9 Must-Haves for Low-Maintenance Kitchen Cabinets

9 Must-Haves for Low-Maintenance Kitchen Cabinets

Save valuable elbow grease and time with these ideas for easy-to-maintain cabinets.

The heart of the home may also be the toughest room to keep clean. Every surface in your kitchen is susceptible to crumbs, dirt, stains and splatters. This is especially true of cabinets. Fortunately, there are practical ways to keep your cabinet maintenance on the lighter side. With ideas like choosing fewer decorative details and picking the right color, these nine tips will make your cabinets easier to maintain.

1. Choose a door style with minimal detail. Raised-panel door styles have nooks and crannies that are magnets for dust and dirt. Shaker-style and slab door fronts don’t, so you won’t have to spend time scrubbing every recess of your door fronts.

If you’re designing a traditional kitchen and want a more decorative door style, select a stain or paint that has a glaze. The glaze will fill the doors’ cracks and corners and better hide the dust and dirt that your cabinet doors will collect.

2. Opt for flush cabinet ends. You normally have two options for finishing the ends of your cabinets: flush ends or matching ends. Flush ends (above) are plywood ends that match the color of your cabinets. They are smooth and sleek, which means you can run a cloth over it with a few swipes. They can certainly speed up cleaning.

Matching ends feature a panel with the same style as the door fronts, and while they can bring elegance and character to your kitchen, you face the same maintenance issues with matching ends as you do with raised-panel doors. There’s simply more to scrub.

3. Cut the trimmings. Designer details like crown molding, corbels, decorative legs and light rail molding add more to love but also more to clean, especially ornate styles.

There are other designer touches you can use that require less maintenance. Try a colorful cabinet paint, eccentric lighting or colored bar stools, like in this modern kitchen.

4. Pick a stain instead of a paint. Stains and paints have pros and cons. They can both show crumbs and fingerprints, and paint definitely shows food stains and splatters.

That said, a stain is easier to touch up than paint. You can give a scratched cabinet stain a quick spruce-up with a matching permanent marker. It’s often harder with paint for two reasons. First, it’s hard to find a marker that closely matches a specific paint. Often a touch-up kit from the cabinet manufacturer is needed. Second, paint doesn’t take touch-ups the same way that stains do. You’re more likely to notice a touch-up on paint.

5. Go for a grain with a dark stain. If you’re set on a dark cabinet stain, select a wood species that features the grain, such as oak or hickory. Grains don’t show scratches, stains and crumbs as much as a clean wood species like maple does. It’s also harder to tell that a cabinet stain has been touched up when the surface has grains.

6. Invest in hardware. If you want fewer fingerprints and less wear and tear on your door fronts, purchase door pulls and knobs for all of your cabinets. They help preserve the integrity of your cabinets’ surfaces.

Steer clear of stainless steel and chrome hardware. They show fingerprints and water spots and are harder to clean. Oil-rubbed bronze, satin bronze, polished nickel, brushed nickel and white hardware are the cream of the crop as far as easy maintenance goes. Choose the look that best suits the style of your kitchen.

7. Avoid glass door fronts. They may be windows to your kitchen’s soul, but they’re also extra surfaces to clean. They manage to attract their fair share of dust, dirt and smudges. Dirt can build up easily on glass door fronts that feature mullions. You also have to keep whatever is behind those glass doors tidy.

One benefit to glass door fronts is how inviting they can make your kitchen space feel. Luckily, there’s more than one way to design a warm and welcoming kitchen. If you want a low-maintenance alternative to glass door fronts, stick with lighter cabinet stains like golden browns. They can make your guests feel just as cozy as glass door fronts do.

8. Reduce open shelving. Open shelving is a great canvas for displaying your favorite decor and cookware, whether it’s on a wall, on an island or at the end of cabinets. But it takes more time and effort to ensure that these spaces are dusted and organized. The upkeep can become overwhelming along with your daily tasks.

To shorten your to-do list, place your decor on necessary surfaces like dining tables and countertops instead of unnecessary cabinet shelves. You can also use pillows, chairs, bar stools and lighting as decorative touches.

9. Protect your sink cabinet from moisture. This is more of a preventative measure — it will help you avoid issues down the road. There are a couple of ways to help protect your sink cabinet from moisture. You can order the cabinet with an all-plywood construction (most semicustom and prefabricated cabinets are constructed of a mixture of pressed wood and plywood). An all-plywood construction makes the cabinet less penetrable. You can also purchase a cabinet mat, which looks like a tray and is placed at the base of the sink cabinet. It will serve as a moisture barrier and catch any liquid leaks or spills.

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Your Guide to Eco-Friendly Lawn Care

Your Guide to Eco-Friendly Lawn Care

Here’s how the environmentally-minded keep their lawns trim and lush—while sparing the Earth at the same time!

This is the time of year when you look outside at your dry husk of a lawn and think, “I should really do something about that.” But before you go running out to set up a sprinkler system the size of Niagara Falls, you should really consider your lawn’s eco footprint. Thirsty lawns suck down somewhere between 30 to 60 percent of the world’s urban freshwater, amounting to hundreds of thousands of gallons a day.

