Year-End Home Insurance Checklist

Wind down the holiday season with assurances that your home is ready to start the new year right.

Shutterstock ID 58862720; PO: Cat Overman; Job: blog post

Shutterstock ID 58862720; PO: Cat Overman; Job: blog post

Soon, colorful ornaments and Christmas carols will be replaced by confetti, noisemakers and the strains of Auld Lang Syne.

As 2015 draws to a close, home maintenance can easily take a back seat during the excitement of the holidays.

Much of the country has experienced an unseasonably warm December, but January and February could unfold much differently. That means your home may be subject to cold weather damage. To prevent that, follow this home maintenance checklist to ensure your residence is prepared for the big chill ahead.

Test your alarms

You should do this several times throughout the year, but it’s worth a reminder. Test smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, and fire and burglar alarms. Make sure the batteries are full of life, and that everything functions properly so you’ll be alerted if disaster strikes.

If you have children, it’s also a great time to revisit your emergency evacuation plan to ensure they know what to do if a fire, tornado or other devastating peril strikes too close to home.

Gutters and roof

In some parts of the country, the leaves are still falling from trees and covering lawns of residential neighborhoods. No matter if the leaves are just falling or if tree branches have been bare for months, if leaves are piled or packed in your gutters, they need to be removed sooner rather than later.

When leaves accumulate, it causes drainage problems. This means that when it rains, water won’t be able to go down the spout and away from your home, which could lead to it forcing its way into your home’s walls and ceilings.

While you’re at it, inspect your roof. Make sure no shingles are damaged or ruined, and confirm that there aren’t any leaks. Roofs must be strong and functional to withstand the weight of snow in the winter, so it’s important to make necessary repairs or replacements now. Just remember that it’s probably best to leave these fixes to the pros.

Inspect your foundation

The last thing you want to deal with during the winter months is ice seeping into a crack in your foundation, widening it and causing structural problems with your home.

Take a walk around your home and keep an eye out for cracks. Though small cracks are completely normal, it’s best to seal them with caulk to prevent further damage.

Seal windows and doors

Letting air escape through gaps around window and doorframes could mean an exceptionally high heating or cooling bill.

While you’re sealing cracks in your foundation, seal the spaces around your windows and doors, too. Keep warm air inside the house and cool air outside, and vice versa.

Maintain heating and cooling systems

Speaking of your heating and cooling bills, it’s wise to inspect and maintain these systems.

Ensuring that heating and cooling systems are in good working condition and tackling repairs are more tasks you may want to leave to professionals. Just make sure your vents are clean, and that no spaces are obstructed by dirt, debris or other types of buildup.

Create a home inventory and review your policy

With a new year on the horizon, most of us make resolutions to be better versions of ourselves. Some changes such as being more responsible and more aware can apply to your home insurance.

Making a home inventory — a complete list of everything you own and the value of each item — can help better prepare you for the unknown. If a disaster such as fire strikes, destroying your home and all your belongings, you may be in too much distress to remember everything you own (and certainly not how much each item cost).

Do yourself a favor and tackle creating this type of list in the New Year, and store it in a safe place. This act could save you stress and time down the road, as it’ll make the claims process significantly easier.

Understanding your policy and being aware of every facet listed will greatly benefit you. Insurance can be tricky, so go over your policy with an agent so that you’ll understand every provision in it. Reviewing your policy can alert you to the fact that you may need more coverage than last year, or that you could qualify for new discounts.

Posted by Shannon Ireland on Zillow

How to Pet-Proof Your Home So It Doesn’t Look Like It’s Gone to the Dogs

Wavebreakmedia/iStock

A pet makes a wonderful addition to any household. Cats and dogs mean furry snuggles and tons of comic relief; they can also teach us all a few things about unconditional love. Unfortunately, they also bring with them some less desirable traits: sloppy table manners, a propensity to break things, and truckloads of animal hair.

It’s true, pets can be messy. In fact, your beloved animals can actually ding the value of your property if you’re trying to sell by adding scratches to your doors and floors, funky, semipermanent smells, and other flaws that prospective buyers might just catch. However, there are precautions you can take to pet-proof your home so that their negative impact is greatly reduced.

Follow these tips to do dog-and-cat damage control.

