Marketing Team

7 Amazing Projects That Make Your Backyard an Oasis

But not all are equal when it comes to investing in your home.

After spending so much time at home, you want — you need! — a backyard getaway, not a bootcamp that’s all about mowing, weeding, and raking. 

Time for a second honeymoon with these ideas that’ll turn your labor-loving yard into a leisure-loving one. Some will even enhance your home’s value. Others, at least, won’t ding it. (You definitely don’t want to do that.)

Let the backyard oasis begin with these ideas:

#1 Al-Fresco Dining

Ample, built-in seating and wood-fired pizza on-demand. And while wood-fired ovens are famous for pizza, this isn’t a one-note investment: You can serve up any meat, veggie, or bread — making this a full-on outdoor oven. Low-maintenance hardscaping means you can focus on your party, instead of mowing grass.

Or go for the full farm-to-table concept:

Pluck some veggies from some chic, metal raised beds (easy to maintain), prep them in an outdoor cooking island with a built-in grill (and green roof, which keeps it cooler underneath), and treat yourself to the freshest cuisine around for your backyard staycation.

Even better, since the entire ground area is pea gravel, you can spend less time mowing and more time dining.

But does it add value? Outdoor living and cooking spaces (rooms, really) almost always do. As do low-maintenance hardscaping features — like the patio. Raised steel garden beds, not so much, though.

#2 An Outdoor Room Just for Leisure

Spend Saturday afternoon napping in your outdoor space — not laboring over it. Easy-care plants look lush with minimal intervention, including ground cover and stone to replace grass.

Install horizontal privacy fencing, and you’re ready for one legendary siesta (adorable dog recommended, but not required).

But does it add value? See above about outdoor rooms (and the lovely plants definitely boost it, too). Win-win.

#3 A Yard for Playing

You don’t have to give up playing in the backyard just because you’re an adult. Make your yard a grown-up rec center with a fire pit and bocce ball court (or cornhole, ladder ball, even giant Jenga).

Wood-paneled privacy fencing elevates the adults-only aesthetic, and low-maintenance gravel keeps the focus on fun instead of maintenance.

But does it add value? Seriously doubt it (except for the fence). But it’s your yard. Remember, joy is an ROI of a different sort. Plus, the court is easy enough to erase with some basic landscaping (always a good value add).

#4 A DIY Pool and Pit

An affordable, stock-tank soaking pool paired with a DIY fire pit and seating is everything good about a pool (laps, shmaps, right?), without all the cost and maintenance.

Add a little wood-fired heater, and it’s a hot tub, too (just make sure it’s one designed for hot tubs — for obvious reasons).

But does it add value? Only to you. And since it’s easy enough to remove, it’s not hurting it either. If you love it, then you’re getting a whole different kind of ROI — where dollars don’t apply.

#5 A Me-Only Retreat

A Malibu spa day may not fit into your schedule (or budget) this year, but stealing away to this hideaway for 30 minutes at a time can be easily penciled in. Now where’s the “Do not disturb” sign?

But does it add value? Not really, especially since the shed isn’t plumbed and lacks power. But backyard sheds-as-rooms never seem to disappoint buyers.

#6 An Epic Slide

Jack up a playhouse with a slide that makes their friends go “Whoa.” And while they’re spending a few hours running up the stairs (or climbing up a cargo net) and racing down the slide, you get some much-deserved “me” time: not a lousy ROI. 

But does it add value? The slide, no. The playhouse? Again, no plumbing, no electricity, probably no gain — but the landscaping is a sure-fire win.

#7 Lighting for After Dark

Do resorts shut down at dusk? They do not. To make your backyard an all-hours destination, incorporate outdoor lighting into your vision. Forget tiki torches; opt for permanent overhead, task, and mood lighting — just like you would indoors. Efficient solar and LED lights are great for outdoors. With the right glow, you can squeeze even more hours of delight out of your backyard staycation.

But does it add value? Oh, yeah. A no-brainer. Outdoor lighting is great for curb appeal(and safety).

Original used by permission: Amy Howell Hirt

5 Relationship-Saving Strategies For Any Couple Buying a House

Buying a house is exciting. Arguing while buying a house? Not so much. Here’s how to keep the peace while house hunting.

Before you and your partner start sending each other links to the home of your dreams, have a few conversations about the home buying process. 

A couple buying a house should talk about money, of course, but also about their expectations for their first home. Talking now will keep you productive, positive, and focused on finding the right house. It will also help you manage buying-a-house stress on your relationship. 

OK, we’re about to get a little “Modern Love” here. 

Related: Understand the Steps to Buying a Home

#1 Get On the Same Page About Expectations

No matter how connected you two are, there are still unspoken and undefined expectations between you. Especially when it comes to a couple buying a house. Buying can reveal relationship problems, because it’s the biggest financial transaction you’ll make, and there are a lot of emotions and expectations tied up in the idea of home.

Listen to your partner and commit to the idea that each person has a voice in every issue. “That would be my No. 1 principle,” says Donna R. Baptiste, a licensed marriage and family therapist, and professor at Northwestern University’s Family Institute. “Two people must respect each other’s right to have a say.”

How to start? Ask questions like:

  • Why do you want to buy a house?
  • What’s the most important thing to consider, in your opinion? 
  • How long do you want to live there?
  • Do you want something perfect or a fixer-upper?
  • What do you think our budget should be?

We also recommend filling out our first-time buyer’s worksheet, which will help you and your partner get on the same page — literally.

#2 Be Prepared to Back Down

Not every decision will be 50-50. Equal say is not always the standard,” Baptiste says. 

But both of you should be willing to accept no for an answer. This prevents gridlock. And ceding some control makes the decision on which home to buy a shared one. 

Consider the situation faced by work-from-home clothing designer Veronica Sheaffer and her husband, teacher Keith Dumbleton. They bought their prewar apartment on Chicago’s far North Side four years ago. 

