Southeast Florida Real Estate News


Jan. 28, 2019

5 Hacks to Make a Tiny, Cramped Closet Look Huge


No matter how beautiful and spacious your home is, one out-of-sight area could still make visitors cringe: your closet. Especially if it's small, dark, and cluttered.

"A house can be amazing, but if it has no closet space or the closets are super small, which you do see sometimes in older homes, that can be a major turn-off," says Lori Matzke, owner of Home Staging Expert.

It's a fact: Having ample closet space is a high priority among homeowners—all the more so if you're trying to sell your place. After all, you never know if a home buyer is a fashionista with oodles of apparel, or just someone with tons of stuff to store (which is just about everyone else). So, trust us, home buyers checking out your house definitely won't be shy about opening up your closets to see what's up!

While you might be able to renovate and add closets to your home or make the ones you have bigger, that will be costly and not necessarily worth the investment. Instead, staging a closet to look its best is a relatively inexpensive way to make what you have look more appealing. Here's how to do it right.

Declutter your closets

Get those garbage bags ready, because the first step is cleaning and clearing. You don't want a potential buyer opening that door only to have an old box of scarves or your extra bedsheets fall on their heads!

Kris Lippi, owner of Get Listed Realty in Hartford, CT, suggests removing as many items from your closets as you can to show them off as spacious. If you have to invest in a self-storage space to hold your old boxes of letters or your holiday decorations, do it.

Add a fresh coat of paint—and a light

"Small or dark closets are never a good selling point," Matzke warns. To maximize the space you've got, Matzke suggests painting the entire closet white or off-white to appear brighter and larger.

You can also add a closet light to brighten the space. This will give buyers the sense that they'll be able to find things, even way, way in the back.

Finally, attach a mirror to the inside of the closet door or to the back of the wall, Matzke suggests, to add a sense of depth. This "can make the space feel much more livable," she notes.

Photo by Deborah Broockerd/Closet Factory 

Add some closet organizers

If your closet always ends up as a pile of clothes, this may be the time to pull the trigger on a fancy closet organization system.

Investing in a California Closets type of system, or even one custom-built by a local carpenter, can make a huge difference. Or, on the lower end of the budget, shelves from your local home improvement store can accomplish something similar for less money. A few simple elements such as shoe organizers that make the entire closet look neater and larger will go a long way without costing you a significant chunk of change.

"There are certainly DIY closet systems, or even just individual organizers you can implement yourself and attach to the closet walls, if you're handy or maybe know someone who is," Matzke says. "You don't even need an entire system."

Display your stuff

Although it's tempting to cart all of your stuff away to a self-storage unit, remember that part of staging a home is making it look just lived in enough for other home buyers to see themselves in your home. When you add your clothes back in, one-third of the space on each shelf or hanger rack should remain open, making the space appear useful, rather than overflowing.

Invest in some nice hangers to give it a truly organized feel, and position all the items in your closet so they face forward or are hung in the same direction—just like boutiques do, Lippi advises.

Fix what's broken

This isn't about space, but ease of use: Does the door of your closet stick? Is that shelf hanging by a thread? It may not bother you, but others will notice—and this detracts from their first impression. As Matzke warns, "A sticky closet door or one that just doesn't open smoothly or all the way would be frustrating."

Plus, it leaves the feeling that your closet presents a problem; spacious or not, this isn't good. All in all, it's these little things that make a closet look and feel spacious and well-organized—and can make your home the envy of all who peer inside.

Photo by Renew Doors and Closets LLC 

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Posted in News
Jan. 24, 2019

The New Rules of Neighborly Etiquette: Do You Know Them All?


Neighborhoods just aren't the same as they used to be.

Gone are the days when everyone on your street knows you and waves when you pass one another by. One recent study by the City Observatory found that only about one-third of homeowners know their neighbors by name! That's a huge change from generations past, and it's altered the unspoken rules of neighborly etiquette.

Whether you're the new kid on the block or you've been at the same address for 20 years, there are certain etiquette rules you're expected to follow to keep the peace in your hood, and those rules are evolving just as quickly as the world we live in. We spoke to experts to find out exactly what those rules are today, so we can strive to be the perfect neighbors we wish we had.

Old rule: Just pop by and knock!

New rule: Try texting first

Many of the changes in the way that we interact with our neighbors are due to advancements in technology.

