yes.

Speaking of incentives….check in your city, county and state to see if there are any energy incentives and rebates available. These can sometimes reduce your net cost by 50% or more. The federal government offers a 30% solar tax credit (search online for details and ask your tax professional for how you personally could benefit). Hard to believe but true…some utility companies even offer rebates to their customers to encourage their switch to solar power. Check your utility company’s website for details.

Only you can determine if the switch to solar offers you enough benefit to outweigh the initial costs. As in any big decision, due diligence is the key!

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A GREEN ROOF? REALLY?! REALLY!!

There are so many ways to make your home greener these days. You can install eco-friendly flooring, counters and appliances. You can repurpose old furniture instead of throwing it out to take up more space in a landfill. You can plant a garden that boasts water conservation.

Now even your roof can be green, both literally and figuratively. Green roofs, also known as “vegetated roof covers” and “living roofs,” are literally roofs made of thin layers of plants installed on top of conventional roofs and not just for those high rise flat rooftops.Image result for image of a "green"  roof

There are two types of green roofs, an extensive green roof and an intensive green roof.

Extensive green roofs are the thinner with only two to six inches of a growing medium, less expensive and lighter. They are low maintenance and are generally covered with low growing, horizontally spreading root plants with maximum heights of 16 to 24 inches.

Intensive green roofs look more like a lush natural roof garden with two to four feet of soil. They use a variety of plants and the maintenance is more involved. They are the more colorful and visually stimulating of the two types of green roofing. They can even incorporate features such as fountains.

Each roof contains a waterproofing layer, a drainage layer, a growing medium (like soil, peat and soil) and vegetation of some sort. The plants chosen for the green roof should be tolerant of extreme weather conditions and resistant to bugs and diseases. Succulents, mosses and grasses are typically the best choices and come in a variety of colors.

As with all home improvement projects, there are considerations you’ll need to make before you install a green roof. You need to consider the climate you live in and well as the rainfall patterns of your area. You need to find out the strength and support of your current roof to make sure it can hold up the addition of a green roof. If it’s not structurally sound enough, you’ll have to reinforce it. The size and slope of your roof needs to be considered. Flat roofs are probably best, but green roofs can be installed on sloping roofs too.

What are your personal aesthetic preferences? These will play a part in the design of your green roof, and so will the architectural style of your home. Budget is another consideration to be made, and it’s an important one. Like all projects, research first, then decide on a budget before you get started with any physical work.

This is not a DIY project or one that just any roofer can complete. DO YOUR RESEARCH to find companies that have a history of success installing green roofs. Something as important is this out of the ordinary product requires a contractor who knows all the ins and outs of such a project.

Not only do green roofs add visual interest to your home, but they can help reduce those pesky heating and cooling bills that show up like clockwork every month. In the summer, the green roof stays cooler than a traditional roof so less energy is used on air-conditioning. Similarly, in the winter the insulation of the green roof can help cut down those heating costs! Green roofs can also help improve water quality, extend the life of your traditional roof, help get more oxygen into the air!

Green roofs are stylish and unique while simultaneously helping the environment. What could be better?

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INSPECTIONS – Private v Municipal

A municipal/city inspection may be required by the city or municipality of the home you’re selling/buying, where as a private home inspection is optional and it is up to the buyer and/or often their upcoming mortgage company whether they want or need to have one done.

The seller typically pays for a city or municipal inspection. A private home inspection is usually the buyer’s expense.

Both inspections may cover items like CO-2 detectors and smoke alarms but may differ greatly in other ways. The municipal inspector may check on permits history, zoning and possible parking issues, but typically do not include an inspection of the roof, electrical panels, plumbing systems, furnaces, water heaters, structural issues, termites etc. A private home inspection will typically cover all those items and more.

Both types of inspections benefit the buyer. It’s wise for a buyer to have a regular home inspection regardless of whether the city or municipality requires one of their own. Overall, the private home inspection will generally cover more items, be more through and is generally considered the most important.

Note: If you’re selling your home As Is, you are declaring you have no intention of making any repairs or further updates to your home. That does not mean however, that if you’re a buyer you shouldn’t be diligent and have an inspection done before you find yourself with a nightmare home of repairs vs your dream home of happy ever after!

NOTE: The state of WI has recently made it illegal for cities/municipalities to require a city inspection prior to selling your home.

