7 Handy Ways to Improve Your Home in 2018

If you let a lot of home improvement projects slip by without taking action in 2017, take heart. 2018 is here! You’ve now got an entire year to jump on those big household tasks. It’s time to seize the day, the month and the year.

Not sure what to put next on your to-do list, or do you even have a list at all? Take a look at this list for inspiration along with a selection of How To articles. Gathered here are everything from quick tweaks like setting your thermostat just right to big jobs like switching locks, doorbells and light switches.

We’ve even got downright messy but critical assignments such as cleaning dryer vents and gas cooktops. There’s bound to be a must-do task below for you, no matter how skilled or experienced you are.

nest_thermostat

1. Set your Nest right

Dive a little deeper into your Nest thermostat settings. You’ll be able to issue it voice commands though Alexa or the Google Assistant. Other tips are how to have it control humidity, work to save you money, and make it stop acting crazy when it’s on automatic.

Read: 5 tips for your new Nest Thermostat

2. Make multimeters your friend

If you have no clue what a multimeter is or you own one that’s gathering dust, this guide is for you. We take a quick look at how multimeters are versatile, flexible home DIY tools every homeowner should have.

3. Tend to your gas cooktop

Cooktops, stoves and ranges need regular attention and TLC. If they don’t get it, they won’t serve you well. Treat them right by keeping them spic and span, with all burners ready for action. Both you and your house guests will appreciate the sparkling new look of your tidy appliance, too.

Read: How to clean your gas cooktop with just a few supplies

4. Goodbye, blah light switches

Don’t hang onto old, boring light switches just because they happen to be three-way. Use this guide to help you overcome your fear. With a little care and caution, you’ll be swapping in fancy new dimmers in no time.

5. Ditch the keys for convenience

Physical keys are so medieval. Your front door should rock a sleek, electronic lock like it’s 2018. These gadgets are flexible, motorized, and look great. Take a gander for yourself and see just what we mean.

6. See who’s there from anywhere

Know who’s at your doorstep before they press the buzzer. Find out if anyone has their paws on your packages. A sweet video doorbell can help with all those things. Read on to learn how to hook one up yourself in a flash.

7. Don’t neglect that dryer vent

As the saying goes, it’s a dirty job but someone has to do it. I’m talking about your home’s dryer vent. If you don’t take time to clear it out every year, it can quickly become a dangerous fire risk. Bite the bullet with this deep dive into dryer vent hygiene.

Read: How to deep clean your dryer duct in 5 steps

YOUR TURN

How are you making home improvement a priority in 2018? Sound off on the Patrick Parker Realty Facebook Page, on our Twitter or Instagram feeds or on LinkedIn. And don’t forget to subscribe to the monthly Patrick Parker Realty HOME ADVICEtm eNewsletter for articles, tips and guides like this delivered straight to your inbox. You may unsubscribe at any time.

5 ‘Must-Do’ Home Resolutions for January

Happy New Year! January is the month to take stock and plan ahead. That’s why these five “must-do” projects for January include everything from adopting some home-focused resolutions to storing holiday decorations and getting snow-ready.

NEW-YEARS-RESOLUTION-real-estate

1. Make ‘energy savings’ a resolution to keep

This year, as you make your New Year’s resolution to spend less, go on a diet, join a gym, learn a new skill or perhaps find more time for yourself, consider adding another goal for 2013 — putting your house on an energy diet.

Just like taxes and death, you can be sure that energy and utility costs will continue to take a bite out of your home operating budget. How big of a bite is within your control. That’s why it pays to do everything you can to keep your home as trim and fit as possible. After all, sometimes even a seemingly modest change in your home (or change in your personal habits) can make a dramatic difference over time.

For example, there’s been plenty written about energy-efficient light bulbs, but have you put that information into practice? If not, make it a goal this year. If every American home replaced just one incandescent light bulb with an Energy Star-certified variety, we would conserve enough energy to light 3 million homes for a year, save about $600 million in annual energy costs and prevent 9 billion pounds of greenhouse gas emissions per year (equivalent to the amount produced by about 800,000 cars), according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

RELATED: How To Hack Your Electric Bill

And if you’ve turned a deaf ear to that dripping faucet or runny toilet, you can be sure that your water company hasn’t. If you know that there’s a leak, fix it. It may require something as simple as tightening a valve or replacing a worn washer or ineffective flapper, all simple repairs you can take care of yourself. If the leak requires replacing the faucet or toilet altogether, call in a professional and choose a fixture bearing the WaterSense label. And the next time you flush, consider this: If everyone in the U.S. flushed the toilet just one time less per day, we could save the equivalent of a lake full of water about 1 square mile and 4 feet deep every day.

Looking for more ways to conserve and save this year? Seal those drafts, make sure your home is well-insulated, install low-flow shower heads and change furnace filters.

2. Pack up the holiday decorations

As fun as it is to unearth boxes of holiday decorations in November, there is nothing enjoyable about packing them all away again in January. Big-box stores will be happy to sell you bins and containers geared specifically toward holiday-related storage, but with a little planning and ingenuity, you can create your own DIY solutions that will work just as well. A piece of cardboard with slots at both ends is ideal for wrapping string lights, while those inexpensive, 6-ounce plastic party cups are the perfect individual holders for fragile ornaments. And if you have a real tree, consider bringing it to a treecycling location, where it will be chipped into mulch for beneficial use.

