Home Designs for Busy Families

With their calendars crammed with things to do and places to go, today’s busy families want to spend as little time as possible handling mundane household chores. To help families stay organized, newer homes are being built with customized floor plans to allow for more flexibility and better use of space. Here are a few examples of these home design trends.

Mudrooms

While mudrooms have been around for at least a decade, they have evolved into a larger, more centralized area for each member of the family, complete with individual cubbies for books and backpacks, drawers for hats and gloves, and a bench for removing wet shoes and boots.

Most mudrooms are 6 feet by 8 feet, although some can be as large as 8 feet by 12 feet, and some include USB outlets, walk-in closets and windows with natural light. These rooms once shared space with washers and dryers, but laundry machines have moved closer to the bedrooms where most dirty laundry collects, builders say.

Study/Computer Stations

Parents want to keep a close eye on their kids as they do their homework, but where that study space is located differs among households. In many homes, kitchen islands double as a study area as well as an area for cooking and eating. Other homes are built with study nooks on the upper floor, a separate study in the lower level or a pocket office located off the kitchen.

Self-Serve Kitchens

Newer homes are designed with the kitchen or pantry set up so family members can grab their own meals while on the go. These self-serve areas are located away from the main food prep area and are equipped with a mini refrigerator or refrigerator drawer to hold fruit and snacks, and a micro- wave at child-sized height for easy access.

Home design features like these can help today’s families stay organized as they go through their busy lives.

CRS Your Home Newsletter, March 2015

No More Closing Surprises

Thanks to new mortgage disclosure guidelines from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) that became effective October 3, 2015, homebuyers can expect a more seamless closing process and fewer headaches at the closing table. The new rules simplify the loan paper- work so buyers understand exactly what they owe.

Buyers can expect to receive two documents during the sales process — a loan estimate and a closing disclosure form, which are intended to be more transparent and could save them money on hidden costs and small-print fees that they might other- wise miss.

The loan estimate details the transaction, including the estimated loan and closing costs. Consumers can use this form to do an apples-to-apples comparison when shopping
for home loans. The closing disclosure form, which details the final transaction, is provided to buyers three days before closing so they can confirm whether they are getting what they expected and negotiate any changes. The two documents mirror each other, making it easy to compare estimates with final loan terms.

Because of the strict timing rules lenders must follow, it’s important that buyers provide lenders with all the information they need to process their loan applications quickly. A qualified real estate professional can help ensure that all paperwork and negotiations with the seller are completed in a timely fashion.

CRS Your Home Newsletter, January/February 2016

Universal Appeal

As more homeowners choose to live in their homes longer as they age, many of them are improving their space with universal design features to help them live more comfortably. Before making any improvements, the National Aging in Place Council outlines the most common universal design modifications.

Are the entryways accessible? Adding a ramp or constructing no- step entries can help those confined to a wheelchair or who have trouble climbing stairs. Open floor plans and wider hallways make everyone feel less cramped and allow people to move around easily. Wider doorways provide easier access to other parts of the home and enable people to move large items in and out of the house.

To improve safety in bathrooms, install grab bars and elevated toilets. Make sure there’s enough turnaround space for someone in a wheelchair, and consider lowering the bathroom sink and adding a roll-in shower with multiple showerheads. A non-slip floor and shower surface will help everyone stay on their feet. In the master bedroom, consider reconfiguring an existing walk-in closet or building a new one with storage at different heights.

In the kitchen, lower cooking surfaces and countertops built at varying heights will appeal to home cooks who have difficulty bending over or have height limitations. Wall ovens and microwaves should be mounted at reachable heights, and storage and shelf space should be abundant and accessible.

Well-placed skylights and ceiling lights will aid those with poor vision and make the home more personable and safe. Installing rocker switches and door leverhandles can aid people with poor hand strength as well as those carrying groceries into the house.

A universally-designed home provides smart solutions for everyday living that everyone can enjoy.

CRS Your Home Newsletter, October 2012

App Picking

There’s an app for that.” Tired of hearing that phrase? Well, don’t knock it just yet. When you’re shopping for a home, you’ll want to know the apps that will lead you to the next open house. Consider these tips from AOL Real Estate and CNET.

For starters, real estate websites, such as Zillow, Redfin and Trulia, have free apps with many of the sites’ functions. You can search addresses, contact REALTORS®, and find the estimated value of homes.

Homesnap (iOS, free) is another tool on the scene. Take a photo within the app when you’re passing by a home to get the list price, square footage, number of bedrooms, heating and air conditioning systems, local schools and estimated taxes.