Even unwatered lawns take their toll. Lawn mowers, trimmers, and other outdoor equipment dump out a staggering 242 million tons of pollutants each year, amounting to about 4 percent of the world’s annual CO2 emissions. And enterprising homeowners who manage their own lawn care wind up spilling about 17 million gallons of gasoline a year, which is about 6 million more gallons than spilled by Exxon Valdez.

As if that’s not enough shake your environmental heart to the core, lawns also damage natural ecosystems, as well. Synthetic pesticides and fertilizers used in the backyard wind up in streams and waterways as runoff. The nitrogen in such pollution in turn causes algae to proliferate, choking rivers and streams and creating so-called “dead zones,” places so clogged with excess oxygen from decaying algae, no marine life can survive there. There are now 405 identified dead zones on the planet—a huge increase from the 49 recorded zones in the 1960s.

In short, conventional lawn care is pretty bad for the Earth. However, here at Modernize, we know that having a well-kept lawn isn’t just a matter of keeping with the status quo, it’s the rule of the land. Homeowners associations and neighbors aren’t exactly thrilled about the prospect of an a maintenance-free yard—but luckily for you, there are ways to keep your next-door neighbors happy without pouring chemicals into your lawn or pumping a bunch of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Here’s how the environmentally-minded keep their lawns trim and lush—while sparing the Earth at the same time.


Plan Your Lawn to Be Waterwise
Nothing makes you more aware of our world’s water footprint than a dry summer. While you may not like the idea of a shriveled up, crunchy lawn, there are certainly ways to get around it and reduce your home’s water consumption. One idea is to simply shrink your turf area: install a patio or beds planted with native grasses and flowers, leaving less plant space requiring intensive watering. In the areas where you do have grass, make sure it’s the right kind for your lawn: warm-season grasses like Bermuda, St. Augustine and Zoysia are far less thirsty than their cool-season counterparts and more tolerant of hot, dry weather as well.


Get Your Sprinkler System in Check
Your average sprinkler head puts out one to six gallons of water per minute, so it adds up fast, especially if you’re watering too frequently or at the wrong time. Experts indicate that most lawns don’t need daily watering; about three days a week is typically fine. Always water in the morning or evening, rather than the middle of the day—that way, your water won’t evaporate before it can soak into the ground. And lastly, you may want to think about switching to an automated sprinkler system as well. These devices sync with local weather forecasts and adjust your watering schedule on the fly when there’s rain, keeping your irrigation as efficient as possible.


Mow the Energy-Efficient Way
For most of us, lawn mowing is that dreaded household chore that gets put off until the last minute. Well, good news! The longer you wait, the better off your lawn will be. Grass that’s buzzed to its roots is vulnerable to pests and drought, so it needs more frequent watering and babying to survive. Leave those grass blades long and lush and your lawn will be better off for it. And when you do mow, don’t bother raking up the clippings afterward. The cut grass feeds nitrogen right back into the soil, which means less chance of fertilizer runoff. Finally, laziness is working in your favor for once!

Elect for Electric
If you’re not fond of the gas-guzzlers, you do have other mower options. Energy-efficient mowers have come a long way from the antique push mowers of the past: you now have your option of dozens of different corded and battery-powered cordless electric mowers as well. Electric mowers work best for small, flat turf areas—and beyond reducing your lawn’s carbon footprint, they also save you money on gas, oil changes, and tune-ups. Mower batteries can handle about a third of an acre without a recharge, so if you have a larger lawn, look for a model that lets you switch out the battery with a backup so you don’t have to wait on the charger all day.

Listen to Your Weeds
A strong, robust lawn is the most energy-efficient one around, since it will naturally require less fertilizer, pesticides, and irrigation. Soil composition plays a big part in turf health, so it’s worth having your topsoil tested in order to get an idea of what may be lacking. Many local university cooperative extensions will do this for free; usually it’s a matter of completing a form and sending in a soil sample. The results will tell you the level of extractable nutrients in your yard, like phosphorous, potassium, and calcium, as well as listing the nitrogen levels and testing for potentially harmful substances, such as soluble salts and lead. But a simpler way to get a readout is to listen to what the weeds are trying to tell you. For instance, dandelions often pop up when soil acidity levels are too high, and plantains when the area has poor drainage or where there is clay soil. Learn what weeds are trying to tell you and you’ll become a turf whisperer.

Fertilize the Organic Way
To root out problems with runoff for good, you’ll need to make the switch from synthetic fertilizers to 100% organic compost. Topdressing with compost comes with a number of benefits: it helps the soil retain water and adds organic matter to your topsoil, replenishing its supply of beneficial micro-organisms. To spread all that nutrient-dense goodness to your lawn, drop shovelfuls of organic compost in small piles, eventually raking them out until they cover the entire turf area to about a quarter of an inch. As a bonus, you can even use your own kitchen scraps to make homemade compost. Not too shabby for some old coffee grinds and eggshells!

How to Organize and Beautify Your Entry Hall in 7 Days

How to Organize and Beautify Your Entry Hall in 7 Days

Take your entry from scuffed up to spiffed up, restoring total cleanliness and order in just a week.

