Tips to maintain a healthier home

Now that spring has sprung, a lot of you have started spring cleaning.  Warmer weather means more open windows and fresh air through homes.  It can also lead to mold, dust, and other airborne particles that can make you sick.  Here are some tips to maintain a healthy home while you begin spring cleaning.

1. Use fans.  Especially in the bathroom, it’s important for warm air to circulate out of the house to prevent mold in your bathroom.  Make sure exhaust fans send air outside and not into the attic or another room.  A range hood above your stove keeps carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide out of the air when using a gas stove.  And you can save money on air conditioning when you use a ceiling fan to circulate air in a bedroom or family room.

2. Use an air filter.  You’d be surprised to find out that indoor air pollution can be 5x worse than outdoor air pollution!  Aside from controlling odors, an air purifier removes pollutants from the air.

3. Make sure you have a ventilation system.  With a lot of new homes built, the homes are sealed very tightly in the name of energy efficiency.  It’s essential to allow fresh air in and stale air out.  If you are buying new construction, check to see what kind of ventilation system is going in.

4. Clean!  Make sure sponges are sanitized, cutting boards and utensils are thoroughly washed after using them for raw meat and fish.  Clean showers after each use to prevent inhalation of bacteria.

5. Upgrade your vacuum.  And make sure bags (if you don’t have a bagless vacuum) are removed as soon as they’re full or they’ll release dust in to the air.  Vacuums now come with high-filtration filters and can help rid the house of allergens.

6. Be careful when remodeling.  It creates A LOT of dust.  So make sure that your duct system is thoroughly cleaned out (by a certified company if necessary) after a remodeling project.

7. Install carbon monoxide detectors.  It’s now Illinois law that these are located within 15 feet of a bedroom.  For little money, these can go a long way to save lives.

More great tips can be found here. I can be reached online through my Web site.

Tips for winterizing your home

With the temps cooling off a bit this weekend in the Chicagoland area, it made me realize that summer is officially over.  And fall (or winter, I’m sure) is headed in.  We might be turning on the heat sooner than we think.  And with that, it’s important to go over some tips to save you money this winter and prevent any major problems from happening.

1. Check your furnace filter.  Your furnace has to work a lot harder to produce heat (costing you more money) if you have a clogged or dirty filter.  A new filter will cost you nothing compared to the money you’d be spending on your heating bill.  And go to the store and replace it yourself.  You’ll save even more than having a handyman do it.  A good estimation is to check it monthly.  If your furnace hasn’t been cleaned in a while, it’s best to contact an HVAC technician to look things over prior to it being used.

2. I know we’re not even close to being done with leaves falling.  And if your trees are higher than your roof, you can guarantee that those leaves end up in your gutters.  Make sure to clean the gutters out to prevent water from building up and freezing.  If it’s frozen in your gutters, it can end up dripping and leaking into the house.

3. Check the caulking around windows and doors to keep cold air out.  You might also want to buy one of those do-it-yourself plastic sheeting kits to add an extra barrier of protection from the cold air.  Those cover windows and glass doors.  You can even use them on window wells in the basement.

4. Invest in a programmable thermostat.  Even if you’re not home, you’ll want to keep the heat on at least 65 degrees.  This will prevent the pipes from freezing and bursting.  The programmable thermostat can save a lot of money by setting it in advance to turn down when you’re gone and back up right before you get home.

5. If you have a fireplace, make sure to close the damper when you’re not using it.  If the damper doesn’t close well, you can put some insulation in to close it off.  But please remember to remove it before starting a fire!

All these tips should help keep you warmer, save you money, and even save some energy.  More great tips can be found here and here. You can also visit me online.

Green is key at this year’s builders’ show

The 2010 International Builders Show took place at the end of January in Las Vegas.  Four energy-efficient homes were on display that focused on using less energy, less water, and having cleaner indoor air.  I love this quote by Kevin Morrow, The National Association of Home Builder’s senior program manager of green building standards:

If these trends continue, “Keeping up with the Joneses” could take on a different spin as neighbors compete for the lowest power bill on the block!”

