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Redecorating before a holiday? It’s all about the details!

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Sometimes you want to spruce things up before your visitors arrive for a big holiday (like the one THIS weekend!). You’ve finished redecorating a room—or, at least you think so. Something still isn’t right. The feng is missing the shui.

Sometimes, the little things that punctuate your room makeover with an exclamation mark. When you’re redecorating, don’t miss these room design details.

Trim color. I looked through the home decorating manual and I couldn’t find any hard and fast rule that says you have to have white trim in your home. Go for colorful contrast to your walls, or a soft complement, if you’re not quite so bold.

Decorative molding. From tall baseboards to wainscoting to crown molding, you can enhance the impact of your walls by adding or changing the trim. A chair rail allows you to break up the wall and use two different colors, or a combination of color and a pattern or texture (or both).

Wall accents. Rethink your idea of what you can hang on your walls. Go for more dimension in your home décor with pottery, vases, creative shelving, and even your favorite books or album covers centered within an open frame. Apply wall decals, which are easily removable when you change your mind or mood.

Lampshades. Just because the lamp you purchased came with a particular lamp shade doesn’t mean it’s the right one for your space. A simple change (try it seasonally) can make a big difference in the decorative impact.

Dimmers. This is perhaps the simplest and least expensive lighting makeover you can do. Replace your switch with a dimmer and you suddenly create mood lighting.

Switchplates. Boring. Paint them to blend or contrast with the walls. Decoupage your switchplates with fabric, wallpaper, giftwrap, book pages, or anything else that you can stick to it.

Natural touches. Fresh flowers, plants, and even twigs bring the outdoors into your room and boosts the energy. Treat yourself to a fresh bouquet each week.

Before you stamp your room makeover as complete, focus on the little details. You’ll be amazed at the power of these finishing touches.

Newcomer’s guide to the new home construction process

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If you’re considering have a new home built rather than opting to purchase a resale, congratulations. It’s a smart move! A new home delivers a wealth of benefits, including peace of mind from knowing that your home is protected by a builder’s warranty.

Before you start, let’s walk through the steps involved, so you’re clear on what to expect and when. Here’s a step by step, newcomer’s guide to the new home construction process.

Step 1: Site prep

The crew clears the site of trees, large rocks, and debris to prepare the property for building. If your new home will include a basement, they dig the hole for the foundation.

The footings are put in place. Concrete is poured for the foundation, and once it’s cured, waterproofing is applied. The crew then installs the basement and first-floor plumbing connections, including drains, sewer, and water taps.

The surrounding soil is backfilled to the outside of the foundation, filling in the moat-like gap around it.

Step 2: 1st Inspection

The building inspector checks the foundation to ensure it’s up to code.

Step 3: Framing

The frame of the house (wall, floor, and roof systems) are constructed and then wrapped in protective sheathing. This cover protects the frame from water seepage into the wood itself, which could lead to wood rot or mold, while providing a means for vapor to escape. The roof is added, sealing the home before the interior works is begun.

Step 4: Plumbing, electrical, and HVAC

When the framing is done, the rough plumbing, electrical, and HVAC contractors get to work, setting up the infrastructure for these systems. Vents and water supply and sewer lines are installed. HVAC installs the ductwork, heating, ventilation, and air conditioning vents and pipework. The plumbers and electricians run pipes and wire through the home’s interior walls, floors, and ceilings.

Step 5: 2nd inspection

The building inspector examines the framing, electrical, plumbing, and mechanical systems at this point. You might have different inspectors—one for the frame, another for the other systems.

Step 6: Insulation

Exterior walls, floors, and ceilings are insulated.

Step 7: Drywall

Drywall (also known as “sheetrock”) is hung. Seams are taped so they’re hidden. A primer coat is applied in preparation for finishing.

Step 8: Exterior finish

Your new home’s exterior is applied—e.g., siding, stucco, stone, or brick.

Step 9: Interior trim

The window and door trim, casings, moldings, mantels, railings, and other interior trim are installed and painted. The walls are painted or wallpapered, depending on your choice.

Step 10: Exterior walkways

The walkways, driveway, and patio are constructed at this point, after the heavy equipment use is finished. The grading is added to drain water away from the home.

Step 11: Flooring and countertops

The hard surface flooring (tile, wood, laminate) and all countertops (including vanities) are installed.

Step 12: Lighting fixtures and mechanical trims

Your light fixtures are installed, along with the outlets and switches. The electrical panel is installed. Plumbing fixtures (toilets, sinks, and faucets) are added. HVAC is finished.

Step 13: Finishing

The interior finishes are addressed in this step This includes installing carpet, and hanging mirrors, and shower doors.

Outside, the lawn and landscaping are completed.

Step 14: 3rd inspection

The building inspector completes one more assessment to ensure your new home meets all building codes. When approved, a certificate of occupancy (CO) is issued. If any concerns are identified, the inspector provides a written list, and the home will require another inspection before the CO is awarded.