If you’re looking for a home in a specific area, try the REALTOR.com Real Estate App (Andriod, IOS; free) Area Highlighter feature. You can customize the search area by drawing the boundaries directly on the map.

And once you’ve started your search, keep track of the houses and wish list features you like with CrumbTracks’ (iOS, $1.99). Create files—with notes and photos—for each one.

The Home Buying Power app (iOS, $1.99) can help you calculate your down payment, ideal monthly payment, closing costs and more.

And, if you’re just looking to do some home improvements, there’s an app for that, too. Try Photo Measures (iOS, $5.99), which gives you accurate dimensions of rooms and lets you include design notes.

CRS Your Home Newsletter, September 2013

Shopping For Green

Today’s buyers are more concerned than ever about living green, and that means finding an eco- friendly home. How do you know the home you want is truly green?

Green means different things to different people. Buyers focused on energy cost savings prefer homes that have basic energy-efficient features, such as Energy Star appliances, weatherproofed windows and good insulation. Buyers concerned about personal health issues prefer homes that use non-toxic materials such as low VOC paints and bamboo flooring. Still other buyers want to contribute a more sustainable future. They look for building materials that are produced locally or use reclaimed wood.

At the most basic level, Energy Star appliances, double-paned windows and efficient heating and cooling systems can lower energy bills and give buyers peace of mind. Other factors include:

Cost – Expect to pay more for a green home. A recent study by the University of California finds that green-certified, single-family homes sold for 9 percent more than a comparable home that wasn’t green.

Square Footage – The larger the home, the more energy it consumes. Buying a smaller home is more economical.

Paint – Use water-based paints that contain lower levels of VOC’s that conventional oil-based paints. VOC’s emit gases that can cause health issues.

Carpeting/Flooring – Choose carpeting made from recycled or renewable materials. For wood flooring, bamboo or reclaimed wood are popular choices.

Utilities – Review past utility bills to determine typical monthly energy costs. Also request documentation on any green features that have been added to the property.

Landscaping – Choose plants and trees that don’t require the same level of maintenance as a lawn.

If in doubt, ask questions. The more questions you ask, the more confident you wil be that you are getting a truly green home.

CRS Your Home Newsletter, September/October, 2015

10 Essential Supplies for DIY Movers

Moving can be a stressful time, especially if you’re taking the DIY route. Aside from the day-of essentials — coffee and donuts for you and your crew — you’ll want to gather these 10 must-have supplies ahead of time to make packing (and unpacking!) as smooth as possible. Most of these items can be ordered online or picked up at a local storage company, rental company or hardware store.

1. Boxes: Heavy-duty, wardrobe & specialty

When you’re doing all the heavy lifting yourself, it can be tempting to scrimp on boxes and ask for used ones from local stores. This is a time-consuming process, and you’re likely to get odd-shaped boxes or produce boxes without lids. While some hand-me-down boxes are fine, you’ll also want to invest in new heavy-duty boxes built for moving. Don’t forget to pick up specialty boxes for mirrors and artwork, and wardrobe boxes with hanging racks to make putting your closet back in order a snap.

2. Packing tape

Next, you’ll need packing tape, and lots of it. Packing tape can be expensive, but price indicates quality. Cheap tape is often flimsy and sticks to itself, requiring you to use more of it. Heavy-duty tape is a one-strip operation on the bottom and top of the box. Buy in bulk to get the best deal and avoid last-minute tape runs for expensive single rolls.

3. Moving blankets

These can be standard blue moving blankets or just ones that are on their way out anyway and that you won’t mind getting a few grease strains or tears. These are mostly to protect furniture from jostling and so you can stack boxes or more furniture on top. If you’re packing a car or pickup truck, blankets are also useful for lining the trunk or bed so you don’t leave stains or scratches. Moving blankets also can be taped around bannisters to avoid damaging them on moving day. The more blankets you have on hand the better, so ask friends or family if you need more, or hit up a thrift store.

4. Stretch plastic wrap

A roll of mover’s stretch plastic wrap that seals to itself can be a miracle-worker on moving day. Use it to bundle boxes together, keep plastic bins closed, hold rugs rolled, keep cabinet doors in place and so much more. The plastic wrap sticks only to itself and leaves no residue, so it’s a mover’s best friend.

5. Bubble wrap

Of course, bubble wrap is a must-have for any move and is particularly useful for keeping delicate plates and bowls secure inside boxes. Use small bubbles for more delicate items and larger bubbles for larger items. With bubble wrap and the next two items on this list, all of your fragile items will be well-protected.

