Send your house to the head of the class - Smart Home Technology is no longer a thing of the future.

Have you ever left home only to wonder if you closed your garage door? Or, have you ever come home after dark and wished your lights would turn on when you opened the door? If only our homes could send us messages when something is amiss or interact with us to meet our needs. Well, they can, and they do.

Wifi and smart phones have expanded the realm of smart technology for homes. New wireless systems go beyond home security and allow homeowners to remotely control and monitor home systems from anywhere in the world via their smart phone, including:

·         Lighting – dimmers and switches, light bulbs, landscape lighting

·         Safety & Security – security cameras, door locks, alarm systems, smoke & CO detectors, garage doors

·         Energy Management – thermostat, outlet controls, water heater, irrigation systems

·         Lifestyle – pet doors, coffee makers, eggs (yes, eggs)

New systems are introduced almost monthly, and consumers can purchase them online or at leading home improvement and office supply retailers. Since the systems are wireless – most require a hub that taps into your internet modem – the devices are easily installed by the home owner. Plus, monitoring costs are significantly lower than those of traditional home security companies – if a consumer decides they want monitoring. These new systems are unique in that they allow the consumer to self monitor their home. In fact, most systems allow the user to interface with and control their home, even view a video feed, using an app on their smart phone.

Iris – Marketed by Lowe’s, Iris offers a full complement of home comfort and security devices. Iris is sold in stores and online, and Lowe’s offers specialized starter bundles for home automation and home security. Or, consumers can buy the devices they need a la carte, from smart plugs to dimmer switches to garage door openers to water heater shut-off valves and more. They also offer monitoring service for security as well as care service – get instant text messages for personal emergencies or if a loved one’s normal routine is disrupted. Use Iris magic to turn on lights or initiate video monitoring when a door is opened or other designated event happens. (see irisbylowes.com for more information)

Nest – One of the original off-the-shelf systems, Nest offers thermostat control, smoke alarms and video cameras. They have also started partnering with other companies to allow everyday household items such as light bulbs, washers and dryers, ceiling fans and more to interact with Nest devices. Nest is currently working with Google to connect more products. (see nest.com for more information)

Wink – Similar to Iris, Wink operates as a hub and an app (free from App Store and Google Play) that control a la carte devices in your home. Not all devices require the hub; some work off the app on your smart phone. Choose from a variety of security devices, home safety devices and home comfort. You can even add an egg minder that monitors the number and age of eggs in your refrigerator! Wink also interfaces with Nest. Again, like Iris, Wink devices can work in conjunction with each other to, for example, turn on lights when a triggering event occurs. Wink is available from Home Depot and Amazon.com. (see wink.com for more information)

Others – There are numerous options in the growing smart home market. A few other players include: Homeseer, Revolv, Belkin WeMo and SmartHome to name a few. If you’re considering improving your home’s technology, research the different systems to determine which offer the devices and systems that best suit your lifestyle. 

- Debbie Pavlik

Mold. Don’t let that four letter word turn your dream home into a nightmare.

Guest Blogger: Bob Pavlik, Certified Master Inspector, Gold Key Home Inspections

Toxic black mold. Toxic mold. Organic growth. The horror stories are all over the news. A family moves into a home, only to have it condemned after they develop serious health issues because of toxic black mold….

If you hear that four-letter word, STOP. Don’t run for the door.

1.       According to the CDC, molds are not toxic. Some produce toxins, but they themselves are not toxic or otherwise poisonous. In fact, while there is evidence to support a link between certain respiratory issues and certain molds, the above example is extremely rare.

2.       Mold exists everywhere, both indoors and outside. There are good molds and bad molds. Mold grows very quickly – a perfectly healthy environment can become overgrown with mold in as little as 48 hours. Some molds can be easily remedied, and other mold conditions will require remediation by an approved contractor.

The important thing to remember is that the presence of mold can only truly be confirmed through testing by an approved lab. So, if you suspect mold or your home inspector suggests that your new home has “organic growth,” ask to have it tested.

