Image

Get Ahead of Home Maintenance Before the Holidays

House Heater

Twenty-four percent of home contractors recently surveyed  reported Thanksgiving as the busiest holiday season for repairs and service. Get ahead of home maintenance with these tips:

1.      Wake your heating system from hibernation.
No homeowner wants to wake up seeing their own breath because the furnace broke down in the middle of the night. Schedule a furnace check-up now with a heating system professional to ensure everything is running properly and that your system meets the manufacturer’s rated efficiency. One of the biggest causes of wasted energy is restricted air flow to the heating system, so have a contractor check that the filters and coils are allowing for enough air flow. Getting ahead of this issue will help you avoid appointment delays during the busy winter season and give you peace of mind.

2.      Give your gutters a fresh start.
Leaves, twigs and other debris can easily clog gutters, which can lead to ice dams. Ice dams cause melting water to back up and flow into the house, resulting in a very expensive repair. Save yourself the money and trouble by thoroughly cleaning out your gutters after the leaves have fallen. Make sure to tighten gutter hangers and downspout brackets, and replace any worn sections before it’s too late. Check that downspouts extend at least five feet away from the foundation. If they don’t, buy an inexpensive extension.

3.      Mind the gaps.
Walk around the inside and outside of your home and check it for air tightness, carefully looking for any signs of cracks where air could leak out, as this can be a significant source of energy loss. An inexpensive tube of caulk can help seal the leaks and also help prevent moisture from getting inside the walls of your home. Caulk and seal air leaks where plumbing, ducting or electrical wiring comes through walls or floors.

4.      Get smart—a smart thermostat, that is.
The Wi-Fi rage is real, especially when it comes to your thermostat. If you still have a manual thermostat or even a programmable one, consider upgrading to a smart thermostat. Today’s models can learn your living patterns, heat only rooms that are occupied, turn up the heat as you near your home, allow you to make adjustments remotely from your phone, and much more. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, you can save as much as 10 percent a year in energy usage (and on your utility bills) by making smart adjustments to your thermostat.

5.      Double-check doors
Inspect all doors that open to the outside or to the attic and be sure that they close tightly. An easy way to check for air leaks: place a piece of tissue in a clothespin, hold it at various points along the doorway and watch for any movement near the edge of the door and the frame. If you have a leak, take a photo of your door and door jamb, and ask an employee at your local hardware store for help finding the right weatherstripping or door sweeps. Air leaks cause your heating system to work harder, which costs you more money on your utility bills—and can shorten the lifespan of your system.

Hope these tips will make you aware of some proper maintenance.

Thanks for listening.

CLAIRE RICHARDS REALTY GROUP

Claire Richards Broker/REALTOR

Karl Zimmer REALTOR

610.256.2780

 

Here’s how much home you can afford depending on what you earn

Homes row beautiful

While opponents of homeownership claim it’s “the American nightmare,” others claim it’s an escalator to wealth.

According to billionaire Warren Buffett, a home is a valuable asset “for a great many people.”  If you decide to buy, you want to be sure you choose one that you can afford. After all, one of the biggest mistakes first-time homebuyers make is buying more than they can afford.

The ‘Oracle of Real Estate’    To help you figure out what price range you should be considering, personal finance site NerdWallet created a chart that details how much house you can afford, based on various annual incomes.

The chart assumes you spend 36 percent of your monthly income on housing and various debt payments, such as auto loans and student loans. “It’s the balance where lenders are comfortable that the average household has enough income remaining for regular expenses,” NerdWallet tells CNBC Make It.

The chart also assumes a 20 percent down payment, which is what experts typically recommend, and four percent interest on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage.

Finally, it assumes you’ll pay the national average in property tax ($180 per month) and homeowners insurance ($80 per month).

Here’s how much home you can afford if you earn:

$40,000 a year: $115,203
$60,000 a year: $272,299
$80,000 a year: $429,395
$100,000 a year: $586,491
$120,000 a year: $743,587

“You may be shocked to see how little house you can get for your salary,” Tim Manni, a mortgage expert at NerdWallet, tells CNBC Make It.

“There are several forces at work in the market today that are putting a crimp on affordability. Wage growth has been slow, home prices are steadily rising and limited inventory has lead to increased competition in many markets nationwide,” he says.

You’ll also want to keep in mind that the chart is based on a 20 percent down payment, Manni notes: “Home buyers will need to earn even more to qualify for these home prices if they plan on putting less than 20 percent down.”

Plus, you’ll want to plan for surprise expenses such as maintenance, any renovations you might want to make and moving costs.

That said, if you get a head start on saving and stick to your budget, owning a home is more than possible.