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Oh the Drama & Warmth a Ceiling Can Bring!!

Something that is a part of every home from the tiniest to those found in mega-mansions are ceilings. If you want to change, enhance or upgrade your home, one way to do it is by adding dimension, depth, lighting and/or wood to your ceilings.Image result for free images of residential ceilings

You can take an ordinary room and turn it into a showpiece that people will be inspired by and talk about when they leave.  Depending on the style of your home, you might choose wood to add a rustic ambiance.

Image result for free images of residential ceilings

Image result for free images of residential ceilings

Want something more elegant? Try coffered ceilings. Enhance them and your room even more by adding recessed lighting within the wood panels.Image result for free images of residential ceilings

Image result for free images of residential ceilings

Custom lighting can add drama and an eclectic look to any room.

Image result for free images of residential ceilings

Kitchen ceilings made out of tin or with defined insets with lighting can create that dream gathering place where your guests will feel like they’ve stepped into a French villa or the pages of Architectural Digest.

Image result for free images of residential ceilingsSee the source image

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Time to Build Your Dream Home?!

Have you been wondering if you should build your dream home? Based on new stats, the answer to that question may be a huge YES! Of course, you can’t make the total decision based on market but if you have your credit in order and the funds to make it happen, you might want to explore all your options. Mortgage rates are at an all time low so that may also help you in your decision making process. Remember, waiting and waiting for the exact right time may cause you to miss out on the exact right time!    
CNBC:

  • U.S. homebuilding surged to a 13-year high in December as activity increased across the board.
  • The data suggested the housing market recovery was back on track amid low mortgage rates, and could help support the longest economic expansion on record.
  • Housing starts jumped 16.9% to an annual rate of 1.608 million units last month, the highest level since 2006.

REUTERS:

WASHINGTON  – U.S. homebuilding surged to a 13-year high in December as activity increased across the board, suggesting the housing market recovery was back on track amid low mortgage rates, and could help support the longest economic expansion on record. 

Housing starts jumped 16.9% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.608 million units last month, the highest level since December 2006. The percentage gain was the largest since October 2016. Groundbreaking activity last month was likely flattered by unseasonably mild weather and probably overstates the health of the housing market.

Data for November was revised higher to show homebuilding rising to a pace of 1.375 million units, instead of advancing to a rate of 1.365 million units as previously reported.

MONEYWISE:

 

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Create Front and Back Curb Appeal

Image result for Homes with Spring LandscapeSome homeowners exert tremendous time, effort and money creating a wonderful first impression for buyers to view as they pull up to their home. That is a good thing. What is not so good, is using your entire budget and effort in the front while ignoring the side and back portions of your home. You may draw them in with your beautiful front yard, flowers and swing under your covered front porch BUT if they walk out your back door to a moldy deck, trash cans, overgrown weeds and a yard that looks like the NFL just practiced there; well, the front yard is no longer at the forefront of their minds.

It is important to create all around curb appeal so that no matter where they are looking, they are excited about what they see. You wouldn’t think of just painting the front of your Image result for Homes with Spring Landscapehome and leaving the sides and back chipped and revealing rotting wood, would you? (Ok, now I know some of you said yes to this, but that would be the wrong answer so please continue on).

Before you head to the garden center or big box store, develop a plan on paper that includes cleaning, painting and planting needs for all exterior portions of your home. If you are not an avid gardener (as many of us are not) ask questions and learn which plants will offer the longest blooming life, most vibrant colors and require the least maintenance (this is at the top of my list!). If you don’t have a lot of yard, create potted plantings. You often see beautifully detailed flower pots on either side of a home’s front entry. Do the same at your side and back entry doors, too.  A simple thing that will yield great rewards!  See your home as a total exterior package and use your budget to maximize the entire picture.

Don’t like to garden or too overwhelmed to attempt it on your own? (I am so with you here) Have a “Curb Appeal Party”. Invite your friends over one Saturday, hand them a hoe, garden shovel, flat of flowers and a hug to say thanks for coming. (Of course they’re going to want food and beverages to go along with that hug!) I guarantee you know a man who would jump at the chance to power wash your deck! (Yes, ladies they do consider that a power tool!) Or, hey, feel the power yourself….it’s not difficult and you see instant results! Very gratifying.  (ps: this should NOT be a surprise curb appeal party….ask so your friends can gracefully bow out if they are not in any way interested….and if they’re not make sure they know that it’s completely ok!)

