Keeping your ducts clean is key

When it comes to heating and cold air return ducts, industry experts recommend giving them a good cleaning every three to five years.

It used to be nobody did it, now homes are built much tighter to save on energy. Houses don’t breathe like they used to.

In the old days, houses naturally had more of a draft, but now the push is to build homes tight to help save on energy.

Energy is expensive and houses are built like an envelope now, so what happens is everything that comes into your house gets trapped in your house. 

This includes external or environmental elements as well as human skin dander, dead skins cells, pet dander and dust.

All of that has no place to go and it ends up collecting, a lot of stuff gets trapped and your furnace system ends up re-circulating it.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, 25 to 40 percent of energy used for heating and cooling is wasted because contaminants cause furnaces or air conditioning units to work harder and shorten the life of your system.

When ducts get dirty, they start narrowing the opening and therefore it’s harder for air to move through properly and doesn’t flow through as smoothly and it should. 

On average duct cleaning takes about two to three hours and costs about $300 but  really depends on the size of the house and your setup.

There are a variety of different kinds of equipment that is used to clean ducts including portable machines and units that are connected to trucks which is much more effective.

Aside from dust and other environmental contaminants, cleaning contractors have found a variety of items stuck in vents when it comes time to clean them out.

Kids like to throw toys down the vents, it’s amazing what is found sometimes… stuffed animals and all kinds of toys. Kids will hide stuff in vents so you can imagine what contractors might find. It seems like a good hiding spot but then they forget about them.

Contractors also find other not so fun items like dead mice in duct spaces and that can really affect the output of a furnace, adding that the average home collects up to 40 pounds of dust alone each year.

By keeping the ducts cleaned on a regular basis, families are guaranteed a much better living environment

Four places where you can save water at home

Water is a precious commodity, and we use a lot of it. Don’t believe me? Just take a look at your monthly water bill. A typical family of four consumes 300 to 400 gallons of water per day, which means between 9,000 and 12,000 gallons flow through a household each month.

How much does that cost? Depending where you live in the country, water costs anywhere from $2 to over $20 per 1,000 gallons, so many consumers are paying well over $200 per month on water. Ouch!

Trimming your water bill doesn’t mean wearing dirty clothes or skipping showers, however. Here are four places to slow the flow:

In the bathroomAs you can imagine, the bathroom is where a family uses a large proportion of its daily water. A low-flow showerhead is an obvious idea, but sometimes they make it harder to get a good shower. Instead (or in addition), persuade your spouse and kids that a shower is a place to get clean, not a place to soak oneself.

If you were ever in boot camp, you probably remember being given four minutes to shower, shave, and, well, use the toilet. You can’t expect your family to be quite that speedy, but the truth is that washing yourself in a shower can easily be done in five minutes. Save your soaking for the swimming pool.

If your kids are young, have them take a bath or shower together. (And if you’re lucky, your spouse will want to take a shower with you — just to save water, mind you.) You probably already have a low-flow toilet, and if you have one made in the last decade, it probably does the job just fine (early low-flow toilets were simply too wimpy to take care of business).

If you want to upgrade the water efficiency of your toilet, seek a two-stage toilet, which uses even less water when there is no solid waste to dispose of. And if you notice a leak anywhere, fix it right away.

Finally, don’t let your kids run the water while they’re brushing their teeth!

On your lawnFirst, plant native shrubs, grasses, and other plants rather than a giant, boring, green grass lawn. You might be able to avoid watering the lawn altogether if you do that. But if you do have grass, follow a few basic tips to save water:

*Don’t water the sidewalk or driveway (adjust your sprinkler to hit just grass).
*Go slow and let the water soak in, rather than spraying a lot of water on quickly and letting it flow off the lawn.
* Install a rain barrel under your downspout and use that water for your lawn and garden.
* Aerate your lawn so that the water soaks in better (so you can use less).
* Don’t water more than you need to (if your lawn feels spongy, you’re overwatering).
 *Adjust your mower to a higher setting, because longer grass retains water better.
 *Measure rainfall with a rain gauge or tin can, and adjust your lawn watering accordingly.
 *Don’t water on windy days when much of the water evaporates.
 *Use drip irrigation on trees and other large plants, so the water goes only where it is needed.

In the kitchenHere are a handful of tips for saving water in the kitchen:
*Designate one water glass for each family member to use all day – that way, you won’t need to wash more glasses than necessary.
 *Put a pitcher of water into the refrigerator so it’s always cold and you don’t have to run the water to let it cool down when you want a drink.
* If possible, try to cook multiple items in one pot of water (e.g., cook carrots in the same pot as the bag of instant rice).
 *Some foods can be cooked in the microwave instead of a boiling pot of water (e.g., corn on the cob tastes great if you wrap it in plastic wrap and microwave it).
*If you wash dishes by hand, don’t run the water while you’re washing; instead, wash in one basin and rinse in the other basin.

