Thursday, June 21, 2018

The Truth about Zillow Zestimates

Do you know how much your home is worth? No, really, do you?
Homeowners and buyers across the country often answer this question by turning to a figure known as a Zestimate, produced by Zillow.com. Zillow’s intention is to create an accurate value estimate for the over 100 million homes indexed by the site. Although it won’t give you a figure that’s right on the nose, it can provide a price range to start with during your real estate negotiation.

Wait, What’s a Zestimate?

A Zestimate is Zillow’s attempt to use algorithms and publicly available data points that influence housing prices to estimate a home’s value at any given time. While this is a good idea, in concept, it’s important for buyers and sellers to realize that there’s a bit more to predicting prices than the cold, hard facts.
Often, real estate becomes a very personal and emotional buy. Two houses with the same floor plan, but different shades of brick or different trees in the front yard can have different values to the person doing the buying. That’s really what matters. Ultimately, a home is only worth what the market will bear and what a buyer will give.

The Perception Versus the Reality of Zestimates

Zestimates became popular because outside of an appraisal or comparative market analysis generated by an experienced Realtor, it can be really hard to judge whether your home is gaining or losing value. After all, no one wants to bet on a losing horse, even if they live inside that horse and it provides them with shelter from the elements and a place to make memories (must be a Trojan horse).
Unfortunately, the Zestimate has been responsible for a great deal of confusion since Zillow started using the original algorithm in 2006. Even though the algorithm has been upgraded several times since its inception, it’s not perfect. Unfortunately, people deeply enveloped in the stressful process that is buying a house sometimes become ultra focused on the numbers that Zestimates provide, treating them more as an absolute than a flexible guide.
Because most people don’t really know what goes into valuing a home, this issue of getting married to a valuation that’s not quite on the dot isn’t new. Even before Zillow, many homeowners believed that their home was worth so many dollars due to tax assessments that were often based on outdated information, collected during the initial construction of their home and updated based on average inflation.

Why Have a Zestimate, Then?

Zestimates aren’t the most accurate way to assess the value of a home because they aren’t able to pick up on the harder to quantify items that go into determining the value of a home. They can’t tell a freshly remodeled 1960’s ranch home from one that’s still got the original shag carpet, for example. They aren’t appraisals. For many homes, though, a Zestimate will get you in the ballpark.
Zestimates work best in areas of high turnover, in neighborhoods with fairly similar homes. Because a Zestimate relies on public data like tax assessments and homeowner corrections of the basics, including the number of bathrooms and bedrooms, it can make a fine starting point for the potential home buyer or seller.
Since you don’t buy and sell real estate constantly, having an overview of the neighborhood’s stats is helpful when you do–but you have to allow for wiggle room. Just because a listed house on Maple Drive has a Zestimate of $203,000 and it’s almost identical to your house next door, it doesn’t mean you won’t get more (or less) when you go to sell.

Taking Your Zestimate to the Next Level

Zestimates can give you a very general idea about the value of your home or a home you’re considering buying, but they aren’t appraisals. The only way to know what a home’s actual value is in the moment (because this can change rapidly in some markets) is to reach out to a home pro for their formal opinion.
If you’ve reached that point where you’re ready to buy or sell a home and want a highly accurate price point to start from, contact your Realtor for a comparative market analysis. Once you have a contract in hand, a professional appraiser will take it from there and give you an exact dollar figure based on hundreds of factors that are a bit too nebulous for the technology we currently have available to reliably assess.
And hey, if you need help finding an appraiser or any other home pro that can speed your real estate transaction along, just ask your HomeKeepr family for a recommendation!

Monday, June 11, 2018

6 Tips for Better Concrete Painting

Concrete has been used by humans for thousands of years, with some of the oldest examples of wells and houses made with the stuff dating back to 6500 BC. Although the ingredients have been refined over time, it’s still basically the same material that those ancient people valued so highly.
Even though concrete’s a really useful substance, it’s not particularly interesting. The endless gray of any random basement or garage is almost enough to make a person go mad. That’s probably why so many homeowners try to paint their concrete floors without considering how concrete is different from other types of building materials. Too often, they end up with the wrong materials or improper preparation, guaranteeing the coating will fail miserably.

Painting Concrete Isn’t Like Painting Your House

Concrete is a tricky substance. Unlike wood that is relatively non-porous, concrete literally breathes and wicks water constantly. This is why you’ll see older homes with miserable paint jobs on their patios, in the basement, or anywhere there’s a lot of concrete. That paint didn’t stand a chance of bonding to the concrete without a lot of help.
But your paint job will be different, that’s why you’re here! Removing old paint from a concrete slab can be a challenging job, but the end result is a glorious floor that twinkles in the sunlight. How about some tips for doing the job right?
#1. Choose concrete stain or dye. One of the main reasons that house paint peels off of concrete is because it doesn’t breathe like the concrete surface. This leads to moisture build-up below the paint, causing adherence to be lost entirely. Concrete stains and concrete dyes are different — they breathe just like the concrete. Stains are made of a blend of acrylic polymers and pigments that react chemically with the concrete surface; dyes, on the other hand, are nonreactive and color the cement when the very small particles penetrate into the surface.
#2. Epoxy garage floor paint is another option. Although it’s much more challenging to apply correctly, if you really want to “paint” the floor, an epoxy-based garage floor paint can be applied to your cleaned and prepped concrete surface. Bear in mind that epoxy takes time to dry and then has to have an additional curing period to harden properly. If you’re dealing with an interior space, you’ll also need lots of ventilation, otherwise the fumes could be your downfall.
#3. Take the time to prep the floor right. This may mean removing old paint with chemical paint remover, power washing the surface or even renting a grinder and roughing up the floor while eliminating old paint. When you’re prepping a concrete floor for painting, it should be just slightly rough, similar in texture to 120 grit sandpaper. Take your time and don’t settle for “good enough.”
#4. Always wash the bared floor thoroughly. With all that old paint gone and traces of various chemicals left behind, it’s definitely time to wash the concrete. Not only does this remove any stray material that might have been missed, you’ll ensure that no unplanned chemical reactions occur (you’re not going to blow up the house, but your paint may fail to adhere). Let it dry thoroughly, for days if possible.
#5. Test for moisture penetration. You’ve cleaned your concrete slab and you’re ready to paint! Except you’re not. You still need to check out the level of moisture penetration coming through the slab. Remember how you can’t use wall paint on concrete floors because it needs to breathe? It’s still breathing. The question now is just how much.
You can test this by covering a three foot by three foot area of the floor with heavy clear plastic sheeting. Tape it down completely and just walk away. Check in with it in a couple of days. If there’s no moisture collecting under the plastic, you’re golden. If there is, you may need to apply a masonry sealer first and retest before applying the final color (ask your paint monger what solution works best in your area).
#6. Priming is vital to success. You’ve probably painted walls and other things without applying a proper primer and it worked just fine, but we’re comparing apples to space ships here. Concrete not only is expected to take a lot harder beating than any random wall, it has all that complicated breathing going on. Skip the primer and you might as well just not do the project at all because you’ll just have to redo it in a few weeks or months.

