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Homeowner Tips

Is Homeownership Still Considered Part of the American Dream?

American Dream blog header

Since the birth of our nation, homeownership has always been considered a major piece of the American Dream. As Frederick Peters reports in Forbes:

“The idea of a place of one’s own drives the American story. We became a nation out of a desire to slip the bonds of Europe, which was still in many respects a collection of feudal societies. Old rich families, or the church, owned all the land and, with few exceptions, everyone else was a tenant. The magic of America lay not only in its sense of opportunity, but also in the belief that life could in every way be shaped by the individual. People traveled here not just for religious freedom, but because in America anything seemed possible.”

Additionally, a research paper released just prior to the shelter-in-place orders issued last year concludes:

“Homeownership is undeniably the cornerstone of the American Dream, and is inseparable from our national ethos that, through hard work, every American should have opportunities for prosperity and success. It is the stability and wealth creation that homeownership provides that represents the primary mechanism through which many American families are able to achieve upward socioeconomic mobility and greater opportunities for their children.”

Has the past year changed the American view on homeownership?

Definitely not. A survey of prospective homebuyers released by realtor.com last week reveals that becoming a homeowner is still the main reason this year’s first-time homebuyers want to purchase a home. When asked why they want to buy, three of the top four responses center on the financial benefits of owning a home. The top four reasons for buying are:

  • 59% – “I want to be a homeowner”
  • 33% – “I want to live in a space that I can invest in improving”
  • 31% – “I need more space”
  • 22% – “I want to build equity”

Millennials believe most strongly in homeownership.

The survey also reports that 62% of millennials say a desire to be a homeowner is the main reason they’re buying a home. This contradicts the thinking of some experts who had believed millennials were going to be the first “renter generation” in our nation’s history.

While reporting on the survey, George Ratiu, Senior Economist at realtor.com, said:

“Americans, even millennials who many thought would never buy, have a strong preference for homeownership for the same reasons many generations before them have — to invest in a place of their own and in their communities, and to build a solid financial foundation for themselves and their families.”

Odeta Kushi, Deputy Chief Economist for First American, also addresses millennial homeownership:

“Millennials have delayed marriage and having children in favor of investing in education, pushing marriage and family formation to their early-to-mid thirties, compared with previous generations, who primarily made these lifestyle choices in their twenties…Delayed lifestyle choices delay the desire for homeownership.”

Kushi goes on to explain:

“As more millennials get married and form families, millennials remain poised to transform the housing market. In fact, the housing market is already experiencing the earliest gusts of the tailwind.”

Bottom Line

As it always has been and very likely always will be, homeownership continues to be a major component in every generation’s pursuit of the American Dream.

What It Means To Be in a Sellers’ Market

What it's like to live in a Seller's Market

If you’ve given even a casual thought to selling your house in the near future, this is the time to really think seriously about making a move. Here’s why this season is the ultimate sellers’ market and the optimal time to make sure your house is available for buyers who are looking for homes to purchase.

The latest Existing Home Sales Report from The National Association of Realtors (NAR) shows the inventory of houses for sale is still astonishingly low, sitting at just a 2-month supply at the current sales pace.

Historically, a 6-month supply is necessary for a ‘normal’ or ‘neutral’ market in which there are enough homes available for active buyers (See graph below):What It Means To Be in a Sellers’ Market | MyKCM When the supply of houses for sale is as low as it is right now, it’s much harder for buyers to find homes to purchase. As a result, competition among purchasers rises and more bidding wars take place, making it essential for buyers to submit very attractive offers.

As this happens, home prices rise and sellers are in the best position to negotiate deals that meet their ideal terms. If you put your house on the market while so few homes are available to buy, it will likely get a lot of attention from hopeful buyers.

Today, there are many buyers who are ready, willing, and able to purchase a home. Low mortgage rates and a year filled with unique changes have prompted buyers to think differently about where they live – and they’re taking action. The supply of homes for sale is not keeping up with this high demand, making now the optimal time to sell your house.

Bottom Line

Home prices are appreciating in today’s sellers’ market. Making your home available over the coming weeks will give you the most exposure to buyers who will actively compete against each other to purchase it.

How Smart Is It to Buy a Home Today?

Is it a good time to buy a home blog header

Whether you’re buying your first home or selling your current house, if your needs are changing and you think you need to move, the decision can be complicated. You may have to take personal or professional considerations into account, and only you can judge what impact those factors should have on your desire to move.