Houzz Contributor, Laura Gaskill

A neat, chic entryway gives visitors a positive first impression and makes coming home a pleasure. But between the daily influx of mail and a household’s worth of coats, shoes and bags, this space is often one of the most challenging to keep clean and clutter free. Give your entryway a fresh start with this weeklong plan to clean and declutter from top to bottom — and learn to maintain a serene space long-term.

Day 1: Address the outside.

Cleaning tasks: The entrance to your home really begins outside your front door, so let’s start here. Sweep your porch or stoop, including the siding, and wash the exterior windows at the front of your home. Using a soft cloth, wipe down your mailbox, doorbell, porch lights and front door.

Decluttering tasks: Remove everything that doesn’t belong on the porch and find another home for it. Toss dead plants and store empty pots elsewhere.

Day 2: Clear the decks.

Decluttering tasks: Think of your entryway as a busy but temporary holding area — like a train station, not a permanent storage area. Scoop up all of the mail, shoes, coats, scarves, cell phone chargers, tote bags and so on, and move them away where you can deal with them more easily.

Find a permanent home for the items you remove from the entry — you should be able to do this for nearly everything, except perhaps your keys. Even if you think you can’t find another place to store that jacket or bag, challenge yourself to find a place … anywhere but the entry!

Cleaning tasks: Once all of the stuff has been removed, cleaning will be much easier. Vacuum and mop the floors, vacuum cobwebs from the corners, clean mirrors and wipe scuff marks off the walls.

Day 3: Bring back the essentials.

Decluttering tasks: Rather than keep all your shoes and coats by the door, try keeping only the one or two you use most often. Store the rest elsewhere.

The same goes for bags, sunglasses and other accessories — if you find this difficult, try taking a picture of your entryway looking fresh and clean with only the absolute minimum amount of stuff in it, and use it as a reminder of why it’s worth the effort.

If your entry has room, your essentials may include a rug, a boot tray or bin to corral shoes, a surface for mail and keys, hooks for coats and bags, a place to sit while putting on and taking off shoes, and adequate lighting.

Day 4: Tackle a problem zone.

Decluttering tasks: If you have a large household, consider adding extra closed storage — piles of coats out in the open look messy, even when the coats are neatly hung on hooks. If you have children, make sure the storage is easily accessible and clearly marked.

Cleaning tasks: The biggest cleaning challenge in the entry is dirt tracked in from outdoors. Rugs are your first line of defense against street dirt, so make sure yours are in good shape. If your area rugs are dirty, launder them; if they are getting worn out, consider buying new ones. Instead of choosing a typical doormat-size rug by default, consider if a larger rug or runner would better suit your space — a larger rug has more dirt-trapping power.

Day 5: Improve the flow.

Decluttering tasks: Step outside your home for a moment and come back in through the front door, taking the time to really notice how you naturally move into the space. Is your furniture arranged in a way that is convenient, or do you nearly bump into something on the way in?

Would it be easier to toss your keys on a floating shelf by the door instead of taking four steps to a bigger table down the hall? Today is the day to try something new.

Day 6: Beautify.

Cleaning tasks: Wipe down surfaces; polish wood furniture.

Decluttering tasks: Pay attention to what is kept out in the open in your entryway and what is behind closed doors. You can choose to keep your cutest rain boots and cheery umbrellas on display, and hide the less attractive gear. Add something fresh and pretty, like a bouquet of flowers, to bring your space to life.

If you don’t have a closet or cupboard for hiding utilitarian items, use baskets. But beware of going overboard and providing too much storage — it will only get filled up and then overfilled.

Sometimes a minimalist setup actually helps reduce clutter, because it forces you to put things away where they actually go instead of plunking them down in the entry. Strike a balance that feels right to you.

Day 7: Master a daily routine.

Cleaning tasks: A quick daily sweep will help keep dirt from accumulating in the entry. Storing a broom and dustpan or a small stick vacuum in the closet nearest the door will make things easier.

Decluttering tasks: Get in the habit of opening your mail as soon as you walk in the door, while standing over the recycling bin. At the end of each day, put away anything sitting around in the entry that doesn’t belong.

5 Ways to Boost Your Curb Appeal for the Fall Selling Season

5 Ways to Boost Your Curb Appeal for the Fall Selling Season

Sellers looking to get the best price know that curb appeal plays a huge role in making the sale, even in the fall when the leaves begin to fade. Here are five simple ways to make the most of what fall has to offer and boost your curb appeal.

Sellers looking to get the best price know that curb appeal plays a huge role in getting buyers through the door. Once the flowers fade and the temperature drops, however, it can be easy to overlook your outdoor space altogether. Here are five simple ways to make the most of what fall has to offer and give your home the edge it needs for a quick sale.

1. Improve Your Entry

With every potential buyer passing through your front door, your entryway is critical to a good first impression. Cleaning the door, sweeping the stoop, and ridding the area of dirt and cobwebs can be enough to improve the overall look of your home, but for maximum impact, lay a new doormat and replace or paint any rusted or corroded hardware, mailboxes, or light fixtures. If you’re feeling adventurous, painting your front door a different shade can be a great selling feature that can be done in an afternoon.