Concrete Painting Giving You the Jitters?

It’s ok, if you’re not ready for a project like this you certainly don’t have to go it alone. Just log into your friendly HomeKeepr community and you’ll have no trouble finding a concrete contractor who can create the cement floor you’ve been dreaming about. Since they’re been recommended by your Realtor, you know they’re experienced and can be trusted. You dream up the concrete floors you want, HomeKeepr’s home pros will bring them to life.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Housing Trends Portland Region and Portland Region Real Estate Market Updat

Housing Trends Portland Region and Portland Region Real Estate Market Updat

What’s the Value of a Green Home?

Green homes are becoming a really big deal these days. Whether that means that an older home is being retrofitted with energy-saving equipment or a brand spanking new one is growing up green, it is apparently much easier to be green than we’ve been led to believe.

The Numbers Are Coming In

A long-term study of homes in the Austin-Round Rock, Texas, area found that homes built between 2008 and 2016 got a significant value boost from their efforts. Homes that held the gold standard Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification were worth, on average, eight percent more than traditionally built homes.
That might not sound like a lot, but when you consider the average new home in that market sells for $311,000, and eight percent of that is $24,888, it’s kind of a big deal. Even homes built to a more generic “green” standard saw a six percent price boost. That’s a lot of green for being green.

Elements of a LEED-Certified Green Home

So great, green houses are worth a lot more than their counterparts. What does it even mean to be “green?” This is a great question that has been asked again and again. Green homes are more than skin-deep. When you’re talking about new construction, these are homes that were designed from the ground up to be the least disruptive to the environment and very energy efficient.
These six items are necessities for any green housing certification:
* Site planning and development. Although we don’t really consider it much, we’re major disruptions to native plant and animal life, what with all of our house-building and whatnot. Site planning starts with a site that’s not located near protected spaces like wetlands. Then the house is placed on the plan with an orientation such that it can take maximum advantage of green technology like solar panels and wind turbines.
* Material origin and longevity. Your green home is made of materials that were each carefully considered and chosen for a particular reason (and not because they were the cheapest!). Factors that are taken into account include the manufacturing process, distance to transport the materials and even what the material is made of. The goal is to increase durability so you don’t have to replace anything soon and reduce overall resource consumption.
* Smart water use. Not only are green buildings designed to waste as little water as possible, with low-flow faucets, shower heads and toilets, they should even be built to help prevent runoff. Gray water is often rerouted to landscape and rainwater is collected and either sent into the ground through a trench, pit or well to prevent erosion around the house or it’s used to water landscape.
* A high level of energy efficiency. Each and every item in a green home is meant to keep the entire system as efficient as possible. This means high R-rated insulation, highly efficient HVAC systems, low energy use light bulbs and even those solar panels or wind turbines that were taken into consideration in the site plan.
* Excellent indoor air quality. Hey, it’s not all about saving money, green homes are also homes that are easier to live in. When your house vents combusting appliances properly, has minimal off-gassing from Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and plenty of ventilation to purge any fumes that may linger, you can be sure you’re breathing crystal-clear air in a greener home.
* Proper operation and maintenance. When the home is built and sold, the real challenge begins. How a homeowner maintains and runs their equipment has a huge impact on how green their home truly is. By leaving a breadcrumb trail of tools like smart thermostats, water-saving fixtures and highly efficient appliances, a green builder is doing what they can to ensure homeowners stick to the plan.
Even if you own an older home, you can bring it up to LEED standards with a great deal of effort. Adding green elements bit by bit is less of an overwhelming process, which is why so many people are green remodeling these days.
That could mean anything from installing a new HVAC system and vents that better disburse that highly efficient climate control to adding solar panels to help with electricity usage or just working on one conservation effort at a time, like water consumption. It doesn’t have to be an all or nothing situation.

Greening Up My Home Is Too Overwhelming…

It’s ok, that’s why you have your HomeKeepr community! Just search the home pros your Realtor has recommended and you’ll quickly find an expert that can get started turning your home into a lean, green machine. Whether it’s a Jolly Green Giant of a job or a little sprig, you’ll find the green and LEED-certified experts you need inside.

...Housing Trends eNewsletter- LaTasha Hershey

...Housing Trends eNewsletter- LaTasha Hershey

Monday, June 4, 2018

Case-Shiller: Rising mortgage rates, home prices pull on affordability

Case-Shiller: Rising mortgage rates, home prices pull on affordability: Homebuyers are going to continue to need larger loans as home prices increase, but rising affordability issues could eventually push many potential homebuyers into renting, the latest Case-Shiller report shows. Overall, home prices jumped 6.5% in March.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

NAR midyear forecast: Despite inventory, home sales expected to rise in 2018

NAR midyear forecast: Despite inventory, home sales expected to rise in 2018: Several speakers at the 2018 Realtors Legislative Meetings and Trade Expo stated that they are forecasting a slight increase in home sales for 2018, but that growth won't come without some obstacles. Despite a strengthening economy, wage growth and improving job market, issues like low supply and affordability may threaten the rate of increase for home sales in 2018, according to the speakers.

