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Monday, March 20, 2017

Cork Decor: Is It Right for Your Home?

Cork—the material that secures wine bottles the world over, is making a comeback in home design. Whether you want to incorporate cork into your home to impress your friends, improve your home before selling, or put a unique touch on your new home, learn how to tastefully incorporate cork into your home design and décor.

As a decorating material, cork is unique in its renewability, durability, and mold-resistance. Cork is anti-microbial and eco-friendly, making it great for kitchens, bathrooms, and even the laundry room, where it can help absorb moisture and stave off bacteria. However, cork is multi-use and can be used throughout the home--wherever you think it may work best. Here are some of our ideas for how to incorporate cork into your unique home design:

Corkboard Walls

A cork wall is fantastic for a home office or a kid’s bedroom because it’s like a giant bulletin board. A cork wall is not only beautiful, but it has practical purpose—you can pin notes, artwork, a calendar, memo, or whatever else you need to the wall. Your space becomes a constantly changing work of art that serves a purpose. A cork wall can be especially useful in a space where you work a lot, like a kitchen or office.

Cork Floors

A floor made from cork is incredibly comfortable—it has a bounce-back feel that’s far nicer than hardwood, tile, or concrete. Cork is especially easy on your feet in places where you spend a lot of time, like your kitchen. Cork will also last for many years and can resist cracks and scratches, even springing back against dents.

Cork Art

If you’re looking for just a bit of cork to accent your home, cork art may be the way to go. There are many artists using cork as a medium that you can find at local art shows or online. You can also go the DIY route and save corks from bottles of wine to make your cork piece.

Some Cork Pops of Color

Cork isn’t only available in dull beige and brown—it’s now available in a large selection of styles and colors, including multiple shades of brown, gray, white, and ebony. This assortment can make bringing cork into your home even easier. Try cork paneling as an accent wall in a dining or living room instead brightly colored or feature wallpaper. It will be unique and more resilient. You can stain or dye the cork to match your home’s aesthetic and create something unique.

Cork is the latest trend in 2017—add some to your home décor or design. Incorporating anything from a piece of cork art to cork floors in your kitchen or dining room can freshen your space and lend a unique vibe in your home.

Monday, March 20, 2017

4 Common Home Problems to Identify Before the Inspection

It’s a home seller’s worst nightmare—you get the perfect offer and think everything is in alignment for you to buy your next home, and then the home inspection hits. There’s faulty wiring, mold in the basement, a leaky roof, maybe even flaws in the foundation. The buyer backs out of the contract until you fix the problems, and you might not even have the money to do so. So how can you avoid these problems before putting your house on the market, or at least before the inspection?

Here are four of the most common problems that come up during a home inspection and what you can do to avoid them:

Shoddy, Outdated Wiring

One of the most common issues is electrical wiring, which can be out of date or over-fused and dangerous. Bad electrical can be hazardous as it can lead to a fire, for you or your future buyer. Make sure your wiring is up to code by hiring an electrician to inspect it before selling your home. Have your electrician check for ungrounded fixtures, spliced wires, backward receptacles, and even improper breakers.

A Leaky Roof

If you’ve been living in your house for a while, you may have an older roof and may not notice smaller leaks. But left unattended, roof leaks can become significant problems, especially when mold starts to form. A small leak can become bigger and ruin your roof.

Have an ASHI-certified inspector check out important home maintenance items in your house periodically. While homes don’t work like cars with a “check engine” light, with regular maintenance, you can prevent serious damage.

Basement Seepage

The most common problem found in homes is basement seepage, where water slowly leaks into the basement through small cracks or the foundation floor. Go into your basement frequently to check for water and hire a waterproofing contractor to repair minor problems before they turn into full-fledged flooding.

Amateur Workmanship and Poor Maintenance

Whether you or a previous owner attempted it, many homeowners decide to do major work around the house without using qualified contractors. This negligence can lead to problems in all areas of the home, including plumbing, flooring, and electricity. If you did any work without the aid of a qualified professional—or know of work that was done before purchasing the house-- have a professional double-check the job. This step could save you money before the home inspector spots the trouble.