Traditional brick colonial dressed up for fall with colorful mums and harvest gourds

2. Let the Light Shine

While the outdoors is the natural habitat for all manner of insects, they don’t need to reside in your outdoor light fixtures. Dirty lights and windows will not only reduce your nighttime curb appeal but can also affect how much natural light makes it through to the inside of your home. A thorough cleaning of light fixtures and windows will boost the overall impression buyers have of your home and can affect their impression of the rest of the home. For added impact, place inexpensive solar lights along the border of any gardens or walkways to illuminate your yard at night.

3. Love Your Landscape

Given that landscaping can amount for up to 15 percent of a home’s value, keeping your yard in tip-top shape is more important in the fall than ever. Fall colors and cascading leaves may provide a romantic vision, but may leave a potential buyer focusing on how much raking they will have to do. When seasonal plants fade away, be sure to cut back the dead growth and ensure your yard is regularly raked. Even if your yard doesn’t require frequent mowing, be sure to edge walkways with a straight-edge for a clean-cut look, and add some quick color by placing pots of seasonal plants in gardens and on porches.

Raking fall leaves with rake

4. Whisk the Water Away

The fall tends to bring increased precipitation, which can be a deal-breaker for buyers if they feel water penetration will be a problem. To prevent pooling water, be sure the grading around the foundation slopes away from the house and use downspout extenders, if necessary, to move water out into the yard. Clean the gutters regularly, and take a good walk around your home after a heavy rain to identify any problem areas that may allow water into the house, like door and window caulking.

5. Don’t Overdo the Decor

Finally, while the bounty of fall can be used to enhance the beauty of your home, be wary of overdoing the decor. Too many Halloween decorations, for example, can easily detract from the beauty of your home. Try instead for colorful mums, gourds, and pumpkins in a variety of colors and sizes that can provide earthy variety without overdoing it.

Regardless of the weather, the fall is still a hot time to sell a home, and can be an incredible opportunity to make a lucrative sale. Keep in mind that most buyers will either view your home online or drive by before making a decision to visit, so a sharp curb appeal can help keep your home above the competition.

5 Things That Might Make Your Home Insurance Null and Void

5 Things That Might Make Your Home Insurance Null and Void

Home insurance is essential, regardless of your house’s size or location. However, even if you have homeowners coverage in place, there are many reasons why your home insurance policy may become null and void. Here are a few to watch out for.

Guest post by Ryan Hanley

Home insurance is essential, regardless of your house’s size or location. However, even if you have homeowners coverage in place, there are many reasons why your home insurance policy may become null and void. Here are a few to watch out for.

1. Keep Receipts of Your Belongings

 What good is home insurance if you can’t get the coverage you need for all of your possessions? Ultimately, you’ll need receipts to verify property ownership—along with when you purchased property and how much you paid for it—to your home insurance provider. If you file a home insurance claim for a lost, stolen or damaged item and cannot verify property ownership, your policy could be voided.

Typically, a home insurance policy offers coverage for a wide range of property. But it is important to note that coverage limitations may be in place. This means you probably won’t get the full value for an original Van Gogh painting, 5-carat round cut ring or other expensive or rare property stored in your house based on the coverage limitations in a “standard” homeowners policy.

If you keep artwork, jewelry or other high-priced items in your house, you should get these belongings appraised. By doing so, you’ll have receipts that verify that you own these items and can get full compensation for them if they are stolen, damaged or destroyed.

It often pays to keep an inventory of your belongings, too. This inventory can be updated periodically based on property that you buy or sell.

Furthermore, if you’re ever uncertain about whether to add or subtract items from your home insurance policy, you can reach out to an independent insurance agent for assistance. This home insurance expert can provide insights into what it takes to fully insure all of your belongings, at all times.

2. Avoid Submitting an Excess Number of Claims

Most homeowners are unlikely to submit a home insurance claim in a given year, which is reflected in recent data from the Insurance Information Institute (III). In fact, about 5 percent of all homeowners submitted a home insurance claim in 2014, according to the III. Among these claims, property damage accounted for 97 percent.

On the other hand, a hurricane, tornado or other natural disasters can strike without notice. If one of these natural disasters occurs, a homeowner probably will need to submit a home insurance claim as quickly as possible.

When it comes to home insurance, you should only submit a claim when it is absolutely necessary to do so. A home insurance company reserves the right to void a homeowner’s coverage if a policyholder submits an excess number of claims over the life of his or her policy. If you submit an unusually high number of claims within a given time frame, your home insurance provider may view you as a “risky” homeowner and void your coverage.

 

3. Report Major Home Renovations

Do you want to add a new bedroom to your house? Or maybe you plan to install a swimming pool in your backyard? If you complete home renovations and fail to notify your home insurance provider, you may put your homeowners coverage in danger.

Property changes may impact the home insurance coverage that you need, as well as your home insurance premiums. Also, in some situations, property changes may cause your insurer to void your policy.

There are many “major” home renovations that you should tell your insurer about, and these include:

  • Alarm System: An alarm system may require an upfront investment. But over time, this system may help you lower your home insurance premiums as well as increase your home security.
  • Roof: A home insurance company is unlikely to cover the costs of upgrading your current roof or installing a new one. On the other hand, an improved roof helps lower the risk of weather-related and structural damage to your house, thereby reducing the risk of a potential home insurance claim down the line.
  • Swimming Pool: Swimming pools create liability risks, and in some cases, an insurance company may require you to purchase additional coverage for your swimming pool; alternatively, your insurance company may drop your policy.

