Archive for the ‘General’ Category

Solar Lighting for your Landscaping

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Add accents to your yard or garden and increase safety outside your house by using solar lighting in the landscape. What used to be seen as a luxury item is now widely available to most homeowners at a reasonable cost thanks to solar technology.

Solar lights contain solar cells that store energy from the sun during the day and convert it to electricity, which charges a battery that powers a light. Lights can have a sensor that turns them on when it gets dark or they can be turned on manually. Since they aren’t wired together, individual lights can be placed anywhere the sun shines.

The lights typically don’t burn as bright as wired lights, and if your yard is heavily shaded, your lights won’t shine as brightly or for as long. You may want to test a few lights before you invest in a full set.

Kitchen Upgrade

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IMG_4829Are you ready for a kitchen upgrade but lacking an ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ kind of budget? Plenty of low-cost improvements can revive a kitchen without the need to rip out cabinets and rewire appliances. Consider these tips from ‘This Old House and HGTV’.

Color Splash: With a new coat of paint and some other accents, you might not even recognize your own kitchen. Make over dark wood or white cabinets with a cool hue, such as pale sage green, or create visual impact by painting a focal point, such as your island, a bold color. A tile backsplash, graphic prints and new hardware are also inexpensive ways to add personality.

See the Light: A kitchen needs light to be functional but oversized task lights can also improve the vibe and tie other details together. Track or recessed lighting can by pricey, so look for pendants that can go above a kitchen island and mirror the style of hardware on your faucet and cabinets. Try under counter lighting too.

Store more: Short on Storage? Try hanging pot racks overhead. Position them close to the range and away from where you’d hit your head. Built-ins can be expensive, so look at your local hardware stores for pull out storage kits and organizers to fit your current cabinetry.

Your Financial Strategy;

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re-financeCash Flow

When you create your financial strategy, it’s important to know how much money you have access to and how, if possible, you can increase that amount. This money is your cash flow and can help you accomplish many things, including reducing or eliminating debt and increasing your savings.

Here are some strategies you can use to increase your cash flow:

  • Create a budget for your monthly expenses and needs – and stick to it
  • Spend less than you earn
  • Raise deductibles on your auto, homeowners and other insurance policies, which  can help to lower premium
  • Look for ways to earn higher interest on money that is currently in low-interest savings accounts
  • Start a second career or a part-time business to earn additional income

Proper Protection

A big part of building a sound financial strategy is life insurance. Life insurance helps protect your loved ones in the event of your death. It not only helps replace lost income, but it can also help preserve your family’s assets.

A basic rule of thumb is to have enough life insurance to provide approximately 10 times your annual family income. For example, if your current household income is $50,000, you may want to consider having $500,000 in life insurance protection.

Debt Management

One of the biggest obstacles to a sound financial future is consumer debt. It’s important to have a strategy that can help reduce and eliminate debt.

Here are some approaches you can take:

  • Pay  more than the minimum, as much as possible within your budget, on the credit card/ loan with the highest interest rate. Once you pay off that credit  card/loan, begin paying off the next highest interest rate credit  card/loan.
  • Consider transferring credit card/loan balances to a card with a low interest rate  that is offering a promotional, no fee transfer option. Don’t hesitate to call the issuers of all your credit cards to ask for a lower rate.
  • Quit  charging. Put your credit cards away so you don’t consider charging on  them while you’re paying down your debt or after it’s paid off.

Emergency Fund

No matter how much you plan in life, the unexpected happens. To prepare for life’s little “disasters,” set up an emergency fund to help pay for any resulting expenses. A basic rule of thumb for determining how much you should set aside is three- to six-months of your total expenses.

Don’t think you need an emergency fund? Consider these potential expenses and scenarios:

  • Major car repairs
  • Major home repairs
  • Major appliance repairs or replacement
  • Loss of a job
  • Serious illness or hospitalization
  • Extended elder care or long-term care

Having an extra source of funds gives your family peace of mind during a stressful time.