Step 15: The walkthrough

Before the closing, you will do a final walkthrough with your builder and real estate agent. This is your opportunity to learn how everything works—e.g., which light switch to flick, how your HVAC works, how to open and close the windows. You also need to observe details. If there’s a nick in a door or wall, a scratch on a floor, a cracked tile, or a dent in an appliance, point it out during this walkthrough so that you can show the damage was done before you occupied the home.

Your builder will make a list of all repairs the must be completed. Determine the time frame for having all corrections completed, and get it in writing.

With good communication between you and your home builder, the new home construction process is exciting. You get to watch your home emerging from a vision to a reality!

Telltale signs you’re ready to move

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Are you feeling a little twitch when you walk into or around your home? Has the passion gone out of your relationship with your abode? Maybe it’s not the feng shui, but the home itself. You might be ready for a new home.

Here are some telltale signs you’re ready to move.

#1. You look at other places and wonder what it would be like to live there. Do you find yourself driving at night and looking at the lit windows of other homes, wondering what they look like? Are you spending more time analyzing the homes on your favorite shows than the story lines? That daydreaming is a sign that you’re not completely fulfilled in your current home.

#2. You fear your closets. Does the theme from “Jaws” pound in your head when you reach for the closet door knob, fearing what lies beyond? If you’re tight—really tight—on space, it might be time to move to a larger place. Cramped is never fun or healthy.

#3. The echo bothers you. Maybe the kids have grown and gone on their own. The echo of the empty nest is unsettling for you. Think about downsizing to a new home that better fits your lifestyle today.

#4. Your DIY is DI-Done. You’ve spent years fixing up all those spaces that needed help. Are you tired of using your weekend for DIY projects? Imagine the freedom of living in a new home where DIY becomes fun again—like planting flowers in your garden, trying new recipes in your new kitchen, or taking up a hobby that doesn’t disrupt your living space.

#5. You refuse to look at the weather forecast. Did that last snowstorm send you over the edge? Do rainy days destroy your mood? Does another day of hot and humid make you want to crank up the air conditioning and layer on some winter clothes? Maybe a change for the weather is a change for the better.

#6. The cost of living there doesn’t make sense. Your rent went up again—even though everything else has stayed the same, including your income. Look at your finances and decide if clinging to your current living space is cramping your budget. Remember that a fixed mortgage never increases, unlike rent, and a monthly mortgage payment is probably less than rent.

#7. The neighborhood isn’t what it used to be. Have your favorite neighbors moved out, replaced by the loud, annoying, or sloppy people who are driving down your quality of life (and maybe property value)? Has the vision of the up-and-coming area never arrived? Maybe you still love your home, but not the neighborhood—a very good reason to look for a new home.

#8. You’ve exhausted your audio library on your commute. If you’ve changed jobs since moving to this home, you might have tolerated a longer commute, just to stay where you are. Ask yourself which is stronger, your love of home or hatred of commute. A shorter commute means more available time for yourself and your family.

Still not sure? Apartment Therapy offers this simple equation:

New place > Old place + Moving hassle and expense

Is it really that simple? Lifehacker expands on the basic math by incorporating more variables:

New place + location – distance from friends > Old place + Moving hassle and expense + location – distance away from friends

You can revise the variables to your own situation. For example, “Quality of schools”, “Commute”, and “Finances”.

Pay attention to that little voice in your head that says it’s time to look for a new place to live. Change can be great!

Tips for Enjoying Homebuilding

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If you’ve been thinking about building a new home, there are probably people who are stepping up to warn you about the experience, based on their nightmares (or those of their hairdresser’s cousin’s neighbor’s friend).

When you choose to work with a reputable, experienced, professional homebuilder, you can avoid the headaches on the road to getting the home of your dreams. Here are some tips that will guide to through an enjoyable homebuilding process.

  1. Choose your builder carefully. The quality of the builder will be reflected in the quality of the home and the construction process. Make sure the builder you hire has the proper state licenses, experience, and references. Visit homes and talk to homeowners, if possible. Be sure the builder you select has built homes like the one you want, so you’re not paying for someone’s learning curve. Ask about warranties and scheduling. Be clear about what is included as a standard feature and which ones are considered upgrades and options.
  2. Establish clear expectations. At the outset, map out what you expect for the experience. How often will you need updates? Will they automatically be provided so you don’t have to chase someone down? Do you want to be able to visit the construction site? How often? Whom do you contact with questions?
  3. Understand your budget boundaries. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of all the changes happening in your home, but be careful you don’t let your enthusiasm drive up your costs. Know what you can afford to spend. Also be aware of where you are willing to compromise—e.g., better kitchen cabinets and less expensive flooring. Before you agree to any costs beyond the original estimate, ask for an outline in writing that details exactly what you’re getting.
  4. Plan ahead. Measure twice, cut once is an important concept to remember. Avoid making changes once construction is underway, because it will likely increase the cost of building your new home. Discuss your vision, goals, and style with your builder and home designer, so they can use their knowledge and experience to give you the home that best suits you. Once you’ve agreed that this is your dream house, stick with the plan.
  5. Never assume. Ask questions. Keep in touch with your team: the builder, the designer, and the lender. If you have concerns, doubts, or ideas, express them.

