Tips for buyers and sellers,
Real estate market updates,
Staging your home,
Southern Maine life
The Common at 88 Middle Street
Portland, Maine 04101;
Why? We’re about to shut ourselves inside for months with all the dirt and grime our houses have gathered during those hot, dusty, open-window days of summer and fall. We’ll be living with indoor air quality that the EPA estimates could be five times more polluted than outdoor air.
But you can breathe easy — we’ve made up a checklist of must-do cleaning jobs that’ll get the dust out, spruce up your interiors for the coming holidays, and make those wintry days healthier — and safer — for you and your family.
Vacuum Dryer Vent
This little chore should definitely be on your list. It prevents lint build-up that can create a fire hazard.
Pull out the dryer as far as the vent pipe allows. Disconnect the vent pipe from the dryer, and clean the outlet hole in the back of the dryer with a shop vac or regular vacuum.
Clean the vent pipe with a dryer snake cleaning tool ($15 to $20). This is a rotary brush attached to a long cable. One end is fitted to the chuck of an electric drill that is used to rotate the cable and the brush.
1. Unscrew the exterior dryer vent cover
2. Feed the rotary brush into the vent opening, turning it on low speed
3. Feed the cable into the vent as far as it will go, then pull it back — don’t stop rotating the cable and brush
4. Repeat from the inside
5. Reconnect the vent, and turn on the dryer to flush the system of loose lint
6. Replace the exterior vent cover
Don’t use this tool on the flexible vent pipe sometimes used to connect the dryer to the vent wall outlet. Instead, remove the flexible pipe completely and use a vacuum with a narrow nozzle to clean out the pipe.
You’re going to be shut in all winter with these little germ havens, so now’s a good time to clean them thoroughly. Take them outside where you can blast the insides with a garden hose, then add disinfectant.
Regular bleach is an effective disinfectant (1 cup per gallon of water) but we much prefer environmentally safe undiluted hydrogen peroxide or vinegar mixed 50/50 with water. Caution! Don’t mix hydrogen peroxide with vinegar — the result is harmful peracetic acid.
Let the garbage cans sit for an hour, then pour out the contents and scrub the insides with a stiff bristle brush to remove any residue. Rinse and, if possible, let the wastebasket dry in direct sunlight, which helps eliminate bacteria.
Wash and Disinfect Toilet Brush Holders
Take the holder and the brush outside, and spray wash thoroughly with a garden hose. Immerse the holder and brush in a bucket of hot water mixed with one of these solutions:
2 cups of bleach per 1 gallon of water
2 to 3 cups of environmentally friendly washing soda crystals
A 50/50 mixture of vinegar and water
Let everything sit in the solution for a couple of hours, then rinse the holder and brush with a hose and place in direct sunlight to dry.
Turn Over Furniture and Vacuum the Bottoms Image: Jess McGurn
You might shift furniture around so you can vacuum the floor, but there’s another side to the story — the underside.
Tilt upholstered chairs and couches all the way back (much easier with two people) to expose the bottoms. The dust covers tacked underneath furniture can catch dreck and dust bunnies, so vacuum them off, being careful not to press too hard on the fabric.
Change Furnace Filters Image: Liz Foreman for HouseLogic
You’ve heard it before, but change your HVAC filters! These dust-catching wonders keep particulates out of your air, making it easier on your floors, furniture, HVAC system, and lungs. Change at least every 60 days.
Air filters for furnaces are rated by level of efficiency. The higher the rating, the better the filter is at removing dirt, mold spores, and pet dander.
Filters are rated one of two ways (you’ll see the ratings on the packaging); higher numbers mean better efficiency, but there’s a point of diminishing returns — some filters with extremely high ratings also restrict air flow, making your HVAC work so hard that the system heats and cools inefficiently.
Minimum efficiency rating values (MERV) for filters range from 1 to 16, but 7 to 13 is typical for households (14 and up are used in hospitals)
Microparticle performance rating (MPR) range from 300 to 2400
Cheap filters cost about $2, but you’re better off paying $12 to $17 for a pleated filter with a 1250 MPR, or $20 to $25 for a filter rated 2400.