So what’s going to be new and more green?  Here’s some featured items:

Panasonic’s ventilation fan, the WhisperGreen FV-13VKM2.  It features dual motors, an energy-efficient motor to improve air quality. 

Rainwater Collection Solutions Inc. has the Original Rainwater Pillow.  This is designed to collect rainwater and is stored horizontally, such as under a deck or porch.

Hoping to reduce energy costs, BaySystemsTM is combining an HVAC system with spray foam insulation installed by an energywise Preferred Contractor to keep your utility bills lower.

EcoStar® has a premium line of synthetic slate and shake roofing tiles manufactured with 80% post-industrial recycled materials.

Sommer USA happily showcases their garage door opener, the quietest in the world.  It’s stronger than a chain but quieter than a belt drive.

I’ve talked about low VOC paint before, great for people with allergies.  Sherwin-Williams was on hand to promote their zero-VOC, low-odor paint. 

Here is a list of even more products that were featured this year: CLICK HERE.

More information on the show can be found here and here.  I’d love to know what new energy-efficient products you’d like to see in the future.  Please visit me online or leave me a comment below.

Energy conscious homeowners get rewarded

You may all remember the famous Cash for Clunkers program offered by the government last year.  Well, Obama wants to do for homeowners what he did for car owners and that is offer a similar program called Cash for Caulkers.  He’s proposing a bill where homeowners can earn tax credits and receive money back for purchasing energy-efficient appliances.  Up to $12,000 per home!

Congress is currently working on drafting a bill that would be twofold.  First, homeowners would receive reimbursement for energy-efficient equipment and insulation.  Second, the government would reward small businesses and companies.

Included would be appliances such as refrigerators, washing machines, dryers, and even air conditioning, heaters, windows, and insulation.  They’re currently looking at reimbursing homeowners 50% of the purchase price PLUS installation.  So without an income cap, you could spend up to $24,000 to get $12,000 back.  Congress is still working out the kinks as to how the money would get returned.  It’s possible that it would come in the form of a tax credit (there is a current tax credit for energy-efficient appliances already, but not this much) or they might set it up where you can fill out information for a rebate and receive a check.  The government is looking at a cost of about $10 billion to fund this.

They’re trying to model it similar to New York State’s energy efficiency program.  How that program works is homeowner’s contact a contractor who is licensed to perform an energy audit from the State’s Web site of a toll free number.  The contractor arrives to determine how much energy is wasted in that specific home.  It costs the homeowner several hundred dollars.  When the contractor generates a list of what could be replaced, the cost, and how much energy could be saved, the homeowner chooses what he wants done and negotiates a price.  The contractor gets paid directly, submits paperwork to the state, and the homeowner receives about 10% back in the form of a check.

So do you think it is another program that could invite fraud?  Will homeowners take advantage of it?  Is the government wasting $10 billion that could be spent elsewhere?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Please leave me a comment or visit me online.

More information on the program can be found here, here, and here.

Up and coming design trends

Happy New Year, everyone!!  Can’t believe the first decade of the 21st Century is already behind us.  How time flies.  Since I wrote last week on some 2010 predictions for the year in real estate, I thought it would be interesting to write about some new trends in home design.  What do experts expect to see going forward?

For those of you who bought your home insisting on stainless steel appliances, you might be shocked to find out that big name appliances companies like Amana and Viking are introducing color.  And no, this is not your avocado green oven anymore, folks.  They’re looking at bold, bright colors like royal blue, deep purple, even orange.  Expect to see a lot of bright colors in kitchens moving forward.  Think about what a statement these would make with white walls, dark granite counters and wood floors.  Can we expect to see patterns next?  Can you imagine zebra print or leopard print refrigerators??  Experts also say that more comfortable seating in the kitchen like benches and sofas could be the next trend for sitting around a table.