Likewise, not performing key maintenance in your home will also hurt you in the long run. Keep things like dryer vents, water heaters, caulking, A/C systems, kitchen appliances, and other key home systems updated and well-maintained. This upkeep can prevent costly repairs or replacements at closing. When it comes time to sell, make sure your home is problem-free before the inspection. If you need major repairs to have the home sell, it can lengthen the closing process and take money out of your pocket. By being aware of issues in your home and taking care of maintenance, you can avoid snags in your home inspection and sell your home faster and more easily.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Realtors: Improve Your Work-Life Balance

A career in real estate isn’t the right fit for someone who thrives on a fixed work schedule. There’s no 9-5, Monday through Friday schedule for Realtors, as your clients will expect you to respond to their inquiries quickly and work with their schedules. This can be good for people who like variety and flexibility in their work day, but it can also make it challenging to make time for a personal life. Try the seven tips below to be more productive at work and carve out more time for your friends, family, and self.

Optimize Your Workspace

Sitting at a desk that looks like it was hit by a tornado can make your work life feel chaotic and create unnecessary distractions. If your desk is becoming overwhelmed with clutter, set aside time to purge and organize. Give yourself a computer work zone and a non-computer work zone where you can complete paperwork. Keep the items that you use most frequently close to your active work zone and find storage for those office items you don’t need as often.

Block Off Distraction-Free Work Time

Set aside a few hour-long blocks during the week where you won’t check your phone, email, or social networks. Use this time to work on high-priority tasks that require your full attention.

Keep Electronics Off the Dinner Table and Nightstand

Give yourself distraction-free blocks of time, too. Keep your phone out of reach when you’re having dinner with your family and getting ready to go to bed at night. Several studies have shown that using electronics right before bed can negatively impact your sleep schedule, and you’re not going to be at your most productive if you’re not getting enough sleep.

Get into a Routine with Consistent Tasks

Are there certain tasks that you do every day, such as responding to voicemails and updating your email database? Schedule these tasks at the same time every day. Getting into a routine will help you avoid procrastination and wasted time.

Make Deliberate Choices

It might be hard to make that last-minute happy hour or weekend trip when your clients expect you to be readily available. However, you should make time for your friends and family—you may just need to schedule that time in advance. When you plan personal activities, such as going out to dinner with your significant other or meeting a friend at yoga, block off those events on your work calendar so that you don’t double-book yourself.

Get in a Quick Workout at Home

You may not always have time to go to the gym, but you can probably fit in a 10- to 20-minute run in your neighborhood or follow along with a short workout video. Getting in even a quick workout can help reduce stress and give you a much-needed break.

Be Realistic

There’s no such thing as perfect work-life balance, and recognizing this will help you avoid feeling disappointed in yourself. Do the best that you can. Use the tips above and other strategies that you know will help improve your time management and stay flexible. As a Realtor, it’s up to you to determine the schedule that works for you.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Checklist for Buying a Fixer-Upper

For some enterprising homebuyers, a fixer-upper can be a great investment. In the ideal situation, an “as-is” home might have peeling paint or outdated shag carpet that scares away most buyers, driving the price down. A DIYer could purchase the home, give it a fresh coat of paint, and uncover the beauty that other buyers couldn’t see.

However, it’s rare for homebuyers to find themselves in that ideal situation when presented with a fixer-upper. Many times, the house will need bigger repairs that require a significant investment of time and money.

Will it be worth it for you to buy a fixer-upper? If it’s something you’re considering, review our checklist to ensure you’re getting a good deal—not sinking into a money pit.

Choose a knowledgeable Realtor. Your first step when you start searching for any home, but especially a fixer-upper, should be to hire a Realtor who knows the local housing market well. Your Realtor can help you determine how much a fixer-upper might be worth once you make some repairs, based on the surrounding homes and the market’s temperature. Your Realtor can also help you determine a fair offer and potentially negotiate a lower price with the seller.

Hire an experienced home inspector. Getting a home inspection should be an item on every homebuyer’s checklist, and if you’re looking at a fixer-upper, you should pay especially close attention to the results of that inspection. Find out if your home inspector is qualified to check for asbestos, radon, mold, lead, pest problems, and interior chimney problems. These issues aren’t always considered in a home inspection but can be important to look at if you’re buying an older home.

Hire a structural engineer. If you think the house you’re looking at is going to require major structural work, you should hire a structural engineer in addition to a home inspector. It will probably cost about $500 to $700 to hire a structural engineer, but they should be able to tell you whether the house you’re interested in will require thousands of dollars in repairs, which could make or break your purchase decision.

