Moving? Make Yourself at Home Anywhere

Moving to a new home, a new city, or a new country can be exciting, but it can also be challenging. In the midst of unfamiliar surroundings, newcomers may find it difficult to get plugged in to the area. Fortunately, there are a few tried and true steps you can take to help yourself feel at home after a move. Try these tips.

Tap your hobbies. Look for local communities built around something you enjoy. Are you a runner? Seek out a running club. Do you love making crafts? There’s probably a local crafting group. From stamp collecting to scuba diving, your favorite hobby can help you connect with like-minded individuals and form connections in your new locale.

Use an app. If you know about a move in advance, you can use social media and other apps to find out about the people and places near your new home. Look for restaurants you might want to try, parks you’d like to visit, and unique shops you might enjoy. Get recommendations from locals. Armed with online research, you may feel like you already know your new home far before moving day arrives.

Find current connections. Are you a member of any organizations? Use alumni associations, professional affiliations, or service groups to help you connect. As with hobby groups, other members of these societies are potential sources of information, referrals, and friendship.

Say yes. One of the fastest ways to get plugged in to your new neighborhood is to make a habit of saying yes. If you get invited to do something, don’t turn down the invitation. If you’ve never tried salsa dancing before, don’t say no because it’s outside your comfort zone. Be willing to try new things. Look for unique opportunities and seize them. You might be surprised at how many new enjoyable activities, people, and places you discover!

Ask your agent. As experts in their local markets, real estate agents are another great source of information. For the inside scoop on transportation, events, and other helpful tips, make use of this valuable resource.

Do You Need a Property Manager?

If you already own a rental property, or you’re looking to get into the business, the idea of having to deal with tenants and managing the property might be daunting.

But that’s where property managers step in.

A credible property manager will take over the responsibilities that rental owners might not want to handle. This could include surveying the market and area to determine a reasonable and competitive rate to charge for rent. Property managers can also help you sell a home by generating solid leads through a variety of channels, including social media, advertising, and the multiple listing service.

Once your property has caught the eye of prospective tenants, the property manager can help you vet the tenants to make sure any potential renters will be responsible and reliable. Once the tenants have been screened and approved and have moved in, property managers will even be able to protect you from potential lawsuits by staying up to date on your city’s laws, rules, and regulations to make sure you’re in the clear.

From there, they’ll be able to take over the less desirable parts of property management, like handling emergency repairs, creating monthly expenditure reports, taking care of important tax filings, and performing home visits. Given the wide range of services that property managers provide, you might now be wondering how much they charge. Fees vary widely depending on where you live, but most managers will charge one month’s rent to secure a tenant and then charge a monthly fee to manage the property.

As with all things related to buying and renting property, you’ll want to make sure you do your research before hiring a property manager. But once you find one that is experienced and dependable, you might be amazed by the peace of mind their services can bring.

Your real estate agent can assist by recommending a reputable company.

Five Interior Design Disasters to Avoid

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and that saying rings true for how one chooses to decorate one’s home. Therefore, one person’s love of leopard print could be another person’s decorating disaster. If you are looking to sell your home this year, change up or avoid these top five no-nos.

Wall-to-wall carpeting. Having wall-to-wall carpet is the number one no-no. According to Jonathan Scott of the famed Property Brothers, no one is looking to buy a house with carpet – which can hold many of life’s unsavory side effects like dirt, stains, and hair.

Mirrored walls. In theory, this decorating idea should make a small space appear larger. However, according to Scott, the effect can actually make your room look like an “’80s dance hall.” Let the dance hall die and opt for full-length mirrors instead.

Clutter. When it comes to decorating to sell, less is almost always more. Be particularly picky about the foyer, since this provides the initial impression of the interior. Keep shoes, winterwear, bags, and other daily-use items organized and out of sight. Rearrange or remove furniture and décor throughout the home to make each room appear as spacious and inviting as possible.

Loud wallpaper. Although wallpaper can add that pop of color that a room desperately needs, a loud or dizzying pattern can turn off buyers. If you want to add appealing hues, stick with paint.