Remember, at the other end of this journey is a new home and a new life. There may be some bumps in the road, but it’s how you navigate that makes the difference between an enjoyable homebuilding process and a frustrating one.

Why should you use a builder’s preferred lender?

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You have many lenders just a click away when you’re ready to look for a mortgage. When you’ve decided on your builder, you will most likely be given one or more preferred lenders to consider.

With so many choices out there, why should you use a builder’s lender?

First of all, let’s look at why the builder endorses a lender. He wants to work with a company that understands the building process, as well as the needs of the buyer. A preferred lender has proven, over and over, that the builder’s customers deserve high priority. That means rapid response—even on weekends and after business hours, because that’s when they’re often needed. A preferred lender doesn’t follow “banker’s hours”.

In addition to being responsive, a preferred lender knows he is expected to provide accurate, detailed information and answers. Delays are not just frustrating; they can be costly. The builder’s preferred lender is skilled at keeping the financial end of the process moving, so both the buyer and builder have the peace of mind that your closing will proceed as scheduled.

A preferred lender maintains a close relationship with a homebuilder. This relationship can yield a lot of business for the lender. So, you can be sure this mortgage professional bends over backwards to satisfy the homebuyer. To earn the “preferred” honor, the company must do more than hand out an application and stick to a script. The lender you work with will explore many options to find you the best mortgage program for your needs. They might offer incentives that other lending companies can’t or won’t.

When you want your calls answered or returned promptly, when you want to be sure that someone is personally tending to your mortgage process and shares your commitment to getting it done, consider using the builder’s preferred lender. Certainly, contact other lenders to see what they offer. Talk to other buyers who have used the lenders you’re considering. Your best decision is an informed one!

The Woodlands Villas VIP Event

Thank you to everyone who joined us for the Woodlands Villas VIP Event last night! We truly enjoyed getting to meet everyone and show off such a great community and beautiful model!

We’ve been overwhelmed by the response these new villas have received! Over 45 potential buyers attended, and they were able to meet our team and get the first look at these maintenance-free villas. If you missed the event, we now have that information up on the website here.

We’re also excited to announce our Grand Opening date, Saturday, February 6. This is the first time the community will be open to the public, and 13 homesites will be released for sale. If you’d like to make a private appointment before the rush at the Grand Opening, call Nicole at 912-208-4133.

We look forward to seeing you next Saturday!

Is multi-generational living right for you?

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Lifestyles have shifted over the past decade. The powerful population of Baby Boomers has reached retirement age, whether they choose to retire or not. Gen Y and Millennials—people born from 1980 to 2000—represent an even larger number, and their lifestyles are different from their grandparents. Gen Yers don’t have the same commitment to job or place as Boomers. They’re also far more likely to move back home than their parents were. As a result, we’re seeing a growing trend in multi-generational living—two or more adult generations under one roof. In 1980, 28 million Americans lived in a multi-generational household. In 2008, that number soared to 49 million.

There are many positive aspects of living with older and younger family members. But before you make the move, is multi-generational living right for you?

Here are some useful tips for transitioning to and thriving in a multi-generational household.

  • Plan ahead. Discuss the boundaries in your combined home. How will the space be used? And by whom? How can you maintain open communication to resolve issues, like leaving dirty dishes in the sink, annoying bathroom habits, and territorial habits with the remote control!
  • Identify caregiving responsibilities. A multi-generational household presents caregiving challenges, both for the youngest and eldest members. Do you expect the grandparents to help with their grandchildren? If so, be clear on what you’d like to happen, such as attending school events, sports, and recitals. Will grandma be charged with after-school care or helping with the cooking when the parents are running late? Don’t make assumptions. Make roles and rules!
  • Discuss parenting. You might not share the same parenting approach as your parents or grown children. Before moving in together, discuss how the children in the household will be raised, from managing the picky eater to spoiling the children to doling out discipline.
  • Organize shared expenses. Money is often at the root of shared living problems. Develop a budget of household expenses and determine, in advance, how each person is going to contribute. Consider establishing a household account where everyone contributes a pre-determined amount toward the expenses.
  • Split the duties. When one person feels overburdened with household responsibilities, the atmosphere can become tense. Discuss regular household chores—from emptying the trash to scrubbing the bathrooms—and distribute the workload fairly.
  • Invest in family time. Different members of the household will go their own ways most of the time, but to keep a happy, cohesive home, plan on sharing time together. Family time could be a movie or game night, a weekly dinner where everyone pitches in or attends, or some other activity that can be enjoyed by every member of your multi-generational home.
  • Meet regularly. Plan a household meeting to occur at specified intervals; e.g., monthly or quarterly. During this casual gathering, be prepared to talk about any issues that involve other members. You can talk about changes to the household budget or chores, ask for help or suggestions, or simply offer appreciation.

Living with multiple generations offers a wealth of benefits. Children build a closer bond with other family members and learn more about their heritage. Adults can care for their aging parents in a more comfortable atmosphere. Grandparents experience a renewed sense of purpose. Planning for the challenges of multi-generational living will help you maximize the enjoyment!

