10 Realistic Ways to Lower Utility Bills

It doesn’t have to cost a lot of time, money, or effort to lower utility bills. While things like swapping out single pane windows for double pane windows or installing a smart thermometer will definitely go a long way toward reduced energy costs, there are lots of quick and practical things that you can do right now to put a dent in your monthly utility spending—no major investment required.

Of course, there are lots of reasons beyond just trying to lower utility bills to cut down on your home’s energy usage. Using less energy in our day to day lives is better for the environment, and particularly important as temperatures fluctuate a bit from what we’re used to during the seasons. Being mindful of how you use energy—and taking small steps to use just a little bit less—is always good practice. And hey, saving money is a pretty great benefit too.

So how do you lower utility bills without completely disrupting your budget or your way of life? Here are ten realistic things you can do right now to use less energy in your home.

  1. Cover Your Outlets

    There are lots of sneaky places where air from outside of your home can leak inside of your home—and your outlets are one of them. Even a small stream of air from outside can put strain on your heating and cooling system by causing it to gain or lose heat when you don’t want it to, which results in higher energy costs.

    To remedy, go around to all of your outlets on a cold day and put your hand in front of them. If you feel air coming through, that means your outlet isn’t doing a great job at blocking out the temperatures outside. Fortunately, you can fix this super quickly with some plastic outlet covers, available at any big box home improvement store.

  2. Take Shorter Showers

    Everyone loves a good shower, but if you want to lower utility bills then cutting down the time you spend lathering, rinsing, and repeating (or maybe just skipping the repeating altogether) is one of the easiest ways that you can do it.

    The average American takes an 8.2 minute shower and uses 17.2 gallons of water in the process. At around two gallons of water a minute, that means that cutting back to a five minute shower could make a huge dent in how much water you use while still giving you plenty of time to savor the steam.

  3. Wash All Clothes in Cold Water

    Unless a fabric specifically requires warm or hot water to be cleaned, wash all of your clothes and linens on cold to reduce water heating costs and, ultimately, lower utility bills. Cold water washing is perfectly suitable for most items that you’re tossing in the washing machine, and is effective at removing stains. In some cases, it’s actually preferable, since certain stains can set into fabrics when exposed to hot water. And considering that 75% to 90% of the energy your washer uses goes to warming the water, switching to cold is a small change that can make a big impact.

  4. Replace Your Air Filter

    Being a homeowner means keeping track of a lot of little to dos, many of which slip through the cracks if you’re not paying close attention. But when it comes to the air filter on your HVAC, forgetting to replace it at the appropriate time means inefficient heating and cooling—and higher utility bills.

    On average, you should be replacing your HVAC’s air filter every thirty days. If you’re worried about remembering to make the switch every month, purchase a high-end pleated filter since many of these remain efficient for as long as six months (check the packaging to be sure). Regardless of how often your air filter needs to be changed, put a reminder on your phone so that you don’t end up slipping up and inadvertently running up a higher heating or cooling bill than you need to.

  5. Switch to Smart Power Strips

    Phantom power (also called vampire power or leaking electricity) refers to the amount of electricity that your devices use when they’re plugged in but not in use. Altogether, these unassuming power suckers can account for as much as 5% to 10% of the cost of your electricity bill month in and month out—yikes.

    One thing you could do to limit this waste and lower utility bills is to unplug everything when you’re not using it, but that’s not always ideal, especially for things like TVs and appliances. A better solution? Ditch standard power strips and switch to smart power strips instead, which automatically cut off the electric current to devices when they’re not being used. At a cost of around $15 to $30 per strip, it’s a small price to pay for such impressive long term savings.

  6. Weatherstrip Your Doors and Windows

    This tip usually comes up when you’re reading up on how to winterize your home, but making sure that your doors and windows are efficiently weatherstripped is a smart idea no matter the season. Just like with air drafts coming in through your outlets, leaks—even small ones—around your doors and windows causes your home’s heating or cooling system to overwork itself trying to catch up. And sealing these leaks can save you as much as 30% per year on your utility bills.

    To do it, head to your local home improvement store and take your pick among the varieties of door and window weatherstripping products. These come in a lot of different materials, including plastic, foam, felt, and vinyl, and can be layered up to provide an optimal seal.

  7. Turn Down the Thermostat When You Go to Sleep

    There’s no reason to keep the heat blasting when you’re going to be curled up under blankets. Before you go to bed, head to your thermostat and turn it down five to ten degrees (or more). You won’t notice the difference when you’re sleeping, but you will on your heating bill.

    If your home is empty during the day—such as when everyone is at work or school—that’s another opportunity to lower the thermostat as well. This change can mean big savings, and requires pretty much no work on your part. If you really want to take the guesswork out of it, you could install a programmable thermostat, which will automatically take care of the adjustments for you. But it’s not necessary so long as you make it part of your nightly (and daily) routine.

  8. Use Optimal Fridge and Freezer Temperatures

    Keeping the temperature in your refrigerator and freezer too low isn’t just detrimental to your food—it’s also detrimental to your wallet. Instead of trying to guess where the sweet spot is, go with what the experts say and set your fridge to 38 degrees and your freezer to five degrees. They won’t have to work quite so hard to maintain their temperatures, and your food will still stay just as fresh.

  9. Run Your Dishwasher At Night

    Many utility providers spike their rates during peak use hours when everyone is awake and using their appliances and devices. To figure out if your provider does, look at the breakdown of your bill, or just call them directly. And if it’s the case that rates are higher during busier hours, it goes to reason that running a big energy and water sucker like your dishwasher at night will save you a lot of money over time.

    So why the dishwasher? Most appliances don’t lend themselves very well to being run when you’re not awake. For example—your washer, which requires that you get up to switch the load once the timer goes off. You’re definitely not going to want to run your stove or oven while you’re sleeping either. Changing your schedule with your dishwasher though is an easy adjustment to make, and as a bonus, you’ll wake up to a bunch of clean dishes. While you’re at it, turn off heat dry since you won’t need the dishes right away.