Tables and countertops aren’t the only household items with horizontal surfaces. In fact, just about everything in your house except Rover’s tennis ball has some kind of horizontal surface where dust and dirt will nestle, often unnoticed. You’ll want to clean the top horizontal edges of:
Trim, including baseboards and chair rails
Artwork and mirrors
Electrical wall plates
Wall-mounted smoke detectors, CO detectors, and thermostats
OK, you get it. Your fridge needs to be cleaned periodically so that it operates at peak efficiency. Ignore this chore and face another $5 to $10 per month in utility costs. Worst case: a visit from an appliance repair pro who’ll charge $75 to $150 per hour!
The object is to clean the condenser coils. Here’s how: If the condenser coils are on the bottom of the fridge, then you’ll need to clean them from the front of the unit.
Take off the bottom faceplate to expose the coils.
Clean dust using a condenser-cleaning brush ($8) or a long, thin vacuum attachment made for cleaning under refrigerators ($14).
You still should pull your refrigerator all the way out and vacuum up dirt and dust that accumulates in back of the unit. Unplug it while you work on it.
Put down a piece of cardboard so that grit under the wheels doesn’t scratch your flooring.
If the condenser coils are on the back of the refrigerator, then pull the unit out completely, and unplug it while you work on it.
Brush or vacuum the coils to clean them, and clean up any dirt and dust on the floor.
While you’re at it, check to make sure your freezer vents are clear. Freezers circulate air to reduce frost, but piling up too much stuff in front of the little grill-like vents inside your freezer blocks their business.
Those big blades on your ceiling fan are great at moving air, but when they’re idle they’re big dust magnets — dust settles on the top surfaces where you can’t see it.
Out of sight maybe, but not out of mind. Here’s an easy way to clean them: Take an old pillowcase and gently cover a blade. Pull it back slowly to remove the dust. The dust stays inside the pillowcase, which prevents dust from flying all over.
Riha has written seven books on home improvement and hundreds of articles on home-related topics. He’s been a residential builder, the editorial director of the Black & Decker Home Improvement Library, and the executive editor of Better Homes and Gardens magazine. Follow John on Google+
In a market where home inventory is low, your sellers may think that their home will move in mere minutes—and at a price that defies even the loftiest expectations. When left untethered, these dreams of big prices and warp speed sales can spell disaster—and major disappointment—for you and your clients.
Don’t worry! You’re not doomed to this fate. With a few smart, premeditated steps you can head-off seller miseducation and common misconceptions and start your client on the path to a successful sale from the get-go. Here are six scripts and simple talking points that your sellers need to know before their home hits the market.
1. Staging matters—big time!
Every agent knows the old adage, “Homes that don’t show well don’t close well.” But still, time and time again we see sellers rail against the time and cost associated with staging a home. Afterall, if they love their home as it is, why shouldn’t everyone else? This is a situation where sometimes showing trumps telling. If you have a particularly stageing-averse client, take them on a two-home showing; one where the home is staged and one where the home is not.
Be sensitive, but firm. Their decor may be a beautiful expression of their personality, but sometimes less is more. You can also download and share Trulia’s 10 Hardcore Staging Tips for Sellers so that they can reference it before every open house.
2. The market sets the price, not the owner
t’s understandable that many home sellers think that their home is above the price that the market dictates. Sentimental value often translates into an inflated sense of the home’s worth, but when it comes price, the winning opinion is always the market’s opinion. You know it’s impossible to effectively price a home without taking into account the competition. Unfortunately, too many sellers don’t.
First, it’s essential to determine how much the seller thinks their home is worth. If their expectation is wildly inappropriate, it may be worth taking the clients to see a home that is on the market and priced at their expectation. Then, take the seller to a comparable home that is priced similarly to where you feel their home should be priced. Take the time to both educate them on the competition and give them expert home pricing tips to help them understand your pricing strategy.
Send the seller their Trulia home estimate report, which uses market data to create a customize report.
3. Small renovations may mean big bucks later
In many cases, the cost of a home repair is less expensive than a potential buyer perceives the cost of the repair to be. If buyers over estimate the cost of fixing the problem, it may negatively impact the offer amount and end up costing the seller more in the long run. Be upfront with your seller clients when you spot unsightly blemishes that could cost your clients the deal.
Before you list and start marketing the property, counsel your sellers on the improvements you know will make a difference when it comes to price. If you need a starter list of simple ways to boost a home’s value and its showing potential, download our guide on the 10 ways to boost your home’s value.
