Fair Housing Month

Every April, REALTORS® commemorate the passage of the Fair Housing Act of 1968 with events and education that shine a light on housing discrimination and segregation. Fair Housing Month signifies a recommitment to expanding equal access to housing.

Implicit bias is often a manifestation of muscle memory. A go-with-your-gut unconscious choice, act, or opinion with immeasurable consequences that can–and have–impacted generations.

Slow down, course correct, and take action. Throughout the year we must remain steadfast in our commitment breaking down biases, holding ourselves accountable, and upholding the letter of the law.

So, refresh your memory, and open your mind. There’s always more to know, and we can all do better.

Fair Housing Book Recommendations

Residential segregation in America didn’t happen by accident. Americans of different racial backgrounds live apart because of deliberate actions by public and private actors. NAR’s Vice President of Policy Advocacy, Bryan Greene, compiled a collection of fair housing titles to help NAR members deepen their understanding of how we became divided, and of the ramifications of living in a segregated society.

Don’t have time to read an entire book? Each recommendation also includes book reviews, interviews, videos and other tools to give you a quick recap.

Fair Housing Film and Video Recommendations

Short videos, documentaries, and a featured length major motion picture help educate about housing discrimination, segregation, and the people working to correct these social and economic wrongs.

Fair Housing Podcasts

Like to learn about the world from podcasts? We’ve got you covered. From This American Life to The Bowery Boys, NAR presents podcasts that will educate you on Fair Housing.

Fair Housing Journalism

compilation of articles featuring the work of investigative journalists who have uncovered critical fair housing stories, along with civil rights scholars who have condensed their books into a shorter form. They’ll help you deepen your understanding of fair housing in less time than it takes to read an entire book.

Spotlight on Local and National Fair Organizations

Fair housing organizations work in communities across the country, as well as at the state and national levels, to educate the public about fair housing, investigate claims of discrimination, and push for policies that promote housing rights. They work in partnership with governments and private housing providers to promote best practices to prevent discrimination and foster diverse, inclusive communities.

“Copyright National Association of REALTORS®. Reprinted with permission.”

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Your Credit Before Buying a Home

What to Know About Your Credit Before Buying a Home

It’s not just whether you pay your bills on time that matters.

Credit ratings for new homeowners
Image: Cavan Images/Tanya St/StudioBarcelona/Getty

Like it or not, your credit score is one of the most important numbers in your life, ranking up there with your Social Security number, date of birth, and wedding anniversary. This three-digit number is your financial report card, except there’s no getting rid of it after college.

Your credit score shows lenders just how trustworthy you are when it comes to managing your finances, and it can either save or cost you thousands of dollars throughout your life. 

If you’re in the dark about just how significantly this number can impact you and the details behind your personal score, here’s an overview of what you need to know before hitting the mortgage application process.

How Your Score is Calculated

Your FICO credit score is comprised of five elements, according to the Fair, Isaac Corp.

  1. 35% of your score is attributed to how you pay your bills. Points are added for paying on time and deducted for late or missing payments. Note: This is a big portion of your score, so if you’re not paying bills on time, it’s best to get that under control pronto.
  2. 30% of your score is based on your credit utilization ratio. Translation: How much money do you owe as a portion of the amount of credit available to you? The lower this ratio, the better.
  3. 15% is based on the length of your credit history. When did you open your first account (and is it still open)?
  4. 10% of your score goes to the type of credit you have. Think revolving credit (such as credit cards) and installment credit (such as car loans and mortgages).
  5. The last 10% is impacted by new credit applications. How often and for what types of credit are you applying?

Where to Find Your Score and Report

To access your credit report, use a website such as annualcreditreport.com, which will give you one free report a year, or creditkarma.com, which will provide you with free access to your score upon signing up for an account. 

Once you have copies of your report and score, immediately look for fraudulent or erroneous information. If you find anything, immediately contact both the credit reporting agency and the company that is portraying inaccurate information to determine next steps.

How Your Score Can Cost You

Your score can range from about 300 to 850. You’ll find a variety of breakdowns on what’s considered “good” compared to “excellent” versus “poor,” but in general you’ll want to aim for a score of 740 and higher, which is the “very good” range.

The higher your credit score, the more creditworthy you appear to lenders (meaning they can rely on you to pay your debts and pay them on time), which translates into lower interest rates and more money saved when taking out a loan.

Not sure how this can play out financially? Consider this:

Meet Claire: She’s 35, pays her credit card off in full each month, has all her bills on auto-draft, and never misses a payment. She’s had a positive credit history for 10 years and wants to buy a home. Claire was approved for a $200,000, 30-year fixed-rate loan at 3.75%.

Meet Steve: He’s 32, obtained his first credit card at age 18, ran up some debt in college that he’s still working on paying down, and has no system for keeping track of bills. He has consistent late and bounced check fees. Steve wants to buy a home and was approved for a $200,000, 30-year fixed-rate loan at 5.5%.

What’s all the fuss about if they were both approved? Over the life of her loan, Claire will pay $133,443.23 in interest. Over the life of his loan, Steve will pay $208,808.08 in interest. A small interest rate difference of 1.75% translates into $75,364.85 more paid by Steve! $75,000 is a pretty significant sum of money that could be used toward other goals.

Having a solid credit score is one of the most financially savvy tools for you to have on hand when it comes to buying a home. When managed wisely, your credit score will bring you confidence, peace of mind, and more money saved via low interest rates. 

When mismanaged or not cared for at all, your credit score can delay your success in meeting financial goals and result in additional funds and resources spent correcting past mistakes. 

“Visit HouseLogic.com for more articles like this.  Reprinted from HouseLogic.com with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.”

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Guide to Paint Finishes

Choosing the wrong type of paint finish could mean a do-over that costs twice as much.

Woman standing in front of a wall of paint colors
Image: Tanavat/Shutterstock

There’s a basic rule of thumb to follow when choosing paint sheens: The higher the sheen, the higher the shine — and the higher the shine, the more durable it will be.

