3 reasons why winter is a smart time to buy a home

BPT) – Don’t give up on buying a home as winter nears. In fact, December through February may be better for buyers than the busy season in spring and summer.

Enjoy less competition and lower prices.

Fewer properties are typically available during the winter, as sellers and buyers aim to complete transactions before the school year begins. You can turn that to your advantage.

“In winter, there are fewer properties, but it’s less competitive, with fewer buyers per property,” says Greg Jaeger, president of USAA Residential Real Estate Services Inc., and former real estate agent.

The more favorable supply-demand balance can lower prices. In the winter, “negotiations are slower-paced and there is more negotiating room,” Jaeger says. Also, winter sellers may be more motivated, especially if they’re forced to sell by divorce or by corporate or military transfers.

In January and February, homes cost 8.45 percent less on average than in June through August, according to NerdWallet research conducted using Realtor.com data from 2014 and 2015. That’s in line with what Jaeger sees, particularly in competitive real estate markets where supply is limited.

Lower prices help at closing – and over the life of your mortgage.

A lower price eases your home purchase in many ways, Jaeger says. It lowers your down payment, any closing costs that are calculated as a percentage of the home’s sale price and your mortgage payments. There’s also less of a seller’s agent commission bundled into the sales price. These savings help when you buy, and they add up over the life of your mortgage.

The right agent can help.

When supply is limited, the right agent can help you get a jump on other buyers. Agents who are well connected learn about properties before they are listed.

The right agent understands the market where you are buying. That includes doing competitive market analysis so you understand what the house is worth.

Look for an agent who suits your style. For example, if you’re a statistics geek, you need an agent who’ll provide them. “Just having access to statistics doesn’t mean they have analytical skills and will use them,” Jaeger says. He recommends USAA’s Real Estate Rewards Network as a source for seasoned agents who deliver great service to USAA members.

Many resources are available to help consumers find the right agent, including USAA Real Estate Rewards Network, a free program that gives members access to USAA’s network of real estate agents and rewards when they buy or sell.

How to Prevent Burst Pipes in Winter


Live in an area where extreme cold is likely during the winter months? Don’t risk thousands of dollars in plumbing repairs… take the time to protect your pipes from bursting. When water freezes in your pipes, the ice expands, adding to the overall pressure in your home’s plumbing. When this force builds, it can cause pipes to split. In addition to plumbing repairs, you might find yourself on the hook for flooding damage, too.

The pipes most at risk? Those exposed to the lowest temperatures, of course. This includes plumbing on the exterior of the home, in exterior walls, and exposed pipes in those unheated zones of your home. Did you know that even a frozen garden hose can cause enough pressure to split an interior pipe? Be sure to disconnect and drain them. Faucets outside are vulnerable as well, so you’ll want to locate the shutoff valves for those spigots and make sure they’re drained before a freeze.

Naturally, if you’re not going to be around for the winter months, you’ll want to prepare your home before you head to a warmer climate. Don’t let the house drop below the mid-50s, and shut off the water main and be sure to drain the home’s plumbing by letting the faucets run to empty and flushing the toilets.

But what do you do if the freeze takes you by surprise? Here are some quick tips to try and save yourself from a plumbing nightmare:

  1. Get the taps running. You don’t need a rushing stream of water, just make sure indoor and outdoor faucets are letting a steady drip out to keep the water moving.
  1. Open up closed spaces. Have an unheated garage? Pipes in cabinets? Get warm air circulating in there by opening them up to climate-controlled areas of your home. The added heating expense is nothing compared to costly repairs.
  1. Insulate pipes. If you suspect the pipes are starting to accumulate some ice, you can try hot towels (soaked in hot water) to loosen the frosty slush in the pipes.
  1. Hair dryer to the rescue. When hot towels won’t help, don’t hesitate to get out your trusty hairdryer or heat gun to thaw things out. No open flames, though!