Create a separate eating area for them

When Judy Morgan, a veterinarian in Woolwich, NJ, remodeled her kitchen, she took the opportunity to turn a room in her basement into a kitchen that caters specifically to her nine dogs and four cats. The vet took her old cabinets, a small refrigerator, a microwave, and even a Keurig machine downstairs to create an eating space just for the animals.

“They eat down there so they won’t scratch the new kitchen cabinets when they are excited and jumping up to see their food being prepared,” says Morgan. “We keep their food in the downstairs refrigerator and warm it in their own microwave. The Keurig is for making hot water to rehydrate or warm meals.”

“It was the cat, honest.” Chalabala/iStock

Get smart about flooring

Not everyone has room to create a second kitchen for their cats and dogs, so Morgan also recommends bamboo flooring in common areas.

“Bamboo is much harder than most woods so it doesn’t scratch easily,” she says. “It also has no grooves between boards like other hardwood floors. Grooves are a real pain when there is a urine or poo accident.”

Tile is another good option, says Morgan, who used that material in her sunroom because it’s easy to clean. She also recommends recycled tire rubber flooring as a great basement floor covering for people with kids and pets.

“Phenomenal product, comes in large rolls, used in a lot of gyms,” Morgan says of rubber flooring. “Comes in an amazing array of colors and thicknesses.”

As you might have guessed, carpet is not a terrific choice. “We have no carpet, other than on the stairs,” notes Morgan. “Carpet holds hair and odors and is an allergy disaster for people with allergies.”

Decorate your windows wisely

Pet owners should also pay special attention to windows in their home.

“Curtains, for their own sake, should not drag the ground”, says Michelle Newfield, a veterinarian in Slidell, LA. “Exploring kittens love to climb them.”

Newfield suggests thick blinds for window coverings (think wood or even faux wood, material meant to stand the test of claws). “And be sure to secure the cords out of reach,” Newfield says.

Wooden blinds: Pet claw–tested and approved. studiocasper/iStock

Wooden blinds: Pet claw–tested and approved.
studiocasper/iStock

Set up some barriers

If you have a beloved vase or rug that you fear could be ruined by your pet, the answer may be as simple as setting up a barrier to keep curious creatures out.

“Most animals explore their environment with their noses and mouths,” explains Patrick Mahaney, a vet based out of Los Angeles. “It’s common for indoor and outdoor items to be sniffed, licked, or chewed upon, so it’s crucial to use physical barriers. Baby gates, doors, screens, and other barriers can do the trick.”

Or, if it’s all but impossible to keep your pets off your gorgeous new couch, try a different type of barrier by covering it in a large throw blanket. That way, they can lounge and shed with abandon; then, when company comes, you can lift it off and see a clean couch!

Keep pet paraphernalia out of sight

There’s nothing like a gnawed-on ham bone in the center of your living room floor to ruin the ambiance. So get a cute basket in which you can stash pet toys and set it off to the side and out of sight. You can also give pets a place to call their own that doesn’t detract from your design. Place a cozy crate or dog bed in a kitchen nook, under a table, or in a corner. We’re not saying pets should neither be seen nor heard, but, well, sometimes that would be nice, wouldn’t it?

Posted by Brittney Gilbert on realtor.com

Get Started: Trulia’s Home Buying Checklist

July2015-Trulia-Home-Buying-Checklist-Hero1

Use this free home buying checklist to jump-start your real estate journey.

Buying a home can be bewildering and stressful. (We get it.) And we’re here for you every step of the way.

That’s why Trulia made a free, printable home buying checklist that breaks down the process and points you to the tips and tools you need to find your next place. Download the PDF here to get started on your real estate journey.

1. Gather financials

Before you start looking at homes for sale, get your financial house in order. First, request your credit report from all three bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion). Comb through each report to ensure it’s accurate — and fix any errors you spot!

Next, compile all the documents you may need to provide to a loan officer, including pay stubs, bank statements, and previous years’ tax returns.

Recommended reading:

2. Research mortgages

Credit score and financial documents in hand, you’re ready to start researching options for your home loan.

Take advantage of online aids like Trulia’s mortgage tools. You can comparison shop from a diverse group of reputable lenders in all 50 states, ranging from small, regional providers to larger, well-known brands such as Citi and Bank of America. You’ll get a personalized quote and can read lender reviews and ratings to help gain insights into which lender is right for you.

