Entertaining at Home

The holidays are here and holiday-holidays-brown-christmas-6300entertaining at home is a great way to get together with friends and family. Going out to dinner or events is fun, but there is something special about hosting at home.

Try these five simple tips from Century 21 to set your home up for entertaining.

1. Put appetizers on the coffee table: When the party starts you’ll be busy greeting guests. Put appetizers like a cheese plate, crackers, and olives out on your coffee table so guests can munch and mingle.

2. Set up a buffet table: Serving people adds an extra task to your entertaining to-do list. Push a side table against a wall or use your kitchen island to set up a buffet table so people can serve themselves. People may enjoy being able to set their portion sizes and food choices, plus it will leave you with more time with your guests — and less time in the kitchen.

3. Set up a beverage bar: If you have a bar cart, set up all your beverages in one place. If you don’t have a bar cart, assemble everything on a large side table.

4. Rearrange the furniture: Rearrange your living room couches and chairs so they are conducive for chatting. If you’re short on furniture, bring chairs from the dining room or kitchen into the living room while people enjoy hors d’oeuvres.

5. Delight in the details: Little details like fresh flowers, candles, and place settings can make the evening even more special. Have fun designing the table aesthetic by curating your cutlery, china, serving ware, and napkin choices.

 

These tips may make entertaining at home more enjoyable! Call some friends and invite them over to your place.

Keep Your House Cooler This Summer Without Air Conditioning

In 2017 most of us are making an effort to live a greener lifestyle. We also love to save money! Lisa Kaplan Gordon writing for Houselogic.com shares some great tips to keep our house cooler this summer

Want summer comfort but hate the AC? Follow these tips on how to keep your house cool without frosty air conditioning.

You don’t have to switch on the air conditioner to get a big chill this summer.

These tips will help you keep your house cool without AC, which will save energy (and avoid AC wars with your family.

Block That Sun!

When sunlight enters your house, it turns into heat. You’ll keep your house cooler if you reduce solar heat gain by keeping sunlight out. Close the drapes: Line them with light-colored fabric that reflects the sun, and close them during the hottest part of the day. Let them pillow onto the floor to block air movement. Add awnings: Install them on south- and west-facing windows to reduce solar heat gain by up to 77%, says the U.S. Department of Energy. Make your own by tacking up sheets outside your windows and draping the ends over a railing or lawn chair. Install shutters: Interior and exterior shutters not only reduce heat gain and loss, but they also add security and protect against bad weather. Interior shutters with adjustable slats let you control how much sun you let in. Apply high-reflectivity window film: Install energy-saving window films on east- and west-facing windows, which will keep you cool in summer, but let in warming sun in the winter. Mirror-like films are more effective than colored transparent films.

Open Those Windows

Be sure to open windows when the outside temperature is lower than the inside. Cool air helps lower the temps of everything — walls, floors, furniture — that will absorb heat as temps rise, helping inside air say cooler longer. To create cross-ventilation, open windows on opposite sides of the house. Good ventilation helps reduce VOCs and prevents mold.

Fire Up Fans

Portable fans: At night, place fans in open windows to move cool air. In the day, put fans where you feel their cooling breezes (moving air evaporates perspiration and lowers your body temperature). To get extra cool, place glasses or bowls of ice water in front of fans, which will chill the moving air. Ceiling fans: For maximum cooling effect, make sure ceiling fans spin in the direction that pushes air down, rather than sucks it up. Be sure to turn off fans when you’re not in the room, because fan motors give off heat, too. Whole house fans: A whole-house fan ($1,000 to $1,600, including install) exhausts hot inside air out through roof vents. Make sure your windows are open when you run a whole-house fan.

Power Down Appliances

You’ll save money and reduce heat output by turning off appliances you’re not using, particularly your computer and television. Powering down multiple appliances is easier if you connect them to the same power strip. Don’t use heat- and steam-generating appliances — ranges, ovens, washers, dryers — during the hottest part of the day. In fact, take advantage of the heat by drying clothes outside on a line.

Plant Trees and Vines

These green house-coolers shade your home’s exterior and keep sunlight out of windows. Plant them by west-facing walls, where the sun is strongest. Deciduous trees, which leaf out in spring and drop leaves in fall, are best because they provide shade in summer, then let in sun when temperatures drop in autumn. Select trees that are native to your area, which have a better chance of surviving. When planting, determine the height, canopy width, and root spread of the mature tree and plant accordingly. Climbing vines, such as ivy and Virginia creeper, also are good outside insulators. To prevent vine rootlets or tendrils from compromising your siding, grow them on trellises or wires about 6 inches away from the house. Speaking of shade, here are smart, inexpensive ideas for shading your patio. Want more tips for staying cool this summer? Substitute CFL and LED bulbs for hotter incandescent lights. Also, try insulating your garage door to prevent heat buildup.