Finally, if you fear the worst is already upon you, turn off your water main. At least this way you won’t face a flood when things get moving again. Protect your home this winter! Enjoy helpful home tips? Let me know and I’ll include you on my free, periodic mailings: Teresa@TeresaButler.com

Turn your backyard into a winter wonderland for wild birds with simple, smart, timely tips

(BPT) –19872306_web You may think warm weather is prime-time to enjoy the rewarding hobby of bird-feeding and bird-watching. Winter, however, is the time of year when birds need you most – and when you have the greatest chance of attracting them to your backyard. Natural food and water sources become scarce, competition for limited resources is fierce and non-migratory birds are looking for a reliable, good quality meal. It’s your moment!

The bird-feeding experts at Cole’s Wild Bird Products offer some timely tips for drawing wild birds to your backyard this winter:

* Feed without guilt! There is absolutely no research that shows wild birds will become lazy if you feed them. Nor will they forego migrating in favor of hanging around your backyard. Migratory birds will act on instinct and migrate when it’s time to do so, regardless of food sources. Hummingbirds, for example, will migrate, but it’s often a smart, sensible idea to leave a hummingbird feeder up for a few weeks after the majority are gone, just in case a straggler needs sustenance.

* No matter how urgent their need for food, birds won’t visit your feeder if you fill it with the avian equivalent of junk food. Birdfeed that contains cheap fillers won’t attract or satisfy birds, and they will either look elsewhere for food, or – if they’re really feeling winter’s pinch – eat at your feeder but leave a mess of filler uneaten on the ground. Look for birdfeed that contains quality ingredients and is free of chemicals and other toxins that could harm birds. Cole’s Wild Bird products are especially formulated to attract birds and are all-natural, top-of-the crop seeds free of fillers, preservatives, mineral oils or pesticides. Their top quality feed is nitrogen-purge packaged, just like potato chips, to ensure freshness and insect -free feed. Visit www.coleswildbird.com to learn more.

* Seeds are a satisfying, top choice for winter dining among birds, but they also love suet, which gives them much-needed stores of fat. Seeds with a high fat or oil content are best for birds during winter, so look for options like black oil sunflower seed, niger seed, raw peanuts and suet cakes. Cole’s offers Nutberry Suet, an energy-packed powerhouse feed that mixes birds’ favorite seeds with suet, a variety of no-melt suet cakes, and some suet specialty products like Cole’s Suet Pearls and Cole’s Suet Nuts, that birds love. These products provide concentrated energy to help birds make it through freezing winter weather.

* While it’s always important to keep your birdfeeders clean, cleanliness is even more vital during winter when more birds are likely to visit your feeders. Cleaning minimizes mold, mildew and other unhealthy conditions that could make backyard birds sick. Consider an easy to clean, hassle-free feeder like Cole’s Terrific Tube Feeder, that has a quick-clean feature making cleaning a snap. Remember to throw away any seed left over in the feeder when cleaning, and let the feeder dry thoroughly before refilling, so there’s less chance of seed becoming encased in ice.

* Finding fresh, unfrozen water can be more challenging for birds than finding food in the winter. Use fountains or spritzers in your birdbath to attract thirsty birds. You can also use a heated birdbath to ensure feathered visitors never have to contend with frozen water.

* Be sure to place birdfeeders with safety in mind. Keep feeders away from structures that could provide a haven for avian predators, like cats or hawks. Be mindful of proximity to your house and the risk that birds might fly into windows if feeders are too close to your home.

Winter is a great time to nurture your love of bird feeding and bird watching. As your backyard fills with wild birds, their plumage and songs can brighten dreary winter days. Plus, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing you’re helping your feathered friends during the season when they need it most.


Winter Is Best Time to Sell, Study Shows

The housing market doesn’t hibernate in the winter. Sellers who list and buyers who buy often find the winter season the most advantageous time to make a move in real estate, according to a new study by the real estate brokerage Redfin. The winter season officially takes place between Dec. 21 and March 20, and real estate professionals should be ready for a season that often brings in more focused and active sellers and buyers.SONY DSC

In an update to a two-year analysis it completed last year, Redfin researchers studied nationwide home listings, sales prices, and time-on-market data from 2010 through October 2014.

The study found that February is “historically the best month to list, with an average of 66 percent of homes listed then selling within 90 days,” according to Redfin’s research.

Even in cold weather cities – such as Boston and Chicago – researchers found that home sellers were better off listing their homes in the winter than during other seasons.

