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Winter Weather Home Care

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Don’t let Old Man Winter harm your home. A few extra maintenance tasks can keep you covered until spring arrives.

Winter Weather Home Care

It’s been a rough winter for most of the country, and we’ve got several more weeks to go — and likely more snowstorms, too. Assuming you handled some of the basics before the start of the season, here are some additional steps you can take to keep your home safe from the winter weather.

Keep pipes from freezing

Most cold weather issues pertain to plumbing, and one of the most common problems is frozen pipes, which can leave you without running water — or worse, a hefty repair bill. Proper insulation around the pipes helps to prevent this.

Other simple things you can do to prevent frozen pipes include:

  • Keeping your house properly heated by setting your thermostat to around 55 degrees.
  • Disconnecting water hoses from outdoor faucets.
  • Ensuring exterior doors, like garage and entry doors, remain closed.
  • Opening cabinet doors under sinks to allow heat to get under the sinks and warm pipes.
  • Allowing the faucets inside your house to drip so water continues to flow through them.
  • Installing weather stripping around the doors to keep cold air out and warm air in.

Inspect your roof

Experts say you should take a look at your roof from all angles, because one side might be clear but the other covered in snow drifts.

This is important, particularly if you live in Massachusetts, the epicenter of this season’s roof collapse epidemic. To date, more than 160 roofs have collapsed or faced imminent collapse in this one state alone, according to the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency.

Among the many visual clues that your roof might be straining under the weight of the snow, according to MEMA, are new cracks in walls or beams, sagging roof steel, and bends in metal supports. If you have any concerns, speak with a professional and consider bringing in an inspector.

Remove snow and ice built up against your house

If snow and ice pile up against your house, they could cover your exhaust vents (which can affect the performance of your furnace) and natural gas meter (which could lead to potentially dangerous leaks). Gently brush away the snow with your hands or a broom. If the problem is too severe, contact a service professional or technician for help.

Prevent injuries

Dead or damaged tree branches and limbs could easily break and fall because of ice, snow or wind, potentially damaging your house or car, or even possibly injuring someone walking near your property. Take care of them as soon as possible.

Published by Vera Gibbons on Zillow Blog.

Are You Cut Out for a Condo?

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Before you take the leap, consider the pros and cons of living in a condominium.

Are You Cut Out for a Condo

There’s a point where you can just sense it, you can almost feel it in your bones. It’s time to put down some roots — and a down payment too. You’re ready to take the plunge and graduate from crazy landlords and leases to legit property owner, but what kind of property?

You’ve got choices. Do you want that traditional house with a picket fence? Or do you want to commit to a condo? Decisions, decisions.

There’s a lot to consider before signing on the dotted line, so how do you know which one is for you?

Pro: The condo is all yours, yet you don’t have to fix everything

With a condominium, you’ve got the equity of a property owner and the benefit of calling someone else when (some) stuff falls apart. Score! Of course, you pay maintenance fees for this glorious service, but why not?

The condo association takes care of shoveling, snowplowing, landscaping, roofs, painting the exterior, paving, and more — all of those things that can drain your budget and your time on a house,” says Joe Houlihan, managing partner of Houlihan & O’Malley Real Estate in Bronxville, NY.

Con: You must abide by the homeowners association’s rules

Meet your new circle of friends: the infamous H-O-A. They’re not necessarily a bad group; it just happens to be one that’ll determine the quality of your lifestyle in your condo. They’ll also hit you up for money.

“Let’s say the HOA chooses to change the landscaping or the color of your building to purple — then that’s the color it will be, and you will be required to pay for any assessments attached to any of these changes,” says home improvement consultant Heidi Baker. “For some, this lack of control can be quite freeing.”

But for others, it can be annoying. If you need to be in control of everything in your space, a condo is definitely not for you. Plus, when you have to listen to the board, or participate in its decision-making process, your HOA can become a second job.

Pro: Condos often have cool stuff to do — and a community

When I lived in the South, I often rented apartments in complexes with pools, tennis courts — the works. And that’s actually standard for condo living, which can foster a sense of togetherness.