Fair Housing Act hits 50: Is housing segregation a thing of the past?

Fair Housing Act hits 50: Is housing segregation a thing of the past?: A recent study suggest that there are significant patterns of residential segregation in all of the nation’s large metropolitan areas, but the black population is the most highly segregated group, according to Apartment List.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

How to Choose and Plant a Tree

Being a homeowner means more than just cleaning, decorating and maintaining your house. It’s also your responsibility to take care of whatever land is yours. For a lot of people, this means putting their own mark with landscaping like perennials, shrubs and trees. Unfortunately for those trees, many are planted in the wrong place and end up being cut down in their prime. It’s a great loss to the neighborhood and to your yard. Next time you plant a tree, you’ll need to be more careful about where you put it.

Tree Things to Know About Trees (Get It?)

Planting a tree is a commitment, don’t ever think otherwise. You’re placing a sapling that has the potential to spread to enormous heights, overshadowing your house, your neighbor’s cars, and maybe even getting tangled in power lines or uprooting sidewalks. This is why it’s vital that you choose the right tree and put it in the right place the first time. So let’s talk about trees!
If you choose a tree from a nursery or home improvement center, it’s a good bet that the tree will succeed in your climate. After all, they’re not going to stock trees that will die over the summer or winter (though certainly ask if you’re not entirely confident). There are other things to pay extremely close attention to, though, like:
Size. Trees get big, even the little ones. You can expect even the smallest ornamentals, known as understory trees, to grow to be 15 to 25 feet high when they’re fully mature. In the forest, these trees are found growing on the edge of groupings of taller trees. Those bigger trees can grow to be 80 to 100 feet tall and just as wide, depending on the tree’s natural shape. Ultimately, there’s a lot of difference between the space required for a dogwood than a white oak.
Water needs. Just because a tree can theoretically survive in your area doesn’t mean that it can do it alone. During establishment (the baby years), that tree will need a lot of regular waterings to keep it going, no matter the species. Obviously, you won’t need to water on days that it’s raining, but as it starts to warm up and during the heat of the summer definitely plan to be on watering duty. Keep the tag around because you’ll need to know how to care for the tree as it ages. If it needs more water than naturally occurs, you’ll want to set up a sprinkler, drip irrigation system or get fancy and redirect gray water to it to keep it alive.
Spacing. This is where the rubber meets the road. Or rather, where the tree roots get under the sidewalk and your foundation and start breaking stuff. It says right on the tag how far to place your tree from anything else. When there’s a range, like 10 to 15 feet, go as far away as you can. This is the hardest part of tree planting, honestly, because other elements in the yard have to be considered. It’s 10 feet from the house, but only seven from the mailbox and not quite 11 from the sidewalk (weird yard, I know). Best to choose your tree, then check spacing requirements and stand out in your yard with a tape measure to ensure that tree will work where you want to put it. It’ll look a little sparse the first year or two, but you’ll be glad you took the time when it’s bigger.

Tree Roots and You

Some of the most serious issues a house or cement pad can experience are caused by tree roots. Big, glorious trees are amazing to have in your yard, they provide shade and protection for wildlife, but it comes at a cost. This is why spacing matters.
Many trees will put out roots that are as far across as their canopies. A tree with a 25 foot wide canopy has the potential to send roots out 12 ½ feet from the trunk. A tree with a 60 foot canopy is often surrounded by a 30 foot root zone.
Besides considering the above ground elements, you need to know where your gas, water and sewer lines run. Deep rooted trees can get into sewer lines, causing the line to fail or wrap around utility lines, slowly shifting them out of place. But deep roots aren’t the only issue, shallow rooted trees create a nightmare when you’re mowing, since you have to somehow deal with them as you go along. Landscaping is a good option here, but also keep in mind that a good stiff breeze may cause that shallow rooted tree to uproot.
Choosing trees is tricky, but that’s why you ask a lot of questions before you leave with your new baby. The very best trees for your home are trees that are native to the area (so they can handle the climate without extra care), grow relatively quickly to let you can start reaping the benefits of a nice tree in your yard sooner and fit in the space properly, keeping all those roots away from anything they can break.

Planting Your Tree the Easy Way

If you’re not sure that you’re ready to do all the legwork it takes to pick a tree, you could call a professional landscaper or arborist for their opinion and services. They will be able to tell you exactly where your tree should go and even plant it for you. It just happens that there are a few of these knowledgeable people in the HomeKeepr community, waiting for you to connect with them!

Monday, May 21, 2018

Friday, May 18, 2018

Top Tools for Homeowners

Buying a house is a little like taking up a new hobby. There are lots of things you don’t know yet that you’ll learn as you go along, you’re also gonna need some specialized equipment to get very far. Whether you hope to become a top level home remodeler or simply want to put some new slats on your privacy fence, it takes the right tools to do the job.

