Fireplace Trends to Warm Your Home

by c21commonweath_ldowling 27. December 2017 10:53

During the holiday season, the idea of cozying up to a fire in your living room is inviting. While fireplaces are no longer as popular as they were decades ago, countless new design trends modernize the feature and can change its function (without compromising your comfort).

While fireplaces from the last hundred years or so center around a traditional design with a hearth, there’s so much more you can do today with gas and electric technology. There’s no need to stick with brick facades; you can use new materials like tile, stone, and even metal if it can stand up to the heat of the fireplace. As we gather around our fireplaces this winter, let’s take some time to think about these modern fireplace design trends:

TV or Art Above the Fireplace

In the past, the fireplace was the central element of the room, and the heat output didn’t allow owners to use the space around it. With a modern gas fireplace, you can safely place a flat screen TV or beautiful art above the fireplace. This new technology allows you to use more space on the fireplace wall, creating a multi-function vertical space.

Frameless Fireplaces

If you’re installing a new gas fireplace, it’s likely to be frameless, which creates clean, modern lines, providing an uninterrupted view of your fire. With a frameless fireplace, you can finish the wall with almost any material, including wood, wallpaper, and more.

Unusual Material Choices

While almost all fireplaces of the past were made with bricks to withstand the heat of wood fires, gas and electric fireplaces enable much creativity with the material. Designers have experimented with everything from marble to aluminum and copper. Your fireplace is your canvas, and it no longer needs to sit at floor level. With frameless designs, you can center a fireplace in tile or create a new stone façade. The options are endless.

Updates that Add Functionality

When you have an older wood-burning fireplace, you can still update it with some of these modern trends. Adding a tile overlay to the brick can modernize the look of an older fireplace, while replacing the mantle with reclaimed wood can create a rustic look. It’s even possible to create built-ins surrounding the fireplace to store books, your TV, and other items. Instead of dedicating an entire wall to your fireplace, make the most of the wall’s storage space.

With these new fireplace trends, you can transform your living or family room into the place where your whole family wants to gather during the winter months. Discuss remodeling your fireplace with a contractor and get started creating a beautiful entertaining space today.

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Resolutions to Help You Save for a New Home

by c21commonweath_ldowling 27. December 2017 10:12

It’s finally time to purchase a home in 2018. It’s the right time in your life, you’ve got a stable source of income, and you’re ready to make the jump to homeownership. Now it’s a matter of saving and getting your finances in order. Before the New Year, make some resolutions to get your down payment ready and get your credit in shape.

Come Up with a Monthly Budget

Once you own a home, you’ll have new costs associated with homeownership, such as property taxes, home insurance, possibly homeowner’s association fees. Variable expenses you currently pay for electricity, gas, and water may increase when you move into a home. Determine your new budget based on the estimated costs for your new home and live with it for a few months. You’ll likely have to make changes to your spending habits, like how often you go out to eat, where you shop, and more. It’s important to start living within your means.

Raise Your Credit Score

Credit history has an important impact on your mortgage application and subsequent loan terms. Improving your credit can increase your chance of approval and get you a better rate. You can improve your credit score by taking positive actions like paying down your debt, removing any negative marks from your credit report, and paying down credit card balances.

It’s especially important to pay down any high-interest debt you have, like personal loans or credit card balances that carry over from month-to-month. Most experts also recommend holding off on applying for new credit cards or auto loans in the months leading up to a mortgage, as it can be a red flag to lenders.

Start Saving for Your Down Payment and Emergencies

You’ve hopefully already started saving for your new home if you want to purchase one in 2018, but it’s time to make sure you have enough to cover all the important costs in the purchase. You’ll need enough for a down payment (which can range from 3.5% to 20% or more), closing costs, and loan origination fees. You’ll also need money for inspections, appraisal, moving costs, and other fees.

It’s also important to have a separate emergency fund for anything that could go wrong. While an inspection should hopefully find any major issues with the home, you’re now responsible if you’re suddenly confronted with a broken HVAC system, faulty plumbing, or water heater issues. Plan for having at least 3-6 months of your expenses at hand. This fund will also make you more attractive to lenders, as you have more money in the bank.

