Your Home Matters

Your Home Matters

  1. Home Improvement Season is Here!

    If you're like many of us, the approaching spring season is a time to refresh and renew your home and yard in new ways. The warmer weather and fresh air give us a great burst of energy and creativity -- the perfect combination to tackle some "projects" around the house! Not to mention, this final season of Fixer Upper has had inspiration like crazy for all of us who want to spruce up our nests.

    Since we all have different tastes, budgets, varied home styles, and a range of DIY skills, today we just want to share a few of our favorite go-to sites when we want home inspiration and project ideas. There are so many options and ideas we can implement in our homes, and we are fortunate to have stores throughout the Tri-State that supply us with materials and accessories of all kinds when we're ready to get started.

    These resources are meant to feed your creativity and help you achieve what you want in your home. Do not get overwhelmed or feel like you have to do everything at once. No matter the price point or scope of your dream project, home improvements are always a process! Give yourself plenty of time to really think about what you want and how you want create it.

    So, without further delay, here are a few of the home sites we are frequenting this spring:

    This Old House -- DIY information, how-to guides, budget-friendly projects, inspiration for many home styles. Very practical for homeowners and investors interested in tackling some exciting renovations and updates.

    Real Simple -- Organizing & decluttering tips, decorating ideas, kid-friendly projects, landscaping advice, seasonal changes. Find great inspiration and shopping ideas. Realistic whiles till inspiring us to create an efficient, beautiful space for our busy lifestyles.

    My Home Ideas  -- House plans, storage solutions, remodeling ideas, outdoor space planning, budget-friendly updates, entertaining guides. Awesome resource! This has become a go-to for so many clients. The site even has some quizzes to help you determine your style and prioritize what you'd like to accomplish in your home.

    Southern Living -- While we don't technically live in the South, there is no better guide for cultivating a warm, inviting home for you & your family. Room inspiration, recipes, garden tips, house plans, & more. Talk about house goals!

    Bob Vila -- Maintenance guides, tool information, how-to guides, a lot of outdoor project information, troubleshooting for home issues. We know this site is a trusted resource, and we can rely on the information in its articles to be current, accurate, and helpful. It's a great one to peruse just to know what's out there in case you run into an issue at home that you want to fix yourself.

    Porch -- Information and assistance with all larger-scale home improvement projects. Great resource for remodeling or building. There's almost too much information on home renovations, and it's easy to get lost in it all. This site really helps narrow down priorities while inspiring with beautiful finished projects that make all of us feel like our projects are within reach.

    What websites would you recommend for all things "home"? We would love to know what you're reading and where you get the best information. Share with us on any of our social media pages!

  2. What's On Your Mind? Here's Your Chance to Tell Us!

    Hello and welcome back! We hope you're enjoying your week and maybe even tackling some of the March home maintenance tasks we discussed last week. Did anyone else think we might get through this winter without wintry weather? It's chilly today! Oh well. Let's just hope it doesn't last long and we get right back on track with sunshine and warmer temperatures -- perfect for scouting your new home.

    This week's post is just a little different. We have been publishing this weekly blog for over three years now, and we want to make sure it's reaching our friends and clients in the way we intend. The purpose of the ERA First Advantage blog is to inform, educate, inspire, and even entertain our readers. We want this weekly post to be a way for all of you to connect with us and stay current on all things real estate, home, and community, even if you're not in the market to buy or sell a home.

    As your resident blogger, I pretty much have creative freedom and can write about what inspires or concerns me as a Realtor and homeowner at any particular time. However, what is currently on my radar might not align with what all of you want to read about. That thought is the inspiration for this week's blog -- time to check in.

    What topics do you want to know more about? What are you interested in at the moment? We really do want to know so we can serve you better as a company and as individual agents. Below are categories relating to all things real estate, home, and community that are great "starting points" for blog content. This is where our topics begin. This is where we find inspiration to bring real estate information to you and hopefully make the entirety of home ownership easier for you. If you would be so kind as to choose 2 or 3 that interest you most and share them in the comment section on this Facebook post or this blog post, we would appreciate it so much! Even better, if there is a specific topic you'd like us to write about that is not listed here, feel free to share that as well! Our goal is to serve our clients, so if there are things you'd like to learn more about or cover, we're here to help with that.

    Listing Your Home
    Finding an Agent
    Home Staging
    The Closing Process
    Preparing your home for sale
    Negotiating an offer
    Mortgage Options
    Community Profiles
    Affordable Cosmetic Updates
    Curb Appeal
    Seasonal Maintenance
    ERA Agent Profiles
    ERA Staff Profiles
    Local Business Spotlight
    Decorating Tips
    Home Improvement Resources
    DIY ideas
    Builder Profiles
    New Construction
    Home Technology

    What else is on your mind? Please choose two or three of these categories and type them in the comment section on this Facebook post! Thank you, thank you for your help as we continually make improvements in serving the real estate needs of the Tri-State!
  3. Happy March! Time to Get to Work!

