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20 Great Things to Do In Your Home, New or Old

Excerpts from various web searches


Make a Prioritized List

Keep this overwhelming task list manageable by keeping a notebook in a central location and write down every action item you or your family thinks of throughout the day. After 24 hours cut the list off, and prioritize each item with a 1, 2, or 3. First priority should be items completed that week – such as safety concerns, cleaning, unpacking essentials, etc. Priority two should be tasks completed within the next two months – related to organization, maintenance and remaining unpacking. Priority three tasks should be non-essentials, but improvements and projects you’d like to complete within the year – renovations, landscaping, and large purchases.  Set up a schedule so your mind will be syncing to-dos with dates and budget.

Below are a few ideas that might get you started in the right direction:


You Can Refinish Your Own Hardwood

Intimidated by this seemingly daunting project? Don’t be. If you have the will and a whole day (or two) to yourself, you can refinish the hardwood floors in the major areas of your home. You don’t necessarily need to sand, but if the floor is damaged enough to warrant buffing, check out your local hardware store and rent the equipment for anywhere from 4-48 hours.


Clean Refrigerator Coils or Pay Unnecessary Repair Bills

Refrigerator condenser coils are located on the back of the fridge or across the bottom. When coils are clogged with dust, pet hair and cobwebs, they can’t efficiently release heat. The result is your compressor works harder and longer than it was designed to, using more energy and shortening the life of your fridge. Clean the coils with a coil-cleaning brush and vacuum. A coil-cleaning brush, which is bendable to fit in tight areas, does a thorough job. Look for one online or at appliance stores.


Clean Out the Lint for Dryer Efficiency and Save up to $25 a Year

A clogged lint screen or dryer duct drastically reduces the efficiency of your dryer, whether it’s gas or electric. Clean the lint screen after each load and clean the exhaust duct once a year. The Linteater has an auger brush that attaches to a drill to clean out the ducts.

Electric dryers use about $85 of electricity annually. A dirty lint screen can cause the dryer to use up to 30 percent more electricity, according to the Consumer Energy Center. Lint buildup is also a common cause of fires.

Dry loads of laundry back-to-back so the dryer doesn’t cool down between loads (a warm dryer uses less energy). And only run the dryer until the clothes are dry. Overdrying damages your clothes and runs up your electric bill. If you’re in the market for a new dryer and already have a gas line in the house, go with a gas dryer. A gas dryer is more efficient.


Install a Detachable Toilet Seat

It seems like no matter how hard you try, you can never get the hinges on the toilet seat clean. There’s always a bit of cleaning solution that seeps underneath and creeps out later. Installing a detachable toilet seat solves the problem. This Bemis brand seat is easy to remove by just twisting two hinge caps about a quarter of a turn. Then you have easy access to clean under the hinges. Detachable seats cost about $20. Installation is straightforward and only requires a wrench.


Get to know your new house before making big changes

Live in your new home for 12 to 18 months before undertaking any major renovations such as additions or knocking down walls. What you initially think you want may change after you’ve lived there for a while.


Renew Wood with Mineral Spirits

If the finish on your furniture or woodwork is dull and murky, it may need refinishing. But before you take on that project, take a tip from furniture restorers and clean it with mineral spirits. Mineral spirits—sometimes labeled ‘paint thinner’—is a gentle solvent that dissolves years of grime and residue from cleaners or polishes without harming wood finishes. Get it at a home center or paint store. Just soak a soft cloth and keep rubbing until the cloth no longer picks up grime. Work in a well-ventilated area and remember that the fumes are flammable. Hang the cloth outdoors to dry before throwing it in the trash.


Replace the furnace filter.

One of the fastest ways to create problems with a forced-air heating and cooling system is to forget to replace the filter. Locate the furnace filter and buy replacements if the previous owners didn’t leave you a stash. Replace the filter (and get in the habit of doing it every month).  I buy mine for the year and change them every month (after giving the dog his heartworm preventative!)