When in doubt about whether a home renovation project is a “major” endeavor, it always is better to err on the side of caution. If you plan to embark on a major home renovation project, you should reach out to your insurance company in advance. That way, you can guarantee your home and personal belongings are fully covered before, during and after the renovation project is completed.

4. Be Proactive When Traveling

Leaving a home vacant for more than a few days can be risky. For example, consider what might happen if you embark on a two-week winter vacation. You may leave your home empty for the duration of your vacation. Meanwhile, if a pipe freezes and bursts while you’re away, the associated property damage could be significant.

In the aforementioned scenario, you probably won’t know about the property damage associated with the burst pipe until you return home. As a result, your home insurance company may view you as a “negligent” homeowner and is unlikely to cover the full costs of your property damage.

If you plan to take an extended vacation, you should contact your home insurance provider ahead of time. A home insurance policy usually has limits about how long you can leave your residence unoccupied and still be protected by homeowners coverage. Additionally, most insurance companies have policies in place about the steps that you need to follow if your house is going to be vacant for 30 days or more.

Lastly, don’t forget to contact a friend or family member to keep an eye on your house during your trip. With extra help from a friend or family member, you can further reduce the risk of burglaries and other potential home issues while your house is vacant.

5. Avoid Deliberate Property Damage

Let’s face it – no one wants to pay the steep costs associated with home improvement or maintenance projects. In some instances, homeowners might consider causing property damage in the hopes that their home insurer will cover their property replacement or repair costs. Yet deliberate property damage is not covered under a homeowners policy.

Deliberate property damage is a form of insurance fraud—a serious problem for home insurance providers and homeowners alike. Consider the following statistics from the Insurance Information Institute (III):

  • Most insurance companies use antifraud technology, and 76 percent of insurers said detecting claims fraud is the primary use of their antifraud technology.
  • 90 percent of insurance companies that leverage antifraud technology use automated red flags or business rules to detect fraud, and more than half employ predictive modeling.

New antifraud technology makes it increasingly likely that a homeowner who tries to beat the system will get caught. Plus, the penalties associated with deliberate property damage and other forms of home insurance fraud are substantial. Many states classify home insurance fraud as a felony, and those who are convicted of fraud may face financial and legal consequences as well.

 

Home insurance is a tricky subject, particularly for those who are uncertain about what types of coverage they need. Fortunately, independent insurance agents are available to teach you about home insurance.

An independent insurance agent possesses comprehensive home insurance expertise and is happy to explain different home insurance coverage. And if you ever have home insurance questions, an independent insurance agent is ready to respond to your queries at any time.

Connect with an independent insurance agent today, and you can purchase and maintain the right homeowners coverage.

 

Ryan Hanley is the Vice President of Marketing at TrustedChoice.com and the Managing Editor of Agency Nation. He is also a speaker, podcaster and author of the Amazon best-seller, Content Warfare. Ryan has over 10 years of insurance expertise and blogs frequently to help consumers understand complicated insurance topics.

What You Need to Know About Solar Panels

What You Need to Know About Solar Panels

Once you have decided to install solar panels, it’s important to research which solar panels are best for you, your home and your budget.

Guest post by Lauren White 

The solar panel industry has developed exponentially, in the past decade. Much of that is owed to increased demand. According to the Department of Energy, Americans use 23 times more solar energy now than we did around ten years ago.

Homeowners have more solar energy options than ever before. In order to meet demand and outshine the competition, companies are putting their resources toward research and development. They are constantly working toward creating more efficient and innovative solar energy technology.

Once you have decided to install solar panels, it’s important to research which solar panels are best for you, your home and your budget. There are generally three solar panel choices for residential homes: Thin-Film, Polycrystalline and Monocrystalline. These three panels are part of solar photovoltaic (PV) systems, which means they convert the sun’s photons into electricity.

Thin-Film

Perfect for: The homeowner with a small budget, a low-to-average rate of energy consumption, and lots of area for installation.

The cells of thin-film panels are constructed by layering photovoltaic material on glass, metal or plastic. These layers can be measured in nanometers, significantly thinner than in traditional panels. Their thin construction makes them lightweight and flexible, and they have a low cost of production. As such, they come at a lower cost to consumers.

One drawback of this technology is its rate of degradation. These solar panels have an average life expectancy of 10-15 years, depending on the photovoltaic material used. Comparatively, monocrystalline solar panels have a life expectancy of 25-35 years.

Another drawback is their low efficiency rating of 7-15%. This rate doesn’t work well for homes consuming more than the national average of 11,000 kWh per year. Also, these panels must be installed over a significant amount of space, which can be a deterrent for homeowners with limited area for installation.

In recent years, technology has improved and certain thin-film technologies are pushing past 20% efficiency. With a higher efficiency rating, this technology can meet higher energy demands and become a greater competitor in the market.

Polycrystalline

Perfect for: The eco-conscious homeowner with wiggle room in their budget, an average rate of energy consumption, and perhaps a penchant for the color blue.