  10. Put Your Monitor to Sleep

    Having your desktop computer running for long periods of time when you’re not using it is a big waste of electricity, using a lot more than if you were to turn it off and turn it back on when you need it again. If you’re stepping away for twenty or thirty minutes, put your monitor on sleep mode. And if you’re going to be away for an hour or more, turn off your central processing unit as well. You’ll lower utility bills by not having these devices running at all times in the background, and you’ll probably get a longer life out of your computer as well.

Waste, whether it’s energy or money (or both), can often be eliminated in our lives to some degree with just a few small changes. Follow the advice above and you’ll reduce your environmental impact and lower utility bills, all with very little effort required.

8 Tips for Budgeting for a Home Renovation

Whether you plan to renovate a house before moving in or are preparing to remodel your current abode, we know budgeting for a home renovation can be a tough process. First, you’ll need to determine what it is you really need versus what you simply want. Next, you’ll have to figure out how you’re going to finance the renovation in the first place. Once you have a general idea of how much money you have to spend on renovations (and where that money is coming from), you should be able to make better decisions on finishes, appliances and other renovation features.

Remember: most renovations end up costing more than originally thought, so be sure to have a money cushion set aside in case of emergencies. This is especially true if you plan to tear down walls and make structural changes, as these projects often end up with unwelcome surprises (think: water damage, mold or electrical and wiring issues). Many homeowners may also be concerned with ways to cut costs and save money without compromising the quality of the home. For tips on budgeting for a home renovation, check out our expert advice below.

8 tips for budgeting for a home renovation

  1. Decide on your top renovation needs and priorities

    The reason for renovating your home probably has something to do with a need that isn’t being met by your current living situation. Perhaps it’s a need for more space or perhaps it’s a need for an updated bathroom. Whatever the reason (or reasons) for renovating, be sure to write down and prioritize all of your remodeling goals. For instance, a larger kitchen island may be at the top of your priority list, whereas updated appliances may be lower down on the list of needs. Keep your goals in mind and avoid getting side-tracked with smaller projects that can wait for later.

  2. Look at cost vs. value for each renovation project

    Planning to sell your home in the future? Keep the return on investment top of mind when choosing home renovation projects. After all, there’s no reason to pour $40K into a kitchen, if the home isn’t going to sell for more than you originally paid. Once you’ve prioritized your home renovation needs, research each project’s cost vs. value using Remodeling Magazine’s latest Cost vs. Value report. The report includes the cost of common remodeling projects and compares them to that project’s resale value. This should give you an idea about which projects are worth the money and which projects aren’t. For instance, the 6 most valuable home improvement projects of 2018 included an upscale garage door replacement, manufactured stone veneer, the kitchen, siding and vinyl window replacements and a bathroom remodel.

  3. Figure out how you’re going to finance the renovation

    Now for the hard part: figuring out how exactly you’re going to finance this renovation. First, take a look at your current finances. Do you have enough cash to cover the renovation? If so, great. If not, you’ll need to borrow money for the project. Unless you have a fairy godmother willing to loan you cash, we recommend either using a home equity loan or home equity line of credit (HELOC), where homeowners can borrow money against their home. Many homeowners also use credit cards to finance their renovation projects. This may be a good idea – assuming you have a plan to pay these credit cards off. If you have strong credit, you may also be able to obtain a loan through SoFi, an online personal finance company providing personal loans and mortgages to high income individuals.

  4. Talk to others who have finished similar renovations

    Discuss your renovation project with someone who has experienced it first-hand. In addition to obtaining knowledge and tips on how to complete a successful renovation, you may also learn how to cut costs and budget appropriately for certain projects. For instance, someone who has renovated a master bathroom before should be able to give you tips on where to find good deals on hardware and supplies. In addition to telling you what to do, they should just as easily be able to tell you what not to do when it comes to renovations. Learning from their mistakes could end up saving you a substantial amount of money.

  5. Create a list of specific needs and goals for contractor bids

    After going over your needs and wants, create a clear list of renovation goals to hand to contractors. This will ensure that your bid (or cost estimate for the renovation) is as accurate as possible. Make sure to include both major structural changes to the home and cosmetic changes. Examples of what to include on a kitchen renovation list include demo, new quartz countertops, new custom-made cabinets, painting kitchen cabinets and walls, new subway tile backsplash, ceiling beam installations and new GE appliances. Make sure to include specific brands you plan on using as well. From here, a contractor should be able to give you a much more accurate quote.

  6. Obtain bids from at least three general contractors

    If you’re planning to use a general contractor, we recommend obtaining bids from at least three different contractors. It’s not uncommon for bids to differ wildly. If a contractor is particularly busy or charges a hefty percentage, then you can bet that bid will be higher. According to Angie’s List, most general contractors charge “between 10 to 20 percent of the total cost of the job.” The total cost of the job includes materials, supplies, labor, permits, etc. Be aware of contractors that give you a too-good-to-be-true estimate. For example, if three different contractors tell you that the project will likely cost between $30K and $40K, but one contractor tells you he can do it for $10K, this could be a red flag that the contractor is either lying to you or is inexperienced.

  7. Research materials and sources for the new home

    When budgeting for a home renovation, it’s absolutely crucial that you have some idea about how much everything costs. We recommend spending a substantial amount of time researching your specific renovation needs. From the cost of countertops and appliances to the cost of bathroom vanities and flooring, researching these specifics will allow you to keep an ongoing tally of renovation costs. While you can always research costs online, you should also spend time at your local Home Depot, Lowe’s Home Improvement, Ferguson Showroom and local warehouses where granite, marble and other stone surfaces are sold.

  8. Cut costs where you can

    Of course, cutting unnecessary costs where you can is never a bad idea – especially if you’re on a tight budget. Those unwilling to compromise on quality materials or finishes should look into purchasing gently-used or refurbished items. Your contractor may also be able to find leftover stone slabs from previous projects. Other ways to cut back on renovation costs include purchasing items when they go on sale, hiring subcontractors instead of a general contractor and doing a little DIY work (i.e. painting a room yourself).