A mold inspector will examine areas in the house that are conducive to water intrusion and look for signs of growth.  The inspector will then take air samples and/or swab surfaces and submit the samples to a lab to determine if mold is present and, if so, what kind and at what concentration. Once you have the results in hand indicating elevated mold levels, your next move should be to

1.       Determine the cause or source of the mold. Ask your mold inspector if the cause can be easily fixed or if a hygienist will be required to remediate. If the presence of mold is contained to less than 10 square feet, HUD says you can clean it yourself (or hire a contractor to clean the mold). However, if the presence is greater than 10 square feet, you will need to hire a hygienist to write a remediation plan. Remediation will involve finding where the moisture is entering the house or where it’s originating within the house as well as making necessary repairs. It also involves removal and replacement of damaged cellulose materials as well as drying out the damp areas.

2.       Take the test results to your doctor or an allergist to determine if the molds found in your house are a potential health issue.

The bottom line is that most mold issues can be remedied. The key is to repair or remove the source of moisture and to clean the mold in a recommended manner to restore a healthy home environment.

Sources:

·         Facts about Stachybotrys chartarum and Other Molds, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, http://www.cdc.gov/mold/stachy.htm

·         Molds and Moisture, Environmental Protection Agency, http://www.epa.gov/mold

Three Little Fixes You Can Make When Prepping a Home for Sale - Guest Blogger Pillar to Post

For Sale (Almost)

Homeowners make a lot of memories in their houses, and there's no doubt it's emotional to say goodbye to your well-loved kitchens and family rooms when you put your home on the market. Potential Buyers will not be charmed by that "lived-in look"!

Here are a few simple DIY projects that you can do to get your home ready to sell. These little fixes will rejuvenate some common trouble areas and make homes more appealing to most Buyers...something you'll definitely want to do!

1) Busted tiles are not classy.

Oops. Did an anvil drop on that tile countertop? Tile holds up almost indefinitely to all kinds of wear-but sadly tile cracks if something heavy is dropped on it.

What you can do: 

  • It's relatively simple to replace broken tile: remove the grout, mask the surrounding tiles with tape, loosen the tile, chisel out the pieces, set the new tile, fill the perimeter with new grout and allow the grout to dry. Goodbye, shabby tile.

2) Scratches and dings and gouges, oh my!

We know your brother-in-law didn't mean to smack his favorite chair into the built-in bookshelves. While that's a funny time to remember, there's no value-add for the prospective home buyer!  So, it's probably best that the you get rid of any and all visible scratches, dings and gouges.

What you can do

  • Minor scratches can be wiped clean with mineral oil, lightly sanded with fine grade sandpaper and sealed with polyurethane.
  • Scratches that penetrate the finish can be filled with a like-colored furniture repair stick. The product consists of wax and putty, and is easy to apply. Follow with a coat of polyurethane.
  • Not quite a gouge, but deeper than a scratch? Use wood putty in a matching color. Gouges also can be treated with wood putty. Make the repair, let it dry and apply the polyurethane.

3) Counter intelligence?

Bags of groceries, stubborn food stains and the occasional misfire with a kitchen knife are all to blame for laminate or Corian counter surfaces looking scuffed and sad. Fortunately, there are simple solutions that won't leave you with an empty wallet.

What you can do:

  • Laminate is a repair-friendly surface: a color-matched repair pen or paste will camouflage most scratches. Be careful not to overfill, and gently sand the excess when dry.
  • The remnants of past meals can be removed using a paste made from baking soda and water. Leave the paste for a few hours and wipe away. No need to rub or scrub.
  • Minor scratches on Corian can be treated by using a mild abrasive liquid cleaner on a damp sponge, rubbing over the scratch in small, overlapping circular motions, and rinsing with clean water. Be sure to wipe the surface completely dry, and repeat if the blemish is still visible. Deeper scratches should be treated following the manufacturer's instructions.

That was easy, wasn't it? With a little elbow grease and a modest investment of time and money, you can bring the sexy back to worn surfaces.

~Rachel Oslund

Pillar to Post

                                                          Cracked tile can be fixed!

                                                          Cracked tile can be fixed!

Squeaky Floors = Concerned Buyers

While you live in your home, you might be considering changing your flooring. Buyers always point out squeaking floors while touring a home and many will ask me if it is a structural issue.

Even though most often there are no serious problems causing the squeaks, buyers will be concerned – especially if the seller has just replaced the carpet in order to get the house ready to go on the market.  Some reasons for squeaking floorboards include houses settling, floorboards expanding and contracting due to the loss of their moisture from heat/cooling/lack of humidity, and nails becoming loose over time.

