August 30, 2013

Indoor Plants You Can't Kill

Indoor plants both decorate a space and clean the environment surrounding them. If you have trouble keeping indoor plants alive, you're not alone! Consider buying one of the easy-to-care-for plants below:

Rubber tree. This house plant can grow to be eight feet tall! It's shiny, dark green leaves add nice color to any room. Because of its size, it can stand alone in a corner or at an entryway. Trying to declutter without sacrificing decor? The rubber tree may be your answer. They thrive in room temperature, with moderate to bright light, and soil that's allowed to dry between waterings.

Diffenbachia. This plant can grow six feet high, so it can also serve as a room's focal point. It's tropical appearance is great for vacation homes or homes with beachy, coastal themes. Low-medium lighting and evenly moist soil is best. The Areca Palm is also great for a tropical feel. While it can reach seven feet, it can stay smaller if contained in a smaller pot. Use indirect light and somewhat dry soil.

Snake Plant. Snake plants are extremely easy to care for, as they do not require specific lighting or temperatures to survive. The air and soil should be somewhat dry, however. These plants are smaller and may look nice potted in a row--some have yellow or white edges to add variety.

Heart-Leaf Philodendron. This plant trails, meaning its heart-shaped dark green leaves are meant to stem down from mantles and bookshelves. It does well in room temperate with indirect light and soil that dries between waterings. English ivy also trails down furniture. It's a smaller, elegant plant that responds best to moist soil and cooler room temperatures (to about 70 degrees).

Shamrock Plant. If you're looking for an easy, indoor, flowing plant, look into the shamrock plant. It has bright green leaves resembling shamrocks and feature white flowers on tall stems. Water this plant thoroughly once a week, and keep in bright (but indirect or filtered) light.

Orchid. Orchids come in a variety of colors and designs, bringing elegance and class into any room. It's a clean cut plant that looks great anywhere and everywhere. Orchids come in different sizes and can be placed in flower pots. Because they don't need constant attention, they often survive trips and even extended vacations. Watch the video below for a brief tutorial on orchid care:

Want more? Click here to see and read about additional indoor plants that are easy to care for, and to see pictures of the plants mentioned above. 

August 28, 2013

Empty Nesters: Living the Good Life

Has your family surpassed its need for a spacious, family home? Many empty nesters turn to townhouses, patio homes, and condos once their kids move out. For some, this is an easy decision. Condos are very low-maintenance—both inside and out. Homeowner's Associations handle yard work and snow removal (for a fee). Often, empty nesters sacrifice square footage for a newer home of a higher caliber. They note upgraded plumbing and electric and cheaper utility bills. Additional benefits include the open floor plan of newer homes, the close community created by condo-living, and the opportunity to redecorate your home after you move. 

Not sure whether a condo is the right type of home for you? Click here for a list of advantages and disadvantages of condo ownership vs. single family home ownership. If and when you decide to move, consider letting me help. I'd love to earn your business. 

August 26, 2013

To Rent or Buy? 5 Questions to Guide Your Decision

Torn between buying and renting? Consider these five questions, inspired by a CNN news article, to help guide your decision:

How long do you plan to stay?

If you are not planning on keeping you home for five to seven years or more, transactional costs associated with home buying and selling, such as commissions and closing costs, may not be worth it. 

Do you have enough cash to cover closing costs?

Banks typically don’t lend more than 80% of the cost of the home. Buyers have to come up with a 20% down payment, on top of closing costs. Take 20% of the home you are considering purchasing—can you afford a down payment of that amount?

Can you cover additional homeownership costs? There are many expenses, aside from the mortgage, associated with homeownership, such as property taxes, insurance, heat, utilities and regular maintenance. When you rent, you often forgo some of these financial responsibilities. 

Can you claim the tax advantages of homeownership? Yes, mortgage payments are deductible and can reduce tax bills. However, this benefits high-income earners with significant mortgage payments. Many borrowers claim the standard deduction on their taxes and save nothing from the deduction.

Do you have a stable job? This determines whether you can expect to be able to afford the above expenses! If your employment situation is unsteady, it’s probably not a great idea to assume the responsibility of homeownership until more stable ground is reached. 

The New York Times has created a calculator that allows you to enter personal information such as monthly rent, home price, down payment, mortgage rate, and annual property taxes to determine how long you would have to live in a home so that buying would be more cost-efficient than renting. 