How to Begin the Online Home Search

First Steps

You’ve made your first step by visiting Homes.com, a simply smarter way to search for your first or next home!

Now learn a little about the tools we offer and discover more ways to focus in on your ideal home.

Homes.com aims to make your results and experience more personal, to help you set the priorities that are important to you and your home search partner(s)!

Homes.com Innovations For Your Home Search

Homes.com Match

There’s more to finding the perfect home than just matching the right price and number of beds and baths. Our conversational search begins the search experience and easily navigates you to your ideal location, gives you insights into average area pricing, and allows you to intuitively select match criteria that matter to you most. With many match filters offering a “must-have” and “nice-to-have” option and ‘around’ option on pricing, your search results can surface more relevant listings than traditional search filters. To help you assess how close of a match each property comes to your criteria,  each home result has a clearly displayed match score which shows on a scale of 0-100 just how close your match is in meeting your personalized needs.

The search results page allows you to sort by match score, as well as more traditional sort orders (such as price), and our intelligent algorithms help you discover more properties through ‘close matches’ as well as expanding selection by noting limiting match criteria (e.g. “you could see more homes if you made ‘pool’ a nice-to-have”).

Homes.com Match really does offer a smarter search experience, which means you’ll find exactly what you want, and won’t miss out on homes you might like.

How to Find a Contractor When Renovating a Home

Preparing to renovate your home? Whether it’s a small, one-room makeover or an entire overhaul of the property, you’ll likely need an experienced and reputable general contractor. While expensive, these construction professionals provide valuable services to homeowners renovating a home. In all likelihood, homeowners won’t be able to spend all day, every day at the home overseeing the day-to-day operations. That’s where a general contractor comes in. Not only do general contractors oversee every aspect of the renovation from beginning to end, but they also guide homeowners in making practical yet budget-conscious decisions throughout the process. In addition, they handle complicated inspection and permitting requirements by the city.

Not sure how to find a contractor that fits your needs? We can help. Below we’ve rounded up several places to find a reputable general contractor as well as tips on how to narrow down the search and ultimately choose the right contractor for your home renovation.

How to find a contractor that fits your home renovation needs

Where to find a contractor 

  1. Ask your Realtor

    Did you purchase the home using a trusted real estate agent? If so, don’t hesitate to ask your Realtor for contractor suggestions. Most Realtors have a list of home improvement professionals to meet their customers’ real estate needs. For instance, in addition to recommended contractors, your Realtor likely has a list of handymen, plumbers, pool cleaners, etc. It’s also likely that a seasoned and experienced Realtor has worked with contractors in the past – either by selling them homes or selling their flipped homes. If you haven’t yet purchased the home that you plan to renovate, we recommend asking your Realtor to have their recommended contractors come to the house for a walk-through. The contractor may be able to give you a rough estimate of renovation costs, which could help you decide whether or not the home purchase is worth your money.

  2. Word of mouth

    When searching for a general contractor, there’s nothing more helpful than a good or bad recommendation from a trusted friend, family member or neighbor. If the contact had a good experience with the general contractor, you can bet they’ll be singing their praises. However, if the experience was less than favorable, your contact will likely warn you against hiring a certain contractor. Word of mouth recommendations are valuable, so don’t hesitate to reach out to anyone and everyone you know in the area who has undergone a home renovation. You may also want to consider joining Nextdoor.com or local Facebook groups to obtain contractor recommendations from locals.

  3. Search digital marketplaces

    If suggestions from your Realtor and word of mouth recommendations from friends aren’t enough, try searching a digital marketplace that connects homeowners with home improvement contractors. A few websites to explore include Houzz, HomeAdvisor, Angie’s List and Porch. These websites provide visitors with a list of local contractors. If the contractor has set up a profile with the site, you’ll likely be able to find information about the company, photos of projects and reviews from clients.

How to narrow down the search

  1. Obtain recommendations and conduct research on local contractors

    Just because a trusted friend vouches for a contractor doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do your due diligence. Make sure you’ve checked to see whether the contractor is properly licensed and insured. Check customer reviews and Better Business Bureau ratings. It’s also a good idea to research how long they’ve been in business, years of experience and projects completed. In addition to reviews available online, we recommend asking the contractor for a list of client references.

  2. Meet with at least three to four general contractors

    Meet face-to-face with at least three to four general contractors before deciding who to hire. This will give you an idea of personality traits and who you jibe with best. It will also give you a chance to complete a walk-through of the project with the contractor. It’s important that the contractor see the home in-person before providing you with an estimate of costs.

  3. Provide a complete list of all renovations and blue prints of the home

    When meeting with the contractor, make sure to provide a full list of all home renovation needs. From changing out door knobs and re-painting rooms to demolishing cabinets and installing flooring, every change (no matter how small) should be included on the renovation list. This will help the contractor put together as accurate a bid as possible.

  4. Compare bids

    Once you receive estimates from several contractors, compare the offerings. Watch out for: 1) the contractor who is extremely expensive. He or she may be very busy and simply trying to price themselves out; and 2) the contractor who is desperate for work. He or she may send you a lowball bid. Unfortunately, this type of bid can be misleading and result in you paying more than expected. Make sure the bids include the cost of labor/subcontractors, the general contractor’s cut (or profit margin), materials, demo and clean-up expenses.

  5. Inquire about their payment schedule

    How does the contractor go about receiving payments for his work? Large projects will usually require a down payment from the homeowners at the beginning and then several subsequent payments as projects are completed. Contractors should have enough money in the bank to pay for subcontractors and materials up-front without having to ask you for money at every turn.

  6. Ask about their communication preferences

    Does the contractor prefer to talk on the phone, text message, send emails or meet in-person? Be sure to ask how they prefer to communicate with their clients. Even if the contractor prefers to communicate by email, it may be a good idea to request weekly on-site meetings to go over goals for the week. These face-to-face meetings will keep you in the loop as decisions get made and projects are completed. 