Get a Raise or Secondary Income

Your income is an integral part of your mortgage approval. It’s how lenders determine how much home you can afford. Increasing your take-home pay will allow you to have a larger loan, along with getting you more money. If you’re up for a raise at your company or have enough time to work towards one, this can be helpful in the mortgage application process. Having a secondary source of income can also be helpful if it increases your income significantly. Remember that consistency is also important to lenders, as they like to see you’ve been with your employer for at least a year or two.

With these resolutions, you’ll be on your way to purchasing a new home in 2018.

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Home Staging Solutions for Awkward Layouts

by c21commonweath_ldowling 18. December 2017 10:32

As you prepare to sell your home, your thoughts may turn to some of the unusual spaces that you’ve never quite known how to decorate. How can you stage these spaces so that they have buyers shouting their delight rather than scratching their heads?

Use our tips below to resolve five common layout issues and enhance your home for showings.

Open Layout That’s Too Open

An open layout can be a major selling point, but if your space is a little too open, it can feel unstructured and overwhelming.

The Solution: Group your furniture so that it visually defines distinct areas, such as the living room, dining room, and kitchen. Even if you don’t have walls between rooms, you can use furniture pieces like sectional couches and bookshelves to create a division between spaces and direct the flow of foot traffic. Large area rugs are also great for defining spaces with separate functions.

Unused Nooks and Crannies

You’ve got a small nook or a tight corner in your living room that you’ve never known how to fill. Now that you’re selling your home, you’re worried that the lack of décor in that space will draw prospective buyers’ eyes to it.

The Solution: Find a piece of furniture, such as a bookshelf, chest of drawers, or bar cart, that fits snugly in the nook. If you’re feeling bold, you could also paint the walls of the nook an accent color to make the space pop. Giving a nook or tight corner a purpose will make it seem like an asset rather than an awkward addition.

Long, Narrow Hallway

Your hallway looks like something out of The Shining: it feels like it stretches on forever, and you’re concerned the narrow space will induce claustrophobia in your prospective buyers.

The Solution: If your hallway is at least four feet wide, turn it into a gallery. Choose a monochromatic or black and white color scheme for consistency and hang wall art that visitors can enjoy as they pass through the space. If your hallway is less than four feet wide, visitors may not be able to step back far enough to appreciate a gallery wall fully, but you can still create visual interest by adding a beautifully framed mirror or a decorative hanging light at the end of the hallway. You could also paint the walls and ceiling of your narrow hallway a light color to make the space feel larger and brighter.

Long, Narrow Living Room

Your living room looks like it’s been stretched out, and when visitors sit at one end of the room, they feel like they have to shout to be heard at the other end.

The Solution: Create two separate conversation areas for your large living room. For example, you could angle two armchairs towards each other at one end and cluster a couple of loveseats at the other end. If you have enough space, float your furniture away from at least one wall so that foot traffic naturally flows around the edge of the room through the middle. This will create a more intimate environment.

To break up the straight lines created by a long living room, add a small circular coffee table or ottoman to at least one of your conversation areas. You can also use bookshelves and wall art to maximize your vertical space and draw eyes upwards, rather than straight across the room.

Small Bedroom

The bedroom is one of the rooms prospective buyers will pay the closest attention to when walking through your home. If one or more bedrooms in your home look small and cramped, it may give some buyers pause.

The Solution: Start by removing any non-essential furniture, such as a large dresser or vanity, that may be taking up valuable space. Keep your staging simple: having a bed, two nightstands, and a chair or ottoman should be plenty. Add matching lamps to the nightstands so that you’ll have soft light when there’s not a lot of natural light. Choose a window treatment that will diffuse sunlight without blocking it completely. If possible, place a mirror across from your bedroom window. It will reflect light and make the room look bigger.

Running into additional staging challenges? Your CENTURY 21 Commonwealth Realtor is a great resource. If you haven’t found your agent yet, search in your area now.