White on white. Although beautiful, the color white is not realistic when it comes to life’s many mishaps. Realtor.com recommends that homeowners gravitate toward rich shades such as rust browns, black, and forest green.

Could Driverless Cars Drive Real Estate Values?

Imagine a world where humans never have to worry about wasted commute times. Imagine being able to use that time to work, spend quality time with your kids, plan dinner, or catch up on some much-needed z’s.

Sounds magical, doesn’t it? That magic could be coming to a street near you, as driverless cars are poised to become mainstream technology worldwide.

As Tesla, GM, and BMW clamber to get their fleets on the streets, these autonomous cars could have a far-reaching effect on industries other than auto.

When the human is removed from behind the wheel, the potential for error diminishes. Therefore, safety precautions such as auto insurance, parking tickets, speed traps, and law enforcement may no longer be needed.

These vehicles could also have a significant impact on the real estate market. When autonomous cars become the new norm, public transit will no longer be the go-to for those who are unable to drive.

The loss of public transit could have a domino effect on the real estate industry, since cities would no longer be built around transit systems. What was once considered less desirable residential real estate may become more popularbecause of the distance from transit hubs. According to an article in Forbes, these areas could offer a “greater appeal [that] could translate into increasing demand and rising property values.”

The long-reaching impact these cars will have on society is still being mapped, but it should make for an interesting ride.

Increase Property Value by Avoiding These Landscape Blunders

Everyone knows the importance of making a good first impression. It’s no different when it comes to your home’s curb appeal, which refers to your property’s overall appearance from the street.

To make your home’s “frosting” as appealing as possible, you’ll definitely want to think about planting stunning blooms and making sure your landscaping is well manicured and maintained. Implementing a long-term landscaping plan can help increase your property value when it comes time to sell.

When you go to plant, make sure to avoid the below common landscaping mistakes that homeowners make when planting trees and shrubs.

First, avoid planting invasive tree species. Some such species, like bamboo, grow quickly and actually push out native plants, which does tremendous damage to an area’s biodiversity.

Another no-no is planting too much and too close together. When too many trees and plants are crammed together, the greenery doesn’t have enough space to grow bigger, stronger, or healthier. While aesthetically this could look good for the first few years, the plants will eventually mature and fight each other for light and nutrients. So, unless you want a property covered in dead leaves and branches, it’s best to save your coins and plant less.

When planting anything, you’ll want to make sure you’re not too close to home. This, professionals warn, is a nightmare in the making. Trees planted too close to the home will, over time, get woody and grow too close, which will bring bugs and moisture inside. The resulting dampness could actually lead to rot inside your house, and the tree’s big roots could damage your property’s foundation or basement.

When it comes to planting and maintaining your home’s green exterior, do your research and exercise restraint. While trees and shrubs certainly boost your home’s value and curb appeal, some green mistakes could cost you.

What You Need to Know before Becoming a Landlord

Thinking of becoming a landlord? While this can be financially and personally rewarding, you must do your homework before you take the leap.

To help you learn the ropes and avoid any costly missteps, here are some handy tips of the trade.

It cannot be overstated how important it is for landlords to do their pre-closing homework.

During the home inspection, remember to take a thorough look at the property to see what will need to be repaired or replaced.

For example, you might want to change the toilets to low-flow models. You’ll also probably want to invest in essential upgrades to three common areas: water, door locks, and flooring.

Don’t make the rookie mistake of underestimating the costs of fixing and maintaining the property, both before and after a tenant has moved in.

Most landlords account for insurance and taxes, but it’s easy to miss expenses like garbage, gardening, and regular maintenance.

According to Money, you should set aside at least 35 to 45% of your annual rental income to cover these costs. (And when you’re calculating this income, it’s a good rule of thumb to account for only 10 or 11 monthly payments per year.)

When it comes to finding a tenant, don’t be too relaxed. Interview prospective tenants on the phone first to find out if they meet your requirements. Then, it’s important to check your potential tenants’ credit and speak to their references. Confirm the source and amount of their income. It should be at least 2.5 times the annual rent. You should also learn what’s legal in your town. For example, can you ban pets?