Why 2016 is a good year to buy a new home.

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After years of ups and down in the housing market, financial experts predict that 2016 is a good year to buy a new home.

Housing inventory will increase.

Sellers who have been watching and waiting for prices to increase will see that trend level out. Home prices rose 8% in 2012, 11% in 2013, and 5% in 2014, according to Barron’s. In 2016, Zillow’s Chief Economist Svenja Gudell expects the climb to plateau somewhat, with only a 3.5% increase. That means more sellers who have been on the fringe will seize the opportunity to put their homes on the market and capture the steady flow of new homebuyers.

In addition to the resales, however, homebuilders will become more aggressive, particularly in building starter and middle-range homes.

Mortgage rates are climbing.

The historic low interest rates on mortgages will creep upward. With the Federal Reserve expected to increase rates, new homebuyers should recognize that waiting much longer will cost them.

“You are likely to get the best rate you will possibly see, perhaps in your lifetime, through the majority of next year,” said Jonathan Smoke, chief economist at Realtor.com in December 2015.

Employment has become more secure.

Businesses are hiring again. Unemployment figures dropped nationwide to 5.3% in June of last year, a dramatic improvement over the 10% unemployment rate in 2010. With more people off the job market, more buyers should qualify for the housing market.

Rents keep going up.

Supply and demand in the rental market favors the landlord. Expect monthly rent to keep rising every year. Meanwhile, you could get a low-interest mortgage (with a low down payment) that will not be subject to the same fluctuation.

Bottom line? Stop procrastinating. Make 2016 the year you reap the rewards of homeownership.

Everyone Likes Options

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When planning a new home, you want to find the best match for your lifestyle and needs. At Lamar Smith Homes, we understand that the ability to customize a house helps make it a functioning home. That’s why we’ve been working hard to revamp our floorpans, options, and elevations, to bring you the best homes possible.

We’ve got new renderings to showcase our different elevations and help you visualize your new home. For each floorplan, you can see a brick accent, stone accent and craftsman stone elevation. (Remember, our craftsman elevations were just released in 2015, so we’re excited to showcase these styles, that you may not have seen before!)

Additional images can also be found in our web galleries, so you can see a multitude of design selections. We are proud to partner with Susan Young, interior designer and owner of highly reputable Regal Designs, to assist you when it comes time for you to choose your colors and materials. Susan has also specifically chosen our materials, to provide you quality and style at an affordable price.

We’ve also standardized our most popular floorplan options, so you can choose from more than 15 options per plan. These options range from classic floorplan elements—like bonus rooms, extra bathrooms, and screened porches—to modern design options—like a pet cove under the stairs, super showers, and wet bars.

Visit lamarsmithsignature.com/floorplans to see these new designs and contact a new home consultant to review all available floorplan options.

Wrapping up 2015

We have continued growing, both in number of employees and number of families that we serve. Take a look back at some highlights of 2015.

By the Numbers

2 New Communities Opened
1 Community began Construction (The Woodlands Villas is coming soon!)
106 Closings (That’s a 203% increase from 2013!)
14 New Lamar Smith Employees

Highlights

New Communities
Our 2015 communities are thriving! Savannah Highlands was opened early in the year and has only one remaining home available. Settlers Hammock was opened this fall in St Marys, and already has 20% of available homesites under contract or sold. We’re also excited for the Woodlands Villas at Southbridge, which started construction in 2015. Its highly anticipated release will come in early 2016!

New Elevations
Our craftsman elevations rolled out in 2015 and have been extremely popular. They’re a great way to add style and character to your home, while still maintaining an affordable price point. Visit lamarsmithsignature.com/floorplans to see renderings and photos of all of our elevations and floorplans.

Operation Hero House
In 2014 we founded the non-profit Operation Hero House in order to make coming home a little easier for wounded veterans. In early 2015, our first OHH recipients were presented with a mortgage-free home in Teal Lake. We’re honored to be afforded the opportunity to serve someone who has sacrificed so much for our country. For more information about the project, visit operationherohouse.com

Builder Hall of Fame
In December, The Home Builders Association of Greater Savannah presented Lamar with the coveted Hall of Fame Award. Lamar has served in every leadership role in the HBA of Greater Savannah, as well as received numerous awards, including Builder of the Year. Most of our team was able to attend the event and celebrate a great career!

Closings and New Homeowners
We hit some major milestones this year! We reached our 350th closing since our company began. We also closed our 100th home in December; this is the first time that we have hit triple digits in a single year. That’s a lot of new homeowners in the Lamar Smith family, and we’re happy to have them!

Looking forward to 2016, we’re excited for new opportunities and ready to keep growing. We’ve got a new website, new floorplans, and new communities in the works for 2016, so make sure you visit lamarsmithhomes.com to stay up-to-date!

Home design is like any other type of design. It follows shifts in ideas, preferences, and innovation. The kitchen is perhaps the most important room in the home—certainly the one with the most traffic—so this space has seen many changes over the decades.