In the laundry roomDon’t let your spouse or kids toss towels into the dirty laundry basket until they’ve been used at least a couple of times. The same goes for most items of clothing (pajamas, for example, do not need to be washed after each wearing). Use the lowest water level possible for the amount of clothes you’re washing. Use shorter cycles if you’re washing clothes that are not particularly soiled.

Another tip… If you ever have an unusually large amount of clothing to clean at once, consider using a coin laundry. These machines are often larger and more energy-efficient. You probably won’t save money, but you’ll be reducing water use in the big picture. Plus, you’ll get your big job done a lot sooner, since you can normally use as many machines at once as you need).

Following even a few of these tips can trim your water bill substantially. Perhaps more important, though, every gallon you save from the drain is another clean gallon that your kids and grandkids will have available to them in the future. Water is not only expensive, but clean water is becoming a scarce resource!

12 Tips for Hiring a Remodeling Contractor

1. Get at least three written estimates.

2. Check references. If possible, view earlier jobs the contractor completed. 
3. Check with the local Chamber of Commerce or Better Business Bureau for complaints.
4. Be sure the contract states exactly what is to be done and how change orders will be handled.
5. Make as small of a down payment as possible so you won’t lose a lot if the contractor fails to complete the job. 
6. Be sure that the contractor has the necessary permits, licenses, and insurance.
7. Check that the contract states when the work will be completed and what recourse you have if it isn’t. Also, remember that in many instances you can cancel a contract within three business days of signing it. 
8. Ask if the contractor’s workers will do the entire job or whether subcontractors will be involved too.
9. Get the contractor to indemnify you if work does not meet any local building codes or regulations. 
10. Be sure that the contract specifies the contractor will clean up after the job and be responsible for any damage. 
11. Guarantee that the materials that will be used meet your specifications. 

12. Don't make the final payment until you're satisfied with the work. 

Top Eight Home Showing Tips

Showing your home is essential in the real estate business.  After all, who would purchase a property sight unseen?  When a potential buyer stops in, here are eight recommended tips to follow when showing your home:

Tip # 1: Welcome Your Buyers
Graciously greet your potential homebuyers and invite them to look around.  Make sure that you instruct them to take their time and to ask any questions that they may have. 

Tip # 2: Be Flexible
Many homebuyers are on a tight schedule, whether it be work, school or other commitments.  Time is tough to come by, so try to be flexible about allowing potential buyers to tour your home. 

Tip # 3: Climate Control
When a buyer comes into your home, they do not want to feel cold in the winter or overly stuffy in the summer.  Make sure that the temperature is comfortable. Otherwise, your buyer may not spend as much time in the home as necessary in order to form an accurate opinion.  The last thing you want is a buyer who's in a hurry to leave. 

Tip # 4: Quick Cleaning
If you have enough time before the buyer shows up, run the vacuum over the floors and make sure that any clutter is cleaned up.  A clean home appears larger, while a cluttered one gives the appearance of being too small.  If you really want to impress your potential buyers, place a plate of freshly baked cookies on the dining room table.  When they walk into your home, they will be greeted by the wonderful smell. 

Tip # 5: Animal Control 
If you have pets, remove them from the home temporarily or place them in a contained space, such as a kennel, exercise pen or carrier.  This will allow buyers to tour the home without being distracted by a nervous animal, which could result in a nervous buyer. 

Tip # 6: Light The Way 
Your home should appear open and bright, even if it's a winter day, so open the curtains and turn on the lights throughout the home.  Buyers will not likely be drawn to a dark, dimly-lit house. 

Tip # 7: Educate Your Buyers 
When someone is looking for a home, they are looking for more than the perfect floor plan.  If you have recently had the home appraised or inspected, place copies of each report on the dining room table.  Purchasing a home is a big step, and buyers will be drawn to a home that has everything out on the table, so to speak. 

Tip # 8: Ask For Feedback 
Once the potential buyer has completed their tour, invite their feedback by placing comment cards in the home.  The information provided could be potentially helpful during your next home showing, and it will make the potential buyer feel as though you value their opinion. 

25 Quick, Cheap and Easy Home Sale Tips!

If you want to get a home sold quickly and inexpensively, you should review these sales and design tips.

Even with rising values and reduced inventory in certain markets, selling a home remains challenging. Buyers expect not just a shiny new stainless sink but pruned hedges, freshly painted walls, glistening hardwood floors, and more. Making everything look great can cost a pretty penny, and many sellers won’t be able to afford all the suggestions you might make.