While scrolling through listings, Sheaffer fell for the property’s vintage millwork and spacious layout, but the building was 12 miles from the centrally located neighborhood they’d been living in. Sheaffer accepted the hours the new location would add to Dumbleton’s school commute could be a deal breaker. 

“I gave him the power of refusal and prepared myself for losing the place,” she says. Knowing that Sheaffer was conscious of the sacrifices he’d be making, Dumbleton agreed to move forward with making an offer. “Her being open to me saying no allowed me to make that decision, and I don’t regret it.”

#3 Do Scenario Planning

New homes have a way of changing life’s routines. 

Does one of you take the dog out? If so, that beautiful sixth-floor walk-up may affect the dog caretaker’s mornings (and moods). Does one of you do most of the outdoor chores? How do you really feel about taking care of a massive lawn? That house that sits on top of a hill is gorgeous, and the views! But will you like hauling bags of groceries up the three flights of stairs to the front door?

“I ask a couple to have it sink in,” says Dan Sullivan, a REALTOR® at Compass in Chicago. “What is it going to physically be like living in that property, day in and day out?” 

The more you think it over together, the happier you’ll both be after you move in.

#4 Ask An Expert

As a couple buying a house, you may be in full agreement or you may be at an impasse, but either way talk to a real estate agent and, as Baptiste recommends, “submit to the idea of getting good advice.” 

A good agent is like a reference librarian and a personal coach in one. They can help you navigate the home buying process minutiae, like finding a good mortgage broker or dissecting the details of a home inspection. 

An agent can give you the knowledge you need to make a wise decision. And she can pump you and your partner back up when your energy has ebbed because you’ve looked at 22 houses and not seen one worthy of an offer. Or you put in an offer and it fell through. 

Leaning on a professional to offer perspective and help work through disappointment releases some buying-a-house stress on a relationship. “As much as possible, as early as possible, I try to get [couples] to see the big picture,” Sullivan says. 

#5 Recognize You’re a Team 

Involving an agent in the home buying process can have another unexpected outcome, says Sheaffer. It brought her and Dumbleton closer together. 

Having the agent participate in discussions — and even occasionally disagreeing with her — “helped us [see] that we know each other, we know our lifestyle. Anything that will allow you to bond more with your partner is always positive.” 

The agent got them to talk to each other about what they wanted and didn’t want in a house. It helped them hash out their likes and dislikes, constructively. 

Instead of letting buying a house lead to relationship problems, turn the experience into a chance to learn and grow together. Talk. Listen. And get good advice from a smart agent. You’ll end up as homeowners — with an even better connection. 

What’s not to love?

Written by and used with consent from House Logic.

How to Find the Right Person to Sell Your House

Your guide to hiring the listing agent who can set you up for success.

Your home is where you’ve lived and loved, where you’ve laughed and cried, where you’ve huddled and snuggled. You’re the pea, your home is the pod. And you’ve been through a lot together.

Now that it’s time to put it on the market, you’re likely experiencing some sadness, plus plenty of anxiety. Because really: How often does your future depend on selling your past? If you’re a little overwhelmed, we don’t blame you.

But there’s also good news: You don’t have to go it alone. 

A listing agent has your back when it comes to the financials, like setting a listing price and marketing, staging, and making repairs to your house. He or she can also help you navigate more personal issues, such as your timeline, and what you’re hoping to achieve with the sale.  

For all of those reasons, it’s important to find an expert who is right for you and your specific situation, and who can help you get what you want. Here’s how.

Know What a Listing Agent Can Do for You

Before you start interviewing prospective agents, have a clear sense of what you want to get out of the selling process. When so much money is on the table, it’s crucial to know what your goals are, so that you can find an agent who really speaks to them.

Then, it helps to understand what a listing agent does (other than sell your most valuable asset — no big deal).

The listing agent will: 

  • Work with you to price your home
  • Market your home (we’re talking pretty pictures, social media promo, cute staging — the works)
  • Negotiate with home buyers
  • Usher the home sale through inspection and closing

Now, let’s break all of that down . . .

Pricing your home. This is the BIG question, right? How do I set the price? The short answer is you’ll need to trust your agent to recommend a smart listing price. 

So how can you tell whether an agent — a relative stranger to you — is choosing the best price for your home? You need to do two things:

  1. Know, generally speaking, what your property is worth. Do your own research on the prices of local comps, (but understand the limits of online property sites). Run your info by your agent for an informed perspective. 
  2. Ask the agent for pricing information on homes he or she has recently sold.Specifically, what the differences were between their listing prices and how much the homes ultimately sold for. 

When it comes to the agent’s pricing history, you’re looking for accuracy. Anyone could suggest a high price for your home, knowing it’s what you’d like to hear. But nobody (especially you) wants to have a house languish on the market, or to reduce a price repeatedly.

Marketing your home. The listing agent will also get the word out that your house is on the market, using a combination of old-school (but powerful) marketing techniques — such as direct mail, signage, and open houses — and the modern methods we know and love, like social media. Savvy agents will post pics of your house on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and any other platform that can get likes plus the attention of other real estate agents who can bring buyers to the table.

Negotiating with buyers. When offers start pouring in, your agent will negotiate with prospective buyers on not only the sale price but also on what contingencies (aka special circumstances) are attached to the contract. As with any negotiation, there could be some stressful, fraught moments with the buyers. You’ll want an agent who can step up for you, and who has a negotiation style that you’re comfortable with.

Closing the sale. Once you’ve signed a purchase agreement with a buyer (woo-hoo!), your agent will help you navigate the sale’s remaining steps. This includes negotiating home repair requests post inspection and dealing with any last-minute surprises before closing.

The average listing agent does all of the above. A great listing agent does all of the above, while also inspiring your confidence — that they’re getting the best price for you, and that they’re representing you and your home in the best possible light. 

