5 Tips for Saving Energy this Summer

Here are 5 quick things you can do to stay cool and reduce your monthly bills this summer.

1. Change your filters in your heating/cooling system at least monthly.

2. Check your system – before you need it.  This keeps you from making an emergency call when the temperatures soar.

3. Change your old thermostat to a programmable one. New wireless models even allow you to control the system from your phone when you are away.

4. Set your ceiling fans to rotate counter clockwise to better distribute cool air to help reduce your need to use the air conditioner.

5. Grill out!  Keep the cooking heat outside and reduce the heat inside.

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Staying One Step Ahead in this Real Estate Market

The following Ask the Experts Q & A features advice from Doug Breaker, the president and CEO of Homefinder.com.

Q: How can agents stay one step ahead in a rapidly evolving industry?

A: With low inventory and low interest rates, the market is heating up, and heating up fast. For agents and brokers, the last few years have meant patience as homes sat for months or even years; now, real estate professionals must learn to turn on a dime, as houses sell in days or even hours. Our 2013 HomeFinder.com Agent Makeover Sweepstakes will focus on that change and help the five winners and thousands of participants understand the changing landscape and adapt to the new normal. Below are a few thoughts on how you can be well positioned to take advantage of the changing landscape:

1. Be the agent you want to work with: As a real estate agent, would you hire yourself? Do you feel like you offer clients experience, knowledge and expertise? Are you establishing a personal rapport and nurturing client relationships before, during and after the sale? If the answer is no, identify your weakest areas and find resources to help you grow as an industry professional.

2. Power of planning: Do you want to improve your marketing strategy, stay in touch with past clients, or increase your commission? Write down how you plan to achieve these goals. If you fall into a rut and think you haven’t made any progress, revisit your plan; you’ll be astonished at how far you’ve come!

3. Let go of what’s not revenue generating: Hire a full-time, part-time, or even virtual assistant to relieve your task-oriented workload. When you hold on too tightly to parts of your business that someone else can manage, you lose the ability to maximize money- making opportunities.

4. Technology is a necessity, not a convenience: Streamline your workload with apps such as:
Checklist Wrangler: Manages multiple checklists and auto-creates lists; creates templates for tasks you need to do more than once; creates checklists from text copied from emails, websites, etc.
Brewster: Pulls contact information stored across your email, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn databases to create visual, in-depth profiles. Sends updates regarding moves or new jobs, sends reminders when you’re falling out of touch with someone, and has a highlyintuitive search function.
ÜberConference: Minimize your role as the go-between by quicklyscheduling a conference call while on the go. Choose contacts from your address book and UberConference will automatically call, email or text contacts to join, no PIN required.

5. Bring online connections to life: Use social media to connect with clients on a personal level. People like doing business with “real people,” so being genuine on social media enables your clients to see your interests outside of work, helping them see a different side of you.

5 Signs you’re Ready for Home Ownership

1.You Stick to a Budget
Financial experts will tell you that creating and sticking to a budget is a sign of financial maturity. With the over 1.5 million foreclosures in the United States, it’s easy to understand why this is so important. If you have already created a budget and have stuck to it, you’re more ready than the next guy to own your own home. When you follow a budget, you know exactly where your money is going each month. When you know where your money is going, you know whether or not you can afford a home of your own.

2.You Have a Down Payment
The old rule of thumb still stands: Enough money should be saved for a 20 percent down payment on a house. When you put 20 percent down on a home, you immediately have equity built into the property and you negate the necessity of private mortgage insurance. Even with a 20 percent down payment, you should still stay away from home’s that are out of your realistic price range. If you’ve budgeted for a $150,000 house, having 20 percent to put down doesn’t mean that you should look for an $180,000 home.

3.Your Income is Stable
Finding a stable job can be tough to do in today’s economy, but if you have a stable source of income, you can feel relatively safe making an investment in a home. If you are reliably employed, don’t forget to factor in any life-changes that may crop up in the near or distant future. Do you plan to go back to school? Are you going to start a family? Budget for the home you can afford five years from now, not the one you can afford today.

4.Your Credit Score is High
The higher your credit score, the better your interest rate will be. The better your credit score, the more likely you are to be accepted for a loan. If your credit is in excellent shape, you’re ready to buy a home. If, on the other hand, your credit needs some work, whip it into shape before you being the home-buying process. Before you buy a house, your debts should be paid off, any collections accounts should be closed satisfactorily, and your credit score should be in the 700’s.