4. Incentives can help close the deal faster
Offering practical incentives might not sound sexy, but those that fill legitimate buyer needs have the power to differentiate a listing from the competition and attract just the right attention needed to get the home sold for the right price.
Talk to your sellers early about how they might be prepared to sweeten the deal if the right offers don’t come rolling in. Talking incentives early and building them into the marketing plan can arm both agent and seller with the ammunition to jump potential marketing hurdles and beat out the competition for a fast sale.
The last few years have turned real estate headlines into high-profile news. Home prices are on the rise. In fact, last month home prices were up 11.9% over the year past. While this is great news for the country as a whole, be sure to remind your sellers that real estate is a local industry and that asking price isn’t everything.
To do this, consider posting your own local market updates on your personal real estate blog. In addition, check out and use these tips for showing your clients the difference between asking and listing price in your local market. For many sellers, seeing the numbers is just the ammo they need to agree to the right price.
Now we want to hear from you! Tell us! What would you add to the list of seller must-knows?
Switching out your five most frequently-used bulbs with Energy Star-rated models will save you $75 per year, according to the EPA.
You know that 10 or 20 pounds that you just can’t seem to lose? You do the right thing — eat kale or log time on the StairMaster — but the weight clings. You feel powerless.
It’s like that with our energy bills, too. Eighty-nine percent of us think we’re not using as much energy as we did five years ago, and almost one-half of us think our homes are energy efficient. But 59% also say our energy bills have gone up, according to consumer research by the Shelton Group, a marketing and advertising agency that specializes in energy-efficiency issues.
Call that the Snackwell’s effect, says Shelton Group CEO Suzanne Shelton. Basically, we’re saying, “I bought these CFLs so now I can leave the lights on and not pay more. I bought a high-efficiency washer and dryer because I want to do more laundry without paying more. I ate the salad, so I can have the chocolate cake.”
Unfortunately, that disconnect has led to defeat. We feel victimized by our energy bills and powerless to the point where we’re making fewer energy-efficient improvements. In fact, Shelton’s research shows consumers made only 2.6 improvements in 2012 compared with 4.6 in 2010.
Until the day we all get energy dashboards in our home, we’re here to help you understand why your energy costs are where they are and how you can take back your energy bills. Hint: You need to do four or five energy-efficient things to see a difference; one or two won’t cut it. But — good news! — they don’t cost much to do.
Related:Are Smart Meters Dangerous? Why Do We Feel Victimized? We don’t know what we’re buying. Energy is the only product we buy on a daily basis for which we have no idea how much we pay until a month later, says Cliff Majersik, executive director of the Institute for Market Transformation, a research and policy-making nonprofit focused on improving buildings’ energy efficiency. Energy costs are going up. Inflation is mainly to blame. Your bills are projected to rise on average 2% per year through 2040, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the research arm of the energy department. Expect about 3.4% per year if the economy gets sluggish. Other trends pushing up our energy usage:
A growing population means more homes.
New homes are getting bigger, though our families are getting smaller, according to the Census Bureau.
We’re plugging in more devices (computers, smart phones, tablets, X-boxes, plasma TVs) per household — and not unplugging them. (More on behavior later.)
In fact, for the first time, energy use for appliances, electronics, water heating, and lighting accounts for more than heating and cooling, according to EIA.
Still, overall consumption is pretty flat through 2040, thanks in part to:
Population migration to dryer, warmer climates in the South and West.
People living in multifamily rather than single-family situations.
We make assumptions. Assumption #1. Unless a home is old — more than 30 years — we figure it was built to code, which requires a certain amount of energy efficiency. But building codes change pretty regularly, so even newer homes benefit from improvements, says Lee Ann Head, vice president of research and insights with the Shelton Group. Assumption #2. We think utilities are out to get us: They’ll jack up prices no matter what we do. Shelton’s research shows consumers blame utilities above oil companies and the government. But keep this mind: To get rate changes, utilities must make a formal case to public utility commissions. They’re also on the hook to pay for such things as:
Infrastructure upgrades put off for years
Equipment repairs after bouts of nutty weather
Another reason rates seem stuck is because utilities bundle fuel, service, and delivery fees together. Assumption #3. Our expectations for energy savings are out of whack. When the Shelton Group asked consumers what they would expect to recoup if they invested $4,000 in energy-efficient home improvements, they said about 75% to 80%.