So, let’s talk about how to find and hire that kind of agent.

Ask These Questions to Find a Great Listing Agent

Here, time is on your side. Aim to hire a listing agent six to eight weeks — or more — before the day your house is listed on the market (also known as the “go-live date”). You’ll be grateful for the cushion, especially if the agent you ultimately hire recommends that you make repairs or upgrades to your home before it’s listed. (That wouldn’t be unusual.)

To find prospective agents, start with your network. Ask friends, relatives, neighbors, and colleagues for recommendations. Word-of-mouth endorsements, as always, can be priceless.

You can also turn to another trusted friend: the internet. Property websites such as realtor.com® have directories that let you search for agents in your area. These databases can clue you into important details, such as an agent’s years of experience, number of homes sold, and past client reviews.

Three out of four home sellers only contact one candidate before picking their listing agent, according to a NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® report. While that may be the norm, it’s smarter to shop around. Interview at least three agents before deciding on the one you want to work with. 

During the interviews, ask these questions to help assess whether an agent is the right fit you:

  • Do you work as an agent full-time? As in most professions, work experience doesn’t guarantee skill. That said, much of real estate is learned on the job.
  • How long have you been in the business? Generally, the more experience an agent has, the more they’re tapped into the local market. 
  • How many homes have you sold in my neighborhood in the past year? You don’t need to find an agent who specializes only in your community, though that would be ideal. You do want someone who has recently sold at least a few homes in your neighborhood and knows the local and hyper-local inventory.
  • What’s the typical price range of homes you sell? Most agents work across multiple price points, but you don’t want an agent who has never sold a home in your range.
  • What’s your fee? An agent should be able to articulate their value and explain their commission rate.  
  • How will you market my home? You don’t want to hire someone who’s just going to stick a For Sale sign in your yard and call it a day. The agent should present a comprehensive marketing plan for your listing. This should include strategies for staging your home, taking professional photographs of your home, promoting the listing on social media, marketing to other brokers, and scheduling open houses.
  • Will I be working with you directly, or with a team? Some agents lead or work as part of a sales team. The lead listing agent shares client responsibilities with other agents. Where one agent may handle private showings for a listing, another may host open houses. A benefit is that for the same fee, you get many people working for you. But if you want the sole attention of the listing agent, you may want to stick to a one-on-one arrangement. 
  • Will you provide one-on-one service? Whether you’re working with one agent or a team, ask how responsive they can be to you, your timeline, and your goals.
  • How long on average are your listings on market? Your average sold-to-list price? This can help you suss out whether the agent is a solid marketer and negotiator. These are real estate stats that the agent can pull from your local multiple listing service, or MLS. 

The bottom-line: It’s in your best interest to pick an agent who understands your goals, fits your personality, and can get your home sold for top dollar. When you meet someone who can offer all of the above, congratulations — you’ve found your listing agent.

First Thing: Know What You’re Signing up For

Now that you know what you’re getting when you find the right listing agent, let’s make sure you know what you’re committing to when you sign that agent’s “representation agreement.”

The most common type of representation agreement is the exclusive right-to-sell agreement — a legally binding contract that states you’re going to use that agent to sell your house. Under this agreement, you’re giving the agent (and the agent’s brokerage) the right to sell the home for a mutually agreed-upon time period and compensation. IOW: You get peace of mind that you have a dedicated agent; the agent gets peace of mind that you’re only using their services. Other common terms include the agent’s duties to you, like marketing, and a dispute resolution plan.

There are other types of representation agreements, where agents don’t have exclusive rights to sell the property — meaning multiple agents can try to sell the home and compete for the commission. However, when agents know a listing is exclusively theirs, they’re fully invested in selling the property (which, again, should also give you peace of mind).

Every contract has an expiration date, but the length of the contract can vary. Some are three-months; others six months. It all depends on what you and the agent agree upon. If the contract expires before your house is sold, you can re-list your home with another agent. 

Of course, there’s a chance you sign an exclusive listing agreement but just aren’t satisfied with the job your agent is doing. To protect yourself, make sure the representation agreement has a cancellation or termination clause that lets you void the contract before the expiration date without any financial penalty.

Understand How a Listing Agent Gets Paid

So  . . . at the end of the day, how do listing agents get compensated for their work? 

Real estate commissions — including the listing agent’s commission — are typically charged as a percentage of the home’s sales price. For example, on a $300,000 house, a 6% commission would cost $18,000. Commissions are negotiable. The commission is usually split between the listing agent and the buyer’s agent as well as their respective brokers. 

A caveat: If an agent represents the seller and the buyer, the agent becomes a dual agent and earns both sides of the commission. In dual agency, you may have more room to negotiate the rate — just keep in mind that you’re not being represented exclusively as you are in single agency. You may want to hire an attorney to review documents and help you negotiate.

The listing agent’s commission fee often covers the cost of professional photos, marketing and marketing materials, and any administrative fees charged by the agent’s brokerage. 

Also, consider this: Great agents — with their pretty photography, HGTV-worthy staging tricks, and marketing smarts — earn their keep. 

So, if you’ve read all of the above, you’ve done your homework to find a great agent. Now you’re ready to sell that house.

For a full listing of Molisse Realty Group agents, CLICK HERE.

Original content written by: HouseLogic

35 Money-Saving Household Habits

Adopt a few of these home tips to find a bit more cash each month.

Your house gives you so much: security, pride, shelter. With all that on the line, it’s easy to assume the costs of keeping it up just are what they are. But wait. There are plenty of expenses that are simply a waste. 

Here’s how to save money each month without putting a dime of home value at risk.

#1 Clean Your Light Bulbs

What? Who does that? Well, smart people (who know shrewd, small ways to save money). A dirty bulb emits 30% less light than a clean one. Dust off both the bulb and fixture, and you might be able to cut back on the number or brightness of lights in each room without noticing any difference. 