One of the best things to tackle on this section of the home buying checklist? Find out if you qualify for a special loan, such as a Veterans Affairs (VA) loan or any special home buying financing options through state or federal programs.

Make sure you get that mortgage preapproval letter — it’ll make you a more competitive buyer.

Recommended reading:

3. Explore neighborhoods

Now for the fun part of the home buying checklist! It’s time to explore neighborhoods.

Use Trulia’s local maps to investigate everything from commute times to walk score to school ratings and crime activity. Once you’ve honed in on the right neighborhood for your new place, be sure to check out bordering neighborhoods for even more options.

Recommended reading:

 

(2) July2015-Trulia-Home-Buying-Checklist-Inline1

4. Make a shopping list

As you get deeper into the process, it can be tough to keep your priorities straight. The more homes you see, the more you can lose track of what really matters.

Yes, that home has a gourmet kitchen with stainless steel appliances. But it’s $75,000 above the comfortable high in your price range — worth it?

That’s where this section of the home buying checklist comes into play: the home-shopping list. Take a few hours to hone in on exactly what constitutes a “must-have” item in your new home and then expand upon those points to determine what might constitute your “nice-to-have” and “dream features.”

For example, a well-lit kitchen with ample storage space and new-ish appliances might be in your must-have section, stainless steel appliances and granite countertops in your nice-to-have section, and a chef-style gas range and pot filler in your dream-features section.

Knowing what matters most will help you and your real estate agent navigate the home buying process more quickly — and with less confusion.

Recommended reading:

5. Find an agent

As with any profession, there are amazing, miracle-working real estate agents … and there are some less than stellar ones. While it may seem like an easy to-do on the home buying checklist, finding a real estate agent is one of the most important steps in the process.

Read agent profiles, ratings, and reviews on Trulia’s agent directory to get a better sense of their qualifications and specialties. Ask family and friends for recommendations — and be sure to call your prospective agent’s references to get details on their experience.

But above all else, be sure to choose an agent who specializes in the type of home you’re seeking and is an expert on your desired neighborhood.

Recommended reading:

6. Start house hunting!

You’re so close to the finish line! (Well, almost.) This is when the real action begins.

Now that you’ve completed all preliminary steps on the home buying checklist, you’re ready to start searching. Online listings are a great place to start — download the Trulia app and sign up to receive listing alerts that meet your unique search parameters. Visit open houses and work with your agent to schedule private showings.

Enjoy the house hunt, because your next steps — negotiating with sellers, home inspections, closing costs, and more — still lie ahead.

Posted by Trulia

 

 

Top Home Design Trends for 2016

Discover the looks that will make your place ultra chic (and which ones have worn out their welcome).

Today, Zillow Digs announced the top home design trends for 2016, along with the three soon-to-be forgotten fads of 2015. Results were based on a survey of leading interior design experts and trending photos on Zillow Digs.

So what will be 2016’s hottest design trends? Check out the surprising results below.

2016’s top home design trends

1. Art deco-inspired patterns and shapes

Courtesy of Zillow Digs.

Art deco will make a bold new comeback in 2016. Look for the style’s trademark geometric patterns and honeycomb shapes to weave their way into everything from wallpaper to artwork, adding elegance and dimension to any space. Experts also predict gold statement lighting fixtures will become more popular.

2. Nubby wool rugs

Nubby wool or other natural fibers will be the go-to texture for 2016, especially for area rugs. Their neutral hues create the perfect indoor/outdoor vibe, while softening bolder colors and dramatic statement pieces.

3. Encaustic tiles

Courtesy of Zillow Digs.

Courtesy of Zillow Digs.

These intricate patterned tiles get their coloring from different types of clay rather than glaze, and can be used to create a beautiful, natural-looking focal point. Expect to see encaustic tiles pop up in a variety of rooms throughout the house in 2016, including kitchen backsplashes, bathroom shower tiles, accent walls and even fireplace mantles.

4. Artisan accent pieces

Travel souvenirs, unique artisan pieces and flea market finds will take center stage in home design as more homeowners gravitate toward decorating with unique art pieces that tell a story. Look for a rise in partnerships between big box stores and global artisans to accommodate the increased demand for one-of-a-kind or handmade items.