“In a condo, you’re part of a community immediately,” says Kuba Jewgieniew, founder and CEO of Realty ONE Group. “Condos offer many perks such as pools, gyms, and events that bring residents together, which can be beneficial to a single person or young family.”

Con: Privacy? What privacy?

Unfortunately, condominiums still share walls with neighbors, along with parking and other common quarters.

You may even have a policy about having guests overnight and for how long (just as with a lease) or whether you can decorate your door during holidays. That’s something most house owners don’t have to deal with.

Of course, every complex is different, but Philadelphia-based Realtor Denise Baron of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Fox & Roach says you can always opt for a more intimate condo building — for a price.

“The question to ask is: How do you feel about community living in a large building with 100 apartments or so?” she says. “Or do you want a boutique small condo building with four or six units? Smaller buildings tend to have high fees, but they are more private.”

Pro: Condos have elevators

This isn’t one I was expecting. But, hey, the real estate experts have spoken. A lot of condo buildings have elevators and, well, houses just don’t — unless you’ve got a supercool house.

Hasmik Petrosian, a Toronto-based consultant, lived in a condo before buying a house with stairs and soon realized it was a major frustration.

“My experience with the stairs has given [me] newfound respect to elevators and the fact that condo living is virtually stair-free living,” he says.

Con: Condos don’t have yards you can make your own

Ever planted a garden, only to have it dug up by your kids and/or dog?

Well, you most likely won’t get that with a condo, which will dictate what you can and cannot do to your precious outdoor areas. And that’s one of the big differences between a home and a condo that prospective buyers need to consider, says Joe Houlihan.

“With a house, you have free reign to do what you like to the exterior and your yard, which is usually not the case with condos.”

Here are the pluses and minuses you need to weigh before handing over a big down payment. Still unsure? Talk to condo-living friends (or better yet visit them) and see if they can shed more light on the good and the bad of the condo lifestyle.

Published by Mallory Carra on Trulia Blog.

A Home in an Old Bucks County Church

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The owner bought it as a weekend retreat but loved it so much she moved in full time.

JoAnn Rosenthal always loved the simple lines of St. Joseph’s, a church near where she used to spend weekends away from New York City.

So when it went on the market in 2000, she and a friend snapped it up with the idea of turning what was essentially a stone-and-stucco building from the 1870s into a weekend retreat.

It took several years, and at one point Rosenthal rented a house nearby to keep daily tabs on the renovation. They dug a well, added plumbing and electricity, put a kitchen in the old vestry and built an annex for additional bedrooms.

They also uncovered murals on the ceiling.

“When I purchased the church, there were ceiling fans suspended from the old pressed-tin ceiling,” she said. “When we removed the ceiling, we discovered they’d installed a ceiling fan right in the middle of Jesus’ belly.”

When the renovation was finished, Rosenthal found her weekends there growing longer until she just left New York and moved into the church full time. She bought out her friend several years ago, when he moved to Argentina.

The 3-bedroom, 3-bath home, which is listed for $749,000, sits on 1.5 acres in Bucks County, PA.

Radiant floor heat warms the great room, which has 15-foot ceilings, and the home is decorated and lit by original stained-glass windows.

A garden shed that resembles a chapel also has original stained-glass windows.

The steeple still holds the old church bell, which Rosenthal said visitors like to ring.

“I usually say you can ring it once as you’re leaving, because the people who live around me were parishioners, and I think it’s a reminder to them that it’s not a church anymore,” she said.

The listing agent is Michael Strickland of Addison Wolfe Real Estate.

Photos by John Armich 

This article was published by Melissa Allison on Zillow Blog.

10 Home-Buying Costs You Need to Know About

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If you’re a first-time home buyer, you might get a little queasy when the last line of your good-faith estimate comes in at several thousand dollars. And after the color returns to your face, you might also be a little more than perplexed by some of those fees.


Knowing what you’re paying for—like these 10 common costs—can ease that check-writing pain.