August 21, 2013

Must Have Real Estate Apps

Check out these must-have real estate apps to assist you in your home search--

         -Customize search for nearby homes on the market
         -Customize search for available rental properties 
         -Open house search
         -Save searches and properties
         -Mortgage calculator
         -Directly contact agent options if interested in a property you see 

          How to get it: Search for “Keller Williams Realty” in the app store. Good news: it’s free! 
          Once you’ve installed it, you can search for an agent and enter his/her personal code. 
          Look for me, Jack Curtis, using my code: KW1M9M6DP 

           -Customize home search 
           -Take and store photos, videos and notes of your favorite homes
           -Estimate your monthly mortgage payments
           -Quickly access Chase mortgage bankers for help. 
            Visit to download this free app.

          -Filter your search based on criteria such as price, size, age of home, and location. 
          -Limit your search to new listings and open houses. 
          -Zillow and Trulia, additional real estate websites, have similar mobile apps available. 

These tools create convenient, new ways to shop the housing market. They do not, however, eliminate the need for a Realtor! Realtors are expert negotiators with a valuable knowledge of the home-buying process and the many steps it involves. As an experienced professional I’d be happy to give you more information and guide you through the entire home-buying process. Feel free to contact me with any questions or concerns.

August 19, 2013

The "Dos" and "Don'ts" of Furniture Arrangement

Brynn Mannino writes in Woman's Day magazine that trial and error is "the surest way to a flawless room." Still, there are some golden rules when it comes to arranging furniture. To start, measure rooms with a tape measurer so you know what space you have to work with.

DO Use large area rugs under furniture, exposing some flooring but covering most of the seating area. small rugs make small rooms look smaller and large rooms look choppy.

DON'T put couches right up against a wall. Leave a little space (a few inches) between walls and couches, side tables, and chairs to create breathing room and make the space look larger. While side tables should be as tall as the couch arm they are next to, remember it's okay to mix furnishings of different sizes. Chairs should be less than eight feet apart, to encourage conversation.

DO evenly light the whole room (cover all the corners!). Taller lamps emphasize, or give the impression of, a high ceiling.

DON'T hang short curtains, which can look like afterthoughts. Floor to ceiling drapes make a room look higher. Hanging curtains a few feet after the casement ends frames windows and makes them look wider.

DO orient your bed toward the focus point of your bedroom: perhaps opposite of french doors or big windows. Corner nooks are good for beds. When in doubt, place a side of the bed against a wall.

DON'T use small coffee tables. Larger coffee tables, like rugs, connect and expand a room. Ideally, coffee tables should be 12-24 inches from your couch, and will fit the shape of your room. A square room warrants a square table, while a long and narrow room would look best with a long, narrow table. Because humans feel more comfortable in square arrangements, you might consider breaking up a long room into two seating areas based on function (i.e., conversing and dining).

DO place dining room tables under overhead lights, preferably in the center of the room. If this classic arrangement is not an option, Angelo Surmelis (former HGTV host and celebrity designer) suggests doing "something fun, like placing [a dining room table] against a wall and creating bench seating."

DON'T put a dresser in a corner. This wastes space and looks bad. Place a dresser against the wall, balancing it with another piece of furniture (if off center) to create a balanced look.

DO hang wall decor in keeping with the rest of your furniture. As a rule of thumb, place wall art 24-36 inches above a piece of furniture. Hang mirrors opposite of what you want to see more of. For example, mirrors hung opposite of windows help bring in more light. Play around with wall decor placement before you hammer a nail into a wall, and avoid out of scale pieces. Similarly scaled pieces create a serene look.

DON'T make your TV the focal point of your home. Fireplaces and other architectural features are better to highlight. Grouping main items together is smart (you can hang your TV above your fireplace). If wall-hanging is not an option, choose where the TV goes based on the room's main attraction.

When all is said and done, your furniture placement should have an identified relationship: symmetric, which is restful, or asymmetric, which conveys motion and excitement.

August 16, 2013

Student Debt Hindering First-Time Homebuyers

Kenneth Harney wrote for The Columbus Dispatch that student debt is impeding first-time homebuyers. This group traditionally accounted for 40% of home purchases, but only reached 28% in May 2013, according to the National Association of Realtors. The lack of first-time homebuyers creates a domino effect on the housing market: no one is there to buy starter homes, those who currently live in starter homes and wish to move to bigger homes have no buyers, and thus people in even bigger homes likewise have no buyers. The Wisconsin Institute conducted a research study on the matter. The rate of home-ownership among people paying off student loans is 36% lower than that of those with no student debt. Other factors pushing first-time homebuyers out of the market are 20% down payments for conventional loans, persistent negative equity problems, and competition from cash buyers with no financing contingencies.  While some people think renting is the answer, the true problem lies with the elevated costs of higher education. 

