Top 5 Benefits of Using a Professional to Buy a Home

Every year the National Association of REALTORS releases their Profile of Home Buyers & Sellers, in which they reveal the results of a yearlong survey of buyers and sellers. The latest profile revealed what actual buyers saw as the benefits of using an agent during the home buying process.

Business woman handshaking

Here are the Top 5:

#1: Helped the Buyer Understand the Process

Whether it is your first time purchasing a home, or you’re an experienced buyer, there are over 230 possible actions that need to happen during every successful real estate transaction.

Having someone to guide you through the process who can simply explain what is going on at every step of the way was sited as the top benefit by 63% of all buyers (that number jumped to 83% with first time buyers).

#2: Pointed Out Unnoticed Features/Faults with the Property

When you start the process of buying a home, you may be too excited to see each potential home for what it is, good and bad. An experienced professional can help you realize the potential hidden gems or risks before you make an offer.  Nearly 60% of all buyers listed this as a major benefit of hiring a professional.

#3: Improved the Buyer’s Knowledge of Search Areas

Whether you are looking to relocate to a new state, or just across town, having someone who knows the neighborhoods in which you are looking can be an invaluable asset.

#4: Negotiated Better Sales Contract Terms/Better Price

In today’s market, hiring a talented negotiator could save you thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of dollars. Each step of the way – from the original offer, to the possible renegotiation of that offer after a home inspection, to the possible cancellation of the deal based on a troubled appraisal – you need someone who can keep the deal together until it closes.

#5: Provided a better list of service providers

A great agent has relationships with mortgage professionals, home inspectors, appraisers and other experts that you will need in securing your dream home.

Bottom Line

If you are considering purchasing a home, whether as a first-time or move up buyer, sit down with a local experienced real estate professional in your area and see what they have to offer.

This article originally appeared on Keeping Current Matters.

Kitchen Organization Prep Steps for Turkey Day

With Thanksgiving fast approaching, you’ll want to prep your kitchen for the work ahead. Don’t wait until the day before to get everything cleaned and organized. Here are some tips from HomeAdvisor to make sure your kitchen’s ready for the big day:

Turkey DayClean, Clean, Clean!
Clear and clean your countertops, butcher blocks and dining tables to ready them for the slew of groceries, dishes and ingredients to come. Store unnecessary items somewhere out of the way. If you have a countertop microwave that you won’t be using for the holiday, consider moving it to make more room. Also move blenders, drying racks and any other non-essentials that might free up space. Next, wipe surfaces down with a washcloth dipped in soapy water. If you have harsh stains, break out the sponge to scrub them off.

Make Sure Your Equipment is in Working Order
Make sure that any equipment you’ll be using is in working order. This includes everything from your range hood, stovetop, dishwasher and oven to your can opener, electric mixer and corkscrew. If you’re the adventurous type, it might even include your grill. It’s a good idea to perform this exercise even if your appliances are in good condition — just to avoid any last-minute holiday disasters. If you find that any of your appliances are in need of repair or maintenance, you’ll need to call a repair service to see if they can fit you in on short notice.

Pay special attention to items like your sink and garbage disposal, which will get heavy use on Thanksgiving. Run the disposal a few times before the holiday to make sure it is working properly. If it begins to clog, assess whether its one of the few issues you can fix yourself or a major issue that requires plumbing assistance, such as a complete disposal replacement.

Purge Your Storage Areas
If you’ll need additional cabinet or shelving space during the holiday, consider rearranging or purging your storage areas. This is a good opportunity to discard or donate anything you no longer have use for. If you’re making room in the pantry, it’s a chance to get rid of food past its expiration date — or to donate spices and non-perishables you’ll never use to a charity or a local shelter. If an item is useful but will be in your way, find temporary space in a closet or a different room.

Organize Your Fridge
You’ll need to make room in your refrigerator for all the food you’ll have to store before and after Thanksgiving. To make sure your fridge is holiday-ready, empty out the entire refrigerator and repeat the process you used with the cabinets and shelves. Anything that’s expired should go in the trash. What’s left should be placed back as succinctly as possible.