Flat paint has no shine; high-gloss is all shine. In between are eggshell, satin, and semi-gloss, each with its own practical and decorative job to do. 

There’s a basic rule of thumb to follow when choosing paint sheens: The higher the sheen, the higher the shine — and the higher the shine, the more durable it will be.

Flat paint has no shine; high-gloss is all shine. In between are eggshell, satin, and semi-gloss, each with its own practical and decorative job to do. 

Here’s how to choose the right paint sheen for your painting job.

Paint Sheen Infographic | Paint Finishes

High Gloss

The most durable and easiest to clean of all paint sheens, high-gloss paint is hard, ultra-shiny, and light-reflecting. Think appliance-paint tough.

High gloss is a good choice for area that sticky fingers touch — cabinets, trim, and doors. High-gloss, however, is too much shine for interior walls. And like a Spandex dress, high gloss shows every bump and roll, so don’t skimp on prep work.

  • Practical application: kitchens, door, and window trim
  • Durability: very high

Semi-Gloss

Good for rooms where moisture, drips, and grease stains challenge walls. Also great for trim work that takes a lot of abuse.

  • Practical application: kitchens, bathrooms, trim, chair rails
  • Durability: high

Satin

Has a yummy luster that, despite the name, is often described as velvety. It’s easy to clean, making it excellent for high-traffic areas. Its biggest flaw is it reveals application flaws, such as roller or brush strokes. Touch-ups later can be tricky. 

  • Practical application: family rooms, foyers, hallways, kids’ bedrooms
  • Durability: high

Eggshell

Between satin and flat on the sheen (and durability) scale is eggshell, so named because it’s essentially a flat (no-shine) finish with little luster, like a chicken’s egg. Eggshell covers wall imperfections well and is a great finish for gathering spaces that don’t get a lot of bumps and scuffs.

  • Practical application: dining rooms, living rooms
  • Durability: medium

Flat or Matte

A friend to walls that have something to hide, flat/matte soaks up, rather than reflects, light. It has the most pigment and will provide the most coverage, which translates to time and money savings. However, it’s tough to clean without taking paint off with the grime.

  • Practical application: adults’ bedrooms and other interior rooms that won’t be roughed up by kids
  • Durability: medium-low

Tips For Choosing the Right Sheen

If your paint color is dark and rich but you don’t want a super shiny effect, step down at least one level on the sheen scale. That’s because the darker and richer the paint color is, the more colorant it has, which boosts sheen. Ditto if you’re painting a large, sun-washed, or imperfect wall. The higher the sheen, the more defects will show.

Adding sheen also adds to the cost, usually an extra dollar or two per gallon as you step up on the sheen scale.

“Visit HouseLogic.com for more articles like this.  Reprinted from HouseLogic.com with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.”

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Google Bets Big on Return to Office

March 19, 2021

Some tech companies are still betting big on the return to the office once the pandemic fades. Google’s Alphabet Inc. is the latest, with a commitment to spend $7 billion this year on expanding its offices and data centers across the U.S. The company also plans to hire at least 10,000 new full-time staff over the next year as it becomes bullish on a post-pandemic recovery, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Google head quarters building

“Coming together in person to collaborate and build community is core to Google’s culture,” Sundar Pichai, Alphabet and Google chief executive, said in a blog post this week. “And it will be an important part of our future.”

Soon after the COVID-19 outbreak began in the U.S., Google was one of the first major companies to extend the time so that its employees could work remotely. That date has since been pushed to July. However, the company now expects employees to return to offices, while still leaving the door open to remote work two days a week.

Other tech giants have also committed to growing their office footprint, even at a time when other companies are looking to shrink theirs from the growth of remote work. Amazon announced this summer it would be expanding its physical offices to six U.S. cities, spotlighting the importance of still being able to one day work and collaborate once again in the same space.

Google has thrived during the pandemic as online ad spending rose. Google has more than doubled its data centers since 2018 as it heavily invests in its cloud business. Still, its $7 billion commitment to expanding office and data centers this year is lower than its pre-pandemic office expenditures, which had an annual average spend of $11 billion in 2018 and 2019.

Google said that its investment plan this year will target growing its existing sites. It does plan to create three office sites in Minnesota, Texas, and North Carolina, The Wall Street Journal reports. Overall, that will then expand Google’s presence to 19 states.

“Copyright National Association of REALTORS®. Reprinted with permission.”

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What to Expect During a Home Inspection

From finding an inspector to dealing with surprises — this is your guide to getting a house checked out.

Home inspection illustration
Image: HouseLogic

The first thing you need to know about home inspection: You’ll feel all the feels.

There’s the excitement — the inspection could be the longest time you’re in the house, after the showing.

Right behind that comes … anxiety. What if the inspector finds something wrong? So wrong you can’t buy the house?

Then there’s impatience. Seriously, is this whole home-buying process over yet?

Not yet. But you’re close. So take a deep breath. Because the most important thing to know about home inspection: It’s just too good for you, as a buyer, to skip. Here’s why.

A Home Inspector Is Your Protector

An inspector helps you make sure a house isn’t hiding anything before you commit for the long haul. (Think about it this way: You wouldn’t even get coffee with a stranger without checking out their history.)

A home inspector identifies any reasonably discoverable problems with the house (a leaky roof, faulty plumbing, etc.). Hiring an inspector is you doing your due diligence. To find a good one (more on how to do that soon), it helps to have an understanding of what the typical home inspection entails. 

An inspection is all about lists.  

Before an inspection, the home inspector will review the seller’s property disclosure statement. (Each state has its own requirements for what sellers must disclose on these forms; some have stronger requirements than others.) The statement lists any flaws the seller is aware of that could negatively affect the home’s value. 

The disclosure comes in the form of an outline, covering such things as:

  • Mold 
  • Pest infestation
  • Roof leaks
  • Foundation damage
  • Other problems, depending on what your state mandates.