#2 Keep Your Fridge Full

Solid items snuggled together retain the cold better than air and help keep each other cold — requiring less energy overall. Leaving town for awhile and fridge is empty? Fill voids in the fridge or freezer with water bottles.

#3 Switch Your Bulbs to LEDs

By replacing just five of your most-used incandescent bulbs with uber-efficient light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs, you could save $75 a year on your energy bill. 

And LEDs last 15 to 20 times longer than incandescents, so you won’t have to replace them nearly as often.

#4 Use Power Strips

Here’s how to save money — a lot of it — on bills. Appliances like coffee makers, TVs, and computers continue to suck power even when they’re off, which can cost you $100 a year. And did you know the AC adapter for your laptop keeps drawing power even if the laptop isn’t plugged in? Stop this slow money burn by connecting them to an easy-to-switch-off power strip.

#5 Use a Toaster Oven When Possible

Toaster ovens use 50% to 70% less energy than a full-size oven.

#6 Set Your Water Heater to 120 Degrees

Hot water heaters often come with a factory setting that’s higher than you need. You’ll cool your water heating costs by 3% to 5% every time you lower the temperature setting by 10 degrees. 

#7 Insulate Your Water Heater

For $30 or less, an insulating jacket or blanket can shave 7% to 16% off your water heating costs for the year. Just make sure to follow the manufacturer’s directions to avoid creating a fire hazard.

#8 Wash Clothes in Cold Water

Just switching from hot to warm water will cut every load’s energy use in half, and you’ll reap even more savings taking the temp down to cold. And don’t worry: Your clothes will get just as clean from cold water, thanks to the efficiency of today’s detergents (except in the case of sickness; you’ll want hot water and bleach then).

#9 Use the Right Dryer Cycle

If you’re using a high-heat setting for each load, you could be using more energy than you need. Almost all fabrics can be dried with a lower heat setting, such as the permanent press setting. It uses less energy and has the bonus of extending the life of your fabrics. Save the higher heat for items such as sheets and towels.

#10 Use Homemade Cleaners

Many commercial products rely on baking soda or vinegar for their cleaning power, so why not make your own? Most homemade cleaners cost less than $1. 

#11 Cut Back on Laundry Detergent

Never mind the barely visible measurement lines in the cap: You typically need only a tablespoon of detergent. And, clothes actually get cleaner when you use less, because there’s no soap residue left behind.

#12 Ditch Disposable Sweeper and Mop Head

Stop throwing money away every time you clean! Refill your Swiffer Sweeper with microfiber cloths. Just cut to size and use them dry for dusting or with a little water and floor cleaner for mopping. Or switch to a microfiber mop with a washable head.

#13 Stop Buying Dryer Sheets

Another easy swap? Give up your dryer-sheet habit (about $7 for 240 loads) in favor of wool dryer balls (about $10 for six, which last for more than 500 loads each). Of course, depending on your laundry preferences, you can always just go without either.

#14 Cut Scouring Pads in Half

Most clean-ups don’t require a full one.

#15 Don’t Rinse Dishes

Two minutes of rinsing with the faucet on full-power will consume 5 gallons of water — the same amount efficient dishwashers use during an entire cycle. Shocking, right? And it’s an unnecessary step, since most newer models are equipped to remove even stubborn food debris. Just be sure to clean the dishwasher trap regularly to keep your dishwasher running efficiently.

#16 Keep a Pitcher of Water in the Fridge

You won’t have to waste time and money running the faucet, waiting for it to get cold enough for a refreshing sip.

#17 Set a Timer for the Shower

The average American takes an eight-minute shower and uses about 17 gallons of water. It’s easy to linger, so set a timer for five minutes. Or try this more entertaining idea: Time your shower to a song or podcast segment.

#18 Install Low-Flow Fixtures

In addition to water-conserving practices, low-flow showerheads, which cost less than $10, and other fixtures can drop your water use in the shower by 43%.

#19 Hack a Water-Hogging Toilet

If you don’t have a water-conserving toilet, there are water-saving retrofitting kits that could yield about $110 in savings every year. Or place a half-gallon milk jug filled with water into the tank — in the corner and away from the flapper and ball-cock assembly. Every time you flush, you’ll save.

#20 Close Closet Doors

Each closet and pantry may hold a paltry amount of square footage, but you’re still heating and cooling it. Add up all the storage space, and you’ve got the equivalent of a small room. Shut the doors to keep the conditioned air out.

#21 Program the Thermostat

Program your thermostat to turn the heat down by 3 to 5 degrees when you’re not home and at night, and set it to bump the temperature up by the same amount when the A/C is cranking. You’ll save $10 to $20 a month and never feel the difference.

#22 Don’t Crank the Thermostat Up or Down Too Far

Varying the setting by 10 or more degrees when you’re gone for work or over the weekend is overkill. Your HVAC system will have to work overtime to get back to the ideal temperature, erasing your savings.

#23 Use Fans Year-Round

Ceiling fans can reduce your summer cooling costs and even reduce winter heating bills — but only if used correctly. Flip the switch on the base to make the blades rotate counterclockwise for a cooling effect or clockwise to help distribute heat in the winter. And in the warmer months, an attic or whole-house fan can suck hot air out and help distribute cooler air so you can give the A/C a little break.

#24 Caulk or Weatherstrip Around Doors and Windows

Caulk may not have the charisma of something like solar panels, but using it to seal air leaks around doors and windows will deliver immediate savings rather than a 14-year payback. You’ll spend $3 to $30 and save 10% to 20% on energy bills.

For gaps between moving parts that can’t be caulked, add weatherstripping.

#25 Add Insulation

This is a bigger weatherizing project than caulking or weather stripping, but it could yield more than $500 in yearly savings. While your home should be properly insulated from the roof down to the foundation, prioritize the attic, under floors above unheated spaces, around walls in a heated basement, and in exterior walls.