However, there’s one category that provides a simple answer. When deciding to buy now or wait until next year, the financial aspect of the purchase is easy to evaluate. You just need to ask yourself two questions:

  1. Do I think home values will be higher a year from now?
  2. Do I think mortgage rates will be higher a year from now?

From a purely financial standpoint, if the answer is ‘yes’ to either question, you should strongly consider buying now. If the answer to both questions is ‘yes,’ you should definitely buy now.

Nobody can guarantee what home values or mortgage rates will be by the end of this year. The experts, however, seem certain the answer to both questions above is a resounding ‘yes.’ Mortgage rates are expected to rise and home values are expected to appreciate rather nicely.

What does this mean to you?

Let’s look at how waiting would impact your financial situation. Here are the assumptions made for this example:

  • The experts are right – mortgage rates will be 3.18% at the end of the year
  • The experts are right – home values will appreciate by 5.9%
  • You want to buy a home valued at $350,000 today
  • You decide on a 10% down payment

Here’s the financial impact of waiting:

  • You pay an extra $20,650 for the house
  • You need an additional $2,065 for a down payment
  • You pay an extra $116/month in your mortgage payment ($1,392 additional per year)
  • You don’t gain the $20,650 increase in wealth through equity build-up

Bottom Line

There are many things to consider when buying a home. However, from a purely financial aspect, building a home that meets your needs now makes much more sense than waiting until next year when interest rates and prices will be higher.

Holiday Safety Tips for You and Your Home

Holiday Safety Tips to help keep you and your home safe for the holiday

All the carols tell us that this is “the most wonderful time of the year!” But a lot can go wrong over the holidays.  As you dive into the season, these tips will help keep you and your home safe:

Holiday Safety Tips for Your Home

Click on the image for a PDF version

‘Tis the season of giving, but it also attracts sticky fingers.  Theft tends to rise in the months of November & December.  To help keep your holiday season merry and bright, here are a few more safety tips to keep you and your property secure.

Secure your property

  • Be sure to lock your doors and windows and make sure they are in good repair.
  • Keep valuable items out of sight from anyone looking in from outside the house.
  • Do not keep spare keys in places obvious to burglars, such as under a flower pot or fake rock.
  • Always lock your vehicle, remove valuable items or conceal them from view if parked in the driveway.

Don’t be easy an easy target when doing your holiday shopping:

  • Always be aware of your environment and don’t overload yourself with packages to carry to your car.
  • Secure bags and valuables before exiting or entering parked vehicle and public transit facilities.
  • Carry your purse close to your body and never leave your purse in a shopping cart, stroller or over the back of your chair at a restaurant.
  • More & more people are purchasing their gifts online and having them shipped to their home. With this trend, more people are having their packages stolen right off their front porch. Be sure to collect delivered mail and packages as soon as possible and request signature confirmations for more valuable ones.
  • Dispose of your presents’ boxes creatively – placing that 60″ TV box outside on trash day is is just asking for trouble.  Try to break down the boxes so as not to advertise all the great gifts inside.

When you are away from home

Thieves don’t typically approach homes that appear to be occupied! These tips will help make your home look lived-in when you are away.

  • Use timers on electronic items like lights, radios and televisions to make them go on and off during the day and night to make your home appear occupied.
  • Stop mail & newspaper delivery or have a trusted neighbor pick up anything left at your home.
  • Keep landscaping neat and trimmed.
  • Ask a neighbor or friend to park their vehicle in your driveway.

It’s better to be safe than sorry.  These additional precautions will make you home harder to hit.

  • Ask neighbors to watch your home and report any suspicious activities.
  • Leave your itinerary with a neighbor so you can be contacted in an emergency.
  • Disconnect your electric garage door opener and padlock the door on the inside.
  • If you have a burglar alarm, set it and notify your alarm company that you will be away. Provide the alarm company with an up-to-date list of people to contact about the alarm.

 

Sheet Rock Repair: How to DIY

It’s bound to happen eventually; a doorstop fails to stop a door, a tub overflows and causes some cosmetic water damage, or a teenager just thinks hockey in the hallway sounds like a great idea… at some point, you’re going to be dealing with damage to your sheet rock. People often wonder how it is that we make a wall or ceiling look as good as new in situations like these so today we’re going to take you through our process.

There really is no simple answer to “how do you repair sheetrock?” It really depends on the damage itself and how much area we’re covering. Typically though, the first step in patching a hole in your sheetrock is to actually make the hole a little bigger and sizing it to a patch piece (not the other way around). By cutting the hole to fit the patch, you can ensure a clean and uniform fit when you set it in place.

Once the hole has been cut, we’ll secure some wood behind it so we have something to attach the patch to. From there, we trowel some joint compound over all the cracks, seams and screw heads and then overlay the wet putty with a little bit of window screen to prevent the patch from cracking, and finish it off with even more joint compound. The next day, we put on another thin layer of “mud”, smooth it to be flush with the wall, and then, once it’s dry, sand it down and paint it.