6. Packing paper

Packing paper is a different animal than standard tissue paper or even brown paper used for mailing. This is a thin, flexible paper that is unbeatable for filling in boxes to keep items from shifting. You can use it much like bubble wrap for less-fragile items. The rule of thumb for moving is that nothing should move inside a box, so stuff packing paper to your heart’s content — or at least until nothing is rattling around anymore.

7. Paper towels

Paper towels are another essential tool to keep within arm’s reach during your move. Not only are they useful for spills and cleanup, but they also can be a packing tool. Stuffing paper towels inside fragile vases or mugs will help keep them protected. Place a paper towel between dishes when stacking to prevent scuffs and dings. The best part: You can collect all of the paper towels when you get to your new place and use them for cleaning.

8. Carpet protection

Most DIY movers won’t think of this one, but mover’s carpet protection film is a good investment. This is a different film than the stretch moving wrap and it won’t shift or drag on carpet or stairs. With the constant going in and out, carpet is sure to take a beating. If you add in a muddy, wet or snowy moving day, carpet protection is essential.

9. Easy moving sliders and/or a dolly

When you’re moving by yourself, those little disks that you place under furniture to move it across the floor without lifting can be a major back-saver. There are specific sliders for carpet and hard surfaces, so one set of each should make moving much easier. If you can borrow a dolly, this is an unbeatable combination. You’ll be able to make fewer trips and save yourself a lot of struggle.

10. Utility knives

A few high-quality utility knives within arms’ reach are a necessity. Brightly colored knives will be easy to find amidst the (hopefully organized) chaos.

Zillow.com, August 21, 2015

Lock It Up

With all the advancements in smart-home security technology and systems, some homeowners may overlook on of the most basic keys to home security — door locks and keys. According to This Old House, nearly 3 million U.S. homes are broken into each year. Locks have come a long way in terms of the protection they provide, and it’s a good time to examine some options for improving home security with a simple upgrade of door-lock hardware.

Determining what kind of exterior lock you need is the first step. Consider the pros and cons of various keyed-entry doorknobs, handle sets and dead bolts before you buy. All exterior doors need a dead bolt no matter what kind of knob or handle set you decide on. You can mount the dead bolt and doorknob together or separately, or purchase a set that includes both as one installation.

Exterior locks should be either Grade 1 or 2. Choose locksets with a dead-locking latch or bolt or dead bolts that include hardened pins. Install these with a heavy-duty plate and at least 3 inch screws. Prices for the locksets very from $25 to over $300 depending on quality, style and safety rating.

When shopping for a new lockset, keep in mind that you want to look for a dead bolt that will withstand door jimmying with a credit card or saw. According to a study by ComsumerReports.org, forcible entries such as door kick-ins are the most common type of home break in. The report also found that the majority of new smart-home locks that are opened by fingerprint, passcode or key failed their prying/wrenching test. Since technology isn’t necessarily the solution when it comes to home security, reinforcing doors with upgraded locks that feature good safety-rated parts will keep your home safe.

Your Home Newsletter, July/August 2015

 

Out With The Old

Homeowners depend on their kitchen appliances to run smoothly every day. But when the washing machine begins to overflow and the fridge won’t keep things cold, it might be tempting to replace the machines with newer models. Before shopping around, here are a few tips from retailers Lowe’s and Kellum Appliances to determine whether to repair or replace, keeping in mind age, repair costs and energy efficiency.

First check the owner’s manual. If the appliance is relatively new, the warranty should cover the cost of replacement parts. Contact the appliance manufacturer or retailer where the item was purchased. They may be able to diagnose the problem and offer solutions.

Next, figure the cost of repair and compare it to the cost of purchasing a new appliance. If the appliance is relatively new, replacing a part may be more practical than buying a new machine. But if the repair cost is more than half of the purchase price, replacement is a better option.

Many of today’s models with the ENERGY STAR label are more energy-efficient, so upgrading to a newer model will save more money in the long run. Replacing a dishwasher manufactured before 1994 will save more than 10 gallons of water per cycle and about $30 to $40 per year in utility bills, while ENERGY STAR washers use 37 percent less energy and more than 50 percent less water than standard models.

If finances dictate upgrading only one appliance, start with the refrigerator. Because it runs continuously every day, it uses more electricity than other appliances, so a replacement will see immediate savings in utility bills.

Your Home Newsletter, October 2012

Universal Appeal

As more homeowners choose to live in their homes longer as they age, many of them are improving their space with universal design features to help them live more comfortably. Before making any improvements, the National Aging in Place Council outlines the most common universal design modifications.

Are the entryways accessible? Adding a ramp or constructing no- step entries can help those confined to a wheelchair or who have trouble climbing stairs. Open floor plans and wider hallways make everyone feel less cramped and allow people to move around easily. Wider doorways provide easier access to other parts of the home and enable people to move large items in and out of the house.