The winter tends to net sellers’ more than their asking price during the months of December, January, February, and March than listings from June through November. Listing during those four winter months has resulted in higher percentages of above-asking-price sales than listing during any months, other than April and May.

Redfin researchers found that in 2012 December listings were producing the highest percentage of above-asking sales for the entire year at 17 percent.

Researchers say the winter market is less competitive for sellers since many people tend to wait until the spring to list. The smaller inventory of active listings help sellers get more attention from buyers on their properties. Also, many large corporations often transfer employees or hire new ones early in the year, creating opportunities for winter sellers from very motivated purchasers.

Homes that are “priced right and show well can sell any time” of the year, says Nela Richardson, chief economist for Redfin. Winter buyers tend to be “serious buyers… Most people are not window-shopping” in December and January, like they do in the spring months, Richardson adds.

Sellers shouldn’t worry about the holidays hampering their chances either. A 2011 study conducted by realtor.com® found that 60 percent of real estate professionals advise their sellers to list a home during the holidays because they believe it’s an opportune time to sell. Nearly 80 percent of the real estate professionals surveyed said that more serious buyers emerge during the holidays, and 61 percent say less competition from other properties makes it an ideal time to sell.

As for buyers, they may find winter a good time to make a move too. Sellers often are more flexible about negotiations over prices and terms than they would in the spring, real estate professionals say.

“People get more realistic at this time of year,” particularly if their homes hadn’t sold during the summer and fall, says Mary Bayat, a broker in Washington, D.C., and chairwoman-elect of the Northern Virginia Association of REALTORS®.

Source: “Best Time to List a Home for Sale? Winter, Redfin Says,” Los Angeles Times

Rush to Buy Homes During the Holidays?

SONY DSCHome owners may be doubtful that the months of November and December will bring about a home sale. After all, aren’t potential buyers sidetracked with the holidays and likelier to postpone their house hunt due to bad weather and shorter days?

But sometimes the “off-peak” time to sell can actually be the perfect moment for sellers. Several studies show that, on average, homes listed in November and December are more likely to sell, sell more quickly, and more closely approach the asking price, according to an article at Forbes.com.

A 2011 study conducted by realtor.com® found that 60 percent of real estate professionals advise their sellers to list a home during the holidays because they believe it’s an opportune time to sell. Nearly 80 percent of the real estate professionals surveyed said that more serious buyers emerge during the holidays, and 61 percent say less competition from other properties makes it an ideal time to sell.

Thanksgiving is particularly good, the article notes. Buyers may have held out through the busy summer months hoping to find a better deal, but now they may be searching with increased urgency. Some buyers may be motivated to close before the end of the year for tax purposes. They can purchase a home late in the year to deduct home purchase costs on their taxes, such as points, interest, and property taxes. Also, certain sellers who sold their homes during the summer season may be facing a capital gains tax. They may be highly motivated to buy in November to avoid paying capital gains tax (since closing on the purchase of another house is required within 180 days).

Source: “Why November Is the Best Month to Sell Your Home,” Forbes.com/Trulia

Selling Your Home in the Winter

Winter is widely known as the slowest season in the real estate industry. The busy holidays, cooler weather and short days often keep home owners in place from December through March. However, it can also be a great time to sell, because, even though you may have fewer buyers during the winter months, you also have less competition from other sellers.
If you cannot wait to sell your home until the spring, you may need to try some extra marketing strategies for selling buyers on your home. Find the hidden advantages of your home during this slow season. With the leaves gone from trees, potential buyers may be able to see the whole home clearly, free from obstructions.
Just as in the summer months, keep your home exterior nicely maintained all winter long. Clear your yard of any fallen twigs or branches. Keep your driveway free of debris and the outside warmly lit. Because the holidays are over, make sure all festive decorations are taken down; however, wreaths or dried arrangements around the door are always a welcome seasonal touch — just as long as they do not scream “holidays.”
Inside your home, you will also want to keep all rooms well lit. If you are not planning on being home often, keep both inside and outside lights on timers to keep electric bills at bay. Make sure all windows are thoroughly cleaned and curtains and blinds drawn. Try to schedule a showing or open house during peak daylight hours to maximize natural light in your home.
The way your home smells can make a big impression on a potential buyer. If you have a wood-burning fire, you have got a double advantage — it brings both a warm light and comforting smell to your home. Other smells that may favorably affect a buyer’s mood are chocolate chip cookies, cinnamon rolls, freshly baked bread, apple cider and vanilla. Want to create a nice aroma without baking? A drop of vanilla extract on a baking sheet place in a warm oven will mimic the scent of freshly baked cookies.
Though there may be fewer prospective buyers during the winter, this does not mean you will not be able to sell your home. Be creative with the way you stage your home and remember to treat everyone who enters as respected guests. You obviously saw potential in the home you are trying to sell, and someone else surely will, too.