Once you’ve found a great tenant, act fast to get the lease signed. From there, never forget that you’re running a business and your tenant is a customer. Treat your customer right, and success is more likely to come your way.

Learn the Language of Lighting to Enhance Your Living Space

A beautifully lit home is warm and welcoming. A distinctive glow can set the scene, enhance a room, highlight a detail, or make a workspace downright workable. But lighting has a language all its own.

Do you know the lingo? Flush, recessed, pendant, starbursts, pots … the list goes on. Where should you begin?

In a recent houselogic article, columnist Emily Dunham writes, “… lighting can be a bear to understand. The world has its own language (know what lumens and Kelvins are?), and increasing costs can make decisions intimidating.” Dunham notes that LED lights can cost as much as $35, and Apple sells a new number that goes for about $65.

But with careful planning, you can light up your life and go easy on the budget. Here’s a quick lighting language lesson to get started.

Kelvin is a scale of measurement for the “color” a light produces.

Wattage tells you how much electricity a bulb consumes.

Lumens are the amount of light or brightness you get from a bulb.

The next important lesson is lighting layers. Since every room has different lighting requirements, it’s important to think in these three layers: ambient, task and accent.

Ambient is the general lighting in a room, often coming from overhead. Task lighting illuminates an area where a particular task is completed. Accent lighting highlights something to which you want to draw attention.

Think of the activities you do in each room and consider the options. For example, in the kitchen, you’ll want to avoid overhead lights that create shadows on the counters. Instead, choose side lights or under-the-cabinet lights to illuminate the tasks at hand.

The size of your room also dictates the lighting you need. It’s wise to use at least two types of lighting to create the ideal effect.

Now that you know the basics, go shed some light!

Want to Sell Your Home Faster? Try These Tips

When you’re getting ready to list your house, the goal isn’t just to sell – it’s to sell quickly! The longer your house is on the market, the less likely it is to fetch top dollar.

Want to sell your house as quickly as possible? These tips are essential.

Hire a Real Estate Agent and follow their advice

Some sellers are tempted to go it alone. But for a quick sale that maximizes profit, go with a Real Estate agent – and listen to their suggestions. Their market knowledge is invaluable when it comes to pricing and marketing your home.

Boost your curb appeal

Give your front door a fresh coat of paint (punchy red, blue, or yellow is a nice way to switch it up), add hanging baskets and planters to your front stoop, and resod your lawn. A home that looks well cared for is more inviting to prospective buyers.

Stage it

If you really want to sell fast and you have the budget required, allow a professional stager to come and work their magic. Can’t swing the cost? Borrow some of their tricks: Get rid of all personal items, use mirrors to create the illusion of light and space, add throw pillows and blankets to seating, and put fresh flowers or small potted plants in each room.

Be flexible

Selling fast means maximizing the number of buyers coming to see your house, so be willing to vacate at a moment’s notice. Work with your agent to create as many viewing times as possible.

Is Remodeling Worth the Effort for Resale?

At some point during the chaos of every remodel, one question is asked. “Is it worth it?” Is it worth the upheaval? Is it worth the cost? Most important, is it worth the effort when it comes time to sell?

The answer: it depends.

It depends on where you live and what you choose to remodel. For example, the West Coast sees a higher return than does the Mid-Atlantic, according to CNBC.

With regard to specific projects, the 2018 cost-vs.-value report from Remodeling Magazine shows that smaller upgrades vs. larger remodels get you the most bang for your buck.

According to the report, those who remodel on a massive scale should expect a return of 56%. This is less than the steady return of 64% over the past two years.

Why the drop? Craig Webb, editor of Remodeling Magazine, believes it is because some real estate professionals suspect their local market may be reaching its peak. He explains, “Consequently, spending a lot of money does not automatically mean your house will just ride the escalator up and be worth a lot more.”

So, if you are planning a remodel in 2018, the rule of thumb is to keep it simple. Forgo a major kitchen overhaul for a simple upgrade that could recoup you 81.10% vs. 53.50%.