Who to choose

So you’ve interviewed several contractors, compared bids and narrowed down your search. Now it’s time to choose a general contractor for the job. When selecting your contractor, remember that you’ll be working with this person on a regular basis. That means good communication is key. While you certainly don’t need to be best friends with your contractor, it’s important that you get along and are on the same page about most everything.

When choosing a general contractor, it’s also important to not choose based on their bid alone. Just because one contractor’s bid is considerably lower than another’s doesn’t mean that you should go with the cheapest option. In fact, a lowball, too-good-to-be-true estimate could be an indication that the general contractor is desperate for the job. While price is a consideration, other factors such as quality of work, client reviews and character traits should be top of mind as well. Whatever you do, make sure you’re comfortable with your choice. If none of the contractors interviewed meet your expectations, then start the search over and find new contractors to consider.

10 Improvements to Make Before Selling Your Home

Preparing to sell your home? Whatever you do, don’t list it until it’s ready for prime time. That means fixing broken appliances, cleaning carpets thoroughly, and neutralizing the house with fresh paint and less clutter. Trust us when we say that even a few minor improvements can make a major difference in the eyes of potential buyers. If you’re looking to sell your home quickly and efficiently, we recommend making these 10 improvements before putting your home on the market.

  1. Get rid of the clutter

    Is your home filled with too much stuff? It may be time to say “goodbye” to all that added clutter. Why? Because clutter only makes a home appear smaller (not to mention, disorganized!) and that won’t help sell the house. When buyers walk into your home they should see the potential not the mess. Plus, if they notice scattered toys and junked up closets everywhere, they’ll also be more inclined to think of the house as a “big project” (read: not good!). To declutter your home, try renting a self-storage unit to store your belongings before and during the move. You can also donate items to various second-hand stores, including Goodwill or Habitat for Humanity. For more information on how to declutter and stage your home before a move, check here.

  2. Spruce up your entryway

    Want to make a great first impression? Try sprucing up your entryway so that it appeals to the masses. First, start with a nice area rug or runner by the front door. Make sure to also add a rug pad underneath to avoid having the rug slip out from under you. Other tips for improving your entryway include adding a basket, shoe rack, hooks, framed art or mirror to add character and warmth to your home.

  3. Give your walls a fresh coat of paint

    Chances are good that your walls haven’t been painted since you initially moved in. Before putting your home on the market, I highly recommend having the interior professionally painted. From light grays to creamy beiges, aim for neutral colors throughout the home. Not only will light colored paint make your home appear bigger and brighter, but it will also prevent potential buyers from getting distracted by those bright orange and pink walls.

  4. Replace light fixtures and light bulbs

    Believe it or not, light fixtures can make a big impression on potential home buyers. If your light fixtures are no longer working or are simply outdated, I recommend switching them out for new and improved ones. The reason: dead light bulbs and old-fashioned fixtures will make home buyers assume the house hasn’t been well taken care of. Thanks to various home goods websites, you shouldn’t have any trouble finding neutral and affordable fixtures for your home.

  5. Clean or replace carpets

    If your home has carpets, you’ll need to make sure these are clean before showing your house. This is especially important if those carpets are located in a heavily trafficked area. Dirty pet paws, messy kids and muddy shoes can all wreak havoc on your carpets over the years. Fortunately, carpets are easy to clean. If the carpet only requires a little touch-up, I recommend a thorough vacuum followed by blotting them with stain remover. If the carpets require professional cleaning, you can either hire a company to steam clean the carpet or you can rent a steam cleaner and do it yourself.

  6. Fix loose doorknobs

    Imagine a potential home buyer opening your bedroom door and – oops – the doorknob falls off. Not a good scenario. To prevent this from happening, make sure all of your doorknobs – from your pantry to your closets – are tightened and secure. All you’ll need is a screwdriver and a few extra minutes to make this quick fix.

  7. Do a little landscaping

    Landscaping your yard goes a long way in improving your home’s curb appeal. To step up your landscaping game, I recommend visiting a local nursery. Many times these garden centers offer landscape design services to clients and/or they can assist you with choosing appropriate plants for your outdoor space. If you have a townhome or condo, I suggest adding a few potted plants to your porch, patio or stoop. This is an easy and cost effective way to make your home more inviting to potential buyers.

  8. Clean your grout

    There’s nothing like dirty grout in your shower, bathtub or tile flooring to really turn a potential home buyer off. Not only does your make house appear dirty overall, but it’s also a tad unsanitary. If your grout is just mildly dirty, you can actually clean it yourself with baking soda and water, according to Bob Vila. However, if they need a serious cleaning, I suggest hiring a professional to steam clean (and possibly replace) your grout.

  9. Create a “bonus room”

    Who doesn’t love having a “bonus room” in their home? From a home gym to a playroom, having an added bonus room is a big plus for potential home buyers and will help your house stand out. HGTV notes that “families use bonus rooms differently than empty-nesters and singles,” so be sure to know who you’re aiming to sell the house to before converting a room into a bonus room. Several bonus room ideas include: an office, a kid’s playroom, TV room, gym and game room.

  10. Fix appliances and HVAC systems

    Finally, before showing your home to potential buyers, you’ll need to fix any and all broken appliances and HVAC systems. From your refrigerator to your AC unit, potential buyers expect these systems to be working properly. So unless you happen to be a handyman, I suggest calling your local repairman to properly fix the units. Even if your appliances aren’t broken, it may still be a good idea to seek professional maintenance for all systems in your home before putting it on the market.

Ready to move?

Once your home sells, it’s time to call in the help of a professional moving company. Fortunately, Moving.com’s extensive network of reputable and reliable movers makes it easy to find and book the best moving company for the job. All relocation companies in our network are licensed and insured, so you can rest assured that your move will be in good hands. Best of luck and happy moving!

10 Home Improvement Projects to Accomplish This Summer

Forget lazing by the pool! It’s time to get moving on your summer home improvement projects. From sprucing up the exterior to organizing those warm weather clothes, there are plenty of easy ways to improve your home this season. Below, we’ve included our list of the best summer home improvement projects to accomplish over the next few months. While some repair needs and electrical projects may require the help of a professional, many home improvements can be managed by you and your family alone. So grab your toolkit, cleaning products and gardening gear. Here are 10 home improvement projects to accomplish this summer.