#26 Plant Shade Trees

Block the summer sun to lower cooling costs. Planting one shade tree on the west side and one on the east side of your home can shield your home from the sun during the summer months (but avoid south-side trees, which block winter sun). By the time they’re 15 years old, these two trees can reduce your energy bill by 22%, while adding value to your home.

#27 Use Curtains as Insulation

Another way to practice energy-saving passive heating and cooling? Open curtains on sunny windows in the winter and close them up in the summer.

#28 Cool with a Cross Breeze

On a breezy day, open a window on the side of your house that’s receiving the breeze, then open another on the opposite side of the house. Make sure the window on the receiving side is open a little less than the exhaust side to accelerate the breeze. You can also use a fan if there’s no breeze outside.

#29 Check Your Mortgage’s PMI

If your mortgage was for more than 80% of your home’s purchase price, you could be paying more than $50 a month, and as much as $1,000 a year, for private mortgage insurance. So as soon as you have at least 20% equity in your home, contact your lender to terminate the policy — they aren’t necessarily required to notify you when you reach that threshold.

Another option for ditching PMI? If your credit score or debt load has improved since securing your mortgage, look into refinancing with more favorable terms.

#30 Check Your Home Insurance for Savings

Your homeowners insurance should change as your life changes. Buying an automatic generator or installing security alarms could reduce your premiums by 5% or more. 

Bundling your home and auto coverage could save even more — up to 20% off both policies. But the point is to compare and do a price check to see if you can save. 

Surveys have found you could be paying a lot more than what another insurer would charge for the same coverage. So you could save by going with a new company or by using their quote to bargain with your current provider.

#31 Borrow Tools Instead of Buying

How often are you going to use that $600 demolition hammer once you remove your bathroom tile? Not so much? Rent it from a home-improvement store for a fraction of the cost. Be sure to do the math for each tool and project, though; sometimes the rental price is high enough to justify buying it.

Or join a tool lending library or cooperative to borrow tools for free or much less than retail stores.

#32 Cut Back on Paper Towels

Two rolls of paper towels a week add up to about $182 every year! Instead, try machine-washable cotton shop towels. They clean up messes just as fast and cost less than $2 for five. Save paper towels for messes that need to go straight into the trash, like oil and grease.

#33 Stop Buying Plants for Curb Appeal Every Year

A pop of color in your landscaping perks up your curb appeal. But instead of wasting household funds on short-lived annuals, invest in perennials that will keep giving for years to come. 

#34 Water Grass in the Morning to Save on Your Water Bill

Turning the sprinkler on at midday is kinda like watering the air — especially when the mercury soars. Lose less to evaporation by watering during cooler hours (but avoid overnight watering, when too-slow evaporation can invite fungus growth).

#35 Make Your Yard Drought-Tolerant for Long-Term Savings

Save $100 or more yearly by replacing water-hogging plants and grass with drought-tolerant and native species, and beds of rock or gravel. You’ll save time on maintenance, too.

(Shared with permission from the National Association of Realtors | Written by: Amy Howell Hirt)

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    Preparing Your Home for Late Fall and Winter 

    Fall is here. The days are shorter, and we are well on our way to the dreaded (for some) Winter months. There are a number of things you can do to prepare your home, your property and yourself for the next several months.

    Rhonda Kayson, from The New York Times offers the following tips. To read the full article, click here.

    FALL

    Preparing Your Property

    Garden. You may be weary of gardening by early fall, but it is a great season to plant perennials, like peonies, columbine or hydrangea. Fall is also a good time to plant trees and shrubs and reseed your lawn. Be sure to give new plants plenty of water before they go dormant, and by spring you may get a first bloom, depending on the variety. Plant bulbs such as tulips, daffodils and hyacinth anytime before the ground freezes. Those hours spent digging little holes and burying bulbs will be well worth your sore knees when they bloom in all their glory in early spring.

    Raking leaves. If fall could be summed up in a word, it would be “leaves.” Once the leaves start falling, the season of raking begins. Aside from annoying your neighbors, a thick bed of leaves atop your grass could smother your lawn and lead to mold growth. But do you need to scorch the earth clean of any remnants of leaves? No. A light layer of leaves under your shrubs and trees will provide a natural mulch, protecting the roots over the winter and providing refuge for insects and wildlife. If you plan to rake and bag the rest, enlist the kids to help, luring them with a chance to jump on the pile when they’re done. But there are alternatives to raking. Researchers at Michigan State University have found that mowing over the leaves once a week breaks them down, provides nutrients and does the job. Some communities now encourage mowing rather than bagging leaves.

    The Outside of Your Home

    Gutters. Once the leaves fall, call your gutter company to get those gutters cleaned and inspected. Any repairs that need to be done on the gutters or downspouts should happen before winter sets in. Your workers should also inspect the roof for any loose or broken tiles. Schedule the job before you get a heavy snow, which could leave frozen leaves and debris in the gutters.Faucets and hoses. Before the first freeze, drain and shut off your outdoor faucets so that they do not freeze. Roll up your hoses, and store them for winter.

    Sprinklers. If you live in a cold climate, you need to shut your sprinkler system for the winter to protect it from harsh weather. Skip this step now, and come springtime you could have a hefty repair bill.

    1. Shut off the water supply to your irrigation system before freezing weather arrives.
    2. Insulate the main shut off valve and any above- ground piping.
    3. Shut down the timer, if you have an automatic system.
    4. Drain the remaining water from the system.

    Firewood. If you plan to use your fireplace this winter, stock up on seasoned firewood in the fall. Stack it on pallets, so it does not sit on the moist ground. Don’t pack the wood to tightly, or fungus could grow. Cover the wood with plastic sheeting, making sure it does not touch the ground, either. Wood can be stored in an unheated garage, but don’t keep logs in your house for more than a week, as they could attract insects, according to Michigan State University Extension.