Here is my helpful tip: while the old flooring is being removed and the subflooring is exposed, have your contractor screw down the subflooring (do not nail it as many contractors do).  If you have carpet in your home and are not planning on replacing it and have squeaky floorboards, you have a few options.

1. You can have a carpet installation company pull up the carpets from sides, screw the floorboards and then replace the carpet.

2. You can use a tool that allows you to screw down the subflooring directly through the carpet.  Here are 2 tools that clients of mine have used and highly recommend:

Squeak-ender - http://www.squeakender.com

Squeak No More (can be used for carpets, linoleum and hardwood floors) - http://www.oberry-enterprises.com/products.html

Top 5 Flooring questions - Guest Blogger Bill Iampieri

Before and After Flooring

If I have had these questions asked once… I have had them asked a million times. Here are the top 5 questions I get about the purchase of new flooring.

1) I want the carpet that will “wear” the best. Can you show me that?

When it comes to wear, we are usually talking about “crushing and matting” and “staining and soiling”. These are the main factors to how well your carpet will perform:

a) type of carper fiber used. You may be familiar with nylon carpet, but there is also polyester carpet and a new fiber called triexta. The fiber is important, but not the only factor.

b) how much fiber is used is obviously an important part of performance. But not just how much is used…but how dense the carpet is. Density is created by how close the strands of carpet are stitched together and how long each strand of carpet is. The denser the carpet is, the less chance the carpet can crush and mat.

c) the twist of the carpet fiber. Most people do not realize this is important as well. Carpet will “wear” better the more twists that each strand has. The higher the twist count…the better the carpet will perform.

We will work together to determine which fiber type works best for your particular flooring project.

2) Will this hardwood scratch?

Hardwood has a finish that protects and seals the wood. That finish (polyurethane) can scratch and that is what most consumers are referring to when they say "scratch". You can also penetrate the wood itself, but that is not typically what consumers are referring to. The good news is, that you can get a new urethane finish to restore the original luster and remove most, if not all of the surface scratches at a fraction of the cost of new hardwood…and get a new hardwood look! Ask me about sand and refinishing to see how we can restore your original hardwood look!

3) Does pad make a difference in how long my carpet will last?

Yes and No. Generally speaking, pad helps with the "walk and feel" of the new carpet. The better the pad, the better it will feel to walk on. Does it help the carpet perform well? Not necessarily. In the end, the carpet itself is the most important factor in how the carpet will perform relative to "wear" (crushing and matting). Also if the pad is not a high quality, it will begin to crush along with the carpet in traffic areas and that contributes to the look of carpet beginning to "wear out". I always recommend the best pad for your new carpet, as it is the least expensive part of the carpet installation.

4) Are your installers sub-contractors?

No our installation mechanics are not what most consumers refer to as "sub-contractors" that go from company to company or job to job. Our installation mechanics provide quality craftsmanship and in many instances have been installing with us for many years. A good installation mechanic is where the rubber hits the road. And like any other profession, some are better than others. I personally hand pick the installer that will work on your new flooring.

5) If I drop a can on my vinyl floor will it damage it?

If you drop a can on any hard surface it could damage it. Tile could crack. A can could penetrate hardwood surface and leave a dent. I always tell consumers, no flooring is bullet proof. Let's talk about your lifestyle and determine if we can find a product that suits you best. In the end, we have to care for our flooring and yes it can damage. I get people all the time trying to fix a section of their floor. That's the good news...in many cases the damage can be fixed. In the end, most consumers want to feel that their new flooring will last and be beautiful for many years. With my guidance and experience, we will choose the new flooring that is best for your home!

For more information about flooring of all kinds and more, call Bill Iampieri Jr. at (410)-988-2834 or visit www.AskForBill.com for more information and our current special offers. "Flooring of all kinds....service that's one of a kind!"

15 Meaningful Home Improvements for Sellers

Want to make the most out of the time you spend getting your home ready for sale? There are several steps in the home selling process that are important for most homes. Something as easy as doing a thorough home cleaning and taking time to de-clutter will help make that first impression of your home memorable to buyers. Even a small change like upgrading a light fixture can have a huge impact on what a buyer sees when they walk into your home.

Check out this eHow slideshow  that details 15 ways that you can improve your home to help it sell faster. Wendy was featured in slideshows 7-9!