"The technology that was created to connect us has left many ever more [physically] disconnected," says Sophie Kaemmerle, a neighborhood expert from NeighborWho. "There is a tendency for many of us to turn inward and live in a digital neighborhood, instead of interacting with the people around us."

The upshot? People just don't show up unexpectedly at your door anymore—if you do, there's a good chance you'll catch your neighbors off guard.

Instead, "Sending people a message to say that you would like to swing by, rather than just showing up unannounced, is appropriate," says Kaemmerle. "A text saying you have something to drop off and ‘Is now a good time?’ allows the other person to make sure they have pants on before you ring the doorbell!"

Old rule: Kids can still drop by to ask if your tykes can play

New rule: Kids have busy schedules, so texting applies here, too

So maybe we adults should consider texting before dropping by, but surely it's OK for phone-less kids to drop by unannounced and ask for the children of the house to come out and play, right? Not so fast, says Kaemmerle.

"It's best to use technology to plan play dates for your kids, by emailing or texting other parents rather than letting your kids simply show up and knock," she explains. "Kids these days have a lot of extracurricular activities, and unless you know the other family really well, you probably don’t have an inkling about their schedule. It’s courteous to be mindful of those busy schedules by planning play dates in advance."

Old rule: Neighborhood watch keeps us all safe

New rule: Limit your video surveillance to your own property

As crime rates go up and the cost of video equipment goes down, it's not uncommon to see video cameras pop up on houses on your street. In fact, around 20% of all Americans aged 18 to 49 use video surveillance in their homes.

If you decide to take the plunge and install your own, where exactly should those cameras be pointing? Is it a big deal if your front porch camera also happens to be recording your neighbor's front yard?

Experts agree that is a very, very big deal.

"For reasons of privacy, I would encourage property owners to limit the scope of all videotaping to the boundary of their own property," explains etiquette and manners expert Sharon Schweitzer, who is also an attorney.

She adds that you should double-check by watching your video to make sure you're not accidentally recording beyond your own property lines.

It's not always possible to keep the camera on your own property, especially if you have a small lot, or are recording something close to the edge of your property.

"If you are recording anything beyond your property line, it is best to communicate with your neighbors and check with an attorney," advises etiquette consultant Jodi RR Smith. "Different states have different right-to-privacy and recording laws."

Old rule: Face-to-face interactions are best

New rule: Being Facebook friends is fine, too

While every etiquette expert we spoke with confirmed that you are under no obligation to befriend your neighbors on Facebook or other social media sites, Kaemmerle says there are good ways to connect with your neighbors online—especially if you're not apt to do it face to face. In fact, doing so may be the key to forging the connections that have been lost over the years—and to keeping up with what's happening in your area.

"While technology might have started the trend toward fewer interactions with your neighbors, it can also be the key to changing that trend," she says. "There are digital platforms now that are designed specifically to create neighborliness."

Kaemmerle suggests searching Facebook for groups specific to your city, town, or neighborhood. She also advises trying the app Nextdoor, which uses your address to automatically connect you to private message boards used only by those living in your area. By using these sites, you can pitch in when there's a lost cat, stay in the loop if there's suspicious activity in the area, and even keep up to date on things like yard waste collection.

Old rule: Swap keys with a neighbor you trust in case of emergencies

New rule: Swap alarm codes and other electronic passwords, too

You can't be home 100% of the time, so it's always good to have one neighbor you trust have access to your house in case of emergencies. In the past, that boiled down to a key swap. Today, it could include everything from security alarm codes to garage door passwords—whatever they'd need to keep your place safe.

"If you trust your neighbor and vice versa, share alarm codes, garage codes, and home electronics instructions, in case you ever need to assist while they’re away," explains Schweitzer. "For example, if your neighbor’s garage door is open or they are away during a freeze and the heat needs to be turned on, you’ll be prepared to be a helpful neighbor."

Old rule: Construction on your property is your business alone

New rule: Alert neighbors to any construction plans that might make noise

Construction projects aren't just hard on you—they're also hard on your whole neighborhood. The noise, the dirt, and the added traffic are enough to drive anyone nuts, so be considerate of your neighbors when you have a project going on.

"If you’re doing construction, send an email or written note to all neighbors with your contact info, in case there are any issues with the contractors if you’re not around," advises etiquette expert Lisa Grotts.

After the project is over, invite everyone over for libations as a thank-you for putting up with the ruckus—and forging stronger neighborhood bonds. (The old-fashioned custom of sharing a drink face to face works just as well now as ever!)