Build Wealth

When developing your financial strategy, it’s important to ensure you put a long-term asset accumulation program in place that strives to outpace inflation and reduce taxation. When determining the best program for you, ask yourself the following questions:

  • How  long do I expect live?
  • How  much it will cost to live comfortably during those years?

There are key financial concepts that can help you as address these questions. For example, the Rule of 72 is an estimation of the time it takes for money to double.  Additionally, understanding the cost of waiting gives you an idea of the financial advantage of starting to save today.

Preserve Wealth

An essential part of your financial strategy is ensuring that the wealth you accumulated over the years is not impacted by taxes or other unintended consequences. A well-designed strategy can:

  • Eliminate probate costs
  • Help manage estate taxes
  • Ensure  your legacy reaches your intended heirs, including any life insurance  coverage, pensions and annuities
  • Provide  an opportunity to set up medical and financial powers of attorney so that,  should you become incapacitated, someone can take care of your finances,  make medical decisions for you and more.

 

Please consult with your attorney and/or tax advisor for guidance regarding your specific circumstances.

Counter Offer options

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pay billsWhen you receive a written offer from potential buyers, it will declare how much they are wiling to pay for you home.  It will also include such details as how their purchase will be financed, their preferred closing date, when they wish to take possession of your property, and the amount of their deposit (earnest money deposit).

Once you have reviewed the buyer‘s conditions, you may choose to submit a counteroffer.  In some instances, an entirely new contract can then be drawn up.  This counteroffer will include your modifications as well as the original terms proposed by the buyers to which you agree.  The buyers will then have a set time-frame in which to respond.  Buyers may or may not agree with your modifications, so there can be counteroffers back and forth before you both agree on the terms of the sale.

There are many reasons to negotiate counteroffers, but if you have already bought another home, then you may want to minimize negotiations in order to speed up the transaction. On the other hand, if you have one or more nonnegotiable requirements, then I will continue presenting counteroffers to the buyers until you are satisfied.

As a real estate professional, my goal is to be of service to you for any issues pertaining to your housing needs.

Drought Update / Water Conservation

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IMG_4061Drought Response Update: Local water agencies are updating their responses to the continuing drought conditions. On April 15 the City of Livermore escalated its drought response by enacting mandatory water conservation requirements.

  • Landscape irrigation is  limited to no more than twice per week, from 6:00pm to 9:00am the  following day. Odd street addresses irrigate on odd days of the month;   even street addresses irrigate on even days of the month;
  • Washing of autos, trucks,  trailers, boats and airplanes is limited to once per month and no   wastewater from vehicle washing may enter the storm drain system;
  • Washing of sidewalks,  walkways, driveways, parking areas, patios, porches or verandas is  prohibited.

According to the City of Livermore, penalties for violation of the mandatory conservation measures begin with an advisory notice for a first violation and escalate to termination of water service after multiple violations.

For more information about Livermore’s water restrictions please click here.

On April 22 the East Bay Municipal Utilities District (EBMUD) Board of Directors decided to continue supporting voluntary water conservation measures and purchase additional water rather than implement mandatory reductions.  EBMUD provides water service to communities throughout Alameda and Contra Costa counties.

For more information about EBMUDs drought response, please click here.

Pleasanton Mandates Water Conservation: On May 6 the Pleasanton City Council declared a Stage 3 water shortage which requires residents and businesses to reduce water use by 25%. The council action includes restricting outdoor irrigation to two days per week in the evening, prohibits car washing (except at commercial car washes) and asks restaurants to only serve water to customers if requested.  Penalties for exceeding the water restrictions include significantly higher water rates and penalty fees.

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Fire Hazard update

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outletTangled extension cords? Power strips galore?  You home’s wiring system might be working overtime with all the new gadgets you currently have – and might be at risk for igniting a fire.  Straighten out these wiring problems and more with tips from This Old House.

Have a licensed electrician walk through your home every five years to look at the wire insulation and the service panel and check for any code violations.  If you’re doing it yourself, start by turning off the circuit at the main breaker panel.

