Reinvigorate Your Home With These 4 Light Window-Treatment Ideas

One of the best things about staying in a hotel is the blackout curtains. After a long day of travel, nothing beats quality sleep in a cool, dark room. But dark, opaque window treatments aren’t always the best choice for everyday living.

Scientific studies show that humans still follow the productivity patterns of their ancestors, meaning we are productive and active during daylight hours and we rest when it’s dark out.

Here’s a list of four light window treatments to keep your space airy and bright for optimal productivity.

1. Etched Glass

These pieces can be absolutely stunning – with a corresponding price tag for the really high-end items. Fortunately, you can find less expensive options with much the same effect as the high-end ones. Etched glass allows in light, is visually appealing and retains privacy for all of the room’s inhabitants.

2. Layer Shades 

Layer shades are an attractive option because they are the best of both worlds. With layer shades, you achieve some level of light reduction, but not total darkness. Manufacturers “layer” opaque panels with sheer ones for a compromise between the two extremes of illumination.

3. Solar Shades

Solar shades that you often see in restaurants are available for residential use as well. One thing that’s great about solar shades is that most models have the spool option. When you want to use them, pull down the shade. When the outside lighting is to your liking, roll them up into their case at the top of the window. Another benefit is that solar shades will protect your flooring or anything else that might otherwise fade in direct sunlight.

4. Traditional Treatments 

Choices in traditional window treatments are evolving from damasks and florals to burlap and gauze. On the opposite side of the treatment spectrum, not all fabric window decorations are lace or basic sheer.

For example, metallics are making a comeback in fashion options and this represents an opportunity to add some sheen and visual appeal without the weight. Gold, silver, bronze, oh my! Bring on the sparkle, because we can all use a little more of that in our lives.

Sheer panels with patterns are a fun option for keeping your interior airy and bright. Patchworks, polka dots, or horizontal or vertical stripes will all allow in light without sacrificing style or privacy.

Window treatments are a great way to personalize any space, and their lack of permanence allows for periodic change, which we all love in home decor.

Avoid Costly Repairs with These Winter Maintenance Must-Dos

Man Cleaning Gutters

Failure to prepare your home for the upcoming winter months can have dire consequences on your wallet, as well as pose a safety hazard for others. Even those in warmer climes will want to be careful this time of year: Everyone can benefit from an annual maintenance tune-up, and even in the South a winter frost can come as a nasty surprise.

Fortunately, there are some relatively easy preventative measures you can implement in the fall months to help ensure a smooth winter. The list below provides a few of the low-cost measures you can take now that will save you from the hassles of repairs and from the cost of winter issues.

Winterize pipes and outdoor spigots. As the temperatures start to dip below freezing, any water that is exposed to the lower temperatures will freeze. When water freezes, it expands; water left in a hose has nowhere to expand to. The copper piping that feeds the water to the hose will eventually split because of this expansion.

The easy fix here is to remove all the hoses and make sure that there is no water left in them. Also, for more protection, you can place a foam box over the spigot.

Additionally, if you live in a place where the temperatures drop dramatically or stay cold for an extended period of time, you need to make sure the pipes inside the home are protected. This is very important if your home has a crawl space underneath the house with exposed pipes. Simple and inexpensive foam pipe covers can accomplish this.

Clean roof gutters. If your home has gutters you need to make sure that you inspect how they are attached to the roof and that they are clear of debris. You want to make sure no dams or clogs are created. The best time to check is after all the fall leaves have dropped and then again during the spring thaw. Cleaning the drains will help ensure that the drains do not get ripped off from the roof and that water will not back up, which can cause a leaky roof.

Remove foliage and potential tree hazards. Trees and foliage provide great shade for your home in the summer and help keep the heat at bay. However, you want to make sure that you do not have branches and other foliage over your roof or potentially covering electric lines, cable, gas, or any other cables you may have running to your home. It is easiest to trim back or remove any potential problems in the fall. Snow on branches can weigh them down and potentially cause utility problems or even roof damage.