Posted in Market Updates, News
Jan. 4, 2019

How to Stage a House for Free: 7 Ideas That Don't Cost a Dime


One of the most common mistakes sellers make is assuming they need to sink a bunch of money into home staging. Some choose the expensive route—swapping out their furniture and art at the behest of a hired professional home stager—but that's not the only way to impress potential buyers.

"Everyone needs to stage their home to sell it efficiently," says Laura McHolm, co-founder of NorthStar Moving. "But you do not need to spend a lot of money to stage your home."



Want to get your house in tiptop shape without spending a dime? Follow these home staging ideas that are 100% free.

1. Depersonalize

The first step to staging your home is getting rid of personal items such as photos, albums, handmade items, trophies, and mementos—even the kids' artwork on the fridge.

"No family pictures," says McHolm. "A buyer wants to be able to envision living in that house. It’s not your house anymore. It’s a house that will soon be their house. So get the 'you' out of your house."

Removing your personal items isn't easy—they're the things that make your house feel like your home, but keep in mind that it's only temporary. Pack them up and store them safely until you can find them all spots of honor in your new place.

2. Declutter

All that stuff littering the surfaces of your home has to go.

"Most surfaces should have between three to five items on them, because clutter is distracting both in photos and in person," says property stylist Julie Chrissis, of Chrissis & Company Interiors. "You want buyers looking at the home, not the stuff."

This means eliminating piles of mail and magazines, collections you have on display, knickknacks, and most other items that can easily be packed away.

3. Nix the extra storage

If you've been living in your current home for a while, you've probably come up with a lot of creative ways to store all of the items you've accumulated. But now that you're hoping to sell, it's time to get rid of them. Purge!

"Eliminate any plastic storage bins, over-door storage, above-cabinet storage, and extra racks in rooms," says Chrissis. "This is important because buyers never want to think they will outgrow a home. A seller's job is to show them there is plenty of storage space for them to grow into."

Since all those stored items are already packed into bins and baskets, it should be simple enough to move them to a storage facility until you've moved.

4. Deep clean

Even if you consider yourself a neatnik, you're probably going to need to do a little extra work to get your house ready for buyers.

"Take a critical eye to your home. Living somewhere daily reduces the things you notice that might be a problem, like dirty walls, scuffs and scrapes, leaks, or even odors you have become accustomed to," says Marty Basher, home organization expert at "Also, deep clean the kitchen and bathrooms. These areas of the home are generally the most cluttered and dirty. Both of those things will turn off willing buyers."

It might help to ask a friend or family member to come by and help you find areas that need attention. Someone who doesn't live in your house will be better able to look at your space through the eyes of a buyer.

5. Change the furniture layout

Maybe you've placed your couch at an odd angle to keep the sun out of your eyes during your midday nap, or your armchair is in the middle of the room so you can better see the TV. Those things are all fine for you—but not for buyers. Now it's time to stage the room for optimal space and flow.

"Room layouts should be set up for photos first. It’s important that the photo not be of the back of a sofa, large chair, or other piece of furniture, as this makes the room look smaller because it blocks the view of part of the room," says Chrissis. "The same goes for open houses and showings. If buyers see a room with furniture barriers, it makes the room seem smaller."

6. Let there be light

Now that your home is clean and uncluttered, it's time to brighten things up so buyers can actually see it.

"You want natural light and lamps with warm light—no swirly bulbs that look like office light," says Chrissis. "We tell most of our clients to remove valances as they typically make a room darker and, in most markets, are a little out of fashion. Lamps are important, especially in winter months when there is less sun and sunset is earlier."

7. Reduce your furniture

If your house is filled to the brim with furniture, it's time to move some of it out.

"After the home is thoroughly cleaned out, keep only up-to-date furniturein excellent condition, and just a couple of accent pieces in each room," suggests broker and interior designer Tory Keith of Natick, MA.

Not only does this go hand in hand with making things look less cluttered, but less furniture will also make the rooms look bigger.

Move unneeded pieces to the basement, garage, or a storage facility until you're ready to move.

Posted in Market Updates
Dec. 19, 2018

7 Reasons to Accept the First Offer on Your House


How do you know you've found The One? The one offer on your home worth taking, that is. It's entirely natural for sellers to consider multiple offers from interested buyers, but in certain circumstances, the first offer you receive may actually be the one you should accept.