Code requires outlets within 4 feet of a door and every 12 feet after that.  Extension cords can be useful, but keep in mind that smaller-gauged cords can overheat and start a fire if overused.  Adding more outlets can run about $100 per outlet on first levels and $200 upstairs.

Another fire hazard is overlamping, in which light fixtures have a bulb with higher-than-recommended wattage installed.  Check the fixtures’ wattage limit or use bulbs that are smaller than 60 watts.

Flickering lights aren’t just annoying – they could be a sign of wire trouble, too.  The outdoor fitting where overhead cables from the power line come into the house, or frayed wiring in the weather head, causes the short when the cable moves.  Call your electric utility company to have any power related lines looked at.

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Keeping your Energy bill low

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Seal of the United States Department of Energy.

Seal of the United States Department of Energy. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Was your last gas bill higher than usual? Cold air might be finding its way into your house.  Conserve energy, save money and stay warm with these tips from the Department of Energy.

Let the sun shine in!! During the day, open the curtains & blinds on the south side of the house.  Feel a draft? Seal a clear plastic sheet to the inside of the window frames or install drapes or shades that are tight and insulating.  Caulking and weather-stripping windows can also keep your home warmer.

The heat is on, so keep your heating systems up and running as efficiently as possible.  Follow the recommended maintenance schedules and change furnace filters once a month.

Fireplaces also can cause heat loss.  Keep the fuel damper tightly closed unless you’re burning a fire.  Grates made of C-shaped metal tubes and tempered glass doors can help keep the room warm when the flue is open.

 

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Spring Break

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Spring break, should be a relaxing time, especially if you’re planning to go on vacation.  But preparing your home for your departure can be stressful.  Whether you’re leaving home for a week or a month, you can rest easy with these tips for keeping your home safe while you’re away:

v  Arrange for someone to do seasonal maintenance, such as mowing or raking.

v  Have mail or packages picked up by a friend, forwarded or held by the post office.

v  Stop newspaper deliveries and ask a neighbor to pick up freebie newspapers and circulars on the property.

v  Lower your telephone ringer (and answering machine volume) and never leave an outgoing message that says you’re away.

v  Use timers to turn lights on and off at the appropriate times.  Compensate for having lights on when no one’s home by turning off other appliances that are often left on, such as DVD players, computers and microwaves.  Also consider connecting a radio to a timer.

v  Leave blinds open in their usual position.

v  Ask a neighbor to park their car in your driveway.

v  Double check all doors and window locks.

v  Tell a trusted friend or neighbor where you’ll be.

 

 

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That time of the Year

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IMG_1324Kick off the New Year with a fresh attitude about home maintenance.  After all, you don’t want to wait until the furnace conks out before you deal with it.  Keep things in good working order with The Weather Channel’s to-do list.

First, take a ‘snow’ day day to organize your files and review warranties and manual for equipment, appliances and other tools.  There, you’ll find how often to check or replace items.

Take a room-by-room inventory with photos or video.  In the case of fires, floods or other disasters, a record of your possessions can be very helpful when filing insurance claims.

Examine furniture and cabinets for loose knobs and hinges, and repair as needed.  Fix squeaks in floors and stairs.

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Clearing Up Your Pre-Loan Questions

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re-financeIf you are getting ready to purchase a home, you probably have heard the terms prequalified and preapproved.  Many buyers think these terms are the same thing, but they are quite different.

Getting prequalified consists of a discussion between you and a loan officer.  A loan officer collects information regarding your income, monthly debts, credit history, and assets.  Based on that information, the loan officer then calculates an estimated mortgage amount for which you qualify.  Getting prequalified is basically receiving an estimate of what you can afford.

Getting preapproved, on the other hand, is a more comprehensive approach, providing an actual decision on a home loan.  This is actual credit approval, and it includes some considerable benefits.

As a buyer, you will have a greatly improved negotiating position when you are preapproved for a mortgage.  Sellers are more apt to negotiate with someone who already has a mortgage approval in hand.  The preapproval letter lets the seller know you are a serious buyer.  As a preapproved buyer, you also can close on a property more quickly, which is another major consideration for a motivated seller.

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