Inspect your furnace. Winter typically requires the use of a heater. Schedule an inspection of your furnace to make sure it is venting properly and will not be obstructed by winter weather. Check and/or replace your carbon monoxide alarms, which is a low-cost fix that may just save your life.

Dryer exhaust.  Much like your furnace, inspect your dryer vent. Make sure no lint is backing up the exhaust and that winter weather will not cause any issues. A backed-up exhaust can lead to house fires.

These few safety precautions will help ensure that the winter months pass safely and protect your home. Take a few minutes and make your home as safe as possible for you and your family.

5 DIY Projects Under $1000 You Can Do This Weekend

5 DIY Projects Under $1000 You Can Do This Weekend

 

Your home is your refuge, and it’s important to take stock occasionally and consider some improvements, even if you are not planning to sell.

Home improvement projects don’t have to break the bank or take weeks of your time. There are plenty of projects you can handle yourself in just a weekend. Here are 5 suggestions that are all smart improvements and will not cost more than $1,000.

No. 1: Freshen Up Your Entry

If the first sight that meets your eyes when you arrive home is a tired front door with zero curb appeal, it’s time to freshen things up. An inviting entrance makes the whole house better, and it’s not hard to create.

Decide whether you need to replace your front door entirely. It’s often enough to apply fresh paint and hardware to your existing door. Consider putting your house number on the door, and adding an attractive, updated light fixture. Depending on the space, you might consider adding some flowers or greenery in an attractive planter, some comfortable seating, or a colorful doormat.

No. 2: Update Lighting

Changing out light fixtures is a quick DIY project that instantly improves the look of a room. Create a harmonious feel by selecting fixtures that complement each other and your home’s overall style.

For under-illuminated areas, add a handsome table or floor lamp. Overhead lighting can be too harsh for most rooms, so make your home comfortable and functional. If you’re on a really tight budget, try spray-painting some of your existing fixtures.

No. 3: Modernize the Bathroom

The bath is a great place to look for a quick project, and modernizing this small space can be easy and fast. Even if you need to hire a plumber for some jobs, you can still get a lot done for under $1,000.

You can put in a beautiful new vanity within this budget. Or maybe you just need to update the hardware. Put sleek stainless pulls on drawers and cabinets, add a wonderful new showerhead for your morning drench. These small improvements add up to big impact.

No. 4: Replace Kitchen Hardware

You’ll be amazed at the difference you can make in your kitchen by just changing the cabinet and drawer hardware. The cabinetry makes up the bulk of your kitchen space, so this change is really dramatic. You’ll find hardware in a huge range of styles and price points. Look at your favorite home store, or shop online.Teamwork

No. 5: Add Storage

As George Carlin famously said, your home is a “place for your stuff.” So this weekend why not create an attractive place for your stuff? Adding shelving is a very doable DIY project that will come in well under $1,000. You can create your own shelves or buy them ready to hang for under $100. Then choose some of your favorite “stuff” and put it on display!

These improvements will make your home a little sweeter and give you a satisfying sense of accomplishment. Give yourself the gift of better surroundings, and enjoy your home more every day.

 

Adjustable Rate Mortgages: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Adjustable rate mortgages are loans with variable interest rates that change according to the market rates, as opposed to fixed rate mortgages, which guarantee a set rate for the entire period of the loan. ARMs may seem like a great idea some years, but in other years, you may wonder what you were thinking when you agreed to the loan.

Many financial experts advise home buyers to seek fixed rate mortgages. The set interest amount makes it easier to calculate monthly payments with no surprises. An adjustable rate mortgage can leave you with unpleasant surprises if the interest rates suddenly soar.

There are some pluses as well as minuses to adjustable rate mortgages. As with any financial decision, learn all you can about the topic and weigh the pros and cons carefully before choosing a loan type.