    Pool. Once the sweaters come out of the closet, it is time to accept the fact that pool season is over. Clean, close and cover your pool for winter, or call your pool maintenance company to do the job for you.

    Inside Your Home

    Air-conditioning. If you have central air, get the system serviced (you can do this at the same time that you service your furnace). Window units can stay in the window year round if they are sealed with no gaps. Cover the inside and the outside of the appliance to prevent drafts, provide insulation and protect the equipment from the elements. There are even some decorative options out there. But if you’d like your window back, or have concerns about drafts, remove the unit and store it for winter. A window unit is heavy and unwieldy, so take it slowly. Store it upright, not on its side.

    Furnace and HVAC. Get your furnace and ductwork serviced. A clean system will be more energy efficient, and an inspection will alert you to problems. Check and replace air filters, as necessary. Test your thermostat to make sure it works properly. Make sure heating vents are open and nothing is blocking them.

    Boilers and radiators. For homes heated with steam heat, the boiler is the tank that holds and heats the water. Call the plumber for its annual checkup. You should also drain water from the boiler to remove sediment that has collected and settled in the tank. Make sure the tank is refilled before you turn it on. A plumber or heating specialist can also check your radiators to make sure the valves are working properly and have not worn out. Check your thermostat, too.

    Chimney. If you did not get your chimney cleaned and inspected in the spring, call a chimney sweep now and have it done before you start using your fireplace or your furnace.

    Windows and doors. Walk around the house and check windows and doors for drafts. Caulk door and window frames where necessary. In late fall, install storm windows and the glass panel on storm doors to keep the heat in and the cold out.

    Dryer vent. Clothes dryers cause 2,900 fires a year, with many fires happening in the fall and winter, according to the United States Fire Administration. Lint is a major culprit, so have your dryer vent inspected and cleaned annually by an HVAC specialist who specializes in ductwork or dryer vents.

    Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. There’s no harm in checking your detectors twice a year, so when you turn your clocks back to standard time, check your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, too. Change the batteries as needed.

    Inside projects. Planning to update the bathroom, or paint the living room? Fall is a good time to get moving on those projects: The temperature is usually moderate and many contractors have wrapped up their outdoor projects for the year.

    WINTER

    For the most part, we hunker down in the winter, as the weather is often too cold and unpredictable to tackle major home improvement projects. Make sure your home is prepared for the harsh weather.

    Your Grounds

    Bring out the snow blower. Make sure your snow blower is in good working order before it snows. You do not want to be caught in the first major storm with only an orange shovel to dig you out, Send the snow blower to a small-engine repair company for a tune-up. Some companies will pick up and drop off your equipment for you. Expect to spend $60 to $200, depending on the size of your blower, according to Angie’s List. Make sure you have gasoline and motor oil. 

    Stock up on supplies. Stock up on ice melt before the Weather Channel tells you a storm is coming. Pet owners and parents should shop carefully, as the chemicals in ice melt can harm pets and people alike, if ingested. Look for brands free of salt or chloride. But even products billed as “pet safe” can still harm your pet, so wipe their paws and don’t let them lick treated snow. Ice-melting products can also damage your foliage, so use sparingly. Make sure your shovel survived last winter because you will need to dig out of stairways and narrow pathways, even if you have a blower.

    Ice dams. When ice accumulates along the eaves of your roof, it can cause a dam that can damage gutters, shingles and siding. As water leaks into your house, it can wreak havoc on your paint, your floors and your insulation. Throughout the winter, inspect the exterior of your home regularly for signs of ice dams. Look for icicles, because the same forces create dams. Consider buying a roof rake. The $30 tool will help keep ice off your roof in the first place by removing fresh snow from your roof after a storm. Do not hack away at the ice, as that could harm you or your roof

    Inside Your Home

    Heating systems. Check and change filters on your heating system, as filters need to be replaced anywhere from twice a year to once a month.Keep an eye on the water levels in your boiler to make sure they do not fall too low.

    Frozen pipes. When water freezes in pipes, it expands, damaging or cracking the pipes. When the ice melts, and the pipe bursts, your home fills with water. Pipes near the outside of your home are at greatest risk, like outdoor faucets, pipes in an unheated garage or swimming pool supply lines. A few tips:

    • Shut off and drain outdoor faucets before the cold weather hits.
    • Insulate pipes where you can.
    • On cold days and nights, keep the cabinets below sinks open to let warm air in.
    • You can also run the faucet at a drip to keep water moving.
    • Keep the thermostat set at a steady temperature.
    • If you go away, set the thermostat to a minimum of 55 degrees, according to the American Red Cross.

    Generator. A portable generator can provide you with a lifeline in a blackout. Power it up every three months, and have it serviced twice a year (even if you never use it). Keep fuel and motor oil on hand in the event of a storm. Do not let fuel sit in the tank for long periods of time, as that can damage it. Check it regularly for corrosion and wear.

    Winter storm prep. A heavy winter storm can leave you housebound for days. Stock up on wood for the fireplace, gas for the snow blower and canned food and bottled water, in case you lose power. Check your emergency supply kit for batteries, a radio, a first-aid kit and any medicines you may need. Check in on neighbors who may need help shoveling out (a little camaraderie in a storm goes a long way).

     

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      How to Acclimate to Your New Neighborhood After a Move

      This is part of Molisse Realty Group's new, guest blog series designed to provide outside, expert perspectives for helping you find your dream property, settle into your new space, improve your home, or just simply enjoy the little things in life.

      If you are moving to a new house, you likely have a long to-do list. If you are not only moving to a new home but also an entirely new town, that checklist gets even longer. In addition to dealing with packing, organizing, and cleaning, you also have to figure out the basic essentials of daily life—like finding a plumber to call when emergencies strike or figuring out which supermarket near you offers the best deals. We at Molisse Realty Group hope these pointers help you on your transitional journey as you get settled in your new neighborhood.