End the day with a relaxing barbecue sitting on your clean deck amidst your beautiful plantings.  Everyone will feel refreshed and satisfied with the results of their efforts.  Now, here is the key.  Make sure and be ready to reciprocate when they schedule a Curb Appeal Party of their own!

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It’s Not Closed Until It’s Closed!

You’ve been shopping for weeks or maybe just a few days and you believe you have absolutely found the home of your dreams. Then, sadly, you discover the property has a pending contract. Before you walk away completely deflated, remember these important words, “It’s not sold til it’s closed!” BUT does that mean you can still make an offer on it?

Typically, once a home has a pending sale, you won’t be able to place your bid because both seller and buyer have agreed on the terms of the sale and signed the contract. But real estate deals have been know to fall apart for multiple reasons. Again, until it’s closed, it’s not a done deal!

Though you can’t submit an offer, you absolutely can contact the listing agent or if the home is being sold by owner, the seller, and make them aware of your interest and ask to be notified in the event something happens and the home is going to go back on the market. This way, you have the possibility of putting your offer in before others even know the home is once again available.

Now, it’s important not to get your hopes up that the deal will fall through or tell yourself this is the only home for you. Keep shopping with an open mind and heart. You may discover that not getting that home was a blessing in disguise as you step forward into a different home that makes you even happier!

An important note: If the other deal does fall through, before you jump in gleefully and with reckless abandon, keep in mind, there might have been a reason it fell through that might cause you to want to run away from it too!

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The Truth About Capital Gains

Capital Gains sounds like a scary inevitable cost when selling your home at a profit. BUT once you understand how it’s computed and who qualifies for exclusions you’ll see you can most likely breathe easy. Most people DO qualify for the exemption which allows for up to $250,000 per individual or $500,000 per couple.

What are Capital Gains?

You can determine the capital gain on your home by subtracting applicable costs of selling your home (ie: commissions, advertising) plus the cost of any qualifying home improvements (you can find specific details on the IRS website) from the original purchase price of your home.

Ex: Original Purchase Price = $200,000 + $25000 Costs = Cost Basis of $225,000 Selling Price = $325,000 – $6500 Commission (You saved by selling BuyOwner!) so you receive $318,500 – $225,000 = $93,000 in Capital Gains. You will not pay tax on this gain if you meet the exemption requirements noted below.

Qualifications for Capital Gains Exemption?

The following requirements must be met in order to qualify for the capital gain exclusion when selling your home:

  • You must have owned your home for at least 2 years.
  • The home must have served as your main personal residence for at least 2 years.
  • During the 2 year period ending on the date of sale (Note: If you’re close to this date, negotiate your closing to ensure it occurs after the 2 yr qualification has been met), you didn’t exclude gains from the sale of any other home.

YAY: You can use the capital gain exclusion over and over again as long as you meet the requirements.

BOO: If you take a loss from your home sale, you do NOT get to take the loss as a tax deduction.

NOTE: To Always ensure that you are receiving max tax benefits, consult your tax accountant or review thoroughly the applicable information on IRS.gov

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HOA Pros and Cons

Homeowner’s Associations have grown in number especially with homes built within the last 10 years. Some think that’s great and others have discovered the downfalls of living under the thumb of their HOA. So let’s address the possible pros and cons. Then decide whether you want to live with the extra cost and rules.

Pro: Because of the rules established by your Homeowner’s Association, you can be pretty assured that your neighborhood will be well maintained. Some typical items under the HOA’s control are: Keeping your lawn manicured; Garbage cans must be put out after a certain time and brought back in within x number of hours after pickup; Restrictions on street parking or leaving boats/trucks in the driveway; Limitations on exterior home paint colors creating a uniformity within the neighborhood.

Pro: Many of your upkeep costs are shared by all members of the HOA ie: Common lawn areas and entries of the subdivision; Community snow removal which can definitely be a plus after big snowfalls guaranteeing that your streets will be plowed and you can get out and to work or the kids to school; Upkeep of community amenities like pools, fitness center, clubhouse party rooms, social areas, trails, boat docks, playgrounds, parks, etc; Newsletter distribution with updates, announcements and community events; some even offer 24 hour emergency maintenance!

