Solar Power & Your Home

Solar panels are appearing on roofs of homes in neighborhoods throughout the area. As systems become more efficient and government tax incentives make solar energy more affordable – and even an income producer in some cases – an increasing number of homeowners are taking the plunge into renewable energy. 

In fact, increased affordability in recent years has allowed the United States to pass Japan to its current rank of 4th in the world in solar energy production, behind major producers that include Germany, China and Italy. 

Is solar right for you? 

Rooftop solar panels, also known as photovoltaic (PV) systems, are the most common solar technology used for homes. Today, almost 450,000 homes and businesses have solar power systems, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

Over the past few years, the cost of solar panel systems has decreased dramatically — more than 50% since 2010 — making this energy-producing tool a more affordable option for many homeowners. If you are installing solar on your residence, government incentives (Residential Renewable Energy Tax Credit) further increase the affordability. The Federal Government offers significant tax incentives for homeowners who install approved renewable energy systems; these incentives expire in 2021. A website, www.dsireusa.org, offers local details of grants and other incentives available to homeowners. Another website, http://www.energystar.gov/about/federal_tax_credits, details Federal Tax Credits as well as instructions on how to apply for the credit.

Worried about aesthetics? 

If you don’t like the look of traditional solar arrays, you can now buy solar-powered rooftop shingles that blend seamlessly into your roof. Both Dow and CertainTeed manufacture solar shingles that are similar in efficiency to traditional solar panels. Installation costs are slightly higher for solar shingles; however, if you need to install a new roof before installing solar panels, this option may save you money.

My community has an HOA. Can I install solar?

Two dozen states, including Maryland have “solar access rights” laws that limit homeowner associations from banning solar panels. This law overrides your homeowners’ association contract that restricts you from installing the panels. This doesn’t mean your homeowner association can’t place a few community restrictions; HOAs can still enforce where to put your panels or how to install them– these laws usually say that some restrictions are still possible. But if your HOA denies your request to have solar panels installed, you can recite the law, or, in the worst case scenario, you can sue your HOA and let the courts decide.

I’ve got a long-term lease on my solar panels and now I want to move.

You have options. If you plan to sell your home, solar energy companies make it easy to transfer the lease for solar panels to a buyer. Some will also transfer your solar panel system to your new home. If you plan to transfer your panels to a buyer, speak with your Realtor® about disclosing lease costs as well as promoting energy savings. Not all buyers are familiar with the benefits of solar, so it’s important to show that the added cost of a solar lease will also allow them to reap the benefit of reduced energy costs. Most solar leasing companies will allow the lease to transfer easily to a buyer, making the process a fairly painless part of the real estate transaction.

What is the real impact of solar panel systems on a home’s value? 

The impact on home value varies from market to market. In the past, appraisers have had difficulty finding comps to properly address the added value of solar panels, but that will change as more homes adopt solar. According to a recent study by the solar energy industry, the average sales price of homes with solar in the Baltimore Metro area is 2.52% higher than those without (approx. $13,667). However, the sample studied was not statistically significant. In fact, anecdotally, solar is still a novelty and may increase a buyer’s interest in a property but not increase their desire to pay more for such a property, particularly if they will be assuming a lease for solar panels. As such, the decision to adopt solar should not be based solely upon the potential for an increased selling price.

Sources: Solar Energy Industries Association, solargaines.com, pureenergies.com

- Debbie Pavlik

Smart Sellers Series: Pictures are Important!

Gone are the days of looking through the newspaper or real estate books and driving around neighborhoods to get a first impression of a house.  Instead, the first glimpse buyers get of a home is online through the pictures uploaded to the MLS.

Buyers are busy and have limited time to search through hundreds of listings, and they will quickly move on or skip listings if there is only one photo (or no photos) or if the photos are of poor quality.

If you’re thinking of selling, look through some listings online and ask yourself:

Do the photos make you want to visit the home? Do they look like they are pulled from a home design magazine? These are the kinds of pictures that will appeal to prospective buyers. Buyers want to be impressed.

Too few pictures, low quality pictures, or homes that do not have pictures of the important rooms lead buyers to question what is wrong with the property.  Buyers will move on and most likely not come back to view these listings.  The first several pictures in the listing are the most important, and should feature an eye-catching exterior front photo, and photos of the main living area, kitchen, owner’s bedroom and bathroom, as well as other attractive features (e.g., deck, patio).