Visit HouseLogic.com for more articles like this. Reprinted from HouseLogic.com with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.

You can Protect Yourself from Cyber Attacks

The news has been filled with reports about a global ransomware attack “Wannacry”. Ransomware is a malicious software program that takes over your computer and locks you out until you pay a ransom to gain access to your files.  There are several ways to protect yourself from this hack and others like it.

  • Update your Operating System – Microsoft and Apple regularly send out Windows and IOS updates to guard against the latest computer viruses and malware. Be sure to run updates as soon as you get them. You can also set your device to automatically update.
    • If you have an older Windows XP device that no longer receives updates, Microsoft issued an operating system  patch this week.  You can read about it and download it in this blog post from Microsoft.
  • Backup your files.  Make copies of any important files and pictures you store on your computer.  Flash drives are very inexpensive and easy to use.
  • Be very careful with email especially when there are links.  Don’t open attachments or click on links in emails even if it is from someone you know.  Check with the sender first to be sure it is really from them.  If you hover over the top of the sender’s email address you can see if it is real.  Email addresses can be “spoofed”  and if you read carefully you will see they are just a bit different than the correct one.

Although nothing is foolproof, regularly following these steps will help  guard your computer and your information from this and future cyber attacks.

10 Ideas for Increasing Home Value

Fall is a great time to tackle home projects. Before any renovation it is a good idea to think about which projects will increase your home’s value.

Gillian Lazanik of Affecting Spaces in Toronto Canada shares some of her great ideas.

Live Large in Your Small Backyard

943177129_78471868bb_mSummer is here and it’s great to be outdoors.  Here in New Jersey many of our backyards are on the small side.  Century 21 has some great tips to make your outdoor space feel much larger and turn it into a place where you and your family want to spend time. From BBQs and family dinners to gardening and playing hide-and-go seek, you’ll love living large in your “bigger” backyard.

1. Decrease clutter: Decreasing clutter will make your backyard feel larger. One way to decrease clutter is to purchase pieces that serve multiple purposes. Keep toys, gardening tools, and more in a shed or in the garage instead of outside.

2. Evaluate what you need: Think about how you want to use your backyard, and only buy what you will use. Don’t put something in your backyard because you feel like you should. If you know you won’t be entertaining outdoors, don’t buy a large table.

3. Add elevation: Create levels in your yard to give the illusion of a larger space. Add a few steps or platforms to create different sections. Go the extra mile and change the flooring on the different sections to create visual separation.

4. Create a focal point: Even the smallest of spaces needs a focal point. Whether it’s a sculpture, fire pit, or table, creating a focal point will bring the entire landscape together. Choose your focal point early in the design process so that you can decorate the rest of the yard around it.

5. Delight in the details: While it is best to keep small areas minimally cluttered, you can still have fun with the details! Add accessories like a chic lantern, outdoor lighting, and painted terra cotta flower pots.

Follow these tips to turn your small backyard into a place where you and your family want to relax, play, and entertain.

West Essex Home Sale Prices

Average home sale prices in the West Essex NJ area are finally close to the sale prices that were last seen in 2006, the height of the housing market peak according to the NJ Department of Taxation.   In fact, Livingston, North Caldwell and Roseland prices have slightly exceeded those  of 2006.  2015 2006 avg home price

Is it time for you to make your move? You might be in for a happy surprise if you have not checked the value of your home recently!   Email me at kim.fiore@century21.com  to get started.

 

Welcome to your Smart Home

Imagine it has been a long and difficult  day at work.  You come home to find  the porch light on and  your garage door opens automatically as your car pulls up.  Inside the lights are on, temperature  is a perfect 72 degrees, your favorite music is playing, pets have been fed and your dinner has been started. Welcome to your smart home!the-smart-house

What is a “smart home”?

“Smart Home” is the term used  for a home that has devices such as security systems, lights, thermostats, computers, entertainment systems and even appliances  that can communicate with each other and can be controlled from just about anywhere in the world using the Internet, blue tooth and your cell phone. The true smart home will even anticipate your needs.  If a device uses electricity it can be put on the network.  Smart home technology is available today for not only brand new homes but for older homes as well and for virtually every budget.  There are 100s of products to choose from and more are coming to the market daily.    There are products that unlock doors as you get close, light bulbs that you can program to change color and brightness, cameras that let you view your home from anywhere in the world and motion detectors that send an alert to your smartphone.  Smart home technology is making our lives easier, safer and saving us money by making our homes more energy efficient.    Here are a few widely available and relatively inexpensive  products that you can install yourself  to start you on the road to a smarter home:

One of the simplest and least expensive ways to incorporate smart technology is with a “smart outlet” The The Belkin WeMo Insight Switch,  which goes for around $50, is one such device.  You simply plug it  into any electrical outlet and then plug in your lamp, tv, coffee pot etc.  These outlets use your home Wi-Fi network and enable you to use  your smartphone to turn the outlet on and off whenever you choose and wherever you are.  Are  you at the airport and wonder if you turned off the coffee maker?  It’s not a problem as long as your coffee maker is plugged into a smart outlet, you can just use the app on your cell phone to turn it off.  Belkin also has a motion sensor available for an additional cost that will alert your phone if motion is detected or if it not detected for a period that you can specify.  This might be especially valuable to an elderly person living alone and those that care about them.

