9 Easy Ways to Cut Your Electric Bill by up to $750

With just a few simple adjustments, you can plug into big savings on your annual utility spending.

We all want to save energy and money, right? But it’s not always so easy — perhaps you don’t have the time for a home energy audit, or maybe there simply isn’t room in the budget for that energy-saving appliance you want.

No worries! Here are some quick and easy ways to reduce your home energy usage right now.

Reduce hot water usage

Don’t worry — you don’t have to take a low-flow shower! But heating up hot water does require energy, so take the simple and painless route:

  • Adjust the water heater’s temperature. Lower your water heater to 120 degrees F (49 degrees C). An added bonus — you’ll lower the risk of scalding accidents.

  • Don’t overuse the dishwasher. Try to run your dishwasher only once a day or when it’s completely full. See if your utility company offers savings for running appliances at off-peak times.
  • Wash clothes in cold water. Most modern detergents clean clothes very well with cold water. If you have items that you really need to wash in hot water, save them up and do one hot load every few weeks.

Projected savings: Up to $250 per year, depending on the number of people in your home.

Turn it off

Little things add up! An easy way to save money on your energy bill is turning off the lights, electronics, and other energy users when you’re not using them.

  • Leave a room, switch lights off. Make a habit of turning off everything in the room when you leave it — the TV, lights, your computer, etc.
  • Get the kids involved. Make a game out of turning off the lights instead of constantly reminding them to do it. Offer some sort of small, nonmonetary reward for remembering to turn off their bedroom lights for a week.
  • Install countdown timer light switches. For intermittently used rooms, such as the bathroom or laundry room, install a countdown timer light switch that will turn off the lights after a specified period, so you don’t ever have to worry about it.

Projected savings: Between $100-$300 per year, depending on the number of people and rooms in your home.

Heating and cooling bill savings

Generally speaking, the furnace and air-conditioner are the big energy hogs in your home. Here are some easy ways to reduce your dependence on them — and save money!

  • Use windows strategically. Install heavy drapes or blinds on windows located in sunny areas of your home. Open the blinds on cold days to take advantage of the sun’s warmth, and close them on warm days to block out the sun.
  • Install ceiling fans. This one takes a bit more effort than the others, but the payoff can be quite large. Run ceiling fans counterclockwise or downward during the summer to force cool air down into the room. Run them clockwise and upward in the winter to better distribute the warm air.

  • Adjust the thermostat. Yes, this sounds obvious, but one of the best ways to save on heating and cooling bills is simply lowering the thermostat in the winter and raising it in the summer! A programmable thermostat is ideal, but you can save money even with a traditional thermostat. In winter, lower your thermostat by 10 to 15 degrees for at least eight hours — when you leave for work, before you go to bed, or both — then raise it when you’re back.  If you have air-conditioning, do this in reverse come summer.

Projected savings: From 10-30 percent on your heating and cooling bills each year.

Saving energy doesn’t have to be a chore. With some very simple lifestyle changes, you can reduce your carbon footprint and save big!

 

Posted by Jane Drill on Zillow

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What does a real estate agent do all day anyway?

Have you ever wondered about the typical workday of a real estate agent? There is probably more involved than you think! Below are some of the key responsibilities of real estate agents. See if you have what it takes!

Infographic originally posted in “What Does a Real Estate Agent Do All Day Anyway?” by Cara Ameer on Inman

Fed elects to hold off on interest rate hike

As expected, the Federal Reserve released its decision to hold off on any increases to the federal funds rate in July.

The Federal Open Market Committee started its July meeting on Wednesday to discuss the current state of the U.S. economy. The committee voted to keep the federal funds rate at its current range between 1% and 1.25%.

In view of realized and expected labor market conditions and inflation, the Committee decided to maintain the target range for the federal funds rate at 1 to 1-1/4 percent The stance of monetary policy remains accommodative, thereby supporting some further strengthening in labor market conditions and a sustained return to 2 percent inflation.

The FOMC stated that the labor market continued strengthening and that economic activity has been rising moderately this year.

“The Committee continues to expect that, with gradual adjustments in the stance of monetary policy, economic activity will expand at a moderate pace, and labor market conditions will strengthen somewhat further,” the committee said in its statement.

Most economists, including those at Fannie Mae, forecasted that the Fed would raise rates in June and December.

However, some believe this year has already seen the last of its interest rate increases. Financial Analyst Christopher Whalen predicted a rate hike in June, but he added that it might be the last one for a while since FOMC members are beginning to see the U.S. economy slow down.

Last year, Jason Obradovich, New American Funding executive vice president of capital markets, explained that for all its intentions, the Fed probably won’t be raising rates as much as it would like in 2017.