5.You Have an Emergency Account
Did you know that you should have enough money in the bank to cover at least three month worth of debt? If you have an emergency account, you can feel safe buying a home. Add your estimated mortgage payment, estimated utilities, and any recurring debts that you have, and multiply that number by three. The resultant number is the amount that you should have stashed away in the case of job loss, illness or other financial emergency.

 

If you are thinking of buying a home, make sure that you are 100 percent ready. Re-read the tips above and, if they apply to you, the dream of owning your own home is within reach. If one or more doesn’t apply to you, you have some work to do. Owning a home isn’t a snap decision, it’s a process. In the end, you’ll be glad that you took your time and did it right.

6 Ways to Get A Response Back Through Emails

Ever sent an email & never received a response back. Here are some tips to help you get your reader to hit the reply button…

1. Perfect the subject line. When it comes to information, it’s hard not to judge a book by its cover. In To Sell Is Human, Dan Pink covers a study showing that people are more likely to read emails with subject lines to create curiosity or provide utility. When people aren’t busy, they’re drawn in by subject lines that intrigue them. But when they’re busy, curiosity fades in importance; the emails that get read are the ones with practical subject lines. When you want to grab the attention of someone important, scrap the entertaining subject lines and focus on utility. Here are some of the most effective subject lines that landed in my inbox from strangers:

  • Curiosity: “Advice for a fellow teleological people-person,” “I do not want anything from you,” “Your book kept me up all night,” “I will fly up and see you; you interest me,” and “Dan Pink would want me to write a creative subject line here”
  • Utility: “Applying your techniques to recovering addicts” and “Getting you to Atlanta”
  • Both: “Can you help give away 4 million dollars a year?” [Here, the sender cleverly went on to clarify, “I know the subject sounds like something you’d get from Nigeria, but…”]

2. Tell them why you chose them. On the receiving end, I was surprised by the number of readers who wrote asking for help without explaining why I was the right person to help them. One person reached out looking for advice on how to become a millionaire; another asked for help fighting amalpractice lawsuit. Neither of these requests is easily handled by a management professor. Good emails overcome this barrier by highlighting what drew you to this person and the distinctive value that he or she can add. It’s worth devoting a sentence or two to what you know about the person’s work, and how it has influenced your life. If you are trying to email people to gain business and clients,  talk about why you chose them and why you think they need to use your company. In Real Estate, it is best to talk about location, and how it is a perfect time to buy or sell in your location. Why did you choose this person to represent you or vise versa if your a Realtor why did you chose these clients to represent.

3. Show that you’ve done your homework. A sizable number of readers wrote asking for links to articles that were freely available on my public website. As author Tim Ferriss, himself a cold-email virtuoso, writes, “It’s amazing how many would-be mentees or beneficiaries ask busier people for answers Google could provide in 20 seconds.” The psychologist Bernard Weiner has found that people are more motivated to help those who try to help themselves. When you reach out to someone busy, Ferriss advises, “Explicitly state what you’ve done to get answers or help yourself.”  In our business we truly appreciate this, because it shows that they are serious clients and we can help them to understand the business & market better. Sometimes clients will bring in other comps that we did not pull, by doing so we can explain to them why we did not use the comp and why that one had a flaw.

4. Highlight uncommon commonalities. I felt a stronger connection to strangers who emphasized something unusual that we had in common. As the psychologist Robert Cialdini sums up the evidence from Influence, “Similarity literally draws people together.” In Give and Take, I elaborate on this principle to point out that similarities matter most when they’re rare. We bond when we share uncommon commonalities, which allow us to feel that we fit in and stand out at the same time. Think of the last time you traveled abroad and met someone from your hometown. If you met at home, the connection wouldn’t stand out as unique, but on foreign soil, you’re the only two people from there, so you feel a sense of closeness.  We use commonalities like location, things such as “I once owned a property in your area” or “I just sold your neighbors place”.

5. Make your request specific, and keep it short and sweet. Avoid mini-novels, keep it short and to the point. The longer the message, the longer it took me to read and respond, and the more overloaded my inbox, the less patient I was in reading them. As the psychologist Robert Sutton recaps the evidence in Good Boss, Bad Bosspeople are more helpful when they’re given clear directions on how to contribute. Ferriss suggests that the best approach is to “send a two- to three-paragraph e-mail which explains that you are familiar with their work, and ask one simple-to-answer but thought-provoking question in that e-mail related to their work or life philosophies. The goal is to start a dialogue so they take the time to answer future e-mails—not to ask for help. That can only come after at least three or four genuine e-mail exchanges.”

