7 Handy Ways to Smarten Up Your Home this Fall

If you let a lot of home improvement projects slip by this summer without taking action, take heart. Fall is here! You’ve now got an entire season to jump on household tasks when the weather is right and in advance of the holidays.

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.

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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.

8 Maintenance Tasks All Homeowners Should Do Once a Year

 

You have the basics of homeownership maintenance down. You change the ceiling blade direction every summer and winter, you scrub the inside and outside of your windows each spring, and you remove every drop of water from your sprinkler system before the first frost.

But are you sure you’re getting everything done?

These eight annual maintenance to-dos are easily forgotten—but checking them off once per year can save you some major headaches, heartaches—and money!

 

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1. Salt your water softener

You’ll need to take a trip to your local home maintenance store for this project. If your water heater features a rad built-in water softener, skipping regular maintenance can cause irreversible damage.

Let’s say you’ve purchased a home with a 2-year-old hot water heater. Pretty new, right? Well, if the previous owner skipped salting the softener, letting mineral build up inside the unit, it will sound like a rock tumbler.

Should that happen, a few intense flushes should do the trick. But don’t wait.

At the end of the day, regular maintenance will prevent damage and will help you avoid a major expense down the road.

2. Test your well water

Having your own well can be a perk—sweet, fresh-from-the-earth water, with no bill! But in-ground water is subject to all sorts of contaminants, including high levels of nitrates, sulfates, or microorganisms. To keep your gut happy and prevent nastier health issues, make sure to test your well water every year. (Shallow wells can require more frequent testing.)

Many municipalities offer free water screening. If yours isn’t so kind, you can send samples to a nearby laboratory for analysis.

3. Update your disaster kit

You don’t have to be a prepper to be prepared. Even minor storms can knock out power for a days. Darkness is a lot less miserable with basic supplies. Every household needs a disaster kit—essential supplies that can keep you going in an emergency. Include necessities such as a first-aid kit, a three-day supply of nonperishable food, plenty of water, printed maps, and a whistle.

Dig through your kit once a year, and check the expiration dates of all of your food, look for broken seals, and make sure none of your necessities have been used or gone missing in the previous 365 days. Check your stock against Ready.gov’s extensive list of basic disaster supplies.

4. Know your humidity

Humidity—especially in the basement—is an early warning sign of future problems. High humidity can cause mildew and black mold. Left unchecked for a significant period of time, it can even cause structural damage. So pick up a hygrometer, and check your levels at least once a year.

If the reading is low, don’t assume you’re in the clear. Too little humidity might not be as dangerous as high levels, but it can still cause sore throats and itchiness—and damage the house. Wood might crack, paint can chip, and electronics could be permanently damaged. Shoot for humidity levels that fall between 30% and 50%.

5. Check for termites

Many homeowners tend to take an “out of sight, out of mind” approach to these wood-eating buggers—but once a year, make sure termites are on your mind.

Ultimately, an annual termite inspection is typically less than $100, and can save you thousands.

6. Take a photo

You’d never skip snapping a shot of your kid on her first day of school each year—so why wouldn’t you do the same for your house? On the anniversary of your purchase, step outside with a camera and shoot a picture of your home in its current state. Over the years, you’ll be astonished by how much your home has evolved.

7. Save 1% of the home’s value

The typical rule of thumb is that a home costs 1% of its value in maintenance fees each year. For example, if you’re purchasing a home worth $300,000, expect to pay $3,000 each year to keep it in shipshape condition.

While you should be regularly saving throughout the year, taking the time once annually to investigate your bank accounts can keep you out of hot water. And, of course, the 1% rule is only an estimate—when it comes to homeownership, anything can go wrong.

A new roof might cost $7,500 (or more—way more). Serious foundation issues could ring in at $40,000. And new siding might require a $10,000 payment. Adding more to your home savings account is never a bad idea. But at the very least, make sure you have the bare minimum.