Pro: Community Amenities might be included in your fee providing activities for your family that you might otherwise have to pay seasonal fees or costs to take advantage of ie: Pool, Clubhouse, Fitness Center, Social Activities like game nights, cards, billiards, tennis courts, etc.; Parks, Trails, Kid’s pools and playgrounds; Manned and unmanned gated entry to the subdivision and in some cases Security Patrol as well.

Pro: By participating in the HOA ( by joining the board or participating in community sponsored events) you have the opportunity to meet and get to know more of your neighbors, which can be a real plus if you’re new to the area.

Pro:  In the event you and your neighbor find yourself disagreeing about something that pertains to your properties, you can ask your association to mediate by filing a grievance with your HOA Board or your Management company.

Con: HOA Dues. When determining how much home you can afford, you will need to definitely factor in your monthly dues + any reserve funds required in the event there are major repairs necessary in the neighborhood. You DO NOT want to get behind on your HOA fees as they have the ability to put a lien on your home and even foreclose in spite of the fact that your mortgage is current.

Con: If you purchase a home and then decide you want to expand on it say with a screened patio, or a deck or even in some cases planting flowers, you may have to get permission from your board to do so and they very often say no so even though you own your home, you don’t own what you do with it.

Con:  If your HOA is poorly managed and gets into financial problems, it could bring down the values of all the properties in the subdivision and even affect your ability to get a loan on your home if you’re trying to refinance your mortgage or take out an equity loan.

Con:  You have to follow the rules even if you don’t agree with them. You can petition to try and get the rule changed but will have to live with the result even if it’s not in your favor.

The point is, HOAs can be very very good BUT they can also be very very bad. Before you purchase a home, condo, townhome that lives within an HOA, take the time (and it will take time) to read the entire bylaws. It will be time well spent so you can make an educated decision on your true dream home!

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And They Lived Happily Ever After!

So you’re moving to a new city where you don’t know anyone but want to find a home in a neighborhood that suits your personality, lifestyle and family needs. How do you find your perfect home?

  • Family Friendly:  If you have children and are hoping to find a neighborhood where there are other children close in age and schools that are ranked for excellence then spend some time driving through areas you’re considering on a Saturday or Sunday.  Look for people with strollers, kids on trikes or bikes, parks where kids are playing sports, etc. Also research school districts online. All  pertinent information regarding recognition, class size, or problems are readily available via multiple websites. If you really want your kids to be able to walk to school, remember to do a walk from the home you’re considering to elementary, middle and high school.
  • Community Involvement: If you’re seeking an area where block parties are  common, community parades, events and social activities are the norm then        pumpkincheck out the city’s website. They will have details of recent and upcoming events plus typically include a photo gallery to let you know how much fun it is to live there. If you don’t see any of that on the city’s website, you might want to reconsider your location.
  • Singles Amenities: Check out the area on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. Are you seeing active night life in restaurants, bars or clubs? Maybe you want to partylive near a sports stadium…ie: Wrigleyville in Chicago offers night time games, lots of bars and restaurants and lots of into the night activities. So, if that’s what you seek, check it out in the evening or late night. If you’re looking for a quiet night neighborhood, you’ll know this isn’t the place for you even if you like the homes available.
  • Automobile Friendly:  If you’re looking into urban areas and you own a car, you might want to check out included garage or deeded parking spaces. If there’s permit street parking that could be good for you but could be a problem if you like to entertain. Check out accessibility to highways and public transportation if commuting is going to be a factor in your decision.
  • Access to Shopping: Do you want to be able to run to the grocery store in under 5 minutes? Then a rural area is probably not a good fit for you and both suburban and urban areas might offer their own challenges so if you find a neighborhood you like, take the extra time to explore how close you are to stores and malls. Too close because you don’t want the added retail traffic? Or too far because you don’t want to have to run 20 minutes away for some needed milk or bread.
  • Crime: There are numerous sites online where you can simply put in an address with crime rating and you will be able to learn a lot.
  • Walking Score: Typically this is more specific to urban areas and includes neighborhoods agreeable to both families and singles.

Urban vs suburb vs rural vs acreage…..Sit down before you even begin looking and decide what type of area(s) fit you and suit your wants, needs and don’t forget…your budget. Take your time to research both online and in person. Make an educated vs emotional decision and you can live your happily ever after!