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Best Outdoor Winter Activities in Massachusetts

by c21commonweath_ldowling 18. December 2017 10:04

Massachusetts residents are no strangers to harsh winters. But just because there’s snow on the ground doesn’t mean we’re going to stay indoors all season. The upside of living somewhere with cold, snowy winters is that we get to enjoy some of the best outdoor activities in the country. Check out some of our favorite things to do during the winter.

Ice Skating

There’s probably no winter activity more iconic than ice skating on a frozen pond. Fortunately, Massachusetts has plenty of outdoor spots where you can strap on your skates. Boston Common Frog Pond is a go-to for many residents of the greater Boston area. It’s $6 for a skating pass (and free for kids under 58 inches), and you can also rent skates if you don’t have your own.

For an inexpensive skating trip, Kelly Outdoor Rink in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston is another great bet. Skate rentals are only $2, and those who are inexperienced on the ice can take lessons on Saturdays.

Sledding

Massachusetts has sledding slopes for everyone, from the youngest toboggan riders to the older thrill-seekers. Boston Common and the Sugar Bowl near Jamaica Pond both offer some gentle slopes and obstacle-free space that’s perfect for young sledders. The Sugar Bowl also gives sledders the chance to build up enough momentum going down one side to slide back up the other.

For those who are looking for steep inclines and fast-paced sledding, Hospital Hill in Northampton is a good option. Prospect Hill Park in Waltham also has some big slopes and breathtaking views of the surrounding area.

Downhill Skiing and Snowboarding

New England is known for its exceptional skiing, and you don’t even have to leave Massachusetts to discover exciting new trails. Nashoba Valley Ski Area in Westford, Massachusetts boasts 17 trails and lifts that carry skiers and snowboarders 240 vertical feet up the mountain. For those who would rather not strap boards to their feet, Nashoba Valley also has a large snow tubing park.

Ski Butternut in Great Barrington is another in-state ski resort popular with families and beginner skiers and snowboarders. 20 percent of the terrain is rated for beginners while 60 percent is rated as intermediate, meaning that no one has to face a black diamond slope before they’re ready.

Skiers and snowboarders looking for challenges for all ability levels should visit Mount Wachusett, just an hour’s drive from Boston in Princeton, Massachusetts. The resort has 26 trails, a 2006-foot summit, and a mile and a half long trail on Balance Rock.

Cross-Country Skiing and Snowshoeing

If you’re hoping to get a bit more of a cardio workout than you would with downhill skiing, there are also plenty of places to go snowshoeing or cross-country skiing in Massachusetts. Just 15 miles outside of Boston, the Weston Ski Track offers a 2K lighted loop. That means that the short days of winter won’t stop you from skiing: your trail will be illuminated no matter when you go.

Feeling competitive? Hilltop Orchards in Richmond, MA hosts 5K snowshoeing and cross-country ski races throughout the winter. If you need any more motivation to check it out, Hilltop Orchards also has a winery on its grounds. Get a workout and then reward yourself with a wine tasting.

Gathering for a Winter Bonfire

Not every outdoor winter activity in Massachusetts has to involve a workout: if you’re looking for a way to relax outside without getting too cold, just head to a bonfire. Several Massachusetts cities, including Newbury and Salem, host big Christmas tree bonfires where residents are invited to burn their trees once the holidays are over. Going to a bonfire is a lot like gathering in front of a giant fireplace, with all your friends and neighbors around you. What’s not to love?

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Realtors: Talk to Buyers About What to Expect at Closing

by c21commonweath_ldowling 11. December 2017 10:05

Closing on a home can be a stressful process, especially for first-time homebuyers. As a Realtor, it’s your job to reassure your buyers and make sure they’re ready. With your help and some good advice, the closing process can run smoothly and help your buyer become a homeowner. Have your buyers ready to go to the closing table knowing about the process, actively engaged, and ready to make this life-changing purchase.