Polycrystalline panels are constructed by melting silicon into molds to create perfect square “wafers.’ These wafers of silicon are then installed on a grid to form the panel. The cost of making these panels is relatively low and the process produces minimal waste. This makes polycrystalline a more affordable option than the original solar panel, monocrystalline.

The efficiency rating for polycrystalline panels is typically 13-16%. They would perform best in homes with typical rates of consumption. You will still need a significant amount of installation space, for these panels, in order to achieve optimal benefits. You must also take into consideration whether or not your taste will agree with their blue tint.

Monocrystalline

Perfect for: The homeowner with less roof space for installation and/or a higher rate of energy consumption, who wants a longer-lasting product and can make a sizeable investment.

Monocrystalline panels were the first solar panels to be made available. Currently, they are some of the most expensive. Each panel is created using high-purity silicon cut into “wafers.” These silicon wafers are extremely efficient at converting photons into energy, with monocrystalline panels hovering around a 22% efficiency rating.

Since these panels can convert more energy per square foot, you won’t need as much space for installation. Greater energy conversion also means you’ll be able to power more appliances, like hot tubs, heated pools and electric cars.

Get What You Pay for—and Then Some

In most cases, homeowners surveyed by HomeAdvisor say the cost of installing solar panels is much less than their projected energy savings over a twenty year period. In fact, it’s been estimated that, in 2017, homeowners in Massachusetts and California will save double their investment in solar energy.

Calculate Your Estimated Savings

If you’re not sure of your ROI, Google has a convenient tool called Project Sunroof, which will calculate your estimated savings based on your specific home address. As for your installation cost, you can request local estimates through HomeAdvisor to get a realistic figure for budgeting.

While you’re doing your research, or when you are speaking with a professional, see what’s new and on the horizon in the industry. These technologies are developing so rapidly, there are breakthroughs on a yearly basis. In July of 2017, for example, scientists developed a solar cell with 44.5% efficiency. There is hope that this technology, and others like it, can be streamlined and integrated into the residential and commercial solar market.

Staging Your Home for a Successful Sale This Fall

Staging Your Home for a Successful Sale This Fall

Consider these key points when you are staging and marketing your home for success this fall!

The following is guest post from Patti Stern of PJ & Company Staging and Interior Decorating. The photos are examples of design and staging work by PJ & Company Staging. 

With a competitive fall real estate market ahead, it may be challenging to get your property noticed and on the top of buyers’ lists. The best advice we give our clients is to step back and look at your property from the perspective of today’s sophisticated buyers and then present it as a product that will help them envision living there. The following are some key points to consider when marketing your home for success in a competitive market.

 

Keep It Simple

Less is always more with home staging. After decluttering and depersonalizing, find the proper balance of furniture and accessories that will enhance a room so that buyers won’t be distracted and can focus on its unique features, size and flow. Keep decor simple, fresh and bright to help buyers visualize what it would be like to live there with their own furniture in the space.

Boost Perceived Value With a Cosmetic Facelift

The majority of first time buyers are willing to pay more for a home that doesn’t need improvements. Instead of spending time and money on expensive renovations, increase perceived value with basic updates and repairs such as repainting kitchen and bathroom cabinets, new hardware, modern lighting, eco-friendly faucets and neutral wall color. These updates are all that is needed to suggest a home is in move-in ready condition.

Create a Lasting Impression

Most prospective buyers can’t visualize beyond what they see so if they don’t connect with a property right away, they’ll simply go to the next listing around the corner. Whether vacant or occupied, make the home memorable from the entry to the basement with key pieces of furniture, rugs, lighting and wall art. This will add warmth and personality so that buyers can emotionally connect and be more likely to make an offer.

For more examples of interior decorating and home staging, visit www.pjstagingdecorating.com.

4 Tips to Selling an Inherited Property

4 Tips to Selling an Inherited Property

Selling an inherited house can be draining. Coldwell Banker gives 4 tips on how to successfully prepare, organize and sell your inherited house.

One difficult topic real estate agents routinely have to discuss is about selling an inherited home from a parent when they pass away. It is a situation that is an overwhelming experience, one filled with emotions and many questions. While talking about it is difficult, it is smart to be prepared. This includes having conversations as a family to determine who will be included in the will to inherit the home, where the deed to the home is kept and where other paperwork is located.

After the estate has been settled and the home received as an inheritance, deciding to sell, rent or keep the home is the first step which will help determine what to do next. For those who decide to sell the home, it is a good idea to work with a team of professionals including a lawyer and a real estate agents who can offer advice and guidance throughout the process.

Although each situation is unique, the professionals at Coldwell Banker have provided the following four tips to help prepare to sell an inherited home:

Assemble a strong team of professionals. Working with a real estate agent, lawyer and potentially a tax specialist can help make the process of selling an inherited property go more smoothly. A team of professionals can give the guidance necessary to prepare the home for sale and get all of the affairs in order. A real estate agent can offer crucial, local market information that is especially helpful if the heir does not live nearby. Lawyers and tax specialists can help put all of the processes in order to ensure that selling the home is as easy on you and your family as possible.