Sorry, unless you invest in some kind of renewable energy source like geothermal and solar, you won’t see that kind of savings. If you do all the right things (we’ll tell you about the best five later), you could expect a 20% to 30% reduction, Head says, particularly if you don’t succumb to the Snackwell’s effect.
What does 30% translate into? $660 in savings per year or $55 per month, based on the average household energy spend of $2,200 per year, according to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Assumption #4. Many of us don’t know how to make the biggest impact on our homes. That’s why we sometimes replace our windows first, when that should probably be fifth or sixth on the list of energy-efficient improvements, Shelton says.
There’s nothing wrong with investing in new windows. They feel sturdier; look pretty; increase the value of your home; feel safer than old, crooked windows; and, yes, offer energy savings you can feel (no more draft).
But if you spend $9,000 to $12,000 on windows and save 7% to 15% on your energy bill, according to DOE data, when you could have spent around $1,000 for new insulation, caulking, and sealing, and saved 10% to 20% on your energy bill, you made the wrong choice if your only reason for the project was reducing energy costs.
The real reasons for getting new windows are “emotional rather than financial,” Shelton says. The 5 Things You Should Do to Show Your Bills Who’s Boss 1. Caulk and seal air leaks. Buy a few cans of Great Stuff and knock yourself out over a weekend, sealing penetrations into your home from:
Savings: Up to $220 per year, says EPA Related:The Biggest Air Leak in Your Home You Don’t Know About 2. Hire an HVAC contractor to take a hard look at all your ductwork — are there any ducts leaking that need to be resealed? — and give you an HVAC tune-up. Savings: Up to $330 per year, for duct sealing and tune up, says DOE 3. Program your thermostat. Shelton found that 40% of consumers in her survey admit to not programming their thermostat to energy-saving settings. She thinks it’s even higher. Savings: Up to $180 per year, says EPA Related: How to Program Your Thermostat to See Real Savings 4. Replace all your light bulbs with LEDs or CFLs. We suggest LEDs, which have fewer issues than CFLs (namely, no mercury), and although expensive are coming down in price. We’ve even seen a $10 model. Savings: $75 per year by replacing your five most frequently-used bulbs with Energy Star-rated models, says EPA. Related: Guide to Buying Light Bulbs and Which to Use Where 5. Reduce the temperature on your water heater. Set your tank heater to 120 degrees — not the 140 degrees most are set to out of the box. Dropping 20 degrees could save 6% to 10% on your annual water heating costs, which are 14% to 18% of your utility bills. Also wrap an older water heater and the hot water pipes in insulating material to save on heat loss. Savings: $18 to $39 per year Important note: Resist the urge to total these numbers for an annual savings. The estimated savings for each product or activity can’t be summed because of “interactive effects,” says DOE. If you first replace your central AC with a more efficient one, saving, say, 15% on energy consumption, and then seal ducts, you wouldn’t save as much total energy on duct sealing as you would have if you had first sealed them. There’s just less energy to save at that point.
But these practices can help you achieve the goal of shaving 20% to 30% of your annual bill ($440 to $660). Energy Savings is Addictive. What Else Can We Do?
If you want to go further and spend more, especially if you’re not planning to sell your home soon:
Add insulation. Anything you can do to shore up your building envelope is good.
If major appliances like your HVAC and water heater are nearing the end of their useful life, research energy-efficient replacements and keep the info where you’ll remember. Otherwise, you’ll make a reactive purchase when the unit finally breaks.
Contact your utility about rebates for investing in improvements. Or visit DSIRE, a database of federal, state, local, and utility rebates searchable by state. Energy Star has a discount and rebate finder, too.
A Final Word: Oh, Behave!
Remember the Snackwell’s effect? If your behavior — unplugging chargeable devices from the socket when they’re done charging; putting computers, TVs, and media on smart strips and turning them off at once; reprogramming your thermostat at daylight savings time — doesn’t support your improvements, you’re letting energy, an invisible product, win. Related:
Christina Hoffmann has been an editor in the housing field for two decades — most recently as content manager for HouseLogic. She’s given her 100-year-old frame home the attention it deserves: new kitchen, siding, HVAC, windows, and doors. She’s betting the roof is next. Follow Christina on Google+ and Twitter.