It’s Time to Schedule

Closing is a complex process, and your buyers need to be aware of that when going into it. They need to be patient when signing closing documents. It’s important that they dedicate enough time to closing, so don’t schedule it at the end of the day or during a short one-hour lunch break. If you can, have your buyers take off work for the day or take a half-day. Experts also recommend not leaving closing to the last day of the month, but rather scheduling it in the last week or so, to leave time for last-minute problems or issues that need correction.

What’s Wrong with an End-of-Month Closing?

There’s almost inevitably some issue in the closing documents, from a misspelled name, incorrect figure, or even a mechanical breakdown (like the printer running out of paper). Scheduling your buyers’ closing at the end of the month is a common tactic, but if there’s a delay, they may have increased closing costs which come due at the beginning of the next month. Prepaid interest due at closing accumulates throughout the month, but it can be avoided or reduced for your buyer if closing is near the end of the month.

Make Sure to Do a Final Walk-Through with Your Buyer

The terms of most homebuying contracts allow the buyers to perform a final walkthrough 24 hours before closing to ensure the property is still in proper condition. There are horror stories about buyers opening the door to their new house and finding vandalized walls, stolen water heaters, and other damage, so make sure to do this step with them. If you or the buyers see any damage missed the first time or notice any conditions that have changed for the worse, negotiate the necessary repairs with the seller during closing.

If your buyers have any questions about the closing process, you’re the first person they’re going to ask, and you are there to help them understand what the process entails and what to expect. With your help, they’ll be able to sail through closing and get the keys to their home.

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When Will Generation Z Enter the Housing Market?

by c21commonweath_ldowling 11. December 2017 09:52

While there have been many studies written about millennials and their low homeownership rates, the focus is shifting to the younger Generation Z and their aspirations for homes of their own.

According to one survey, 82% of Gen Z-ers believe owning a home is the most important part of the American Dream. They’re also confident that they’ll be able to achieve this goal, even though most of them are still in high school or college right now. That’s very different from the confidence rates of millennials, many of whom were disillusioned from the financial crash of 2008 and are more cautious about their goals.

What is Generation Z?

Gen Z includes those born in the late 90s and early 2000s, and they are the generation that immediately follows the millennials. This cohort outnumbers millennials by around 1 million and will soon become a major force in the job market and real estate marketplace. While it’s too soon to tell at what age the average Gen Z-er will be able to afford the homes they value and want, professional builders and Realtors are taking notice and readying themselves for potential new buyers.

Enthusiastic and Optimistic

Despite the knowledge of the subprime mortgage lending crisis, low wages, and a competitive rental market, Gen Z-ers remain optimistic. Time Magazine reports that 97% of the cohort aspire to own a home. For this generation, who took a different lesson from the 2008 housing crisis, stability is vital. These teens are learning more financial information from school and their parents, and they hope to achieve their dream of homeownership by the age of 28.

Only 65% of current Americans own a home, and millennials are renting in droves, but that is likely to change in the next decade. With half the post-college credit card debt of millennials, an enthusiastic attitude, and a lower countrywide unemployment rate than we’ve seen in years, Gen Z might be able to pull off a coup and become the largest generation of homeowners since the Boomers. Gen Z’s interest in homeownership could result in renewed homebuilding efforts, more sales for Realtors, and a revitalized economy.

Hope for the Future

A future with financially responsible adults is something we can all hope for from Generation Z. As they save for college and their futures and create stable lives for themselves, they’ll contribute to the overall health of the economy. Realtors should ready themselves for the arrival of this next home buying generation, as they may be entering the real estate market sooner than we think.

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Factoring in the Commute When Buying a Home

by c21commonweath_ldowling 4. December 2017 10:27

The thought of moving to a new neighborhood and maybe even a new town is exciting, especially if you’re planning to buy a house. However, before you get too caught up in the thrill of house hunting, you need to ask yourself: How far am I willing to commute?

It’s easy to put off thinking about your commute, but it can be a bigger determining factor in the home buying process than you might think. Buying a home in a rural or suburban area will get you more square footage at a lower cost than buying in a city, but if you have a long daily commute by car, the cost of gas and auto maintenance can add up quickly. One Reuters report estimates that someone with a 20-mile drive to work can expect their commute to cost them $50,000 over ten years, even after factoring in a tax deduction for business driving.