However, while the Fed failed to meet its goals for interest rate hikes in previous years, this year proved different.

In June, the Fed voted to raise interest rates for the second time this year. The first rate hike occurred in its March meeting.

And later, FOMC minutes showed raising the federal funds rate isn’t the only thing on the committee’s agenda. Members brought up the balance sheet in the meeting, saying they may begin to shrink it this year.

 

Posted on housingwire.com

4 Steps to Take After Your Home Has Been Burglarized

What would you do if you came home and found your house was broken into and your property stolen? For millions of Americans every year, this nightmare is a reality. In 2010, there were 2,159,878 burglaries in the United States, equivalent to nearly 700 break-ins per 100,000 people, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Most victims in this situation find themselves totally unprepared and at a loss for what to do. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to regain control of the situation, improve the odds of recovering your property, and prevent your home from being broken into again.

Call the Police

Call the police when you spot the first sign of a break-in. The intruder may still be on your property and pose a threat to your safety. Seven percent of all home burglaries involve violence against household members, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

You also need to call the police to get your case on file for insurance and legal purposes. A police report and investigation increases the strength of your insurance claim as well as your odds of retrieving your property. The police also need to record crime scene evidence which can help convict suspects if they are caught. Don’t touch anything before the police arrive so that you don’t accidentally destroy evidence such as fingerprints.

When the police arrive, they will want you to file a report. Take pictures to document what was stolen, and provide the police with a list of everything that was taken and its approximate value. As a preventive measure, it’s wise to take an inventory of valuable items ahead of time in case you are ever robbed.

Call Your Insurance Company

You should also copy your list of stolen items for your insurance provider. To maximize your odds of receiving reimbursement for stolen items, contact your insurance provider within 24 hours. They will need your police report to process your claim, so make sure you have already filed a police report before calling. Your insurance provider will probably send an adjuster to review the crime scene, so in order to avoid disrupting the evidence, you may wish to stay somewhere else until they arrive, if possible.

Review Your Security Camera Footage

If you have security cameras installed on your property, you should review them to see if there is any additional evidence. If you’re fortunate, you may have captured footage of the burglar breaking in, walking through rooms, or rummaging through items. You may also notice more clues, as well as additional information about which items were stolen. Provide copies of any relevant footage to the police and to your insurance provider.

Evaluate Your Home Security

After the police and your insurance adjuster have finished reviewing the crime scene, you can begin cleaning up. You should also conduct a review of your home’s security with an eye towards preventing future burglaries. Once burglars have successfully broken into a home, they often return in the future, so it’s important to make sure you secure any vulnerabilities that enabled the initial break-in. The National Crime Prevention Council provides a home security checklist you can use to review your home security and identify any vulnerabilities that need to be fixed.

Having your home broken into is a traumatic and disturbing experience, but taking these steps can help you recover and restore your life to order as quickly as possible. Filing a report with the police, calling your insurance company, and reviewing your security footage will maximize your chances of getting your property returned and bringing those responsible to justice. Reviewing your home security can help prevent future burglaries and restore your peace of mind.

 

Posted by Roy Rasmussen on RISMedia

7 Things to Never, Ever Do When Buying a Home

AleksandarGeorgiev/istock

Buying a home is exciting and terrifying. After all, this is the biggest financial move most people ever make. As such, there’s a lot of room for error, and even tiny mistakes can translate to tens of thousands of dollars.

The lesson here: Even the most intrepid home buyer should get some guidance not only on what to do, but also what not to do. Look no further than this list, which highlights the most common mistakes buyers make so you can avoid the same fate.

1. Don’t shop for homes without an agent

By all means, start out by looking online at pictures of pretty houses—the more the better. It’s a vastly useful way to get the lay of the land. But when it comes time to get serious about buying a house, you should find a professional to help you out.

Think of a buyer’s agent as a fairy godparent who’s here to turn your homeownership dreams into reality. This person will guide you through every step of the home-buying process—from finding the right property and writing a winning offer to negotiating home inspection repairs and sailing through to closing.

“You want an advocate who is going to look out for your best interests in the transaction,” says Bellevue, WA, real estate agent Holly Gray.

2. Don’t meet with just one mortgage lender

Once you’ve found a real estate agent, your next step should be to get pre-approved for a home loan. To do that, you’ll have to meet with a mortgage lender and provide a good amount of paperwork, including two years of W-2 forms, two years of tax returns, and proof of funds for the down payment (among other documents).

That mountain of forms is one of the things that prompts many to meet with only one lender, says Richard Redmond, mortgage broker at All California Mortgage in Larkspur and author of “Mortgages: The Insider’s Guide.” That’s a potentially big mistake!

