Giving Back: Honoring Our Wounded Warriors this Independence Day

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As some of you, and all of my clients, know I donate a portion of every commission to the charity of the buyer or seller’s choice. A recent buyer asked that I donate the commission from his new home to the Wounded Warriors Project (WWP).

My father proudly served 27 years in the U.S. Army and so it especially warms my heart to contribute to WWP. It is with great pride and honor that we were able to give back to this wonderful cause.

Wounded Warrior Project® serves veterans and service members who incurred a physical or mental injury, illness, or wound, co-incident to their military service on or after September 11, 2001 and their families.

In addition to the physical wounds, it is estimated as many as 400,000 service members live with the invisible wounds of war including combat-related stress, major depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Another 320,000 are believed to have experienced a traumatic brain injury while on deployment.

With the support of donors, Wounded Warriors has helped over 100,000 service members, secured $96 billion in entitlement benefits, put over 10,0000 of our wounded warriors back to work, and so much more.

In honor of all of our veterans this Independence Day, I encourage you help make this the most successful generation of wounded service members in our nation’s history. To learn more about this organization, please visit www.woundedwarriorproject.org.

Also, please be mindful that fireworks can trigger flashbacks, anxiety, and worse in for those who have served in combat and have PTSD. Suggestions include limiting fireworks to the day of the 4th and alerting service members in your neighborhood if you plan to use fireworks.

Military with PTSD offers free signs for veterans stating, ‘Combat Veteran Lives Here. Please be Courteous with Fireworks.’

I hope you all have a wonderful and safe Fourth of July! Feel free to leave your comments below.

Home Energy Conservation

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If you have purchased a home, bought new appliances, windows, or simply shopped at the hardware store of your choosing in the past few years, you have most likely noticed the buzz over energy efficient products and features.

Energy efficiency is important for so many reasons, including conservation, reduced environmental pollution, energy independence, and job creation.
While these are all critical reasons to become more energy efficient, perhaps the biggest question homeowners have is ‘Will it Save Money?

The simple answer is yes; saving energy saves you money. In many cases, household energy bills can be cut by as much as 20-30% by making energy efficiency upgrades. Save money and benefit the environment by taking a few simple actions such as switching to LED bulbs or using ENERGY STAR® appliances.

Buying ENERGY STAR appliances saves up to 30% on electricity bills.
Replacing incandescent light bulbs with energy-efficient halogens, CFLs or LEDs saves 30-80% on energy bills.

In addition to larger purchases, there are multiple ways to quickly and easily reduce household energy usage. Some are as simple as unplugging computers and other electronics when not in use. The This Old House website offers 22 painless ways to go green and save your green.

Do you conserve energy in your household? Send in your tips and tricks and let’s start saving energy and money!

Solar Power: Is it the Right Choice for You?

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Solar power is perhaps one of the most talked about, and certainly one of the most visible, components of energy conservation. Since President Obama took office, the amount of solar power installed in the U.S. has increased from 1.2 gigawatts (GW) in 2008 to an estimated 17.5 GW as of the end of the third quarter of 2014. That’s enough to power the equivalent of 3.5 million average American homes.

While the initial cost of installing solar panels is not insignificant, the monetary and environmental savings are immediate. With the cost of energy on the rise, now is the time to consider if utilizing solar energy is the right choice for you and your household.

In the Valley, there are two groups that are working to make solar panel installation as easy and affordable as possible.

Solar Trail is helping the Crozet community go solar through consultation, assessments, group discounts, and installation. They recently joined Habitat for Humanity and completed a home in Waynesboro, Virginia featuring a solar energy system.

                Sign up for a free Solar Site Assessment by Jun 30th, 2015. 

Solarize Nelson is a grassroots community-based outreach aiming to make going solar easier and more affordable. The nonprofit organization, LEAP, in partnership with the Nelson County, and the UVA Community Credit Union provide education, installations, and financing for local solar projects.

Don’t forget the 30% Federal Tax Credit!

Be sure to check back next week for ideas on going green!

Comments welcome, as always.

Remembering the Meaning of Memorial Day

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Memorial Day is more than a day marking the unofficial start of summer. Memorial Day is, first and foremost, a time to pay tribute to the men and women who have proudly and bravely served our country.

Whether grilling on the BBQ, swimming in the just-opened pools, or simply relaxing and enjoying the weather and a day off, please remember our fallen heroes who have insured that future generations of Americans will continue to enjoy the privilege of freedom.

At 3 p.m. today, please pause with Americans across the country and the world for one minute during the National Moment of Remembrance. As a small token of gratitude to the men and women who have served in our Armed Forces and paid the ultimate price, we are asked “to voluntarily and informally observe in our own ways a moment of remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever [we] are doing for a moment of silence or listening to the playing of ‘Taps.’”

The soldiers we honor this Memorial Day are all those who have served this nation from its founding 239 years ago, as well the over 1.4 million who defend us now.

Please allow me to thank you Service Members and wish you a wonderful weekend. May we never forget the courageous men and women who have served and sacrificed so much in past wars so we could enjoy the freedoms and liberties we hold dear, just as we honor those who stand duty today to keep us safe.

Please feel free to leave a tribute to a Service Member, personally known or not, in the comments below. 

The Cost of Waiting to Buy

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Whether you are a first time buyer or looking to move up to your next home, you should consider the housing experts’ projections in two major areas – home prices and mortgage rates.

The housing market is still in the early stages of recovery, and a rise in interest rates can make a big difference in your monthly mortgage payment. Even a very modest increase from 3.9% to 4.5% on a $200,000 home will increase monthly payments more than $70.  