Instead of building that addition to the master suite (ROI 48.3%), consider something with more curb appeal, such as a new garage door (ROI 98.3%), manufactured stone veneer (ROI 97.10%), or a wood deck (ROI 83%).

When asking yourself if all the effort is worth it, keep your real estate agent in mind. This professional knows your market inside and out and can best advise you about whether your potential remodel will help sell your home quickly. Seek his or her input before starting your next project.

Is Remodeling Worth the Effort for Resale?

At some point during the chaos of every remodel, one question is asked. “Is it worth it?” Is it worth the upheaval? Is it worth the cost? Most important, is it worth the effort when it comes time to sell?

The answer: it depends.

It depends on where you live and what you choose to remodel. For example, the West Coast sees a higher return than does the Mid-Atlantic, according to CNBC.

With regard to specific projects, the 2018 cost-vs.-value report from Remodeling Magazine shows that smaller upgrades vs. larger remodels get you the most bang for your buck.

According to the report, those who remodel on a massive scale should expect a return of 56%. This is less than the steady return of 64% over the past two years.

Why the drop? Craig Webb, editor of Remodeling Magazine, believes it is because some real estate professionals suspect their local market may be reaching its peak. He explains, “Consequently, spending a lot of money does not automatically mean your house will just ride the escalator up and be worth a lot more.”

So, if you are planning a remodel in 2018, the rule of thumb is to keep it simple. Forgo a major kitchen overhaul for a simple upgrade that could recoup you 81.10% vs. 53.50%.

Instead of building that addition to the master suite (ROI 48.3%), consider something with more curb appeal, such as a new garage door (ROI 98.3%), manufactured stone veneer (ROI 97.10%), or a wood deck (ROI 83%).

When asking yourself if all the effort is worth it, keep your real estate agent in mind. This professional knows your market inside and out and can best advise you about whether your potential remodel will achieve the return you desire. Seek his or her input before starting your next project.

Closing Costs: It’s about More Than Your Down Payment

The first step in buying a home is deciding on a budget. How much house can you afford? Within what price range will you shop?

A down payment is, unfortunately, only one part of that budget. To correctly determine the affordability of a home, it’s essential that prospective buyers consider the costs that arise at the time of closing.

Closing costs vary from state to state. There are different kinds of closing costs, too: lender costs, including origination and document preparation fees, and nonlender costs, including appraisal and survey fees. Some of these costs are required in certain states, while others are not. It’s also important to note how the market can impact closing costs. In New York City, for example, home prices are higher, which can result in higher lender fees.

In today’s market, buyers seeking a conventional loan typically need a 20% down payment to receive optimal rates. As buyers plan their purchase, it’s important to factor in closing costs on top of this 20%.

The final total is dependent on the location of the property. Here’s a look at how approximated closing costs add up in a handful of cities across the country, assuming a loan amount of $200,000. Consult with your real estate agent about closing costs in your area – he or she knows the local market best.

    • Denver, Colorado: $1,980
  • New York, New York: $6,843
  • Minneapolis, Minnesota: $2,417
  • Portland, Oregon: $2,122
  • Los Angeles, California: $2,197
  • Birmingham, Alabama: $2,112
  • Anchorage, Alaska: $2,138

The Best-Laid Plans: Things to Consider in Your Kitchen Remodel

If a kitchen remodel is on your agenda for spring, be sure you have a comprehensive plan in place.

Here are some issues to address in your plan. (Your New Kitchen: 7 Tricky Questions You Didn’t Know You’d Ask, published recently on Houzz.com, identifies other factors to consider.)

Research your local building code: In the Houzz article, designer Yanic Simard notes that some building codes have rules around venting and the type of hood fan you install. And, if you’re renovating an apartment-style condominium, you may not be able to relocate the plumbing. Check with your association.

Outlets: Early on, decide where your electrical outlets should go. If you’re adding an island, consider outlets at the outset.

Flooring: This decision should also be made early, as everything else will depend on it.