To improve safety in bathrooms, install grab bars and elevated toilets. Make sure there’s enough turnaround space for someone in a wheelchair, and consider lowering the bathroom sink and adding a roll-in shower with multiple showerheads. A non-slip floor and shower surface will help everyone stay on their feet. In the master bedroom, consider reconfiguring an existing walk-in closet or building a new one with storage at different heights.

In the kitchen, lower cooking surfaces and countertops built at varying heights will appeal to home cooks who have difficulty bending over or have height limitations. Wall ovens and microwaves should be mounted at reachable heights, and storage and shelf space should be abundant and accessible.

Well-placed skylights and ceiling lights will aid those with poor vision and make the home more personable and safe. Installing rocker switches and door lever
handles can aid people with poor hand
strength as well as those carrying
groceries into the house.

A universally-designed home provides smart solutions for everyday living that everyone can enjoy.

Your Home Newsletter, October 2012

Inspect For Success

Whether you’re buying or selling a home, home inspections are a key part of closing any deal. The inspection serves as a top-to bottom overview of the home — from structure to plumbing and electrical — to ensure safety and peace of mind for new homeowners. According to the American Society of Home Inspectors, home inspections can range from $350 to $500 depending on geographical location, and are typically the responsibility of the homebuyer, although it’s not uncommon for sellers to conduct them.

Anything that is readily accessible and clearly visible can be a part of the inspection, which can take from two to four hours. Buyers should always tag along on home inspections to see firsthand what the inspector notices and identifies as potential cause for concern. This is especially helpful in making sense of the inspector’s final summary report, which will note anything in the home that might need fixing or that could lead to big issues down the line, such as a cracked foundation, faulty wiring, defective heating and cooling systems, or the presence of mold or water stains.

While it is not included in a normal home inspection, many experts recommend spending the extra money to conduct both termite and radon inspections before deciding whether to buy. Buyers shouldn’t be nervous to use the findings as bargaining chips during negotiations. Oftentimes, sellers will repair problems or lower the home price based on issues the inspection discovers.

Your Home Newsletter September 2012

Rental Strategies

For some homeowners, renting may be a viable option to selling. Whether you are an experienced landlord or a first-timer, the following tips from Frontdoor.com and USAA Insurance can help you evaluate prospective renters for your home.

First, know federal and state landlord/tenant laws, especially the Fair Housing Act, which outlines illegal discriminatory actions. The Department of Housing and Urban Development’s website is a good place to start to gather information.

When advertising, focus on the details about the home, such as amenities, features, number of bedrooms and baths, and rent. Providing photos can also help “sell” your place to prospective renters. Show your house at its best by keeping it clean and in good repair. Remember to remove any personal items.

Use a standard rental application that conforms to state laws, and give renters a list of policies about pets, co-signers, credit scores and late payments. Review all applications in the order you receive them, conduct a background check and call references. A good rule of thumb is to accept only applicants whose gross monthly income is three times the rent or more.

Keep marketing the house and accepting applications until a lease is signed and the deposit check has cleared. Ask potential tenants to show proof of renters insurance, which covers the cost of the tenants’ belongings and any damage that might occur to the property during their stay.

By following these tips, you can find tenants who appreciate your home as much as you do.

Your Home CRS Newsletter August 2012

Hiring Power

Finding a qualified contractor for a home improvement project can seem overwhelming unless you know what qualifications to look for. Start your contractor search by following these guidelines from Angie’s List.

Begin by clearly defining your project. Read remodeling magazines and search websites for designs and materials. Even just jotting down ideas on paper can help potential contractors understand what you want to accomplish.

To find contractors, ask family and friends for references, or check out sites like Angie’s List and the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) for recommendations. Also check the Better Business Bureau for any reported complaints.

Ask the contractor for names of previous clients and talk to them about their experience. Find out if they were pleased with the workmanship and whether they would hire the contractor again. If the contractor is reluctant to give names of past clients, find another one.

Make sure the contractor has an established street address and phone number where they can be reached in case of an emergency. Be wary of contractors who use a box office address or an answering service.

Obtain at least three written estimates, and ask if the contractors are licensed, bonded and insured. A reputable contractor will usually come prepared with proof of these items. Review the contract thoroughly to ensure that you understand all of the details and how change orders will be handled.

Most contractors require a 10 percent to 15 percent deposit before beginning a project. Use a credit card for payments so you have some recourse in case something goes wrong. Before signing off on the project and making the final payment, check that the work is completed to your satisfaction.

Hiring qualified contractors can provide some peace of mind throughout the project.

Your Home CRS Newsletter August 2012