Most real estate analysts concur that by the end of the year there will be a 4% appreciation in home values and an increase of a full point in interest rates. While interest rates will still be low, now is a great time to take that leap and invest in your future.

If you have been thinking about buying a home, now is the time; supply is high, interest rates are low, and housing prices are lower than they are expected to be in the upcoming months. As more homes are purchased, supply decreases, so there is the potential for home prices to continue to increase.

While it is often wise to wait and find the best possible deal (especially with large purchases), it is not necessarily prudent in the current real estate market. I encourage potential home buyers to be decisive and to act quickly when you find the property you have been looking for.

Below is a chart that puts a price tag on the cost of waiting just eight months.

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Please feel free to add your thoughts and comments below. If you have any questions, please contact me directly and I will be happy to discuss your particular housing concerns and needs. 

To Rent or To Buy – That is the Question

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One of the biggest financial decisions most people will face is buying a home versus renting. Renting comes with the security of having that (hopefully reliable) backup maintenance crew or landlord. Buying offers the potential to invest in your own future and grow your investment over time, as well as (sometimes not insignificant) upfront and recurring costs.

For some, buying is the wise investment. For others, renting is the best choice for the time being. To determine which is best for you, you first need to determine whether you can afford to buy. Other factors, such as down payment, closing costs, recurring fees (both renting and buying), the time you will stay in your new home, and the home’s potential for appreciation also factor into your decision.

With mortgage rates nearing a 40 year low, buying is a tempting option for some. Many sites offer free rent vs. buy calculators to help decide which option best fits you and your specific financial situation.

Realtor.org offers a wonderful side-by-side cost comparison based on a nine year period. (See below.) The bottom line? If you can afford more than $900/month and the up-front costs – buy.

Costs after 9 years
                                 Buy                                   Rent
Initial costs               $60,000                             $888
Recurring costs        $163,793                          $107,509
Opportunity costs    $44,642                            $15,478
Net proceeds           $145,448                           $888
Total                          $122,987                           $122,987

Ginnie Mae offers another scenario to illustrate the cost/benefit analysis:

The renter starts out paying $800 per month with annual increases of 5% The homeowner purchases a home for $110,000 and pays a monthly mortgage of $1,000
          After 6 years, the homeowner’s payment is lower than the renter’s               monthly payment.
          With the tax savings of home ownership, the homeowner’s payment             is less than the rental payment after 3 years.

When it comes down to it, this is a huge and very personal situation. I encourage you to speak to a realtor, as well as a financial adviser or mortgage lender to determine which option is best for you.

Stay tuned for next week’s blog – The Cost of Waiting to Sell. 

Feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions. With over 20 years in the business, I can certainly offer my advice. Your thoughts and personal experiences on this important decision are welcome in the comments below.

Home Improvements – If It’s Broke, Fix It

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Whether you plan to sell your house in the next few years or are just looking to increase your home’s market value as an investment, there is a good chance that you have, or will, consider some renovations. But not all renovation investments yield the same results.

Perhaps the most important work you can do on your home, as either a seller or an owner, is maintenance. This is not the stuff reality shows are made of, but fixing or replacing a roof is decidedly a better investment than that sexy kitchen remodel. According to Remodeling Magazine, you are less likely to recoup your investment on a major kitchen or bathroom remodel than you are to get back what you spend on basic home maintenance. Example – siding replacement returned 92.8% of its cost, according to a recent study, and roof and window replacements returned 80% or more at resale.

Buyers don’t want to think about the basic systems of a house. They assume that the roof won’t leak and the plumbing works. Both of which are clearly just as important to the homeowner who is not looking to sell.

Kitchens and bathrooms. This is the stuff of real estate shows. Major renovations are not necessarily a better investment. According to the magazine mentioned above, a major kitchen remodel yields less ROI than a minor ($15,000 range) kitchen remodel (69% and 83% respectively).

Some good options for a lower cost kitchen makeover include all-wood cabinets, commercial, higher-end appliances, stone countertops, and wood or stone flooring. For bathrooms, walk-in showers yield a high return and add square footage to the room. One major consideration is the bathroom to bedroom ratio. If you have a three bedroom house with only one full bath, you would do well to either add a bathroom or turn that half bathroom into a full. If space is limited, showers are a perfectly fine (see above) option to complete the room.

A National Association of Realtors study by Florida State University professors G. Stacy Sirmans and David Macpherson found that adding a bathroom increased the sale price of a home by 8.7 percent, more than twice the rate for adding a bedroom.

Speaking of adding rooms, additions can be a great investment, particularly in an active housing market. Every 1,000 square feet added to a home boosts the sale price by more than 30 percent, according to the 2005 study for the National Association of Realtors. The addition of attic bedrooms, family rooms and sunrooms are solid investments.

For those of you who like lists, the top ten home remodeling projects according to the “2014 Cost vs. Value Study” in the order of largest to smallest ROI are:

  1. Entry Door Replacement
  2. Deck Addition (Wood)
  3. Garage Door Replacement
  4. Minor Kitchen Remodel
  5. Window Replacement (Wood)
  6. Siding Replacement (Vinyl)
  7. Attic Bedroom
  8. Window Replacement (Vinyl)
  9. Basement Remodel
  10. Kitchen Remodel

If you’re not planning to move in the near future, spend your money remodeling in a way that you’ll most enjoy. You cannot put a price tag on happiness.

Remember to check back next week for tips to improve a home’s curb appeal. If the house isn’t inviting from the street, chances are that amazing remodeling job done on the inside will never be seen.