See if you qualify for a renovation loan. You may qualify for a 203(k) loan, which is insured by the Federal Housing Administration. This type of loan would bundle the purchase and renovation costs for your home into one mortgage. Because the federal government backs this type of loan, it’s relatively easy to get approved with a low-interest rate.

Estimate your repair costs. Some real estate professionals recommend that you set aside 10 to 25% of your home purchase budget to cover repair costs for a fixer-upper. To make sure your repair costs will stay within your budget, you’ll need to come up with estimates for every anticipated repair project. There are lots of home repair calculators that you can find online, and you can also talk to friends and family who have recently made home repairs to see what they paid. Once you have an estimate, add another 10 to 20% to give yourself a buffer in case there are any unforeseen problems with your new home.

Consider what you’re willing to invest. Before you make an offer, you should think seriously about the amount of time and money you’re willing to invest in a fixer-upper. Decide which repairs you’ll be able to make yourself and which will require a contractor. If you will have to require a contractor, have you factored that into your renovation budget? If you’re going to be making a lot of the repairs on your own, are you willing to give up your weekends for months on end to work on the home? If you’re feeling unprepared to buy and move into a home that needs repairs, talk to your Realtor about looking at move-in ready houses.

Make an offer. If you decide that the fixer-upper home you’ve been looking at is right for you, it’s time to make an offer. If the seller has listed the home at a price that is higher than you’re willing to pay based on the repair needs, present him or her with your repair cost estimates. You and your Realtor may be able to negotiate a lower cost, allowing you to get a home with a lot of potential at a price you can afford.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

How to Make Moving Easier on Your Pets

As the weather becomes warmer in March and April and we approach National Moving Month in May, more people will transition to new homes. And many of those people will be bringing some of the most important members of their families—their pets. Moving with pets can be stressful, whether you’re just moving across town or to a different country. However, with a few good tips and some thoughtful preparation, moving with your furry friends can be easier on you and them.

Prep Before You Move

Make sure any pets you have, especially cats and dogs, have their collars and ID tags fitted with your name and current mobile phone number. If you have an address on their tag, update it to your new address. Microchipping can also help a lost pet make their way back to you, especially if your pet loses its collar.

It may help to go to the vet and get your pet some relaxing medications to help on a long car road or plane trip. Your vet may prescribe medication or offer an OTC solution to your pet’s travel anxiety. If you’re staying somewhere overnight on your move, look for pet-friendly hotels. While many hotels claim pet-friendliness, call the front desk for an exact policy and cost for your pet before checking in or booking.

Make sure you have pet toys, food, and water along with your pet carrier or in your car. Your pet has needs on a long trip, just as you do. Make sure they’re well taken care of during a long journey. New sounds, sights, and smells can be overwhelming to cats and dogs, and familiar objects can be comforting. If your pet hasn’t been in your car in a while, it may be helpful to acclimate them to the car environment a few weeks beforehand. Don’t forget to stop for fresh water and bathroom breaks—for yourself and your pet.

Your New Home

After you’ve done all your preparation and gotten your pets to your new home, getting them used to the new space can be difficult. It’s important to make sure you’re first aware and knowledgeable of the space and can protect them from any dangers, especially before your furniture has arrived. Familiar objects, such as furniture, crates, pet beds, and other objects, should be placed in similar locations for your pet to get used to the new space. Wait until your pet becomes acclimated to make any changes.

As long as you prepare your pet in advance and slowly settle them into a new home by being calm and providing them with memories of their old space, they’ll get used to the new space. If you show that this is their new home, they’ll eventually accept it. Moving is hard for everyone, pets included. It’s our job as their guardians to make the process easier for them.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Families Need to Consider More Than School Rankings When Choosing a Home

Many young couples who have kids or plan to have kids believe that they need to choose a home based on its proximity to top-ranking schools. However, CENTURY 21 Commonwealth broker Marjorie Youngren cautions that parents should not choose a home based on schools alone. Parents also need to think about their commute times, access to day care, and proximity to family and friends who can assist with childcare. You can learn more in Youngren's Ask the Expert article featured in The Boston Globe.

Monday, March 6, 2017

4 Tasks for Realtors To Do on Snow Days

A snow day can seemingly ruin a good realty day—canceling open houses, causing clients to reschedule appointments, and slowing traffic to a crawl in the Boston area. But a good Realtor doesn’t let a snow day, whether it’s in December or March, stop them from being productive. Whether you’re trapped in the office, or you can walk or drive to showings, here are some ways to take advantage of a snow day in the real estate market.

