How to Save on Your Heating Bill

Source: quickanddirtytips.com ~ Author: Amanda Thomas

How to Save on Your Heating Bill

Image Courtesy of Home Depot

I love my husband, but there are some times I love him more than others. Over the past (almost) decade of being together, I have fallen in love with his passion for energy efficiency. See, Mr. Domestic CEO was a mechanical engineer. For 10 years, he designed heating, ventilating, and air conditioning systems, so he knows a thing or two about how to use the least amount of energy possible in a building.

I admit, his tips and explanations used to go right over my head. Honestly, I didn’t really care about saving money on my energy bills because I was living in small apartments and already had low electric bills. When we moved into our 3 bedroom, two-story house, though, things changed. I started talking with friends who had similar homes, only to find out that they were paying two to three times the amount we were for our heating bills. Why? Because we put into place a few small changes around our house that save us big, year after year.

In today’s episode, I’m going to give you the tips that Mr. Domestic CEO told me, although I’ll spare you the “Put on more clothes” tip. If you are looking for ways to save on your heating bills this winter, then these three tips are for you.

Tip #1: Think Small

The first thing people tend to do when they want to heat their space is turn up the furnace. The problem with this is the furnace likely heats your whole home, and why would you want to heat rooms that you aren’t using? If you aren’t in the space, but you’re heating it, that’s wasted energy. Instead of rushing over to your thermostat to crank up the heat, consider using something smaller than a giant oil burner.

In our home, unless we have company over, or are using multiple rooms at the same time, we keep the furnace turned down, and use space heaters in the rooms where we spend most of our time. If I am working in my home office, I turn the heat up on my feet. After all, I’m probably going to be there for a while, so there’s no use heating my living room, kitchen, dining room, or bedroom just to keep myself warm while I’m working on the computer. Just make sure to turn the heater off when you leave the room, and follow all the safety precautions. Space heaters can cause a fire hazard, but if you use them correctly, they are perfectly safe.

The “think small” principle applies to sleeping, too. When we go to bed, we are likely going to be there for at least 7 hours, so why would we want to heat the office, kitchen, and living room during that time? Instead, we have a heated mattress pad that we turn on about 20 minutes before going to bed. Not only do we get to save electricity by having our bed heated instead of the entire room around us, we also never have to get into a bed with freezing cold sheets.

Tip #2: Maximize the Air

Now, you may be thinking to yourself, “What about when you wake up?” Few things are worse than waking up on a dark, winter morning, and having to get out of a toasty bed into a freezing cold room. How do we make the morning bearable? Simple: programmable thermostats! Our heat automatically turns down at night when we are sleeping in our heated bed, then it kicks back on about an hour before we get up so that we don’t freeze our tootsies off when we get out of bed. We also have the heat set to turn down during the day when we are out of the house. After all, it seems silly to heat the house if no one is home, right? A programmable thermostat can be purchased at any home improvement store, or online. They are fairly inexpensive, and you can make your money back in a month or two if you set it to only heat your home when you are there.

Another tip that can help you maximize the air in the room is a ceiling fan. Ceiling fans can be put on the Reverse setting. Instead of pushing air straight down, it pulls the cool air up, which pushes the warm air back down to where you are. And the higher the ceiling, the bigger the difference this can make. If you really want to know why that is, we should probably call Everyday Einstein to see if he can help explain.

Tip #3: Seal the House

When it comes to those cool breezes you feel around your home in the winter, both Mr. Domestic CEO and Everyday Einstein would be disappointed in me if I didn’t stress that this is from the heat escaping, not the cold air coming in. So, your goal in sealing your home is to do everything you can to keep the hot air inside your home.

Every window or door of your home that isn’t properly sealed is an opportunity for heat to escape. Keep the heat in your home by making sure to seal up all the openings you can. If you can see light around your door in the middle of the day, you have gaps where heat can escape. Self-adhesive weather stripping can be purchased at home improvement stores and applied to door frames to seal those gaps.

If it feels like there is a breeze coming under your doors, door sweeps can be installed at the bottom of the door to keep heat in. If your windows are where you feel a breeze, window insulation film is your solution. It’s like a shrink wrap for your windows. If you want a more expensive, but more fashionable, option, updating your window treatments to cellular shades or heavy drapery will keep the heat from going out the windows, too.

Now that you have a few tips to get you started, it’s time to make preparations for the weather months. With the weather changing fast, the sooner you can make these small adjustments, the sooner you can start saving money on your heating bill.

If you are in the market to buy (or sell) a home in  Northern California, Realtors associated with Century 21 M&M look forward to walking you through the process. Rest assured that Century 21 M&M Realtors will do their best to make sure that both Buyers and Sellers are protected during the transaction.