During the inspection, an inspector has three tasks — to:

  1. Identify problems with the house that he or she can see
  2. Suggest fixes
  3. Prepare a written report, usually with photos, noting observed defects

This report is critical to you and your agent — it’s what you’ll use to request repairs from the seller. (We’ll get into how you’ll do that in a minute, too.)

The Inspector Won’t Check Everything

Generally, inspectors only examine houses for problems that can be seen with the naked eye. They won’t be tearing down walls or using magical X-ray vision, to find hidden faults.

Inspectors also won’t put themselves in danger. If a roof is too high or steep, for example, they won’t climb up to check for missing or damaged shingles. They’ll use binoculars to examine it instead.

They can’t predict the future, either. While an inspector can give you a rough idea of how many more years that roof will hold up, he or she can’t tell you exactly when it will need to be replaced.

Finally, home inspectors are often generalists. A basic inspection doesn’t routinely include a thorough evaluation of:

  • Swimming pools
  • Wells
  • Septic systems
  • Structural engineering work
  • The ground beneath a home
  • Fireplaces and chimneys

When it comes to wood-burning fireplaces, for instance, most inspectors will open and close dampers to make sure they’re working, check chimneys for obstructions like birds’ nests, and note if they believe there’s reason to pursue a more thorough safety inspection.

If you’re concerned about the safety of a fireplace, you can hire a certified chimney inspector for about $125 to $325 per chimney; find one through the Chimney Safety Institute of America.

It’s Your Job to Check the Inspector

Now you’re ready to connect with someone who’s a pro at doing all of the above. Here’s where — once again — your real estate agent has your back. He or she can recommend reputable home inspectors to you.

In addition to getting recommendations (friends and relatives are handy for those, too), you can look for professional inspectors at their trade association websites. The American Society of Home Inspectors’ (ASHI) Find a Home Inspector tool lets you search by address, metro area, or neighborhood. You can also search for inspectors by state at InterNACHI.

You’ll want to interview at least three inspectors before deciding whom to hire. During each chat, ask questions such as:

  • Are you licensed or certified? Inspector certifications vary, based on where you live. Not every state requires home inspectors to be licensed, and licenses can indicate different degrees of expertise. ASHI lists each state’s requirements here
  • How long have you been in the business? Look for someone with at least five years of experience — it indicates more homes inspected.
  • How much do you charge? Home inspection costs range from $260 to $399. The costs vary according to your location and the size of your house.
  • What do you check, exactly? Know what you’re getting for your money.
  • What don’t you check, specifically? Some home inspectors are more thorough than others.
  • How soon after the inspection will I receive my report? Home inspection contingencies require you to complete the inspection within a certain period of time after the offer is accepted — normally five to seven days — so you’re on a set timetable. A good home inspector will provide you with the report within 24 hours after the inspection.
  • May I see a sample report? This will help you gauge how detailed the inspector is and how he or she explains problems.

How to Really Read Online Reviews

Take extreme reviews (“she was the best inspector ever”) with a grain of salt; compare a provider’s reviews on several sites; don’t let a few bad reviews cloud the positives; see if a contractor has addressed negative reviews.

Sometimes you can find online reviews of inspectors on sites like Angie’s List and Yelp, too, if past clients’ feedback is helpful in making your decision.

Show Up for Inspection (and Bring Your Agent)

It’s inspection day, and the honor of your — and your agent’s — presence is not required, but highly recommended. Even though you’ll receive a report summarizing the findings later on, being there gives you a chance to ask questions, and to learn the inner workings of the home.

Water: A Home’s #1 Enemy

Besides drainage, ask the inspector about any signs of water damage. Water can destroy the integrity of the home’s structure. So a leaky gutter isn’t just annoying; it’s compromising your foundation.

Block out two to three hours for the inspection. The inspector will survey the property from top to bottom. This includes checking water pressure; leaks in the attic, plumbing, etc.; if door and window frames are straight (if not, it could be a sign of a structural issue); if electrical wiring is up to code; if smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are working; if appliances work properly. Outside, he or she will look at things like siding, fencing, and drainage.

The inspector might also be able to check for termites, asbestos, lead paint, or radon. Because these tests involve more legwork and can require special certification, they come at an additional charge.

Get Ready to Negotiate

Once you receive the inspector’s report, review it with your agent.

Legally, sellers are required to make certain repairs. These can vary depending on location. Most sales contracts require the seller to fix: 

  • Structural defects
  • Building code violations
  • Safety issues

Most home repairs, however, are negotiable. Be prepared to pick your battles: Minor issues, like a cracked switchplate or loose kitchen faucet, are easy and cheap to fix on your own. You don’t want to start nickel-and-diming the seller. 

If there are major issues with the house, your agent can submit a formal request for repairs that includes a copy of the inspection report. Repair requests should be as specific as possible. For instance: Instead of saying “repair broken windows,” a request should say “replace broken window glass in master bathroom.”

  • If the seller agrees to make all of your repair requests: He or she must provide you with invoices from a licensed contractor stating that the repairs were made. Then it’s full steam ahead toward the sale.
  • If the seller responds to your repair requests with a counteroffer: He or she will state which repairs (or credits at closing) he or she is willing to make. The ball is in your court to either agree, counter the seller’s counteroffer, or void the transaction.

At the end of the day, remember to check in with yourself to see how you’re feeling about all of this. You need to be realistic about how much repair work you’d be taking on. At this point in the sale, there’s a lot of pressure from all parties to move into the close. But if you don’t feel comfortable, speak up.

The most important things to remember during the home inspection? Trust your inspector, trust your gut, and lean on your agent — they likely have a lot of experience to support your decision-making.

That’s something to feel good about.

“Visit HouseLogic.com for more articles like this.  Reprinted from HouseLogic.com with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.”