Protecting Your Home from Winter Windstorms

A Few Modifications Will Protect Your Most Valuable Asset from the Elements

(ARA) – Like a scene from a Hollywood movie, winter winds rage through town, whipping up leaves, smacking shutters against siding and sending shingles flying. Huge trees snap like feeble twigs. It’s no mystery why scary movies often portray ominous scenes against a backdrop of a dark and stormy night. It’s even more frightening in real life.

The roof over your head is your home’s critical shield of protection from high winds and rain, and it’s often the first to be damaged during a windy storm. But with a few simple modifications and defensive strategies, homeowners can prepare their most valuable asset to stand up against even the harshest elements.

Start with the roof, a home’s first line of defense in protection from wind.

During a storm, wind hits the top of the roof and then travels down the exterior walls to the foundation. If the roof components can’t withstand the wind’s force, damage can occur all the way to the foundation. Quality roofing products can help prevent the heartache of thousands of dollars worth of damage.

According to Bert Elliott of Owens Corning, “Investing in a premium, wind-resistant shingle can help minimize the damage you could face in a high-wind event — so that during the next windy day you can relax and know that your roof is ready for the challenge.”

Owens Corning Duration Series Shingles feature a patented sealant called Tru-Bond that creates a tight grip between the nailing strip and the shingle to insure a powerful bond that can help withstand winds from 110 mph up to 130 mph.

With solid shingles in place, now look to the rest of the house to make sure it’s secure. For example, anchoring bolts with heavy-gauge square bolt washers to connect the floor construction to the foundation is a small task that helps ensure added coverage. It is also important to ensure that metal connectors on roof trusses or rafters and walls are connected properly.

And don’t overlook the garage. Securing garage doors with the correct bracing –single-wide garage doors with a horizontal brace and for garage door panels, either vertical or horizontal bracing — provides much needed protection for your garage.

Outside your home, survey the landscaping. The Federal Alliance for Safe Homes recommends examining trees within close proximity to the house. If trees are diseased or damaged they may have a weak root system and may not be able to withstand a windstorm. Some warning signs include mushrooms growing at the base of the tree, indicating decay, insect infestation, large cracks in the trunk or branches and dead limbs.

Consider the distance from the tree to the house, even with healthy trees. A tree’s proximity to the home should be greater than the height of the full-grown tree.

Wind speeds fluctuate and often change directions during a storm, so make sure you are not enabling more damage to occur during the next high wind event. Loose items near the home such as lawn furniture, trash cans and other outdoor objects can wreak havoc, and pose a huge risk of injury, so put them away before a windstorm hits.

There’s another bonus to preparing your home for high winter winds. While some wind-retrofit projects are not visible, cleaning up landscaping and installing quality roofing products can help provide protection for your home while adding to its curb appeal.

“Protecting your home doesn’t mean you will have to sacrifice appearance,” says Elliott. “Updating the roof can have a tremendous impact on the overall look of your home, while providing superior protection against wind.”

A little forethought and a few modifications can help you keep those raging, wind-whipped scenes where they belong: in the movies. Visit www.owenscorning.com for more information.