Summer Home Improvement Projects

  1. Upgrade your ceiling fans

    The summer is a great time to ditch those old ceiling fans and invest in well-constructed fixtures. Not only can a high quality fan make your home more energy efficient, but it can also improve the overall air circulation within the house. To find the best breezy fans money can buy, check NYMag’s list of the 9 Best Ceiling Fans on Amazon in 2018.

  2. Clean out your gutters

    Sadly, those summer showers often mean backed up gutters for your home. This can lead to a wide array of water damage – not to mention broken gutters. The best way to avoid these issues is by cleaning out your gutters and downspouts at the beginning of the summer. Before scooping out debris from your gutters, make sure you have a sturdy ladder, a bucket and a proper pair of gloves. After the debris has been removed and placed in the bucket, spray the gutters down with a water hose to eliminate any leaves, bugs or dirt left behind.

  3. Install better window treatments

    Believe it or not, the right window treatments can help keep your house cool during those hot summer months. From blackout curtains to motorized roller shades, there are numerous options to choose from when selecting window treatments. Not only can outfitting your home in window shades cut down on dangerous UV light and blinding glare, but it can also improve the overall look and feel of your home. 

  4. Perform maintenance on your air conditioning unit

    There’s nothing more important in the summertime than a properly running AC unit. So before temps reach their peak, be sure to hire a reputable HVAC pro to inspect and perform routine maintenance on your unit. Also, given that your AC unit will be running more frequently during the summer months, it’s a good idea to replace your home’s air filters at least once every one to two months. Fortunately, you should be able to find AC filters in most sizes at your local hardware store or at The Home Depot.

  5. Power wash your home’s exterior

    After mother nature’s wrath this winter, your home’s exterior could probably use a little TLC. To get your home ready for the summer months, we recommend hiring a professional to power wash the home’s siding, driveway and deck. Not only will this make your house appear brand spanking new and improve your curb appeal, but it will also make your abode a more enjoyable place to kick back and relax this summer. 

  6. Invest in a smart thermostat

    Thanks to a slew of smart home devices, it’s easier than ever to improve your home’s energy efficiency this summer. Start by outfitting your place in the ENERGY STAR certified Nest Learning Thermostat. This thermostat saves its users up to 15 percent on cooling bills and is designed to adapt to your individual temperature preferences. The device costs around $250 and can be found here. For a list of other smart home devices worth purchasing, check these gadgets as well.

  7. Create a gallery wall

    If it’s too hot to venture outdoors this summer, focus on interior improvements instead. One easy and creative way to improve your home is by adding a gallery wall. Whether it’s family photos, colorful artwork or a mix of both, you can easily create a gallery wall from objects you already own. For tips on how to set up a gallery wall on your own, check here.

  8. Clean the windows

    Summertime means longer days and more sunlight. To take full advantage of this sunny season, we highly recommend cleaning your windows on the inside and outside. To clean your windows, use either a multipurpose cleaning spray or the window cleaning product Windex, a clean cloth for wiping and paper towels for drying. Clean windows using circular motion with your hands.

  9. Plant shade trees

    Braving the hot summer heat to plant a few shade trees will be well worth your time, if you’re looking to cut costs on those cooling bills. Shade trees are an easy way to keep the sun off of your house, while also beautifying your property. Popular shade trees include maple trees, oak trees, linden trees, gingko trees and elm trees. Before purchasing these plants, we recommend visiting your local nursery to speak with an expert about the best type of tree for your yard. 

  10. Organize your closets and pantry

    There’s no better time to organize pantry shelves and bedroom closets than the summer time. Start by placing all winter clothes and boots in storage. Summertime clothing may need to be dusted off and dry-cleaned before being hung back in the closet. When cleaning out your pantry, go ahead and eliminate any canned items that are no longer needed or expired. Canned goods that haven’t expired can be donated to your local food bank.

Looking to spruce up your home this summer?

If purging household items is also on your list of home improvement projects this summer, try booking a self-storage unit to temporarily hold all of your unnecessary belongings. Fortunately, it’s easy to locate nearby storage units with Moving.com’s storage finder. All you have to do is type in the zip code or your city and state, and click the ‘find storage’ button. Moving.com will pull quotes from nearby storage unit facilities to compare. You can even sort them by star ratings from other people, their price, distance from your home, and filter by features such as climate control, drive-up access, and 24-hour access.

How to Prepare to Buy A Home

Considerations When Buying a Home

Homeownership is not for everyone. Some prefer the flexibility of being able to move to a new city or country every few years, while others are more focused on big projects in their career or education unable to devote the proper time to buying a home, and some simply don’t have the resources. Whatever your situation, it’s important to know the right reasons to purchase a home.

Emotional Readiness

Owning a home is a big responsibility. There are both financial and time costs associated with the ownership and the upkeep of a house. If putting in the time and money is something that you can make central to your life, then you might be ready. There can also be outside pressure to buy a home, as many see homeownership as a universal stepping stone. Make sure you are buying a home for you, and that homeownership will fit your life and life goals.

Financial Readiness

Financial readiness isn’t just whether you have enough for a down payment or not. Just because you may qualify for a mortgage, it doesn’t mean you should borrow money for one. Before you begin looking to pre-qualify, make a budget for yourself. Calculate the true costs of homeownership. Look where you stand with debt-to-income ratio.

Perhaps you need to pay down some credit card debt before considering applying for a mortgage, maybe you’re expecting a child, or looking to go back to school; all of these can be valid reasons to wait to purchase a home.

Security and Stability

If your debt is low, work life is stable, and you plan on staying in the same location for the next five years, you should be looking to purchase a home. At a certain point, the monthly rent check is money that could be better spent on building equity. If the money you spend on rent seems like it’s getting thrown away, deep down, you may be thinking of buying a home. If you already own a home, but that new promotion has started to make you feel like home maintenance is a waste, you also may be ready.