Pro tip: Condiments, produce and dairy products should be kept in the drawers or door of your refrigerator to save room on the shelves. Try to fit beverage cans and bottles in the door on the bottom rack. Leave extra room on the bottom shelf for your turkey.

Get Your Dining Table Ready
Once you’ve prepped the kitchen and freed some space on the countertops, you’ll need to clear the dining table to set it for dinner. Clear off any leftover groceries or dishes and move them to the kitchen. Then clean the table and chairs — and run tablecloths, pillows and cushions through the wash as necessary. Next, you can set your table to impress your guests and showcase all of your hard work.

Conclusion
Preparing the Thanksgiving feast can be stressful. And waiting until the last minute to get your kitchen in order can make it even more stressful. Take some time to prep your kitchen in advance of the holiday so you’re ready to tackle the big job without any surprises or disasters. That way, you can cook the meal and enjoy the holiday with your family without a hitch!

This story was written by Andrea Davis and originally appeared on HuffingtonPost.com.

Warm Up to Gas Fireplaces

In the market for a gas fireplace? Here’s all the info you need to choose the right model for your home.

Fireplaces have always been among the top amenities for homeowners looking to buy a new house. In fact, they rank second just behind outdoor patios, decks and porches, according to the National Association of Home Builders.

While the cost of adding a fireplace to an existing home used to be prohibitively expensive — requiring the creation of an exterior stone chimney, flue, firebox and, in many cases, floor supports to accommodate the weight of the hearth — today’s options are not only affordable, but a relatively easy home improvement.

What has made them more accessible is the technology and installation flexibility of gas-fueled models. Since no actual combustion occurs in gas fireplaces, zero-clearance installation is possible, which, according to Monessen Hearth Systems, means “these fireplaces can be installed in direct contact with combustible walls and floors. Their inner and outer shell construction allows for maximum heat insulation.”

As long as you have a natural gas connection or propane availability, you can install a gas fireplace almost anywhere in your home — under a window, in either an outside or inside wall, at wainscot or floor level, in a corner or even in the center of a room. Shielded by tempered or ceramic glass, gas fireplaces can be exposed on three sides (a peninsula of glassed-in warmth) or four sides (a virtual see-through island).

Source: First Lamp

Combine that flexibility with a wide array of styles—from traditional to ultra-contemporary, a fire that looks and performs like real wood, and the benefit of improved energy efficiency, and it’s clear why gas fireplaces are one of the hottest hearth products on the market today, outselling wood and pellet varieties by more than half, according to the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association (HPBA), the trade association representing makers of heating and outdoor cooking equipment.

Benefits of gas over wood

Comparing price lists from various manufacturers, you’ll find little significant difference between factory-made gas and wood units (from under $1,000 to nearly $3,000), and installation costs are about equal, no matter where you live. The main difference between gas and wood lies in venting and long-term performance.

“The nice thing about gas is that you have immediate ignition and complete control over the heat output of the appliance,” says Mike Ruppa, a veteran fireplace retailer and now president of Empire Distributing in upstate New York. “With wood, a certain amount of time is required to light the fire, turn that energy into heat and then get that heat into a room.”

Ruppa points out that in contrast to a gas fireplace, whose warmth is thermostatically controlled, a wood-burning unit comes with only an air control: the damper. That, he says “allows you to control the amount of air going in, which consequently controls the combustion process and the heat output.”

As a bonus, high-end gas fireplaces are available with comfort control systems. “These are anticipators,” Ruppa explains. “They monitor the temperature of a room and start ramping the burner down as the room approaches a desired temperature.”

What about the environment? “Wood is a renewable resource, gas isn’t,” he points out. But, he adds, “in a gas appliance there are very few by-products of combustion entering the atmosphere. So, environmentally, I do think gas appliances are healthier for the environment than a polluting wood-burning appliance.”

