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.

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.

10 Things a Burglar Doesn’t Want You to Know

You come home to an open front door, a ransacked house, and missing valuables. How did a burglar know you’d be gone? How did they get in?

Successful burglars have lots in common — home owners who unwittingly give invitations to robbery. In these 10 thank-you notes, your friendly neighborhood burglars share advice on how to stop lending them a helping hand.

1. Thanks for the Ladder!

Call me a social climber if you will, but I did discover a ladder in your back yard. Thank you for leaving it where I could lean it against your home and easily reach a second-story window. I really love it when upper story openings aren’t wired to a home security system!

So, if you want to keep me out, store your ladder in the basement or a locked garage. And call your security company to wire upper-story windows into your alarm system.

Vertically yours,
A rising star

2. Loved Your Trash

Can’t tell you how much fun I have driving around neighborhoods on trash day (especially after big gift holidays) when the empty boxes on the curb reveal what wonderful new toys you have. Your thoughtfulness made it possible for me to land a new laptop and a flat-screen television in one easy trip to your home!

Next time, break down the boxes and conceal them in the recycling or trash bins.

Happy shopping!
Curbside Cruiser

3. Dear Can’t-Get-Around-to-It

Recently, I noticed you hadn’t trimmed trees and shrubs around your home, so I knew I’d have a wonderful place to hide while I worked to break into your home. I really can’t thank you enough for all the great new things I grabbed.

Next time, trim back bushes and trees near windows and doors. Make sure entry points to your home are easily visible from the street — I much prefer to work in private! While you’re at it, install motion-sensor lighting. I’m scared of bright lights!

Cordially,
The Tree Lover

4. Su Casa Es Mi Casa!

I was sincerely relieved to find your back door was a plain wood-panel door. I had no trouble kicking it in (my knees appreciate how easy that was!) Imagine how silly I felt when I discovered that your windows weren’t locked anyway.

You may want to take a cue from your neighbor and install steel-wrapped exterior doors with deadbolts on all your entries. And be sure your windows are locked when you’re away.

All the best,
Buster Door

5. Bad Reflection on You

You’d be surprised how many home owners position a mirror in their entry hall so I can see from a window if the alarm system is armed. (Yours wasn’t, but I’m guessing you know that by now!) Thanks for taking a lot of pressure off of me.

A little free advice: Relocate the mirror so your alarm system isn’t visible if someone else would peer through a window.

Fondly,
Mr. Peeper

6. The Telltale Grass

Wow, isn’t it amazing how fast the grass grows these days? I swung by now and then and noticed your lawn was uncut, newspapers were piling up on the front steps, and your shades were always closed. To me, that’s an open invitation.

Next time, hire someone you trust to mow regularly, pick up around the doorstep, open and close various window shades, and turn different lights on and off (or put a few on timers). One more thing: Lock any car you leave in the driveway, or I can use your garage door opener to get in quickly.

Best,
Your Trip Advisor

7. Getting Carried Away

Many thanks for putting your valuables into an easy-to-carry safe that I could carry right out your back door. (Nice jewelry, and thank you for the cash!)

You may want to invest in a wall safe, which I rarely attempt to open. Or, rent a lock box at your bank.

With appreciation,
Mr. Safe and Not-So-Sound

8. Dear BFF

Thanks for alerting a professional acquaintance of mine via your social network that you were away for the week in Puerto Vallarta, having the time of your life. Me? I enjoyed a very relaxing visit to your home with no pressure of being caught.

If only you had known that posting comments and photos of your trip on social networks is fine — but do that after you return so you won’t broadcast your absence!

Sincerely,
Cyber Savvy

9. Tag, You’re It!

Where are you? When you use popular geo-tracking apps, such as FourSquare and Glympse, I might know if you’re not home. Web sites such as www.pleaserobme.com help me keep track of your whereabouts.

If you prefer that I not visit your home, be careful about geo-tagging. But, otherwise, thank you for the loot!

– Just Tagging Along

10. Thanks for the Appointment

Thanks for inviting me into your home to view the laptop you wanted to sell. I do apologize for the scare I gave you when I took it (and your purse).

Did you know that some large U.S. cities are averaging one so-called “robbery by appointment” per day? If you want to sell high-ticket items to strangers, I suggest you arrange to meet at the parking lot of your local police station. I definitely won’t show up, and you’ll still have your valuables (and your purse!)