1. Earnest money

To prove you’re “earnest” in your purchase commitment, expect to plunk down 1% to 2% of the total purchase price as an earnest money deposit. This amount can change depending on market factors. If demand in your area is high, a seller could expect a larger deposit. If the market is cold, a seller could be happy with less than 1%.

Other governing factors like state limitations and rules can cap how much earnest money a seller can ask for.

2. Escrow account

An escrow account is basically a way for your mortgage company to make sure you have enough money to cover related taxes and mortgage insurance. The amount you need to pay varies by location, lender, and loan type. It could cover costs for a few months to a year.

Escrow accounts are common for loans with less than a 20% down payment and mandatory for FHA loans, but it’s not required for VA loans.

3. Origination

The origination fee is a hefty one. It’s the price you pay the loan officer or broker for completing the loan, and it includes underwriting, originating, and processing costs.

The origination fee is a small percentage of the total loan. A typical origination fee is about 1%, but it can vary. Use your good-faith estimate to shop around.

4. Inspection

You want to be assured your new home is structurally sound and free of surprises such as leaks or pests living in the walls. Those assurances come with a price.

  • Home inspection: This is critical for home buyers. A good inspector will be able to notify you of structural problems, flooding issues, and other potentially serious problems. Expect to pay $300 to $500 for a home inspection, although cost varies by location.
  • Radon inspection: An EPA-recommended step, this inspection will determine whether your prospective home has elevated levels of the cancer-causing agent radon. A professional radon inspection can cost several hundred dollars.
  • Pest inspections: Roaches are one thing. Termites are a whole different story. Expect to pay up to $150 for a termite inspection.

5. Attorney

Some states, such as Georgia, require an attorney to be present at closing. In some other areas, this is optional. If you use a lawyer, expect to cover the costs, which vary by area and lawyer.

It’s typical for mortgage companies to have a lawyer on their end, although they should cover the bill.

6. Credit check

Just because you can get your credit report for free doesn’t mean your lender can (and it will actually pull all three). You have to reimburse the lender, usually around $30.

7. Extra insurance

If you live in a hazard-prone area, you might need to purchase extra insurance, like for flood.

8. Appraisal

Your lender won’t loan you money for a home without knowing what its fair market value is. An appraisal will cost $200 to $400, depending on location and property size.

9. Title company

You pay this to the title company to make sure the property’s title is free and clear. Your lender will recommend a title company, but you can also shop around for one.

10. Survey

It’s not required in all instances, but your lender may require a professional surveyor to determine exactly where your property lines are drawn. Prices vary widely, but expect to pay at least $100.

Remember: You have bargaining power. Shop around to get a feel for what rates and fees apply in your area. If you aren’t sure what a lender is charging, ask for an explanation—the charge might not be set in stone. If you’re unhappy with a charge, negotiate.

Published by Craig Donofrio on

7 Solutions for Windowless Rooms

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Want to add some light to a dark space? Here are some simple decor tips from Jill Russell of Trulia that can help.

Image credit: Domino/photo by Douglas Friedman

Windowless rooms always pose a challenge, whether you’re decorating a new apartment or staging a space for an upcoming sale — especially during the darkest months of the year.

We’re counting down the days until daylight saving time, but in the meantime, there are things you can do to improve the ambiance of spaces that aren’t blessed with natural light.

Here are seven simple tricks, from color choices to accessories to creative decor tweaks, to make your windowless spot a brighter, more inviting room a reality in no time.

1. Satin, semigloss, or high-gloss paint

Image credit: Huffington Post | photo by Justin Bernhaut
Image credit: Huffington Post | photo by Justin Bernhaut

When selecting paint for any room, the color is usually the most important consideration. But when you’re dealing with a windowless space, the finish can also have a huge impact.

Satin, semigloss, or high-gloss paints are more reflective than flat or eggshell finishes, and therefore help light bounce around the room. The caveat is that the glossier the paint, the more imperfections you’ll see, so thorough wall prep is essential. On the flip side, the glossier the wall, the easier it is to wipe clean!