Make Some Calls

Especially if you’re trapped in the office, call people. Follow up with clients and see how their new homes are treating them. Make connections with new buyers, look for new leads, reach out to other agencies. If you have free time and can’t leave the office, chances are other people are in the same predicament. Take advantage and build your network—now is the chance to do it. You’re often too busy to do this other than through organic meetings, so make calling and emailing during a snow day a priority.

Check Out Some New Homes

Depending on just how bad the weather is, you may be able to check out some new listings. Whether you need to suit up in your winter armor and trek out or just drive in your 4WD car to showings, this can be the time to see some listings at a quieter time. Check the MLS for the latest homes or call up some new clients to view their homes. Going to view homes shows initiative and will give you more listings to show your buyers. A snow day will likely allow you to view listings unfettered, without having to deal with other Realtors as you would during an Open House or the weekend.

Organize the Office

When was the last time you sat down in your office and organized—electronically and in real life? Use your snow day to organize your house—write thank-you notes to clients, clean up your email listserve, research new real estate trends and marketing strategies. If you have paperwork to complete, now is a good time to deal with it. Take this quiet snow day to do the work you need to do, whatever that entails.

Relax and Have Lunch with Coworkers or Friends

Sometimes a snow day is a sign to relax and let go. Get some work done certainly, but go out and have lunch with a friend. Cozy up and get a coffee or hot chocolate at your favorite café. The whole city has slowed down; you can take some leisure time, too.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Spotlight on Dover, MA

Dover, Massachusetts is a quiet town of a little over 6,000 people in Norfolk County. It’s only about 15 miles southwest of Boston as the crow flies, but depending on traffic, the drive is usually about 45-50 minutes. This might seem like a long commute, but for those who work west of the city, or don’t mind driving farther if it means living in a scenic area, Dover can be a great place to buy a home.

Wide Open Spaces

Dover certainly isn’t known for its dense urban development—in fact, the town only has one traffic signal. Dover’s town center is small, but residents are close enough to other towns (including Natick, Wellesley, Needham, and Sherborn) that they aren’t at a loss when it comes to accessing grocery stores, restaurants, and other important amenities.

One benefit of Dover’s limited development is the scenery: this area is characterized by rolling hills, farmland, and plenty of green spaces. For those who like the idea of living out in the country and having plenty of space to stretch out, Dover is a great fit.

Excellent Schools

Dover is home to one private school (Charles River School, which serves students from pre-K through eighth grade) and three regional public schools: Chickering Elementary, Dover-Sherborn Middle, and Dover-Sherborn High. All the schools have a reputation for providing a great education, and Dover-Sherborn High School is frequently recognized for excellence outside of the immediate community: US News & World Report ranked it as the 10th best high school in Massachusetts and Newsweek ranked it as #16 out of the Top 500 high schools in the country.

Parents with young children or couples who are getting ready to start a family often consider buying a home in Dover because of the strong school system.

Outdoor Adventures

It’s not just the pastoral environment and great schools that make Dover a standout community: the town is also known for its many outdoor recreation options. The gentle, well-marked trails of Noanet Woodlands are great for hikers, bikers, and dog walkers. Hale Reservation provides visitors with over 20 miles of trails and access to 4 ponds, and it’s also the site of a series of popular summer programs for kids. Those who love to be on the water can try fishing or boating on the Charles River.

If you’re someone who likes having a quiet place to relax in the evening and lots of space to explore on the weekends, consider looking for your next home in Dover. An experienced CENTURY 21 Commonwealth Realtor can help you find your new Dover home at a great value.

Monday, February 27, 2017

7 Low-Maintenance Plants to Boost Your Curb Appeal

A well-tended garden in your front yard can be a great way to improve your curb appeal, especially if you're getting ready to put your home on the market or thinking of selling your home in the next few years. But even the novice gardener knows that plants require constant attention and care. Many species of plants are particularly finicky, especially the most luxuriantly gorgeous blooms and grasses, but we’ve sifted through the high-maintenance plants to show you nine plants that can boost the outer beauty of you home without pulling you away from your busy lifestyle.

Butterfly Bush

The butterfly bush grows tall and produces thick, cone-shaped blooms with deep color. They bloom in the spring and summer and can attract butterflies and insects beneficial to your lawn’s ecosystem.

Plant these bushes in full sun or partly shaded areas with well-drained soil. If you plant them in soil that remains wet for a long time, they are likely to rot. As long as you plant them in quality soil, they do not need fertilizer.