3 fads to ditch from 2015

1. Mason jars

Courtesy of Zillow Digs.

Courtesy of Zillow Digs.

The mason jar trend is exhausted, and will finally make its exit in 2016. After using them to invoke a rustic chic feeling everywhere from wedding decor to restaurants, experts and homeowners alike are finally ready to move on.

2. Chalkboard paint

Courtesy of Zillow Digs.

Courtesy of Zillow Digs.

Chalkboards smudge easily, and unless decorated with perfect handwriting, are usually not the best way to label household items. This trend is not built to last in 2016.

3. Burlap details

Courtesy of Zillow Digs.

Courtesy of Zillow Digs.

Burlap is too harsh for indoor use, and is far overplayed for another year in the spotlight. Instead, homeowners will gravitate toward softer natural fibers that are more suitable for throw blankets, pillows and rugs.

Want to learn more about 2016’s hottest home design trends? Check out more photos of the top trends on Zillow Digs!

Posted by Zillow Team

10 Questions to Ask Before You Choose a Real Estate Agent

Finding a good real estate agent is a lot like dating. It can be exhausting, but when you find the right one, you’ll know immediately.

It’s all about chemistry — so choose your real estate professional wisely.

Finding a real estate agent is a lot like dating. Well-meaning neighbors, friends, and family members try to set you up with someone they know, you meet to see “if it’s a good fit,” and maybe enter a relationship — or in this case, a buyer-broker agreement.

But be wary of picking someone you’re too close to. You’ll spend a lot of time with your agent, so you need to be able to have serious conversations with them and be confident in their negotiation skills. There’s nothing worse than not being able to look Aunt Edna in the eye next Thanksgiving because you weren’t able to make it work with her best friend and real estate agent.

Besides using your own network, you can use tools such as Trulia’s Find an Agent Directory to find highly recommended agents who know how crazy the Boston real estate market is, or have a special skill set (say, speaking a foreign language) to assist you in buying.

Your agent’s personality should also be compatible with yours. Do you need someone easygoing or someone aggressive? Personally, I’m a self-proclaimed overachiever and I like working with someone similar, as long as they have a calm personality and great sense of humor. You may think you want a bulldog who will fight for a deal, but if you don’t like your agent, chances are, no one else will either.

So choose the most qualified person for the job, but also someone you think will make a good partner at every step of the journey. You need someone you’ll feel comfortable disagreeing with and that you can trust — remember that this person will become quite intimate with your home and finances.

Your ideal match will be an experienced professional who knows your market, acts ethically, answers all of your questions, addresses your concerns, and, perhaps most important, will listen to you and be your teammate throughout the entire process.

Here are 10 questions to ask a potential real estate agent or broker.

1. What percentage of your clients are sellers (versus buyers)?

Agents who mostly work with buyers will have a different set of skills from those who primarily represent sellers. You want to make sure this person is an expert at knowing how to land a home in your desired neighborhood.

2. In which neighborhoods do you primarily work?

You want someone who can spout off neighborhood stats like a true local. Your agent doesn’t just need to know the market valuations in Dallas, TX, they also need to know the valuations for each specific neighborhood, from Oak Lawn to Lakewood.

3. Will I be working with you directly?

In other words, will your agent handle all aspects of the transaction or will they delegate some tasks to a sales associate or administrative assistant? A knowledgeable assistant can be invaluable, but you want to make sure you can connect regularly with your agent.

4. Do you work full time or part time as a real estate agent?

Many agents work part time — and that’s fine. But if you expect them to respond to your queries in a timely manner, it’s worth asking how available they can be when you have questions or want to tour a property — especially if your schedule isn’t very flexible.

5. How many home sales have you closed in my desired area?

Success counts. You want someone who has a proven track record of closing deals.

6. How many other buyers are you representing now? How many sellers?

Hint: The busiest agents often are also the most efficient.

7. Is your license in good standing?

You can check an agent’s certification with your state’s department of real estate. Many states provide this information online.

8. How many years of education and experience do you have?

Experience and continuing education typically make for better agents. And it doesn’t hurt to ask if they own their own homes: A Trulia Trends study shows that 85% of brokers and agents are homeowners.