      Do your local research before you make the move

      A successful move starts before you've even packed the first box. Before you arrive, start researching your future neighborhood. Pinpoint basic needs like schools, banks, dentists, and doctors as well as emergency services from electricians to plumbers. If you are moving across state lines, you may need new car insurance because requirements vary by state. 

      Start with the essentials when unpacking and then move on to aesthetic touches

      When you pack for your move, set aside one box with essentials you will need on the first night, and make sure these items are easily accessible. Include items like a small vacuum, toilet paper, toothpaste, and prescription medications. Use color-coded sticky notes to easily label boxes based on which room they belong in, and ask the movers to place them in the according rooms once you arrive. Finally, before you settle in for the first night, do a safety check and ensure you have a working smoke and carbon monoxide detector. Once these basics are taken care of, you can go on to deal with aesthetic touches like color coordinating your interiors.

      Ensure that kids and pets are making a smooth transition

      Whether it's an animal or a child, you will have to ensure their comfort both during and after the move. If you have a dog, for instance, help them transition to a new home by making sure they have access to familiar sights and smells like their favorite dog bed and their food bowl. Let them sleep near you in their crate if they are having anxiety following the move. 

      When it comes to helping your kids settle in the new area, reach out to neighboring families to see if they have children in the same age range. You can also encourage little ones to find playmates by getting them involved in activities like sports or art classes.

      Make the extra effort to get social and meet new people

      Finally, for your entire family—from yourself to your children and your pets—a big part of a successful move is about connecting with the community. Check out your local coffee shop and visit the area visitors center or library to discover events you can participate in. Take your dog for a walk, and you're sure to meet other dog-owners and their canines—or bring your child to the park to meet new parents with kids. Meet your neighbors and invite them over for a barbecue to introduce yourselves. Before hosting, pick out a new grill, spruce up your patio, or build a DIY fire pit. Such interaction is part of what will allow you all to feel comfortable in your new community. 

      Keep in mind that you won’t feel “at home” overnight after your move. Give yourself time to transition and acclimate to your new surroundings. WIth the above tips to help you, you can get settled and make new friends. Socializing not only allows you to feel connected, it’s also shown to make you happier overall.

      At Molisse Realty Group, we understand that moving to a new location can be fraught with challenges, and we hope the above tips can help you settle into your new home. 

      On the other hand, if you’re just now looking to relocate to Massachusetts, let the experts at Molisse Realty Group help you find the perfect home for your family. Reach out today to get started!

      To read more great insights by Natalie Jones, visit homeownerbliss.info!

      Additional Fees to Remember When Starting Your New Home Search

      Purchasing a new home is a big decision. For most people, it is one of the biggest financial decisions you will make in your lifetime. As you start your hunt, don't forget there are other costs associated with your new home purchase aside from the price of the home. 

      Here are 5 fees to keep in mind as you start to develop a budget:

      1. Home inspection. 

      This is a crucial step in the home buying process. The findings that come from the inspection can help you negotiate price and repairs. Generally, you can expect to pay between $300 to $1,000 depending on the home and the location.

      2. Title services. 

      Title services encompass the transfer of the title from the seller and a thorough search of the property’s records to ensure to no one will pop up with a claim to the property. Additionally, you may need to buy title insurance which will protect the lender or your investment in the home.

      3. Appraisal fee. 

      Before getting a loan, you may be required to get an appraisal of the home to determine its estimated value. This will be conducted by a third-party company and the cost can land anywhere between $300 and $1,000, depending on the size of the home.

      4. HOA / Condo fees. 

      Many communities have a homeowners’ association that enforces monthly fees. This money is used for general maintenance and updates to areas like pools, parks, and more. HOA fees are dependent upon the type of property, the amenities, the expenses covered by the fees, etc.

      5. Taxes. 

      The taxes each buyer pays at the closing table differ, but it is not uncommon for it to be up to two months’ worth of county and city property taxes. Additionally, there may be taxes for the transfer of the home title.

      If you would like more information or need help planning for purchasing a new home, CONTACT US, and we’ll put you in touch with an agent who can help you get your ducks in a row!

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        Tips for Properly Storing Your Wine at Home

        Let's face it. Since March, we've all been spending A LOT more time at home. We've binge watched our favorite shows. We've had Zoom calls with friends and family. And perhaps even imbibed on some quarantine cocktails.

        There are countless online recipes for "quarantinis." But maybe traditional cocktail recipes aren't for you, and you've been enjoying some of your favorite red and white wines while in lockdown.

        Whether you are a big wine connoisseur, just saving a few bottles to crack open on special occasions, or keeping a stockpile for evenings in the backyard, it’s important to understand how best to store them safely until you’re ready to partake. Here are a few guidelines for keeping your wine in tip-top shape at home.

        Temperature

        To ensure each wine bottle maintains the proper flavor and aroma, storing it at the correct temperature is essential. Regardless if it is red, white, or sparkling, storing your bottles at 53°F to 57°F is most ideal. Keeping your bottles in a room where the temperature is much warmer than that may cause the flavor to become flat. Keep your wine in the dark and away from direct UV rays as much as you can to protect the wine’s flavor. 

        Moisture

        Controlling the humidity in the room is important if you plan to store bottles for more than a couple of years. The ideal humidity for storage is between 50 to 75 percent and anything below that could cause the corks to dry out, letting air seep into the bottle.

        Positioning

        Generally, it is advised to store wine bottles on their sides. This allows the wine to stay up against the cork which should aid in keeping it from drying out. However, if you don’t plan to store the wine for long or if the bottle has a screw top or plastic cork, this is not required for safe storage.

        Timing

        Not all wine is designed to have a long shelf life or be aged. Make sure you know what the winemaker’s intention was for that particular bottle. It is always better to open it a little early and enjoy it!