3. Get snow-ready

Take time now to make sure you are prepared for snow. Snow shovels, snow blowers, salt or sand should all be at the ready. If you haven’t fired up your snow blower since last winter, you might want to do so now.

RELATED: Tips For Showing Your Home In The Snow

Consider some routine maintenance like changing the oil; replacing frayed or cracked belts; tightening nuts, bolts, and screws; and lubricating drive and chassis. Also, watch for the formation of icicles along the eaves as snow begins to melt. They can create ice dams and serious damage to the roof if left unattended. A roof rake is a great way to pull the snow from the eaves to lessen the problem.

4. Employ some countertop TLC

Perhaps never before have there been so many enticing countertop options to fit every budget, decor and culinary need. But all countertops are not created equal. So what’s the best way to keep yours in peak condition? You can start with some pretty basic “do’s and don’ts,” such as cleaning often with a sponge or soft cloth and mild, non-abrasive detergent, or by practicing caution when using sharp knives and hot cookware. If you have granite or marble, be sure to use a good sealer, which will help prolong the life of the stone and provide a barrier of protection against staining. Wood countertops should be rubbed with tung, linseed or mineral oil anywhere from monthly to quarterly, depending on usage. The same mineral oil can be applied to soapstone to provide a protective coat and rich, dark color. For stained laminate, try a homemade paste of baking soda and water. For tips on caring for concrete, stainless steel, quartz, solid surfaces and ceramic tile, visit Countertop Care 101.

5. Make a better fire

While many of today’s homeowners opt for the convenience of a gas fireplace, the traditionalists among us may always prefer the smokey smell, crackling sound and tactile ritual of fire building. While there is an art to making a fire, it all begins with the right choice of wood. Every species has its own set of burning characteristics. Some species — oak, for example — offer a very slow burn and hot fire, while other species like fir provide medium heat with less ash. You’ll also want to make sure the wood you use is properly seasoned and stored in a well-ventilated outdoor area, protected from the elements.

YOUR TURN

What 2018 Home Resolutions have you made? We want to hear from you! Sound off on our Facebook Page or on our Instagram, Twitter or LinkedIn feeds. And don’t forget to subscribe to our monthly HOME ADVICEtm eNewsletter for articles like this delivered straight to your inbox. You may unsubscribe at any time.

Twelve Days of Holiday Safety Tips

Tips from the Red Cross

Having a busy time getting ready for the holidays? While you are shopping, baking, gift wrapping, decorating and going to parties, the American Red Cross has holiday safety tips to help keep the season safe, happy and bright.

• Prepare your vehicle for traveling to grandmother’s house. Build an emergency kit and include items such as blankets or sleeping bags, jumper cables, fire extinguisher, compass and road maps, shovel, tire repair kit and pump, extra clothing, flares, and a tow rope.

RELATED: How To Winterize Your Car

• Drive your sleigh and reindeer safely. Avoid driving in a storm. If you must travel, let someone know where you are going, the route you’re taking to get there, and when you expect to arrive. If the car gets stuck along the way, help can be sent along their predetermined route.

• Help prevent the spread of the flu. Stay home if you’re sick. Wash hands with soap and water as often as possible, or use an alcohol-based hand rub. Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue or sleeve when coughing or sneezing, and throw the tissue away after use. If a tissue isn’t available, cough or sneeze into your elbow, not your hands. Learn more about preventing the spread of the flu.

• Follow Santa’s fashion lead – dress in layers. When it’s cold outside, layered lightweight clothing will keep you warmer than a single heavy coat. Gloves and a hat will prevent loss of body heat. Cover your mouth to protect your lungs.

• Use a Red Cross-trained babysitter when attending holiday festivities. Red Cross-certified babysitters learn to administer basic first aid; properly hold and feed a child; take emergency action when needed and monitor safe play. Some may be certified in Infant and Child CPR.

• Avoid danger while roasting chestnuts on an open fire. Stay in the kitchen when frying, grilling or broiling food. If you leave the kitchen even for a short period of time, turn off the stove.

• Be a lifesaver during the holidays. The Red Cross recommends at least one person in every household should take first aid and CPR/AED training.

• Designate a driver or skip the holiday cheer. Buckle up, slow down, don’t drive impaired. If you plan on drinking, designate a driver who won’t drink.

• When the weather outside is frightful, heat your home safely. Never use your stove or oven to heat your home. Never leave portable heaters or fireplaces unattended. Install smoke alarms.

• Cut down on your heating bills without being a Grinch. Get your furnace cleaned and change the filters. Make sure your furniture isn’t blocking the heat vents. Close off any rooms not in use and turn off the heat in those rooms. Turn down the thermostat and put on a sweater.

• Home for the holidays? Travel safely. Check the air pressure in your tires and make sure you have windshield fluid. Be well rested and alert. Give your full attention to the road – avoid distractions such as cell phones. If you have car trouble, pull off the road as far as possible.

• (Bonus!) Resolve to Be Red Cross Ready in the New Year. Get ready now in case you or a member of your household faces an emergency in 2015. Get a kit. Make a plan. Be informed.