Of course, it will continue to evolve with new technology, but here are some kitchen design trends that are here to stay (or seem to be!).

Bring down the walls…

Decades ago, the kitchen was purely functional. Food was stored and prepared here. Today’s homeowners see the kitchen as the hub of the home, the gathering place. The appeal of open floor plans includes the kitchen. The walls are coming down. No more isolating that room in the back of the house. The kitchen flows seamlessly in the family living areas, so that there is no division between the task of food prep and the activity beyond the kitchen’s borders.

…And put up an island

There’s nothing more exciting to a cook than more prep space. The kitchen island adds extra space for food prep, cooking, storage, and even serving. The island concept also enhances the traffic flow in the kitchen by creating a workspace in the center. No matter what style you prefer—country, contemporary, traditional, rustic—an island fits nicely into the kitchen design

More drawers than doors

The lower kitchen cabinets are giving up space to drawers. It’s much easier to pull open a drawer than to bend down and reach into a cabinet. Kitchen drawers can be designed in sizes to fit specific functions—deeper to store pots and pans, a narrow vertical pull-out for spices. Some drawers are hiding behind cabinet doors, still utilizing the ease of pulling out instead of reaching in to find what you need.

Shades of green

Today’s homeowners want their homes to be kind to the environment. From reclaimed wood and sustainable materials (e.g., cork, bamboo) to energy-efficient appliances, plumbing, and lighting, the eco-friendly kitchen is a definite “must have”.

Preferences in countertops, flooring, and wall coverings may change. Lighting styles will continue to evolve. Appliances will get more and more technical. But you can count on these kitchen trends to stay.

Winter Cleaning: Getting Your Home Ready for Holiday Guests!

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Everyone knows about spring cleaning. You throw open the windows and let the fresh air in. Then you clean and purge your home as you welcome the season of new growth.

Flip the calendar around. What do you do about your winter cleaning? As you get ready to stay indoors for the next few months, make sure you clean a few spaces that hold dust, dirt, and germs that you could be inhaling. Here’s a winter cleaning checklist to guide you.

The dryer vent gathers lint that is highly flammable. To clean your dryer vent, unplug and then pull out the dryer as far as you can from the vent pipe. Disconnect it. Vacuum the dryer’s outlet hole and the vent pipe. Remove the dryer’s vent cover and vacuum as deeply as you can inside the vent.

Scrub out your trash cans, inside and out. Then use a disinfectant to kill any remaining germs. White vinegar mixed with equal parts of water works great.

HVAC filters are notorious dust grabbers. Remove and replace the old filters and clean the grates. This should be done every 60 days.

Move your refrigerator to get to the dust behind it. The fridge’s condenser coils will operate more efficiently without all the junk. Remember to unplug any appliance before cleaning!

Get “edgy”! Look at surfaces that might be missed during your regular cleaning. Give a good dusting to door frames and trim, wall décor, smoke and carbon dioxide detectors, light fixtures and bulbs, baseboards, switch plates, door knobs, ceiling fans, book shelves, televisions and computers, and above your kitchen cabinets.

Pull out and turn over your upholstered furniture. Vacuum the bottom and all cushions.

Take down and clean your curtains. This is a great time to change your window coverings to a seasonal color scheme.

Wash throw rugs and steam clean your area rugs and carpet.

Vacuum mattresses and box springs. Then flip the mattress, which should be done twice a year. Wash your bed pillows and linens.

Clean out your fireplace and around the hearth. Have your chimney inspected before using it for the season, to ensure there’s no harmful build-up that could spark a fire.

Get cozy in your clean home. Snuggle in and enjoy a healthier environment!

Winter is here – time to safely clean your gutters

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The job of your home’s gutters is to drain the water from the roof to the downspouts. When the gutter is clogged or sagging, the water collects there, where it can rust a metal gutter or degrade a wooden one. If there’s too much, that water can feed back to the fascia boards, causing more costly damage to your home.

Cleaning your gutters twice a year (spring and fall) can protect your home by preventing sagging, clogged, and bent gutters. Before you climb up the ladder, prepare yourself to safely clean your gutter.