8. Create a donation pile

After a few years in your home, you might be astounded to find out just how much unnecessary stuff has piled up. Once a year—perhaps around spring-cleaning—do a deep dive into your closets, drawers, bookshelves, and garage. Toss or donate anything you haven’t touched in the past year.

RELATED: Do I Have Too Much Stuff?

Here’s what not to do with all that newly empty space: Fill it up again. But if you fail, well, you’ll be sorting through it again next year when you do these steps all over again.

YOUR TURN

As a homeowner, what annual home rituals do you keep? What advice might you have to new homeowners when it comes to ongoing home maintenance? Sound off on The Patrick Parker Realty Facebook Page or our Twitter or Instagram 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.

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.

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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.

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.

12 Money-Saving Secrets Appliance Stores Don’t Want You to Know

Let’s face it, shopping for appliances is rarely as fun as, say, a weekend in Vegas. Has anyone ever experienced any kind of high-roller exhilaration from splurging on a washing machine?

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Of course not! That’s because home appliance shopping usually happens when one of your workhorses is on its last legs or, heaven forbid, completely busted. And, if you’re not careful, a savvy salesperson will spot that sweat of desperation. Suddenly, you’re leaving the store not just with a new appliance but also a sad, empty wallet.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Whether you’re buying an appliance in a store or online, we know a few tricks of the trade to keep money in your pocket…

1. Look beyond advertised prices
Have you noticed that when you shop for appliances online or look at store circulars, all the prices are pretty much the same? That’s because big manufacturers dictate the minimum prices stores can advertise. But that doesn’t mean the actual cost is the same across the board.

They can sell it for less, but they can’t advertise it for less. That means if you just do something – such as click a button online or approach a sales associate in a store – you can often buy the product for less. Sometimes a lot less.

2. Time your purchase right
The right time to buy appliances can vary depending on whether you’re buying online or in store. But there’s one common denominator: The best time to shop is when retailers need your money more than you need that appliance.  Let’s break it down…

If you’re shopping in a brick-and-mortar store, these are the best times to buy:

• September, October, and January, when manufacturers roll out new appliance models and retailers are desperate to get rid of last year’s fare
• The end of each month, when stores are trying to meet monthly quotas
• Holiday weekends (No, retailers aren’t tricking you with bargain prices – they promote heavily and stock for greater sales during those periods.)
• Off-season (For instance, force yourself to think about buying an outdoor grill in January or an electric fireplace in July.)

If you’re shopping online, these are the best times to buy:

• November
• Thursdays (the day retailers are twice as likely to reduce prices)
• The fourth or fifth day of the month, when buyers are flush with paycheck money
• 3 p.m. (Yes, 3 p.m.)

3. Use a shopping cart—and then walk away
We’re talking about the online kind. If you’ve had your eye on an appliance but wish it were just a smidgen cheaper, try putting it in your cart. Then walk away (so to speak). If you leave it there for a few days, a retailer might send you a coupon to entice you to close the deal.

4. Decode the price tag
Some price tags have a “secret code” that can help you determine how much a store is discounting an item – and whether there’s room for a bigger cut.

Here’s a handy chart that reveals what certain numbers and symbols mean at several major retailers, including Home Depot, Costco, and Target. If this looks like information overload, remember this: If a price ends in any number other than 9 or 99, you’ll know you’re getting less than full retail price.

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5. Embrace your inner snoop
You can’t always get to a store during a big sale. But if you peek into the metal price stand next to an item, you might be able to preview the cards behind the one displaying the current price – cards that might reveal the date and price of the next sale.

6. Ask repair people for bargains
When a repairman arrives to fix a busted appliance, ask if he knows of warehouses selling almost-new appliances for deep discounts. This is what we call insider info! You just might get a brand new wall oven with a tiny dent on the side that nobody will ever see.

7. Combine discounts
Think of how much you can save if you shop for appliances during a Black Friday sale, pay with a gift card you bought online for a discount, and add a 20% coupon to the mix. The dollars simply melt away.