YOUR TURN

Have holiday safety tips to add to our list? Sound off on the Patrick Parker Realty Facebook Page or on our Twitter or Instagram Feeds. And don’t forget to subscribe to our monthly HOME ADVICEtm eNewsletter for articles like this one delivered straight to your inbox. You may unsubscribe at any time.

Power Outages: Be Prepared

Your electric service is generally very reliable; however, extreme weather conditions and other factors can lead to a temporary loss of power. To keep your family safe and comfortable during an outage or other emergency, it’s important to be prepared.

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Here are some tips:

• Create an emergency preparedness kit, including a flashlight, batteries, cash and first aid supplies.
• Maintain supplies of healthy and filling snacks that don’t require refrigeration, such as dried fruits, nuts and protein bars.
• Make sure you have alternative charging methods for your phone or any device that requires power.
• Purchase ice or freeze water-filled plastic containers to help keep food cold during a temporary power outage.
• Learn about the emergency plans established in your area by contacting your state or local emergency management agency.
• If you rely on anything that’s battery-operated or power dependent, such as a medical device, have a backup plan.
• Maintain backup generators according to manufacturers’ recommendations and store an adequate supply of fuel in a safe place.

During an outage, monitor local radio stations or online sources for reports about power restoration. Disconnect or switch off appliances and electronic equipment that were running when the power went out. Avoid opening refrigerators and freezers to save cold air and preserve food longer.

Staying safe

Follow these measures to ensure the safety of you and your family during and after an outage.

Generators. Operate backup generators safely by following manufacturer’s instructions. Don’t attempt to connect your generator to the electrical system; it can backfeed to outdoor utility lines and injure or kill utility service personnel. An automatic transfer switch—installed by a qualified electrician—will help to ensure safe operation.

Refrigerated foods. Discard any perishable items in your refrigerator or freezer that may not be safe to consume. A refrigerator keeps food at a safe temperature for up to four hours during a power outage if it remains closed. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends discarding foods such as meat, poultry and eggs if they’ve been above 40°F for more than two hours.

YOUR TURN

For more tips and resources, see Power Outages from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Like Patrick Parker Realty on Facebook and follow us on Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn. And don’t forget to subscribe to our monthly HOME ADVICE™ email newsletter for articles like this delivered straight to your inbox.

How to Remove Stripped Screws, Fill Nail Holes, and Other Home Hacks

Our homes are full of small, but mind-boggling challenges, such as: Is there a way to remove stripped screws? Or eliminate those water rings on your coffee table, or those divots where your table once sat on your carpet? If you’re looking for answers to common conundrums you might encounter, a new book can help: “Tidy Hacks: Handy Hints to Make Life Easier.”

Written by home hack expert Dan Marshall, this modern-day maintenance manual is geared to people who have no time for home maintenance. The fix-its that it recommends are insanely easy to accomplish. And since we’re all about making home management easier, check out a few of these genius tips below.

How to remove stripped screws

How to remove stripped screws

Can’t put in (or take out) a screw because that X-marked divot is too worn to turn with your screwdriver? Place a flat rubber band over the top of the screw head, and insert the screwdriver so it pins the rubber band in place. The rubber band will give you enough grip to remove the screw with ease.

How to shine shoes with a banana

The combination of the potassium found in bananas (which is also an ingredient of shoe polish) and the natural oils in a banana peel makes a great natural leather shoe polish. So, when your shoes need shining and you’re in a pinch with no shoe polish around, reach for the next best thing: a banana. Rub the inside of the peel on your shoes to buff away the scuff.

How to organize cleaning supplies

How to organize cleaning supplies

Get your cleaning supplies out of that awkward low cabinet under your sink. If you hang up a shoe organizer in an area that is easy to reach, like the back of your laundry-room door, you can store them handily, without turning yourself into a pretzel. The best part? Close the door, and you won’t have to look at the bleach and Windex until it’s time to start cleaning.

How to fill nail holes

How to fill nail holes

For many people, hanging a picture or a piece of art isn’t an exact science, and it often involves a certain amount of trial and error. If you happen to hammer a nail into the wrong spot on the wall, grab a crayon that matches the color of the paint and draw on the hole until it is filled. Wipe away any excess wax with a clean cloth.

How to get rid of a water ring

How to get rid of a water ring

How dare your guests ruin your beautiful wood table with their damp drinking glasses? Don’t lose your head, though, because you have this ingenious trick to remove the liquid stain. Turn a hairdryer on high heat and hold it close to the water mark. It will start to disappear before your eyes! Keep the heat on the ring until it’s completely gone.

How to get rid of dents in the carpet

How to get rid of dents in the carpet

Rearranging the furniture in your bedroom or living room can be an exciting way to reinvigorate your home decor, but a heavy table or armoire is sure to leave unsightly dents in your carpet. Believe it or not, the secret of getting rid of those dents is hiding in your freezer. Simply place ice cubes along the indents, leave them there until the ice has melted, and then vacuum over the area to fluff up the fibers.

YOUR TURN

Do you have any ingenious Home Hacks to add to our list? Sound of on the Patrick Parker Realty Facebook Page, or on our Twitter or LinkedIn feeds. And don’t forget to subscribe to our monthly HOME ADVICE email newsletter for articles like this delivered straight to your inbox. You may unsubscribe at any time.