On the Plus Side…

  • ARMs may be good for buyers who plan to sell in a few years. If you know your job requires you to move every five years, an ARM may be worth the risk of interest rates rising, depending on the current rate.
  • Paying off your loan in a short time period may make an ARM better for some homeowners. For those who know they can repay the entire mortgage amount quickly but just need a short-term loan, ARMs may actually save them money.
  • Some ARMs offer a combination of adjustable and fixed rates. These may offer the best of both worlds, depending on market rates. For example, a mortgage may be fixed for five years, and then adjust annually.

On the Minus Side …

  • Interest rates may be low now, but that only means they’ll rise later. When interest rates rise, your interest rate rises too. Your monthly payments will increase. This may be a hardship for some people.
  • Adjustable rate mortgages may be saddled with a prepayment penalty. This means that if you suddenly come into a windfall and wish to pay your entire mortgage loan, you may actually be penalized for paying it off early.
  • ARMs can be difficult to understand. There are many variables, and you have to carefully read all the fine print to understand the nuances of a particular ARM. Fixed rate mortgages are a lot easier to understand: borrow this, pay that; it never changes.

Adjustable rate mortgages come in and out of fashion, but the truth is that you shouldn’t take out such a loan unless you understand the worst-case scenario and how it may impact your financial health. While they are not for everyone, ARMs do offer some advantages, and those who can take advantage of these opportunities may find them useful. Talk to your lender about all the ramifications of an adjustable rate mortgage compared with a fixed rate mortgage.

 

You Don’t Have to Live on the Gulf Coast to Need Flood Insurance

Flooding is the most common natural disaster in the United States, according to the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency. And even the briefest of floods with only a few inches of water can cause tens of thousands of dollars in property damage. FEMA reports that from 2008 to 2012 the average residential flood claim in the United States was more than $38,000.

And contrary to popular belief, a standard homeowner’s policy does not cover damage from floods.

Fortunately, Congress established the National Flood Insurance Program in 1968, which allows homeowners, condo owners and renters in most parts of the nation to buy government-backed flood insurance through insurance agents. The average yearly premium for flood insurance is about $650.

Homeowners located in areas that are rated as having a high risk of flooding are required to buy flood insurance if their mortgages are federally insured or regulated. Their policies cost more and they are only eligible for a standard policy. Those homeowners in moderate- and low-risk areas may receive a preferred-risk premium, which comes at a lower cost.

There are two types of flood insurance available: Building Property, up to $250,000, and Personal Property (contents), up to $100,000. Homeowners must choose the amount of their deductible. Choosing a higher deductible lowers premiums, but reduces claim payments.

Because it takes 30 days from the time of purchase for flood insurance to go into effect, the time for you to purchase it is now.

Home Architectural Style Moving Toward Clean Lines

home architechtureThrough the decades, home styles and design preferences have changed from colonial to ranch, and most recently, craftsman, which has gone up in popularity by a whopping 25 percent the last six months, according to data from Houseplans.com, a website offering 40,000 stock home plans.

What will homes and neighborhoods look like in the next five, 10 or even 20 years? In a recent interview, designer Marianne Cusato, author of The Just Right Home: Buying, Renting, Moving — or Just Dreaming — Find Your Perfect Match! says three trends are shaping the home of the future:

 

1. A return to traditional home styles with cleaner lines.

Spacious homes with two-story ceiling heights and a patchwork of exterior finishes (think brick, stone and siding) have been popular since the mid-1990s, she says.

“We’re at the end of that trend,” she predicts. “Homes are being simplified with cleaner lines. It’s pulling away from the up and down, in and out patchwork of exterior finishes.”

2. Open, but defined, floor plans.

The design pendulum has swung toward open but defined floor plans. Rather than having four different places to eat, a home might have a dining nook that’s right off the kitchen, or a peninsula where you can pull up dining chairs or stools.

“We’re seeing semi-defined spaces so you feel like you’re in a room versus a giant open space,” Cusato says. “The giant mud room may not be there, but there’s a well fitted-out drop zone. Storage is getting a little smaller.”