Why? Because for many of us, selling a home is about more than getting top dollar—it's about a smooth transaction and moving onto the next phase of your life.



Here are some specific instances when accepting the first offer makes the most sense.

1. If it's the most un-wonderful time of the year for real estate

The sweet spot for home sales is the spring. As the months tick by and the weather cools, the real estate market tends to do the same.

“If you find yourself selling between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, you will want to consider the first offer, as it might be a while until you receive another,” says Nancy Wallace-Laabs of KBN Homes in Texas. “This is typically a slower selling season, and many buyers will wait until the new year to start their home search.”

2. If your house has been on the market more than three months

When properties sit on the market, whatever the reason, buyers will assume there's something wrong. So when an offer rolls in—assuming the number’s not an extreme lowball—it means you may have finally found the best possible buyer, says Carolann Newton, a broker at Jackson Stanley in Easley, SC. You don’t want the property to continue to lose value by being on the market longer than it should be.

3. If you get an all-cash offer

Even if a buyer comes at you with an all-cash offer that's lower than you'd hoped for, you may want to accept it.

“Cash buyers are a safe bet since they don’t have to wait on the loan processing to be approved,” says Wallace-Laabs.

And cash buyers usually don’t come with any contingencies, like having to sell their current home before they can buy yours. Just be sure to vet buyers to ensure they have the cash on hand.

4. If you're going through a major life event

Starting a new chapter in your life? You may want to accept the first offer it you're experiencing a major life event like relocating for work or going through a divorce. Closing the book on your home sale will ease what can be a difficult transition.

5. If the buyer goes the extra mile

Dora Hererra accepted the first offer she received on her house in Los Angeles two days after listing because the buyers had a complete package together when they made the offer. Not only did they have solid financials and a pre-approval letter from the bank, they also included a letter explaining why the house would be ideal for their family.

“We received a higher offer that same day but went with the well-prepared offer instead,” says Hererra.

6. If you have no skin in the game

Perhaps you've inherited a home from a deceased loved one and you plan on selling it. It's likely that your main concerns will be getting a fair price and unloading the house as soon as possible so you can move on. The first attractive offer that comes your way may be the one worth accepting.

“We recently helped a client who inherited a house,” says B. Cornelius Charles, co-owner of Dream Home Property Solutions in Ventura County, CA. "Her only care was that she wanted to break even after paying off the remaining mortgage."

7. If you've already found a new home

Most sellers are also involved in their own home search, and there's a chance they'll find a house before a buyer comes around for theirs. If you find yourself in that situation, you can either pay two mortgages (not ideal) or make a contingent offer on your new home that's dependent on your finding a buyer.

“If the seller has a contingent offer on another property they’re purchasing, then time is of the essence,” says Justin Potier, a broker at Carrington Real Estate Services in Long Beach, CA.

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Posted in Market Updates, News
Dec. 10, 2018

The 5 Stages of Grief You'll Feel If You Try to Buy a New Couch


I need a new couch. I want a new couch. And yet, I find myself wholly incapable of buying one. Instead of an exciting big-ticket-item shopping excursion, buying a sofa has dragged me through months of agony.

The reason? Just like there are stages of grief you cycle through when a loved one dies, choosing a new couch elicits a similar roller coaster of emotional turmoil. Don't believe me? Go try to buy a couch, and see if any of these feelings that I've been enduring sound familiar.

1. Denial

Let’s start with the obvious: Buying a new couch is a First World problem. Our current couch is fine. Really! Its espresso microfiber upholstery has fought the good fight against the muddy paws of the family dog; its cushions have stood strong against the countless children who’ve rabidly contorted them to use as a fort. It's a comfy, sturdy workhorse that has served us well.

But the couch is a decade old, and at this point, I am more a caregiver than an active user. I carefully vacuum in and around my couch’s tired seats, gently fluff its lumpy back cushions, and cover the 3-inch rip that’s recently appeared in its side with a strategically placed throw blanket.

Here’s how I transitioned from my stage of denial to the next stage of couch shopping grief: Over the summer, a friend showed me a picture of the couch she was having custom-made. She talked excitedly about selecting the shape of its feet, the exact shade of emerald for its velvet upholstery, as well as details like button tufts and rolled arms—which I'd never known were things, I must confess.

“It’s past time, you know,” she confided, gesturing to her current couch, which looked pristine.