And sign up for eBates. Always. It couldn’t be easier, they are partnered with 10’s or thousands of retailers and offer cash back bonuses on your purchase both in store and online. Your cash back goes in your eBates account and each quarter your mailed a check. It really is that easy.

8. Don’t be afraid to haggle
Never be afraid to ask salespeople, cashiers, and store managers if they can do a little better on the price. In fact, research shows that nearly all people who haggle over appliances are successful at least once – and save an average $200.

In fact, you can take this one step further. Call stores in advance and say, “I’m shopping around for this appliance and will buy from the place that gives me the lowest price. What’s the best price, including delivery and install, you can give me?”
Independent stores, rather than chains, are really set up for this.

9. Re-evaluate the extended warranty
Extended warranties can be a good idea. But if you’re not careful, they can also drain your bank account unnecessarily. Consumer experts say extended warranties often cost more than they’re worth – in other words, you’ll spend less on a potential repair than you will shelling out for the warranty in the first place. We won’t tell you to skip it, but you should do the math and proceed with caution.

10. Send in your rebate
We know it’s a pain to keep track of your receipt and send it to a manufacturer or store. But isn’t it worth five minutes of your time to get a bargain? Keep receipts in one place, and put together your rebates while you’re bingeing on Netflix.

YOUR TURN

Do you have tricks up your sleeve when it comes to appliance shopping? Let us know! Sound off on our 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.

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.

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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!

How To Hack Your Electric Bill

Want to know how to save electricity? These hacks can help save you cash too.

You turn off the lights when you leave a room. You unplug small appliances when they aren’t in use. You think you’re being pretty smart about your energy consumption, yet every month your electric bill keeps creeping up. You shudder to think how high it could go in the summer months. You’re not alone. On average, American households spend $110 a month on their electric bill.

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Before you start plotting a move to cooler climes, find out how to save electricity with these hacks and then start focusing on more fun tasks — like what to do with all of the money you’re saving!

1. Identify the “energy vampires” in your home
“Appliances that use a remote control, have a continuous display, or have an external power supply all continue to use energy, even when they’re turned off,” says Gene Wang, CEO and co-founder of People Power, a company that provides apps, cloud, and mobile service.

Translation: Simply remembering to turn off your plasma TV isn’t enough. According to Wang, even when it’s turned off, a TV still sucks up 1,400 kilowatt-hours annually, which could mean an extra $150 per year added to your bill. Invest in a smart power strip and plug like-used devices such as TVs, game consoles, and cable boxes into the same one, advises Wang. Not only will the device cut off phantom power, but it can also be set to turn on and off automatically.

2. Invest in a power monitor to optimize energy usage times
“You want to use power when the energy rates are lower and there’s less demand on the power grid,” says Joel Worthington, president of Mr. Electric LLC, an international electrical installation and repair company. A power monitor can help you figure out how much energy you’re using throughout the day so that you can make changes accordingly. For example, you may find it’s more economical to run the dishwasher just before bedtime.

3. Wash clothes in cold water and line-dry
According to Project Laundry List, if you dry four loads of laundry in an electric dryer per week, it’ll cost you an extra $110 per year (that’s basically a membership to Hulu). Wash your clothes in cold water whenever possible and then hang them to dry on your own DIY version of an indoor clothesline (if DIY isn’t your thing, check out laundrylist.org for ready-made products for line-drying inside).

4. Use small appliances for small meals
Eating alone? Heat up your food in a toaster oven, which can use up to half as much energy as an electric oven. In the mood for a cup of tea? Heat the water in an electric kettle rather than turning on a stove burner. And when you do use your stove-top, be sure to use the burner closest to the size of your pot. According to SmarterHouse.org, “a 6-inch pan on an 8-inch burner wastes over 40% of the heat produced by the burner.”