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Renovations That Can Hurt Home Value

Your home isn’t just a source of pride or a place where you can relax after a long day — it’s also an investment in your family’s future. And while it’s natural to want to make improvements to increase your home’s resale value, some renovations will actually cost you money in the long run. Just because you see something as an improvement doesn’t mean a potential buyer will feel the same way.

Lavish Lighting Fixtures

One common home improvement mistake is falling in love with unique or lavish light fixtures, said Alon Barzilay, founder of real estate development company Urban Conversions.

“Whether it be ceiling-mounted lights in a dining room or a hanging pendant, there is a psychological phenomenon that happens when you go to a lighting store … you’re going to pick something exciting and new instead of picking a new addition that suddenly matches the big picture,” Barzilay said.

Further, the passage of trends works against homeowners. “Whatever is in vogue today will look dated 10 years down the road when you are ready to sell,” he said. “Simple is best. Fortunately, lighting can easily be switched out at a low cost.”

Too Much Wallpaper

With its patterns and texture, wallpaper can be an overwhelming design choice for your home. Plus, it’s notoriously difficult to remove. Homebuyers might view wallpaper removal as a potential headache, and it could be the tipping point for someone who wants a more move-in ready home.

Fresh paint and neutral colors are always a good idea to help stage your home when it’s on the market. If you do have wallpaper, think about whether it’s beneficial to remove it and repaint the walls before any showings or open houses, so your potential buyers never have to think about your wallpaper mistakes.

Texture on the Walls and Ceilings

Just like wallpaper, texture on walls and ceilings is difficult to remove. Simply knowing that a time-consuming project lies ahead might cause homebuyers to decrease their offer. Think twice before deciding on a fancy textured painting technique, and play around with textured wall décor instead.

Quirky Tiling

“Many buyers like to upgrade the floors in their homes,” he said. “Adding tile or wood can make an improvement in value — unless you get that person who wants the 1950s diner look and installs black-and-white tile. For their vision, this is the pinnacle of cool. But for a resale value, most homebuyers will see it as a distraction and something they will need to rip out.”

Instead of falling victim to tiling mistakes, consider going with a traditional white tile floor, and buy a rug with the style you’re going for, he recommends. If you don’t want to spend a fortune on a professional to replace the flooring, consider doing this home renovation yourself.

Too Much Carpeting

In an interview with Realtor.com, home remodeling expert Alex Biyevetskiy said that new hardwood floors can increase the sale price of a home by up to 2.5%. Compared to hardwood and laminate floors, carpet can quickly show signs of damage. Plus, colors and textures are highly based on personal preference, and any overly personal touches can decrease a home’s value.

Bright and Bold Paint Colors

Bright and bold paint colors can turn off any potential buyer who might lack a bit of vision. Fortunately, repainting a room before putting your home on the market is an easy fix, albeit an important one. Choose neutral colors to present buyers with a blank canvas, which can help them envision the home in their own style.

Combining Bedrooms To Create a Bigger Room

Combining two small bedrooms to create a bigger room might seem like a good idea to a young couple with no children or to empty nesters whose children have left the house. But this is a bad move if you don’t plan on staying in that home forever, said Brian Davis, real estate investor and director of education of renting resource SparkRental.

“Even small bedrooms add value to homes, as most families want children to have their own rooms but don’t mind if they’re on the small side,” he said. “In my experience, each bedroom can add about 15% to the value of a home.”

Removing Closets

Michele Silverman Bedell, owner of residential agency Silversons, told MarketWatch that she’s seen firsthand how removing a closet to make room for another upgrade, such as a larger bathroom or bedroom, can hurt a home’s resale value. “People need closets,” Bedell said. “They’ll walk in and count the number of closets per room.”

A Garage-to-Gym or Living Space Conversion

For a fitness lover, a garage-to-gym conversion might seem like a wonderful idea. To parents of a millennial who just moved back home, a garage-to-apartment conversion probably seems like a money saver. But future homebuyers might not agree.

Many people search for houses with a garage, and what they’re looking for isn’t a gym or an extra living space — they’re looking for a garage to serve its primary purpose of housing cars and storage items.

DIY Repairs

Always think twice before getting into the do-it-yourself home improvement game. Gordon said he’s seen several examples of DIY jobs that have decreased a home’s value. “I’ve seen plenty of houses where you can tell the owner did the work,” he said. “The owner probably feels she made all the right improvements, but buyers quickly see the shoddy workmanship and unusual finished product.”

There are ways you can increase your home’s value with DIY projects, but you need to be strategic. Gordon went on to recommend hiring a pro the first time out. “Then ask to be a part of the process and learn from the professional as they do the job,” he said.

The bottom line is that any over-personalization of your home can lead to a decrease in value. Yes, you want to live in a space you love, but think twice before investing in any major or costly renovations. And always make sure your home improvements are completed with the proper permits by licensed professionals.

“Copyright NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®. Reprinted with permission.”

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Solar Energy for a Home

9 Steps to Help Decide on Solar Energy for a Home

Provide value-add for your green-minded clients and walk them through what they need to consider before installing solar panels.

February 5, 2021 by Brandon DoyleVincent Ferro

3 Takeaways

  • A homeowner should make their home as energy efficient as possible before investing in a solar system so they don’t pay for a bigger system than they need.
  • A solar system is an investment with a typical payback period of eight years.
  • Your clients should know the warranty terms of a solar system and who will maintain the system when there are inevitable issues.

With federal tax breaks for solar panels ending in 2021, this could be time for you or your clients’ home energy independence. When it comes to deciding if an investment in solar will pay off, the homeowner has to do research and make smart decisions for their home and financial situation. Here are some steps to take along the way.

Step 1: Figure out the home’s solar potential.

To get an initial idea about a roof’s solar potential, you can enter the address at Google Project Sunroof or check out solar resource maps from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. One common misconception is that solar panels only pay off in hot, sunny parts of the country. To test this idea, a homeowner should look around their yard. Are there trees and other green plants? Plants use the sun’s energy to grow their leaves, so they are a good indicator of solar energy in your yard. Solar panels actually perform more efficiently in cooler temperatures.