Don’t have photos of the property yet? Don’t list the home until you do. The best photos are those with natural light, so make sure the photographer takes the photos during those times of the day.  Properly lit, high resolution photos are a must!  In addition, maximize the number of photos uploaded to the various websites.  Make sure there are no people (or parts of people) in the photos.  Avoid reflections in mirrors or flash feedback in windows or mirrors.

The Wendy Slaughter Team uses a professional photographer to photograph all of our listings because we understand how important this step of the marketing process is to selling your home.  Call us to learn more about our awesome marketing services can help you sell your home. (PS: Did you know in 2013, the county average “days on market” was 54 and The Wendy Slaughter Team’s “days on market” was just 16 days! Our sellers hug us a lot.)

- Debbie Gottwals

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

Sellers: take pictures of your yard now!

Many sellers have beautiful flower gardens and flowering trees but when they list their homes for sale in the fall and winter, these benefits are invisible.

The exterior of the home may look average or even boring during those months because nothing is in bloom.   Too many sellers tell me that “the house looks amazing in the spring time when the tulips and daffodils are up and when the dogwood tree is in bloom” but there is no way to share this information with prospective buyers.

Take pictures NOW – while your bulb plants are in full glory; while your flowering trees (e.g., cherry, bradford pear, and dogwood trees) are in bloom.  Save these to a file and give these pictures to your real estate agent to incorporate into your listing pictures so you can show how magnificent it is during the non-winter months.

~Debbie Gottwals

Spring Cleaning for the Spring Market

If you are thinking of selling your home this spring, now is the time to look around your house and make a plan to de-clutter, organize and clean. When prospective buyers visit your home, you only have one chance to make a first impression. So, putting in some extra effort before you post the “For Sale” sign can make a big difference in both sale price and days on market. Here is a quick list to help you de-clutter and spruce up your house as you prepare to make it “show worthy”:

De-clutter

When buyers enter your house, they are looking for space. Living space. Closet space. Storage space. To help convey space, you will want to pack away belongings you won’t need before the move. This will give you a head start on packing as well as help get your home ready to sell. Consider renting a storage unit to hold boxed possessions and extra furniture. This is also a great time to hold a garage sale or donate unwanted items to charity.

  • Clean out your closets, packing away items you won't need before you move and donating those items that are no longer used or needed.
  • In the kitchen, throw away old or expired food and clear off the counter tops. Pack away small appliances that take up counter or cabinet space.
  • Remove oversized furniture, small tables, extra chairs and “dust collectors” to make your rooms look more spacious.
  • Organize the remaining items to show off the space.

Clean

Buyers perceive a clean home as a well-maintained home. Therefore, a home ready to show can never be too clean. Don’t be afraid to break out the white gloves.

  • Start with your front door and, yes, doorknobs. Clean and/or paint the door.
  • Clean the finger prints from doorknobs and light switches.
  • Clean appliances inside and out. Make them shine!
  • Clean light and ceiling fan fixtures. Replace burned out light bulbs.
  • Clean windows and window screens.
  • Steam clean carpets.
  • Wipe down baseboards.
  • Paint tired walls with a neutral, inviting color.
  • Repair or replace damaged walls, fixtures, windows and screens.

The Wendy Slaughter Team specializes in showcasing our clients’ homes. After we tour your home, we provide a “Home Enhancements Checklist” that outlines those repairs and upgrades that will help you sell for more. We then bring in our professional designer who will stage your home. Finally, we hire a professional photographer to capture and show off your home’s best features.

These services help our listings stand out above the competition and are part of our proven marketing formula that helps our clients sell their homes faster. Last year, our Howard County listings sold in an average of 17 days as compared to the county average of 44 days on market. Contact us to help you make your home a “show worthy” addition to the spring market.

~Debbie Pavlik

10 Home Improvements Sellers Can Skip

When appraisers determine your home's value, they compare your home to surrounding comparable homes. Although it doesn't happen too often, there is a chance that you can over improve your home for your market area.

We've seen sellers put thousands of dollars into gourmet chef kitchens, owner's baths with champagne tubs and imported tile from Italy only to learn later that they are unable to recoup the costs of when they go to sell. Check out this slideshow for additional examples of some improvements that you may not have to do to your home. Wendy was asked to contribute to this slideshow and she happily agreed!

Wine Cellar

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.

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