Welcome to the fall issue of Windermere Living! Are you a foodie who loves to travel? Inside this issue is an article about interesting destinations where you can enjoy edible, immersive experiences like making your own coffee on the Kona coast of Hawaii, or diving for clams in Cabo and cooking them with an executive chef.
If you’ve ever undergone a major home remodel, you know all too well how important it is to partner with the right architect. We explore that topic in this issue, along with some pro tips on how to match yourself up with the perfect architect for your project, a process that isn’t that different from dating.
Last but not least, there are more than 70 pages filled with homes for sale throughout the Western U.S. Whether you’re in the market for a country farmhouse or a high-rise condo, there’s a little something for everyone.
This is just a sampling of what you’ll find in this issue of Windermere Living; we hope you enjoy it!
Staying organized while uprooting your life and moving from one home to another can feel impossible. Not only are you trying to get the best financial return on your investment, but you might also be working on a tight deadline. There’s also the pressure to keep your home clean and organized at all times for prospective buyers. However, one thing you can be sure of when selling your home is that there will be strangers entering your space, so it’s important for you and your agent to take certain safety precautions. Like so many things in life, they can feel more manageable once written down, so we made this handy checklist.
- Go through your medicine cabinets and remove all prescription medications.
- Remove or lock up precious belongings and personal information. You will want to store your jewelry, family heirlooms, and personal/financial information in a secure location to keep them from getting misplaced or stolen.
- Remove family photos. We recommend removing your family photos during the staging process so potential buyers can see themselves living in the home. It’s also a good way to protect your privacy.
- Check your windows and doors for secure closings before and after showings. If someone is looking to get back into your home following a showing or an open house, they will look for weak locks or they might unlock a window or door.
- Consider extra security measures such as an alarm system or other monitoring tools like cameras.
- Don’t show your own home! If someone you don’t know walks up to your home asking for a showing, don’t let them in. You want to have an agent present to show your home at all times. Agents should have screening precautions to keep you and them safe from potential danger.
Talk to your agent about the following safety precautions:
- Do a walk-through with your agent to make sure you have identified everything that needs to be removed or secured, such as medications, belongings, and photos.
- Go over your agent’s screening process:
- Phone screening prior to showing the home
- Process for identifying and qualifying buyers for showings
- Their personal safety during showings and open houses
- Lockboxes to secure your keys for showings should be up to date. Electronic lockboxes actually track who has had access to your home.
- Work with your agent on an open house checklist:
- Do they collect contact information of everyone entering the home?
- Do they work with a partner to ensure their personal safety?
- Go through your home’s entrances and exits and share important household information so your agent can advise how to secure your property while it’s on the market.
By Jennifer Calonia
Owning a home comes with its rewards — it’s an investment, a cozy haven to kick-up your feet after a long day of work, and a welcoming place to bring family and friends together. Although all of this makes homeownership fulfilling, owning a home also opens the door for unexpected (but necessary) expenses.
If you’ve suddenly been hit with a home improvement project that’s pinching your budget, like a roofing issue or heater malfunction, a personal loan might be an option to help cover the cost.
What is a personal loan?
A personal loan is an installment loan that’s typically issued by a bank, credit union or online lender. According to the Federal Reserve, the average interest rate on a two-year personal loan is 10.70% but varies depending on your credit score and other criteria. Some lenders offer repayment terms anywhere from 12 months to five years.
A benefit of using a personal loan for emergency home improvement projects is that the approval process is generally quick so you can address urgent home repairs sooner. Some online lenders can run a credit check, approve your application and send funds your way with a couple of days. The approval process for banks and credit unions, on the other hand, can take anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of weeks, if the lender needs additional information.
How to find a personal loan
If you’ve decided that a personal loan makes sense to fund your next home project, make sure you’re aware of these next steps.
1. Assess your budget
The last thing you need is taking out a personal loan only to realize after the fact that you can’t afford to repay it. Calculate how much you realistically need for your home improvement project, giving yourself a reasonable buffer for unforeseen repair expenses (e.g. permit fees, price changes for a specific material, etc.)
Then, tally your monthly income and financial obligations to ensure you still have enough cash on hand to keep the lights on and make monthly installments toward your loan. Using a spreadsheet or budgeting app can help you track these numbers easily.
2. Know your credit score
Generally, you need a good credit score to get approved for a personal loan. Your credit score is one of the key factors that lenders use to determine whether your application is approved, and a higher credit score results in a lower interest rate offer.