        We hope you continue to stay safe and enjoy your social distancing time, and if a glass of wine is your thing, we say "Cheers!"

         

        Buying Strategies in an Age of Multiple Offers, Bidding Wars, and Above-Asking Sales

        We are in the midst of a very unique time in real estate. The pandemic has led to lower interest rates, homeowners are hunkered down in the comfort of their own homes – opting to stay put –  while long-time-city-dwellers are looking to escape the close proximity of the city for the renewed comfort and safety of the suburbs.

        That means it’s an attractive time to buy, financially. There is low inventory availability, and there’s exceptional demand for properties outside of the city.

        Bottom line: It is a complicated time for buyers!

        Homes are selling fast, with multiple offers, for as much as 20-30% over asking price.

        As a realtor, the first thing I do when working with prospective buyers today is set expectations. By setting expectations about the reality of the current environment, we mitigate the potential for frustration while helping the buyer understand how they can best position themselves for success when the right property comes along.

        There are a number of guidelines that can help make buyers more attractive to sellers, especially if they are looking at a multiple offer situation.

        1.  Plan ahead and get a pre-approval with a well-trusted, local bank.

        As a realtor, I look favorably at local banks and lenders that are trusted by realtors and the local community. Ask your realtor who they trust, and if your comfortable doing so, ask other realtors and friends within the community.

        Using a reputable, local lender, with a good reputation in the community can help move the process along faster, with fewer approval and closing date delays. This can give you an edge in a multiple offer situation.

        2.  If you can do a pre-inspection before making an offer, do it!

        Personally, I would never recommend that my clients waive a home inspection. That can be a risky proposition, but you may be able to do a home inspection prior to making an offer!

        In the current real estate market, many sellers are delaying reviewing offers for days, which may present an opportunity for buyers to conduct a preemptive home inspection. Essentially, this is a home inspection before the offer is made, and this allows you to waive the home inspection when you make your formal offer.

        If a seller won’t give you permission or access to the property to do this prior to making an offer, you can schedule your home inspection prior to the offer deadline, meaning you could make it happen faster than the typical 10 days. Sometimes, cutting this down to 5 days can be attractive to a seller giving you a potential upper hand.

        3.  Have your realtor find out what’s important to the seller.

        Maybe the seller wants to stay in the house for 4 months. Maybe they would rather not be bothered by having to clean out the contents of the shed. Have your realtor try to find out what would make the sale and transition easier for the seller. There may be small things that you can do, if you have some flexibility, to make you a more attractive buyer.

        4.  Don’t get caught in the feeding frenzy.

        Homes are selling quickly and for over asking prices. You don’t have to get caught up in that frenzy. This, too, shall pass.

        If, however, you find the property of your dreams and you’re prepared to really go after it, make sure you are fully informed. Determine what the house is worth on paper by talking to your realtor and reviewing comps to justify the price. Then, determine what the property is worth to you! Because we’re in the midst of a unique time in real estate, knowing what the house and worth, and what it’s worth to you personally, is essential to make an educated decision about your offer.

        If you’re going to make an offer above asking, do it for your own reasons, not simply because you feel like the market demands it, and you have to.

        5.  Hire an experienced, full-time realtor.

        When things are selling quickly, you need a full-time realtor who is always available, ready to move fast, and is on top of all of the important details. 

        Realtors, who have been at it for a long time, also have other tricks of the trade. They may not publicize their trade secrets – but experience brings knowledge and strategies for making things happen. When you are considering a realtor, ask if they have any strategies or tactics that they employ to help their buyers look more attractive to sellers.

        6.  Pick up the phone. 

        Yes, texting is convenient, but it never paints the full picture. Be prepared to speak to your realtor as frequently as needed to ensure you are working together to execute a flawless search and attractive buying strategy.

        Following these steps can help put any buyer in a more attractive position in this unusual real estate market. Be diligent, thorough, and don’t get frustrated.

        If you’d like more information, reach out to Jessica Tully at jessica@molisserealty.net or 978-835-3879.

         

        What to Repair to Maximize Your Sales Potential

        We see clients struggle with the age-old question whenever they are preparing to list their homes: what should I invest in repairing before I list?

        When you’re getting ready to list your home, of course, it’s very important to ensure you are showing your property in the best light. Taking time to highlight its strengths and fix up some of its possible weaknesses can make a big difference in how fast it sells. At the same time, over-investing in unnecessary repairs should be avoided.

        Here are four recommended repairs to make before selling your home – and they won’t break the bank!

        Repaint walls.

        Giving your home a fresh coat of paint is one of the most cost-effective ways to spruce it up, and generally, it can be a do-it-yourself project. Make sure to cover any walls with scratches and chips and consider updating any accent walls with a more neutral coat.

        Repair floors.

        Hardwood floors are a very desirable feature in a home, so you want to ensure they look their best by fixing scratches or dull areas. If your carpet is worn or stained, consider replacing them. And don’t forget the tile in your kitchen or bathrooms. Re-grouting can go a long way in making dingy tile work look brand new!

        Refresh the landscaping.

        Show buyers your home is the complete package by dressing up the outside as well as the in. Clean walkways and driveways, plant seasonal flowers and plants, trim hedges and trees, and fill in mulch and gravel. It’s important that your home look as desireable as possible from the curb!

        Fix your fixtures.

        Leaky faucet? Rusted drains? Loose drawer handle? Making these small fixes can make a big difference to potential buyers with detailed-orientated minds. Improve your kitchen. An outdated kitchen can be a real eyesore in a home. 

        If your property is very tired, and you want to command top dollar, updating cabinetry, repairing or replacing countertops, and installing new faucets and sinks may be worth the investment

        If you have questions about what repairs you should invest in, reach out to one of our agents. We’ll make sure you only put as little in as necessary to ensure you get the most you possibly can out of your home sale!