To get a better idea of exactly what your monthly payments will look like, plug your numbers into a mortgage calculator. Next, read up on eight things to give up if you want to buy your first home and start saving for your goal.

Listen … Claire and Karl can help.  We are very familiar with helping new homebuyers through the process.  Call NOW  610-256-2780, so we can get started on the journey.

CLAIRE RICHARDS REALTY GROUP

Claire Richards REALTOR & Assoc. BROKER

Karl Zimmer REALTOR

610.256.2780

5 Ways to Create an Energy Efficient Home for Under $500

 

Energy Graphic

 

Summer is a time filled with good times and warm weather. Unfortunately, it’s also a time for many homeowners when energy costs skyrocket as they attempt to keep their homes cool and comfortable. Thankfully, there are many things that can be done to help keep homes cool, while saving energy and money at the same time. These five tips will help make the most of energy efficient home situations this summer, and all cost less than $500.

Find and Fix Air Leaks
According to Energy.gov, air leaks are responsible for as much as 20 percent of the energy used to heat and cool the home. Stopping air leaks around doors and windows through weatherstripping is a fast and inexpensive way to help lower energy bills year round, while stopping drafts, and making the home more comfortable at the same time.

How Much Does It Save?
It’s common to see a drop in energy bills of about 20 percent after sealing up air leaks. The average cost of this project is around $168, and it will pay for itself over time with lower energy bills.

Thermostat Upgrade
Another way to lower energy bills is to invest in a programmable thermostat. Thermostats are responsible for controlling when the air conditioner goes on and off. However, many people forget to turn them off when they leave for the day, resulting in higher than necessary bills. A programmable version that can learn the habits of the residents in house will let the system use energy more efficiently, keeping bills down.

How Much Does It Save?
Programmable thermostats cost around $200 – $250 to have installed, and can often save roughly $180 a year on heating and cooling costs. Over time, this will help pay for the upgrade.

Update Light Fixtures
If the house still features incandescent light bulbs in the fixtures, then it’s likely using much more energy than it needs to be. Energy efficient LED and CFL bulbs use just ⅓ to 1/30 of the energy that a traditional bulb does. These bulbs also work in any traditional light fixture, although it is possible to install new lights made just for these types of bulbs to save even more if desired.

How Much Does It Save?
CFL bulbs cost around $10 to $12 while LED Bulbs cost around $15 to $25. While this may sound pricey, consider this; incandescent bulbs use about $15 worth of electricity a year per bulb, while LED and CFL use less than $5. Added up, this can be a tremendous savings over time.

Change the Air Filters
HVAC systems need to be clean and free of dust and dirt in order to work properly. For that reason, it has a filter installed at its intake to keep out contaminates. Over time, that filter will become clogged with dust, dirt, and hair, causing the system to work harder to pull air through. Most filters should be changed once a season, but many people overlook this simple task, which in turn results in higher energy bills, and expensive HVAC and AC maintenance.

How Much Does It Save?
Replacement air filters typically cost around $15 to $60. Choose from reusable filters that only need regular cleaning. Changing the filter every 3 months will save roughly 15 percent on energy bills.

Air Vents
AC and HVAC units will also work harder if their air vents are dirty. The more debris and dirt inside the system, the harder it needs to work to pull air through, raising energy costs by as much as 5 – 15 percent over time, and causing the system to age faster, requiring more maintenance and repairs over time.

How Much Does It Save?
Having dirty vents cleaned costs between $300 and $500. However, this can save up to 15 percent on your energy bills, and save on expensive HVAC repairs as well.

Lower Energy Bills
Remember, most of the things done to lower energy bills this summer will be effective year round, keeping energy bills down in the winter months as well, and increasing the amount that is ultimately saved. The home will also be more comfortable, and current and future homeowners will be able to avoid unexpected maintenance and repair costs in some cases as well.

I hope you find this article helpful.

CLAIRE RICHARDS REALTY GROUP

Claire Richards REALTOR & Assoc. BROKER

Karl Zimmer REALTOR

610.256.2780

 

 

 

Don’t Even Think About It!

Roofer

A do-it-yourself project can be an empowering way to save money, provided you know what you’re doing. But making even one simple mistake could put a strain on your back or your bank account. Often, it’s best to put safety first and call a professional. Here are four types of home improvement projects that are best left to the experts.