Venting options

Three venting options are available for gas fireplace installations:

  • Natural vent, often called B vent, utilizes an existing masonry chimney or a factory-built metal chimney. Room air exhausts combustion by-products to the outside via a flexible liner or single pipe installed within the chimney.
  • Direct-vent fireplaces draw in outdoor air for combustion, then expel spent air to the outside through a dual (co-linear) venting system, eliminating the heat loss associated with conventional chimneys, according to technicians at Majestic Fireplaces. They can be vented up through the roof or out to the side or back of a house — a perfect solution for homes without an existing chimney. Direct-vent units must, however, have a sealed glass door to maintain proper combustion and ensure efficiency and indoor air quality.
  • Vent-free technology, once considered controversial, has now won wide acceptance. Robert Dischner, director of product development at Lennox Hearth Products, states that “the fireplaces use catalytic-converter technology [similar to exhaust systems on new cars sold in the U.S.], which cleans hot air as it leaves the combustion chamber. Because of this technology, no chimney or venting is required.” Further, he says, “their sleek look is much like a plasma television.”

The insert alternative

Perhaps the least efficient, most energy-wasteful way to heat a room is with an open fireplace, because so much warmth goes up the chimney. To continue using that chimney but improve the energy efficiency of your masonry fireplace, you can install an insert, available in various sizes and shapes, and generally priced from just under $500 to about $2,500.

“If you never even light this unit, you’re going to save money just by eliminating that cold-air expulsion through the fireplace chimney,” says Ruppa. “By sealing off the fireplace at the damper area and installing a gas or even a wood insert with a chimney liner, you’ll be plugging up that hole and becoming more energy-efficient.”

How much heat?

Depending on how well insulated your house is, Ruppa says a 40,000-BTU fireplace would be more than enough to heat a large living or family room.

He also points out that “a lot of high-efficiency gas fireplaces have a large turn-down ratio — meaning, they can go from 40,000 BTU down to 12,000 BTU, enough to heat the average bedroom or dining room.”

He adds that if you had a 40,000-BTU fireplace and only needed to use 50 percent of its capacity, you’d pay less than $1 an hour to operate.

The log look

You no longer need to burn wood to achieve the warmth or pleasing glow of logs crackling in a hearth. Gas fireplace manufacturers nationally market and sell ceramic or refractory cement log sets molded from real wood logs and produced in various sizes. Prices, based on size and quality, range from about $400 to $1,000.

These models further boost realism not only through an authentic-looking flame but also by a coal bed of sand and bits of lava rock and rock wool that add to the fireplace glow. Another touch of available realism is the aroma of burning wood.

Keeping it clean

Routine maintenance plus proper installation and use is essential to fireplace safety, as well as the ability to burn clean and green. To ensure top performance, a gas fireplace needs servicing once a year by a pro who inspects the burner, fan, venting, pilot light and thermostat, and even cleans the glass.

To locate a certified installer in your area, contact the National Fireplace Institute. In addition, the HPBA recommends that all vents for vented gas fireplaces be inspected annually by a chimney sweep certified by the Chimney Safety Institute of America, and that homeowners install a carbon monoxide detector with all hearth products.

This article was originally published on Zillow Blog by Merv Kaufman of BobVila.com. See it here.

Bob Vila is the home improvement expert widely known as host of TV’s This Old House, Bob Vila’s Home Again, and Bob Vila. Today, Bob continues his mission to help people upgrade their homes and improve their lives with advice online at BobVila.com. His video-rich site offers a full range of fresh, authoritative content – practical tips, inspirational ideas, and more than 1,000 videos from Bob Vila television.

Proof that NOW is a Good Time to Sell

Most homeowners believe that the winter is not a good time to sell. This belief is based on the fact that historically the number of buyers decreases in the winter and then increases dramatically during the spring buying market. Though this is still true, there is an interesting pattern developing over the last few months.

The number of prospective purchasers actively looking at a home (foot traffic) has remained strong going into the fall. As a matter of fact, the foot traffic far exceeds the numbers reported for the same months last year (see chart):

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At the same time, the National Association of Realtors revealed that the months’ supply of housing inventory has decreased from 5.5 months to 5.3. That equates to less competition for homeowners selling today as compared to next spring when many homeowners will decide to put their home on the market.