Regards,
A Tough Sell

YOUR TURN

Following these tips will help you find a house that’s best-suited to your needs and one that you will be able to comfortably pay for in the long term. Do you have any tips for first-time homebuyers? Sound off on The Patrick Parker Realty Facebook Page, or our Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn feeds. And don’t forget to sign up for our monthly HOME ADVICEtm email newsletter for articles like this delivered straight to your inbox. You may unsubscribe at any time.

Top 10 Native Plants that will Thrive in Your New Jersey Garden

The key to gardening success in the northeast, with its variably cold, snowy winters and short, humid summers, is choosing plants already adapted to the local climate and soils, as well as the specific conditions in your yard.

By learning to read the varied conditions of your landscape — and you may have multiple habitats that are very different from one another — you can then look for plants that grow naturally in those conditions without needing water over the average 40 to 60 inches of annual precipitation in this region.

new-jersey-gardening

Instead of impulse-buying plants that strike your fancy in bloom at the nursery, first take a good look at what you have to work with.

Here are 10 plants, from herbaceous perennials to woody vines, shrubs and trees, chosen for their multiseason beauty and interest, wildlife value and adaptability to a variety of garden conditions found across the Northeast, from dry sun to moist shade. Other than irrigation in their first year or two and an annual weeding, once these plants are established in conditions to their liking, they should require little else to thrive in your Northeast landscape.

1. Foamflower
(Tiarella cordifolia)
Native to rich Eastern forests and woodlands

Best shade perennial. Foamflower, shown here, is a beautiful semievergreen ground cover that blooms in a sea of pink and white foamy flowers in spring. Fairly deer resistant (definitely not a deer’s first choice), it is perfect for growing in shady areas underneath trees or in the shade of a house. In rich soil, foamflower can spread annually a few feet in each direction from stolons (underground roots), but it is never invasive like Vinca and Japanese pachysandra (Pachysandra terminalis), commonly planted ground covers that can escape into nearby woodlands.

Choose spreading varieties if you’re looking for a ground cover effect. Named cultivars found in nurseries are often labeled incorrectly as Tiarella cordifolia and are actually the clumping Appalachian species, Tiarella wherryi. These don’t spread from underground stolons, so read labels carefully if you prefer a spreading plant to fill an area.

See how to grow foamflower

2. Butterfly Milkweed
(Asclepias tuberosa)
Native to open, sandy soils and uplands across eastern North America, but a rare species in most New England states

Best full-sun perennial for sandy or well-drained soil. This gorgeous native plant sports neon-orange blooms in early summer, attracting many butterflies and pollinators to its sweet nectar. Butterfly milkweed thrives in any sunny spot with well-draining soil, especially sand. As a milkweed, it’s an occasional food plant for monarch butterfly caterpillars, although swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), which leafs out and blooms later than the orange milkweed, is preferred as a host plant.

See how to grow butterfly milkweed

3. New England Aster
(Symphyotrichum novae-angliae)
Native to moist meadows and fields on the East Coast and south to Virginia

Best full-sun perennial for moist soil and late-season blooms. The purple flowers of New England aster, along with goldenrod (Solidago spp), signal the summer’s end here in the Northeast. An important nectar and host plant for butterflies and late-season beneficial insects, it loves full sun and moist soil, but it will put on a great show in any reasonable garden soil. Allow it to self-seed and create large drifts of fall color, and watch for monarch butterflies drinking nectar from the flowers, essential fuel for their long flight south to Mexico.

See how to grow New England aster

4. Serviceberry
(Amelanchier alnifolia)
Some species are native to low woods and swamps, and others are adapted to high and dry exposed areas

Most adaptable flowering shrub. Serviceberry, also called shadbush, shadblow and juneberry, is a beautiful multistemmed shrub or small tree that grows in sun or the understory of larger trees. Clouds of white flowers cover serviceberry in April, and the early-season nectar is valuable forage for many pollinators. Birds flock to feed on the pink and purple edible berries that ripen in June. The fall foliage is a striking orange and yellow, especially when grown in the sun. Plants sold in nurseries are usually natural hybrids of local species.