    Welcome back on this first day of March! We hope everyone affected by the recent flooding and heavy rain is recovering and drying out by now. This month certainly has certainly in like a lion! March is typically a fickle month in the Tri-State. It could snow, especially early in the month, we could get some nasty storms like we experienced last week, or we could have a stretch of beautiful, warm days that give everyone spring fever (fingers crossed we have more of those). Our vote, of course, is for a dose of early spring weather! After a long winter, we are ready to get out and get some work done on our homes' exteriors or in the yard.

    Does anyone else feel this way? We like to call this time the early spring itch. This time of year begins to bring all of us out of our houses and into our yards or neighborhoods. We also find that specifically in our business, it brings out more buyers and sellers who have been waiting to make a move and maybe looking at homes online throughout winter, and that is great. Your ERA First Advantage agent can certainly help you find your new home and sell your current one.

    So whether you're in the market to make a move in the coming months or simply want to spiff up your own home sweet home, we have put together a maintenance guide for the month of March. Give yourself the whole month to work on these items, and by the beginning of April, you'll be ready to move on to other projects or just enjoy your beautiful space and all you've accomplished.
    • Change out the HVAC filter. It will run more efficiently and safely, especially as the weather warms up.
    • Test all your smoke detectors. Replace batteries where needed. If you have carbon monoxide detectors in the home (which you should), check them as well.
    • Clean out your gutters and downspouts. We want water to flow freely throughout the upcoming rainy season.
    • Clear any debris off your roof and take a look for any missing shingles or other necessary roof repairs. We don't want to welcome spring with a leaky roof!
    • Begin trimming trees, bushes, or other plants that are near the house. This will not only help aesthetically with your curb appeal, but will also prevent these plants from growing up the side of your house and doing any damage by rubbing against brick or siding.
    • Little by little, remove any dead limbs and plants from your yard and landscaping. As the weather warms, these areas can become a hot bed for insects to live.
    • Uncover your crawl space and look inside to make sure it's dry and clear. Test and clean the sump pump if you have one. 
    • Clean and inspect your deck and/or porch. Look for necessary repairs like cracks or rot. This is also a great time to re-stain your deck so you can enjoy it when the weather is beautiful!
    • Check handrails around decks and porches, and secure if needed for safety. This is especially important if you're thinking of selling your home because buyers will be concerned if the house seems unsafe in any way.
    • Look closely at caulking and weather stripping after the harsh winter weather. Repair as needed so moisture doesn't get inside. This project also helps tremendously with energy efficiency.

    What else do you work in your home throughout this month? Do you focus more on indoor or outdoor tasks? Do you take on a few projects at a time and split them among the spring months? We would love to hear from you!

    Have a fantastic weekend and check back next week!
  4. Quick Finance Lesson: FHA Loans

    This week we are focusing on a little finance -- always a great way to spend some time! The FHA loan is quite popular in our local market, and since it is government-insured, it often seems confusing for many buyers, so we're going to break it down today. It's a great option for many buyers which is why we need learn a little more about this type of home loan. And remember, like other home loans, it has its pros and cons.

    The FHA loan -- FHA meaning the Federal Housing Administration -- is actually the largest insurer of residential loans in the world. The Federal Housing Administration has been around since 1934 and has insured tens of millions of loans in the decades since in the United States and its territories. As a division of the U.S. government's Department of Housing and Urban Development, the FHA doesn't actually lend the money to borrowers. Its purpose is to insure the loans issued by approved banks. As a home buyer, your financing is still being provided by your local bank, but the FHA loan gives that bank extra insurance in the form of mortgage insurance, which ultimately is paid for by the borrower over the life of the loan.

    This extra insurance from the FHA allows banks to lend to borrowers with less stringent guidelines to qualify for financing, and FHA loans often have attractively low interest rates as well. Initially, the purpose of the FHA loan was to provide a way for low-income and first-time buyers to purchase a home they couldn't otherwise afford with traditional financing. As long as borrowers met the qualifying requirements of employability, job stability, and reliability, they could get an FHA loan to purchase their home.

    In today's market, there are more specific guidelines to qualify for FHA financing. Current requirements cover items like mortgage lending limits, debt-to-income ratios, and even closing costs for a particular property. The FHA determines the amount the buyer qualifies for because it reduces the risk for lenders who issue the loan, a very real concern for many banks who have dealt with borrowers defaulting on their payments over the past 5-7 years. If you are interested in pursuing FHA financing, be prepared to provide a hefty amount of financial and employment records that will be used to determine the loan terms. Additionally, FHA loans only cover single family and multi-family units up to 4, so borrowers would need a special loan to purchase a condo or apartment housing more than 4 units. Of course, in our market those are a bit more rare and specialized type of purchase, so you would just want to get additional guidance from your lender.