In a rental where you can’t alter the walls? Adding a fresh coat of high-gloss paint to a large piece of furniture does the trick too.

2. Translucent or shiny furniture

Image credit: CB2
Image credit: CB2

Walls aren’t the only things to consider when attempting to brighten up a windowless space. The pieces you put inside can make a huge difference.

Glass, dark marble, polished nickel, and translucent acrylic all bounce light, as does this super simple coffee table, which lends an airy vibe to this living room area.

3. Large mirrors

Image credit: HomeGoods
Image credit: HomeGoods

This is one of the oldest tricks in the book, but also one of the most effective ones: placing an oversized mirror in an enclosed room.

A mirror works as sort of a faux window, reflecting artificial light around the space and giving the impression that the sun is pouring in — even where it isn’t. For instant results, prop yours against the wall, right on the floor, behind a seating area or focal point of a room. You can also use a mirror to back a bookshelf.

4. Reflective gallery wall

Image credit: West Elm’s Front + Main blog
Image credit: West Elm’s Front + Main blog

As an alternative to a single large mirror, consider creating a gallery-style wall filled entirely with mirrored and metallic frames.

Multiple reflective surfaces grouped together will bounce light around effectively, and it’s easy to hang as many frames as you like (in all shapes and sizes) to show off prints you already own.

5. Low-hung light source

Image credit: Lonny
Image credit: Lonny

Hanging a pendant light source or chandelier a little lower than you usually would is the perfect way to achieve a soft glow in any space. Try it over a love seat, bed, or sitting area for an extra-cozy, warm, and inviting feel. For extra-bright bonus points, use exposed-bulb pendants.

6. Glass door

Image credit: Better Homes and Gardens
Image credit: Better Homes and Gardens

Here’s an overlooked idea that’s easy to do, even in a rental: replace a traditional solid door with a glass-paned one!

Doing so helps you take full advantage of light passing through windows in adjacent rooms. In darker, more enclosed spaces, the glass panes help create not only more light but also a free-flowing, open ambiance.

7. Single focal point

Image credit: Domino/photo by Douglas Friedman
Image credit: Domino/photo by Douglas Friedman

In windowless rooms, it’s often better to adopt a “less is more” philosophy when accessorizing and arranging furniture.

Here, the setup works because it all centers on the fireplace — one large painting on the mantel, a single, oversized leafy plant, and otherwise bare walls, all conveying the sense of fresh, open air.

What are your tried-and-true tricks for adding light to dark spaces? Share in the comments below.

This article was published by Jill Russell on Trulia Blog

The Open House Goes Over the Top

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More than 250 guests gathered at a home in Los Angeles’s Pacific Palisades neighborhood last fall. Models swam in the pool, guests attired in all-white drank mojitos and a singer strummed an acoustic guitar. The guest of honor: the 11,000-square-foot New England whitewashed-brick house, which would hit the market days later for $16.95 million.

Ranging from five-course dinners to poolside fashion shows, real estate house parties have become the latest way for agents to show off new listings. Photo: Alexander Ali/Society Group
Ranging from five-course dinners to poolside fashion shows, real estate house parties have become the latest way for agents to show off new listings. Photo: Alexander Ali/Society Group

As luxury home prices edge into record territory in some areas, traditional wine-and-cheese open houses are being replaced with five-course meals, poolside fashion shows and living-room concerts. Agents and developers, looking to stand out from the competition, are in some cases spending tens of thousands of dollars on these over-the-top open houses—prices once reserved for the launches of luxury condo buildings.

“Parties have become a big part of the marketing program,” says Joyce Rey, a Beverly Hills, Calif.-based agent with Coldwell Banker Previews International. She and her colleague, Stacy Gottula, say they showed up at an event a couple of weeks ago where a tennis pro played on the home’s court and a therapist offered free massages in the home’s spa.