Honestly, my first reaction was “Why are you friends with me?” She’d seen my couch, hadn’t she? But soon after, I felt a stirring of something between couch envy and couch embarrassment. How long had I been in denial?

2. Anger

How am I supposed to choose between graphite, stone, charcoal, and slate when they're basically all the same?

Once I conceded that I needed a new couch, a very new emotion took over: anger.

I pride myself on being quick and efficient about major decisions. When I went into a Subaru dealership last year and announced I wanted to lease a car, the salesman had to plead with me to test-drive it first.

But shopping for a new couch had me stymied. What color did I want? Skinny legs or chunky, hidden feet? A sectional? Or not a sectional? Velvet, microfiber, linen, or some other material that I’d yet to run my hand over? All I knew was that I did not want cup holders in my couch, or little parts of it that reclined, because both remind me of those morbidly lazy humans in the movie "Wall-E."

For pockets of time, I found myself wandering through furniture stores, running my hand over arms of couches. Too long. Too hard. Too low. Too squishy. So I gave up on brick-and-mortar stores and scoured the internet instead for the perfect couch.

That had its own problems. What if a humongous couch showed up on my porch one day and was the wrong size? What if the “burnt sienna” or “slate” or “navy” color I loved online looked vastly different in real life?

The infinite range of couches led me into a dark thicket where I felt lost, aimless, and angry. Who honestly needs so many choices? No one. Who has time to decide? Not me.

3. Bargaining

There is nothing wrong with this gorgeous sofa other than I don't want to pay for it.

“Isn’t it pointless to buy a new couch now?” my husband asked, pointing to the dog, then letting his finger wander over to our two cats, our teenage son sloppily mixing together egg nog and apple cider in the kitchen, our preteen daughter who rides horses and often has wayward strands of hay tucked into her clothes. “We should wait,” he advised.

And by wait, he meant until we are empty nesters and pet-free. The former is bound to happen eventually, the second, highly unlikely. Nonetheless, I considered this possibility. What use is it to get a new couch if it gets stained, ripped, and beaten down the instant it's inside my home.

In the end, though, I refused to deny myself. I forged on.

4. Depression

To keep this couch clean, I'd have to get rid of my pets, my children, my husband, and myself.

For weeks, I studied couches. I researched couches. I Googled phrases like “couches easy to keep clean” and “couches good if you have pets.” At Ikea, Wayfair, Pottery Barn, Crate and Barrel, West Elm, and Article, I slipped couch after couch—as well as the occasional accent chairs and coffee table on sale—into shopping carts, only to click off the page and never return.

I took zero pleasure in any of it.

5. Acceptance

It's not so bad, right?

I want a new couch. We’ve clearly established the fact that I need a new couch. So why was it so difficult to actually purchase one?

The longer I spent worrying about my new couch, the more ashamed I felt. Weren’t there more important things in the world to worry about than a new couch? Answer: yes.

So a few days ago, when my friend came over to share details about her new, gorgeous, and perfectly selected couch (which honestly looks just like her old one), I made a decision.

Much like a nurse caring for a geriatric patient, I carefully vacuumed my couch. I cleaned it with a microfiber cloth. And gently, for the hundredth time, I carefully placed a throw blanket over the rip in its arm.

Then, I took some of the money that we’d earmarked for a new couch and donated it to the California Community Foundation’s Wildfire Relief Fund—to people who really do need a new couch and have other, more difficult and more “real” decisions to make.

Afterward, I sat on my old, tired but good-enough-for-now couch—and for the first time in months, I relaxed.

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Posted in News
Dec. 7, 2018

The No. 1 factor that can drive up your mortgage costs

Couple Using Calculator

Time is not on your side when it comes to an escrow.

The mortgage process can be a bureaucratic, complicated gauntlet that punishes today's borrowers more often than not. One of the many factors that borrowers must consider is the opportunity to lock in a mortgage rate.

A rate lock occurs when a lender sets your borrowed amount aside under certain terms. If you can't deliver on those terms, those costs can change (and often rise). This phenomenon is sometimes referred to as a rate-lock extension.

Rate-lock extensions can become pricey, especially if you have to take on more than one. For example, if you know at the beginning of the mortgage process that your file is more complicated, it would be better to lock in your mortgage rate for 45 days rather than the customary 30 (even though a 45-day lock costs more).

Rate lock extensions are sometimes covered by the lender rather than the borrower, but that usually isn't the case.