Clean Air Conditioner Condensers and Evaporators

A little sweat equity now will help both your wallet and your comfort level later when summer’s heat sets in. Most of the job can be done without the help of a professional, and by servicing and testing out your cooling system now, you will have plenty of time to make an appointment with an air conditioning contractor if there’s any unforeseen issues. After cutting off the electricity to the unit, vacuum the outdoor condenser’s exterior fins with a soft-bristled brush, and clear away bushes, weeds and overgrown grass within two feet of the unit. Indoors, replace the furnace filter on the evaporator unit, vacuum the blower compartment, and clean the condensation drain.


Locate your home’s main water shutoff valve.

Know where you main water shutoff valve is in case you need to shut off the water to your entire house.

Almost all homes have one main shutoff valve directly before the water meter and another directly after. Where the meter is located depends on the climate in your area. In cold climates, the meter and main shutoff valves are located inside, usually in a basement or other warm area to prevent freezing. In milder climates, the meter and its two shutoff valves may be attached to an exterior wall or nestled in an underground box with a removable lid.

Between the water main in the street and the meter, there’s also usually a buried curb stop valve (accessible only by city workers wielding special long-handled wrenches) and a corporation stop, where your house water line hooks up to the water main. Your city absolutely doesn’t want you messing around with these valves. Turn your water off or on using the main valve on the house side of the meter. This valve will normally be a gate-type valve, with a round knurled handle, requiring several full clockwise rotations to turn off. In newer homes, it could be a ball valve.

Locating the turn off for just the sprinkler system can be helpful also, if those are the only things leaking.


Locate the electrical panel.

Find the electrical panel so you know where to shut of the power to you whole house or an individual circuit.

You’ll usually find the main circuit breaker panel—a gray, metal box—in a utility room, garage or basement. Don’t worry about opening the panel’s door. All the dangerous stuff is behind another steel cover. Behind the door is the main breaker for the entire house (usually at the top of the panel) and two rows of other breakers below it, each controlling individual circuits. If you’re lucky, there will be a guide that indicates which outlets and receptacles are served by each circuit.

If the breakers are not marked, mark them using permanent marker when you discover what they control.


Inspect crawlspaces and the attic.

It’s good to familiarize yourself with the farthest corners of your home. Check for leaks, bugs, mold and other issues that you should address sooner rather than later. If your crawlspace doesn’t have a vapor barrier, install one.


Make one room a sanctuary.

You won’t be able to make all of the home improvements you want to make right away and it’s best to live in your new home for at least a couple of months before starting any major projects. Something that seems like a must-do when you first move in may quickly fall to the bottom of the wishlist after you’ve actually lived in your home for a while.

So, choose one room that doesn’t require too much work and make that space your home getaway for those multi day projects. You’ll have a place, in your colors and style, where you can relax and dream about the day when every room in your home is just the way you want it.


Meet the neighbors.

It’s wise to reach out and extend a friendly gesture to your neighbors as soon as possible. You want to know those around you so that everyone can look out for each other. It’s hard to know if a situation is suspicious if you don’t know the people involved. Establishing yourself in your neighborhood can also give you access to inside information, like who’s the best plumber in the area and which roofing company to avoid. Even if you’re an introvert, you’ll be happiest if you’re in good standing with your neighbors.


Check smoke and CO detector dates and replace, as needed.

It’s important that you know where your smoke and CO detectors are located and that you make sure they are working. Smoke alarms may be the cheapest, easiest and most effective means for protecting your family and your home from a fire, as long as they’re functioning.

Replace the batteries every year in your smoke and CO2 detectors (New Year’s day is my choice), whether you think you need to or not.  Batteries are not expensive but protecting your home is priceless!


Test your sump pump before the beginning of the rainy season

The most common time for a sump pump to fail is the first heavy rainfall after months of not being used. The submerged or partially submerged portions of cast iron pumps can rust and seize. And they’ll burn out when they switch on. Don’t get caught with your pump down and the water rising. After a long dry (unused) spell, pour a bucket or two of water into the sump to make sure the pump kicks on.

And do you have sump pump backup? A good sump pump installation should include a backup system for breakdowns and power outages.


If you don’t have keyless entry, hide a key.

If you don’t have keyless locks, be sure to hide a house key so you don’t get locked out. Consider a location other than under the welcome mat, like in a garden hose or under a flower pot.