Is your home ready to keep you warm this winter?

Winter-house-Digs-953fcf-900x350-1415395871

Source: Zillow.com ~ By Michael Franco

The crisp snap of autumn weather is a reminder that even colder days lie ahead. Get ready for them by performing a few simple chores now that will keep you toasty all winter long.

Install weatherstripping

Weatherstripping can save you up to 20 percent on heating bills — especially if you have drafty windows or doors. Plus, it’s quick and easy, and doesn’t cost a lot of money. Place weatherstripping along doorjambs and in the gaps between windows and sashes to keep chilly breezes out and heat in.

Fix drafty doors

If your doors need extra draft protection, add a door sweep along the bottom. These flexible rubber strips seal the gap at the bottom of the door to keep howling winds at bay. If cold air is still getting in, buy or DIY a door snake — a tube of fabric filled with sand, rice, or other material — to lay on the floor and plug the gap.

Add insulation

The attic and basement are two spots where you can lose a lot of heat. By insulating your basement ceiling and attic floor, you can prevent warm air from escaping the house. Also check around the exterior of your house for cracked foundation, gaps or cable holes, and seal them or fill them with spray foam insulation.

Check your furnace

Like any piece of machinery, your furnace works better if it’s properly maintained. Some utility companies offer a free annual checkup for your furnace, but if yours doesn’t, it may be worth paying a technician to ensure that your furnace is in top condition. But you can also improve your furnace’s performance with simple maintenance that you can do yourself, like replacing filters and cleaning registers.

Swap your thermostat

Standard thermostats can lead to wasted energy. If you opt for a smart thermostat like the Nest, you could cut down on your energy use — and your utility bills. Among other features, these smart thermostats can sense when you’re away and automatically adjust the temperature to save you money.

Seal ducts

If you have forced-air heat, leaks in your ducts could be costing you hundreds of dollars. Seal them with specially designed metal tape and keep your ducts — and your wallet — more secure.

Embrace fabrics

While a cool tile floor might feel nice underfoot in summer, it’s not so appealing when it’s sub-zero outside. Cover your floors in throw rugs and runners for the winter months. You can also hang heavy insulating drapes in front of your windows to keep warm air in and the cold out where it belongs.

If you are in the market to buy (or sell) a home in  Northern California, Realtors associated with Century 21 M&M look forward to walking you through the process. Rest assured that Century 21 M&M Realtors will do their best to make sure that both Buyers and Sellers are protected during the transaction.

Drop $1.2M on a Super Haunted, Frightfully Florid Victorian

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Source: Curbed.com ~ Spencer Peterson ~ 511 E Walworth Ave Zillow

Have a nomination for a jaw-dropping listing that would make a mighty fine House of the Day? Get thee to the tipline and send us your suggestions. We’d love to see what you’ve got.

Location: Delavan, Wisconsin
Price: $1,200,000
The Skinny: In popular lore, Victorian mansions are not only haunted by restless spirits, but by long-decease decorating trends still lingering within. TheAllyn Mansion of Delavan, Wisconsin confirms both stereotypes. Zillow reportsclaims of a haunting there, but doesn’t say whether we’re dealing with a vengeful wraith, or merely the still-polite spirit of some well-coifed dandy. What can be confirmed is potentially just as frightening, depending on your taste: a surfeit of interior floridity that’s as overwhelming as the exterior is winsome and the painted ceilings are beautiful, fresh from an “award winning restoration.” Built in 1885 by a wealthy farming family, the Allyn Mansion has since survived a tenure as a nursing home, a stint as a furniture store, and most recently, a spell as a B&B. The current price is $1.2M, down quite a bit from 2008’s ask of $1.85M, and up from February’s price of $950K.

If you are in the market to buy (or sell) a home in  Northern California, Realtors associated with Century 21 M&M look forward to walking you through the process. Rest assured that Century 21 M&M Realtors will do their best to make sure that both Buyers and Sellers are protected during the transaction.

Getting Your Home Ready for Trick-or-Treaters

slide-kid-friendly

Courtesy of partycity.com

Source: zillow.com ~ By Bob Vila

At summer’s end, once school is back in session, many of us start looking forward to Halloween. It’s a holiday adults can enjoy as much as kids. But, homeowners do have one serious obligation on this fun night: If you expect trick-or-treaters, you must make sure the path to your door is a safe one.

Take no trips

Inevitably, some giddy ghosts and ghouls will race excitedly to your door. Be prepared. In the full light of day, inspect your lawn, driveway and front path for trip hazards like exposed tree roots, cracks in concrete or missing pavers. Make repairs where possible or, at the very least, cut off access to unsafe areas. Meanwhile, if you’ve decorated the front yard with decorations like light-up pumpkins and animated figures, relocate the electrical cords so they’re not in anyone’s way.