6. Express gratitude. Don’t make demands, instead express your appreciation. One person wrote, “We should definitely meet,” and another implored, “Please answer this question.” In my research, I’ve found that people provide more extensive and useful help when it’s an enjoyable choice than when it’s driven by perceived pressure or obligation.

I was excited to help when I felt I could make a difference, not when someone was attempting to coerce me or create a sense of obligation. One of the least motivating strings of emails came from a reader who described a complicated family situation and demanded that I respond “promptly.” Within a week, I sent a three-paragraph reply. I explained that it would be difficult to help without knowing the people involved, but offered a suggestion, attached an article, and recommended a book. The reply from the person said, “I am in receipt of your email” without a single expression of gratitude, and extinguished my desire to be helpful.

Gratitude is more powerful than we realize. In one experiment, Francesca Gino and I asked people to spend some time helping a student improve a job application cover letter. After they sent their feedback, the student replied with a message, “I just wanted to let you know that I received your feedback on my cover letter,” and asked for help with another one in the next three days. Only 32% of the people helped. When the student added just eight words—“Thank you so much! I am really grateful”—the rate of helping doubled to 66%. In another experiment, after people helped one student, a different student asked them for help. Being thanked by the first student boosted helping rates from 25% to 55%. The punch line: a little thanks goes a long way, not only for encouraging busy people to help you, but also for motivating them to help others like you.

*For more on achieving influence and motivating people help, see Adam’s new book Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to SuccessNew York Times and Wall Street Journalbestseller. Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamMGrant

A Basement Remodel – Is It Worth It?

A basement remodel is it worth it?  Yes!  Most definitely!  A basement remodel will give you about a 70%-87%  return on your investment.  A basement remodel is a great way to add living space to your existing home without the cost and hassle of having to build a room addition.

Basements are very common in the North and not very common in the South and West.  So your return on investment will vary depending on where you live.  If you live in the North, a basement remodel will generally bring you 15%-17% less on your return than if you were to do the same remodel somewhere else where basements are not as common.

The biggest potential problem you could face with your basement remodel is moisture.  You need to make sure that your basement does not have a moisture problem before you begin your remodel.  Leaks, condensation or the potential of flooding must be corrected before you can even think about converting your basement.It is much harder to fix moisture issues such as mold after they have occurred than it would have been to just fix them before hand.  Once your home has been labeled as having a mold issue, you will have a hard time selling it without having to jump through hoops.

Tip 1: Don’t Start to Work Until You Know It’s Dry

Before you do any kind of finished work on a basement, make sure there won’t be any water issues that could cause damage. Go outside and inspect the exterior walls for moisture problems. Make sure the ground is sloped away from the foundation walls. Also, check the downspouts, if they’re clogged, it could be create a lot of moisture and bring it into the basement.

Tip 2: Check the Code Before You Pound a Nail

Once you have a design plan and you’ve checked for moisture, the next thing you should do is find out whether you need to get a permit for the proposed renovation. Also, make sure that everything pertaining to electrical work is done to code.

Tip 3: Put Some Furring on Your Walls

Install furring strips on the wall so you’ll have a 1/2-inch of space between the interior wall and the moisture on the outside wall. You can use a Chicago bar, which is basically 1/2-inch thick metal strips.

Tip 4: Keep the Vapor Out and the Warmth In

Polyurethane sheeting is great for keeping moisture from seeping in. Consider insulation that’s completely enclosed in a vapor barrier, it is easy to work with since you don’t have to deal with itchy insulation fibers

Tip 5: Give Your Lighting a Recess

Recessed lighting is great for basements since you don’t want fixtures hanging from a low ceiling. Because there’s limited natural light, basement lighting is essential to brighten up the place.

Tip 6: Build Up the Floor Before You Lay Anything Down

Since the basement is below ground, it gets a lot of coolness and moisture, so you need to warm it up. Put down a vapor barrier to protect the space between the wood and the cement. Next, lay 2x4s and frame it every 16 inches. Lay a strip, and between the 2x4s, place an insulation board and a piece of 3/4″ plywood on top. This type of floor is giving and resilient, and it’s warm enough that you can walk barefoot on it.