Add Inexpensive Door and Window Alarms

Keeping doors and windows locked is your first line of defense. Make wireless alarms your second. Burglars hate noises, so even a small alarm usually sends them running. The alarms are available at home centers. Or check out Intermatic or Door and Window Alarms. The alarms don’t provide the same security as pro-installed monitored systems since the wireless devices are activated by doors or windows opening (not glass breaking). Use the alarms for doors and windows in ‘hidden’ areas of the house where you don’t normally gather and that are often dark.

Attach the alarm to the door or window (with a screw or double-sided tape) alongside the magnetic contact strip (they don’t have to be touching, but within 1/2 in.). When the door or window opens, breaking magnetic contact, the alarm shrieks (these little units have a piercing alarm). The door alarm has a delay feature, giving you time to set the alarm and leave, then open the door and deactivate the unit when you come home, without setting it off. The window unit has an on/off switch. The alarms will work on any door or window, and the batteries last two to three years.


Make a homeowner’s journal

Buy a ring binder and keep insurance papers, repair receipts and all other paperwork pertaining to the house in it. Storing all your house information in one handy place makes life easier for the homeowner and can be a sales ‘plus’ when selling the house later.


Within the first six months:

These are additional things you don’t need to do immediately, but doing them keeps you ahead of potential problems.

Install a whole house surge protector to prevent your plug-in electronics from voltage surges.

Replace traditional rubber washing machine hoses with no-burst hoses to prevent a costly flood.

Flush the water heater to remove sediment that reduces efficiency.

Is It Time to Upgrade?

The market is hopping, your current neighborhood is not quite fulfilling your expectations any longer and your storage solutions are exhausted.  Maybe now is the time to think about upgrading to a new home.

As Trophy Realtors’ Broker, I, Mendy Whitehead have built an experienced team of Realtors to work closely with clients and lenders.  Whether buying, selling, leasing or investing, a knowledgeable agent is critical to a successful transaction.

Trophy Club homes, a golfing community, offer a wide range of styles, floorplans and amenities.  There is also the option to join (for a fee) Trophy Club Country Club, named one of the Best Country Clubs in DFW (Avid Golfer, 2015), Trophy Club Country Club has the only course by Ben Hogan, plus tennis, swimming, fitness, dining and family fun.

Are you dreaming bigger?  Let our agents show you some fabulous estates in Westlake. Have you considered Keller, Colleyville, Grapevine or Southlake?  Maybe moving outside the hustle and bustle of “town” is more to your taste.  We can show you properties with acreage in Denton, Wise and other nearby counties.

Is distance to shopping, restaurants, DFW airport or sports venues a priority?  What about school district?  Just sit down and have a consultation with one of our agents to go over your needs, wants and dreams list so a search can be tailored specifically to you.  Our agents can even refer you to several different mortgage consultants so you can select one to work with and get your budget established and financing pre-approved.

Being prepared to look for your new home is the best way to be first in the door with an offer when you find that perfect property that calls to you as you tour it.  Don’t miss out on a dream due to a delay in the process.  Desirable properties tend to move quickly, often in a multiple offer situation.  Having an experienced agent who will give you the personal attention you deserve, may give you just enough advantage.

What is a Homestead Cap Reduction?

from the Denton County Appraisal District website

Prices of new and used homes in Denton County have increased substantially in recent years. In order to prevent sharp increases in home property taxes from year to year, Texas voters in 1997 approved a constitutional amendment, which became effective January 1, 1998, to limit increases in the taxable value of a qualified residence homestead. To qualify, property must be your residence homestead, and you must have received a homestead exemption in your name in both the current and previous years. You can reference this section in the Texas Property Tax Code Section 23.23.

Under this law, the value for tax purposes of a qualified residence homestead will be the LESSER of: The market value (what the property would sell for on the open market); or the preceding year’s assessed value
+10% + the value of any improvements i.e., pool, outbuilding, added since the last re-appraisal.

Note: The calculated value is often referred to as a “capped” value.

EXAMPLE YEAR 1: Mr. Smith’s home assessed value for 2015 was $120,000. Mr. Smith has made no changes to his home. In 2016, the appraisal district determines the market value of Mr. Smith’s home to be $145,000.
Mr. Smith’s value for property tax purposes will be the lesser of:
$145,000 (the market value of the home); or
The 2015 assessed value of $120,000 Plus 10%
Mr. Smith’s taxable value for 2016 will be $132,000 = ($120,000 x 10%) + $120,000.
This will create a cap reduction of $13,000.