  1. Plumbing or electrical projects — There’s a reason these are skilled trades. Both systems are complex, no matter how straightforward a repair may initially appear. Even small leaks can cause serious water damage, and faulty electrical wiring can lead to a house fire. Don’t risk flooding or electric shock. Call a plumber or hire an electrician to make sure these jobs are done right the first time.
  2. Renovations with possible code violations — Structural changes require a licensed contractor. Not only can shoddy craftsmanship severely affect your home’s value, but it can also put your family in danger. Accidentally removing a load-bearing wall, for example, could cause an entire room to collapse. Why take the risk?
  3. Repairs involving heights — More than 130,000 ladder-related injuries are treated in emergency rooms each year. Whether you’re looking at a roof repair or trimming a tree, consider calling a professional before attempting to complete the job yourself.
  4. Time-sensitive projects — Weigh your work and family commitments before embarking on a home improvement project. Even if you’re confident in your abilities, the added pressure of a tight deadline can lead to unnecessary and often dangerous mistakes.

Remember, just because a DIY A do-it-yourself project can be an empowering way to save money, provided you know what you’re doing. But making even one simple mistake could put a strain on your back or your bank account. Often, it’s best to put safety first and call a professional. Here are four types of home improvement projects that are best left to the experts.

Let’s be safe and wise.  Call the pros if you are not able to perform the task.

CLAIRE RICHARDS REALTY GROUP

Claire Richards REALTOR  &  Assoc. BROKER

Karl Zimmer REALTOR

610.256.2780

On Second Thought, Don’t Make Passwords Difficult

laptop and woman

You likely have been told that to keep your information secure, you must use complicated passwords filled with random numbers and symbols. But now the man who originally came up with such guidelines for passwords is saying he got it wrong.

Bill Burr, who first became an important voice in password security in 2003 while working for the government, says he now realizes that his original guidance may not keep your passwords safer from hackers.

At the time, Burr, who issued what is considered the “bible” of passwords, advised using capital letters, numbers, and nonalphabetic symbols in passwords. By making the passwords more difficult, he said users would be keeping their data more secure from hackers.

But now he says such difficult-to-remember passwords haven’t improved security. In fact, he says the combinations may have even made computer systems less secure. That’s because users end up using the same password repeatedly or writing them down on sticky notes and attaching them to their screens.

Further, adding numbers or symbols to your passwords won’t make them any less vulnerable to cyber attacks, he now says.

“Much of what I did, I now regret,” Burr, who is now retired, told The Wall Street Journal. “In the end, it was probably too complicated for a lot of folks to understand very well, and the truth is, it was barking up the wrong tree.”

He also said his advice to regularly change passwords was mistaken too because for most people they just alter one character (e.g. “username1” becomes “username2”), which does little to deter hackers.

Password guidelines that were originally issued by Burr from the National Institute for Science and Technology have since been updated.

Users are now advised to use long but easy-to-remember “passphrases,” a string of a few words that they can remember with a visual. The password does not need to have special characters or numbers. For example, using a password like “horsecarrotsaddlestable” would take a much longer time for a cyber attack to decipher than “P@55w0rd,” The Telegraph reports.

Also, one of the best ways to protect yourself from hackers is to use two-factor authentication, which will send a text with a code or use an app to verify a login, security experts say.

So much from the experts.  I hope you find this tip on password helpful in your everyday activities on the web.

Thanks for listening.

CLAIRE RICHARDS REALTY GROUP

Claire Richards REALTOR & Assoc. BROKER

Karl Zimmer REALTOR

610.256.2780

Your Credit Score Could Make or Break Your Love Life

Or so it seems from a new survey placing those three digits above looks, ambition, courage, and sense of humor.

love life

Source:  Suzanne Woolley  August 21, 2017, 5:00 AM EDT

It turns out credit scores are statistical shorthand for a whole lot more than the likelihood you’ll repay a loan, according to a number of consumer surveys and academic studies. One study, released two years ago, looked at consumer credit data over 15 years and found that the higher the year-end credit score, the likelier the person was to form a romantic relationship over the next year.

Now comes a survey from Discover Financial Services and Match Media Group, parent of Tinder and other dating sites, that shows just how appealing a good credit score can be. Financial responsibility was ranked as a very or extremely important quality in a potential mate by 69 percent of the 2,000 online daters surveyed. That placed it ahead of sense of humor (67 percent), attractiveness (51 percent), ambition (50 percent), courage (42 percent), and modesty (39 percent). A good credit score was associated with being responsible, trustworthy, and smart.

That’s right. These amorous respondents effectively put credit score 18 points ahead of cute.  Other salacious details:

Those dating-app pictures of people in cool cars or cute gym outfits? Nah, gimme a scorching 810. A good credit score is more appealing than a nice car, said 58 percent of those surveyed. More people might swipe right if daters put up a screenshot of that
red-hot percentage.