  1. Watch out for power lines. Look at any power lines that connect to your roof from a power pole. Make sure the cable’s insulation is intact. If you have any questions or doubts, contact your electric utility company.
  2. Place a tarp on the ground. Save yourself the additional step of raking up the debris you remove from the gutter. Lay a tarp or drop cloth on the ground below the area where you’re cleaning. When you’re done, just bundle it up and transfer to a trash bag.
  3. Do a safety check on the ladder. Most gutter cleaning accidents involve a faulty ladder. Confirm the weight-bearing load is enough to support you. Check your ladder’s safety by looking for dents, cracks, and loose bolts or screws. Set it up firmly and bounce a few times on the bottom rung to push the base into the ground and ensure it’s secure. Be sure someone nearby knows you’re going to be on a ladder.
  4. Equip yourself with the right gutter cleaning tools. You should have a small garden trowel or gutter scoop to dig out the debris. Have a stiff brush to scrub away any stubborn materials. Wear garden or work gloves to protect your hands from sharp objects, like exposed screws. Have a spray nozzle on your hose and clamp it to the edge of the gutter while you’re cleaning. Wear safety glasses in case the hose kicks up something that could cause an injury to your eyes,
  5. Start from the downspout. Begin removing the leaves and dirt from the low end of the gutter, closest to the downspout. If you start at the high point, you might end up pushing more build-up downward, instead of out.
  6. Hose out the gutter. After you’ve cleared out a section, hose it down. Take note of the drainage in the downspout. If it’s draining slowly, you probably need to clean it out before proceeding, to remove whatever has built up in there.
  7. Check the gutters and downspouts. As you move along, make sure the gutters are strongly attached to the fascia boards. Inspect the board for dry rot. Look for rusting, flaking, or leaks on the downspouts. Replace any parts that are weakened or damaged.

Invest a little time twice a year in safely cleaning your gutters, and you’ll go a long way toward protecting your home.

Transform Your Bathroom with Layered Lighting

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Transform your bathroom with a simple project of layered lighting. Layered lighting is using multiple lighting sources to create the perception of more space and depth in your bathroom.

Homeowners are looking for sunnier brightness in their bathrooms, but they also want the sense of calm when relaxing in the tub. Layering the lighting in your bathroom creates a pleasant blend of light and shadow, with enough brightness for the task, but adding the softer lighting where you want it.

Dimmers give you the power to control the intensity of the light, but don’t stop after installing these switches. You can also create the ambience you desire with the right choice of bathroom light fixtures that utilize the four types of light to include in your bathroom:

  • Task lighting—First and foremost, plan for lighting the necessary chores that require good visibility, like shaving and putting on makeup. A pendant or canister light over the vanity’s mirror can be complemented by sconces on both sides, to give you the best cross lighting.
  • Ambient lighting—Natural light streaming in the through windows and skylights is a softer light that lessens shadows. If you don’t have these sources in your bathroom, you can fabricate the effect by bouncing light off the ceiling.
  • Accent lighting—Just as in any other room of the house, your bathroom can benefit from accent lighting to bring focus to specific details, like wall art of decorative tile.
  • Decorative lighting—Lighting designer Randall Whitehead refers to this as “architectural jewelry”. A chandelier over the tub or in the center of the bathroom used to be unheard of, but is now a common trend in bathroom lighting.

When designing your bathroom lighting, look at this room as any other. Blend décor with functionality to achieve the style that carries throughout your home.

Build your new home or sell your current home: Which comes first?

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A first-time homebuyer has it easy in some ways. They don’t have a home they need to sell before purchasing one. If you’re in your own home and thinking about building a new home, you have a big question to ponder.

“Should I sell my home before I build a new one?”

The answer will depend on many things—most importantly, your personality. Are you a worrier or a risk-taker? Do you need a safety net or can you walk the tightrope supported by your confidence that you’re not going to fall?

Less Risk, More Inconvenience

Selling your home in advance of buying a new one is the safest way to ensure you’re not carrying two mortgages at once, but this scenario has certain issues attached.

You might need to find temporary housing, unless your buyers are willing to give you extra time. If you have to move out—and can’t stay with family or friends—you’ll need to find a short-term rental. With school-aged children, you might be required to live within the school district in order for your children to attend their school. Check the regulations before making your decision of when and where to rent.

Pet owners sometimes have difficulty finding a rental that accepts their four-legged family members. You might need to make temporary arrangements for them elsewhere.

Finally, you’ll essentially have to move twice—which means changing your address twice. Initially, you’ll move out of your current home and put your furniture and possessions in storage. Then you’ll move again when your new home is ready.

More Risk, A Simpler Move

Can you afford to two mortgages if your current home is still on the market when you’re ready to close on the new one? If you quality for the additional mortgage, the problem ends there, although no one wants to carry the additional debt.

You could rent your present home once your new home is ready, and use that rental income to cover the mortgage cost. You might also secure a bridge loan to cover you until you sell your current home.

Certainly, homebuilders will offer a contingency option that gives you an “out” if your existing home hasn’t sold, but that means you give up the dreams of this new home—in addition to the time and money already invested. And someone else is going to live in the home you created.

Before you make your decision of whether to build your new home first or sell your existing home, talk to a Realtor about current housing market conditions in your area. How long are comparable homes on the market? This information gives you an estimate to work with. Your home could sell much sooner or take longer.

Holiday planning: How to give thanks without getting stressed

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Every year, Thanksgiving creeps up, bringing thoughts of the family seated around an elegantly festooned table and the aromas of home-cooking. Or maybe you’re recalling nightmares of Thanksgivings past. The turkey fryer that seemed like a clever idea at the time but started a fire that almost burned down your garage. The inevitable family squabbles that arise every year. You somehow once neglected to get the right kind of cranberry sauce and your uncle reminds you every year. The dog ate the pies, and they didn’t sit well with him.