Yes, you should be keeping up with the Joneses...and here's why

The most frequent questions we hear from homeowners relate to maintaining or improving the value in their homes. Being active in the local real estate market means we know the trends. Some you may already know. Others may really surprise you.

MAINTENANCE: SO IMPORTANT

Yes, this is a totally boring topic but it is super important! We cannot stress this enough: maintain, maintain, maintain! A stitch in time really does save nine. When something isn’t working, repair it right away. It’s the right thing to do and you’ll thank us later.

UPDATES: TACKLE THE SMALL STUFF

Everyone knows that kitchens and baths sell homes. Flooring is a close second. But even small changes can have a huge impact. Those old brass light and bathroom fixtures will age your home and make it seem dated. The good news: fixing this is affordable. Both Lowes and Home Depot now have great lighting options. We recently updated every light fixture in a townhouse for less than $400. It had a huge impact and the house sold quickly. Small investment for a huge impression!

IMPROVEMENTS: BE YOU BUT BE CURRENT

It’s important to choose flooring and paint colors that are current. You don’t have to follow every fad but keeping up with trends while making your house still feel like your own will help to maintain or increase the value. Many designers offer color consultations at reasonable fees.  Again, investing a small amount for a fresh updated palette will make a huge impact in your home!

IT PAYS OFF: DO NOT LEAVE MONEY ON THE TABLE EVER!

Maintaining and upgrading your home allows YOU to enjoy the house. Yes, you’ll recoup some of your investment but you’ll also fall in love with your home again. Should you sell down the road, your home will show like a model and you’ll sell faster and for more money than your neighbor.

Want some more free advice? Like us on facebook, follow us on twitter or contact us for more info about improvements and referrals to high quality service providers.

Wishing you all the best!

Wendy Slaughter

This article was originally published in Her Mind Magazine.

5 Things Every New Homeowner Should Do (within the first week of moving in)

Congratulations! You have finished the settlement process and are given the keys to your new home.  What items should be put on your immediate TO-DO list?  Here are the top 5 items that the Wendy Slaughter Team recommends:

1. Change the Locks

You do not know how many sets of keys have been given to neighbors or contractors who have worked on the home, so to be on the safe side, change your locks.

2. Reprogram Garage Door Openers and Alarm Systems

Many garage door remotes have a reset button that you can hold down to re-program. If you have an exterior garage door keypad, you should change the code as well. You should also reprogram your alarm system keypads with your own codes. Use Google to find the instruction manuals for the systems.

3. Replace the Furnace Filters

If the airflow is blocked, the efficiency of your unit is compromised.  Not only will replacing your filter make your heating bills lower, but it will also make your furnace more efficient.

Replacing an HVAC filter

4. Replace Batteries in Smoke Detectors and Carbon Monoxide Detectors

There is no way for you to know how old the batteries are in these detectors, so to be safe, you should replace the batteries as soon as you move into your house. Moving forward, it’s recommended you change the batteries twice a year when you change the clocks for daylight savings time.

5. Check the Temperature Setting on the Hot Water Heater

The previous owners may have liked it hot hot hot! Check the settings and make adjustments if needed.

- Debbie Gottwals

Smart Sellers Series: There is an invisible gas that can impact your deal

It’s not science fiction. There is an invisible gas that is in many homes and if discovered during your home inspection, it can cause issues with your contract – or even cause it to fall through.

The mystery gas is radon.

On a serious note…radon should not be taken lightly. There are health risks associated with radon including cancer. You can read more about radon and the associated health risks at www.epa.gov/radon.

If you’re a seller and you haven’t had your home tested for radon, it’s important to understand the process. A buyer will most likely include a radon inspection when he/she writes an offer. At the time of the home inspection, radon testing equipment will be placed in your home, normally on the lowest level of the house. The test runs for 48 hours and will be picked up afterward by the home inspector. Test results are usually available within a day or two.

The buyer determines their threshold for acceptable radon levels but many buyers default to the EPA recommended level of 4 picocuries per liter (or 4 pCi/L). If the levels are higher than the threshold, the buyers have a choice. They can either:

A)     get out of the contract or they can

B)      ask you to correct the issue by hiring a licensed remediation contractor to remediate and retest. New test results must be below level indicated on the Radon Inspection Addendum.