“If you’ve got a pretty good credit score, you probably have other good personality traits,” said biological anthropologist Helen Fisher, Match.com’s chief scientific adviser and a senior research fellow at the Kinsey Institute. “You’re not only managing your money, you’re managing your family, your friends. You’re kind of a managing person. It says a lot more about you than a fancy car.” She even called it “an honest indicator of who you really are.”

She even called it a “Darwinian mechanism for measuring your reproductive ability.” (!)

There is something to this. What do people want in a mate? Many want someone who is responsible, dependable, willing to commit, and able to maintain a relationship. What does it take to get a good credit score? Mostly a long history of responsibility, dependability, and careful maintenance of accounts. Both sexes in the survey valued financial responsibility highly—77 percent of females and 61 percent of men.

Beth Rahn, a vice president for a private equity firm in Chicago and a user of online dating sites, is one of the 77 percent. Rahn, 30, thinks asking directly about the credit score on a first date would be a “quick way to scare someone off.” And if a date bragged about an 810 out of the blue, it would be a turnoff. But if the two of them were commiserating about loans or rates, say, and the 810 came up that way, she said, “my immediate reaction would be that they are responsible, on top of their expenses, they’ve been able to effectively manage debt in the past, whether it’s student loan debt, credit card debt or a mortgage.”

Dating someone whose score is similar to yours when you meet increases the odds the relationship will succeed, a 2015 paper, Credit Scores and Committed Relationships (PDF), found. When you meet, because married couples’ credit scores tend to converge over time.

The authors analyzed 15 years of data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York Consumer Credit Panel/Equifax, which covers millions of consumers and provided detailed credit record information. People “with higher credit scores are more likely to form committed relationships relative to other observably similar individuals” and more likely to maintain relationships, the authors found. They identified committed relationships by creating an algorithm to spot the formation and dissolution of marriages and long-term cohabitation.

The bigger the mismatch in scores when daters meet, the higher the likelihood the relationship won’t work out in the long run, the data showed. For example, between two couples, one with scores of 700 each and another with scores of 660 and 730, the second couple would have greater odds of separating.

But this is no statistics lesson. This is lo-o-o-ove. Just look:

Mind you, it’s also true that people with excellent credit scores are likelier than those with bad scores to be frequent exercisers and bigger fans of Charlie Rose than of Jimmy Kimmel, and to prefer hockey to soccer and dogs to cats. And Taylor Swift to Kanye West. That’s according to a 2016 WalletHub survey of 1,000 consumers.

Even if we accept that the score is a proxy for inclinations and tastes, guiding us toward people in the same socioeconomic circles with similar financial behaviors, can that 810 really release a rush of dopamine?

Perhaps not, Fisher allowed, noting that dopamine is the brain chemical associated with feelings of intense romantic love. But there is a different brain system in which “it could really stimulate some of the molecular structure for attachment,” she said. That system is tied to mating and reproduction and involves feelings of deep attachment. A credit score could trigger feelings about reliability and responsibility and trustworthiness, which could trigger that attachment system, she said.

At any rate (and that rate will depend on your credit score), daters may want to trust but verify. A survey done earlier this year for student loan company SoFi found that nearly 24 percent of respondents said a date or partner had lied to them about how much debt they carried. The 2,000 millennial daters surveyed said debt was the second-biggest potential deal-breaker, behind workaholism. That may explain why 40 percent said they’d rather talk about their socially transmitted diseases than their debt.

In the Discover/Match survey, only 7 percent of online daters said they would provide information on their credit score, debt level, income, and spending habits before meeting a date IRL. For most people, the soonest they’d feel comfortable sharing financial details is sometime in the first six months of a relationship.

“It can be difficult enough to find someone you’re compatible with, so to suddenly go from this emotional connection to this practical part of your brain, it can seem incredibly clinical, and you don’t want that,” said Adam Scott, a financial planner at Westside Investment Management in Santa Monica, California. “But if you don’t pay attention in the beginning, you aren’t building your relationship on a sound footing, and it will come back to haunt you.” Being on the same basic page financially will “ultimately be one of the predictors of the success of the relationship,” he said. “It will be one of the defining things, maybe even more than sex.”

Chart

 

People may be hesitant to reveal their credit scores now, but “the data suggest that it might become the norm over time,” said Kate Manfred, vice president of brand communications and consumer insights for Discover. She envisions a day when people “do dueling phones and you pull up your scores right there, in under 60 seconds. You pull out your phone and say, ‘Look, here’s my credit score, what’s yours? Let’s swap.’ ”

Or, as Shakespeare wrote:

My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun
Her sweetest gift, a lambent 801. 