Do a home walk through and get organized. Going from room to room and looking at everything from the condition of the floors to how fresh the paint looks can help determine what may need to be done to the home to help it sell more quickly. If the inherited property is older, a home inspection is important before making any decisions as there may be certain systems that need renovations. Equally important is to gather all of the necessary paperwork such as the deed to the home as well as researching whether there are any mortgages on the inherited property that need to be paid. Even if the original mortgage was paid off, a reverse mortgage may have been negotiated to help cover expenses. Also looking into local property taxes and when they were last paid is important.

Have the home appraised and price it correctly. Property received as an inheritance is not considered to be income by the beneficiary. The adjusted basis of a home is its fair market value at the time it was inherited, so it is important to get an accurate appraisal of the home. A real estate agent can also provide counsel on an appropriate listing price to match market value. Out-of-town beneficiaries can also find it difficult to select competent appraisers, inspectors and other professionals to assist in the home selling process, all of which a real estate agent can assist with.

Consider staging or other cosmetic improvements. Although not necessary in all markets or price ranges, home staging can be the difference in getting a home sold in a price-competitive market. An inherited property may not be furnished in the style of other local homes on the market selling at a similar price. A real estate agent can help determine whether or not home staging is a good fit for a specific situation. They may also suggest making home design improvements such as repainting rooms and/or landscaping the yard or other parts of the property. Make sure the lawn and landscaping look good and that the exterior of the house is in good condition. Low curb appeal can keep potential buyers from researching a home they may otherwise love. Perhaps most importantly, having an experienced real estate agent to answer questions quickly and accurately frees up time to devote to other activities and events.

Help! My Home Isn’t Selling

Help! My Home Isn’t Selling

You listed your home for sale, but the home isn’t selling! Learn the simple things you can do to sell your home faster with Coldwell Banker real estate agents.
You listed your home for sale with high hopes. You love your property and you felt certain that it would sell in a reasonable amount of time. But it’s been several months since you listed your home.

You’ve had some interests and several showings. You’ve received a few lowball offers. Maybe you’ve even experienced the emotional turmoil of watching a contract fall apart. Regardless of the details, one fact is clear: your property is very much still for sale.

What went wrong? What can you do? Here are 8 effective tips to facilitate a faster sale.

Depersonalize
If your house has been on the market for six weeks or more without so much as a nibble of interest, it’s time to take a hard look at what might be putting buyers off.

If buyers can’t imagine themselves living in a home, they’ll be reluctant to make an offer.

To make your home appealing, pack away all of your family pictures, child artwork, and mementos. Paint your walls a neutral color like beige, cream or white. Pack away any polarizing or controversial pieces of artwork or decor. Depersonalize and try to make your home look like a model home.

Declutter
Buyers like to see clean, wide-open living spaces. If you have physical or visual clutter in the room, you’re sending a message to the buyer that you don’t have enough storage space.

Don’t send that message. Instead, get those moving boxes and start packing. You may not have a contract yet, but if you minimize your possessions and declutter the space, you’ll make the rooms look larger and create the impression of having tons of storage space.

Remove Evidence of Pets
We love our four-legged friends, but their food and water dishes, crates, and even just hair on the carpet can be a big turn-off to buyers who don’t like animals.

If you know that someone is coming to look at your home, put the food dishes away, store the crate in the garage or outside, and make sure to remove all signs of pet fur and dander.

Freshen Up the Space
Don’t let buyers turn up their nose at your home. Smell is the first thing potential buyers notice when they walk into a house.

Clean your home to get rid of any dusty or musty smells. If the weather is nice, open the windows to let your home air out. Install all-natural room fresheners or light scented candles in discreet places like the bathroom closet, laundry room, and garage. Choose a neutral and natural scent, like vanilla, rather than a pungent floral scent.

You could also consider investing an essential oil diffuser to leave running during home showings. Sage, lemon, lavender, and cinnamon are all subtle, relaxing, and inviting scents that help brighten your living space.

Work on Curb Appeal
Some buyers won’t even step into your home if they don’t think the property has curb appeal. Clean the windows and make sure that there are no visible cobwebs. Mow your yard and trim the edges, prune the bushes, plant fresh flowers, and spruce up your shutters by giving them a fresh coat of paint. You may even want to install a new mailbox and outdoor light fixtures.

Consider an Affordable Mini-Renovation
Not everyone likes a fixer-upper. Stained carpets and less than appealing paint colors may look like dollars needed for (and the hassle of) renovation in the buyer’s eyes.

Small renovations may lead to big payoff. Consider painting the walls a neutral color, installing a smart thermostat, replacing hardware and fixtures and other fairly inexpensive changes that will take away the label of a fixer-upper.

Stage Like an Expert
You’ve depersonalized, decluttered, renovated, and worked on curb appeal. Now it’s time to stage your home like a pro.

Place brand new, neatly folded towels and candles in the bathroom. Place a decorative bowl filled with bright red or green apples, lemons, or limes in the kitchen. Fill a clear glass cookie jar with fresh cookies on the kitchen counter.

Ask Your Agent About Pricing
If your home isn’t selling after you’ve done everything above, it’s time to talk to your real estate agent about adjusting the price.