 

 

How to Keep Your Home Cool in Summer Without AC

Ah, air conditioning. During the dog days of summer it’s easy to deem air conditioning as one of humankind’s greatest inventions. Unfortunately, it just so happens to be an energy-intensive one, which can lead to high energy bills. What’s more, many older homes don’t have central air installed, especially in more temperate regions. This may be fine when the thermostat only clocks in at 60, but it can be painful when it soars into the 90s or above.

Thankfully, there are plenty of energy-efficient ways to keep your home cool in the summertime without the help of AC.

Let’s take a look at just a few…

1. Shading Your Windows

One of the best things you can do to keep your house cool without even thinking about AC is shading your windows. There are a number of ways to do this.

Roof overhangs and awnings. A roof overhang is a type of roof that extends further than a typical roof, providing shade for the part of the house it covers. An awning provides a similar function, and can be added to any window, whether on the first floor or second, even after a roof has been installed. For maximum cooling, you’ll want to invest in protecting your western and southern windows from light, as this is where they’ll prove most necessary and effective. However, if you’d like to benefit from passive warming in the winter, overhangs and awnings are likely too permanent of a solution. Instead, you’d be better shading your windows with one of the removable and retractable options below.

Automated blinds. A good pair of thick blinds can do wonders when it comes to keeping your house cool, especially if you keep them closed during the warmest parts of the day. Due to their construction, honeycomb blinds in particular can be effective at absorbing heat, but any thick blind will do. An automated pair of blinds that open and close on a schedule and that can be controlled from afar can help you maximize cooling throughout the day when you’re gone. Whatever kind of blinds you choose, these are a good solution for southern facing windows since they can be raised in the winter when you might need warmth.

Other window treatment options. Of course, there are many other kinds of window treatments that are great at blocking out light. Shades are particularly effective if mounted closest to the window to reduce heat gain. Medium-colored drapes with a plastic backing can reduce solar gain by as much as 33%. Pro tip: dip your drapes in water or wash them the night before and let them dry as they hang for even more cooling. Tightly woven bamboo screens, whether placed inside or outside of a window, can also prevent as much as 80% of solar heat from passing through the window.

Trees. Planting trees around your house — but not so close that they become a fire hazard — is a beautiful and natural way to shade your windows. Again, don’t do this on the south facing side if you’d like passive heat in the winter. Opt for a variety that’s known for its shading, like a species of maple or river birch.

RELATED: How to Hack Your Electric Bill

2. Insulate Your Home Well

We often think of insulation when it comes to keeping our houses warm, but it’s just as important in keeping the house cool. You’ll want to insulate ducts to prevent any leakage, as well as your attic and walls. Spray foam, rigid foam boards, and batt insulation are all effective at regulating your house’s temperature.

RELATED: Green Your Home

On a similar note, if you are currently designing or remodeling your home, now is the time to choose materials that have a high thermal mass, which means that they store heat. Such materials include brick, cement, rammed earth, stone, and ceramic tiles. If you’ve got a finished home, even covering a wall that receives a large amount of sunlight with a material like brick can help to absorb heat.

3. Install and Use Fans Strategically

Fans are an effective and cheap way to move air around your home, but that won’t do you much good if you’re just circulating hot air. Placing a fan in a window will allow you to suck cool air in at night. In corner rooms, placing another fan in the opposite direction will pull hot air out of your house, while that cooler air is sucked in through the opposite window.

Ceiling fans placed throughout the house can work great, especially if they’re made to spin counterclockwise to create a wind-chill breeze effect. And if your house has a cool basement, a ventilator fan will push that cold air up into your house.

4. Say Goodbye to Incandescent Lights

Incandescent lights are known for being energy inefficient, but did you know how they waste so much energy? By giving off heat, of course! In fact, they lose about 90% of their energy that way. Opting for more energy efficient choices like compact fluorescent bulbs for lamps and overhead lighting and LED bulbs for under cabinet kitchen lighting will save you on your lighting bills and keep your house cool at the same time.

As you can see, there are many excellent, energy efficient ways to keep your house cool without even having to glance at the price tag on an air conditioning unit. Of course, your best strategy is to use a combination of these techniques together for maximum effectiveness. So ditch the ice pack this summer, and make your house the coolest on the block.

YOUR TURN

Do you have tips to add to our list? Sound off on the Patrick Parker Realty Facebook Page, on our Twitter or LinkedIn feeds or on Instagram. And don’t forget to subscribe to our monthly HOME ADVICE email newsletter for articles like this delivered straight to your inbox. You may unsubscribe at any time.

5 Crucial Questions Home Buyers Should Ask Sellers Before Moving In

Moving into a home you’ve just bought is exciting—and sometimes exasperating. That’s because, although you might love your new place, you don’t know it all that well—which means that sooner or later, you’re bound to end up in a situation where you’re floundering cluelessly with the circuit breaker, or petting a neighbor’s seemingly adorable Pomeranian who nearly nips off a finger. Home, sweet home, right?

Yet you’d be surprised by how many of these unfortunate surprises home buyers can circumvent merely by asking the person who sold them the home some pointed questions before moving in. Sure, you’ll also be soaking up intel from the seller’s disclosure agreement, the home inspector who gave a thumbs-up to the place, and eventually even the neighbors. But truth be told, there’s nothing better than hearing about a home straight from someone who’s been living there for umpteen years. So go ahead and ask!