Check your credit score with the three credit bureaus to ensure there isn’t an error or suspicious activity that might inadvertently lower your credit score. For a free credit report, go to AnnualCreditReport.com to see where your credit stands before moving forward in the process.
3. Compare rates and terms
When you’ve confirmed that you have a good credit score that can get you competitive interest rates, it’s tempting to accept a loan from the first lender that approves you. But like other major purchases, it’s important to shop around.
Compare interest rates, annual percentage rates (APR), and term durations available, and read the fine print for any conditions or fees that might offset any benefits.
To start, try reaching out to your existing financial institution first to see what they can offer; sometimes credit unions, in particular, offer rate incentives for loyal members. Also, consider using a personal loan aggregator website to compare offers from multiple online lenders at once (just do your due diligence to ensure the site is legitimate).
4. Submit an application
If you’re ready to submit an application, you can either complete a form online or apply in-person, depending on your lender. Although all lenders require different information to process a loan application, some common information to prepare ahead of time include:
- Personal information
- Employment information
- Reason for the loan
- Amount you want to borrow
To minimize any delays on your end, it’s helpful to prepare copies of verification documents, such as a driver’s license, proof of address like a utility statement, information about your home and pay stubs. Your prospective lender will likely reach out to you if they need any other information to make a decision.
Although it’s always best to have emergency savings set aside for a sudden home improvement project, turning to a personal loan is a useful option when you’re pressed for funds and time. As urgent as your project might feel, however, always take the time to do your research to ensure you’re making the right move for your situation.
Jennifer Calonia is a native Los Angeles-based writer for Upstart whose goal is to help readers get excited about improving their financial health and lifestyle. Her work has been featured on Forbes, The Huffington Post, MSN Money, Business Insider, CNN Money, and Yahoo Finance. When she’s not wordsmithing, you can find her outdoors, exploring state and national parks.
Photo Credit: Rawpixel via Unsplash
Few topics cause more division among economists than the age-old debate of whether you’re better off paying off your mortgage earlier, or investing that money instead. And there’s a good reason why that debate continues; both sides make compelling arguments.
For many people, their mortgage is the largest expense they will ever incur in their lives. So if given the chance, it only makes logical sense you would want to pay it off as quickly as possible. On the other hand, a mortgage is also the cheapest money you will ever borrow, and it’s generally considered good debt. Any extra money you obtain could be definitely be put to good use elsewhere.
The reality is, however, a little less cut and clear. For some homeowners, paying off their mortgage earlier is the right answer. While for others, it would be far more advantageous to invest their money.
Advantages of paying off your mortgage earlier
- You’ll pay less interest: Each time you make a mortgage payment, a portion is dedicated towards interest, and another towards principal (we’ll ignore other costs for now). Interest is calculated monthly by taking your remaining balance, the length of your amortization period, and the interest rate agreed upon with your lending institution.
If you have a $300,000 mortgage, at a 4% fixed rate over 30 years, your monthly payment would be around $1,432.25. By the time you finish paying off your mortgage, you would have paid a total of $515,609, of which $215,609 were interest.
If you wanted to lower the total amount you pay on interest, you don’t need to make a large lump sum to make a difference. If you were to increase your monthly mortgage payment to $1,632.25 (a $200 a month increase), you would be saving $50,298 in interest, and you’ll pay off your mortgage 6 years and 3 months earlier.
Though this is an oversimplified example, it shows how even a small increase in monthly payments makes a big difference in the long run.
- Every additional dollar towards your principal has a guaranteed return on investment: Every additional payment you make towards your mortgage has a direct effect in lowering the amount you pay in interest. In fact, each additional payment is, in fact, an investment. And unlike stocks, bonds, and other investment vehicles, you are guaranteed to have a return on your investment.
- Enforced discipline: It takes real commitment to invest your money wisely each month instead of spending it elsewhere.
Your monthly mortgage payments are a form of enforced discipline since you know you can’t afford to miss them. It’s far easier to set a higher monthly payment towards your mortgage and stick to it than making regular investments on your own.
Besides, once your home is completely paid off, you can dedicate a larger portion of your income towards investments, your children or grandchildren’s education, or simply cut down on your working hours.
Advantages of investing your money
- A greater return on your investment: The biggest reason why you should invest your money instead comes down to a simple, green truth: there’s more money to be made in investments.
Suppose that instead of dedicating an additional $200 towards your monthly mortgage payment, you decide to invest it in a conservative index fund which tracks S&P 500’s index. You start your investment today with $200 and add an additional $200 each month for the next 30 years. By the end of the term, if the index fund had a modest yield of 5% per year, you will have earned $91,739 in interest, and the total value of your investment would be $163,939.