When it’s all said and done, you would be hard pressed to point out where the original wall stops and the patch begins! With a little time and a good bit of putty, we can have your wall looking like new!

How to Buy the Perfect Stove for Your Kitchen

Though a simple appliance in practice, there are a wide array of options when selecting a new stove top. No matter how often you cook or how many you’re cooking for, finding the range that fits your needs really just boils down to a few simple decisions.

The first question you’ll want to ask yourself is whether you’re looking for a range/oven combo, or if you would rather go with a free standing unit with a separate oven. A free standing range gives you options when it comes to selecting your oven, opening you up to things like double or 1 ½ oven models. A combo unit on the other hand, is dramatically more compact and makes a lot of sense for homeowners that rarely cook for big crowds.

When it comes to selecting your fuel source, proponents of gas cooking praise it for its responsive controls and immediate heat (gas stoves also won’t stop working in the event of a power outage!) Electric stove tops can take longer to heat up, but can also be a lot easier to clean in addition to obviously not requiring a natural gas hook up. If you decide to go with a combo range and oven unit, electric ovens are typically favored for providing more even and consistent heat while baking, with gas being the preferred fuel source in stove tops, so if you want the best of both worlds, consider a dual fuel unit.

While “combo vs standalone” and “gas vs electric” are the big decisions when it comes to purchasing a new stove top, there are also a range of “bells and whistles” you can look for as well. A “power burner” can rapidly bring water to a boil, cranking out an average of 15,000 BTUs on a gas stove and 3,200 watts on an electric range. On the flip side, a simmer burner is great for preparing gentle sauces, melting chocolate and keeping finished dishes warm without overcooking them. Lastly, digital or touch activated controls are not only more precise, but are also much easier to clean than knobs and dials.

Whether you’re a professional chef, or a kitchen amateur, there’s a range that’s just right for you. Weighing your options and doing a little research is all it takes to find a unit that suits your needs and your budget!

How to Buy a Dishwasher

Perhaps the most coveted kitchen appliance by those who don’t have one is the dishwasher. Whether you’re looking for a full built in 24 inch model for your kitchen, or a compact 18 inch for your wet bar, there are a few features and considerations to take into account.

Though traditional hinged door dishwashers may be the norm, drawer dishwashers are becoming more and more popular. They pull out at waist level which makes it a lot easier to load your dishes without having to bend over and double drawer washers allow for more efficient cycles. Removable racks can also make it easier to accommodate large dishes as well as pots and pans.

Depending on how close your dishwasher will be to your living area, noise level could be a concern when selecting a unit that’s right for you. Most models should indicate the decibel level at which they function; anything below 45 will be virtually silent, whereas 45-50 decibels will be equivalent in sound to a light rainfall. Levels of 50 or above will be approximately as loud as a person speaking.

Whereas in the past, dishwasher technology was essentially limited to “on or off”, today’s washers offer a range of cycles and features to efficiently accommodate whatever loads you throw at them. A “delayed wash” will allow you to start your cycle on a timer, which is great for running the dishes after you’ve left for work, or while you’re in bed. When you don’t have enough dishes to justify running the machine, “rinse and hold” removes food to cut back on odor and bacteria until you do, or if your dishes aren’t especially soiled, “quick-wash” can get them clean in less time and with less water.

There are also “wash programs” designed for specific loads. For wine glasses and fragile dishes, these programs will use more gentle pressure, whereas for more heavy duty items like pots and pans, they will be more aggressive. Sanitize cycles are great for washing baby bottles and cutting boards.

A good dishwasher will work for years and years to come. It doesn’t require much, but a little thought before hand can ensure a machine that works for your family’s specific needs.

How to Care for a Real Christmas Tree

With Thanksgiving behind us, it certainly is beginning to look a lot like Christmas. As you get ready to trim the tree in the coming weeks, we have some things to keep in mind to keep your family and your home safe.

For the safety of you and your family, we strongly recommend considering an artificial tree. Fake trees cost almost exactly as much as real ones and besides being able to use them year after year, they are tremendously safer. If selecting a real tree is a family tradition you just aren’t ready to leave behind though, we understand. With care and diligence, displaying a real tree can be a wonderful Christmas tradition.

When selecting a tree to cut, a tape measure is as important as your saw. Measure not just the ceiling height of your living room, but also the base width. Remember too that you’re going to need to get it inside, so be sure your tree can fit through doors and hallways unimpeded. Many tree farms offer bailing services, where they will run your tree through a conical machine to tie down their branches and condense it to a diameter of about two feet for travel.