FREE DOWNLOAD: The Ultimate Home Buyers Guide

Just keep in mind that some sellers might feel tight-lipped if they think your questions might jeopardize the sale. As such, many of these questions are best asked near the end of the process—like during your walk-through or at closing.

1. Are there any special quirks about the house?

A thorough inspector will point out any oddities that are unsafe or devalue the house, but only someone who’s lived there will have a handle on all the unique characteristics worth mentioning—light switches in unexpected places, doors and windows that stick up or down, poltergeists, you name it. This question is most effectively asked during the final walk-through.

RECOMMENDED: ‘I’m wondering if you can tell me anything I might need to anticipate moving forward?’ Be subtle but persistent.

2. Have you had any past problems with the house that you’ve fixed?

True, sellers are often required to disclose most existing problems or issues related to the home. But what about past problems that have since been repaired?

RECOMMENDED: ‘I’ve read the disclosure statement. Is there anything else that has happened or that you’ve done that would be helpful to know?’ Use the disclosure as a jumping-off point to learn about what’s not listed.

3. Where are the water shut-off valve, sump pump, circuit box, and more?

Hopefully, the home inspector will locate all of these things and point them out to the new buyer as part of educating them about their new house, But not all inspectors do. So these are some important safety questions.

Ask the seller to show you not only the location of these valves, switches, and pumps, but also how they work. If you’re moving into an older home, chances are that many of the utility features will be unique in their operations, so rather than fumble around blindly, it’s a no-brainer to lean on the seller.

4. How is the neighborhood?

This is a great question to help establish rapport between buyer and seller, and is also best asked near the end of the buying process.

RECOMMENDED: ‘Tell me about the neighborhood.’ Keep it light.

Often the good, the bad, and the ugly will tumble out if approached conversationally. While you’re at it, if you’re new to the area, consider asking the seller for recommendations for everything from grocery stores to their favorite restaurants.

5. Is there anything you want to leave behind?

This one doesn’t so much help you get to know your home, but it might result in a few nice bonuses. It’s worth a shot to see if the seller is willing to part with large items he or she might not want to bother moving.

Most things that are being left, such as appliances, are dealt with in the original contract, but as it gets closer to closing, sellers are often wanting to unload some other things too. You might get lucky and wind up with something great.

YOUR TURN

Are you a recent homebuyer? Do you have questions you wished you asked? Let us know on the Patrick Parker Realty Facebook Page or on our Twitter, LinkedIn or Instagram Feeds. And don’t forget to subscribe to our monthly HOME ADVICE email newsletter  for articles like this delivered straight to your inbox. You may unsubscribe at any time.

9 Decluttering Projects You Can Do in 30 Minutes or Less

Facing a cluttered space can feel disheartening – who has the time (or frankly, the desire) to spend all day clearing clutter? But the thing is, making progress toward a clean, clutter-free space doesn’t have to be something you devote an entire day to. Instead, by carving out bite-size chunks of time to work on clearly defined tasks, you can get the serene space you deserve in a way that also works with your schedule.

Here are 9 quick ways to get started:

1. Edit one bookcase.
If you have a large book collection spread throughout the house, sorting through all those books at once may not be practical. So start with something more doable instead – like one bookcase. Keep an empty box or shopping bag by your side, and fill it with books you no longer want or need. When you’re done, immediately carry the bag (or bags) to your car and make a plan to drop them off to donate or sell.

2. Clear the kitchen counter.
The kitchen counter is such a common dumping ground for all sorts of stuff: school notices, rubber bands, shopping bags, receipts, to-do lists and on and on. Set your timer and get to work – recycle unneeded papers and put away items that belong elsewhere. If you need a drop-spot on the counter, make it a clearly defined zone to prevent clutter sprawl in the future: Try a bowl for pocket change and a tray or basket for mail.

kitchen-under-sink-organization

3. Make space under the kitchen sink.
When was the last time you really looked under your kitchen sink? This area tends to become a storehouse for random cleaning products, plastic bags and jumbled tools. First, pull everything out and give the cupboard itself a cleaning. Next, replace only the items that you actually use, that are full and in good condition. Recycle empty containers, bring bags to a plastic bag recycling drop-off (available at many markets) and move less-often used tools elsewhere. Consider bins, rods and baskets when reorganizing your now clutter-free space.

4. Make your bedside table an oasis of calm.
Why make a cluttered nightstand the last thing you see before bed and the first thing you lay eyes on in the morning? Clear away the toppling piles of books, scribbled notes and old water glasses, and wipe away the coffee rings. Replace only your current reading, a journal and pen, and perhaps a candle or a small vase with flowers.

5. Winnow your wardrobe, one drawer at a time.
Rather than attempting to tackle your entire closet in one go, set your timer for 30 minutes and start with a single drawer. Keep working your way through your clothes, one drawer at a time, until the timer goes off. Keep two empty bags or bins by your side as you sort, placing quality clothes in good repair in one bag to sell (or donate), and worn-out clothes in the other bag (drop these in a textile recycling bin).