The Right Tool for the Job

First, it’s important to note that you need the tool you need on any given job. Trying to improvise can result in connections that don’t connect quite fully, excessive and unnecessary damage to your home or damage to fasteners that will make them hard to back out later. Always use the right tool. If you don’t know which tool is the right tool, ask someone at the hardware or home improvement store — they’re usually pretty friendly and ready to help.
Without further ado, here are our picks for the top tools all homeowners need:
7. Stud finder. When you need to hang something heavy, you really should hang it on a stud. Although people with really good hearing can use the tap test on sheetrock, it’s always better to be certain that you’re hitting a stud, rather than tapping and hoping.
6. Hammers. Yes, it’s a broad category, but you really need one of each of these:
* 10 oz. hammer. This tiny hammer, otherwise known as the “tack hammer” is handy beyond imagination. Not only is it great for projects that require finesse (you can’t take a big whack at anything with this baby hammer), it’s also dainty enough to use to pull delicate trim work or tiles off the wall.
* Rubber mallet. It gets the award for best rubbery-headed hammer for its ability to pound things without leaving a dent. If you decide to put down certain kinds of laminate floors, for example, this guy is a must-have.
* Standard claw hammer. Everybody needs a standard hammer. They’re general purpose tools that can put nails in and take nails out. Claw hammers also double as pry bars in a lot of situations.
5. Pliers. Another combo group. It wouldn’t be fair to break the family up, after all. Plus, these pliers all do different jobs. Check them out:
* Locking pliers. These adjustable pliers also have a clamping feature, making them a multi-purpose wonder. You can clamp, you can hold, you can adjust! If you buy only one pair of pliers, choose a mid-sized pair of locking pliers. They’ll do everything regular pliers can do, plus some things groove joint pliers can.
* Groove joint pliers. This iconic plumbing tool is good for other stuff, too. The grooves allow you to expand the plier opening across a wider range of sizes than your locking pliers, but you have to hold them closed yourself. They are incredibly handy at 3 am when the plumbing’s sprung a leak.
* Needle nose pliers. In a totally different class, needle nose pliers are helpful when you’re trying to wire anything or fish out tiny things when you drop them in weird spaces. Primarily, though, wiring things in your home. Always turn the power off before wiring anything, even a new smart thermostat.
4. Utility knife. If you don’t have one of these, it’s high time you got one. Or six. Skip the disposables and go for the heavy metal options, you will not regret it. A good utility knife is perfect for cutting through boxes, carpet and vinyl flooring.
3. Level. Everybody’s seen those pictures on your wall, but they’re afraid to say anything about how badly leveled they are. Is it because you didn’t own a level when you hung them? The level on your phone is all fine and good for an estimate, but things like cases change how well they can work. An old fashioned level will never steer you wrong. Ideally, you’ll want a set, including one that’s about six inches long, another that’s two foot long and a third that’s four feet long if you intend to do any construction work in your home.
2. Tape measure. Look, I know you know exactly how long your shoe is and that you never vary in your strides, but for the sake of appearances, pick up a good tape measure. The wider models with 25 feet of tape are really flexible choices. Guess what? You can also use a tape to level if you didn’t pick up a level. Just choose either the ceiling or floor to level with, then measure from either point to the place where your shelf or picture is going to go. Make a mark, then go to the other side and repeat, making sure your tape isn’t slacking. Set as many points as you need between the two ends, being sure to mark at the same height each time.
1. Screwdrivers. You’re not going to get very far in your homeownership without interacting with a screw. That’s why you need screwdrivers. But instead of keeping track of a pile of screwdrivers, choose a really good model with magnetic bits. The longer the bit shaft, the better for the really tough jobs. You can also get kits that contain sockets, as well as hex and torx bits. This will be your favorite screwdriver — and your only screwdriver. Ratcheting screwdrivers can be more trouble than they’re worth, but well-made models do significantly cut down on wrist strain.
If you have a little extra cash rattling around, you should seriously consider a battery powered tool set that contains, at minimum, a drill and small circular saw. These two tools can get almost any job done, though you may have to buy different bits or blades. Eighteen volt models are much better at being tools than the lower voltage units, many are designed for professional work, they’re that tough.

No Interest in a Tool Shopping Spree?

If you’re really not the handy type or simply want to live a much simpler existence, forget the tool buying mania and instead connect to the home pro in the HomeKeepr community that can help you best. They’re already recommended by your Realtor, saving you the worry that your leaky faucet might just get a bit leakier.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Single Women Outbuy Men in Homeownership

Single women are purchasing homes and condos at more than double the rate of single males. The trend is expected to keep growing, too.
Last year, single women comprised 18 percent of all home purchases, while single men accounted for 7 percent, according to the National Association of REALTORS®. Single women are the second largest segment of home purchasers, behind married couples. Single women purchasers include never-married individuals, widows, and divorcees.  
Homebuilders are taking notice and are increasingly designing homes and subdivisions to appeal to women’s preferences. For example, in a development in North Carolina with McKee Homes, up to 50 percent of the homes purchased are by single women in their 30s, 40s, or older.
Single women tend to view homeownership more as an investment, Jessica Lautz, NAR’s director of demographic and behavioral insights, told The Washington Post. Single women tend to pay more on their home purchase than single men—$185,000 compared to $175,000. 
Rising rents may be the motivator that’s pushing more single women to homeownership. Twenty-three percent of single women cited rising rents as a “trigger” motivator behind their home purchase, according to a survey conducted by the Builders Digital Experience, a research and publishing firm. That is a greater percentage than the 16 percent average of all recent buyers surveyed. 
Source: “Single Women Account for More Real Estate Purchases Than Single Men,” The Washington Post (May 9, 2018)

What It’s Like to be Evicted

What It’s Like to be Evicted

Cannon Beach adopts new flood maps

Cannon Beach adopts new flood maps: CANNON BEACH — The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to adopt new flood plain maps in Cannon Beach provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The new hazard maps have been long-awaited by many downtown business owners. The maps are used by insurers to price flood insurance and

Monday, April 30, 2018

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Solar Energy 101: Getting Started with Green

As spring begins to really set in across the country a lot of homeowners are finally getting out into the yard and garden, soaking up the sun’s rays. Something else is taking in the rays in a big way right now: your neighbor’s solar panels. Although they function all year, just to be clear, the longer days mean more electricity production and lower utility bills. If you’ve been glancing up at those panels with envy in your heart, maybe it’s time to get your own mini electricity plant.
Depending on where you live, getting started with green energy can be a simple process with a range of providers to choose between. You should still learn as much as you can before choosing a system.