I’ll bet you didn’t know all of this?!  Yeah, by all means get your credit score in order pronto!   Thanks so much for listening.

 

CLAIRE RICHARDS REALTY GROUP

Claire Richards REALTOR & Associate BROKER

Karl Zimmer REALTOR

610.256.2780

 

 

Should You Buy an Electric Car?

TESLA MODEL 3

There are certainly advantages to plug-in electric cars, but there is at least one glaring reason to give pause: They cost more than their traditional gas-powered cousins. Is that initial expense worth it in the long run? Consider these things before buying an electric car:

Battery range

Today’s electric vehicle (EV) can run as far as 260-plus miles on a full charge, but many lower-cost models currently have a range of 75 to 100 miles per charge. This may change, however, as several lower-cost models are coming to the market with ranges of 200-plus miles. Extended-range electric vehicles (EREVs) can increase mileage even more, and a plug-in hybrid, with a gas tank for backup, increases range, too. Remember: Adding an engine means adding gas costs and engine maintenance, including oil changes, which regular EVs don’t require.

Home charging

You’ll need to install an efficient 240V source of electricity in your garage, since your standard 120V plug probably won’t be able to fully charge an EV overnight. A typical unit will run in the $500 range, plus electrician’s fees, though your state may offer rebates on the unit and/or installation. Some EV owners also invest in solar panel charging, for environmental and monetary reasons.

 Charging station availability

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, there are currently more than 58,000 public electric stations and charging outlets across the country, and counting, though availability varies widely depending on where you live.[1] Visit afdc.energy.gov to check the availability in your area.

Cost to power

The average EV requires about 30 kilowatt hours (kWh) to travel 100 miles. Assuming the national average of 12¢/kWh, that’s $3.60 per 100 miles—$540 annually for the average 15,000 mile-per-year driver, mainly charging at home. Compare that to $1,320 a year for a gas-powered vehicle, assuming 25 mpg at $2.20/gallon. Plug in your local energy costs to personalize those numbers.

 Tax and other incentives

Federal tax credits for new EV and plug-in hybrids range from $2,500 to $7,500, depending on battery size. Some utility companies provide special rates, and many states offer their own incentives, too.

I know we are all considering the pros and cons of making the switch to a electric car. I for one am considering it for the carbon footprint savings.  Please do all you can to save our precious planet for future generations.

Thanks for listening and we look forward to your comments.

 

CLAIRE RICHARDS REALTY GROUP

Claire Richards REALTOR & Assoc. BROKER

Karl Zimmer REALTOR

610.256.2780

 

 

 

 

 

Home Buyers Face Fewer Choices

Home exterior 15

Many markets are seeing so few new listings that they may not be able to meet the strong buyer demand heading into real estate’s traditionally busiest season. Listings are down more than 7 percent compared to a year ago across the country, according to the latest data by the National Association of REALTORS®.

Where Homes Are Selling the Fastest

Realtor.com® inventory data shows the following metro areas had listings that stayed on the market the shortest amount of time in January:

  • San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, Calif.: 43 days
  • San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, Calif.: 47 days
  • San Diego-Carlsbad, Calif.: 55 days
  • Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, Wash.: 57 days
  • Nashville-Davidson-Murfreesboro-Franklin, Tenn.: 58 days
  • Vallejo-Fairfield, Calif.: 58 days
  • Greeley, Colo.: 58 days

Source: National Association of REALTORS®

“Competition is likely to heat up even more heading into the spring for house hunters looking for homes in the lower- and mid-market price range,” says Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist.

Read moreExisting-Home Sales Reach Decade High

Realtor.com® notes that the following markets are particularly very light on listings:

  • Chicago: -13% (active listings compared to a year ago)
  • Philadelphia: -14%
  • Washington: -15%
  • Seattle: -17%
  • Minneapolis: -18%
  • Louis: -12%
  • Baltimore: -16%
  • Cleveland: -18%
  • Orlando, Fla.: -19%

On the other hand, home shoppers may find more choices this year in a few select markets. Notably, Las Vegas is seeing an 18 percent increase in active listings compared to a year ago; Pittsburgh is seeing a 9 percent increase; and Houston and San Antonio are posting a 6 percent increase,

Yes, today we’e in a Seller’s Market. But have no fear, a Buyer’s Market is just around the corner.  Call Claire/Karl TODAY to get started in looking for your next home with seasoned professionals.

Thanks for listening.

CLAIRE RICHARDS REALTY GROUP

Claire Richards Assoc. BROKER & REALTOR

Karl Zimmer REALTOR

610.256.2780