Appliances: Your kitchen needs to work for you; where you put your appliances will affect everything from cabinets to countertops.

Sink: Before you consider finishes or backsplashes, decide what sink style you want. These range from undermount, with no edges, to drop-in, which offers the easiest install. Apron or farmhouse sinks have a deep basin for washing big pots.

Cabinets: Making a mistake here can be expensive. Decide the function and location of each cabinet before thinking about hardware. If it’s a DIY, online 3-D software can help you envision cabinet placement so two cabinet doors don’t open into each other.

Once the tough decisions are made, you can relax and consider the “jewelry,” such as cabinet hardware and backsplash. Enjoy. You’ve earned it!

“Is It Done Yet?” Home Remodeling with Kids

Spring home improvements can be stressful, especially when you’re living in the middle of it. Add children to the mix, and the tension increases.

But you don’t need to take a vacation while your home is being remodeled – even if walls are coming down. Here are some tips on how to continue to live as a family during a major renovation.

Your children’s space – and their routines – will be disrupted. To avoid comments like “When can we use the kitchen again?” share the construction schedule with them.

Prepare for disruptions: Kitchens and bathrooms are often the rooms being remodeled; unfortunately, they’re also the most used. If possible, consider completing one room at a time. Set up a temporary kitchen in another room and prepare meals in advance that can be quickly reheated. Get the kids to help you devise a bathroom schedule; they may be more inclined to follow it if they’re involved.

Make safety a priority: Know where your kids are during work hours. Make sure they understand the safety risks, and put lots of space between them and the work. Also ensure your contractor stores tools away safely at the end of the day.

Dust can be hazardous for anyone with allergies. Plastic sheeting should be used to seal off the area under construction from your temporary living space, but you also may want to consider closing the heating and cooling vents. As well, your contractor should use nontoxic paints and stains.

Choose your contractor wisely. Make sure the company has a reputation for completing jobs safely, and be prepared to pay more for contractors who are properly insured and follow regulations. Ask them how comfortable they are with children on site and make sure everyone agrees to and obeys the safety rules.

Finally, when it’s finished, have fun together in the new space. After all, you – and the kids – deserve it.

‘Urbys’ Offer a New Approach to Housing Millennials

What do millennials want when it comes to housing? The answer: pretty much everything.

The “Urby” – a mixed-use residential development that brings a little bit of city, a little bit of community, and a little bit of entertainment to a little apartment – may be the answer. Emphasizing “New Urbanist” principles such as walkable neighborhoods and access to public transportation, Urby developments are designed to attract successful urban professionals.

New Jersey-based Ironstate Development Co. calls its Staten Island complex Urban Ready Life (URL), and describes it in a recent CityLab article as “an all-encompassing living experience for today’s urbanite.” Each apartment complex includes ultramodern living units, ground-level retail stores, and amenities that include fitness centers, heated outdoor pools, and keyless entry via a phone app.

Key to an Urby such as this is providing opportunities for social interaction. The goal is to use common areas to organize activities for millennial apartment dwellers; coffee shops in the lobbies, communal kitchens, and a cultural director offer many chances for interpersonal connections between residents. URL residents, for example, can gather for stand-up comedy in the café, flower arranging in the workshop, or stump-the-chef in the kitchen.

The apartments themselves are inspired by European design and use European techniques for making small spaces feel bigger. While planning, the developer considered what its millennial market would and would not live without. The result: built-in shelving, pocket doors, and kitchen and bathroom “stations.” Nonessentials included room to entertain, as the entertaining takes place in communal spaces. Sounds ideal for this work-hard, play-hard generation.

Redecorating Your Child’s Room? Start Here

Redecorating a child’s room is enjoyable. Figuring out creative ways to make your kids’ spaces whimsical yet functional is a fun design challenge. And watching their faces light up when it’s all done? Priceless.