It’s About More Than Distance

When thinking about the commute from your potential new home, you need to look at more than just distance in miles. You should use Google Maps (or a similar tool) to look at the estimated drive time when you will be going to and from work. This is especially crucial if you’re commuting to Boston or another big city where traffic gets congested at peak hours.

Of course, if you are commuting into the city, you may be able to use public transportation rather than driving, which can save you time and money. If you’re buying a home outside of Boston, check to see if it’s near a stop on the T or the commuter rail. While you may still be in for a long commute, taking the train will at least allow you to use your commute to do some work, catch up on reading, or just relax before or after your workday.

If your job doesn’t require you to be at an office from 9 am to 5 pm, you may also be able to look into alternative work schedules to help you save on commuting from your new home. For example, you could see if you could start later in the morning and leave later in the evening so that you’re not traveling during rush hour, or you could ask if you could telecommute several days a week.

The Pros and Cons of a Long Commute

Maybe you’ve already found your dream home within your budget but know you’ll be facing a long commute. Before buying, you’ll need to decide if other factors will make the long commute worth it. For example, you may value the house’s location because it’s in a good school district, close to your partner’s work, or close to family members who can help with childcare.

You and your partner need to recognize that there will be trade-offs for these benefits, both in terms of the commuting cost and the time it will take out of your day, and decide if the trade-offs are worth it.

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5 Winter Curb Appeal Tips for Home Sellers

by c21commonweath_ldowling 4. December 2017 10:11

You might think you’re at a disadvantage when it comes to boosting your curb appeal in the winter, but there are plenty of things you can do to warmly welcome home buyers even when the sky is overcast and there’s snow on the ground. Start with our five recommendations to brighten the winter landscape and make a strong first impression on home buyers.

Create a Safe Path to Your Front Door

Winter weather can lead to treacherously slippery walkways, so your first priority should be to make sure home buyers and their Realtors can get to your house safely. Whenever it snows or freezes, you’ll need to clear your driveway, front walkway, stairs, and front porch of snow and ice. You should also test the strength of your handrails (if you have them) leading up to the house. You need to know they can support potential buyers who may be worried about slick steps.

Add Some Striking Color

The natural colors outside your home may be muted during the winter, but that means you have a chance to make your home stand out with a few bright accents. Try repainting your mailbox, window trim, or front door a warm color like red to catch potential buyers’ eyes from the street. (A word to the wise: you should avoid applying oil-based paint when it’s under 40 degrees Fahrenheit and acrylic-based paint when it’s under 50.)

If you don’t want to paint anything, add a bright doormat and a couple of potted plants outside your front door. Look for plants and small trees that do well outdoors in the winter, such as blue holly, juniper, winter hazel, or boxwood. If you’re putting your house on the market ahead of the holidays, you may also want to add a few subtle outdoor decorations, such as a wreath on your front door or garlands around posts or fences.

Stay on Top of Lawn Maintenance

Fresh white snow can naturally boost your home’s winter curb appeal, but what happens when there’s no snow on the ground? You won’t be able to keep your lawn as green as it is during the spring and summer, but you can still rake up dead leaves and remove dead tree branches and other debris. You can also trim back bushes and trees that are becoming overgrown, keeping your yard looking neat and tidy.

Repaint Your Fence

You should ideally paint or stain a wooden fence every two or three years to help protect it from the elements. If you have a wooden fence in front of your house that hasn’t been painted or stained in several years, choose a clear day and spruce it up. Just make sure you understand how the weather will affect your paint. The Balance has a guide to cold weather painting that’s worth reviewing before you grab your roller and brush.

Upgrade Your Outdoor Lighting

The days are short in the winter, so it’s more important than ever to make sure your home looks good at night. If you don’t already have path lights bordering your walkway, consider adding them now. This will improve the safety of your walkway as well as the appearance of your home. You may also want to add decorative sconces or lanterns on either side of your door. For a festive touch, try adding LED string lights to any trees or bushes in your front yard. A little extra light can go a long way towards brightening your home in the winter.