Solar Panels and Green Energy 101: Start Here

Before you dive head-first into a solar system, we want to give you a bit of a primer so you know what you’re looking at when you see it. Pretty much everyone knows that solar panels somehow make sun into electricity, but that may be the end of their knowledge base.
What’s actually happening inside is that the sun’s rays are being captured by special solar cells and converted into DC electricity. Just how that all works and what you need to make it happen is more of a mystery. Luckily, you don’t have to be a scientist to choose a good system.
Solar Panel Materials
Not every solar system is the same, which is why they vary in price so much. See, solar cells can be made from one of two main materials: monocrystalline silicon and polycrystalline silicon (thin film options are also becoming more widely available, but the adoption rate is low due to high cost). The first one, monocrystalline silicon is a more expensive, but more effective, solution. You’re gonna get more juice out of this material per square foot. That matters a lot when you have limited space on your roof to place panels.
Polycrystalline silicon is meant for areas with more space to spread out, like solar farms (or even dairy farms). But, the larger surface area means more maintenance, more chances of failure and so forth. For your house, focus your efforts on monocrystalline silicon if you’re serious about green energy.
Configuring Your Panels
Although there’s a very clear answer for the materials that should be inside your solar panels, how to configure them from there is a bit more open. You should really think about what it is you want your solar array to do before committing to a setup. These are your primary options:
Photovoltaic Direct. Unless you’re only going to use it for a single application that you do during the day, configuring an array as photovoltaic direct doesn’t make much sense. Basically, this is the kind of solar power that’s on your calculator (remember those?). It’s on-demand and when there’s no light to use, there’s no juice.
Off-Grid. Mountain Men and vacationers alike can take advantage of off-grid photovoltaic systems. These are systems that aren’t hooked up to the grid (hence the name), but are sufficient to provide your entire power needs. Used in conjunction with a battery bank for those long, dark nights, an off-grid system can make sense for temporary setups (like your RV) or very remote ones (that cabin way up on the hillside).
Grid-Tied with Battery Backup. After coming back to civilization, you may want to consider a grid-tied photovoltaic system with a battery backup. This way, you kind of have your cake and eat it, too. You store your own power, but you can also pull from the grid if you don’t make enough. You’ll be able to use these systems in an outage, since you’ve stored some electricity. Once the batteries are used up, though, karaoke party time is over. That aside, metering techniques have changed enough that it may be more cost effective to chuck the battery bank.
Batteryless Grid-Tied. Most systems today will be batteryless grid-tied photovoltaic. Essentially, your solar energy goes into your house, whatever needs to be used in that moment is sucked up by your TV and your fridge and so forth, then it travels out of your house to the grid. Your electric meter keeps track of how much electricity is leaving your house, as well as how much is coming back in during the night when you’re not generating any of your own juice. The only real downside to these systems is that they cannot act as an electricity backup in case of a power outage.

Getting the Most Out of Solar

Not all areas of the country are a good fit for solar, no matter how much you may want them to be. In fact, not even every house in an area generally believed to be good for solar is good for solar, so it pays to do a little legwork here before getting too emotionally invested. And by little, go to Google’s Project Sunroof and type in your address. It’ll do the rest.
Of course, having a house that’s awesome for solar is just the first step. There are several things you should do before making the leap to get the most out of the sun, including:
Weatherproofing your house. All those tiny leaks and the lack of insulation in the attic can impact how much you really benefit from solar in a big way. Because your air conditioning or heat is going to be influenced by those points, it’s a good idea to start by weatherproofing your home, no matter the season. Do it tight, do it right.
Upgrading the windows. Normally, if windows are opening and closing safely, they’re basically good. But when you’re talking about squeezing every cent out of your pricey solar panels, a window (and other glass panels like patio doors) upgrade is a great idea. Look for a low U-factor, indicating a tightly constructed window. Solar heat gain coefficient (SHGC) is another story. If you’re trying to use passive solar heat with your active solar panels, choose a high rating. If you’re trying to stay cool, or at least prevent outside heat from coming in unauthorized, go with a lower number. Your local window experts should be able to advise you on what’s best for your location.
Investing in Energy Star appliances. Energy Star appliances have long been the standard for efficiency. When you see an Energy Star tag, you know you’re looking at a washing machine, dryer, microwave, refrigerator or whatnot that’s among the most efficient in the market. If your new solar panels are trying to power your 50 year old refrigerator, you’re wasting an awful lot of power for nothing. Upgrade that fridge right away (they have some new ones with really cool features like on-door touchscreens and cameras that can show you what you forgot to get at the market)!!
Planting trees and bushes strategically. This is another one of those “depending on where you live” suggestions, unfortunately. In some areas, you simply can’t grow a tree tall enough to shade problematic parts of your home, for example, but maybe you can grow a taller bush to shade your air conditioner condenser from the heat of the summer so it works more efficiently. Grow all the things, but nothing too big too close to the house.

A Note on Solar Panel Financing

When you’re looking to pay for these fancypants solar panels of yours, there are plenty of options. There are a lot in most states, including rebates and grants, so seriously, go find a good loan.

Find a Pro to Help You Design the Perfect Solar Arrangement

Although some brave homeowners have configured their own solar systems over the years, the inspection requirements are getting more complicated as more people are adopting these systems. It’s usually worth it to hire a pro, since besides avoiding the hassle, you’ll also avoid penalties for installing one without a permit if you didn’t realize you needed one and the headache of having to give it two or three goes to get the system right. There’s no shame in it, not everyone can know the secrets of solar energy.
When you’re ready to reach out to a pro, just pop into your HomeKeepr community and send up a flag. Your Realtor has already recommended plenty of pros who can help you with various home projects, including solar panel design and placement.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Here’s Why You Need That Home Inspection

You should never judge a book by its cover, or a house by what you can see during a showing. Not only are showings about seeing yourself in a space, rather than assessing a home’s structural stability and system functionality, they’re generally too brief to really get to the nitty gritty. No Realtor is going to wait around while you crawl through the attic.
Anyway, that’s what home inspectors are for.