Home builders will definitely be building more “green.”  What’s interesting is that now in our local MLS, there are options to include what design features, fixtures, and appliances are considered “green.”  Appliance companies will start to phase out those that used up a ton of electricity and water.  Imagine shower heads with less water flow.  Maybe we’ll see appliances that auto shut off when not in use to conserve energy.  And think of the tax savings!

Also this year, the stats show that 1 in 4 homeowners will be aged 55 and older.  Easy-to-use products will be more readily available to make life easier.  Designers have created touchless faucets, pullout drawers, and even non-slip bathroom floors.  And those ugly grab bars will get a makeover, too, to match the rest of the decor. 

What new design features would you like to see?  I’d love to hear your comments.  For other expert opinions, read this article.  Please be sure to visit my Web site.

Keep your home warm and your energy bills low

With some very cool temperatures in the Chicago area this week, I know most people aren’t ready to start worrying about snow and shoveling and below freezing temperatures.  Unfortunately, it seems like summer is over and those 30-40 degree temperatures are here to stay.  In order to save money on your electric and heating bills this fall/winter, here are some tips to keep your house warm without costing a fortune:

winterizedhome1. Check for air leaks and drafts around all windows and doors.  One poorly sealed window can cost you hundreds of dollars this winter in extra heating bills.  You can purchase inexpensive insulation kits at all major home improvement stores, as well as Walmart and Target.  The plastic makes sure that all windows are sealed to prevent any extra air from escaping in.  Also, take advantage of those sunny days.  Even if it’s chilly outside, if there is a day with a lot of sunlight, open your drapes to get the solar energy to warm the room for you.

2. Check for leaks and drafts everywhere else.  You don’t want to forget to close your damper on your fireplace when not in use.  Please remember to keep it open if you are burning a fire.  Wall plates, plugs, and switches can allow cold air in.  You can purchase pre-cut foam to place under the switchplate to keep that closed.  And check your duct work.  Duct tape can fall off or bunch up over the years.  Make sure there’s no open holes bringing cool air in.

3. Give your furnace a yearly physical.  Replace its air filter to get the most energy efficiency out of it.  Clogged filters can cost you a lot of extra money since the furnace is working extra hard to get the heat through those clogs.  Have it inspected by a licensed and bonded HVAC technician yearly.  This can save you money in the long run to prevent any broken furnace in the middle of the winter. 

4. Invest in a programmable thermostat.  This way you can keep the heat lower when you’re at work so it’s not as warm when you’re not home.  You can set it to start warming up just before you get home at the end of the day.  Or if you’re on vacation, you won’t have to worry about your pipes freezing (it does happen!) because your heat is completely off.  These thermostats are so reasonably priced now.  They can be purchased for as low as $20.

5. Consider running your appliances (dishwasher, washer, dryer) in the morning and evening when you’re home.  It will help to heat the house as its running.  While you’re at it, make sure that dryer lint vents are cleaned after every load and that you’re only running full loads of laundry and dishes.

More great tips for the winter can be found here and here. Make sure you read the tips on attic insulation, too.

Visit my Web site if you have any real estate needs or questions.


Tips for saving money with quick fixes

You may not be planning to sell your home in the near future.  In fact, it could be 20 or 30 years down the road that you want to sell.  Wouldn’t it be nice to know some ways to keep value in your home and prevent expensive repairs when the time does come to sell?  By doing some of these quick fixes (all for under $25!) you can save a lot of money in repairs, and it helps put your home in prime condition for a buyer.  I got these tips from this great Chicago Sun-Times article. tool%20beltView the article to find some more.

1. Regularly change the filter on your furnace and air conditioner.  I wrote in my last blog about how changing the filter lets the air flow through and saves you money on your utility bills.  The other bonus is that it prevents the units from working so hard by trying to get the heat and air out.  This way the appliances will last a lot longer.  Check them every month to every 3 months for a replacement.

2. Another appliance that you don’t want working extra hard is the clothes dryer.  By cleaning the dryer vent (not just the filter in the machine, but all the way through to the wall), you’re keeping it running smoothly to dry your clothes.  Extra lint in the vent also poses a fire hazard, so make sure to clean the entire vent. 