Bottom Line

Since buying activity is still strong, this might be a great time to put your house on the market.

This post was originally published on Keeping Current Matters. See it here.

Living in a Shipping Container: The New Look of Affordable Housing?

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — The increasing challenge of affordable homeownership has been well documented – and renting an apartment is getting to be a similar fiscal strain. But if you could build a home for less than half the square foot cost of a conventional home, would you make the move? What if it meant living in a shipping container?

Living in a Shipping Container

© TheStreet Living in a Shipping Container: The New Look of Affordable Housing?

Maybe it’s time to think inside the box. Steel shipping containers – stacked aboard ships and trains to haul freight around the world – eventually land empty and unused. There are estimated to be some 20 million surplus containers ready to be repurposed. A 40-foot-long container costs anywhere from $1,400 to $4,000, and with a little patch of land, the installation of a foundation, electricity and plumbing, you’ve got yourself a sturdy little 320-foot homestead. And at about half the cost of a conventional house, according to the website of home renovation expert Bob Vila.

And nobody says you have to stop with just one. These things can be stacked up to nine high and then connected and assembled as sprawling units. The trend is spreading, not just for homeowners but for renters – particularly Millennials who prefer convenient urban living and compact spaces.

“We lock them together,” Micheal Kenner, a Nashville developer, told The Tennessean.Whatever you can do with Legos, you can do with these.” Kenner is transforming about a dozen of the units into “micro apartments” in the Music City. Nearly two dozen were recently converted into retail stores, restaurants and offices in a Nashville healthcare and technology development.

New York-based SG Blocks, container provider for the Nashville projects, has delivered the units for projects around the nation: from a beach home in the Hamptons and a Starbucks in Salt Lake City, to the South Street Seaport in New York.

“It represents a progression in the technology of construction,” Paul Galvin, CEO of SG Blocks told TheStreet recently. “We repurpose containers from intermodal units of transportation into intermodal units of construction that are stronger and greener and more-efficient than traditional construction.”

The company says the containers meet or exceed structural safety codes, are corrosion resistant and reduce construction time by up to 40%. And you would think that these heavy steel boxes would absorb heat and transfer cold indoors, but SG Blocks says proper insulation provides “more than adequate heat and cold protection.”

–Hal M. Bundrick is a Certified Financial Planner and contributor to MainStreet. Follow him on Twitter: @HalMBundrick

This article was originally published on MSN Real Estate. See it here.

Don’t Sink Money Into the Wrong Home Upgrades

If you’re considering home improvements—or even just adding a few extra touches to freshen up the place—don’t rush the process. A plan is key for any successful remodeling job.

Don't Sink Money Into the Wrong Home Upgrades

You don’t want to pay for impractical or expensive home improvements that are out of style by the time you have to hang a “For Sale” sign in the yard.

Instead, look for smart, traditional and fashionable upgrades to provide value and aesthetic beauty for years to come.

While you’re looking for upgrades, consider these following tips for remodeling.

Kitchens

  • Spacious kitchens with abundant natural light make cooking a pleasure, not a chore.
  • Light-colored kitchens can create an illusion of a bigger space.
  • Adding a skylight is another way of creating a spacious feel.
  • Multiple storage shelves and cabinets plus an extra sink will reduce counter clutter.
  • Built-in microwaves, dishwashers, six-burner ranges and convection ovens are great for utility and convenience.
  • An island range with bar stools promotes an inviting, social atmosphere.

Bathrooms

  • Two-bath homes, plus a master bathroom, are optimal.
  • Many home buyers see high-end items like whirlpools, Jacuzzis, steam and jet showers, double shower heads and hand-held sprayers as essentials.
  • Large storage cabinets, freestanding or built-in, are great.
  • Avoid all-white bathrooms—splashes of color reduce the sterile feeling.
  • Bigger is better. Tiny bathrooms are out.  

Floors

Hardwood flooring increases resale value, so keep hardwood floors in top shape by refinishing them. As an alternative, laminate flooring is typically cheaper than hardwood and a nice upgrade from carpet.