If you think that 5% per year is a little too optimistic, all we have to do is see the S&P 500 performance between December 2002 and December 2012, which averaged an annual yield of 7.10%.
- A greater level of diversification: Real estate has historically been one of the safest vehicles of investment available, but it’s still subject to market forces and changes in government policies. The forces that affect the stock and bonds markets are not always the same that affect real estate, because the former are subject to their issuer’s economic performance, while property values could change due to local events.
By putting your extra money towards investments, you are diversifying your investment portfolio and spreading out your risk. If you are relying exclusively on the value of your home, you are in essence putting all your eggs in one basket.
- Greater liquidity: Homes are a great investment, but it takes time to sell a home even in the best of circumstances. So if you need emergency funds now, it’s a lot easier to sell stocks and bonds than a home.
Misael Lizarraga is a real estate writer with a passion for teaching real estate concepts to first time buyers and investors. He runs realestatecontentguy.com and is a contributing writer for several leading real estate blogs in North America.
Right before the guests ring the doorbell or give the front door an old-fashioned knock, they step on your welcome mat. This mat serves two purposes: catching debris and adding style. Here are some ideas for how to give this entry detail a refresh.
Welcome Mat 1: Caela McKeever, original photo on Houzz
A lettered mat can help you say exactly what you want to say when someone comes to your door. Obviously, nothing says hello more than the word “hello.”
The simple greeting might also draw visitors’ eyes to the ground and remind them to take off their shoes before they step inside.
If you have a colorful front door, use that as doormat inspiration. If your door lacks color, maybe it’s time to paint it.
Door paint: Scarlet Ribbons, Dulux
Welcome Mat 2: Zack | de Vito Architecture + Construction
The whole mat doesn’t need to match the door. This striped mat draws on other colors found on the home’s exterior.
Welcome Mat 3: Rustic Porch, original photo
Think Outside the Rectangle
Welcome Mat 4: Garrison Hullinger Interior Design Inc.
Roll Out a Rug
A big, bold rug in front of the door adds color and life to this home’s entry, designed by Garrison Hullinger.
A large porch rug can also make the space feel like another room of the house. If you add a few chairs, people can stop, relax, and enjoy the outdoors. Plus, more rug means more chances for it to pick up any water or dirt from the shoes of incoming guests.
Welcome Mat 5: Seattle Staged to Sell and Design LLC
Keep It Natural
If the entry is already bursting with details, such as eye-catching hardware and light fixtures, a neutral mat will help keep the attention on them. Natural doesn’t have to mean boring.
Welcome Mat 6: Grandin Road, original photo on Houzz
Personalize the Space
This contemporary monogrammed mat is hard to miss. “Don’t be afraid to choose a doormat with personality, says Kate Beebe of Grandin Road. “Work some wit and whimsy into your entrance, and choose something that will put a smile on your guests’ faces.”
She also recommends picking a mat that covers at least three-quarters of the entrance’s width and allows the door to open easily.
Change With the Seasons
While you are changing the front porch decor, swap a plain doormat for a festive option.After the holidays, clean off your seasonal doormat and store it until the following year.
Make It Feel Like Home
Doormat options are pretty much endless, so it shouldn’t be hard to find one that works for you.
A few weeks ago we shared some insights into why home staging is an important part of the selling process. Below you will find some of our tips for staging and photographing your home for sale.
DIY Home Staging Tips:
With a little time, effort and imagination, you can stage your home to showcase its best features, sell it faster and get top dollar.
Clean up, pare down, and toss out: By simply getting rid of excess furniture and clutter, you can make any room look larger and more inviting.
Make it professional, not personal: Remove family photos, mementos and other personal items from the space. This not only eliminates clutter, it helps potential homebuyers envision their lives in the space.
Repurpose rooms: Do you have a “junk” room? You can transform a liability into an asset by turning an underused space into a reading nook, a craft room, a yoga studio or a home gym. Just clean it up, add a coat of paint, some furniture and the right accessories.
Lighten up: Light, airy rooms look bigger and more welcoming. You can create a pleasing effect by using the right wattage bulbs and multiple light sources. The right window treatments can also have a big impact. Choose fabrics that are light and gauzy, rather than dark and heavy.
Try a little color: Paint is the cheapest, easiest way to update your home. Stick with warm, natural hues, but try darker colors for accent walls and to highlight special features. You can give old furniture new life with a coat of shiny black paint—and freshen up the front door with a bold, cheerful color.