What a Home Inspection Is and Isn’t

One of the biggest misconceptions about home inspections is that the report you get is a run down of a static structure that’s unchangeable. The truth is that a home — or even an empty lot — is a constantly changing ecosystem. In a house, there are lots of parts behind the scenes that are growing and shrinking, shifting and moving, albeit slowly.
A home inspection isn’t a projection of the future health of your house. It’s a right now look at the structure and all the moving parts. A home inspection is a snapshot and it can only reflect what the inspector sees during the time they’re at your future address.
This means that a year from your home inspection the furnace may go out, or the roof may succumb to high winds. Your house may change in ways no one can predict now. But, that doesn’t mean that a home inspection has no value.

Three Big Reasons to Have a Home Inspection

Home professionals know what they’re getting for the price of a home inspection, but many home buyers balk at the idea of spending even more money trying to buy a house. Granted, home inspections aren’t cheap, but they provide a lot of value for the money. There are plenty of reasons to hire a home inspector, but these three biggies are worth pondering if you’re unsure about pulling that trigger.
1. Home inspectors can sniff out problems you may have missed when viewing the home. No one wants to buy a money pit, but people do all the time because they’re either overestimating their abilities or they’ve failed to get a home inspection. When your home inspector goes through your home, they’ll not just walk around in the living room. They crawl through the crawl space, they get up into the attic, they really give it a good look. Home inspections take hours to complete, but when they’re done you’ll be given a report that provides you more information than you could ever imagine. The types of problems found will help you decide if you can really deal with the house in the longer term or if you can afford the house at all.
2. They’ll prepare you for upcoming repairs. Although your home inspection is a snapshot of your home at a particular moment in time, and not meant to predict the future, there are many parts of the ecosystem that predictably show signs of wear. When your home inspector sees that your shingles are starting to lose their asphalt coating, for example, they’re going to make a note of that in the report. If the furnace is beyond its useful life, even though it still works, you can brace yourself for replacing it. Knowing that there are problems in your future can give you more time to prepare for fixing them, even if that means changing loan types to a mortgage with a rehabilitation loan component, like an FHA 203(K).
3. Don’t forget, an inspection report is also a bargaining chip. Most real estate contracts allow you an inspection period, during which you can get your experts out and have them look around the property. You also have the right to ask for repairs based on what they find, provided these were not readily apparent issues. (If the carpet’s worn in the hallway, you can’t ask for that during the inspection period because you could see it. You should request those kinds of repairs with your initial offer.)
Those less visible defects are everything. Say, for example, that your home inspector found that the plumbing is leaking under the house. When that report comes in, you can request that the seller fix this issue, because it’s obviously a major problem you couldn’t have known about. If they refuse, you can come back and ask to lower the sales price (with most loan programs). Some lenders will require that something as important as the piping is in working order before closing, so make sure you and your Realtor know what your loan requires before breaking out the home inspection bargaining chip.
After closing, a lot of buyers lose or toss their home inspections. This is kind of a mistake. You can use that home inspection as a punch list of items to update, repair or replace, and check them off as you go. Later, when you go to sell that house, you can show your potential buyers that you literally fixed everything on the home inspection. That’s a confidence builder, for sure.

You Need a Home Inspection — and an Inspector!

Your Realtor knows lots of home inspectors, so when it comes time to look that house over from top to bottom, connect with them in the HomeKeepr community. You’ll be able to view your agent’s recommendations for home inspectors in the area, along with other home experts you may need to help with repairs further down the road.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Blowing Hot and Cold: What to Do When the Climate’s Not Controlled

Of all of the dramatic and awe-inspiring developments of the modern era, surely climate control is high up there among the most beautiful. It can be a muggy 95 degrees Fahrenheit outside and yet, with a well-maintained air conditioner, it’s amazingly 74 and dry inside. In the winter, you can walk into a cozy 68 degree house after shoveling your -4 degree sidewalk. There truly isn’t much better in the whole world.
That’s why when your climate control system isn’t working, it sort of creates a bit of a panic. After all, you wouldn’t want to actually have to deal with -4 or 95 degree weather. That’s definitely a bummer. Luckily, a lot of the most common reasons for your forced air unit’s failure to do its duty can be easily DIY-ed.

Wielding Power Over Sun and Rain

Hey, there’s nothing unimpressive about what your friendly neighborhood HVAC expert can do when it comes to turning a brutal building into a climate-controlled structure, but you, too, can take a little bit of credit for keeping the weather under wraps. Before you call in your HVAC expert, a bit of troubleshooting can save you money and your repairman time.
Many of the problems with HVAC systems can be corrected at the filter, the condensation line or the breaker box. Let’s take a look at each issue in a bit of depth.

HVAC Filters are Your Worst Frenemy

When your climate control system kicks on, it immediately starts sucking air into the cold air return, pulling it across the air handler, which is either set to heat or cool. After a quick pass, that air is pushed out through the ducts, to be collected again by the cold air return and put through the ringer again.
As your air filter picks up more dust, hair and other airborne particulate, it gets harder for the air handler to suck air into the system. Eventually, you’ll find yourself in a position where the filter is so dirty that there’s almost no air flow and, therefore, no climate control. Strangely enough, most homeowners aren’t ever told how often to change their filters — the three month estimate on a lot of filter packages is a ridiculous overestimation of how long that filter will last.
Instead, HVAC experts recommend you check your filters at least once a month and replace them any time they start to look dirty. The higher your filter’s MERV rating, the more frequently it’ll need to be changed. This doesn’t mean you should seek out a filter with a low MERV rating, though. Too low of a MERV rating will leave your HVAC system vulnerable to dirt and dust collection inside the system, rather than on the filter. For most homes, a MERV of 7 or higher will filter out the stuff you really don’t want in the air, like mold spores, pollen and dust and protect your system.
If it’s been a while since you changed the filter and the system’s still kicking on, just blowing the wrong temperature, start at the filter. Change it, even if it’s only discolored. This can indicate that the tiny passages in the paper are clogged.