Should I Buy or Rent a Home?

The decision to purchase a home is one of the biggest choices in anyone’s life. For most, a home will be the most expensive thing they ever own. In the past, homeownership was seen as a natural progression in the course of someone’s life. But today, many people happily rent for years on end, and never find an appropriate time to make the jump to homeownership. So how do you know if you are ready to make that leap?

Setting Your Priorities

Although there may be a perfect home waiting for you in your desired area, the unfortunate reality is that many homebuyers have to make compromises during their home search process. To be prepared, understand that the perfect house in the perfect location at the perfect price, and in perfect condition may not exist. Although this doesn’t mean that you won’t find a house you can afford in your perfect location, be prepared to be flexible on:

  1. Price of the home + extras
  2. Location of the home
  3. Condition of the home

If you know what your priorities are, then finding your ideal place to call home is both possible and realistic!

Location. Location. Location.

If location is your #1 priority, yet buying in that location will price you out of several of your other priorities, then you might have to compromise in several ways:

  • Look for a different home type within the community, such as a smaller single-family home, a townhouse or condominium. Decide if you can live with one less bedroom or other features on your list.
  • Consult with a lender or a financial planner to discuss your options for increasing your budget. While no one should overspend on a home, you should recognize that going above your price range when you’re financing your purchase with a 30-year fixed-rate loan may only add a small amount to your monthly payment (e.g. $10,000 might only cost an additional $30 / month).
  • Lower your expectations about the condition of the home. While everyone prefers a move-in ready home, you can often get a better deal on a home that needs some cosmetic repairs. Do your legwork though, as cosmetic repairs might cost more than you think once you dig a little deeper.

Every homebuyer faces the same tug-of-war. Home price, size, location, commute, amenities, and many other considerations all grapple for attention. Although all features seemingly have equal importance, many could be subjectively classified as ‘nice-to-have’ over ‘must-haves.’ Often something or somebody has to make a difficult choice, but ultimately, ideal compromises can lead to a perfect (or almost perfect) home choice.

What You Can’t Compromise On

You can’t compromise on having good, qualified professionals on your home-buying team. Attempts to cut corners or compromise on this part of the home buying process will only lead to pain further down the road. Do your due diligence in selecting these people for your team, and make sure they always have your best interests in mind.

Closing Costs and the Full Price of Homebuying

In the home purchase process, the sale price of the house itself is only part of the cost of buying. Besides the down payment, there are always closing costs in any home sale. Closing cost is a singular term for a wide variety of fees and payments, paid out to a wide variety of people involved in the sale, upon which the sale depends on in order to go through.

This is not a complete list of all closing costs, but a list of the most common ones. The different fees involved to close a home sale can vary widely from state to state.

Fees to the Lender

  • Application Fee: The cost for the lender to process your application. Includes a credit check for your credit score or appraisal as well.
  • Escrow Deposit: Frequently, two months of property tax and mortgage insurance payments.
  • Homeowners’ Insurance: This covers possible damages to your home. Often the first year of insurance is paid at closing.
  • Lender’s Policy Title Insurance: This is insurance to assure the lender that you own the home and the lender’s mortgage is valid, and it protects the lender from potential problems with the title.
  • Loan Discount Points: One point equals one percent of your loan amount. This is a prepaid interest payment that lowers your monthly payment.
  • Origination Fee: This covers the lender’s administrative costs. Often 1% of the total loan.
  • Prepaid Interest: Most lenders will ask you to prepay any interest that will accrue between closing and the date of your first mortgage payment.
  • Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI): For those making a down payment that’s less than 20% of the home’s purchase price, you will most likely be required to pay PMI.
  • Property Tax: Lenders will want any taxes due 60 days within the purchase.
  • Underwriting Fee: This covers the cost of researching whether or not to approve you for the loan.

Fees to Others

  • Appraisal: For the appraisal company to confirm the fair market value of the home.
  • Closing Fee: The title company or escrow oversees the closing as an independent party in your home purchase.
  • Home Inspection: The home inspection will verify the condition of a property and recommend any home repairs that may be needed.
  • Recording Fees: Charged by your city or county recording office, to keep up to date the public land records.
  • Title Company Search Fee: Paid to the title company for doing a search of the property’s records. Ensures that no one else has a claim to the property.
  • Transfer Taxes: This is the tax paid when the title passes from seller to buyer.

How To Start a Flower Garden

Do you dream of having your own flower garden? Flowers add color and dimension to your landscaping, and a major boost to your curb appeal, too. They’re also easier to get going with than you might think. Gardening is a skill like any other—and you’ll definitely put your green thumb to work—but with some TLC, patience, and creativity, you can start a flower garden that you’ll love for many years to come.

There are reasons behind just loving flowers to invest in your landscaping. Figures show anywhere from a 100% to a 1,000% return on investment for home landscaping projects, which can increase the value of your home as high as 12.7%. It pays then to take the time to do your flower garden right, and to complement it with other landscaping features like a lush lawn and well-trimmed bushes. Below, we’ll cover everything that you need to know to start a flower garden, from choosing the right flowers to starting a garden from scratch. Get your watering can, and let’s get started.

Starting a Flower Garden

There are three phases to follow when you start a flower garden: planning, planting, and maintenance. Think of your garden like any other design project that you undertake in your home, and put together a clear vision for the space that includes all of the steps it will take to make it happen.

Ready to dig into the dirt around starting a flower garden? Follow the tips below to create a garden that’s colorful, whimsical, and all yours.

  1. Decide where your flower garden is going to go

    Are you going for curb appeal or a secret backyard oasis? Before you can start a flower garden you need to decide exactly where you want to put it, and relatedly, what you hope to achieve with it. You’ll also need to pay close attention to which areas of your home’s exterior are best suited to a flower garden, including both placement and light. Some types of flowers require full sun exposure, while others do best in partial sun—or even shade. If you have particular varieties of flowers in mind already that you’d like to grow in your garden, you’ll have to be sure that you select a spot where they’ll be able to thrive.