6. Simplify the linen closet.
Do you know how many sets of sheets and towels you own? If you’ve been accumulating linens for years without purging the old ones, chances are your linen closet is full – or overstuffed. Take this 30-minute session to sort out your household linens, pulling your least favorite (or most frayed) sets to bring to a textile recycling bin or a charitable donation center. If you hope to donate your old linens, be sure to check with the donation center first, because guidelines on acceptable donations can vary widely.

7. Sort out the toy chest.
Half an hour isn’t nearly enough time to go through a child’s entire room, but it should be adequate for clearing out one particularly messy toy chest or bin. First, remove all the toys to an area where you have some room to spread out. Put toys that obviously belong elsewhere back in the right spot (for example, return stray pieces to the puzzle box) and toss or set aside broken items for repair. Fill a bag with unloved toys and put this immediately in the car – otherwise, the toys are likely to migrate out of the give-away-or-sell bag and back into the toy chest!

8. Remove worn and outgrown children’s clothes.
Working through one drawer, shelf or hanging rack at a time, pull out any of your child’s clothes that are too small, or too damaged, to wear. If you plan to save items for a younger child, neatly fold them and place in a bin labeled with the size (for example, 2T) in a storage closet. Place any clothing that is too worn or damaged to keep or sell in a bag destined for your closest textile recycling bin.

9. Clear your desktop.
The next time you find yourself procrastinating instead of getting your work done, step away from aimless social media scrolling, and set the timer for a desk-centered clutter-blasting session instead. Sort and file important papers, shred and recycle unneeded documents, test the pens in your pen cup, and clear out the drawers.

YOUR TURN

What would you declutter in 30 minutes or less? Sound off on the Patrick Parker Realty Facebook Page or on our Twitter or LinkedIn feeds.  And don’t forget to subscribe to our monthly HOME ADVICEtm email newsletter for articles like this delivered straight to your inbox.  You may unsubscribe at any time.

Don’t Be Gross, and 6 Other Things Your Housecleaner Wishes You Knew

Hate cleaning your house? No one could blame you: There’s precious little fun in scrubbing toilets. Or wiping down grime-streaked windows to the point where your elbows are sore for weeks. And you probably cringe when you think about your living room’s floor-to-ceiling built-in shelves, whose upper levels haven’t seen a dust rag since Tony Soprano faded abruptly to black.

Enter the humble housecleaner—here to save you from yourself! You can hand over your most hated tasks and wash your hands of cleaning.

But if you’re hiring a housecleaner to do the hard work, don’t make the job even harder. Following these insider tips will not only help ensure your status as a decent human being, they can also help you save some cash.

maid-service-monmouth-county

Here are seven tips for keeping your cleaning from turning into a dust-up:

1. Precleaning will save you money

If you’re anything like us, you probably do a little precleaning for your housecleaner. And then, if you’re like us, you wonder how much of that is truly necessary—after all, that’s what the housecleaner is there for, right?

Here’s the deal: You should do whatever you can to help them help you. No, you don’t need to bust out the Clorox, the Shark vacuum, and the Miracle Mop, but you should tackle those dirty dishes, throw out the takeout containers, and pick up that pile of clothes. If you don’t, you may find that your wallet’s been cleaned out, too.

Think it all comes out in the wash? Let us do the math for you: If your housecleaner charges you $30 per hour (the average rate) to clean, then a half-hour spent decluttering will cost you an extra $15—or $390 for a year’s worth of twice-a-month cleanings. Instead, straighten up the night before and save that cash for something else.

2. Give specific directions

Unless you’re ordering a top-to-bottom scrubbing every week, your cleaners need direction. Is the bathroom looking a little grungy? Ask them to spend extra time on the shower. Request extra attention to your baseboards. Sic them on your son’s room, now that he’s finally off to college.

Professionals say, iIf they don’t offer full instructions, there’s a chance you’ll be disappointed. And they don’t want that.

If you’re new to the world of professional housecleaning, you might not know exactly what your home needs most. Most maid services will happily stop by for a consultation so you can learn exactly how dirty you are.

3. Deal with your pets, please

Your dog runs in terror when you turn on your Dyson, so why would you leave it home alone when all the floors are getting vacuumed? Not all pups need to be taken to daycare during housecleaning, but if you already know your pet hates strangers or loud noises, try to quarantine the dog to their happy, comfy place.

Aggressive pets are a bit of a different story. It can also mean your house doesn’t get cleaned to your satisfaction. Housecleaners aren’t expected to sacrifice their own safety to clean your home, and if they’re faced with an angry animal, they might have to bail.

4. If you wouldn’t touch it, they won’t either

Yes, housecleaners will scrub away that nasty buildup around the bottom of your toilet seat. But they also have a limit: They won’t pick up your dog’s poop.

Housecleaners are not expected to handle any waste above the usual cleaning of the bathroom or the toilet.

5. Allot the proper amount of cleaning time

Don’t feel ashamed if your house is in dire straits. Life happens. Work picks up, a kid or two comes along, and suddenly you have no time for more than the bare minimum. Cleaners (probably) won’t judge you – but you should expect the job to take a bit longer.

Be honest with your housecleaners about the home’s current state so they can allocate enough time on their schedule.

6. Use an insured cleaning service

Housecleaners can’t avoid touching your most valuable belongings – Grandma’s heirloom teapot needs dusting, too. But sometimes accidents happen.