2. If you have a wood deck, make sure to use a preservative on the wood.  It prevents rot and deterioration down the road.  If you have a beautiful deck, the last thing you’ll want to have to do is replace the entire deck with a new one.  Do you have other wooden parts to your house, also?  Like a set of stairs outside one level down to the next?  Make sure you use preservative there, too.

3. If you have a wood-burning fireplace and you keep extra wood for it outdoors, make sure to keep it away from the foundation.  This prevents any wood-destroying insects from getting into your house and walls.  I hate to be a cliche, but this easy (and free) tip keeps the termites away!  Another tip to keep termites out is to cut tree branches that are hanging over the roof or near the house.  Plus, a trimmed tree looks so much more appealing than one that is out of control.

4. One item that often comes up in home inspections is in regards to the toilets.  They need to be secured to the floor.  Make sure the toilets in all the bathrooms are properly secured.  While you’re at it, make sure there aren’t any cracks in the bowl. 

5. Test the auto retract feature of your garage door.  You want to make sure that it will automatically come back up if something is blocking its path, whether it be a car, bicycle, or even a person. 

6. Buy a bottle of Drano and clear those clogged drains!  Over time, clogged drains can cause damage to pipes and allow for leakage.  You can also cheaply purchase a drain cover to collect excess hair, lint, and soap particles for your showers and sinks.  This is an added barrier to anything going down the drain.  They do sell ones that even prevent mold from growing on the cover.

I hope these tips will help you, and could even add a To-Do to that Honey Do List of yours.  Do you have other easy and cheap tips?  Please leave me a comment or visit me online.

Tips on staying cool and saving money

I couldn’t have picked a better day in Chicago to write about tips for staying cool this summer.  We seem to have completely skipped over spring, and headed right into a summer heat wave.  With highs in the upper 90s today, I think most of you would love to get some tips on staying cool in your homes this summer and saving money to boot. 

fan1. Make sure your vents are open and have clear access.  Make sure your air conditioner’s filter is also clear.  The air will be working extra hard to get out if you have items blocking the air flow or a clogged filter preventing it from getting out.  You’ll be paying a lot of money to try to cool your house while the air will be stuck.  If there’s a room you aren’t in, feel free to close that vent so the air is directed elsewhere. 

2. Upgrade your thermostat to a programmable one.  If you’re gone all day, you don’t need the air conditioning running on high.  Set it so it starts to cool down the house a half hour before you arrive home.  watch-thermostat-tip-2-lg

3. Get planting!  Planting some large, shady trees around your home is a great natural resource toward blocking out the sun.  You’re doing a good thing for the environment and saving money all at the same time.  Make sure you keep shades closed to also block out the sun.

4. Try to not use your oven.  If you have a toaster oven that is large enough for what you’re cooking, that will help keep the house from getting too warm.  You also could use a microwave, barbecue grill, George Forman grill, or a stove cooker.

5. Use those ceiling fans!  You won’t have to turn the thermostat down so much if you have the ceiling fan circulating cooler air around the room. 

6. Take shorter showers.  Even a short shower (around 5 minutes or less) will save you money than running a bath.  A bath would require a lot more hot water to fill the tub than what you’d use in the shower.

7. To keep humidity down, do your “wet” chores first thing in the morning or last thing at night when it’s a lot cooler.  These include chores like washing clothes, dishes, cleaning floors, watering plants, washing windows, etc.

More great tips can be found here and here. You can also download a free PDF with over 100 ways to save here. Visit me online for more information!

Why the Internet is important in real estate

internetIf you’re in the process of selling your home, I truly hope that your home is listed on the Internet, especially the number one real estate site, gets the most unique visitors per month.  Most MLSs automatically feed their listings onto the site and agents can post open houses, headlines, video and additional photos. 

The National Association of Realtors recently conducted a study that found that 80% of home buyers use the Internet to help them find a home!  That’s huge.  Do you know how many buyers may be missing your house if it isn’t Internet-ready? 