Light the way

Make sure the path to your house is bright enough for trick-or-treaters to approach safely. You don’t need to install a full suite of year-round landscape lighting simply to accommodate visitors on Halloween night. There are plenty of temporary and affordable options for illumination, from glow sticks to tea lights. And though it may seem more in keeping with the mood of this spooky night to switch off your porch light, it’s much safer — not to mention more inviting — to keep it on.

Resist flammable decor

Whether vandals or accidents are to blame, there are many more fires on Halloween than a typical October night, according to Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Holiday decorations are often quite flammable, involving materials such as paper, hay and dried cornstalks. If you can’t resist adorning your home and yard with such potentially dangerous items, then be sure to keep them away from candles and other heat sources. If jack-o’-lanterns or luminaries figure into your celebrations, illuminate them using LED tea lights, not open flames.

Curb your dog

Chances are yours is a friendly dog. But if some Halloween costumes are so convincing as to be frightening to small children, those same getups could be equally disturbing to your pooch — particularly on such a high-energy night. It’s good sense to contain your dog in an indoor space that’s both comfortable and secure.

A festive parade of goblins and ghouls, princesses and superheroes will soon be marching to your house. Do your part by clearing the path and lighting the way. Be safe out there, and have a Happy Halloween!

If you are in the market to buy (or sell) a home in  Northern California, Realtors associated with Century 21 M&M look forward to walking you through the process. Rest assured that Century 21 M&M Realtors will do their best to make sure that both Buyers and Sellers are protected during the transaction.

Mortgage rates fall below 4%

mortgage rate chart 10-14

Source: money.cnn.com ~

There’s a silver lining for home buyers in the clouds hanging over the stock market.

Interest rates on a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage fell to 3.97% this week, according to Freddie Mac. That’s down from 4.12% last week and the lowest level since June 20, 2013.

The drop in mortgage rates comes as investors have flocked to the safety of U.S. Treasury bonds. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note has tumbled as low as 1.86% this week.

Mortgage rates usually move lock step with the yield on the 10-year note.

Investors have rushed to bonds because they have been spooked by a combination of economic weakness in Europe, concerns about Ebola and geopolitical turmoil around the world.

“Rates are at their lowest levels since June 2013 amidst continued investor skepticism regarding the precarious economic situation in Europe,” said Frank Nothaft, chief economist at Freddie Mac.

Mortgage rates have gone lower despite expectations that they would start rising as the Federal Reserve starts pulling back its economic stimulus.

The Fed has cut back its program of buying bonds and mortgage-backed securities, which everyone expected would put upward pressure on interest rates.

The latest international turmoil and the stock market rout has instead pushed rates the other way.

If you are in the market to buy (or sell) a home in  Northern California, Realtors associated with Century 21 M&M look forward to walking you through the process. Rest assured that Century 21 M&M Realtors will do their best to make sure that both Buyers and Sellers are protected during the transaction.

Real Estate is Crucial to Your Investment Portfolio: Here’s Why

buying real estateSource: biggerpockets.com ~ Author: Ken Corsini

Financial planners and investment advisors emphasize the importance of diversification in a portfolio of investments, as well they should.

Diversification reduces the impact of poor performance on the part of any particular company or sector. Diversification also helps the investor achieve balanced results by combining the equity appreciation from growth-oriented securities or funds with the current cash flow provided by income-oriented funds, utility stocks and bonds.

The particular mix of equity and cash flow can be adjusted to the financial needs and goals of the investor.

Similar logic can also apply to buy-and-hold real estate investment. Diversification can provide a cushion against a particular property that performs poorly, as well as balance the overall financial results for the investor.

Benefits of a Diverse Portfolio

First, holding just one property involves much more risk than holding a portfolio of 3, 5 or 10 properties since any given property can perform poorly from time to time due to tenant behavior or the need for capital investment (ex. HVAC system roof, etc.). With a portfolio, the income from the other properties can cover for the cash flow shortfall associated with the problem property.

Related: Real Estate is Better than Stocks – Fact, Not Opinion.

Beyond the obvious benefit of reducing individual property risk, diversification can also help balance the portfolio’s results according to the preferences and needs of the investor. Different cities, submarkets, levels of leverage and property types offer varying return profiles that investors can combine to achieve a balanced portfolio with a performance mix that matches the financial target.

Combining Diverse Property Investments

Low-cost properties in more modest neighborhoods may offer exceptional cash flow, but may not have potential to achieve any significant appreciation. Those properties may play a role similar to utility stocks that provide high dividend yields, but often do not promise great growth potential.