  2. Plan It Out

    Even before you select your flowers you’re going to want to put together a general vision for what the space will look like. Start by finding the focal point of your garden, maybe a tree or a window. You may even have more than one focal point. These are the areas that you’ll work your way out from, and that will provide structure and flow to your design.

    Don’t feel like you need to do the entire thing at once—you can certainly smart small and tackle your garden piecemeal, seeing what works and determining next steps as you go. Making sure it’s dimensionally accurate, draw your garden space and plan out your design. You can fill in the details with actual flower varieties later.

  3. Prepare the Land

    Whether you’ve decided to start a flower garden from seed or you’re going to be starting with already established plants, you need to prep your garden for the incoming blooms. Use a shovel to remove any grass from the area where your garden is going to go, including its roots. Then use a till to break up the dirt. This is an important step, since you want the soil to be primed to incorporate the additional topsoil that you’ll add on later. It will also help you find and remove any large stones that might have been hiding underneath the grass.

    Note: If your soil is difficult to work with, you can remedy the problem by adding a raised garden bed. Find some good tips on how to do that here.

  4. Add Your Topsoil

    Topsoil is, you guessed it, the top layer of your soil—about the first five to twelve inches. To start a flower garden, you’ll want this top layer to be as nutrient-dense as possible. And to do it, many people choose to supplement their naturally occurring topsoil with store-bought, to add more organic matter and ensure that there is the right balance of silt, sand, and minerals. If you’re not super familiar with assessing soil quality, then go ahead and add a layer of commercial topsoil so you know your flowers will have what they need. This should make your garden more fertile and your efforts more productive.

  5. Buy Your Flowers

    A lot of people get overwhelmed with their options when they start a flower garden. There are hundreds of different types of flowers that can be planted in the U.S., and while not all of them are ideal for all climates, you’ll undoubtedly have a long list of flower varieties to choose from. What you decide to go with depends largely on individual preference and what your design plan is, though other key factors matter too. These include:

    Annuals vs. perennials. Annual flowers bloom for just one season and must be replanted every year, while perennial flowers are planted once and re-bloom again and again for years—and sometimes even decades. What annuals lack in convenience they tend to make up for in bounty, producing a bunch of blooms during their singular life-cycle. The advantages of perennials, on the other hand, are quite obvious: so long as you maintain them properly, you’ll get years of flowering from one planting season. Most flower gardens include a mixture of both annuals and perennials.

    Climate. Where you live plays an important role in what flowers you can plant. Your climate—including seasonal variations, temperatures, amount of sunlight, and average amount of rain—are all major factors in regards to which flowers will thrive and which may struggle.

    Maintenance. How much maintenance do you want to do? Annuals tend to require more attention than perennials, including more frequent watering and fertilizing. Perennials are usually more hardy and require less day-to-day maintenance, but their pay-off is slower and it may take at least a full year before you see the stunning results of your labor.

    If you’re not sure where to start, go talk to an expert. Your local garden store is a fantastic resource for learning all about flowers and what varieties are a good fit for your specific location and preferences.

  6. Get to Planting

    Your planting protocol is based on whether you went with seeds or established plants.

    If you’re growing your garden from seeds, start by planting them inside your home about two to three weeks prior to when you intend to plant them outside. Different flowers are planted at different times throughout the season, but in most cases go-time will be after the last frost of the spring season.

    To start your seeds, fill each hole of an egg carton with soil and bury one seed in each hole. Keep the soil moist and in a place that will get lots of sunlight but not a lot of temperature variation. If you’re using a grow light, keep it on for only about half the day. When it’s time, till your garden bed again and plant your seeds in the soil, being sure to give them room to grow.

    If you’re growing your garden from established plants, wait until after the last frost and then use a trowel to dig holes for each of your individual flower plants. Do some research to figure out how much space each plant needs. The bigger the plant is going to get, the more space it’s going to need. Water at least every other day as your flowers’ roots start to grow into the ground.

  7. Maintain Your Garden

    Planting your garden is probably the most time intensive part, but it’s still going to require lots of care as it grows. Make sure that you know what each of your flowers requires in terms of watering and fertilizing, and check in on your garden regularly to make sure that everything is healthy and stable.

A flower garden is generally an ever-evolving process. Each year, re-evaluate your set-up and determine if you want to make changes. In addition to building on to what you’ve already done, you may want to change up the types of flowers that you plant, or get even more creative in your design.

And don’t worry—all of that hard work will feel more than worth it when your flower garden starts to come to life.

What to Expect on Your Home Buying Journey

The Home Buying Process Demystified

The home buying process is filled with potential pitfalls and challenges, but when done right can be relatively painless. As champions of home buying, we’ve created this step-by-step guide to help you through the process.

Below you’ll find an overview of the home buying timeline as well as the major components of the home buying process with links to the various steps, tools, and information to educate and empower your home search, discovery, and purchase.

How Long Does it Take to Buy a Home?

Your timeline may vary, but the following is a good guideline

  • Preparing to Buy a Home: 3-4 weeks
  • Initial Search for Ideas: 1-4 weeks
  • Building a Team: 1 week (overlap initial search)
  • Pre-Approval of Mortgage: 12-48 hours
  • The Home Search: 4-8 weeks (depending on criteria)
  • Contract-to-Close: 14-60 days

On average, a homebuyer will spend 30-60 days shopping and 14-60 days from contract to close. For some folks, the process can be extremely quick taking as little as 30 days total, while for others, the shopping period alone can last several months.

How Much Home Can I Afford?

The first step in the home buying process is understanding if you have the resources needed to purchase a home. This includes knowing how much home you can afford, what type of down payment and monthly mortgage payment to budget for, as well as what type of loan program you’ll use to finance your new property. Need help? Get started on your mortgage in minutes.

Buying a home is a complicated process that requires a good deal of research. In the course of it, there will be a number of professionals and specialists involved. Once you’ve done your homework and assessed your resources, you’ll need to assemble your team.