Awkward Conversations About Condensation

Plenty of people who are fairly hands-off when it comes to home maintenance don’t realize that their systems have something called a condensation line. This is essentially a tube that moves water from the air handler to a drain or outdoors, depending on the way your system is configured. Sometimes, your system will do something weird like kick on and off again rapidly or simply not cool properly as the only sign that your condensation line needs help.
In a modern HVAC system, the air from your cold air return is pulled across a special tent-shaped coil system that gets really cold when the gases inside are compressed. As that warm air passes and is cooled, it drops much of the liquid it was holding and that water collects in a pan below the coil. From there, the water goes into a dedicated line or vinyl tube, the condensation line, and out of the house.
When the condensation line is blocked, this process is disrupted. Some air handlers are designed to essentially stop working until the standing water is removed from the pan, others will simply spill everything into the floor, which is not a good time. This is why it’s usually recommended that you flush that condensation line every time you change your HVAC filter.
If you suspect a clogged condensation line, flushing it with straight vinegar or a diluted vinegar/ hot water mix can get the water out of the catch pan and restart the air conditioning party.

Have You Tried Turning it Off and Turning it Back On Again?

Hey, if it works for computers, televisions and all manner of electronics, turning it on and turning it off again should work on your air conditioner, should it? The truth is that your HVAC system is not your granddad’s system. There are plenty of computerized parts that are necessary for it to do its job property. When you’ve tried replacing the filter and you’ve cleaned the condensation line until it’s allowing water to flow free and neither of those things worked, it doesn’t hurt anything to reboot the system.
Most HVAC systems have at least two breakers in different parts of the house. Your air conditioner, for example, should have a double-wide breaker inside your main breaker box, as well as a breaker on the outside of the house. This outside breaker is housed in a little box of its own, hanging on the house very close to the outdoor unit.
Both of these need to be reset, since the problem could be anything from a computer that’s simply confused or a partially tripped breaker that was the result of a particularly windy night. Start by flipping the breaker inside your house to the “off” position, then go to the outside breaker box. Depending on the type of electricity interruption technology inside, you may just need to flip a switch, or it may require that you pull the fuse out and put it back in. Once you’ve done that, you can go back inside and turn the power in the main breaker box back to “on.”

Still Got Nothin’? Time to Call in the Calvary!

Anything beyond what’s explained in this blog is probably a bit more than a homeowner should be trying to fix on their own. HVAC systems are not only technically complicated, they’re sort of dangerous inside. But, hey, you’ve already got a great HVAC service in your HomeKeepr network that your Realtor has recommended! You’ll save time and get your power to control the indoor climate back in a snap — you’re totally winning today!

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Declutter to Improve Your Home’s Marketability

Of all the things that you can do to get your home ready for the market, there’s nothing as effective or inexpensive as decluttering. Not only does it allow you to really showcase the best features of your home, it helps you get ready to move and to possibly shed some items you really don’t need anymore anyway. Two birds, one stone.
A proper decluttering can be a big project, though. It’s important to have a plan before you get started.

Decluttering 101: Getting Started

The goal of decluttering for a home sale is to make your house appear as large and functional as is possible within its structural limitations. Obviously you’re not going to turn a 12 foot by 12 foot living room into a massive parlor simply by getting some stuff out of the way, but as with anything you’re looking to sell, it’s a good idea to put the best foot forward possible.
Removing clutter helps rooms feel more open and airy, so make this the hard focus of your life until it’s totally done. Bringing in some friends who will give you an honest opinion can also help you find more things to get out of the house before your Realtor comes to take the photos for your listing.
These tips can help you stay focused:
1. Begin at the beginning. The first thing a potential buyer is going to see is the yard, then the driveway and then the front door. These areas need to be very neat and tidy or else they’ll simply stay in the car and drive away. You don’t want to waste a lot of energy inside for buyers to be turned off because your front porch is covered in shaggy planters and old patio furniture.
2. One room at a time. There are any number of apps for planning big projects like this, so pick one and get to making a list. Every room in the house, even closets and hallways, should have their own entry. Break the effort into the smallest chunks possible to make it easier to accomplish. The more you check off, the better you’ll feel and the more momentum you’re going to build.
3. Do you really need all that furniture? Rooms crammed with furniture are great for get togethers, but they’re terrible for showing a buyer how they can use the same space. All they can see is your furniture, so get as much of it out of the way as possible. Leave the pieces that are the nicest or the newest for the very best first impression.
4. Clean all the counters off. It’s the easiest thing in the world to get into the habit of using your counters for storage, but when buyers see this practice, they just assume you don’t have enough storage. nobody wants a house with not enough storage — that’s probably the reason they’re looking for a new place to begin with.
5. Clean the showers. It’s an incredible hassle and something you probably only do when company is coming, but assume that company will be coming every day until closing from now on. Black mold on shower grout is an huge turn-off. Those buyers won’t know that you haven’t cleaned the back shower stall since 1989, they’ll just see that black mold and leave.
6. Your collections have gotta go. Yes, you have the most amazing collection of paperclip stick figures ever assembled, but they don’t need to be on display. In fact, they’re probably standing between you and a potential buyer right now. Pack them up, get them out of sight, make the room where you keep them look enormous.
7. Declutter the garage and storage buildings, too. Oh, don’t think we’ve forgotten about these guys. They’re great places to dump stuff you don’t want to get rid of, but don’t know where to put, but that potential buyer is going to want to know if their own stuff that they can’t figure out what to do with will fit in that space. Clean that garage and those storage buildings up and, if necessary, install some heavy duty shelves or racks to give them some appearance of organization.

Where Do You Put The Decluttered Clutter?

Once you’ve sorted out the things you can live without for a while, you have to decide what to do with them. You have a few options. You can sell them, maybe make a little bit of cash at a resale shop or a garage sale. You can keep them, but in a storage unit somewhere away from your home. You can recycle them. You can donate them. Probably, realistically, you’ll do a few of these things, depending on the clutter.
Whatever you do, don’t keep them in the boxes in your house. That defeats the entire purpose of decluttering. Remember, you want to make your house look huge, not like a tightly packed storage unit. So banish the boxes, clear the clutter, make it go far, far away. You’ll also be mostly ready for your move, should you sell that house quickly because of how clean and shiny it is, so that’s nice.