This is where your agent’s knowledge of your market and the amenities of your home come into play. If your home is priced competitively, buyers will feel like they’re getting a great deal. A $5,000-$10,000 reduction may be all it takes to motivate the right buyer.

Make Your Home More Accessible
Make your home available for showings. If you limit your home to pre-scheduled viewings, you’re definitely not going to be able to sell as quickly. If you’re flexible with when you allow buyers to come see your property, you’ll have a better chance of getting more foot traffic and more potential buyers into your home.

How Much Is Mortgage Insurance and How Long Do I Have to Pay It?

How Much Is Mortgage Insurance and How Long Do I Have to Pay It?

Learn how mortgage insurance works and the options you have.

If you bought a home with a down payment that is less than 20% of the purchase price, or if you refinanced with less than 20% equity, your lender will require you to purchase mortgage insurance.

It’s important to note that not all loan programs will offer the same terms. That’s why it’s smart to contact your agent when looking to find the right loan for you. A savvy agent can help you navigate the often confusing world of finance as they work with a wide range of professionals who can help.

Is There Only One Kind of Mortgage Insurance?

All mortgage insurance serves the same purpose-to protect your lender should you default on your mortgage. However, different loan types use different terminology for mortgage insurance.

– FHA – MIP (mortgage insurance premium)
– VA – no mortgage insurance required
– Conventional – PMI (private mortgage insurance)
– USDA – MI (mortgage insurance)

How Much Is It?

Your premium is determined by the lender and will depend on two things: your loan to value ratio and your credit score. So for example, someone with a credit score below 700 who puts down only 5%, will pay a higher premium than someone with a credit score of 760 who puts down 15%.

Conventional loans: 0.20% to 1.50%

FHA loans : Upfront premium often added to loan amount has two payments. 1.75% of loan amount + annual premium (paid monthly) 0.7% to 1.3%

USDA loans : Upfront premium of 2.75%, based on loan size, added to loan balance + .50% annual fee based on remaining principal balance

How Do I Pay It?

There are several options you have to pay mortgage insurance.

Monthly. This is the most common type of mortgage insurance payment. The premium will be calculated into your monthly payment. The lender will then pay the premium annually on your behalf. So for example, let’s say you’re purchasing a $200,000 home and have put down 10%. The PMI at a 1% rate would be $1,800 per year, $150 monthly.

One-time payment. If you prefer to keep your monthly payments as low as you can a single payment might be the way to go. Typically, this kind of premium will range from 1% to 2% of the loan amount, so taking the same example above, you would be paying anywhere from $1,800 to $3,600 at the time of closing to cover your mortgage insurance premiums. The lender might also let you roll the premium into your loan so that it will be financed over the life of the loan rather than annually.

Lender paid premium. Some lenders will pay the mortgage insurance if you agree to pay a higher interest rate. This keeps your monthly payments lower than if you had to pay a monthly PMI premium, however keep in mind that you will be paying this higher interest rate until you either refinance or pay off the loan.

How Do I Get Rid of PMI?

For conventional loans you must have at least 20% equity in the home. When you have paid the mortgage balance down to 80% of the home’s original appraised value, you can ask your lender to drop the mortgage insurance.

When your loan balance drops to 78% the mortgage servicer is required to eliminate the mortgage insurance.

FHA loans, however are dealt with differently.

For FHA loans with MIP (mortgage insurance premium) that originated before June, 2013, mortgage insurance cancels when the loan to value gets to 78% and 5 years have passed since the loan was created. FHA loans taken out after this date will pay mortgage insurance for as long as the loan is in place.

So as you can see, in some cases the best way to get out of paying mortgage insurance on an FHA loan is to simply refinance. USDA loans also have mortgage insurance for the life of the loan, so to get rid of mortgage insurance you would need to refinance.

Can I Get Out of PMI Early?

Get a new appraisal. Some lenders will consider a new appraisal instead of the one acquired at the time of purchase. If they agree with the appraisal – which typically costs from $300 to $500 – they might agree that you meet the 20% equity threshold and drop the PMI.

Make loan prepayments. Paying something as small as an extra $50 per month can drop your loan balance dramatically. There are a number of repayment calculators available online to help you find the best way to pay your loan down faster.

Remodel. Increase your home’s value by making improvements to your home. Not every change to your home will increase its value. Consult an agent about those changes you can make to your home before you get started.

How Do I Calculate My Equity?

Simply divide your current loan balance (how much you still owe) by the original appraised value (typically the same as the purchase price).

For example, let’s say you purchased a home for $250,000 dollars and have paid the mortgage down until it has a balance of $190,000. Your PMI should have been canceled by now, because you’re at less than 78% of original value.

Are There Any Other Requirements to Cancel?

Yes. You should request PMI cancellation in writing. You must be current on your payments and have a good payment history. You may be required to prove there are no other liens against the property. You might be required to get an appraisal to prove that the loan isn’t more than 80% of the home’s current value.

What if my Lender Doesn’t Agree to Drop It?

If your home has increased enough in value, you can refinance without paying mortgage insurance. Calculate the costs of refinancing to be sure it doesn’t cost more than if you were to simply keep paying the mortgage insurance.

Get more information on the home buying process by visiting coldwellbanker.com.