Courtesy of ARAcontent

Throw a Memorable and Safe Holiday Party

Throwing a holiday party is a great way to celebrate the season with friends and family. From great food and drinks to decorations and songs, here is everything you need to know to have a memorable and safe holiday gathering.
Decorations can set the mood for your party. Whether you are looking for a formal feel with dark burgundies or hunter greens, or a relaxed environment with bright reds and greens, partygoers are sure to remember a well decorated party. Candles and white lights can also set a winter mood. Keep in mind, though, that the open flame of a candle can be unsafe around small children. Place candles in safe environments away from any decorations as to avoid catching on fire.
Food is also a key to any good holiday party. A major complaint of party hosts is spending too much time in the kitchen. Avoid this by preparing foods that can be served at room temperature. This also invites people to eat when they are ready instead of serving food at one time.
Holiday parties are not complete without festive drinks. Remember though, if serving alcohol at your party, do it responsibly. Stop serving alcoholic beverages at least one hour before the party ends to ensure safe travels. A good way to limit the consumption of alcohol is to have premixed drinks such as punch, this way you can control the amount of alcohol in each drink. Be sure to also provide an array of non-alcoholic drinks for guests who prefer not drink.
Keep these few tips in mind when planning your next holiday party. Just remember, the most important part of any party is to enjoy the festive time with family and friends.

Cut Down on Winter Bills

If you’re like most homeowners, you probably dread opening your energy bills during winter months. But there are ways to prevent energy loss and keep your home well-heated. Follow these tips and watch the cost of your energy bills drop this winter.

Set Your ThermostatIn the winter, your thermostat really only needs to be set at about 62°F. If you feel a little chilled, put on a cozy sweater or some fleece-lined pants. And nothing beats a warm cup of hot chocolate to keep you toasty.

Plug Up Leaks To find out if you’re losing heat through windows and doors, conduct a candle test. Place a lit candle by the edges of your windows and doors and if the flame flickers — or even worse, goes out completely — you’ve got a heat-loss problem! To plug up these leaks, apply new caulking to windows or install storm doors to keep cold air out. Also, never heat your home through your fireplace. The flute of the fireplace is one of the biggest sources of heat loss in your home.

Remember Energy Efficiency Consider installing energy-efficient Energy Star® appliances as well as compact fluorescent light bulbs. Not only will these appliances last longer than regular models, but they also use far less energy, shaving valuable dollars off your energy bill each month.

Adjust Your Water Heater Many manufacturers set the thermostats at 140°F, but 120°F is usually hot enough for all your hot water needs. If your water gets so hot that you have to mix it with cold water to use it, you’re wasting money.

Get Time-of-Use Meters If you don’t already know about time-of-use meters, you might be interested in checking them out. It’s kind of like calling during peak hours to save on your cell phone bill. Energy used during certain peak periods would cost more, while energy used outside of those periods would cost less. So if you wait until 9 p.m. to do laundry or run your dishwasher, you’ll save money! Check with your electric provider to see if they offer time-of-use meters and what their set peak hours are.

Keep in mind these tips and those scary winter energy bills won’t be so shocking this season.

Winterizing Your Home

With the winter months upon us, it’s important that your home be ready for the cooler weather, both inside and out. A well prepared home will not only be warmer, but also save you money on your monthly energy bills. Remember to take time out to prepare your home. Follow these simple tips and ideas and you will be on your way to having a winter-ready home.
Windows. A lot of warm air can escape through small cracks in your home’s windows. A good way to prevent this is to inspect both the inside and outside of each window. If you find a problem, it can easily be repaired with caulk. If your windows are still letting cool air in after you have caulked the outside, try putting an insulating film on the inside of problem windows. Kits can be purchased at your local hardware store and can be installed in minutes.
Furnace. Now is also the best time of year to have your furnace inspected. This will ensure your unit is in proper working order. Also remember to change your furnace filter monthly during the winter season. A clean filter will allow your furnace to work better and improve the air condition of your home.
Ceiling Fans. If your home has ceiling fans, reversing the direction in which your fan operates can push warm air downward and force it to re-circulate. A good tip to tell when your fan is in proper winter mode is if you stand under the fan and cannot feel any air coming down on you.
Snow Equipment. Before the heavy winter sets in, check your snow equipment, such as snow blowers and shovels. Make sure they are in proper working order; if not; consider replacing them or having them serviced. It’s also a good idea to stock up on ice melt or driveway salt. You can never be too prepared for snow and ice.
Follow these simple steps before the season sets in and you will enjoy a relaxing and warm winter season.
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