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Tips for Storing Your Stuff When Staging Your Home

by c21commonweath_ldowling 27. November 2017 10:35

When you’re selling your home, it’s important it looks its best for open houses and showings. You need it to look ready for the new owners to move in and decorate it to their tastes. Clearing your home of clutter can help you sell your home more quickly—but what do you do when you have limited space to store your excess belongings?

Here are some tips to help you keep your belongings out of sight, and out of potential homebuyers’ minds.

Pack Up the Unnecessary

You likely don’t need everything you currently have in your home. Pack up non-essential items like extra linens and out-of-season clothing, and toss out items you don’t need. Donate clothing and other items that are still in good condition to a local organization. Store your boxes in a garage, shed, or if necessary, an off-site storage unit.

Decluttering will allow you to open your space and let homebuyers imagine your home as their own. Start with your kids’ playroom, your unused closets, the basement, and other areas where clutter tends to accumulate. You’ll quickly see the results of packing up your home.

Organize What’s Left

You can’t place everything into storage; many of your possessions are required for everyday use and are important for staging. Make sure to organize things in decorative baskets, bins, and storage containers. Reorganize kitchen cabinets in case buyers decide to look into them. By storing your items well, you’ll be able to quickly clean up before a home showing and help your home sell more quickly.

Search for Inspiration

If you’re running out of ideas for storage, other home sellers might be able to help. Go to open houses for other properties in your neighborhood, look at listings online, and take a look at model homes. You’ll get plenty of ideas for how to organize your home and present it to your buyers. You may even get some staging inspiration. You can also ask your Realtor for help with organization, as they have lots of experience selling homes.

Ask for Help from Friends and Family

Whether you’re moving across town or the country, packing up can be difficult. Your friends and family can be an asset in helping you move furniture, downsize, and even organize for showings. Utilize this network for a garage sale, help with donating items, or even moving to your new home. You can save money and clean up faster.

Storing belongings in your home while selling is a challenge, but you can do it with these tips. Start decluttering and make a plan with your family and Realtor. You’ll be ready and organized when your house is on the market.

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Home-Buying Factors You Might Not Have Considered

by c21commonweath_ldowling 27. November 2017 10:14

When you’re buying a home, there are many important things you consider, especially as a first-time homebuyer. You look at the kitchen, the backyard, the neighborhood, the total price, and many other factors. But there are many intangibles that you can miss if you’re not aware.

Buying a home is more important than just purchasing a piece of property. You’re changing your life in a significant way—so do your research and look into these factors before placing your offer.

School District

The school district your home is in can be indicative of other neighborhood factors. Parents and potential future parents should research a new home’s school district so that they feel good about their children’s education. Even if you don’t plan to have kids, you should still pay attention to the school district. Schools can have a major effect on taxes in the area, and they’ll also have a major effect on resale value.

HOA Fees and Rules

If your new home is under a homeowners’ association (HOA), ask for the fees and contract. Many HOAs have restrictive rules on fences, backyards, paint colors, and much more. HOA fees can become a significant monthly expense, so factor those into your budget. If you can, compare homes with and without HOAs and determine which option is best for you.

Neighborhood Characteristics

When moving to a new area, it’s sometimes easiest to just consider commute time and distance to amenities, but the neighborhood itself can be extremely important. Consider what the community is like, what sort of businesses are located there, crime statistics, and other important factors. Take a walk around the neighborhood, meet some neighbors, and see if you like the feel.

Hidden Costs

There’s much more to your home than just the mortgage costs. It’s important to consider all the costs, such as insurance, property taxes, utility costs, and more. You’re now responsible for all your repairs, so buying a home warranty could be a good choice to reduce your costs. You may need new appliances, depending on your housing market or the condition of the home’s appliances. If you use certain kinds of loans (such as an FHA loan), you may need mortgage insurance as well.

Talk to your Realtor about these factors and others before purchasing a home. They’ll help you make the right decision for you and your family.

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