Step 2: See what the home’s utility bills tell you.

Are the annual utility bills high enough that a solar investment will pay off in a reasonable period of time? For most homeowners, a utility bill tells you one basic fact: monthly usage. But a high monthly electricity bill can be caused by many factors ranging from old appliances to inefficient HVAC systems to poor insulation. Make the home as energy efficient as possible before buying a solar system so you’re not paying for a bigger system than you need.

Step 3: Plan ahead.

Will your clients be living in the same house in the next decade? A solar system is a big investment with a typical payback period of eight years. If the homeowner plans to move in the next couple years, buying or leasing solar panels could be a money-losing decision. If they decide to move after leasing, they’ll need to buy the system, persuade the new homeowner to assume the lease, or pay the provider to terminate the lease altogether.

Step 4: Establish an accurate baseline.

A home energy monitor like Sense will track energy consumption both before and after solar is installed. Get a couple months of data and use that information to calculate how much of the current bill can be offset with solar and how big an installation is needed. A homeowner in Oklahoma used Sense Solar to track down her energy hogs before installing her solar panels and it paid off in significant savings (see her story here). 

Step 5: Consider financing and payoffs.

Solar panels are an investment that needs to pay off financially. A homeowner should take her or his time analyzing whether buying or leasing will be most advantageous. If you or your client decides to buy, most solar providers and websites like EnergySage will factor the 26% federal incentive into their estimates as well as any state incentives. Together, those incentives have a big impact on the final cost. If the homeowner needs financing, they should talk with their bank, mortgage provider, or a lender like Dividend Finance, which offers solar-specific loans and resources. A homeowner should do the math to figure out how much they’ll need to invest and when that investment will pay off.

Loan and lease options are attractive because they can be cash-flow positive as soon as the solar panels are installed without a cash outlay in advance, but with a lease, customers don’t benefit from the federal tax credit. But a homeowner shouldn’t view leasing as a short-term decision since most loans and lease agreements are for longer than 10 years. The monthly lease prices of a solar system in the U.S. vary depending on how much energy a house requires and can produce. The higher the electricity bill, the higher the lease cost will be since it will demand higher solar productivity. To get an idea, Tesla calculates solar panel rentals based on the home’s address and electricity bill.

Step 6: Decide on storage or no storage.

Energy storage is still a premium option, but prices are dropping significantly every year. To help a homeowner decide if they need storage, consider two factors: when they use electricity and how frequently it’s interrupted. In areas with rolling brownouts or downed power lines from storms, solar storage can get you through without an interruption and batteries can store solar energy to use at night or on cloudy days. Do the math to figure out the payoff for storage.

Step 7: Make a short list of providers.

Once a homeowner has decided to install solar panels, he or she should research providers online and check their reviews. Identify three or four companies that look promising and ask for online quotes based on remote solar audits, then, narrow the candidates down to two or three installers. Their construction experts will visit the house to measure and assess the roof, conduct a shade analysis, and check to see if the electrical panel will need to be upgraded. Their final quote will reflect all those factors. When evaluating proposals, be sure it includes any costs to update the roof or remove trees that create shade.

Step 8: Ask more questions before deciding on a provider.

Once a homeowner has two or three final estimates based on in-person home assessments, they should ask the providers about how they’ll handle the installation. For instance, does the provider design and install the systems themselves, or do they subcontract to local companies? If the provider uses subcontractors, are the subcontractors licensed? Make sure the contractor can explain the components of the solar system they’re installing.

The homeowner should ask if they’ll file the necessary permits, including the electrical permit, building permit, and the dedicated solar photovoltaic permit. A reputable provider will help the homeowner file for rebates and tax incentives or do it for them. Make sure your clients know the warranty term and who will maintain the system when there are inevitable issues. And, finally, if the homeowner is leasing, they should ask the provider to disclose what the system is worth so they’ll have that information if they decide to sell their home.

Step 9: Patience required.

The homeowner should evaluate all the proposals to make sure they correctly address the home’s energy needs, then choose a provider they can trust. Once a contract is signed with a provider, the installation and permitting process can be surprisingly long as contractors file all the paperwork on behalf of the homeowner with the utility and municipality. It can take a few weeks to get permits sorted out before the installer can get the solar panels on the roof.

When the system is installed and connected to the utility, it will start producing energy whenever the sun shines. The homeowner will save money on their utility bill while relying on clean energy that’s good for the planet.

“Copyright National Association of REALTORS®. Reprinted with permission.”

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A Myriad of Home Trends to Gain Momentum in 2021

As homeowners continue to stay in, avoiding the latest spikes in coronavirus numbers, many seek new ways to improve their abode’s function, aesthetics, fun.

December 4, 2020 by Barbara Ballinger

When it comes to the home and design trends experts anticipate prevailing in the year ahead, the overarching theme will be options in abundance.

While homeowners continue to want their outdoor spaces that offer a safe retreat, that appeal has shifted into other parts of the home, coupling comfort with function. In other words, homeowners want amenities for work and leisure, and they plan to enjoy long them long after the pandemic.

Here are 10 trends to watch in 2021.

1. What it is: Two-for-one kitchen

Layered Kitchen
de Guilio Kitchen Design

Why now: Even before COVID-19 spread, many homeowners with an open floorplan were finding that there is a downside to not having walls in the kitchen. Clutter, messiness, and dirty dishes aren’t as easy to hide.

Leave it to the trendsetters to develop a solution: two kitchens in one. Mick De Giulio of de Giulio Kitchen Design in Chicago calls it a “layered kitchen” with separate work and living zones. Cheryl Kees Clendenon of In Detail Interiors in Pensacola, Fla., refers to it as a “prep and show kitchen.” Granted, extra space and renovation funds are needed to complete the concept.