Thanksgiving brings people together, and that’s a good thing. It won’t always go smoothly, but some basic preparation can guide you toward greater success. So, for your holiday planning, here’s how to give thanks without getting stressed—well, not TOO stressed.

Do as much ahead of time as you can. Pace yourself. Don’t leave five days’ worth of preparation to the day before everyone is coming!

The guests.

  • Don’t guess who’s coming to dinner. Write a guest list. You’ll need an accurate tally to buy the right amount of food.
  • Send the Thanksgiving invitation. Some people are happy with a casual invitation, but if you want your holiday to be an event, send a more formal one, either a card in the mail or an evite. Here are some invitation writing tips.
  • Confirm the head count. Since you’ll likely buy the turkey at least five days in advance, contact every guest and confirm if they’re coming and how many people will be joining them.

The food.

  • Create your Thanksgiving menu a month in advance. From appetizers and drinks through dessert and coffee, keep a grocery list on your phone. As you see items on sale, buy them. Put the perishables away and freeze the others.
  • Delegate food assignments. Many of your guests will want to bring something. Let them. It makes for a wonderful blend when the meal is prepared by more than one person.
  • Cook and freeze what you can. Many side dishes, including mashed potatoes and soup, can be prepared and frozen.
  • Use hands-free cooking. A slow cooker is a great way to “set it and forget it”. Prepare the ingredients the night before and use the crock pot for mashed potatoes, side dishes, stuffing, hot cider, warm dip, and even pudding cake for dessert..
  • Remind people not to forget. At least three days before Thanksgiving, contact everyone who has offered to bring a dish to confirm that they are still doing so.
  • Get ready to serve. The day before Thanksgiving, set out the serving dish and utensil for every item on the menu, including appetizers. Mark each one with what will fill it. This way, you can be sure you have all the pieces you need, and others can help transfer the food to these dishes at serving time.
  • Prepare your leftover containers. Invest in some storage containers for guests to leave with leftovers so you’re not scurrying to find something to give away that you don’t want to lose forever.

The table.

  • Plan your holiday décor. Like your menu, plan in advance. Decide where you want to add accents. Make a list of what you need to buy, like fresh flowers, a wreath for the door, candles, and gourds. As you gather your bounty, stash the décor in one place, so you can pull them from a box when it’s time to decorate.
  • Inventory your dinnerware. Make sure you have enough dishes, silverware, and glasses for the number of Thanksgiving guests. If you want something different, consider going “eclectic” and purchase plates in different patterns that complement each other (thrift shops are great for this). Whatever you choose, check for chips and cracks. Then wash and set them aside two days ahead.
  • Clean and press the linens. Check your tablecloth and napkins (if you’re using cloth) for stains and tears. Wash, iron, and place them in a clean plastic bin until the night before Thanksgiving.
  • Set the table ahead of time. Don’t leave this job to Thanksgiving day, when you have plenty of other things to do. The evening before, take your time and set the table and the bar as you like. Cover it with a clean sheet.

The fun stuff.

  • Make a playlist. Review your music library and build a playlist of songs. Blend different genres, giving everyone something to enjoy.
  • Plan activities. Certainly, this is optional, but if you have kids coming, come up with ways to entertain them. Visit Pinterest to find creative yet simple games.
  • Make a Thankful Jar. Before dinner, invite every guest to write down at least one thing they’re thankful for and put it in a jar on the table. When you sit down to eat, start by passing the jar around and letting each person pick out one piece of paper and read it.

The un-fun stuff.

  • Create a cleaning list. From dusting the ceiling fans to sweeping the front walk, do an inventory of the household chores. Then delegate them by making a list and assigning family members, with deadlines.
  • Set up trash cans. You’re going to have more garbage than usual. Make it easy by placing a few extra trash cans. They don’t have to be the unsightly 20-gallon variety either. Use smaller ones here and there.

Happy holidays! May you have a stress-free Thanksgiving with the people who matter most to you.

Make your new home more accessible with universal design

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Building a new home, versus buying a resale, gives you many advantages. You can customize the layout to your personal taste, incorporate energy-efficient throughout, and move into a home that is fully warrantied.

Another distinct advantage of choosing a new home is that you can incorporate universal design. Also known as “barrier-free design”, this thoughtful approach accommodates details that make your home accessible to anyone. Households with elderly or disabled family members experience challenges that others haven’t considered. Whether you need extra space to maneuver a wheelchair or single-story living to avoid climbing stairs, there are many details that can be easily built into your new home, like wider hallways and doorways, lower countertops and sinks, and ramp access.

Universal design removes barriers and creates free flow throughout the home, for anyone. The goal is to provide functionality, comfort, and convenience, so that no member feels challenged in their own home.

Even if you don’t have the immediate need for universal design features, ask yourself if this new home is where you want to stay. “Aging in place” is a concept that reflects the Baby Boomers’ lifestyle trend of staying in the same house beyond retirement, instead of downsizing to accommodate life changes.