Other, more expensive properties in more affluent areas, particularly in cities with strong and growing economies, may offer better appreciation potential, but less substantial immediate cash flow results. Combining property types provides a combination of current income and future equity growth and also provides diversification against the risk of deteriorating property values in a particular submarket.

Related: Passive Real Estate Investments vs REITs

Many investors adopt a strategy of investing in the property type that they find most comfortable, but a diversified approach can provide a cash flow floor for the investor who is looking primarily for gains through property appreciation, or similarly a better inflation hedge for the investor that is primarily looking for current cash flow.

Optimizing the Use of Leverage

With a diversified approach, an investor may also optimize the use of leverage with some simple strategizing. With the current limitation of ten conventional loans, an investor can plan to use financing on the more expensive properties in the portfolio to maximize longterm borrowing capacity.

Leverage amplifies both appreciation and to a lesser extent cash returns. However, it is a mistake to focus on the effect of leverage only on a particular property because at the end of the day, the portfolio will perform as an aggregate.

The cash flow from all of the properties will be used to service all of the debt used to finance the purchase of any of the properties.

Conclusion

A diversified portfolio of properties can provide an investor with steady cash flow and healthy equity growth over time, while maximizing the benefits of applying leverage to amplify results.

Of course, the most important diversification step a savvy investor makes occurs at the first purchase of real property. As BiggerPockets readers well know, a real asset that generates income is a terrific hedge against inflation and almost completely uncorrelated to the volatile stock market.

If you are in the market to buy (or sell) a home in  Northern California, Realtors associated with Century 21 M&M look forward to walking you through the process. Rest assured that Century 21 M&M Realtors will do their best to make sure that both Buyers and Sellers are protected during the transaction.

Fall, Holidays Still Prime Season for Sellers

Courtesy of thisoldhouse.com

Courtesy of thisoldhouse.com

Source: Zillow.com ~ Author: Brendon DeSimone

Fall officially began Sept. 23, but that doesn’t mean you should scrap plans for selling your home this year. In fact, October, November and December can actually be good months to sell. Now is the time to plan for it if you’ve even considered putting your home on the market.

For decades, the conventional thinking was that if you missed the spring selling season, you missed the boat. Once summer rolls around and school starts shortly after that, families are more settled, the thinking went, and therefore less inclined to pick up and move (unless a job change or other circumstance forced them).

Also, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s and the January cold snaps follow the start of school. In the past, no one wanted to take time to drive around looking at homes when all of this was happening.

Things have changed. Today’s buyers aren’t necessarily timing a home purchase or sale around school schedules because people tend to settle down later in life and live longer. The result is urban expansion; more single, first-time and millennial buyers as well as baby boomers looking to buy (and sell). Also, a lot of home shopping, at least initially, happens online and via apps. Buyers don’t have to take time out of their busy schedules to drive around — they can just sit down with a tablet on the couch.

As a result of the Internet, our hectic schedules and mobile lifestyles, the fall months are no longer a real estate dead zone. True, spring is still the busiest time overall. But there’s plenty of action happening after Labor Day through Christmas, enough to make it worth your while to put up the ‘For Sale’ sign.

Here’s why.

Buyers are still out there

As mentioned, buyers never stop looking. A serious buyer is looking at new homes online 24/7, even through the holidays. If the right home appears, they’re ready to move. In fact, it could be that buyers in the early winter months are even more motivated than buyers in warmer months because there is less going on. They have fewer distractions and are laser focused on finding a home.

There’s less competition

A lot of people still buy into the old thinking that real estate slows to a crawl by October and virtually stops from Thanksgiving until, say, Valentine’s Day. As a consequence, many potential sellers figure there’s no reason to go on the market during these months. So they wait for spring. And that’s good news for you, because less inventory on the market = less competition for you.

Even January can be a good time to sell

By now you’re probably thinking about all the disruptions to your life that selling a home during the holidays might cause. For instance, you’re in the middle of wrapping Christmas gifts when your agent calls. She wants you to leave the house right away so she can bring a motivated buyer by for another look.

If the potential for disruptions concerns you, put your home on the market in January. Inventory will still be very tight, and there will still be buyers out there looking. In fact, with the holidays over, there may even be more buyers out in January than in December. Also, January buyers may be more motivated. They’ve started doing their taxes and realize they need to buy. Or they’ve set a New Year’s resolution to buy a home within the next 12 months.

Ultimately, as we enter the final quarter of 2014, there will no doubt be plenty of motivated buyers in the market, searching for just the right home at a time when there’s less inventory. Doesn’t that sound like a good time to sell?

If you are in the market to buy (or sell) a home in  Northern California, Realtors associated with Century 21 M&M look forward to walking you through the process. Rest assured that Century 21 M&M Realtors will do their best to make sure that both Buyers and Sellers are protected during the transaction.