The work area is typically in the back of the kitchen, hidden by a door or wall. This is where the serious food prep and cleanup takes place. The area may be part of a large laundry room or storage room that can be converted into this hidden cooking zone. It may also be used by caterers (when entertaining returns with gusto), Clendenon says.

In contrast, the living or show kitchen at the front remains part of the open floorplan. It’s designed to display culinary delights in an uncluttered way. This is where a roasted turkey comes out of the oven before being carried to the back-work area for carving while a buffet is set out. Some homeowners may designate one kitchen for special needs, such as gluten-free prep, a request from one of Clendenon’s clients. The back-kitchen space could also be used as a beverage center with a coffee station, and include refrigerated drawers or a wine cooler, De Giulio says.

2. What it is: Outdoor heaters and more

Firepit
Glassman Associates

Why now: During the summer of 2020, “everybody wanted to turn their backyard into an oasis to be able to eat safely and talk,” says landscape architect Clara C. Batchelor of CBA Landscape Architects in Cambridge, Mass. Now, as temperatures dip—and, dip again—homeowners look to extend safe, outdoor socializing and dining with family and friends.

Two obvious features that make it possible are fire pits and patio heaters. Both offer warmth via electricity, gas, propane, word burning fires, or infrared light. Local authorities are revising codes to permit fire features, says architect Gary Kane, with The Architectural Team (TAT) in Chelsea, Mass.

While fire pits have been popular for years, they’ve become more stylish and are now available in different shapes, sizes, materials, weights, and prices. One attention-grabbing design is the Solo Stove’s portable “Bonfire” pit that uses logs but is smokeless thanks to its airflow system. Hybrid firepits are also available which use gas and burning logs, says landscape architect Marc Nissim of Harmony Design, Westfield, N.J.

Patio heaters are a newer backyard addition, inspired by restaurants using them to coax diners to eat outdoors. Models also rely on different heat sources, and can be stand alone or mounted to a wall or ceiling, says landscape designer Michael Glassman of Glassman Associates, Sacramento, Calif. Stagers find these features show how to maximize a yard for fun, says salesperson Stephanie Mallios, Compass RE, Short Hills, N.J. Besides providing heat, these new designs better withstand bad weather.

3. What it is: Prefabricated flex sheds

Studio Shed
Studio Shed

Why now: Sheds, once used primarily to store sports equipment and garden paraphernalia, have morphed into spaces that can eliminate the need for an expensive off-site storage facility. They can be outfitted to become an accessory dwelling unit for returning grown children, renters, or quiet work-from-home quarters, as more municipalities approve ADUs. It could also be an escape to recoup sanity—hence the new moniker, “the sanity shed.”

Rather than have an architect or contractor design and build one from scratch, entrepreneurs are developing more affordable, off-the-shelf options. Some are even customizable. Boulder, Colo.-based Studio Shed, which has experienced explosive growth, offers prefabricated, sustainable shed designs that vary in size (starting at 64 square feet), color, door and window placement, finishes, and price ($10,000 and up).

Due to more homeowners taking up gardening during the pandemic, Studio Shed designed its “Studio Sprout” greenhouse ($14,250) and backyard office sheds ($25,000)—customers’ most popular choice. Some municipalities seeking to increase housing density and affordability, and offer residents pre-approved ADU plans, says architect Brian O’Looney of Torti Gallas + Partners, Washington, D.C., in his book, Increments of Neighborhood (OBO, 2020).

4. What it is: Video conferencing living rooms

Videoconferencing with Crestron HomeTime
Crestron HomeTime

Why now: With so many meetings, classes, weddings, showers, and even funerals happening on Zoom, seeing and hearing everyone on a small cell phone, tablet, or computer screen can be difficult. Fortunately, videoconferencing technology for large screens exists. What’s needed besides a big screen with high-resolution capability, is a sound system and an area with good lighting. One example is Crestron’s “Hometime” system

5. What it is: Warmer palettes and design materials

Ashton Woods
Ashton Woods

Why now: Homeowners are tired of gray. It’s time to switch to warmer, cleaner, brighter palettes, along with softer, more plush materials. Chicago designer Summer Thornton favors whites with a hint of pink for cozier, more upbeat settings. Leigh Spicher, National Director of Design Studios for Atlanta-based homebuilder Ashton Woods, also suggests a variety of whites to create warmth, like Sherwin-Williams’ “Shoji White” layered with natural wood finishes, neutrals with soft green or blush undertone like “Sea Salt” or “Breathless,” and neutrals that soothe senses such as “Unfussy Beige.”

Arizona-based designer Julia Buckingham prefers to go bolder.

Julie Buckingham Interiors
Julia Buckingham Interiors

She recently used a riot of pinks, oranges, and reds to fashion a “happy oasis for a young Chicago family,” she says. Her approach reflected her casual design style with more colors and fewer rules. Going warmer can happen outdoors, too. Mallios is seeing front doors popping up in turquoise, robin’s egg blue, chartreuse, and light citrus green in her New Jersey market. When it comes to materials, velvet—once reserved for fancy interiors—is now used in more casual settings. New crush- and stain-resistant versions are now available in a wider color range, says Chicago designer Tom Segal of Kaufman Segal.

6. What it is: New multifamily amenities

Why now: With gyms, pools, and communal kitchens in multifamily buildings now periodically closing to keep residents safe, new spaces—indoors and outdoors—are emerging that are designed for fewer occupants, says architect Victor Body-Lawson of Body Lawson Associates in New York City. Here are a few examples:

  • Quarantine stations. These designed rooms permit people who test positive for COVID-19 (but don’t need a hospital) to recuperate and avoid infecting family or neighbors. Body-Lawson is designing one with a separate mechanical system to avoid airborne contamination through ventilation.
  • Lawson AssociatesRendering of a recording studio.Recording studios. There’s rising demand for studios that supports residents’ musical pursuits, podcasts, and videoconferencing.
  • Bicyclists’ havens. Whether it’s bike lockers or a bike-share program, multifamily experts expect this trend to accelerate due to the pandemic and communities reducing on-site parking. For example, Culdesac Tempe, the first car-free neighborhood in the U.S., is being built on 17 acres in Tempe, Ariz. It focuses on supporting bicycle and scooter transportation. Some municipalities now require new buildings to include a certain number of bicycle storage spots. In Boston, the soon-to-open Bower Apartments near Fenway Park in Brighton Marine’s supportive housing community for veterans will have 100 bike spots and a repair area.