Home design website Houzz conducted a survey of users who have “recently completed, are working on or are planning a home project with kids in mind.” The results provide an interesting look at what’s currently trending in the world of children’s rooms. If you’re about to embark on creating a special room for a child, keep the following in mind:

  • Close to 70% of respondents said their kids’ rooms have themes. The most popular looks, in order: nature, animals, sports, and princesses. But note: kids grow up quickly and tastes change just as quickly. Today’s trendy decor may look dated tomorrow.
  • Functionality and maintenance are top priorities. Seventy-one percent of respondents said they wanted a space that was easy to clean and maintain, and 64% said they needed a functional setup. Be sure to incorporate washable and durable materials, and include labeled storage boxes and bins.
  • Blue reigns supreme. Fifty-nine percent said blue is the dominant color for kids’ rooms, followed by white, gray, green, and pink.
  • The cost of redecorating a kid’s room varies. Of respondents who had completed their project, one-third spent $1,000 or less. Establish a budget before starting; it’s easy to get carried away with cute decor and playful features. And unlike adults, kids don’t notice the difference between the more expensive option and a more affordable one.
  • Nearly 70% of participants cited clutter as a challenge. Make toy management a priority in your kids’ rooms. Oversized bins in fun colors and/or closet storage systems are key to keeping toys and “stuff” out of sight and out of mind.

Finally, involve your kids in the decisions. After all, it is their room.

Family Living in the Sky: North America’s Newest Reality

As land available for new construction shrinks in urban centers across North America, governments, builders, and families are looking upward. Living high in the sky isn’t how many young families would have envisioned the family home, but for many, it’s a reality.

This new reality is playing out in Toronto, Canada, where family-sized condo units are rare. Some 80% of new housing built in the past decade are buildings of five or more stories. Yet fewer than 10% of high-rise homes in the city have three or more bedrooms. And this is presenting a problem for young families who want to live and work there.

According to a recent story in Citylab.com, Toronto is on its way. Guidelines generated in a 2015 study by the city’s Planning Division were adopted this summer by its City Council and will be used in evaluating current and future projects. The guidelines, points out CityLab contributing writer Mimi Kirk, “are not only applicable to Toronto, but to cities across North America and beyond …”

Among the recommendations: 15% of units should include two bedrooms and 10% should include three, with these larger units located on lower levels, close to each other, and adjoining outdoor spaces.

Meanwhile, in New York City, where raising kids in high-rises is nothing new (but not particularly family-friendly), some existing buildings are currently updating and repurposing their amenities, thanks to the growing number of New Yorkers choosing to raise their families in the city.

Maybe life in the sky isn’t such a hardship after all.

NAR Poll: Home Affordability and the American Dream

Do you dream of owning a home someday? If so, you’re not alone. The desire to put down roots and invest in a home is a common one.

And this dream is still strong across North America. The problem is, many can’t afford it.

To many, the dream seems elusive as a result of the significant cost not just of purchasing a home but also in carrying it. Many who would like to and can pursue the dream never will due to fears associated with the lack of affordability (“Will I be in over my head?” “Will I lose money?”).

According to the 2017 National Housing Pulse Survey conducted by the National Association of Realtors (NAR), 84% of Americans view owning a home as “a good financial decision.” And 80% of respondents see homeownership as a way of building equity toward their retirement. As well, 50% believe homeownership is an avenue to a secure neighborhood and a stable family environment. However, the positive sentiments don’t necessarily mean all of these respondents will be home-shopping this year.

Affordability is a concern

Why? Some 60% of those responding to NAR’s survey identify affordability as one of the top five challenges of homeownership. Many also believe the myth that they need significant savings (more than 15%) for a down payment on a home. According to the survey, 69% felt a “reasonable” down payment was 10% or less, while more than 40% believe lenders require down payments of 15% or greater.

That said, the survey itself supports a willingness for people to learn, wait and save – if it means the culmination of their dream.

NAR President Bill Brown, quoted in an article in RISMedia, says: “Despite the growing concern over affordable housing, this survey makes it clear that a strong majority still believe in homeownership and aspire to own a home of their own.”

Millennials’ Homeownership Dreams Can Come True

For many millennials, the dream of homeownership feels far away, if not impossible. Salaries that haven’t grown with the cost of living, new mortgage rules, volatile housing markets, and a plethora of other reasons have made buying a home more difficult than it’s ever been for young people.