Ceiling Fans

Try to install ceiling fans that make use of a remote control. This will allow you to change speeds without getting up.

High-End Home Amenities

  • Specialty rooms like media rooms, wine cellars, workout rooms and children’s playrooms can boost resale value and personalize a home.
  • Outdoor fireplaces, patio heaters, electronic insect control devices, decks and fountains are popular.
  • Outdoor kitchens can boost resale value.
  • If you live in a hot climate, an in-ground swimming pool can increase your home’s value. However, buyers in more more seasonal climates may see pools as an inconvenience. Ask a REALTOR® to see whether pools are popular in your area.

Additional Research Tips

  • Attend home improvement shows.
  • Consult with home designers, building contractors and handymen. Ask a REALTOR® for trusted references.

Updated from an earlier version by Deena Weinberg. This article was published by Craig Donofrio on realtor.com. See it here.

Beware the Bite: How to Avoid Bed Bugs in Your Rental

While no one wants to find pests in their apartment, the possibility of bed bug infestations keeps renters up at night. According to a recent survey by Orkin, 39% of renters said bed bugs are the pests they want to see the least in their homes, outranking all other pests.

How to Avoid Bed Bugs in Your Rental

Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Thinkstock

Bed bugs are a menace on the move. In 2013, Orkin reported a 20% increase in business due to bed bug infestations nationwide. The company also identified the ten U.S. cities with the worst infestations:

  1. Chicago
  2. Los Angeles
  3. Columbus, OH
  4. Detroit
  5. Cincinnati
  6. Cleveland
  7. Dayton, OH
  8. Washington, D.C.
  9. Denver
  10. Indianapolis

Bed bugs are notoriously difficult to treat once they make their way into your residence. The pests get into everything (not just your bed) and bite, causing painful welts.

Here’s what you need to know to deal with the growing problem.

Bed Bug Prevention

Many bed bug infestations come from bringing in used furniture where the pests have set up shop. If you live in a city with a known bed bug problem, avoid the temptation to rescue any “found” furniture. Bed bugs are so small you won’t be able to spot them.

However, if you plan to buy a used mattress or furniture, take these precautions:

  • Inspect the underside of the mattress or inside of the sofa for rust-colored stains. These stains are telltale signs of bed bug infestation.
  • Treat any fabrics with a commercial bed bug spray before you bring them into your home.
  • Purchase specialty mattress cases from a pest control manufacturer. Keep the mattress encased for several months to prevent bed bugs from spreading.

Bed bugs can also follow you home in a suitcase. If you’re traveling, these steps can help you reduce your risk:

  • Keep your suitcase away from the bed and off the ground.
  • Hang your clothes in the closet. Bed bugs can live in dressers.
  • Keep your accessories in a sealed plastic bag away from the floor.

Bed Bug Treatment

Treatment can be an expensive and lengthy process. Early detection is key to keeping your costs (and headaches) to a minimum. Develop a weekly or biweekly plan to check for bedbugs in your mattress and other furniture. If you spot a potential problem, tell your landlord immediately.

Bed bugs are resistant to most types of treatments. Over-the-counter bug sprays won’t be enough to end an infestation. You’ll have to hire a professional exterminator to get the job done. If you’re hiring an exterminator, look for companies with bed bug experience and a service guarantee.

Request quotes from different providers to make sure you’re getting the best deal. Exterminators know the physical and mental pain bed bugs bring, and less-than-honest professionals may attempt to take advantage of your desperation.

Once you’ve hired a pro, keep in mind that heavy infestations may take multiple treatments. You may have to stay away from home for a day or two while the exterminator works.

Working With Your Landlord

Don’t assume your landlord will foot the bill if your apartment becomes infested. In many areas, landlords are not legally required to provide pest control.

Check your lease, and if there’s no pest policy listed, negotiate with your landlord to create one. Ask for the updated policy to be in writing and signed by both you and your landlord.

This article was originally published by Angela Colley on realtor.com. See it here.