Last fall, a Hamptons style “White Party” was held in honor of a New England whitewashed-brick house in the Pacific Palisades that was about to hit the market for $16.95 million. Photo: Alexander Ali/Society Group
Last fall, a Hamptons style “White Party” was held in honor of a New England whitewashed-brick house in the Pacific Palisades that was about to hit the market for $16.95 million. Photo: Alexander Ali/Society Group

An entertainment publicist who has worked with celebrities and lifestyle companies, Alexander Ali says he’s recently begun working with real estate clients as well. He says the all-white themed party in Pacific Palisades was inspired by hip-hop mogul Sean “Diddy” Combs’s Hamptons White Party, and meant to highlight the seven-bedroom home’s traditional Hamptons look.

“No one wants wine and cheese platters anymore,” Mr. Ali says. The party generated about 10 follow-up showings but is still on the market.

The party included models swimming in the pool, live music and guests attired in white. Photo: Alexander Ali/Society Group
The party included models swimming in the pool, live music and guests attired in white. Photo: Alexander Ali/Society Group

Sellers are often hesitant to embrace the idea. Many homeowners “feel their homes are very exclusive,” says Ms. Rey. “They don’t want some kind of event to attract attention.” F. Ron Smith, the Pacific Palisades home’s listing agent, says that when he first brought up the white party idea to his clients, developers and designers Greg and Grace Shain, they “had trepidations” about having such a large gathering at a home they’d just spent months gut renovating to sell.

And the bigger and more elaborate the party, the bigger the bill. The event cost about $30,000; the cost was split between Mr. Smith and the Shains. Agents say that such events can range upward of $100,000 for the most elaborate affairs. Sometimes agents pony up; other times they split the cost with sellers.

Agents are also enlisting co-sponsors to offset costs and expand the guest list beyond their own Rolodex. The White Party’s sponsors included champagne maker Moët & Chandon, Patron and Maserati of Beverly Hills, which provided valet parking. Gregg Lynn, a San Francisco-based agent, asked First Republic to throw a party in 2011 for a $35 million penthouse; the private bank invited its high net worth clients. Agents Ms. Rey and Ms. Gottula say one recent event they staged was co-sponsored by luxury car maker Bentley and included its vehicles.

Agents also try to come up with a “hook” or theme that will attract guests and show the home off to its best advantage. Last year, Ryan Serhant, a real-estate agent who appears on Bravo’s “Million Dollar Listing New York,” had a listing for a two-bedroom condominium asking for $2.595 million. The unit had high ceilings, wide-plank wood floors and a major flaw: Many of its windows open to a brick wall.

Mr. Serhant says he decided to spend roughly $10,000 throwing a 10 p.m. “after-hours glow-in-dark” rave in the apartment. He says the condo sold for $2.5 million to a partygoer, “a stockbroker who works 120 hours a week” and is rarely at home during the day.

In Miami, Sotheby’s agent Daniel de la Vega last week hosted a “social media” crawl to launch four different single-family homes to the market; each home had food and wine from a different region. Laura Stace at the second home. Photo: Alexia Fodere for The Wall Street Journal
In Miami, Sotheby’s agent Daniel de la Vega last week hosted a “social media” crawl to launch four different single-family homes to the market; each home had food and wine from a different region. Laura Stace at the second home. Photo: Alexia Fodere for The Wall Street Journal

A couple of years ago Amy Faxon put her 4,000-square-foot apartment on the Upper East Side on the market for $8.25 million. Listing agent Wendy Sarasohn of Brown Harris Stevens suggested hosting a party featuring author Jill Kargman, whom she was friendly with. Guests ate cupcakes as Ms. Kargman read an excerpt from her novel “The Rock Star in Seat 3A.”

The home sold for $8.15 million; Ms. Faxon says she isn’t sure if the buyer attended the event. “The point isn’t really that you’re going to find a buyer from the people who are invited, but through the people who were,” she says.

Ms. Sarasohn says she has been coming up with events to fit the personality of her listings for years. This past October, she hosted a Halloween-themed haunted history neighborhood tour for a listing near Washington Square Park, guided by a local historian. Rain forced the event inside, where Ms. Sarasohn dressed like a good witch and handed out candy.