RELATED: Check Out These Smart Appliances That Help Reduce Energy Costs

5. Install motion-activated power outlets
Can’t remember whether you unplugged your curling iron before you left the house? Use a motion-activated outlet adapter. It will automatically turn off a gadget or appliance that’s plugged into the adapter when it senses no one is in the room using it, says Worthington. If you’re a renter, mention this option to your landlord, who will probably be only too happy to reduce wasted energy use (and potentially prevent fires too).

6. Stock your fridge
Not only will your stomach thank you, but also a full refrigerator requires less energy to stay cool than an empty one. And while you’re at it, be sure to gently vacuum the coils twice a year. “Dust makes the coils heat up and work harder,” says Worthington. The harder your fridge works, the more money you’ll ultimately spend on your electric bill.

7. Take advantage of solar gain
Why heat or cool a room if you aren’t using it? In the summer months, keep shades drawn during the hours when sun exposure is highest. In cooler months, let the sunlight in, which will give your bulbs — and wallet — a break. Keep air vents closed too.

RELATED: How to ‘Green Your Home’

8. Convert to LED bulbs
Yes, they’re more expensive upfront — an LED light bulb costs about $8 per bulb, whereas an incandescent is around a buck — but an LED bulb will last a whopping 25,000 hours (or almost 23 years, assuming three hours of use per day) compared with 1,000 hours for a regular old bulb. Not to mention that in that same 23-year timespan, an average bulb will cost you $180 in electricity at the current average rate, compared with just $30 with an LED bulb. Renters can take the bulbs to their next place to continue the savings.

9. Adjust the temperature of your water heater
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, heating water accounts for 10% to 15% of energy consumption in your home. Most water heaters are preset to 140 degrees, which is way more heat — and expense — than you need. Worthington advises turning yours down to 120 degrees, which can save you 6% to 10% each year on your heating costs.

Renters: Don’t try this alone. This is the kind of task that your landlord should handle; ask your landlord to dial it down for you.

FREE DOWNLOAD: What Are the Responsibilities of Your Landlord? Truth In Renting.

RELATED: 12 Ways To Save on Homeowners Insurance

What are your tips when friends ask for advice on how to save electricity? How do you lower your electric bill? Share your hacks on the Patrick Parker Realty Facebook Page, Twitter Feed or on LinkedIn.  Plus don’t forget to subscribe to the monthly Patrick Parker Realty email newsletter  for articles like this one delivered straight to your inbox.

11 Best Tech Gadgets For Your Home

 

These awesome upgrades will transform your house into a futuristic smart home.

RELATED: The Benefits of a Smart Home to Owners, Sellers and Buyers

In this Jetsons world we’re living in, everything is getting smarter—our phones, our cars and now, thanks to a bunch of new technology, even our homes. With a few simple upgrades, you can have on-demand music in any room of the house, control your lights and thermostat remotely, and even let someone in while you’re out running errands. In some cases, your house can even learn your habits and preferences.

It’s like having your own virtual butler, only without the snootiness. From Wi-Fi enabled slow cookers to intuitive lighting, here are the 10 best tech gadgets to upgrade your home.

1. WeMo Switch Electronics Control

Nothing’s worse than getting to work and wondering whether you remembered to turn off the coffeemaker. Do you rush back home and check on it or do you just wait until you hear the sirens? With WeMo, a Wi-Fi-enabled plug-in device that works with any electronic device, you don’t have to do either. You can turn everything off or on simply by using the WeMo app on your phone. You can even pair it with Amazon Echo’s Alexa to make it hands-free, which means you can turn off that coffeemaker while driving.
WeMo switch, $40, Amazon.com

2. Ecobee3 Smarter Wi-Fi Thermostat

Easily the most efficient way to heat and cool your house, the Ecobee3 Smarter thermostat not only allows you to adjust your home’s temperature remotely, it also senses whether anyone is home or in a specific room in order to save energy. The thermostat intuitively makes temperature changes based on the outside weather, your home’s energy profile and thousands of other data points that can help to improve efficiency. And the remote sensors ensure that every room is exactly the temperature you want it to be.
Ecobee thermostat, $249, Ecobee.com