For most folks, a 6-8 foot tree is all you’ll need to fill the corner of your living room. If you bailed your tree, be sure to mark its best side so you can face it out during setup. Most importantly, if your tree was cut more than 6 hours prior to being set up, you’re going to want to take another half an inch off the base of the trunk. When a tree cut is left exposed for that long, the cells will block water uptake, allowing your tree to dry out, die and become a major fire hazard. Regular watering is critical to the health of the tree and the safety of your family.

You’ll want to select a tree stand that can stabilize your tree, while also providing a sufficient amount of water to the trunk (approximately one quart for each inch of trunk diameter). For $15-$25, you should be able to find a tree stand to suit your needs, though if you went with an especially large tree, a more heavy duty stand may be necessary. Check with your tree farmer to make sure the stand you’ve selected will hold your tree.

A fresh cut tree should last from shortly after Thanksgiving to shortly after Christmas, but be sure it actually is truly fresh. Trees you find pre-cut from grocery or hardware stores will not last as long and should be purchased just a few weeks before Christmas. Again, remember that if you have not cut the tree yourself within the past 6 hours, you’ll need to do that before setting it up to ensure it can absorb water as necessary. Water your tree every day, especially in the first few weeks, when a 7 foot tree can absorb as much as a half gallon of water a day. Also, if you have cats or dogs, be sure to account for any water they might be drinking!

Use only low heat lighting and ornaments and keep your tree away from heating elements, direct sunlight and warm air vents as much as possible. These can dry out your tree dramatically faster than intended.

When it comes time to remove your tree, large trash bags can cover smaller trees to contain bark and needles as you move it outside, while larger trees may require cutting and removing in sections. Either empty your water dish or let your tree absorb it all to avoid spilling in the process. Tree disposal will vary by area with some places allowing for curbside pick up and others may requiring drop off at a specific location. Contact your local recycling provider with any questions.

Though we encourage you to consider an artificial tree, we understand that for some, a real tree is a beloved Christmas tradition. We’re wishing all the best to you and yours this holiday season.

How to Safely Hang Christmas Lights

Second only perhaps to decorating the tree, lighting your home’s exterior for the holidays is a beloved tradition and a true joy of the season. As with any home project though, safety is your number one priority. Today we’re going to walk through a few precautions for hanging Christmas lights safely, as well as some tips and decorating ideas to take your lighting to the next level.

First off, when running electric cables across your home and landscaping, it is absolutely crucial that all cords are completely intact and free of any splits or frays. If your lights or extension cords are beginning to show signs of aging, just pick up some new ones. Saving a little money today simply isn’t worth risking the safety of you and your family. Likewise, be sure all the extension cords and lights you’re using are UL approved and designed for outdoor use. Again, if they aren’t, or if you aren’t sure, don’t chance it.

If your lighting is going to require the use of a ladder, always be careful and cautious. Inspect the ladder before you use it, and be sure it is in good working order and is intended to handle the weight you’ll be putting on it.  Wear non-slip shoes and ensure all 4 points of the ladder are making steady and secure contact before you climb. When on the ladder, you should always feel balanced and stable and should never be reaching or leaning. If something is out of reach, climb down and move the ladder to where you need it.

All that said, when you’re planning your display, be sure to have a game plan. Pick a focal point you love and work out from there. Do you have a beautiful porch/picture window/series of columns you would like to accentuate? Finding something you want to show off can give your decorations a sense of focus that will keep your lights looking put together and cohesive.

For trees and shrubbery, remember that you’ll need roughly 100 lights for every 1 ½ feet you want to cover (a 3’ bush will require 200 lights, a 6’ tree, 400…etc). Also, be conscious of color when selecting your lights. Some folks think just because they’ve decided to go with “all white”, that all brands and styles will match and this just isn’t the case. LED’s will look a little blueish while incandescents take on more of a yellow tone, and in addition to lights varying from brand to brand, aging lights can dim and dull with time. If you aren’t confident the colors are going to match, consider splurging for some new and uniform lights.

When it comes time to actually hang them, before you do anything, be sure to check every strand carefully on the ground.  Don’t be the person that gets everything hung up only to realize they won’t light.

For railings and gutters, light clips can make the job much easier. Similarly, a light timer is an small investment that can not only pay for itself in energy savings, but also saves you the hassle of having to turn your lights on and off; maximizing your display time while minimizing your effort.

Hanging Christmas lights doesn’t have to be a hassle! With a little planning and some careful precautions, you can have a beautiful display in no time at all.

Photo credit Flickr. Used under the Creative Commons License.

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