You should water butterfly bushes slowly and deeply whenever dry spells occur, but you can mostly leave it to the rain to help them grow. You’ll have to remove flower clusters that have died as soon as possible to avoid dispersion of weeds.

Forsythia

Forsythia bushes are extremely fast-growing, yellow-leaf bushes that expand one to two feet per year. They bloom in early spring and stay bright yellow as long as the weather stays warm.

You can plant forsythia from cuttings of new growth. Cut a branch anywhere between three and six inches, and place the cut end into moist soil. The bush should root in only a few weeks, after which growth begins.

Forsythia grows with little to no care in full sun or partial shade as long as they have well-drained soil. You need only to water them during dry periods. High-phosphorous fertilizer makes blooms brighter and larger.

Hedge Lavender

Hedge lavender blossoms as thick tufts of green stems topped by indigo florets. Their flowering season is extra long and they grow well in cool coastal or mountain climates. Begin growing them in open sunny areas with good soil drainage. They naturally fight pests and plant diseases and are tolerant of drought as well as predation by deer.

Hosta

Hosta is a thick-leaf green shrub with varying coloration that grows heartily among similar shrubs and grasses. Lighter-foliage hosta thrives in more sun, but darker leaves crave more shade. Plant them according to their leaf color. All hostas require at least some level of shade. It takes them four to eight years to fully mature, but they call for little maintenance after maturation.

Indian Hawthorn

Indian hawthorn is an evergreen plant that stays green well after its pink blooms have fallen. As long as your winters aren’t too harsh, this plant will survive to bloom every year. You can plant them close together to create miniature hedges, or plant them in rows to make custom-shaped barriers or dividers. They grow best in full sun, but will still grow in partial shade.

Coreopsis

Coreopsis is a brightly colored flower with a rich green stem that grows in a variety of heights. They resemble daisies when fully grown, and their blooms range from yellow to red.

Plant these flowers under full sun in natural soil. They will start growing in spring if you mist the seeds and water the germinating plants. Maintenance includes only watering during extreme drought and occasional trimming.

Sedum

Sedums, also known as stonecrops, are among the hardiest of the plants on this list. They grow short and wide and can produce flowers of many different colors. They work best as spot-fillers for empty areas, such as open spaces between stonework or soil patches. They creep across fertile areas and provide color and interest with almost no maintenance at all.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Mid-Sized Cities Appeal to Recent College Grads

College graduates are often told to go where the jobs are, and for many, that means moving to a big city. However, the cost of living in a major metropolitan area can sometimes outpace the income that recent college grads are making at their entry-level jobs. When affordability is a concern, many young college-educated adults look to mid-sized cities as an alternative.

Tech startup GoodCall recently ranked 589 U.S. towns and cities based on their appeal to new college graduates. They looked at factors including affordability, amenities, entry-level job availability, and average salaries for adults with a bachelor’s degree. While their top 10 cities were scattered around the country, there was one trend that cut across geographic lines: the majority of the cities were mid-sized.

Seven of the top ten cities on the GoodCall list have populations of 115,000 or fewer. Many of these cities offer some of the same opportunities as big cities, in terms of amenities and job openings, but come with shorter commutes and lower monthly rent checks. That can be especially appealing to young adults who are paying down their student loans or trying to save up to buy their first home.

Of course, smaller cities aren’t the right fit for everyone. While there are nearby dining and entertainment options, there aren’t as many choices as there would be in a bigger city, and nightlife may be somewhat limited. Many residents of smaller cities are more car-dependent than they might be in a bigger city since there are fewer public transportation options. And in some cases, college graduates may need to look to larger cities for jobs and continuing education in their field. However, when mid-sized cities do provide the job opportunities and lifestyle that recent college grads are looking for, they can be an excellent choice.

While there were no Massachusetts towns or cities in GoodCall’s top 10 list, there are several cities in the Bay State that fit into the mid-sized category (with populations between 65,000 and 115,000), including:

  • Cambridge (3 miles from Boston)
  • Somerville (4 miles from Boston)
  • Quincy (10 miles from Boston)
  • Lynn (11 miles from Boston)
  • Newton (13 miles from Boston)
  • Framingham (23 miles from Boston)

Because these mid-sized cities are all relatively close to Boston, they offer the best of both worlds: a lower cost of living and the job opportunities and amenities of a big city.

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