3. Smarter iKettle

Imagine being able to brew your morning cup of coffee without even getting out of bed. That’s exactly what Smarter’s iKettle does. It allows you to heat water or coffee to any temperature you want, check your water level, brew coffee or tea, keep your coffee warm and shut it off, all from the Smarter app on your phone. With Formula mode, you can also set it to boil as soon it hears a baby crying, which means that the water will be the perfect temperature by the time you get to the kitchen. And, since you can save your settings, everything can all be done with one tap of a button.
Smarter iKettle, $144, Smarter.am

4. Nest Protect Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm

Few things in life are more irritating than the beep of a smoke alarm. Fortunately Nest Protect allows you to silence that alarm through an app on your phone. It can also send alerts to your phone if you’re away from home, tell you what and where the trouble is and, using two wavelengths of light as sensors, can look for both fast- and slow-moving fires. It also sends you a voice alert if your toast starts to burn so that it doesn’t turn into an actual fire.
Nest Protect, $99, Nest.com

5. August Smart Lock Keyless Home Entry

For most people, losing keys happens far more frequently than losing a phone. Which makes the ability to unlock your front door with your phone a major perk. August Smart Lock allows you to lock or unlock your home remotely, so you never have to worry about whether you remembered your keys. And you can control who has access to your home as well, so you won’t have to rush home to let in the cleaner.
August Smart Lock, $199, August.com

6. Logitech Harmony Home Control

It’s an eternal struggle nowadays to keep track of all your remotes. Fortunately with Logitech Harmony Home Control, you can combine all of them into one. Or, even better, you can simply control everything with your phone. Whether it’s your entertainment system, Xbox, Apple TV, or smart lights and thermostat, Harmony allows you to link up to eight devices, so you never have to worry about finding the right remote for the right one. And the Harmony Hub even allows you to control devices hidden behind cabinet doors.
Logitech Harmony Companion, $149, Logitech.com

7. Stack Smart Lighting

Forget the hassle of hunting for a light switch in the dark, or worse, wasting electricity because you forgot to turn the lights off. Stack’s responsive lighting turns on automatically when you enter a room, and off when you leave. Not only that, it dims or brightens the room depending on the amount of natural light, and determines the light color temperature by the time of day. Plus, it can even learn your routine based on your input and habits.
Stack starter kit, $89, Stacklighting.com

8. Crock-Pot Wi-Fi Enabled WeMo Slow Cooker

Normally with a slow cooker you throw all your ingredients in, set the temperature and then hope for the best. With Crock-Pot’s WeMo-controlled slow cooker, you can adjust your cook time and temperature remotely, and you can turn it to warm or off should you find yourself running late and unable to get home. All of which is controlled through the WeMo app on your phone.
Crock-Pot Smart Wifi Enabled WeMo Slow Cooker, $130, Amazon.com

9. Nubryte All-in-One Smart Home System

With home technology getting more and more sophisticated, managing it all can get a little chaotic. Fortunately there’s the Nubryte smart home management system that links your lighting, security and intercom all into one. You can keep tabs on your energy consumption, check the weather and, thanks to built-in motion detectors and live video alerts, keep tabs on everything from your smartphone. And with touchpoint monitors that have built-in security cameras, you can check in on your home anytime you want via a live video feed.
Nubryte home system, from $199, Nubryte.com

10. Nest Security Camera

Wondering whether it’s the dog or the cat who keeps getting into the trash while you’re away? The Nest Security Cam can answer that question for you thanks to its live 1080p HD video streaming. Linked to an app on your phone, you can get motion and sound alerts that let you know if anything is amiss, and you can even check up on everything at night thanks to a night vision setting. And don’t worry, if it’s the dog who’s getting into the garbage, you can yell at him via the talk and listen feature.
Nest cam, $199, Nest.com