    While there are some extra tasks associated with applying for an FHA loan, if you qualify, it could very well be worth your effort. For borrowers with great credit, you can get a mortgage with a down payment of as little as 3.5% of the purchase price, and the down payment funds can even be a gift from an approved source. This is a huge benefit for buyers who may not have a five-figure nest egg to put down on a house. Another attractive feature of the FHA loan is that it provides some avenues of relief for borrowers who experience a major financial trauma and suddenly have problems paying their monthly mortgage. Should that situation arise, homeowners need to get in touch with their loan officer immediately to work out the details. 

    Current FHA rates with Excellent credit score according to Lending Tree:

    30 year fixed: 3.875%
    15 year fixed: 3.375

    The bottom line is that this form of mortgage financing is a great option for many types of buyers, and while it may be a bit of an inconvenience to provide the detailed records and documentation initially required by the lender, the excellent terms of the loan and option for a low down payment make the effort worthwhile. Our advice? If you're preparing to buy a home, ask your ERA First Advantage agent for some local FHA-approved lenders to meet and discuss all your options. You mortgage officer is your best resource for accurate, current information regarding loans, FHA and others. Let him or her help you determine your best fit as you prepare to buy your new home.

  5. Ready for Spring! Get a Head Start on Your Garden

    What is happening with this weather today? We are definitely getting a taste of spring and all the warmth, sunshine, and outdoor activities that we will enjoy soon. We have been discussing yards and gardens a lot lately in the offie and with clients as we (im)patiently wait for brighter days, so it seems like a good time to discuss our early garden planning. We all know that nice gardens add tremendous curb appeal to a home, so if you're thinking of selling or are getting ready to buy a home that lacks plant life, today's post will be very helpful for you.

    It is definitely not too early to begin preparing your garden arrangements now, especially if you want to make some significant changes to your landscape. You need to consider your budget, new/existing plants, when to buy & plant, plus any relocating of plants.

    The first item to consider in your planning is your budget. We only note this first because costs can get out of hand very quickly in the gardening world, even at places like Lowe's and Walmart that are very reasonably priced. Landscaping and gardens are an investment, but we want to be careful to keep resale and long-term maintenance cost in mind as well.
    • Plan for your largest investments first. Are you buying any trees or having any new rocks or beds made in the yard? Those will incur the most costs.
    • Next, how many plants will you need? When you map out your landscaping areas, always note how large each item will get. Your yard will fill up quicker than you think.
    • Other than shrubs/flowers, what else do you need to buy? Do you need to put down fresh mulch or rock this year? How many bags of potting soil and fertilizer do you need for freshening the flower beds?
    • Are you going to do a vegetable garden? There are some extra costs associated with building a raised bed and building scaffolding for the vegetable plants.
    • Check around for pricing on your chosen plants. We are lucky to have an abundance of nurseries, landscapers, and grocery stores that carry garden supplies, so you can shop around a bit.
    After you have a budget in mind, begin researching what you want to plant.

    If you're starting from scratch, this might be a challenge. If you are able, schedule a consultation with a landscaper or friend who is a gardening veteran to get some help planning what you will need. The right landscaping can completely change the way your home looks, so you want to think through your plants & invest right. You don't have to pay a professional to install everything for you, but it might be nice to get their input on what you should do. If you are not able to work with a professional, this guide from Martha Stewart is the best help we've found! You can't go wrong with Martha, right?

    If you've got some existing plants and just want to freshen and liven up for spring, you can simply start researching what grows well in our region. The Tri-State is in Hardiness Zone 7, so be sure you set your sights on trees, shrubs, and flowers that will be happy in our area. Those will be the easiest to grow and will fare best in our climate.

    Next, if you want to scatter some seeds, the next few weeks will be a good time to do that. Many seeds actually need a period of cold before they sprout. If you aren't comfortable putting the seeds outside, most will do well growing in containers in a sunny area of your house until early spring. This would be a great project to try with school-age kiddos, and it would give everyone some ownership over what is being planted in the yard. A few fun options to try are:
    • Flanders or Corn Poppies
    • Larkspur
    • Foxglove
    • Hollyhock
    • Dianthus
    • Snapdragon
    Before you actually plant flowers or new shrubbery, keep our last killing frost date in mind, which is April 1-30. If you plant during the month of April, you do risk losing some plants to that last frost we tend to have in our area. Our meteorologists are typically really good about warning local gardeners of a spring frost, so you can always place blankets over the plants if you just really want to plant early. Let's hope for a warm April this year!

    Finally, if you're thinking of beginning a compost bin, now is the time to get started on that. Use this guide to make your own compost; it is a little gross when you think about what goes into the mixture, but we promise your plants will love it! You will enjoy bigger blooms, greener leaves, & faster growth because of all those nutrients.

    What else are you looking forward to doing with your garden this spring? Share with us, and please also share any gardening tips you've picked up! Enjoy this first taste of spring-like weather! It is a bit short-lived, but warmer days are coming!

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