In Howard County, the buyers select option A or B when they write their offer so as a seller, you know your obligations when you accept the offer.

But here’s the catch. We’ve seen buyers – especially those buyers who are either first time homebuyers or are relocating from another area – who want out of the contract when radon results are above 4 pCi/L.

There are other, legal ways out of the contract so how can a seller mitigate this risk?

It’s important that you know ahead of time about your options and how they could impact your sale. You could have your radon tested before listing, remediate if necessary and retest. Disclosure is key here so providing the details to potential buyers is important.  Or you could let buyers go through this process once you are under contract…with the understanding that it could be an obstacle to closing later on.

Radon is serious and buyers have a right to decide how they want to handle the issue. It’s best if you understand the impact of radon prior to listing your home. Call us to learn more.

- Wendy 

See www.epa.gov/radon for more information.

                                                             Radon Mitigation System

                                                             Radon Mitigation System

RECEIPTS RULE!

Have you ever heard the saying that “the house with the most documents wins” or gets the best value in the market? Well, it is true and here are 2 very good reasons for you to keep all of the receipts related to your home:
1) Receipts help to justify your list price to prospective buyers and
2) Receipts help to justify your contract price to an appraiser

But first, a little background information.
Keeping track of the improvements and repairs to your home can really pay off when it comes time to sell. In addition, differentiating between “improvements” and “repairs” is important. Improvements can be anything from new kitchen appliances, adding a deck, or finishing your basement. Repairs include replacing the carpet, adding fresh paint, fixing sagging gutters, replacing rotted trim around doorways – anything that is an important, but routine maintenance project. Even though these items fall into two different categories, all of these things will improve the value of your home.

Back to receipts….

#1 Helping buyers see the value of your home
Buyers want to see your home as close to model condition as possible and will form an opinion based on what they can “see.” For example, the buyers may not know that you replaced the hot water heater in the past 6 months. By documenting the date and cost of an item you replaced or repaired in your home, you can justify the list price with prospective buyers based on the value of the improvements or repairs you have completed. When we work with sellers, we ask you to provide a list of any updates or repairs along with the approximate cost and year the work was completed. We create a document based on this information and provide copies of this list for prospective buyers when they tour your home.

Buyers often decrease the amount they are willing to offer if they see the house looking run down, worn out, or out of date. If you can present an itemized list of repairs/updates/improvements in your house with the dates of completion and can provide the receipts as well, it tells a story to your buyer. It shows you were willing to invest in your home and that you cared about maintaining it. This list will help you when negotiating the contract price.

#2 Helping appraisers see the value of your home
Once you are under contract, the buyer’s lender will order an appraisal of the home. Even though appraisers work off of checklists that measure real values in a property, they also raise or lower the home value based on how sellers have cared for or neglected their properties and they credit the value based on any upgrades sellers have completed to stay in line with the market. Keeping receipts helps to quantify these repairs and improvements when it comes time to sell. When we work with sellers, we meet the appraiser at your home and we provide the itemized list and copies of the receipts. Rather than having to guess each improvement’s worth, receipts will empower the appraiser to identify the full value of a home improvement. Even if you think it’s only a small or minor improvement, you should include it.

One final recommendation: Photocopy or scan the receipts to a file so that you don’t find yourself with blank paper as the ink degrades over time.

- Debbie Gottwals

Repair Receipts

The Simple Explanation of Energy Deregulation

In July of 2000, lawmakers in Maryland changed regulation and gave consumers the freedom to choose their own energy supplier. Typically these suppliers were able to offer natural gas and electric at lower rates than the local utility company. Customers who do not shop for supply of electric from an alternate electric provider in Maryland receive Standard Offer Service from their utility company and prices change every six months.

It may be more beneficial to take advantage of competitive prices from other energy providers because electric prices are affected by the wholesale market. Natural gas prices vary monthly. The monthly fluctuations mean that customers can be exposed to volatile swings in prices. Customers can avoid these swings in gas supply charge by contracting with an alternative gas supplier. The utility company still plays a vital role in the process as they ensure that your energy is safely delivered to your home or business, track your usage, maintain the infrastructure and send you your bill. The only difference being that if you choose a separate supplier, there will be a line item with your natural gas and electricity supplier.

The bottom line is, it’s all about saving money where we can, when we can!

- Beth Viscarra