11. Amazon Echo

Play all of your music, listen to audiobooks, check the weather report and even ask about where to get the best Thai food with Echo, Amazon’s intuitive hands-free voice control system. Sort of like Siri for your home, Alexa is a disembodied voice that will see to all of your household needs. You can pair it with most other Wi-Fi-enabled gadgets in your home as well, and because it’s cloud based, it gets smarter every time you use it. With new skills being added to the Alexa app every day, its capabilities are always expanding.
Amazon Echo, $180, Amazon.com

YOUR TURN

What’s your favorite smart home gadget and why? Share your stories on the Patrick Parker Realty Facebook Page, Twitter Feed or on LinkedIn.  Plus don’t forget to subscribe to the monthly New Jersey Home Advice Patrick Parker Realty email newsletter  for articles like this one delivered straight to your inbox.

 

This article originally appeared on The Nest

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Get More Natural Light:
4 Ways to Make the Most of Your Windows

 

Feel like your home on the Jersey Shore is a bit too dark?  With the beach at your fingertips you want your home to reflect your nautical-loving lifestyle, and that means taking ultimate advantage of natural light.

And it’s about more than just sheer taste.  When it comes to lighting sources, natural light tends to be best. A 2015 study from Northwestern University showed that employees who got plenty of natural light in their offices experienced more sleep at night and were more physically active. Daylight matters at home, too, as it can help reduce your energy costs and make a home feel more inviting.

If your home is a bit darker than you’d like, there are 4 ways to make the most of your windows to increase daylight and brighten up the scene:

1. Choose Window Treatments Carefully
The more light you can get into your home, the better. One way to maximize natural light is to lighten up the windows you do have. Although you do want to give yourself some privacy, you also want to avoid heavy drapes and blackout curtains, which keep the sun out. Stick with sheer or lightly woven curtains or shades, so that some light filters in, but people passing by aren’t able to see what you’re up to. You can also layer your window treatments, if you want to keep light out to get a better night’s sleep. Hang the sheer or lightweight curtains closest to the windows, then the heavier drapes behind, so that you can pull them shut at night and open them wide in the daytime.
How-Make-Small-Room-Look-Bigger-Mirrors
2. Get Reflective
A well positioned mirror can make a dark and dim home that much brighter. Hang a mirror on the wall next to a window to make it look as though your home has two adjacent windows. The window will be reflected in the mirror, tricking the eye. If you hang the mirror on the wall across from the window, the light from the window will bounce off of it, magnifying the natural light.

3. Keep Your Windows Clean
Dirty windows keep the light from shining in as well as it could. Although window washing might not top many people’s lists of fun chores to do, it’s essential for improving the natural light in your home.

Vinegar, mixed with an equal amount of hot water, is one of the most effective ways to clean windows inside and out. Mix the vinegar and water together, then soak a sponge with the solution. Wipe the glass of the window with the vinegar solution to sweep away dirt and grime. Use a damp squeegee to sweep the excess vinegar solution away, using long vertical strokes.

4. Add More Windows
If your budget allows, a simple way to increase the natural light in your Jersey Shore home is to add more windows to it. Obviously, you can’t put windows on the party walls, unless you want to get really friendly with your neighbors. But it might be worth considering trading a solid front or back door for one with a clear or frosted glass window in it. Inside the house you can replace solid, room dividing doors with a glass paneled doors or get rid of the doors completely, if you don’t need them for privacy.

Along with getting the most out of your windows, keeping a house clean and choosing light reflecting paint colors can help it feel brighter and lighter.

YOUR TURN

What are your tips for a brighter and lighter home?

Sound of on our Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn pages and don’t forget to subscribe to the Patrick Parker Realty monthly Newsletter for articles like this delivered straight to your inbox.

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The 5 Spring Cleaning Trends that Go Way Beyond Clean

spring-cleaning-tipsAs daunting as the task sounds, spring cleaning can be a great boost to your mental health. Here are five ways to implement a whole-home system that has the power to change the way you feel about your home for the better.