She says it takes creativity to come up with something that will get guests to show up. “At the end of the day, most people want to go home,” she says.

Mr. de la Vega, pictured here, says the event was a success—several people used the event’s hashtag and posted the tour on their blogs. Photo: Alexia Fodere for The Wall Street Journal
Mr. de la Vega, pictured here, says his event was a success—several people used the event’s hashtag and posted the tour on their blogs. Photo: Alexia Fodere for The Wall Street Journal

One potential pitfall is that the crowds an event draws can distract from the main attraction. Mr. Serhant, the New York-based agent, says he learned that the hard way when he planned an afterparty for a designer during Fashion Week at a loft-like property he was marketing. Nearly 700 people showed up; many were unable to get into the home. “It was just a bunch of drunk people,” he says. “It became a total disaster.”

It is no coincidence that hype-generating house parties have blossomed in an era of social media. Last week in Miami, Sotheby’s agent Daniel de la Vega hosted a “social media” crawl to launch four different single-family homes to the market. The event had its own hashtag and signs encouraging attendees to share pictures with friends and followers.

Chauffeured by luxury buses, a group of about 30 agents spent about an hour at each home, which range in price from $3.2 million to $13.5 million. Each home had food and wine from a different region (one featured Napa Valley, another featured vintages from Tuscany). Mr. de la Vega says the event was a success—several people used the hashtag and posted the event on their blogs. “It’s not really standard for agents to go to an open house and start tweeting,” he says.

Published by Candace Jackson of The Wall Street Journal on

Glass House in Missoula

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The owner often sees red-tailed hawks, blue herons and bald eagles from inside this long, thin home with views in all directions.

More than once, Stuart Goldberg has jumped up from dinner to grab his fly-fishing rod and run out the door.

From his table, he can see the fish rising, and because he installed a 9-foot door to allow for the smooth egress of fly rods, he’s able to race down to the river on short notice.

Missoula, MT  is “A River Runs Through It” territory, something Goldberg and his wife, Mindy, took seriously in building a glass house from which they’re regularly enthralled by all sorts of natural phenomena. They’re within the city limits — two miles from Big Sky High School and a grocery store, able to have sushi delivered to their door — but with an outdoorsy lifestyle.

“It’s the house that wants you to look outside,” Goldberg says. “It makes me pause when I walk down the hallway and get a glimpse of sunlight off the river or see red-tailed hawks or catch sight of resident blue herons feeding down on the river bottom.”

The Goldbergs have listed the house for $6.5 million, which includes 71 acres, plus 50-percent interest in 78 acres next door.

The long, thin home has 4 bedrooms and 4 baths, with views of the Bitterroot River, national forests and recreation areas.

Whitetail deer regularly give birth to fawns within 50 feet of the house, because they know coyotes and other predators will not come that close.

“I have a photo of a bald eagle that dropped a fish on my driveway, then sat on a tree for four or five hours figuring out how to pick up the fish without running into my car. I moved the car, and he picked up the fish and flew away,” Goldberg recalls.

He and his wife built the home in 2011 on the site of an old dairy founded by Michael McCauley, an early settler of the area who convinced the military to build Fort Missoula nearby. The fort became an internment camp during World War II, and today it’s a historical museum.

Goldberg bought the property after seeing it with a real estate agent who took him and his business partner to the top of nearby McCauley Butte to show them what an incredible view a house would have from there. “We drove down the mountain and said, ‘We can’t let that happen,’” he says.

He, his business partner and a business owned by Goldberg and his father bought the property and an adjoining 140 acres. They developed 19 acres of it to raise enough money to put the remaining acreage into conservation. Only two homes are allowed to be built on the property, including the glass house. The rest of the property is now being sold separately.

Because of the land’s conservation status and the protected national lands around it, Goldberg says, “you could get on a horse outside the front door of our property and ride the horse across the river — which you can do at some times of the year — and basically ride that horse through public land until you got to Oregon.”

The listing agent is Keith Lenard of Hall & Hall Partners.

This article was published by Melissa Allison on Zillow Blog.