Redmond recommends getting at least three quotes from different lenders so that you can survey your options and find the best loan for you. If you don’t feel like doing the legwork of shopping around yourself, you can use a mortgage broker—basically an intermediary who presents you with options from a variety of lenders. The caveat is that you’ll likely have to pay a broker’s fee for the person’s service (usually 1% to 2% of the total of the loan).

3. Don’t understate your budget

It might sound strange, but a number of home buyers make the mistake of hiding their true budget from their real estate agent.

“Some people are afraid that their agent is going to make them buy the most expensive house that they can afford, so they understate their price range,” says Daniel Gyomory, a real estate agent in Northville, MI.

However, if you’re not upfront with your agent about your price range, you might miss out on a great house.

“If you tell me your budget is $300,000 maximum but you’re actuallywilling to pay $400,000, I may not send you listings that could actually be a good fit for you,” Gyomory explains.

4. Don’t hold out for the ‘perfect’ house

People throw around the words “dream home” a lot. (Heck, we’re guilty of it.) However, here’s the not-so-harsh truth: “There’s no such thing as a perfect house,” says Gyomory. And that’s why he has clients create a list of “musts” and “wants” to identify their criteria and focus on what really matters to them.

5. Don’t make ridiculously lowball offers

You obviously want to get a bargain, but you could lose out on a home that you love by making an absurdly low offer. In fact, a recent survey from Inman found that 15% of real estate agents say the third-largest mistake people make when buying a home is offering too little for a property (that’s behind not talking to a lender first and waiting too long to make an offer).

“When you overlook market data and make a lowball offer, you’re pretty much slapping the seller in the face,” says Gyomory. And if you offend the seller, the person might not even be willing to make you a counteroffer.

Bottom line: Trust your agent to help you assess the value of a house and write a winning offer, says Karen Elmir, a luxury real estate agent in Miami.

6. Don’t forget to budget for closing costs

The home seller will chip in some money at settlement; however, as the home buyer, you have the (unfortunate) pleasure of shouldering the lion’s share of the closing costs. Your mortgage lender should be able to give you a rough estimate of your closing costs once a seller accepts your offer, but as a rule you can estimate that they typically total 2% to 7% of the home’s purchase price. So on a $250,000 home, your closing costs would amount to anywhere from $5,000 to $17,500.

7. Don’t make big purchases before you close

Once you have found the right house and get the seller to accept your offer, your loan still needs to go through underwriting in order for you to obtain the mortgage. One thing underwriters do is look at your credit score from the three major credit bureaus—Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion—to make sure your credit hasn’t changed since you were pre-approved.

Therefore, you’ll want to avoid taking on any new debt while you’re in the process of buying a house. Purchasing a car with an auto loan or maxing out your credit cards, for example, could hurt your credit score, which could potentially raise your loan’s interest rate or—in the worst case—get your mortgage application rejected. (In other words: Bye-bye, new house.)

 

Posted by Daniel Bortz on realtor.com

9 Pools That Will Make You Wish Every Week Were Shark Week

Bust out your swim fins and sunblock. It’s time to take a dip.

We’re all bummed that Michael Phelps didn’t race a real shark. Instead of heading to the beach, we’ll console ourselves during the non-viewing hours of Shark Week by splashing around somewhere we know it’s safe to go in the water: a cool and refreshing backyard pool.

Check out these nine gorgeous swimming pools — any of which would be perfect for reenacting your favorite scenes from “Jaws,” “Deep Blue Sea,” or even “Sharknado.”

This San Juan Capistrano, CA pool, complete with diving board and slide, appears as though it were naturally formed into the stone.

Photo from Zillow listing.

Sleek and modern with clean lines, this pool looks like the perfect place for a romantic midnight swim.

Photo courtesy of Sprecht Architects.

The high temperatures of Palm Springs, CA are no match for this ultra-stylish pool with a water feature and views of the mountains.

Photo from Zillow listing.

Surrounded by beautiful stonework, this pool in Malibu, CA has more than enough room to host friends and family for a summer pool party.

Photo from Zillow listing.

Seamlessly blending into its tropical surroundings, this infinity pool in Longboat Key, FL offers a luxurious place to relax at the end of a long day.

Photo from Zillow listing.

In Kiawah Island, SC, the natural surroundings create a lush background for doing a few laps on those hot summer days.

Photo from Zillow listing.

This Santa Rosa Beach, FL pool boasts its own built-in hot tub for ultimate relaxation.

Photo from Zillow listing.

What could be better than your own lagoon complete with slide and waterfall? This pool in Vero Beach, FL has it all.

Photo from Zillow listing.

With a classic shape and design, this Seattle, WA pool provides plenty of space to soak in the summer sun.

Photo from Zillow listing.