For example, let’s say that you secure a 5 percent loan at no points on a 30-day rate lock. Let's also say that, for whatever reason, you can't get that loan paid in 30 days and the lender charges you an extension. If that extension was, say, $500, that means that you're now paying an extra $500 in fees for the same interest rate.

Rate locks aren't free because the lender takes a risk by locking in your interest rate. If you're locked at 5 percent, and rates jump to 5.5 percent, your loan's value in the secondary market is not as lucrative for the investor because they would make better use of their money earning, well, 5.5 percent. As a byproduct of that risk, the lender assesses a rate lock extension cost to preserve the original, committed sum.

Moral of the story? Get your paperwork to a lender as quickly as possible, even if it seems over the top. Over the course of your escrow time frame, you may need to think of yourself as an on-call professional. If you enter the process with that expectation, your loan will close on time and you can keep your costs under control.

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Posted in Market Updates, News
Dec. 7, 2018

Christmas Light Safety Tips: Did You Deck Your Halls the Right Way?


These Christmas light safety tips will help you get in the holiday spirit and reduce your risk of fire or electric shock injuries. There's nothing like a twinkling strand of Christmas lights to really dress up a home, which is why many homeowners and renters hang them year after year. But because Christmas lights use so much electricity, that heightens the potential for an accident if you neglect to take certain safety measures. The last thing you want on your hands is an open fire—unless you're roasting chestnuts, of course.

Below, an illuminating look at expert-approved tips on how to safely use, hang, and store Christmas lights.

Make sure the lights have been certified for safety

With every new box of lights, check for the mark of an independent testing organization like Underwriters Laboratories, which certifies and tests products for safety, recommends Susan McKelvey, communications manager for the National Fire Protection Association.

Products certified by the Underwriters Laboratories will have the mark "UL."

You should also do a quick search online to make sure your lights haven't been recalled.

Don't use indoor lights outside

All Christmas lights are not made the same. When you buy Christmas lights to hang outside your home, don't just grab the same ones you'd use indoors.

"Outdoor lights are designed to keep water from seeping into places and prevent the elements from causing a failure. Indoor lights aren't designed to do that," says McKelvey.

Inspect the lights before use

Chad Ridenour, owner and CEO of Turn It On Electric company, says you must inspect your lights before decorating your home. Every year, he lays out all his lights in his driveway to ensure they’re in good working condition. Toss anything that’s frayed, broken, or warm to the touch.

You’ll also want to plug in and turn on the light strands. If one bulb is not working or flickering after you put a new one in, it’s best to trash the strand since it could be a sign that something is wrong with the wiring.

Likewise, ensure that your extension cords are in good working order.

“When in doubt, throw it out,” says Ridenour.

Stabilize your ladder

When hanging Christmas lights in hard-to-reach areas like the gutters on your house, make sure that the ladder you use is stable. Ladder falls can be fatal, so to protect yourself, make sure your ladder can hold your weight and is stable.

“Make sure the ladder is in good condition,” says Ridenour. “Always inspect it.”

Don’t overload your outlets

Plugging too many lights into one outlet can overload it.

"You don’t want to overload outlets because that can create a short,” says McKelvey. "Each outlet can handle a certain amount of amps to be drawn from it. If you overload an outlet, it can cause the outlet to fail."

When this happens, an outlet generates heat and sparks, which can result in a fire.

"We encourage people to not use more than one plug per outlet to ensure that they don't exceed the number of amps that the outlet is rated to handle," McKelvey says.

Reduce the risk of a Christmas tree fire

If you like displaying a live tree in your home, be sure to purchase one that's as fresh as possible. A dry tree wrapped with Christmas lights will go up in flames much faster than a well-hydrated one.

“A fresh tree is green and its needles are hard to pull from branches and don't break when bent between your fingers," says Karla Crosswhite, spokesperson for the Consumer Product Safety Commission. "The bottom of a fresh tree is sticky with resin, and when tapped on the ground, the tree should not lose many needles."

Once you bring home your live tree, keep it well-hydrated with about 1 gallon of water a day.

And if you favor an artificial tree, search for one that's labeled "fire-resistant."

Store Christmas lights properly

Taking down your Christmas decorations is never fun, but you'll want to be extra careful when packing up your lights. Storing your lights properly may extend their life span and will ensure they don't end up in a giant, tangled ball.

“Untangling lights creates wear and tear on them. When you start yanking and pulling, that’s when they fray,” says Ridenour.