7. What it is: Grander staircases

Morgante Wilson Architects
Morgante Wilson Architects

Why now: Entryways into a house became the star a few years ago with the rise of mudrooms for organizing backpacks, jackets, and boots in cubbies—maybe even including a place to bathe Fido. The spotlight has now shifted to playing up the main staircase’s size, shape, and detailing to add “wow” to a first impression. This may include replacing the treads, risers, and handrails, and possibly adding a runner.

“Staircases are, by their nature, incredibly sculptural, so they are the perfect architectural feature that can be exploited in a variety of ways,” says architect Bob Zuber with Chicago-based Morgante Wilson Architects. “They can be overly grand, stripped down to the bare essentials, modern, or super traditional, warm, and cozy, or industrial and techy.”

The trend is gaining speed in multifamily buildings, too. One Bennett Park, a luxury residence in Chicago developed by Related Midwest and designed by Robert A.M. Stern Architects, has an Art Deco staircase that winds between two amenity floors with an ornamental brass railing and steps made of two contrasting, polished marbles. At the Optima Signature Chicago building, architect David Hovey Sr. gave a staircase vivid pops of yellow and orange.

8. What it is: New suburbia

2012_HD_MosaicDistrict
The Mosaic District in Merryfield, Va.

Why now: The pandemic has sent more urban dwellers to the suburbs, especially millennials who were renting in crowded apartment buildings, says Jonathan Miller, co-founder of Miller Samuel, New York City-based real estate appraisers and consultants. But some also moved because low mortgage rates made it a good time to buy. Many chose bustling suburbs, often near public transportation, with walkability to stores, restaurants, and services.

“People saw there’s another kind of typology for suburban housing,” says architect Nancy Ruddy, co-founder of New York City-based CetraRuddy Architecture. Her firm is working on several such projects. People are realizing there are well-planned, well-designed developments in the suburbs that offer denser communities than in the past, Rudy anticipates more home shoppers noticing the numerous lifestyle benefits. The Mosaic District in Merryfield, Va., for example, was built on the 31-acre site of a closed multiplex cinema. It has become a popular destination for its parks, restaurants, and shops.

One lesson: Not all buyers settling in the burbs are having children. In fact, more than two-thirds of suburban homes are comprised of households without kids, says June Williamson, co-author with Ellen Dunham Jones of the new book, Case Studies in Retrofitting Suburbia: Urban Design Strategies for Urgent Challenges (Wiley, 2020). And not all are affluent, which is spotlighting the need for more affordable suburban housing, the authors say.

9. What it is: Resilient landscapes

Elevated House
Richard Bubnowski Design

Why now: Due to greater weather volatility, landscaping needs to better handle heavy rains and flooding, snowstorms, and drought. Multifamily waterfront communities are being designed or retrofitted with strategic landscaping and elevated public use area to address shifting shorelines and storm surges. In Boston, Clippership Apartments on the Wharf, designed by TAT, are the city’s first project to have a living shoreline that incorporates newly planted saltwater marshes, rocky beaches, and parts of an old seawall for natural habitats while protecting against floods and surging tides. The development also features a system of pumps to mitigate floodwater pressure in its underground garage, and the pumps are linked to an emergency generator.

Architect Richard Bubnowski, whose Point Pleasant, N.J., eponymous firm works along the Jersey Shore and its barrier islands, constructs and retrofits properties to meet FEMA flood zone and local codes. This means adjusting heights based on a site’s elevation.

“Everything got more complicated and expensive since Hurricane Sandy,” he says.

For example, wood below the base flood elevation (BFE) has to be treated lumber or other water-resistant material. There also can’t be electrical or HVAC equipment below the BFE. In flood-prone areas, the ground level space may be used only for garages, carports, and storage, and walls must be equipped with automatic flood vents or breakaway walls, depending on the specific flood zone’s requirements. In one house in Mantoloking, N.J., Bubnowski built it higher than the town’s required 10-foot-high design flood elevation to include a carport and enclosed storage. Along the ocean, Bubnowski designs for impact and wave action with walls at the ground level supported on multiple piers or pilings, he says. For landscaping, he uses indigenous plants resistant to salt spray and might add hardy crushed seashells and dune grass.

10. What it is: Health-minded building certifications

Health-Minded Certifications
Bower, a mixed-use development by The Architectural Team.

Why now: The latest generation of certifications, rating systems, and design standards is based on scientific and medical research that affects human and occupant health such as programs like the WELL Building Standard, from the International WELL Building Institute, and Fitwel, according to the BuildingGreen site. Both suggest ways to gain a variety of benefits, from extensive natural daylight to good indoor air quality, filtration, and low energy use. Unlike LEED, these programs consider emotional wellness, too, which translates into greenery, gardens, and other biophilic design elements that are proven to support mental health.

Ruddy says her architectural firm’s formal and anecdotal research indicates that wellness-focused housing is increasingly sought by today’s buyers and renters across all markets.

“Spaces to relax, reconnect, work out, and nourish the body, mind, and soul are much more than a value-add in residential environments,” she says. It’s seen as a fundamental element for their lifestyle, Ruddy adds. The pandemic has further raised consciousness about well-being and these rating systems, especially for younger, sustainable-oriented buyers.