According to an article in RISMedia, a real estate trade publication, homes with 20 or more photos received almost 10 times the number of leads and more than 15 times the number of showings as homes with only one online photo. found that homes that were listed with at least one photo were viewed 41% more than homes without photos, over a seven-day period.  So make sure that before you officially list your house that it’s ready for photos.  I wouldn’t even make it available for showings until photos are taken and they’re available online.  You also have to make sure they’re quality photos.  Don’t leave cars in the driveway and have dark rooms where you can’t see anything.  You want it to show its best, even online. 

Why is this so important?  Let’s say you have a buyer relocating to your area from out of state.  His company is only sending him to look at homes over a 48-hour period.  He has time to view 7 possible homes.  What’s he going to do while he’s at home?  Probably search on the Internet to send his agent the homes he wants to see.  If 15 homes have photos and 15 don’t, don’t you think he’ll pull from the 15 with the photos?

Some people drive by homes with a For Sale sign in the driveway.  They remember the address and then decide to look it up online to get more information and photos of the interior.  Think of the Internet as a preview for a movie coming out for two reasons.  One, if someone doesn’t see the preview, they’ll never go see the movie.  They won’t even know it’s out there.  Two, if the preview isn’t interesting to them, they’ll also never go to the movie. 

The Internet is the chance to shine.  Multiple photos.  Quality photos.  A virtual tour if possible.  Anything you can do to get buyers interested in your house so they want to physically walk through it will help you in the long run.

If you’re ready to list your house and need an agent with a strong Internet presence, be sure to visit me online.

Tips to hold or add value to your home

With housing prices dropping in almost all areas of the country, now is probably not the best time to try and sell unless you have to.  So why not spend this time investing in the future of your home?  Real estate agents and brokers around the country offer these suggestions on tips that will help you add or hold value in your home.


1. Create space.  If you have rooms that are closed up, see if you can open them by knocking out a wall or even half wall to make them appear larger.  Cut out a wall from the kitchen to the dining room.  Remove a center island if it takes up the majority of your kitchen.  “Right now buyers want a wide open floor plan, the living room right off the kitchen. They are into big spaces,” says Kristin Wellins, Senior Manager of Program Development for ERA Real Estate.

2. Landscape.  Curb appeal is key.  I’ve seen plenty of buyers choose not even to go into the inside of a house because of the way it looks on the outside.  Tame those unruly trees and bushes.  It also helps keep mold out.  Plus, landscaping can bring you a return of 3-4 times what you spend in the cost. 

3. Add or fix your lighting.  Consider motion detector lights outside to not only save money but to keep burglars at bay.  Put in fluorescent bulbs to save money, energy, and they’ll last a lot longer.  Really dark rooms can turn off a buyer.  Make sure that when you’re showing your home that it is as bright as possible.

4. Take care of all maintenance issues.  Before you decide to upgrade anything, make sure that everything is in working order.  The homes going under contract and selling now are the ones that are in great shape.  John Veneris, the regional vice president of the National Association of Realtors in Downers Grove, Illinois, says, “What’s important in this market, now more than ever, because there is so much inventory, the houses that sell are in pristine condition and are priced to the market.”

5. Take care of your front door.  This can be one of the most overlooked parts of a house, but buyers generally decide within the first seven seconds whether they like a house or not.  Make sure the door is clean.  Make sure the doorbell works.  Consider adding an awning or portico if you don’t have a front porch or a way to be covered when you’re waiting at the front door.  It makes a big difference, especially if buyers are out looking in the rain. 

6. Go neutral.  This is very important when painting a room, especially if you plan to sell in the near future.  I’ve had clients decide to paint their home when they were about to sell, but chose bold, bright colors.  They had to start all over from scratch.  If you’re not painting, make sure there are no scratches or chips on the wall.  One coat of paint or a good cleaning can go a long way.

View more tips here. If you have more questions or are ready to sell, please visit me online.