August 14, 2013

How to Modernize the Layout of Your Home

For years, homebuyers sought homes with wide open spaces, with the kitchen competing for attention with the huge, two-story great room. Meg White, a writer for Realtor Magazine, says that's not the situation anymore. Today's homebuyers want to see carved out spaces with designated uses. As for the competition between the great room and the kitchen, these two areas have combined to comprise the main living space of a home. But the contemporary great room doesn't feature a soaring ceiling anymore--it's much more intimate with 10 foot ceilings. Furthermore, buyers don't want to walk right into their main living space, which then gets cluttered with the day's mail, the kid's homework, and car keys. New homes often feature distinct entryways that contain a "drop zone" to help people keep their homes clean and organized. Lastly, the master suite has gained more importance in recent years. Master fireplaces are on the rise, and home builders are conscious to create spaces that work for couples on different sleep schedules.

Does this not sound like your home? There's a few ways to modernize the flow of your house without tearing down walls or adding on rooms. To make the entryway more prominent, add a small table with a drawer, a mail organizer, key hooks, and a charging station. This can serve as your "drop zone." If you have a vast open space for your great room, consider creating nooks and crannies with specific purposes. Perhaps you could make a corner of the room a "homework space" by placing a desk in it. Both of these alterations will help keep your main living space livable--that is, not overwhelmed by everyday clutter. As for the master suite, it often pays off to moderately update your master bath. Funds used to add onto and improve mid-range bathrooms yield a better return on investment than higher-end projects. If you'd like to upgrade bathroom countertops without spending too much money on granite or marble, a mosaic of colored tiles may be the way to go.

For more information, view the original article here.

Contact me if you're interested in updating and staging your home to sell-when I list homes, I stage them for free!

August 12, 2013

Make Your Move Stress-Free

Packing and moving can be a huge ordeal. But with proper organization and a few key tips, you'll see that it doesn't actually have to be a long, overwhelming process.

Do as much as you can before moving day. Donate anything you don't want, and dump trash regularly. Ensure that movers can easily navigate your home by removing obstacles such as rugs, low hanging items, and anything surrounding the front door.

Organize. Mark all items you don't want loaded, and separate them from those that you do.  Make sure paperwork is not packed. Also mark special or fragile items, and point these out to movers. It's a good idea to have a few boxes containing items you'll need right away (perhaps kitchen and bathroom things)--instruct movers to unpack these items first, and mark the boxes accordingly. If you have kids, consider letting them pack a box of their favorite things, and ask that it be unpacked early on. Color code boxes by using a different color of masking tape for each room.

Ask questions.  Make sure that you understand all paperwork. If not, ask for clarification.  Give the driver your new address and contact information. Ask the mover:

  • For his/her cell phone number
  • For tracking information
  • Whether your shipment is the last to be loaded (this will help you determine when the driver leaves for your new home)
  • Whether your shipment is first to be unloaded
  • For an estimated delivery date and time 

Take care of your movers. Movers often work long, tiring days. It's a nice gesture to pick up something for them to eat (pizza, anyone?) and to keep water and soda available. Show them where drinks are kept and which bathroom to use, so they don't have to worry about asking. It's your decision whether you want to tip the driver. Many people do, and the driver can then distribute some of the tip to his/her crew.

When sellers list their homes with me, I provide them with a number of resources, including a moving checklist and instructions on helping children cope with your move. Contact me if you're interested in selling your home--I can help! To learn a packing plan in only two minutes, watch the video below:

August 9, 2013

The Latest Home Decor Trends

This year, home decorators have made it known that color is not simply for art hanging on the wall. Mint Green is the color of the summer. And it's not just reflected in clothing and jewelry: furniture and home accessories also come in this fresh color. Silver has been the metal of choice for years, but now yellow metals--gold and brass--are in. Gold accents with softer finishes (rather than full-on shine) and antique brass finishes have made their way into kitchens, bathrooms, lighting fixtures and more. Also making a comeback is wallpaper. Despite it's bad reputation, wallpaper comes in a wide variety of colors, patterns, and styles. If you're weary about using wallpaper, consider covering an accent wall, or a small space such as an entryway, rather than an entire room. Painted front doors freshen up a home's exterior, and painted furniture is also trendy. Dated pieces found at flea markets or secondhand shops can be transformed by a coat of paint and new hardware. This DYI project is great for creative people who like a good deal. Watercolors are also popular, not just on art, but also on fabrics and accessories. This, too, you could try yourself, by picking up watercolor paint at a craft store and applying it to lamp shades and fabrics. For more DYI projects, click here.