“Environmental consciousness is at the top of desires and interests, even above having more living space,” says TAT project manager Michelle Hobbs. “We’re hearing, ‘Cost is number one, but we want a place that’s WELL- or Fitwel-certified, too.’” One building that does this is Bower, a large-scale, mixed-use development in Boston that TAT designed, with interiors by Planeta Design Group. It’s pursuing Fitwel certification, thanks to its walkable location and biophilic design elements, including greenery and smart glass, which automatically tints in response to ambient light levels throughout the day. Natural light is allowed in — unwanted heat and glare are kept out.

“Copyright National Association of REALTORS®. Reprinted with permission.”

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9 Organizing Mistakes That’ll Totally Screw Up Your Dreams

One of the most common? Buying organizers without measuring.

Reaching for something up high in a kitchen
Image: VRstudio and iofoto/Shutterstock and Maria Manco/Offset

Organization is about giving everything the right place (sometimes the donation bin), and while that sounds straightforward, it’s pretty easy to choose the wrong places, turning your attempt at a tidier home into wasted effort.

These pros have seen it all, and they’re here to save you from making these home organization mistakes.

#1 Trying to Do It in One Fell Swoop

Clutter is overwhelming; getting overwhelmed is a great way to make no organizing progress.

The Clutter Cowgirl, professional organizer Jeni Aron, recommends decluttering and organizing one room at a time before you move on to the next. And give yourself more than the sliver of Sunday between your golf outing and dinner with each spot.

#2 Starting Without a Plan

Tidying is tidying. Organizing is changing the way you live.

Meg Ricard of Simply Organized by Meg says having a plan is essential to transforming your tidying into organizing. “A lot of people will tidy up a space, tucking things away, and then find that two days later it’s a mess again,” says Ricard. “It takes longer to think about and implement a system, but the long-term results of organizing instead of tidying will be that you remain organized.”

A shelf allows you to tidy by getting random hoses and yard waste bags off the garage floor — until they’re used again and tossed wherever. A well-planned system, like filling those shelves with appropriately sized, easy-to-access, labeled bins, can keep your garage organized long term.

A successful organization strategy is one that fits your life. If you’re short, don’t store things you need often way up high. If you change your purse as often as your shoes, store them near the entryway — that’s where they pile up anyway, right?

#3 Tackling The Paper Mountain First

Certain tasks can bring decluttering down to a crawl — and even a halt. Amber Kostelny, the Chicago-based certified professional organizer behind Amber’s Organizing, finds sorting out papers and mail is a surefire way to get overwhelmed fast.

“Don’t start with paper,” she says. “It will bog anyone down because it is tedious and the most frustrating.” We hear that. Save that un-fun task for when your organizing momentum is already rolling.

#4 Trying To Buy Your Way Into Organized

Sorry, shoppers: Organization is an action, not something you can buy. Common culprits: renting storage space — which costs around $600 a year for a small unit — or sinking $400 into some deliciously chic, handwoven baskets (they’d look amazing in your living room!). When you invest big in one decluttering effort, you end up feeling super accomplished when all you’ve done is drain your bank account — and maybe put a few things in one pricey, new container.

Avoid overspending (and under-organizing) with two rules of thumb:

First, if you can live without something for months or years at a time, you likely don’t need it. Storage units are handy for moves and remodels, but in most cases, long-term use is an unnecessary budget-buster.

Second, an organized life requires very little investment. Clear plastic tubs cost $1.50 at IKEA. Plus, simple, clear containers allow you to actually see what’s inside, so you’ll never forget which $100 basket is storing your scarves again.

#5 Failing to Donate Your Donations

Ricard often spies abandoned piles slated for the local charity shop in clients’ households. “After going through the energy of sorting things to get rid of, make sure to complete the task by actually taking them out of the house,” says Ricard. “The cleared space will be a relief!”

To avoid the build-up, don’t wait until you have a trunkful to run over to the donation center. Drop off a box after each room you organize. Hoarding items you want to give to a friend or family member? Put those things in a box by the door, and give loved ones a drop-dead date for picking them up. Don’t feel badly if they no-show. You don’t actually want it either, remember?

#6 Buying Storage Without Measuring

Shopping is fun. Measuring things is not. But don’t even think about walking into The Container Store before you know the size, shape, and dimensions of organizers you need. Homeowners are constantly “buying things first, and getting lured in by cute containers,” says Aron. “But then they realize the stuff they have doesn’t work for the containers.”

Additionally, Kostelny recommends shopping for function over appearance. But bonus if you can find the perfect fit and function, and it’s super cute (obviously).

#7 Ignoring Your Wall Space

Sometimes the best storage option has been right next to you all along: your walls. Forget tucking everything into a bin or taking up more precious floor space with yet another shelving unit. Wall space isn’t just available and efficient, it can make storage more accessible.

“Adding hooks to make it easy to pick up and go is important — especially for the kiddos,” says Monica Friel, the president and cofounder of Chicago-based Chaos to Order.

Sturdy mudroom hooks are just the beginning. Floating shelves, pegboards, corner shelving, built-ins — even attaching finished wooden crates or hanging a shoe organizer on the wall — can transform your everyday vertical space into an organization mecca.

#8 Skipping a Labeling System

Putting labels on everything in the house may make you feel like a bossy taskmaster. But, in fact, it makes you a clever organization educator. Ricard points out that labels may seem over-the-top at first, but eventually, they make organizing second nature by training others (and reminding you!) where things belong.

#9 Allowing Your Organizers to Get Disorganized

Just when you thought your shelf full of tidy, clear, labeled containers were perfect, you open the one marked “gloves” and spend 10 minutes trying to find a single matching pair.

Dividers and smaller boxes within bigger containers can help smaller items stay neatly corralled and categorized. Try this solution inside dresser drawers for a refreshingly well-ordered dressing experience. Now you can pat yourself on the back.

“Visit HouseLogic.com for more articles like this.  Reprinted from HouseLogic.com with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.”

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