See how to grow serviceberry

5. New Jersey Tea
(Ceanothus americanus)
Native to sandy pine barrens and rocky soils of eastern North America

Best full-sun shrub for dry soils. This shrub makes it into the top 10 for its ability to thrive in the leanest and driest soils without wanting or needing fertilizer or watering. Planted in these conditions, it’s as close to a zero-maintenance flowering shrub that exists in the north. Billowy, white early-summer blooms attract hordes of pollinators and beneficial predatory insects that help control garden pests. New Jersey tea is hard to find for sale; look for it at native-plant nurseries in your region.

See how to grow New Jersey Tea

6. Highbush Blueberry or Lowbush Blueberry
(Vaccinium corymbosum, Vaccinium angustifolium)
Native to a variety of habitats, ranging from swamps and bogs to woods, fields and rocky outcrops

Best edible plant. Blueberry is an essential Northern garden plant because of its delicious berries, fiery fall foliage and, depending on the species, ability to grow just about anywhere with some sun.

See how to grow highbush blueberry
See how to grow lowbush blueberry

7. Trumpet Honeysuckle
(Lonicera sempervirens)
Native to forest edges, woodlands and ledges in southern New England and south

Best flowering vine. Trumpet honeysuckle, also called coral honeysuckle, is a well-behaved flowering vine that attracts hummingbirds and won’t take over your house or yard the way Asian wisteria (Wisteria sinensis or W. floribunda) or English ivy (Hedera helix) can. Trumpet honeysuckle is perfect for twining up an arbor or along a fence line.

Important note: Don’t confuse trumpet honeysuckle with trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans) or crossvine (Bignonia capreolata), which are also vines with trumpet-shaped flowers but should be avoided, due to their aggressive spreading through underground runners.

See how to grow trumpet honeysuckle

8. Gray Birch
(Betula populifolia)
Grows wild in abandoned fields and disturbed areas of the East

Most adaptable small tree. Gray birch is an attractive and fast-growing tree for sun or shade, wet or dry soil. It’s more resistant than other birches to the bronze birch borer pest. Grow gray birch to add quick and easy wildlife habitat to your property — its seeds and catkins feed birds, and its foliage hosts many butterfly and moth caterpillars, which in turn become a protein-rich food that birds use to feed their babies in the nest.

See how to grow gray birch

9. Red Maple
(Acer rubrum)
Native to swamps, forests, fields, and river and wetland edges

Most adaptable large tree. Grow red maple, also called swamp maple, for its fast growth when young and its multiseason interest. Its red flowers in early spring feed native bees, and its brilliant orange and red fall foliage rivals the iconic colored foliage of sugar maples, which are beginning to die out due to a warming climate.

See how to grow red maple

10. Creeping Juniper
(Juniperus horizontalis)
Native to dunes and sandy, gravelly or rocky outcrops, often seen growing on highway embankments

Best evergreen ground cover for full sun and dry soil. What it lacks in showy blooms, juniper makes up for with its tough disposition, growing in the toughest, driest soils. Its low, spreading habit creeps nicely around rocks and into awkward spaces, highlighting nearby showy plants and unifying landscape designs large and small. Easily the most drought-tolerant evergreen ground cover for Eastern gardens, juniper grows in any well-drained soil in full sun, including sand and on steep slopes.

See how to grow creeping juniper

YOUR TURN

Do you have a Jersey Green Thumb? What can you share about the plants thriving in your garden? Sound off on the Patrick Parker Realty Facebook Page or on our Instagram or Twitter 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.

How to Make a Disaster Plan for Your Pet

A hurricane. A flood. A fire. When disaster strikes, our worst fears can come to life. There’s panic and confusion. And, depending on the catastrophe, you may need to leave your home – often in a hurry.

dog rescue alert sticker

Who can forget the image of pragmatic Otis–a German shepherd mix–who was not a stray but escaped from a screen porch during flooding, carrying his own bag of dog food.

 

When it comes to these terrifying events, there’s a lot to think about, and it’s important to exactly know what to do with your family, including your pets. So while we hope it never comes to this, let’s make sure you and your pets are prepared in the event of an emergency.

1. Make a Plan

When it comes to disaster planning, preparation is key! That’s why it’s a smart idea to keep a leash by the exit and have a planned destination in case you need to leave in a hurry. If possible, it’s a good idea to have more than one transportation option in mind just in case your primary mode becomes unavailable.