Home Security is a big reason many people begin to look into smart home technology.  The  iSmart Alarm has several different packages starting at around $200 which include motion detectors, contact sensors and  a panic siren.  Your cell phone is alerted if the system detects an intruder.

The Nest Thermostat  learns your schedule and automatically adjusts its settings based on your preferences.  It also  keeps track of your energy usage.  You can  control the temperature from your smartphone wherever you are so if you are going on vacation you can turn the heat down and save.   Nest also makes a security camera and a smoke/CO detector that will alert your phone if it goes off.  Many other products work with Nest  from keyless door locks to Whirlpool appliances.  A Lutron app will turn on the lights if it detects the smoke detector is activated.  

For all of the positives of a smart home there are also some negatives.  One of the biggest downsides is that the different platforms  used by different systems  don’t communicate which each other.  This means you might  need to use several  different apps  to monitor and  connect  to your home.   Several companies are working on this connectivity issue now.   Wink and Samsung’s   Smart Things  both have several major manufacturers -( Belkin, Honeywell, Sonos, Yale, Logitech for Smart Things and Philips, Honeywell and GE for Wink) who are offering compatibility with their products.

Google  ( the owner of Nest) and Apple are also  trying to solve the connectivity problem.  Both companies are working on creating a common language that any device,  no matter who manufactures it, can talk to .  Google is using a form of its Android platform and the Apple HomeKit is already built into its iPhone operating system.   Right now there is no clear leader in the field so it will be interesting to see what happens over the next few years.

Does Home Staging Work?

REALTOR Magazine Daily News recently published this article about the effectiveness of home staging:

Home staging can influence buyers’ perceptions of a home and even motivate them to pay more, according to the National Association of REALTORS 2015 Profile of Home Staging, a survey of more than 2,300 REALTORS representing buyers and sellers.

Eighty-one percent of REALTORS who represent buyers say that staged homes make it easier for their home buyers to visualize a property as their future home.  Forty-six percent of buyer agents also reported that staging makes their buyers more willing to tour a home they viewed online, and 45 percent say that buyers tend to view the value of the home more positively if it is decorated to buyers’ tastes.

Buyer agents also say that staging can potentially influence how much their buyers are willing to offer for a home.  According to the survey, thirty-two percent of buyer agents surveyed say that staged homes increase the dollar value buyers are willing to offer for a home by 1 percent to 5 percent; 16 percent said it could increase offers by 6 percent to 10 percent.

However, not everyone chooses to stage a home in prepping it for sale. The survey showed that agents felt they could only recommend to sellers that they declutter and fix property faults.  Yet, nationwide the median dollar value to stage a home is $675.  The survey found the three most important rooms to stage for buyers are the living room, kitchen and master bedroom.

Quick and Easy Bathroom Makeovers

Now that the winter weather has set in you are probably spending more time in your home.  Are things looking a bit dated?  Here are four quick and easy ideas from Century 21 to freshen up your bathrooms without spending much time or money.

Replace Showerheads

Still stuck with the same showerhead that was there when you moved in? Consider replacing it. It’s an easy installation that may make all the difference. Look for a showerhead with settings for water pressure and flow so that each member of your family can choose their own preferences.

Update Towel Racks

While towel racks and other hardware in your bathroom don’t exactly expire, their styles might. Browse options available across all types of racks, such as free standing, wall mounted, and over the door, to find a more current look that fits your home decor personality. Visitors may notice that new pieces give an updated look to the entire room.

Add Fresh Linens

When was the last time you bought new bathroom linens? If you’re not sure, then it’s time for new ones. Set your new, fluffy towels on display (on that stylish towel rack you just installed) for a fresher look. Make sure to invest in a couple extra for any overnight guests to use.

Frost Windows

Since bathrooms tend to be smaller, they need as much natural light as they can get. While covering up bathroom windows with curtains is essential for privacy, you’re blocking precious sunlight. Instead, try frosting your windows for maximum light while maintaining your privacy.

You might be surprised with how these quick fixes can give new life to an older looking bathroom. Get started today!