A survey by Apartment List of 24,000 American renters found that 80% of millennial renters want to become homeowners, but 72% are held back by affordability. Some 44% don’t have savings to put toward a down payment.

Many who find themselves in that position are trying to reach their homeownership goals with second and even third jobs in order to save extra money. Some are moving to smaller towns where housing is cheaper, while others are living with Mom and Dad in order to save on rent. But Fundrise, a Washington, D.C.-based start-up, has another, more creative solution.

Fundrise is a real estate crowdfunding start-up that sells shares in “eFunds” that build and/or remodel urban housing. An investor can be part of an eFund for $1,000, and the target audience is millennials.

Notes a recent Forbes article on the project: “(T)he goal is for a subset of the fund investors to become owners of the very places their money is helping build. Fundrise calls these ‘homebuyer investors’ or HBIs.”

So if a millennial could invest in a property today, he or she could be taking advantage of gains toward what might eventually become his or her home.

As well, says Forbes writer Samantha Sharf: “Fundrise’s effort is unique in tackling the dearth of affordable supply, which many economist [sic] agree is the biggest issue in the housing market today.”

The Fundrise project launched this past summer, so it’s too early to assess its success in encouraging new supply or in attracting millennials.
But this initiative may soon become one of many – millennials deserve their shot at homeownership too.

How to Cut Your Electricity Bill without Really Trying

It’s fall – a good time to take a fresh look at your bills to see if you can reduce them. For example, try these tips to cut your power usage and lower your electricity bills.

Switch to LED bulbs. About four times more energy efficient than incandescent bulbs, LEDs last for years. The “lumens” number indicates the amount of light emitted; use this to compare bulbs.

Install a programmable thermostat. With this device, you can automatically adjust the temperature to reflect where you are in your day – busy at home, away at work, asleep, etc. It keeps your home comfortable when you’re there and reduces energy use when you’re out.

Unplug unused electrical devices. All electronic devices sip small amounts of electricity even when they are not in use.

Use timers and power strips to turn electrical devices on and off. A power strip with an on/off switch can block the charge going into the strip itself as well as anything plugged into it.

Lower the temperature on your hot water heater. A hot water heater accounts for about 14% of energy usage in a typical home. Turn the temperature down when you’re not at home and up when you’re doing laundry or bathing. You can also install a water heater blanket to hold the heat.

Last but not least, air seal your home to prevent drafts around doors and windows, and ditch that old power-hungry refrigerator in your garage that’s only chilling a few cases of soda.

Now you can relax and enjoy saving!

Rules Differ in a Condo Remodel: Here’s How

You’re ready to renovate. Your creative juices are flowing, and you’re excited to create that perfect space.

But wait. Are you remodeling a condo? If so, this requires some special considerations. The game rules differ from those for a detached home. Here’s the playbook:

Read the regulations: Condos come with associations. These come with rules. The association has put certain standards in place to maintain the best possible conditions for your building. Before forging ahead with any plans, read through the regulations of your association and consult with your board or property manager for anything that will need the association’s approval.

Consider condo limitations: Your unit may be linked to others, so you may not be able to alter certain aspects of your home: plumbing fixtures might have to stay where they are; you may not be able to remove walls that support the structure, or install pot lights in ceilings. But don’t let these limits stifle your creativity or dash your renovation hopes. Just keep them in mind as you plan.

Plan ahead: If your renovations are extensive and the space small, your contractor and workers may require an extra space in which to work. Ask if there is a workshop or outside space they may be able to use.

Don’t fear the painter: One of the easiest (and cheapest) ways to transform a space is by painting it. However, many condo owners are concerned about personalizing their walls, especially with deep, dark colors. Unless you’re renovating for an immediate sale, go ahead and make the space your own. Enjoy it while it’s yours. When you are ready to sell, you’ll likely need to apply a fresh coat of paint anyway, and you can make it neutral then.

Get out: For your own sanity, stay with a friend or relative during construction, or treat yourself to a hotel.