Add some decorative touches: Art, accessories, plants and flowers breathe life into a home. Make rooms more inviting with accessories that are carefully grouped, especially in threes. Pay attention to scale, texture and color. Bring the outdoors in with plants and flowers.
When it comes to looking for a home most people start on the internet. The photos in your property listing can make a powerful first impression. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, professional photos can increase home views up to 61%. Make sure your home is “ready for its close-up” by following these simple guidelines before the photographer shows up.
For exterior photography:
· Make sure no cars are parked in front of your house or in your driveway.
· Sidewalks and streets should be cropped out
· There should be up-close and angled shots, as well as long shorts that emphasize space.
· Clear away or trim vegetation blocking the front door or path to the door.
· Make sure lawns are mowed, hedges clipped, etc.
· Remove evidence of pets.
· Put away children’s toys.
· If you are selling a condo or townhome, such amenities as tennis courts, a gym, a garden patio or clubhouse should be photographed.
For interior photography:
· Make sure your house is spotless, windows are clean and rooms are decluttered.
· Repair all visible damage, e.g., bad water stains, gouges, chipped paing.
· Drapes and blinds should be open and lights on.
· Remove trash cans, close toilet seats.
· Use floral arrangements in kitchens and dining rooms.
· Make sure that interesting details and attractive features—e.g., wood floors, a carved mantel, marble countertops and ornamental tile backslashes, etc. – are photographed.
It is finally summer; time for barbecues, summer camp, and family vacations. In recent years we’ve heard of people shortening their vacations, staying closer to home, or going nowhere at all for “staycations”. Another way to save money, while still getting away, is to leverage your own home for a home exchange.
A home exchange—often called “house-swapping”—is a money-smart vacation idea that’s been around for a long time. With virtually everyone feeling the economic squeeze, some exchanges are more popular than ever before.
Why a home exchange? Since accommodations are usually the priciest part of a vacation, a home exchange saves money, allowing travelers to take longer vacations and perhaps splurge a bit on dining, tours, or shopping. Larger families appreciate how homes meet their needs for space, meals, and a good night’s sleep. And, home-swappers often say they enjoy “living like the locals,” especially when traveling internationally.
How it works. The basic idea of a home exchange is that two families agree to live in each other’s home (usually at the same time) at no cost—it’s considered an even trade. Exchangers find one another via home exchange website that provides detailed listings of available homes. Exchanges take place within the United States or internationally, and the length of stay is whatever the parties agree upon. Exchangers typically do not meet in person but get acquainted via phone calls and emails before the exchange happens. Details, including pets, the use of a car, and cleaning are all agreed upon ahead of time, usually in a written contract provided by the website.
What makes a house desirable? You might be surprised! As a general rule, home exchangers are looking for location, location, location. They want to explore attractions in your area, attend an event, or visit family. A beachfront house in California is highly desirable, as is a condo in an exciting city—and even a home in the suburbs will appeal to the right travelers. Because swappers are primarily looking for a convenient jumping-off point for their adventures, your home’s age, floor plan, and furnishings don’t matter too much, as long as it’s clean, comfortable, and accommodating.
Vacation homes are ideal. Whether it’s a rustic cottage on a secluded fishing lake or a condo at a popular ski area, a second home is ideal for exchanges. Logistically, you don’t have to vacate your primary residence, and you have more flexibility as to when the swap can happen. For this reason, many retirees—who often own second homes and enjoy freer schedules—find home exchanges especially appealing.
First steps. If you’re intrigued, start by exploring a few websites; you can view a lot of information for free. Home exchange websites typically charge an annual membership fee of $50 to $100 to list your home. If you decide to join a service, you’ll provide several photos and a detailed description of your home. You’ll also post your desired destination(s) and travel dates, and you’ll be able to peruse the homes that meet your criteria. It’s common to trade information with several homeowners before finding just the right match, and the process may take several months.
Focus on the basics. Once you’ve agreed to an exchange and are preparing your home for guests, think about what makes a hotel room enjoyable. A clean, clutter-free home is universally appealing, and comfortable mattresses and attractive bedding are a must. Your kitchen should be well organized, and internet access is a big plus. Your guests know they’re staying in someone’s home, so don’t worry about scuffed baseboards and well-worn furniture. Likewise, don’t expect five-star accommodations when you step into your host’s home.
Is a home exchange right for you? If the very thought of others living in your home and sleeping in your bed—or you in theirs—makes your palms go clammy, an exchange is probably not for you. But many travelers are hooked!