In the event you are separated from your pet, you will want to make sure they have proper identification. This includes having an up-to-date license, a microchip, and accurately labeling their carriers. You want to make it easy for anyone who finds your pet to contact you. That way you and your buddy can be reunited as quickly as possible.

2. Know Where to Seek Shelter

It’s not easy to think about something happening to your home, but it’s important to have a plan in place should you – and your pets – need to evacuate.

For many, it’s as simple as calling a friend or family member, but what if that’s not an option? Ask your veterinarian for a list of facilities that can accommodate pets. It’s also a good idea to identify pet-friendly places you and your pet could stay until it’s safe to return home.

3. Build an Emergency Kit

From clothing to medicine, most of us know what we need to pack if we’re going to be away from home for a period of time. However, in the event of an emergency, it could be hard to pack for yourself and your pet when you’re under duress and in a hurry, increasing the likelihood of forgetting something important.

To avoid this, prepare a pet emergency kit that you can easily grab if you’re running out the door. This will ensure you can provide for your pet’s needs when you’re away from home and it will save you precious seconds if you are rushing to evacuate. When preparing a kit, consider everything your pal needs on a daily basis: food, water, prescriptions, leash or harness, maybe even a toy or two. It’s also important to include a pet first-aid kit (create your own with this handy checklist) in case your pet gets injured.

4. Don’t Forget Your Rescue Alert Sticker

What if you’re not home when disaster strikes? How will rescuers know you share your home with a furry family member? That’s why you place a rescue alert sticker near your front door.

These stickers let rescuers know what types of pets are in your home, how many there are, and provides them with your veterinarian’s contact information. Get a Free Rescue Alert Sticker today from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals® (ASPCA®)!

YOUR TURN

Did you ever have to evacuate with a pet? What was your experience like? Do you have tips to add to our list? Sound off on our Facebook page or on our Twitter, LinkedIn or Instagram feeds. And don’t forget to sign up for our monthly HOME ADVICEtm email newsletter for articles like this delivered straight to your inbox. You may unsubscribe at any time.

How to Meet Your Neighbors: Icebreakers Even Introverts Can Pull Off

 

Want to know the secret of how to meet your neighbors? It’s this: Stop waiting for people to swing by with an apple pie. These days you have to be proactive and get out there yourself!

So how do you do that?

Granted, whether you’ve just moved in or lived someplace for eons, many find this simple act of reaching out amazingly hard. If that sounds like you, it’s OK: It’s all about knowing a few icebreakers. Here are a few that even the shyest of shy can try.

neighbors_housing_happiness

1. Hold A Garage Sale

This project doubles as decluttering—and works whether you’ve lived in a place for years or just moved in and didn’t get a chance to fully purge before you packed up for your new digs.

Not only will a garage sale provide you with a clean slate, it’s also a low-key way to meet your neighbors. Even if you don’t make a sale, you might be meeting your new best friend for the first time.

2. Ask To Borrow Something

Tools are one of the more popular items you may not have dug out of the box yet but find you’ll need right away. Don’t be too shy to ring the neighbors door and ask to borrow that hammer or screwdriver.

And remember, this is an equal opportunity endeavor: Sooner or later you’re bound to have something a neighbor might need, from a rake to cup of sugar. Go ahead and let your neighbors know to stop by “if you need anything”.

3. Do A Good Deed

Sometimes the best way to break the ice is to look for a way to pull someone out of it.

Three years ago, during an East Coast polar vortex, one of our client’s was leaving their home at 4 a.m. to attempt to get to work when he happened to see water gushing out of his neighbor’s garage. No one was home, so he called the fire department.

A sprinkler system had burst on the third floor and was destroying their home. Our client ultimately broke into the home but only to turn off the water and managed to save the home in the process.

Once his neighbors returned from their vacation they were very appreciative and are close friends to this day.

Not that you have to wait for disaster to strike. There are opportunities year-round; from plant-sitting during Spring Break and Summer Vacation to offering to clear leaves from gutters in the Fall or shovel snow in the winter. Who could refuse? And now you’ve got a friend whom, odds are, you can depend on in a pinch, too.

4. Find A Common Cause

Last summer a feral cat had a litter of kittens in the yard of one of our client’s homes. Concerned about their welfare—not to mention the number of cats already roaming her neighborhood—our client went door to door to bring the issue to her neighbors’ attention. Ten houses down, she found a neighbor eager to help the free-range cats. Today, cats in their community are well cared for—and these two neighbors are fast friends.