9. Are you also a broker?

What’s the difference? Well, a broker is usually someone who has pursued education beyond what’s required by state laws. This person will probably have passed a broker’s license exam, which can indicate a commitment to real estate as a career — and to above-and-beyond customer service.

10. Can you provide me with the names and phone numbers of past clients who have agreed to be references?

Insights from past customers can help you learn more about an agent and give you a greater comfort level.

Picking a real estate pro is a key decision in the home-buying (and selling!) process. So many great real estate professionals are out there willing to work hard for you, so consider the advice above as you make your selection.

Posted by Michael Corbett on Trulia

Finding Bliss During the Hectic Holiday Season

When you’re making your to-do list and checking it twice, be sure that taking time to enjoy the season is at the top.

Shutterstock ID 327170654; PO: Cat Overman; Job: blog post

Shutterstock ID 327170654; PO: Cat Overman; Job: blog post

The end of the year can be a hectic time. Why not slow down for a moment to think about giving yourself (and others) the gift of sanity this holiday season?

While most of us yearn for calm during the last few weeks of the year, we often find ourselves amped up, with little time to relax. Create some peaceful moments during the remainder of this holiday season by organizing your time and energy around the things you value most.

For some people, the joy of the season comes from gift-giving. For others, it’s all about experiences like watching a parade, going ice skating, or checking out the holidays lights. Traditions such as sending cards or throwing festive tea party may define the holidays for you. And while people and social gatherings make the season bright for some, others like to focus on celebrating the spiritual aspect of the holiday.

Once you decide which parts of the holidays mean the most to you, keep your focus on what you value. From now until the end of the year, only buy items or create experiences that support those values.

A game plan for curbing the chaos

  1. Organize yourself first. Put some time on the calendar to enjoy the true meaning of your holiday. Ensure you block off this time for yourself before everyone else gets the last piece of you. Remember the flight attendants’ cautionary tip: Put your oxygen mask on first so you can be there for others and help them. Putting an appointment on your calendar guarantees you have some special time for yourself — even if it’s only 30 minutes or an hour.
  2. Remember that less is more. It’s so easy to get carried away by all the holiday hoopla surrounding you. But buying fewer gifts means you’ll spend less time wrapping, and making fewer commitments means you’ll have more time to do what you value most.
  3. Allow just one spot for a creativity zone. Limit all your gift-wrapping, card-writing, and project-making activities to one area. This is a space where you can leave everything set up and ready to use. It’s okay to have “work in progress.” Not every room in the home needs to be staged to perfection.
  4. Create your own holiday party team. Enlist a small group of teens, college students or friends who are willing to help you tackle your to-do list. When you pay or barter with others for assistance, your shopping, cleaning, organizing, decorating, and cooking will be much less stressful. Call them and get them scheduled.

Plan ahead for personal peace

Once we’ve organized our holiday tasks and timetable, the next trick is managing ourselves so we can enjoy gathering with family and friends. It’s normal to focus on how the house looks or what you’re wearing, but what really sets the tone for holiday events is how we present ourselves to others.

Just picture the comparison:

  • A harried host saying, “Come in, come in, oh gosh, I’ve got stuff in the oven, toss your coats in the guest room, bathrooms are down the hall, come in and join us.”
  • A calm, smiling host saying, “Welcome, let me give you a hug! How you are doing this evening? I’m so glad you’re here.”

As you plan, prepare, and experience the event, keep asking yourself, “What would make this easier for me?” For example, you could bake your holiday goodies from scratch and shop for centerpieces at the local florist, or you could order edible delicacies and stunning wreathes online and have them delivered.

And don’t be afraid to accept help. When someone asks if they can help you serve food, answer the door, or wash dishes, say yes. This not only helps you better handle your hosting duties, but also diffuses others’ discomfort when attending parties. Some guests struggle with social anxiety, and helping gives them something else to focus on.

Throughout the holiday season, remember: These moments with friends and family are precious, and it’s up to you whether you stress out or smile.

Posted by DorothyTheOrganizer on Zillow

Home Equity Increasing as Home Prices Rise

Some Highlights:

  • 91.9% of homes in the US have positive equity
  • 256,000 homes regained equity in the third quarter of 2015
  • 37.5 million homes have significant equity (defined as more than 20%)

Posted by The KCM Crew