EXAMPLE YEAR 2: Mr. Smith’s 2017 taxable value will be the lesser of:
$156,000 (the market value of the home); or
The 2016 assessed value of $132,000 Plus 10%
Mr. Smith’s taxable value for 2017 will be $145,200 = ($132,000 x 10%) + $132,000.
This would create a cap reduction of $10,800.

EXAMPLE YEAR 3: Mr. Smith’s 2018 taxable value will be the lesser of:
$164,000 (the market value of the home); or
The 2017 assessed value of $145,200 Plus 10%
Mr. Smith’s taxable value for 2018 will be $159,720 = ($145,200 x 10%) + $145,200.
This would create a cap reduction of $4,280.

EXAMPLE YEAR 4: Mr. Smith’s 2019 taxable value will be the lesser of:
$171,000 (the market value of the home); or
The 2018 assessed value of $159,720 Plus 10% = $175,692.
Therefore, Mr. Smith’s taxable value for 2019 will be at the market value of $171,000.
No cap reduction, due to the market value is less than a 10% increase.

7 First-Time Homebuyer Mistakes To Avoid

excerpts from article by Beth Braverman @CNNMoney June 28, 2017

It’s tough being a first-time buyer in today’s housing market. Home prices are hitting record highs in many parts of the country, often selling for more than the asking price, and going from list to contract in a record 37 days, according to Redfin.

Don’t make it even harder (or more expensive) for yourself by making these common mistakes:

1. Assuming you won’t get approved for a mortgage
Ideally, you’d like to have as little debt as possible, an impeccable credit score, and a 20% down payment before borrowing money for a home. However, even borrowers with less can get loans in today’s market, thanks to options like Federal Housing Authority loans, which are meant to help out low-income and first-time buyers.

2. Interviewing only one lender
The fees and rates offered by lenders may vary substantially, and they all offer different service levels and different loan products. Be sure to at least chat with a big bank, a regional bank or credit union, and an online lender.

3. Not getting pre-approved early on
Getting pre-approved for a mortgage serves two important purposes: First, it gives you a realistic understanding of how much you can spend on the house. Second, it shows sellers that you’re serious and gives you slightly more standing if you’re competing for homes with all-cash buyers.
Make it less stressful by gathering up relevant financial documents like bank statements, tax returns, and pay stubs, and by checking your credit report for errors in advance.

4. Maxing out your mortgage limit
Just because a lender says that you can borrow a certain amount, doesn’t mean you should borrow that much. Staying below that limit will give you more financial flexibility to cover the added expenses that come with purchasing a home, as well as long-term changes to your income.
Create a budget that includes how much money you can spend on housing costs each month, and then use those numbers to figure out what your “real” limit should be.

5. Letting your emotions control your decisions
Buying a home can be a long and frustrating process. These days, starter homes go quickly, and it’s common for first-time buyers to experience rejection on the first offers they make. In that kind of environment, it’s easy to fall in love with a house that’s out of your budget, or get caught up in the heat of a bidding war and end up paying more than you expected.

6. Waiving contingencies without understanding the risks
In highly competitive markets, it’s becoming increasingly common for buyers to make offers that aren’t contingent on financing or inspection. While waiving contingencies can make your bid more desirable to a seller, it can make the transaction much more risky for you. Have a conversation with your realtor and a lawyer before opting out of contingencies in your contract. In a worst-case scenario, you may end up losing your deposit.

7. Allowing your credit score to change before the close
A pre-approval letter is not a guarantee of funding, and if your credit score or income levels change drastically between the pre-approval and the closing of the loan, lenders may change their terms or rescind the offer entirely. While you’re home shopping, be sure to pay all your bills on time and steer clear of new credit accounts, even if that means you have to wait to pick out your furniture. If possible, try not to switch jobs until after you close, particularly if you’re moving into a new industry.

A Reverse Mortgage Can Provide Tremendous Financial Relief, But Only If It’s Right For You

excerpts from article by Jarret DiToro | Updated March 14th, 2017 on LendingTree.com

Our mortgage experts are often asked about reverse mortgages, many times by folks who are interested in finding an extra source of income, but may have some concerns, and would like some straight-forward information before inquiring further. We’ve put together the pros, cons and hows of this increasingly common financial product in one place to make the learning process a bit easier.