Exposed brick often gives a home character and style. Now, raw wood and rope are becoming just as popular. Wood is compatible with many different styles (cottage, vintage, contemporary, etc). You can find raw wood pieces at architectural salvage stores and flea markets. You can also buy new items that are meant to look distressed. Repurpose wooden objects you already own but don't often use--that latter in your garage would make a great bookshelf! Barn doors enable people to close off rooms separated by a large doorway. Simple track hardware can be found at a farm supply store. The resulting sliding door will be both practical and stylish. Like raw wood, rope also lends itself well to a variety of styles--from nautical to industrial. It provides a natural, earthly feel to any room. Woven chairs and baskets can be found at many stores, and wadded rope used as book ends or door stops are also available.

Curvy and colorful gourd lamps look great on side tables and nightstands. Statement installed light fixtures are also trendy ways to brighten up a room. Lighting show rooms and home centers showcase stylish fixtures in various styles, such as industrial. Block Prints are noted for their global appear and exotic flare. They are becomming more common (and thus affordable!) in mass produced products. Nailhead trim continues to be popular. It adds sophistication and timelessness to a piece of furniture. Lattice or trellis prints (most commonly a color pattern on a white background or the inverse) make great window treatments and throw pillows. You can also stencil patterns onto a wall, or use wallpaper.

Watch the video below for a demonstration on how to paint, sand, and distress furniture:

August 7, 2013

Six Essentials to Consider When Buying a Home

With millions of new builds and many more resales each year, buyers have a huge array of options when looking for a home. There are many differences between buying a new home versus a "used" one. And it's not a decision to take lightly--for most of us, real estate is our biggest asset. So how do you decide which home is right for you? Consider these key features:

1. Location. Location, including the lot, neighborhood, and proximity to desired places, is traditionally the most important factor of home-buying. Do you want to be more towards the suburbs or city center? Older neighborhoods are more likely to be close to the center core and, with their mature landscaping, can create a stronger sense of community. You also want to make sure that an area is safe--drive through the neighborhood at night to see how well lit it is, and whether people are out jogging, walking their dogs, etc. The police station can give you information regarding crime rates. 

2. Price & Taxes. You want to feel good about buying your home, which can be accomplished by spending less than your maximum budget. Spending all your money on a home can make you "house poor," meaning you have insufficient savings to maintain your lifestyle (for example, travel and take vacations). Used homes tend to be less expensive than new builds. Remember that the asking price is always negotiable, and also that there are many additional expenses that accompany home ownership.  Taxes vary based on municipality and school district. Many older households aren't required to pay for local bonds associated with new development (for example, schools and parks). It's best to research taxes before you decide to put an offer on a home. 

3. Maintenance & Repair. Get a home inspection when buying a lived-in home, as the home likely will show signs of use. Check the status of all major working systems, such as electrical and plumbing systems. If something needs to be repaired or replaced, this should be considered when pricing the home. You can also use repairs as a negotiating tool ("contingent upon the fixing of..."). You may face some small, DYI projects. If you're up for this, a used home may be right up your alley. If you want a home that's 100% turn key, a new build may be the way to go. It's virtually the only way to eliminate the natural wear and tear an older home undergoes. 

4. Layout. Older homes have a more traditional floor plan, often with formal living and dining rooms. They also may be more closed off. The 5-level split is a popular floor plan for new construction, and oversized family rooms that open to the kitchen are also modern and common. Layout is important because it's hard to change--you may be able to knock down a wall or two, but it's a major renovation that's much more complicated than switching gold cabinet pulls with bronze ones. Function runs right alongside layout. Older homes can be functionally obsolete--they have minimal closet and garage space, for example. When searching for a new home, ask yourself how well the space is used to suit your needs. 

5. Features. Older homes, especially former model homes and custom built homes, tend to have more special features, or character, than new builds. This could be in the form of built-ins, security systems, landscape, etc. Again, ask yourself how important these features are, and if you are willing to compensate for missing essentials. If you love gardening and spending time outdoors, it may be no big deal that your home comes with little to no landscaping. 

6. Resale Value. In terms of resale value, older homes are safest because you can track how much they have appreciated or depreciated over the years. Even though this is a rough measurement, it gives you some idea of resale value. Whether or not you have kids, homes in good school districts often have good resale value. It's good to keep resale value in mind even after you buy a home, especially if you customize or renovate  the home in some major way. Try to put money into the home that you can reasonably expect to get out of it.  Kitchens and bathrooms have good returns on investment, while adding a pool can actually hurt sellers. 

Still not sure whether you'd prefer a new build or resale? Click here for a more thorough explanation of key differences between the two, or contact me for help.