Pesky Plumbing Issues And How To Stop Them

If you own a home, you know that plumbing leaks can occur at any time.  Sometimes they develop slowly over time and sometimes they are a sudden occurrence.   The cost involved in repairing a major plumbing leak can get expensive.  Not to mention if you develop mold and the clean up involved with that.  But with some good preventive measures you can avoid most disasters.

Here are some preventive measures you can take to avoid as many plumbing disasters as possible.

• Locate your main water shut off valve.  Your entire family should know where it is and how to use it.  If you ever have a leak or any other type of plumbing emergency, you can turn off the water to your entire house from the main water valve.  This will stop the water and help prevent any further damage until you can get the leak repaired

• Have shut off valves installed on your appliances and fixtures.  You can do this yourself or you can have a professional do it for you. This will allow you to turn off the water to a specific area of your home while allowing the water to flow to the other parts of your house

• Have a flow sensor installed.  A flow sensor will automatically shut off the water to your house if it detects a leak

• During the winter months, remove your hoses from the exterior faucets of your home.  This will prevent them from freezing and cracking the pipes.  It is a good idea to install a hose bib over the exterior faucets of your home during the winter months as well

• Add insulation to the pipes in cold parts of your house like the garage, basement, exterior laundry room or any crawl spaces.  Pipe insulation tubes are fairly cheap and you can find them at your local home improvement store

• Don’t hang anything on your exposed pipes such as laundry or home decor.  This will loosen the pipes joints and could cause them to burst or leak

• Don’t over stuff the items you put underneath your kitchen and vanity cabinets.  This could cause the pipes to loosen and leak and you may not notice this right away which will cause even further damage

• If you notice a leak, fix it immediately.  If you don’t, not only will it cost you more money on your water bill,  but it will also cause your pipes to corrode and could create a dangerous mold issue as well

• You should always turn off your sprinkler system when the temperatures are going to be below freezing for more than three hours at a time.  Some  systems come with freeze sensors already installed.  You should check your system so you know whether or not you have that feature so you can act accordingly

A plumbing leak that is not fixed can cause extensive damage.  So never procrastinate when it comes to your plumbing.

Enjoy the Weekend!

The Inman Team

What Are The Best Upgrades For Your New Construction Home

Building a new construction home can be very exciting.  But there are so many upgrades to choose from.  And some of those upgrades are very expensive.   So how do you decide which options are practical and which options you should pass on.

The best way to decide which upgrades to say yes to and which ones you should say no to is to think about how it will affect the resale value of your home should you decide to sell in the future.  Ask yourself  “will this upgrade add to the value of my home in the future?”  If the answer is yes, then go for it!

But the resale money is not the only thing that is important when making decisions about which upgrades to choose.  Aside from adding value to your home, you should ask yourself what are the most important things to you and your family.  Where do you spend all of your time.

Do you need a large family room or does each family member prefer their own spaces.  Do you spend a lot of time in the kitchen?

Here are a few things that may help you decide which upgrades to choose.

• You’ll never go wrong when opting for the upgraded kitchen cabinets.  Consider selecting the custom cabinets.  They are better built, have better finishes and will last longer.  Additionally,  opt for the taller uppers.  You know, the ones that go all the way to the ceiling.  This will give you that much needed extra storage space that you will definitely need the longer you have lived in your house

• Opt for premium hinges and drawer slides as well.  Your kitchen cabinets will take a lot of abuse over the years and it is very expensive if you have to replace your cabinets only after a few years

• Choose the top quality carpet.  It will hold up better in the high traffic areas and keep you from having to replace it sooner than you would have if you had gone with the cheapest carpet. Generally the more quality the carpet is – the easier it is to get clean when dirt and spills occur

• The same goes for your carpet padding.  A thicker, better quality pad will increase the life of your carpet

• Wood or ceramic tile flooring is always considered a good upgrade.  It is durable, practical and will never go out of style.  Most people prefer wood or ceramic tile flooring to carpet for those very reasons

• Ceiling fans and light fixtures.  An upgraded ceiling fan and light fixture package will not only add some energy efficiency to your home but it will also add a more quality look as well.  Nothing spells cheap more than seeing cheap ceiling fans and light fixtures and they are not that expensive of an upgrade

• Add some skylights.  This is especially important if your new homes floorplan does not allow for much natural lighting.  Natural lighting will give your home that light, bright feeling and will help save on your energy costs as well.

The most important thing is to make sure that you choose the upgrades that are the most important to you.  If you have the things you want the most, you will more than likely remain happy with your new home choice for years to come.