You can help them prioritize based on the condition of what’s needed most, what buyers in the area typically request, what competing houses offer, and — of course — cost. Here’s a list of 25 affordable, easy-to-make changes from top design and real-estate pros:

1.Add power outlets with USB ports in rooms that lack them, especially in the kitchen, bathrooms, and bedrooms where they’re most needed. “Younger, more tech-savvy couples and individuals love them,” says Tyler Drew, broker and property investor with Anubis Properties Inc. in Los Angeles.

2.Eliminate acoustic popcorn-style ceilings since they look dated and tacky.

3.Remove exposed posts and half walls. Today’s buyers want more space, and partial walls and posts gobble up room. The only walls that should remain are those that offer privacy or conceal electrical wires or plumbing stacks.

4.Update wiring for the Internet and flat-screen TVs. You don’t have to run CAT-5 through walls, which can be costly and require opening and closing and repainting walls. Instead, find a place to put a wireless router, Drew says.

5.Clean carpets and wood floors since they’re often the first part of a room that buyers check out; you don’t need to replace them unless they’re in terrible shape. A good carpet steam cleaning or wood floor waxing can be relatively inexpensive, sometimes less than $200.

6.Expand a small kitchen to make it work better and look larger. Two quick fixes: Change the backsplash by adding mirrors, stainless steel, or paint, which will introduce light and views; and add an island, which requires only 30” between counters and the island to pass through comfortably. If there’s not enough room for an island, bring in a rolling cart with pull-out shelves underneath and a wood top, says Libby Langdon, an interior designer, author, and expert with Liebherr Refrigeration..

7.Clear out and clean a garage, a big selling feature.Power wash the floor or paint it if it’s in bad shape, remove dated cabinets, and remove all junk that’s been stored there, so prospects can see how much space they would have for their stuff.

8.Change out corroded or dented door knobs and levers. The replacements don’t have to be expensive but they should look new and clean, Chicago architect Allan J. Grant suggests.

 9.Pay attention to landscaping, which can add 7 to 15 percent to a home’s value, according to principals Jessy Berg and Bonnie Gemmell. Focus on mowing grass, removing crab grass, and eliminating dead plants and tree branches. “I’d rather have dirt and the potential to paint a picture for the buyers’ mind than a backyard full of dead plants,” Drew says. But if you have extra funds, consider Sacramento, Calif.-based landscape designer Michael Glassman’s ideas: Add lots of seasonal color through blooming annuals and perennial plants and remove problems like too much noise from traffic or neighbors by installing an inexpensive fountain with trickling water.

10.Paint exterior windows, doors, gutters, downspouts, and trim, then go inside and paint the home’s trim, doorways, and walls that are in need of freshening. Don’t worry about the colors but consider those that veer toward quiet and comfort such as Benjamin Moore’s Yosemite Sand, Edgecomb Gray, or Carrington Beige. “Gray is a hot interior color now,” says Manchester, Vt.-based designer Amy Thebault. Painting rooms other, lighter colors such as white, yellow, and beige help to bounce and reflect sunlight and use more natural and less artificial light, according to Chris Ring, vice president at ProTect Painters, a professional painting source. But in cooler months, Ring says, dark colors such as deep brown and blue absorb sunlight, thereby reducing heating costs. And don’t forget ceilings, which can be a “fifth wall.” You can improve them with paint or old-style metal or faux-metal tiles, says Beverley Kruskol, a general contractor and owner of MY Pacific Building Inc. in Los Angeles.

11.Remove outdated wallpaper, replacing it with paint and preferably a neutral color, says Shelley Beckes, ASID, CID, a designer with Beckes Interior Design in Los Angeles.

12.Remove, store, or discard excessive accessories on tabletops and walls and in cabinets. “Less is more, and you want the house to be seen by prospective buyers without the distraction of too many personal items,” Grant says. Some suggest following the rule of three: Leave out only three things on any surface.

13.Get the house inspected before it’s listed to know its condition and identify any structural issues that could derail sales. Many problems can’t be detected by an untrained eye, including those in a basement, crawl space, or attic, says BillJacques, president-elect of the American Society of Home Inspectors. “There might be roof damage or a plumbing leak. Many inspectors take photos and provide a detailed report,” he says. “And if home owners have repairs made, they should be handled by a qualified licensed contractor, so the home owner can get problems corrected.”

14.Outfit closets for extra storage to make rooms look larger and less cluttered, but don’t redo all closets and elaborately. Top contenders for redos are an entry closet for a good first impression, kitchen pantries where storage is key, and a linen closet to keep sheets, towels, and other stuff neat, says Ginny Snook Scott, chief design officer at California Closets Co. “The costs needn’t be excessive. A linen closet can be fitted with baskets and cubbies for between $500 and $600, an entry closet for between $400 and $700, each dependent on closet size and features,” she says.