Need a Hand With the Mission: Impossible?

It can be a huge and daunting task to declutter a home you’ve lived in for a while, there’s no doubt about it. But that’s why there are professionals who have tons of experience organizing and staging spaces for home sellers. If this isn’t your forte, your HomeKeepr community can help you find someone who lives for it. Since your Realtor has already recommended these pros, you know they’re going to do an amazing job. You won’t even recognize your own house!

Monday, April 2, 2018

Do You Know How to Deal with Storm Damage?

There’s little worse than waking up in the morning after a big storm, only to discover that your house (and probably a few trees) aren’t exactly in the same condition you left them when you went to bed. You probably even let out an audible groan, since you just know it’s going to be a whole day of making calls and explaining over and over again what’s happened in order to get the right help out to your house.
If you’ve never handled a storm damage claim (or other homeowner claim), you know it can be incredibly intimidating. There are things you can do to help yourself and other things that will seriously hinder you. But, armed with the right information, your claim and clean up will be a (relative) breeze.

What to do Immediately After a Storm

Your first instinct after a storm is probably to start cleaning up and making repairs. It’s a natural next step, there’s no doubt about it. But, the problem with this is that if you start to clear the problem away, it’s going to be very difficult for your insurance adjuster to figure out what actually happened in the night. Here are some dos and don’ts for the hours to days after a storm:
Do take lots of photos of the damage as soon as possible. Anything can happen between the time when you realize you have damage and when the adjuster shows up. So document, document, document. Get lots of photos from lots of angles so they can put together a complete picture of the situation. Every detail helps.
Don’t remove anything that isn’t going to contribute more damage to the house. If there’s a tree on your roof and it’s poking through the attic, you’re going to have to clear some of that away. If there’s a tree on your roof, but it’s small and just sort of lying there, it’s probably not hurting anything. The same goes for any sort of debris that might be hanging around. Don’t touch anything you don’t have to.
Do stabilize serious problems like leaking roofs. The tree that’s punched into the attic is a big deal. You’re going to have to act on this to prevent further damage. Either call one of your HomeKeepr home pros or grab the chainsaw and clear it carefully from the roof. Then cover the hole with a tarp or take other temporary measures. The key here is temporary. You should not attempt to fix this permanently now. Again, the insurance adjuster needs to look at it first.
Don’t hire any roofers or other repair companies that are canvassing your neighborhood. If your whole neighborhood was hit by high winds or other severe weather, expect to be almost immediately mobbed by canvassing roofers and handymen. It’s not that they’re terrible people, but you need to know what your insurance is prepared to cover before you hire anyone. You generally have the option to choose your own repair people, within a reasonable price range, so do collect all the cards they bring by.

Once the Insurance Adjuster Arrives

When the adjuster lands at your house, be kind. Remember that they’re probably severely overworked at the moment, since your whole town was ravaged by the same storm. They do want you to get back to normal as soon as possible, but they’re just not physically able to help everyone at once. It’s no fun to suffer a storm gladly, but patience is a virtue.
They’ll take a look at the damage, possibly bring in a home pro to do a more detailed evaluation and then you’ll wait some more. Make sure that you show them everything you have while they’re at your doorstep, from the photos you took right after the storm to the measures you had to take to stabilize the damage. The more complete the details, the easier it is for them to figure out how much it’s going to cost to fix your house.
Get their phone number, just in case you have anything else to send them. An email might also be appropriate. Staying in touch at this point is going to be vital, since there could be things you’ll need to do to keep the process moving along. This might include meeting home repair experts at your home to provide quotes, sending those quotes over to the adjuster and so forth.

A Few Things That Can Go Wrong

Dealing with storm damage is stressful. There’s just something intrinsically awful about being so inconvenienced by random acts of nature, but chances are good that you’ll have to go through it once or twice. Depending on where you live, however, it can become a much bigger problem than just a basic hassle. Your insurance may not cover your damage because you weren’t carrying the right type of coverage. This is a good place for a dramatic gasp.
If you’ve not had a storm yet, you’re going to want to check your policies to see if the following items are included or if you have a separate policy or rider to cover them:
Sewage backups. Yes, it’s true that your basic homeowner’s policy probably won’t cover a sewage backup, even if it’s caused by surging storm drain water. Not only is this about the worst thing to clean up ever, it can be costly if you have a finished basement or other area that would need to be completely gutted in order to repair.
Flooding. Most flood insurance policies are issued through FEMA via the National Flood Insurance Program. The cost is relatively minimal, but because so many people assume they’re covered against floods under their homeowner’s, they don’t bother to look into this at all. The odds are good that your basic homeowner’s policy is not going to cover any water that seeps in from outside, though. You should call your agent to verify this information, but certainly don’t blindly trust you’re good to go.
Wind damage. In states where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plains (or where hurricanes are common), you may not have enough wind coverage with just a basic insurance policy. Often, there are serious restrictions on how much your policy will pay (usually as a percentage of the policy, not the actual cost of damage) and on what kind of damage it’ll pay it. Make sure you’ve got wind damage coverage that will pay out enough if you ever had to use it.
Vehicle damage. If a tree falls on your car during a windstorm and no one is around to see it, is it covered by your homeowner’s insurance? No. Not usually, anyway. That would be a job for your car insurance, so make sure it’s ample if you’re in a storm-heavy area. The only cases where you could pretty much count on the car being covered by your homeowner’s is if the car were inside the garage and then the garage fell on it. Even then there may be some limits.

Making Sure You’re Totally Covered

Being a homeowner means having to navigate some complicated waters, especially when it comes to the financials of it all. But you don’t have to worry about your insurance coverage or who will help you put your home back together after a storm if you’ve found a great team. Just drop in on your HomeKeepr community for the best insurance agents, roofers and general handymen in your area. Your Realtor trusts them, so you know they have to be good!

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