Assembling Your Team

After you have a good understanding of your own wants, needs, and goals, it’s time to assemble your team and begin the home search! Who should be on your team? Who you’ll need to find on your own may vary, but the key team members could be: Real estate agent (could be a RealtorTM but not all agents are), home appraiser, title company, home inspector, insurance agent, and mortgage lender.

When selecting the members of this team, take the same amount of care as you would in choosing a home, because these people will be by your side throughout the buying process. Trust & communication are key considerations when working with your team.

Sorting Out Your Finances

With the selection of a mortgage lender comes the application for mortgage pre-approval, a task that requires collecting the necessary financial paperwork to help obtain the approval. Once approval is obtained, the clock begins ticking as many pre-approval offers have a limited life-span before they expire.

Your Home Search

Now your search for (and discovering) your new home begins. Research, save, view and repeat. Remember, Homes.com has all the tools you need to find and keep track of your favorite properties and homes that have made it on your shortlist.

The Offer

You’ve got a mortgage pre-approval in hand and have found a property you can afford to purchase and see yourself living in. Congratulations! Now, it is time to submit a purchase offer to the listing agent or seller!

Once your offer has been accepted, the due-diligence period starts a timeline of checks and tasks for final mortgage approvals, appraisals, inspections, and other requirements that would be stated in the terms of the contract.

Assessment, Conditions & Negotiation

Many consider this to be the most difficult part of the home buying process as it includes, but isn’t limited to, inspection, obtaining the final loan, purchasing insurance, and the potentially arduous negotiation. In this part of the process, every member of your team will be utilized, and the more homework you have done in building your team, the smoother this experience will go. Those who haven’t conducted their proper due diligence could potentially see the purchase fall apart at this point.

Closing the Deal!

A successful closing requires all of the team players to come together at the same time, with the same agenda, on the same date, with numbers and figures that match. From the start of the home search to the home inspection and closing the deal, the entire home buying process can take most homeowners about three months.

 

5 Easy Painting Projects That Can Reinvigorate Boring Household Items

After weeks of sheltering in place, you’re likely to have exhausted all the obvious options for home improvement. You’ve probably disinfected the bathroom to perfection, cleaned out your makeup drawer, and organized your Tupperware drawer to the nines.

But you may still be looking for a way to keep busy and spruce up your home decor, without buying new furniture or accessories. That might mean it’s time for the satisfying task of painting household items that you already own.

Adding a splash of paint has always been one of the easiest and least expensive ways to change your environment radically. But the following projects are not big undertakings that require multiple hours and years of DIY experience.

In fact, we have faith that anyone with some extra paint and a little creativity can reinvigorate these boring household items that you were thinking of setting aside for donation.

Check out these items that you can revive with a few strokes of your paintbrush.

1. Shelves and bookcases

One way to update a room instantly is by painting the back of shelves or bookcases.

“It adds an unexpected, decorative twist to any space, and it draws the eye to the color, instead of any clutter,” says Dee Schlotter, PPG senior color marketing manager.

If you’re struggling to pick an accent color for your shelves and bookcases, there’s a simple solution.

“Scan the room and see what colors are already in play, in your pillows, artwork, rugs, and other decor. Then choose a color similar to what you already have,” Schlotter says. “It’ll pull the room together.”

Banbury agrees that painting shelves or their backdrop is a fun, easy way to add personality to a space and to create a focus point with very little effort.

To prep the shelves for painting, remove all items from the bookshelves and lightly sand the surface to prepare for the paint. Then prime, let the primer dry, and apply the coats of paint.

“Be sure to let it dry in between, and also lightly sand between coats,” Banbury says.

2. Vases

Everyone loves fresh flowers, but according to Leonard Ang, an interior designer at AQVA Bathrooms, flowers aren’t the only things that can bring color to your interiors.

“Try repainting your old vases,” he says. Match the colors in your house, or go for something neutral, like black or off-white.

We love the idea of painting an accent stripe on a vase, like the one above.

3. Dining room chairs

Is that dining room set your grandmother gifted you looking a little run-down? Use paint to give the chairs a modern look.

“In today’s home trends, nostalgic pieces of furniture are at an all-time high, and people want to keep items with charm and character that they have a connection to,” says Ashley Banbury, senior color designer for HGTV Home by Sherwin-Williams.

Before you begin painting, remove or tape around cushions or anything you do not want to paint. You also need to prep the surface, with coarse-grit sandpaper. This is a necessary step to ensure that the paint will adhere to the chair.

Banbury suggests applying a coat of primer and letting it dry. Then, it’s time to paint.

If you’re painting wooden chairs, Banbury recommends that you paint with—instead of against—the grain, as this will produce a smoother finish. It may take more than one coat, and if so, she advises letting the paint dry between coats.

4. Mirrors

Mirrors are another small project that you can tackle with a small amount of paint.

“Just painting an old mirror can revitalize its overall appearance, without committing to painting an entire room,” Schlotter says. And just one quart of paint is enough to complete numerous smaller projects.

When choosing a color to paint the frame of your mirror, Schlotter recommends either coordinating with the existing color on your walls, for a more subdued look, or going in the opposite direction and selecting a statement color (maybe Pantone’s 2020 Color of the Year?), to draw attention to the mirror.

No paintbrushes? No problem. Spray paint is a great alternative. Just be sure to tape the edges where the frame meets the mirror, with painter’s tape.

This can be turned into a project for kids who want to redesign their bedroom.

“Allow them to connect with their creative side, and have fun turning an old mirror into a masterpiece they can be proud to show off,” says Nicole Graff, a co-owner and principal designer for Hamsa Home, a Los Angeles-based interior design firm.

5. Planters

The weather’s getting warmer, so while you’re sheltering in place, take your painting project outdoors. You might not have space for planter boxes, but if you’re determined to grow plants at home, consider putting in a vertical garden with painted wood boxes.

“Make sure the surface is clean wood, free of dirt and debris,” says Sue Kim, Valspar color marketing manager at Sherwin-Williams. She recommends using a wood cleaner first, to ensure the best results.

Sand the wood on the boxes, apply a coat of primer, and then apply two coats of paint in your chosen color.