3. Reasonable smart home automation.

We’re seeing a lot more smart technology and new homes that include products like the Nest thermostat that can learn from you and adapt to your needs. There’s also a lot of silly stuff being marketed as smart home must-haves, Cusato says.

“Everyone is trying a whole bunch of automation products because they can,” she explains. “The house of the future won’t include all the things that we can do because it doesn’t make sense.”

We want to be able to turn on a light switch without getting up, but we also want to see how much time is left on the dishwasher cycle by looking at a display on the appliance instead of having to check a smartphone.

Does Cusato make you worry your home is going out of style? Don’t. Decades from now buyers will see your style choices as character that defines your home!

Does Your Home Have The 7 Things Today’s Homeowners Really Want?

7 thingsA new report, The Housing Satisfaction Gap: What People Want, but Don’t Have, measured the gap between the home features people want and the features they currently have in their own homes.

Here’s what made the list, and what you can do to close your home’s satisfaction gap so you get top dollar when you’re ready to sell:

 

 

1. Energy Efficiency
Have an energy audit done to identify the best investment for your energy-improvement dollars.

2. Renovations
Replace worn flooring and repaint in neutral colors.

3. Updated Kitchen
You can replace your whole kitchen, or if you’re on a budget, paint the cabinets and update lighting and plumbing fixtures.

4. Aging-Friendly Design
Any time you do a major renovation, remodel with aging in mind. Consider adding a first-floor owner’s suite with a roll-in shower in the bath. When possible, replace hallways and any narrow doorways with an open floor plan.

5. Safe Neighborhood
Start a neighborhood watch.

6. Privacy
Plant hedges, put up a fence or add hardscaping features to increase the privacy of your outdoor spaces.

7. Storage Space
Add large closets when you remodel. Install organizers to maximize the storage space you already have in closets, the garage and outbuildings.

Year-End Moves May Trim Your 2014 Taxes

trim your taxesNo one wants to pay more taxes than they have to, so use these five strategies to lower the size of the check you send Uncle Sam next April:

1. Pay Bills Early

If you itemize, pay bills early to increase your deductions. Pay your January 2015 mortgage payment and your 2015 property taxes in December 2014. If you file jointly and don’t have $12,600 in qualifying expenses ($6,300 for single filers) to make itemizing deductions worthwhile, don’t prepay your expenses. Save your payments until 2015 when you may be able to take the deductions.

Before you make any early payments, use the Internal Revenue Service’s Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) Assistant to make sure you’re not subject to AMT. If you’re subject to AMT, you can lose some deductions, so you wouldn’t benefit from paying items early.

2. Recycle When You Remodel

When you remodel, do it in such a way that the fixtures and house parts you remove (including cabinets, bathtubs, wood floors, windows and doors) remain intact.

Donate these items to a salvage store, like Habitat for Humanity’s Restore to earn a tax deduction.

3. Spend FSA Funds On Home Improvements

Have funds left in your Flexible Spending Accounts (FSA)? You can spend them to make medically necessary home improvements to your home. Handrails in your bathroom are a good example of just such an expenditure.

Get a letter from your doctor supporting your medical need for such improvements. Many employers have adopted grace periods giving you until March 15, 2015 to spend your FSA funds.

4. Deduct Property Taxes Paid At Closing

If you bought your home in 2014, check your HUD-1 settlement statement (lines 106 and 107) to see if you reimbursed the sellers for property taxes they paid. You won’t get a 1098 from your lender showing those taxes because you paid them at settlement, and not from your escrow account.

5. Take The Home Office Deduction

Some people who have a home office don’t take the home office deduction because they fear it’s too complicated.

This year, you can take a standard deduction of $5 per square foot (up to 300 square feet) if you itemize deductions. When you use the standard home office deduction you don’t have to do the complicated calculations required to take the traditional home office deduction.

Tax laws and tax rules are constantly being updated and interpreted. This article contains general information, so please discuss your individual situation with a trusted tax adviser before making tax decisions.