When you work together toward something that matters to you, you can’t help but bond.

Don’t have a passionate cause of your own? Then get involved in an HOA or local community group.

Volunteering is one of the best ways to get to know people because you move quickly past small talk.

5. Sometimes, Going Online Is A Good Idea

So maybe you want to be part of your community but work crazy hours. Or you’re always shuttling your kids from one after school activity to another and your schedule looks like that of an air traffic controller.

Maybe your nearest neighbor is a mile (or more) away. If meeting your neighbors “IRL” is a challenge, then maybe you do need to pick up that tablet or smartphone and join a local online group.

JOIN: The Bradley Beach Residents Group

JOIN: The Ocean Township Residents Group

JOIN: The Jersey Shore and Eastern Monmouth County Lifestyle Group

Have a goal though. Try and build relationships online that will lead to offline interactions.

You hear that? Your iPhone addiction actually can lead to meaningful connections outside your front door.

YOUR TURN

How did you break the ice with your neighbors? Do you have any tips to add to our list? 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.

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!

 

home-maintenance

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.

Living With Less: Do You Have Too Much Stuff?

We’ve all been there. The cabinets are overflowing. There’s no more room in any closet. And the drawers are crammed so full they won’t close. Your stuff has outgrown your space. But instead of blaming your home for its lack of storage, maybe consider that you have too much stuff. That issue is easier to address quickly and doesn’t involve a whole home remodel.

So, how do you know if you have too much stuff? and What do you get rid of?

clutter-free-home

Here are three questions you can ask yourself to help with paring down to quality possessions:

1. Do you own multiple versions of the same thing?

Do you have three blenders because you got updated versions twice and have yet to get rid of your old ones? This is the kind of thing that creates clutter.

What to do about it: Start in one space, and go section by section. For example, in your kitchen open up all of your cabinets. Go from cabinet to cabinet, removing all of the items.

Try starting with small appliances. Lay them all out on the counter, and keep only the ones you use. Donate or sell the rest. Move on to the pantry, then the serving pieces, then the dishes and on and on around the room. The same rules apply for every section. Get rid of the things you don’t use.

Tip: Try and lose the guilt you feel from getting rid of any gifts you have been given (or inherited). It really is OK to pass along things you don’t use or love.

2. Do you feel stressed about having to find a place for all of your things?

Are your closets jam-packed? Do you find that you wear the same things over and over even though your closet is overflowing? If you answered “Yes,” you probably have too many clothes.

In an effort to try and live with less, you must eliminate the things that don’t serve you. This same concept applies to any space in your home that’s overflowing.

What to do about it: Take all of your clothing out of your closet, or take out certain categories at once (denim, sweaters, shoes). Ask yourself very honestly if you love each item and want to wear it. If yes, great, it stays. If no, put it in a designated spot for donation or resale. Ask yourself this question with each and every item you come across in your closet.

3. Is it hard to keep track of your belongings?

Are you constantly losing things in drawers, cupboards, bins or other nooks and crannies of your home? This is usually a sign of too many belongings.

What to do about it: Keep your things consistent. Use one wallet, one makeup case, one pencil case … at a time. Having one place where your items live reduces the amount of backup items you have.

The goal: These questions and the resulting work will take time. You won’t be able to just snap your fingers and magically have uncluttered closets, drawers and living spaces. Instead, set aside an hour or two every day or week to tackle one area — or a whole room if you’re feeling ambitious. Regardless of how long it takes, you’ll appreciate the time you put toward living with less.

YOUR TURN

What struggles or strategies do you have when it comes to purging your belongings? Sound off on our Facebook Page or on our Twitter, Instagram 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.

Setting Up a Home Office That Works for You

Whether you’re paying a few bills or running a small business, a stylish, comfortable work space will help you stay focused and inspired.

In recent years, the line between working and living in our homes has become blurred. More people want a home office, whether it’s a simple space for taking care of household matters, a spot for the inevitable papers and projects that make their way home from work, or a dedicated area for a full-time business.

home office

For a few minutes a day or 40 hours a week, working at home is always more fun in an area with loads of function — and some personalization, too. Here’s how to create a snazzy home office space that will make you look forward to clocking in.