The best way to ensure the safety of your precious possessions is by selecting an insured cleaning service. It’ll have provisions in place to quickly rectify the situation.

Reputable services will want to take responsibility for any damage or accidents.

But it’s your responsibility to make sure things are in line and prepared for your housecleaner’s visit. That includes removing any truly priceless valuables – and making sure your home (however dirty) is a welcoming environment.

7. You’re not entirely off the hook

Hiring a housecleaning service doesn’t mean you can skip all of the cleaning. Well, sure: You probably can, if you’re willing to pay for the service to do the basics every time it comes by. But if you want to cut costs, make sure you try to keep up your home’s appearance in between cleanings.

Minor maintenance can be the difference between three or five hours every two weeks! Simple DIY tasks include wiping down the front of the cabinets after cooking, squeegeeing the shower, and sweeping the kitchen floor. Integrating them into your day-to-day routine can save you a few bucks on your bill.

YOUR TURN

Do you use a housecleaner regularly? What kind of advice can you offer to get the biggest bang for your buck? Housecleaner nightmare stories? What happened and what warnings can you share? Sound off on the Patrick Parker Realty Facebook Page, on our Twitter feed or on LinkedIn. And don’t forget to subscribe to the monthly Patrick Parker Realty HOME ADVICE eNewsletter for articles, tips and guides like this delivered straight to your inbox.

27 New Year’s Resolutions for Homeowners

Heading into a new year, we feel an obligation to make resolutions.

Personal resolutions can be motivating, exciting or just plain silly. This year I will… eat healthier, save money, run the Long Branch 5K, learn to surf in Monmouth Beach, do the Asbury Park Polar Bear Plunge.

As a homeowner, resolutions can also be empowering. Some are mission-critical for a solid financial year, others maybe fall in the wish list.

homeowners-new-years-resolutions

Need ideas?  This list should get you started:

1. “Lose weight.”
Losing the weight of excess possessions save time (you know, like looking everywhere for your shoes in a cluttered bedroom), money (where did I put that bill?) and your mind (psychologists agree that clutter and stress go hand-in-hand).

2. Get organized.
The logical next step to decluttering is to find a logical place for what’s left.

Need inspiration? Walk through a home storage store or get yourself on Pinterest for some seriously clever organizational ideas.

RELATED: 7 Clever Weighs to Hide Things in Plain Sight

3. Save energy.
Saving energy is good for the planet and it’s also great for your pocketbook. EnergyStar appliances are just the start.

• LED bulbs are much more efficient and now come in warmer tones and dimmable options for a more homey feel. Use a lighting calculator to measure energy and cost savings.
• Water heaters expend energy storing hot water. The Department of Energy says tankless water heaters are 8 percent to 34 percent more energy efficient than standard water heaters, depending on usage.
• Going solar no longer has to be ugly roof additions. Have you seen the new Tesla solar tiles?

Saving on energy can even have some great tax implications! Check out our article on the best energy enhancements for optimal tax write-offs.

4. Build green.
Going green is more than energy usage. It’s also about sustainability and healthful choices in finishes.

• Change out laminates and carpets for natural hard surfaces.
• Remove asbestos (with a professional).
• Use sustainable and recycled materials like bamboo, cork and Vetrazzo.
• Need to paint? Go with a low- or no-VOC non-toxic paint.
• If you’re texturizing a wall, try Earth plaster instead of gypsum.

5. Get healthy.
Create a workout space, so there’s no excuse when the weather turns. If you’re looking to move, check out neighborhoods with nearby trails, fitness centers and amenities.

RELATED: How to Choose the Perfect Neighborhood for you and your Family

6. Just fix it.
You’ve walked by that broken switch plate how many times?

Go through the house like a home inspector and create a checklist of repairs that need to be done. When it comes time to sell and appraise your house, you’ll be glad these were done.

RELATED: The Benefit of An Advance Home Inspection

7. Set yourself (debt) free.
Those who carry debt and struggle to pay it off are twice as likely to develop mental health problems, according to a study by John Gathergood of the University of Nottingham.

Paying off debt sets you free in so many ways, plus it’s great for your credit score. Think of all the things you could do in the future with the money you save on payments and interest (maybe even pay off your home early — see #20).

8. Remodel right.
Is it time to update a dated bathroom? Replace the garage door?

If you’re wondering what improvements will lead to a better return on investment when you sell, check out our article on which home renovations offer the greatest return on investment. Our Agent’s can also tell you what improvements are best for your neighborhood and house type.

9. Maximize your mortgage.
A recent Zillow study showed that Americans spent more time researching a car purchase than their home loan. Since the Fed announced that it’s planning three rate hikes in 2017, it’s wise to refi sooner than later.

Have you reached the loan-to-value needed to remove your mortgage insurance? Make an appointment to talk to a lender for a mortgage checkup.

10. Learn to DIY.
The more minor fixes (and if you’re really skilled, major fixes) you can do yourself, the more money you save.

Thanks to YouTube, there are a lot of great how-tos. Other great sites include Instructables, How Stuff Works, Do It Yourself and myriad home improvement shows/channels.

11. Plan to maintain.
Create a maintenance calendar to remember those routine maintenance tasks, such as replacing furnace air filters, changing smoke detector batteries and winterizing sprinklers.