Thanksgiving Is #1 Day For This Home Disaster

ThanksgivingIf you guessed that cooking fires peak at Thanksgiving, you’re right. What’s more, cooking fires have long been the leading cause of home structure fires and home fire injuries.

Help make sure you’re not the victim of a holiday home fire with these tips:

  • Keep a fire extinguisher approved for cooking or grease fires nearby.
  • Check to make sure your smoke detectors are working.
  • Tell guests where your family has agreed to meet if everyone has to evacuate due to a fire.
  • When guests require your attention outside the kitchen, turn off the stovetop.
  • Have a “kid-free zone” of at least 3 feet around the stove and around other areas where hot food or drinks are prepared or carried.

Deep-Fried Turkey

Like to deep-fry your turkey? Watch this hilarious State Farm turkey fryer safety video featuring Duck Dynasty’s Sy and Jase Robertson or the classic William Shatner version from 2011.

Switch to Flameless Candles

If you put up your holiday decorations this month, be especially careful with your candles. Better yet, use flameless candles, which now come with remote controls, scents, timers, rechargeable batteries, and in many different sizes.

Candle fires increase during the winter holidays because people burn candles more and they burn them near decorations, the National Fire Protection Association says.

When you use real candles, follow these safety tips:

  • Keep candles at least 12 inches from anything that can burn.
  • Keep candles out of the reach of children.
  • Never leave a child unattended in a room with a candle.
  • Don’t leave a lit candle in a room where a child sleeps.
  • Use sturdy candleholders that won’t easily tip over.
  • Put candles out before they burn down completely to the holder or container.
  • Never use a candle in a home where anyone uses an oxygen tank.

How To Fight For A Lower Property Tax Assessment

image001These days, it’s not unusual for property taxes to rise steeply. In many areas, real estate prices are rising at the same time that local governments are seeking more money for schools, law enforcement, fire protection and other needs.

While some increase in your property tax assessment might be expected, it’s worth a closer look to see if your tax bill has increased fairly.

 

To determine the value of a property, assessors generally look at:

  • The size of your home.
  • Your home’s condition.
  • Your lot size.
  • Renovations and improvements you’ve made.
  • Recent sale prices in the neighborhood.

If you disagree with the value of your property, here are a few items to check:

Simple errors: It’s possible the assessor made errors in the physical description of your property. He might list a property as being 2,900 square feet when it is actually 1,900. Records may say your home has four bathrooms when it only has three. Transposition of numbers is another common mistake when recording data.

Improvements: The bill may include assessments for improvements that were never made or are not completed. If you’re adding a room to your house but it’s not yet habitable, your property bill should take that into account.

Comparable properties: How does your assessment compare to recent sales prices of similar homes? Contact me for a list of recent sales to find out.

Unusual conditions: Some properties have features that lower their value, such as a cracked foundation or proximity to a noisy interstate highway.

Don’t assume that any errors you might find are new. The former owner may have been overpaying as well. Just because your rates are unchanged from previous years doesn’t mean they’re right.

How To Appeal

Different jurisdictions have different systems for tax assessments and appeals. If you think you have a legitimate claim, act quickly. Many municipalities only let you challenge your assessment for a specific period of time.

You can generally pursue tax relief in one of two ways:

1. The most common remedy is to ask for a negotiation with your local tax authority. Be sure you have documentation for your claims, such as photographs, a list of comparable sales and property records that show discrepancies.

2. Some jurisdictions hear property tax appeals or protests based on a comparative analysis. A successful appeal can lower your current and future tax bill. You may also be able to appeal past property tax bills and get refunds.

As a last resort, if you have substantial proof of an incorrect property valuation but are unable to succeed through negotiation or appeal and there is a large amount of money at stake, you may want to take your case to court.

Pay While You Appeal

You might have a good case and an excellent chance of successfully lowering your tax bill. But unless otherwise advised in writing by the taxing authority, be sure to pay your assessed taxes on time.

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