Wrap the strand of lights around your arm, and gently place them in an air-tight box so they'll be ready to use next year.

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Posted in News
Dec. 5, 2018

7 things that can increase the cost of selling a house

Slide 1 of 9: Selling your home can be an expensive process riddled with hidden fees. Staging, pre-sale inspections, real estate commission fees and closing expenses are among the many costs that can easily add thousands to selling a house.These costs also vary significantly depending on where you’re selling. For instance, some states require that sellers hire a real estate attorney, while others don’t. Real estate transfer taxes also differ by state and, in some cases, by city. Some states don’t have them at all. Fees also can vary by mortgage lender. “You have to look at where the variations are bank to bank, municipality to municipality and state to state,” said Linda Page, the 2018 National Association of Realtors (NAR) regional vice president for New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. If you’re selling your home, you should be aware of the expenses that can be involved. We’ve broken down some of the most common costs associated with selling a home so that you know what to be prepared for.

Posted in Market Updates
Dec. 4, 2018

How to Make Moving During the Holidays a Painless Experience


Moving during the "most wonderful time of the year" is anything but wonderful. At a time when people look forward to cozying up at home, the last thing most of us want to do is pack boxes, clean, and wrangle odds and ends.

But some people don't have a choice. Selling your home in the winter, graduating from college, or relocating for a new job are just some of the reasons people move during the holidays.

If you find yourself in this scenario, trust us when we say that movingdoesn’t have to ruin your holiday fun. The following tips will help make it less hectic and more bearable. We promise!

Include a change of address in your holiday cards

This year, you can kill two birds with one stone with your holiday cards: they can also serve as your change-of-address announcements.

“If you know your new address, consider including a change-of-address note in your holiday cards to alert family and friends,” says Melissa Pollock, lifestyle and organization expert at PODS.

Donate seasonal items

The holiday season is a prime time to spread goodwill to others.

"Consider giving some of your gently used items to those who may otherwise have no way of affording them," says Jonathan Self, a real estate agent at Center Coast Realty in Chicago.

Warm clothes, in particular, are in demand at consignment stores during winter months, and parents welcome toys for their kids. If you’re not sure where to donate your goods, your local Salvation Army is a good place to start.

Ask for a holiday discount

You may find that movers are in the giving spirit this time of year and will show their appreciation for your business.

“Book your moving company early and ask for a discount,” says Val Burmester, an agent with Engel & Völkers Seattle. “This time of year is not as busy as others, so the movers might feel more generous and agree to a reduced price for their services."

Another bonus: Your moving date is more likely to be available to book because movers aren't as busy during this time of year.

Keep gifts to a minimum this year

Secret Santa gift exchanges, Yankee Swap parties, and traditional gift-giving among your friends and relatives are all part of the holiday season. However, the last thing people who are moving need is more stuff.

To keep the mess to a minimum, Pollock recommends asking people to not bring or send presents until you have moved into your new home.

“As an alternative, consider keeping gifts wrapped until you arrive at your new place for easy packing and unpacking,” she says.

Recycle supplies

Relocating involves a lot of moving supplies like bubble wrap and boxes, but you don’t have to spend a lot on them.

“To avoid waste and save some money, reuse the boxes and paper from packages you receive during the holidays,” Pollock says.

Ask your friends for their leftover boxes and wrapping paper as well.

Pack accordingly

You're bound to have a lot of boxes on your hands, which can make it difficult to find your box of decorations. But make it easy to deck your new halls by packing your ornaments, garlands, and festive adornments last.

“Load your holiday decor boxes last so when you move into your new home you can give it an instant holiday feel," Burmester says.

Give yourself the gift of a moving company

If you have to move during the holidays but you’d really prefer to reduce the stress of moving, Self recommends gifting yourself (and your family) a professional moving company. It'll be more expensive than moving boxes yourself, but hiring an extra set of hands will allow you to focus on the parties and festive get-togethers that happen during this time of year.

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Nov. 30, 2018

How To Hurricane Proof Your Home

Many Americans dream of a life on the coast, with the sun grazing their rooftops and waves lapping at the shore below. Not everyone considers the risk of purchasing a coastal property, which could easily be destroyed in the event of a hurricane.

When Hurricane Michael touched down in Mexico Beach, Florida, in mid-October, only one oceanfront home was left fully intact: a two-story structure known as Sand Palace that had been built a year prior. The remaining homes were either wiped out or stripped down to their shoddy foundations.