Talk to your home builder about adding these universal design features to your new home:

  • 5-foot clearance space in hallways and 36-inch wide doors
  • Gentle sloping walkway to all entrances
  • Touch lights or rocker switches instead of traditional toggle switches, and placed at the same height as the door handle
  • Walk-in tubs or step-in showers with no threshold (with wider doors) and grab bars and adjustable height shower head
  • Front-loading washer and dryer
  • Ovens and cooktops with controls on the front
  • Bathroom vanities with knee space underneath
  • Lever-style door handles instead of knobs
  • Even floor height, with no thresholds
  • Closets with adjustable rods and racks
  • Kitchen cabinets with varied heights
  • Slip- and trip-resistant flooring
  • Motion light sensors
  • Anti-scald valves

Universaldesign.org provides 10 checklists that cover every space of your home. Most of the universal design features are easy to integrate when building your home. Discuss these adaptations with your builder so you can enjoy many years of comfort in your home.

How to Select Your Mortgage Lender

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Before you start searching for your new home, make sure you know how much you are qualified to borrow. Not only will this knowledge help you focus your house hunting on the right properties, but pre-qualifying gives you more leverage when a seller knows you can get the mortgage to buy their home.

The first step is to select the right institution. Here are some tips on how to select your mortgage lender. You might be tempted by the lure of low interest rates and no closing costs, but protect yourself by ensuring you work with a reputable, responsive, and experienced lender.

  1. Ask for referrals. Your Realtor can offer suggestions for mortgage lenders that meet your particular criteria (e.g., first-time homebuyer, FHA or VA loan). Talk to family members, friends, and co-workers who have recently purchased a new home about their experience with mortgage companies.
  2. Check references. Look at online reviews to see what others are saying about the mortgage lenders. Check the Better Business Bureau’s ratings, which include any complaints lodged against the company. Be sure that the lenders you’re considering have the necessary licensing.
  3. Interview the lender. If you apply online, you will be instantly deluged with phone calls. When you speak with the representatives, ask about the various loan products they offer, and the pros and cons of each. Discuss the approval and closing process, so you understand the information and timing that will be required. Ask for a written list of the costs and fees associated with the mortgage, like points, legal fees, title insurance, and closing costs. Explain your situation and ask for a recommendation about the right mortgage.

Here are 25 questions that Zillow suggests you should ask your mortgage lender.

Once your questions have been answered, ask yourself a few questions. Did the lender seem knowledgeable? Did they listen to your concerns and address them clearly? Did you feel like you were getting a cookie-cutter response or truly personal attention? Did the lender seem to push you towards borrowing more than you feel comfortable with? This is a major financial commitment, so you need to work with a professional who takes the time to understand and respect your needs and concerns.

4, Compare rates, fees, and products. Once you have gathered the information, look at what each mortgage lender has to offer. Your choice should reflect your needs. If you don’t have a stellar credit rating or a sufficient down payment, consider a lender who understands your situation and can offer guidance to qualifying for the best option possible. Maybe you’re looking for a VA loan. You should find a lender who has experience navigating this process.

Before you pre-qualify for your new home mortgage, pre-qualify the lender!

New Home or Resale? It’s What You Can’t See That Matters.

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Thrifting has become a popular trend. People are looking for used items that still have value. Some will re-purpose them, others will do a makeover, and some will use as is.

When it comes to home buying, does this approach deliver the same value? You’re making a huge investment—probably the biggest financial one of your life. What do you expect in return?

A resale or older home is often perceived as a better deal, because you can buy more house for less money—or so it seems. Whether you’re looking a buying a new home or a resale, it’s what you can’t see that matters.

Here are a few things for comparison when you’re looking at purchasing a home.

  • What will need replacing soon? In a new home, you can be confident that you won’t have to spend money on a new roof, HVAC, appliances, windows, plumbing, or other features that have a lifespan. Calculate any replacement estimates into your purchase price.
  • Is it “green”? From drafty windows and doors and insulation to energy-guzzling appliances, how energy-efficient is the home you’re considering? What’s the air quality? Appliances and plumbing (e.g. toilets, faucets, showers) have become much more energy-efficient over the past few years, and the newest ones can save hundreds on your annual utility bills.
  • How much do you need to invest on cosmetic improvements? This is where many homeowners underestimate the cost of their “dream home”. It’s never “just a few coats of paint”. You’ll probably change light fixtures, wall coverings, and flooring, to say the least. You might want to knock down a wall to open up the floor plan, or replace the kitchen cabinetry. Maybe you need to rewire in order to accommodate today’s electronics. In addition to the cost of any remodeling, there’s the time involved. Do you have the patience to see it through?
  • What’s the resale value? Never buy a home without considering the resale value. Situations change. No matter how certain you are when you sign the mortgage papers, there’s always the chance that you will move again. Be clear about what you can expect to regain from this investment.
  • Are there any purchasing incentives? Interest rates are still incredibly low, although they will continue to creep upward. Homebuilders frequently offer incentives, like no closing costs.

Both new homes and resales have their unique appeal to homebuyers. Regardless, don’t fall in love with what you see. Think about the other factors that contribute to the actual cost of buying your new home.