Whether it’s a paper calendar or your iCal on your phone, plan out scheduled maintenance so you won’t hear that relentless beeping of the smoke detector in the middle of the night — or run out of propane before the steaks are done (tragedy!).

12. Invest.
Is this the year to buy a rental property? Or a vacation home?

This will really require you to understand your financial situation, so talk to your financial advisor and an Agent who understands investment properties.

13. Take an inventory.
That new flat screen television and 360 viewer you got for Christmas are going to need coverage. If disaster happens, do you really know what’s in your house?

At minimum, make a list and save it on the cloud. Sites like Know Your Stuff and DocuHome help you document items in a room by tagging pics.

14. Do the double check.
The Insurance Information Institute says a standard policy covers the structure and possessions against fire, hurricanes, wind, hail, lightning, theft and vandalism.

Most other disasters are add-ons. Talk to your insurance agent and make sure you have not only enough property coverage but also enough liability coverage.

15. Get a “CLUE”.
Your homeowners’ insurance premiums are dependent on a number of factors, such as credit score and the Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange (CLUE) report of claim history.

You can request a free report from LexisNexis.

16. Make your neighborhood better.
Get involved with your local HOA, neighborhood watch or community events. The first step to a better neighborhood is your personal involvement.

For news, information about issues that effect your community and to keep in touch with your neighbors; you can also join the Community Facebook Pages and Group we maintain. Like the Bradley Beach, New Jersey Facebook Page or join the Groups for Bradley Beach, NJ Residents, Ocean Township, NJ Residents or our Jersey Shore and Monmouth County Lifestyle Group.

17. Save water.
Dry climate areas struggle for water in dense population centers. Watering restrictions can turn your grass brown and overuse can cost you with tiered billing. Even the New Jersey climates experience seasonal droughts or below average reservoir levels.

Xeriscape what you can outside and look for indoor appliances that use less water. If you live in a state with conservation legislation, get those regulators on your shower heads and hoses.

18. Get dirty.
Landscaping is essential to curb appeal. So this year, really plan to keep up with it or think about going to a more easy-care style.

RELATED: Enhance the Value of Your Home with Landscaping

Out back, consider a garden to save money on better produce. Get a composter for garden and food waste.

19. Plan for emergencies.
Natural disasters and social disruptions are unwanted, but they happen. To be ready, you actually need to prepare!

Do you have a family evacuation plan? Emergency supplies? Go to ready.gov for a ton of ideas on prevention and disaster preparedness.

20. Get smart.
Smart home features make your home more efficient and easy to use, even remotely. Look for these to be the “wow” factor that could make your house stand out. Who doesn’t love Alexa-enabled appliances?

RELATED: Increasing the Value of Your Home with These Most Popular Smart Home Accessories

21. Make extra mortgage payments.
You can take thousands of dollars and years off your mortgage by putting an extra amount towards the principal each month. For a $400,000 at 4.25 percent interest with 25 of its 30 years left, you could save $21,107 and take two years off by paying an extra $100 per month.

RELATED: How To Pay Your Mortgage Off Early

What could you save? Try Bankrate’s handy extra payment calculator.

22. Pay off your second mortgage.
Whether it’s a one- or multiple-year plan, it won’t happen if you don’t budget for it.

23. Scrutinize your property tax.
If you live in an area where your home value has dropped since the last assessment, you need to really look at that bill.

Is the assessment correct? Is it going up faster than the sale prices of comparable homes? You can appeal via your local appraisal review board.

24. Optimize your withholding.
If you’re a first-time homeowner, you’re going to enjoy those new deductions. Be sure to talk to your tax advisor about adjusting your paycheck withholding accordingly (unless you like Uncle Sam making money off your income instead of you!).

RELATED: Check Out Patrick Parker Realty’s Annual Tax Season Blog Series Articles and Resources

25. Pay bills, especially your mortgage, on time.
It goes a long way to improving your credit. “The longer bills are paid on time, the higher the FICO Score should rise,” says myFICO. “That’s because as recent “good payment” patterns appear on a credit report, the impact of past credit problems on a FICO Score fade.”

26. Cook dinner.
You know that fabulous kitchen you had to have when you bought your home? Use it!

The USDA’s 2016-17 Food Price Outlook shows the price of groceries decreased in 2016, with a less than 1.5 percent increase in 2017, but restaurants will continue to climb beyond 2016’s 2.4 percent increase.

You’ll also eat healthier at home by controlling what goes into your body. If you own a home with a less-than-stellar kitchen, cooking will probably motivate you to make some appliance and feature upgrades that will pay off when you sell.

27. Get hip.
Dated cabinets and 1980s fixtures don’t help your resale value. Evaluate your style and start looking at upcoming (not past) trends.

Although we’re still in a “sellers’ market” that will likely change in the next few years. A modern home (unless it’s a historic property) is simply more appealing and makes the buyer feel like it’s move-in ready.

YOUR TURN

Your house is your biggest asset. While not all of these resolutions are essential, aim to start out by focusing on your mortgage and personal finances. What do you have to add? Where might you start? Sound off on the Patrick Parker Realty Facebook Page, on our Twitter or LinkedIn feeds. And don’t forget to sign up for our monthly HOME ADVICE eNewsletter for articles like this one delivered straight to your inbox.

Here’s to a healthier, happier and successful New Year!


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