Much of this damage could have been prevented if the homes had adhered to Florida's updated building codes, which require safe construction elements like buttressed roofs and shatterproof windows. But the fact that these codes were implemented in 2007 left older homes powerless in the face of the storm.

To find out what property owners can do to prepare for a future hurricane, we spoke with Geoff Chick, an architect building hurricane-resistant homes in the Gulf of Mexico, an area recently ravaged by the Category 4 Hurricane Michael.

Building for a hurricane

To protect themselves from damage, homeowners have one of two options: build a new structure or retrofit an old one. The price of both undertakings has left many low-income residents vulnerable to disaster.

The architect behind Sand Palace, Charles Gaskin, told The New York Times that hurricane-resistant features tend to double the cost of construction per square foot. 

"I don't think it's feasible for everybody in the country to design their houses to be hurricane-proof," said Chick. "There are so many people who don't have the financial resources."

For Chick, building a hurricane-resistant property comes down to a handful of foundational features. Still, he said, there are a few accessories that can protect an older home from damage. Here's his recommended list.

Hurricane shutters

Hurricane shutters help protect windows from debris that have been stirred up by strong winds.

The consequence of a broken window can be grave: In the event of a storm, it causes air pressure to rise and the house to blow apart from the inside.

For those worried about the labor or cost, there's good news: Some insurance companies in states like Maryland, Florida, Louisiana, and Rhode Island offer discounted rates for homeowners with hurricane shutters.

While more expensive homes have shutters made of metal or polycarbonate plastic, lower-income properties often resort to plywood.

a large lawn in front of a houseImpact windows

Impact windows are perhaps the most important feature for homes located near the coast, but not directly along the water, said Chick. Instead of being exposed to storm surge, these homes are vulnerable to a hurricane's heavy winds.

Fifteen years ago, Chick said, impact windows weren't required by the building code in Florida. It wasn't until an onslaught of storms - including Hurricanes Ivan and Katrina - that insurance companies began to push for stricter regulations to protect themselves from loss.

Now it's common for new homes in the Gulf to be made of laminated glass with a sheet of Kevlar inside. According to Chick, these windows are designed to withstand the impact of a 2x4 stud heading toward them at 150 miles per hour.

But this protection comes at a price. Chick said that impact windows are often double the cost of a normal window package: around $40,000 compared to the standard $18,000.

Concrete pilings

One of the most basic elements of hurricane-proofing is to build a home on concrete pilings, which elevate it above the storm surge. The pilings also help support the structure and keep it from collapsing amid heavy winds.

"Over the years, we've had houses that have survived storms because they were on pilings," said Chick. "When the houses on either side of them collapsed into the Gulf, ours were still there."

Hurricane straps

Hurricane straps - pieces of the galvanized steel that secure the walls of a home to its rafters - can be installed during a retrofit, but it's an expensive and invasive process. Adding straps after a home has already been built requires cutting back the sheetrock and exposing the beams.

Chick said it's far easier to install the straps during new construction, before the sheetrock has been laid down. But there's still the cost of labor to consider.

In either case, hurricane straps help make sure that the roof doesn't fly off during a storm.

Impact-rated garage doors

"A lot of the houses [during Hurricane Michael] had their entire roof system pulled off and blown down the street, and the point of failure was actually the garage door," said Chick.

Just like a broken window, a broken garage door can allow wind to enter and put pressure on the roof. By shuttering a garage or installing an impact-rated garage door, residents can save their home from damage.

Chick said some of his previous projects have had impact-related garage doors that cost around $10,000. Shutters are a much cheaper option, but offer less protection.

The price of safety

Whether they're retrofitting an old home or building a new one, coastal homeowners pay a hefty premium for safety.

"There are a tremendous amount of hoops that you have to jump through when you build a Gulf-front house," said Chick.

In the wake of Hurricane Michael, he said, newer multi-million-dollar structures in Panama City remained undamaged, while the older homes were cleared out.

"There were neighborhoods where everything was completely destroyed, and the brand-new office buildings didn't have a scratch on them," he said.

As the region attempts to rebuild, these expensive properties are likely to multiply.

"People with the means to build a nice house are doing what it takes to protect themselves and their assets," Chick said.

"You can be sure that everything that goes back in Mexico Beach is going to be built to the same level of construction as that one house that survived."

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