The Essentials

Some experts have said there are only two essentials for a functional home office: a comfortable chair and a door that closes. Most people, however, probably have a few more requirements.

Basic elements of designing a room include smart space planning, adequate lighting and sufficient storage. When setting up your home office, also consider functionality and comfort.

Get Horizontal

Start with your work surface. Stock desk units come in a variety of materials, but may be difficult to fit in with your room. Modular office furniture is more flexible and comes in many styles.

Or look to repurposed furniture. With some judicious changes, you can turn flea market finds and antiques into acceptable home office elements. Don’t hesitate to make a piece your own with a simple coat of paint in your favorite color.

Take a Seat

Chairs need to be functional, but an office chair isn’t your only choice.

If you’ll be spending a lot of time working in the office, consider including a lounge chair or chaise. It will make a comfortable spot for reading or coffee breaks.

For your desk, choose a chair with an adjustable seat and armrests to protect your spine and help reduce aches and injuries. To personalize it, add a throw pillow to coordinate with window coverings or other decorative elements in the room.

Essential Details

Make a list of everything you need, from pencils and paper clips to research materials and file folders. Pick a color scheme and purchase the necessities in your favorite palette.

Measure all the electronic equipment you’ll require to determine where it will fit best. And make sure you add some favorite framed photos or artwork to inspire you.

To create softness and texture underfoot, layer on an area rug to anchor your space.

Get Lit

Natural light is great, but you’ll need ambient and task lighting as well. Here is another opportunity to add a bit of personal style to your space via lamp shades, crystals and fixture finishes. Watch out for the possibility of glare, especially when finding a place for your computer screen.

If your office space doesn’t have a door, you can establish a sense of privacy by the way you orient your work surface or by using a screen or file cabinets to mark off the area.

YOUR TURN

Share your favorite ways to spruce your office space — we can’t wait to see what you come up with! Sound off on our Facebook Page or on our Twitter, Instagram 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.

5 Questions to Decide Whether to Pay Down Debt or Save

It can be hard deciding whether to prioritize paying down debt or putting money into savings – especially if you have limited resources. Answering five key questions can help you allocate your funds.

1. Do you have high-interest debt?

Interest rates on credit cards are often high. That can cost you considerably over time, since credit card interest typically accumulates faster than what you can earn on savings.

RELATED: How Much Will Paying Off Credit Cards Improve My Credit Score?

Pay it down!

If you’re carrying debt with double-digit rates, it may make sense to prioritize paying it down so you can free up future funds to save or pay other debts.

2. Do you have an emergency fund?

emergency-fund

An emergency fund provides cash you can draw on in case of:

  • Unexpected car or home repairs
  • Medical emergencies
  • Essential costs like rent and groceries if you are laid off or out of work

Save it up!

If you don’t have three months’ worth of living expenses set aside for emergencies, consider that goal next, while paying at least the minimum on any loans and credit cards.

3. Are you planning for retirement?

Your retirement account earnings may produce earnings of their own, so the earlier you start to save, the more growth potential you have. Plus, some retirement contributions help you minimize taxes.

Save it up!

You can’t borrow for retirement, so consider this goal next. As you build your retirement accounts, you can continue to chip away at debt at the same time.

5. What are your other goals or needs?

If your high-rate debt is under control, you have savings in an emergency fund and are contributing to your retirement, it’s time to consider saving for other things.

Save it up!

Depending on your goals, you can save for: A new car, education or a down payment on a home. Once you have those up and running, you can look toward the fun stuff like vacation and other big purchases.

Pay it down!

If your rates and terms are reasonable, you may decide to stay the course with your monthly payments. Or you could bump up your payments to pay those debts faster – especially any with higher rates. That way you’ll save on total interest paid and have more money to allocate to your goals.

YOUR TURN

Based on your current financial goals; are you Saving Up or Paying Down? We want to hear from you! Sound off on our Facebook Page, our Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn feeds. And don’t forget to subscribe to our monthly eNewsletter. You may unsubscribe at any time.

 

The material provided on this website is for informational use only and is not intended for financial or investment advice. Patrick Parker Realty assumes no liability for any loss or damage resulting from one’s reliance on the material provided. Please also note that such material is not updated regularly and that some of the information may not therefore be current. Consult with your own financial professional when making decisions regarding your financial or investment options.

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.


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