15.Tighten a home’s “envelope” to improve energy efficiency and savings. Put money and effort into well-insulated double-paned windows, sealed furnace ducts, energy-efficient appliances, the newest programmable thermostats, LED and compact fluorescent lights, and a smart irrigation box on a sprinkler to cut water usage, says Kate Latham, energy consultant with WattzON, a service based in Mountain View, Calif., which analyzes home energy use to pare costs. “After a few months, sellers can show buyers how costs have dropped. They also should put together a green manual to show which features they added,” she explains.

16.Improve a home’s healthfulness by using paints and adhesives with low or no VOCs. Point out these changes to prospective buyers in another list or manual, Latham says.

17.Use what you have, and arrange each room in a conversational way if possible. Don’t set all furnishings in a family room so they face a TV, since most potential buyers like the idea of an open-room milieu for socializing.

18.Remove and replaced faded draperies, fabrics, and rugs, or leave windows and floors bare to avoid showing lack of attention, Thebault says. Slipcovers, which can cover worn furniture can also provide an affordable decorative feature, changed for each season, says Hugh Rovit, CEO of Sure Fit, a manufacturer and distributor of ready-made slipcovers and other accessories. The company’s slipcovers range from $49.99 to $149.99, based on fabric and treatment.

19.Replace old, dated, or worn bedding. Before any showing, fluff up pillows and covers, and make all beds neatly. Affordable choices can be found at stores like Target and Web sites like

20.Toss out old magazines. “You don’t want a People magazine from a year ago; it looks like nobody lives in the house or cares,” Thebault says.

21.Check smells regularly. Besides getting rid of bad odors from pets and mildew, introduce nice fresh fragrances, but don’t go heavy on scents from candles. A light lavender or citrus spray is smart and inoffensive. Open windows before showings to bring in fresh air.

22.Make rooms lighter and larger for showings with good lighting. Thebault prefers warm, cool colors rather than fluorescents. Additionally, 60-watt bulbs are a good choice, even though they’re not as energy-efficient.

23.Go with plants rather than flowers indoors since they last longer, but either choice can add vivacity to a room.

24.Pay attention to your bathrooms. Specifically, make sure you have freshly laundered towels, new soap in soap dishes, spotless mirrors, and no mildew in view.

25.Be sure your house is priced competitively with the current market and homes in your area. In most regions, it’s still the No. 1 “fix” to sell quickly. Go a bit under the market price, and you may even bring forth multiple offers that are higher than expected.

Secrets of successful sellers

While there is no definite, absolute rule to sell your property, here are some tried-and-true practices that may make the difference between a property languishing on the market and selling efficiently.

Choose the right agent for you. Ask friends and family for referrals. Narrow down your list of potential agents and choose one who has knowledge of your neighborhood and a history of following up with their clients.
Be realistic. When it comes to pricing your home, work with your agent to decide on an accurate and fair price. Comparables in the area, coupled with your agent's experience, are helpful when listing.
Spic and span. Your home should be in pristine condition when potential buyers view your home. Buyers should be focused on your beautiful windows, not the fingerprints on the glass. If necessary, shampoo carpets and refinish the wood floors.
Eliminate the excess. Remove any furniture that is unnecessary. Consider storing furniture that clutters a room. Oversized items may make a space feel smaller than it actually is.
Take yourself out of it. Store or swap out any family pictures. This is a great opportunity to showcase the property in other seasons. If your open house is in the winter, perhaps frame pictures of the backyard or fa├žade of the home in full bloom.
Quick fix. Before showing your home, complete all those home fixes you've been meaning to get to. The squeaky step or floorboard, the grout in the bathroom or leaky faucets should all be repaired before potential buyers notice them.

How to stage your home

In a buyer’s market, sellers need every advantage they can get. Home staging is an excellent way to highlight your property’s strengths. You can hire professional home stagers, or use the following home staging tips yourself.
Here are some tips to ensure prospective buyers feel comfortable and aren’t distracted:
• depersonalize your home by removing family photos, toys, toiletries, etc.;
• when decorating, paint in neutral colors so future buyers can imagine putting their own color palettes on the walls; and
• remove excess furniture and clutter — too much furniture makes the home feel and appear small.

Buyers are looking for the most amount of house for the least amount of money. To give the impression the property is upscale and luxurious:
• clean every inch of the house;
• update all fixtures such as cabinet hardware, ceiling fans or faucets;
• improve the lighting in your house with energy efficient bulbs for a warm and inviting atmosphere, aiming for a total of 100 watts for every 50 square feet;
• mix up your lighting options with ambient (general or overhead), task (pendant, under cabinet or reading) and accent (table and wall) lights;
• complete any unfinished projects — a house with a to-do list is a quick turn off for buyers;
• purchase slip covers, bed covers and color-coordinated towels to dress up your existing furnishings; and

• decorate with fresh flowers and candles — the smell of a home during an open house is almost as important as the way it looks.