If you’re among the 68% of adults, as reported by OnePoll, who feel daunted and uninspired about the prospect of spring cleaning, you may want to consider the positive mental aspects of meeting the task head-on.

Psychology Today reports on the negative impact clutter can have on our mind and bodies, and the long-term health benefits that can result from a thorough spring cleaning. Experts say the key to success is to go beyond clean to a decluttered and refreshed space. Here are five ways to implement a whole-home system that has the power to change the way you feel about your home for the better.

1. Remove It
It’s one thing to give your house a thorough clean, but it’s another to have a critical look at what you own, and get rid of the excess for a fresh start. To truly get the full mental benefit out of your spring cleaning, try categorizing your belongings using three piles: what you use, what you can sell, and what you can give away.

Books, furniture, and home goods can be great items to make a little money from and there are plenty of ways to sell your things beyond the garage sale method. Amazon, Craigslist, Kijiji, eBay, and Half.com are all great avenues to post your belongings for a quick sale. Textiles and footwear make great donations to help those in need.

2. Clean It
Once you’ve decluttered, you can then focus on giving your home the scrub-down it deserves by focusing on the details that get missed in your everyday cleaning regimen. From cleaning window-screens to scrubbing baseboards or cleaning carpets, a good cleaning will improve your mood and the look and feel of your home in no time. Just remember to make a list and go room-by-room if it all seems too overwhelming.

3. Paint It
If you’re considering new paint colors for your home, spring is the perfect time to change the look of your space and capitalize on any spring paint sales at your local hardware store. In many areas of the country, the weather will allow for open windows, which can reduce fumes and help speed the drying process between coats.

paint-color-trends-2016

Some of the hot new colors for 2016 include:

  • White. Yes white!
    All white rooms feels fresh. In fact, Benjamin Moore even named Simply White, a clean, crisp, multipurpose shade, it’s color of the year for 2016.
  • Pastels
    Soft pastel colors are naturally soothing; they’re the perfect antidote to the busy world around us. Two pastels that you’ll see a lot this year are shades of pale rose and dusty pinks as well as airy blues. The two work well together as well as a wide range of other colors. Other pastels you’ll be seeing are lilac and soft, milky blues.
  • Neutrals with a Modern Edge
    Neutral rooms feel classic, yet modern at the same time. Think beyond all whites, creams, or grays and introduce soft colors, like the pastels mentioned above.
  • Graphic Grays
    Gray is a classic when it comes to home decor, but most shades we’ve seen have been on the pale side. This year, think about introducing darker grays, like charcoal. Dark gray walls would make a statement in any room. Pair them with lighter furniture and colorful accessories for a room that truly has character.

4. Organize It
Though it can be tempting to go straight to the organizing phase of spring cleaning for instant gratification, leaving it until after you declutter can save you from purchasing more storage for items you don’t need or use. Once your home is free of clutter, you can focus on meaningful storage for your items.

RELATED: Super Creative Storage Solutions

Remember that storage doesn’t have to be restricted to plastic totes. Baskets, boxes, and colorful bins can hold a variety of items while increasing the style factor of your home.

5. Decorate It
Time for the finishing touches with decor items that can mimic the colors of spring and bring the outside in. Throw pillows and curtains are an easy way to add a pop of color without overwhelming a space. If textiles aren’t your thing, small accessories grouped in threes can easily add seasonal flair to coffee tables, bookshelves, and mantles. Finally, colorful florals — whether real or artificial — can make a huge impact when placed in unusual containers like antique teapots, tin buckets, or even mason jars.

RELATED: How to Decorate Your Home Like A Pro

Whatever your style, going beyond the typical clean to simplify your space will not only make a beautiful space but will positively impact every aspect of your life, from activity level to stress to sleeping patterns and creativity. So break out the gloves and start planning!

YOUR TURN

What are your best Spring Cleaning Tips? Sound off on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

And don’t forget to subscribe to the monthly Patrick Parker Realty email newsletter for articles like these delivered straight to your inbox!


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