What are your summer vacation tips?
When you think of your home, it likely conjures up feelings of safety, shelter, and comfort. However, accidental injuries in the home are one of the leading causes of harm to children 14 and younger. By taking certain precautions, many of these accidents can be prevented.
While supervision is the best way to keep your children safe at home, you can’t watch them every second. Childproofing, to whatever degree you are comfortable, will go a long way toward keeping your littlest loved ones safe and healthy at home.
Here are some tips to get you started.
Many accidents happen with or around water.
If you have children at home, it’s advisable to adjust your water heater to no higher than 120 degrees to prevent scalding. Furthermore, you should never leave a small child unattended in a bath tub, even for a few seconds. And be sure to safely secure doors that lead to swimming pools and hot tubs, including pet doors. When cooking or boiling water, turn pot handles in, or better yet use the back burners, to prevent little hands from pulling them off the stove.
Household chemicals can be very harmful to children.
It’s important not to keep poisonous materials under the sink, even if you have a cabinet guard in place. Keep dangerous chemicals up high and in a room that isn’t accessible to your little ones. Seemingly innocuous medicines can also be dangerous. Make sure your medicine cabinet is out of sight, mind, and reach.
Use safety latches and gates.
It’s advisable that you use safety latches on drawers, cabinets, toilets, and windows, as well as place covers on all electrical outlets. Gate off stairways and entrances to rooms, such as garages, that contain dangerous or fragile objects.
Secure furniture and other objects.
Heavy furniture, electronics, and lamps must be secured to prevent a child from pulling them over. Bookshelves and entertainment centers often come with devices that attach them to walls so that a climbing child won’t topple the furniture. The end-caps on door stoppers can be a choking hazard, so it’s advisable to remove them. Place plastic bumpers on sharp corners or edges of coffee tables, entertainment centers, and other furniture to prevent cuts and bruises.
Install a carbon monoxide detector.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recommends that consumers purchase and install carbon monoxide detectors in addition to smoke alarms. Be sure to test both devices regularly and replace batteries as needed. The American Red Cross advises families to learn first aid and CPR, and to devise an emergency evacuation plan for fires and earthquakes.
Emergency contact info.
Last, but not least, in case an emergency does happen, always keep numbers for your child’s doctor, your work and cell, and other emergency contact info in an easily found place, preferably near the phone.
Accidents can and will happen, but by following a few small steps you can have peace of mind knowing that you’ve done everything you can to protect your family from harm in your home.
When you love your home but want to make some changes, how do you know where to begin? As a real estate broker and advisor to my clients, I am often asked what improvement projects are most worthwhile or where money is best invested.
In today’s market, I am consistently seeing that buyers are looking for the “cream puff” listings. They want a home that is well maintained, “move in” ready, priced well, and in a good location. No surprise there, right?
As I work with clients, whether they are preparing to move now or just looking to improve their home for their own enjoyment, I find a few things that consistently show rewards in the end.
Beginning with maintenance items such as roofing, siding, paint (both interior and exterior), windows, and a couple secret weapons that are often overlooked, which offer a huge impact and are more reasonably priced than you may think, are new garage doors and outdoor fixtures. Remember you never get a second chance to make a first impression!
Outdoor living areas have become all the rage by giving the homeowner an opportunity to add additional entertaining space to their home. The options here are endless depending on your budget and amount of space you have to work with, but this can be a great way to improve the function and finish of your home.
Take a minute to ask yourself, where do I spend most of my time in my home? Kitchen, kitchen, kitchen! We all love to eat and hang out in the kitchen. As a result, improvements here are always a good place to start.
Owner’s bedroom suites and bathrooms are also very popular areas for improvement. The range of options for these areas is vast based again on size and budget.
Consider replacing hard surfaces, base and trim, fixtures, and doors. Think outside the box and ask an expert for help choosing something that might set your home apart. Why use the same six-panel door that everyone has? Change it up a bit. Starting with the solid bones using neutral tones and embellishing with accessories to add a splash of color and your own flair is always a winner!
The more open, clean, and well maintained your home is, the greater your return on your investment will be. Buyers in today’s market have access to an abundance of information and have a good eye for short cuts. Work done just to “flip” a home will be called out very quickly! Always ask a professional for advice. You will find your favorite contractor or real estate professional will be more than happy to spend some time helping you make educated decisions that will meet your needs and show long term return.
By Aimee Shriner
Windermere Real Estate/Northeast Inc.
Orignially posted on RGN Construction’s blog.
All photos are from www.rgncon.com