Posted by Jamie Birdwell Branson on Zillow

10 Waterfront Homes Under $300,000

From quaint beach cottages to lake houses with views from every room, these homes are appealing and affordable.

Finding a budget-friendly house on the water might be easier than you think. We found listings across the country that are easy on the eye and the wallet.

Whether you’re ready to land a waterfront home or just daydream, check out these 10 homes under $300,000.

Tahoe Vista, CA

6750 N Lake Blvd #10F, Tahoe Vista, CA

For sale: $225,000

Photo from Zillow listing.

Overlooking gorgeous Lake Tahoe, this 3-bedroom, 3.5-bathroom lakefront home is available for shared ownership, giving you 6 weeks here per year. In addition to a lakefront pool, fire pit and BBQ, the Tonopalo community offers access to a luxurious spa, workout facility, sandy beach, sail boats, kayaks, stand-up paddle boards and more.

See more Tahoe Vista homes for sale.

Myrtle Beach, SC

813 Golden Willow Ct, Myrtle Beach, SC
For sale: $224,500

Photo from Zillow listing.

Perfect for family fun in the sun, this spacious lakefront home has top-rated schools nearby, according to GreatSchools.org. The 3-bedroom, 3-bathroom interior includes an office and dining room, granite countertops, stainless steel appliances and a breakfast nook overlooking the lake.

See more homes for sale in Myrtle Beach.

Bellingham, WA

0 Eliza Island LOT 65, Bellingham, WA
For sale: $267,000

Photo from Zillow listing.

Located on Eliza Island in breathtaking Bellingham Bay, this high-bank waterfront home has sweeping mountain, sound and bay views. Custom built with an open floor plan, vaulted ceilings, a large loft and spiral stairway, this home is stunning inside and out.

See more Bellingham homes for sale.

Darlington, MD

4400 Bryce Ln #273118, Darlington, MD
For sale: $198,450

Photo from Zillow listing.

Perched atop Broad Creek, this 2-bedroom, 2-bathroom home brings posh style to a rustic retreat. In addition to having waterfront dock access, the house includes a master suite, spacious front and back decks, and a family room perfect for entertaining.

See more Darlington homes for sale.

Sodus, NY

5537 Centenary Shrs, Sodus, NY
For sale: $157,500

Photo from Zillow listing.

Overlooking serene Lake Ontario, this 528-square-foot cottage has a spacious deck and beachfront perfect for paddling out with kayaks. The interior features an oak kitchen, fireplace and floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the water.

See more listings in Sodus.

Saint Germain, WI

1583 Pine Valley Rd, St. Germain, WI
For sale: $129,000

Photo from Zillow listing.

This 2-bedroom, 1-bathroom lakefront cabin offers access to all that Little Saint Germain Lake has to offer, including 13 miles of shoreline and numerous bays and islands to explore. The property spans 8 acres with a fire pit, playground and recreation room.

See more homes for sale in Saint Germain.

Golden, MO

25391 Farm Road 2265, Golden, MO
For sale: $188,950

Photo from Zillow listing.

Situated on half an acre, this newly remodeled lakefront home has plenty of indoor and outdoor space to entertain. In addition to nicely landscaped grounds and multiple decks, its interior has vaulted pine ceilings and a modern kitchen.

See more homes for sale in Golden.

Rockwood, TN

272 Pin Oak Dr, Rockwood, TN
For sale: $275,000

Photo from Zillow listing.

Boasting panoramic views of Watts Bar Lake, this 4-bedroom, 3-bathroom property has abundant outdoor space to enjoy the scenery, including three decks with hammocks and a hot tub. Every bedroom and living area overlooks the lakefront, which is outfitted with a large covered dock and electric boat lift.

See more homes for sale in Rockwood.

Reed City, MI

9011 Lake Dr, Reed City, MI
For sale: $155,000

Photo from Zillow listing

Sporting a private sandy beach on beautiful Todd Lake, this 2-bedroom, 1-bathroom home has been updated with granite countertops and a custom wrap-around deck with sweeping lake views. Close to fishing, trails and other lakes, this home is ideal for an outdoor enthusiast.

See more listings in Reed City.

Bay Saint Louis, MS

10250 Bayou View Dr E, Bay Saint Louis, MS
For sale: $159,900

Photo from Zillow listing.

Built on an acre of land, this 1-bedroom, 1-bathroom tiny home packs a lot outside its small frame. With 200 feet of Breaths Bayou waterfront, this home is outfitted with a powered boat launch and RV pad. It’s surrounded by mature trees, including queen palms, oak and cedar.

See more listings in Bay Saint Louis.

Lead photo from Zillow listing.

 

Posted by Sharona Ott on Zillow