Basic Facts About Reverse Mortgages
Reverse mortgages are loans
At least one of the borrowers needs to be age 62 or above
Those who take a reverse mortgage are borrowing against their home equity
Reverse mortgages do not need to be repaid as long as one of the borrowers lives in the house
Reverse mortgages usually eliminate any other ongoing mortgage payments
Borrowers can choose to receive a monthly payment, lump sum, or line of credit to use against the house (or even a combination thereof)
Reverse mortgages can be a welcome source of financial independence

It’s essential to do your homework before committing. We recommend arranging a consultation with one or more lender consultants.

As the name implies, a reverse mortgage is very much like a traditional mortgage, just in reverse. In a traditional mortgage, the bank hands over a large sum of money upfront so that the borrower can use it to buy a house. That borrower then pays it down over time by making monthly payments.

By contrast, with the most common forms of reverse mortgage, the borrower already has a house, which is usually all or mostly paid off. If they choose the monthly payment option, they receive fixed monthly payments from the bank that they can use on anything they like, and the amount owed to the bank grows over time as the borrower receives their monthly checks. The amount borrowed is only repaid in the event the borrower and their co-borrower (spouse) moves out of the home. This is a critical, and often misunderstood feature of these loans.

How To Determine If A Reverse Mortgage Is Right For You?

Like all financial products, reverse mortgages have pros and cons. Additionally, those who educate themselves can ensure that they maximize the pros while minimizing potential downsides. Here are some of the factors we recommend folks consider:
What is your need for supplemental income?
Do you need to eliminate your current mortgage payment?
Do you need financial independence?
Are you planning on staying in your home for the long term?
Your desire to maximize the estate you leave to heirs
Finally: make sure you’re only talking to reputable, FHA regulated lenders. This will ensure you benefit from a slew of regulations protecting borrowers and features subsidized by the federal government
Additionally, if you do decide to start looking into loans, we recommend people secure multiple offers, then evaluate each of them along fairly typical lines:
What is the interest rate being quoted? (the lower the better obviously)
How much total money is the lender offering and over what time period?
Are there any upfront fees or other charges?
Have you maximized your chances of getting the best deal by evaluating multiple offers?

Increasingly common: clever folks have started using reverse mortgages to buy their next home when they move, often following retirement. This means they put a certain amount down when they purchase the home, but then never have to make another mortgage payment as long as they live in the new house. This can really help remove some of the uncertainty around paying for increasingly long retirement years.

Disadvantages of Reverse Mortgages

Like any substantial financial decision, we strongly advise those considering a reverse mortgage to evaluate every angle, especially potential drawbacks. The most important things to consider are:
The Mortgage Accumulates Interest: While those who take out a reverse mortgage are not required to make any payments on the loan while they live in their home, interest does accrue on the balance as it builds. Eventually this interest will be paid back once the borrowers leave the home. Sometimes this occurs as a simple repayment from other funds, but often the home is sold once it is no longer being used in order to repay the loan and the interest.
One critical item to note: no matter how long the loan is outstanding, and no matter how much interest is built up, the amount owed will never be more than the value of the home. This is by design so that the debt won’t be passed along to the borrower’s heirs. Also, there is never any obligation to sell the home. The loan can always be repaid in full and the home kept.
The Loan Amount Offered Is Less Than Expected: The loan amount offered by a bank is determined by many factors, including the appraised value of your home, the amount of money, if any, you may owe on an existing mortgage, your age, the bank’s profit margin and the current interest rate environment.
Due to the fact that each bank has different underwriting goals and abilities, we cannot stress enough how critical it is to compare offers from multiple lenders before making any decisions. We also recommend being open about the fact that you are entertaining multiple offers when you speak with the banks. This will encourage them to sharpen their pencils and make a better offer right off the bat.
At the end of the day, the only way to really determine if a reverse mortgage is right for you is to get into the details of specific offers and to understand the available options. Even if it’s just to arm yourself with more information, or to know what you could get should you ever need it, having the offers in your back-pocket can be a great source of financial peace.