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Archive for January, 2012

Home values have dropped about 30% since their peak in late 2006 — but property taxes across the country have gone up almost 20% from 2005 to 2009.

What are the chances your property taxes are too high?

According to the National Taxpayers Union, close to 60% of the homeowners in the U.S. are paying too much in property taxes.

 

How do you know if your property taxes are too high?

Review your property tax card — your local assessor’s office can provide you a copy. Review the data on the card — does it have the right dimensions? Number of bathrooms? Bedrooms? Improvements? Any discrepancies can provide the basis for your request for an adjustment or re-evaluation.

Check out your neighbors— good comps are one of the most powerful arguments in a property tax appeal — if you can show that recent sales of similar properties (size, condition, age, etc.) demonstrate a lower average value than your home’s current assessed value. Use the multiple-listing service for your area to identify recent transactions — and then go look at the homes in question in person.

What do you do if you want to appeal your assessment?

Contact your local assessor’s office — the process may vary a bit from county to county, but the first step is to talk to an assessor about the discrepancies you’ve discovered.

Compile documented support — make sure you have documentation of whatever you are using to make your case, such as copies of recent MLS transactions, photos of your home and comparable homes, copy of your purchase transaction, etc.

 

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Image from The Wall Street Journal|Weekend Investor “How to Lower Your Property Taxes”

 

For more information and resources on lowering your property taxes, see

—       How to Lower Your Property Taxes  (The Wall Street Journal|Weekend Investor)

—       5 Tricks for Lowering Your Property Tax (Investopedia)

—       How to Lower Your Property Taxes (Zillow.com)

—       How Three Homeowners Fought Their Property Tax Bills (Fox Business)

—       If you want lower property tax rates, you’ve got to ask (Reuters Money)
 

 

 

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5 “resolutions” to make the most of your home in 2012

 

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House Logic, a site for homeowners, has taken the most common New Year’s Resolutions and turned them on their head — or perhaps “roof” would be more apt — to apply them to your home.

Lose weight

Reduce your energy consumption — and your energy bill — by implementing at least one energy-saving measure this year, such as

·      changing the light bulbs in your home to CFLs (don’t think “all or nothing” – try the least noticeable ones first, like in your halls and closets)

·      changing the temperature setting on your thermostat one degree

·      check and repair insulation around your doors, windows and especially your ductwork

·      For more energy saving tips and ideas, check out Energy Savers Guide: Tips on Saving Money and Energy at Home from US Department of Energy, Energy Saving Tips from Flex Your Power, and Save Energy at Home from Energy Star.

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Quit smoking

Purify indoor air — according to the EPA, poor indoor air quality is one of the leading environmental health hazards we face today. Here are a few ways to keep your home air cleaner:

·        for painting projects, choose low-VOC paints, which produce fewer toxic fumes

·        make sure task-specific ventilation is installed and working in your kitchen and bathroom to properly remove cooking fumes, smoke and humidity

·        if you have a fireplace, choose real wood rather than packaged logs that could contain toxins like formaldehyde

·        For more clean air tips for your home, check out Tips for Making the Air in Your Home as Clean as Possible from Clean Air Plus, How To Keep Polluted Air (If You Really Want To) from Air Purification and Indoor Air Publications and Resources from the EPA

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Get out of debt

Create an annual budget for improvements to your home — putting money aside for home projects will help you handle common repairs and maintenance that’s likely to come up during the year:

·        lending institutions like HSH Associates and Lending Tree estimate that average home maintenance costs are roughly 1% to 3% of your home’s initial price

·        Trusty Guides’ Home Improvement section can help you analyze the cost, budget and value of specific projects

·        For some ideas and tips on home maintenance planning and budgeting, see Budgeting for Home Maintenance and Repair Costs from Mint Life and How to Write Up a Household Budget from The Nest

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Get organized

The three key words to organization are: Routine, Storage, and Disposal

·        establish a routine to handle the most common (and repeated) tasks and items that create clutter (e.g., mail, magazines, outdoor wear, toys, etc)

·        ensure that everything has a place and that there’s a place for everything — and, no, “on top of the pile” doesn’t count

·        keep what you need, and immediately throw away what you don’t — it’s amazing how much clutter can be removed merely by sorting through it and tossing what you don’t need to keep

·        For more tips on organization, clutter and storage, try Peter Walsh’s Ten Ways to Declutter Your Home, Zen Habit’s 18 Five-Minute Decluttering Tips to Start Conquering Your Mess, Real Simple’s Home & Organizing, and HGTV’s Organization

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Be less stressed

Less maintenance should mean less stress — so where possible, use maintenance-free materials and solutions in your home, such as

·        LED and CFL bulbs require a bigger initial outlay than traditional light bulbs, but they not only pay for themselves over time through lower energy costs, they last anywhere from seven to 40(!) times longer than traditional bulbs, which means a lot less bulb changing for you

·        fiber-cement siding is some of the longest lasting (50 years or more) and toughest (resists fire, dents, and rot) siding you can choose for your home — and according to Hanley Wood, replacing your existing siding with fiber-cement has the highest return-on-investment of any home improvement project (of $1200 or more)

·        For more tips on low-maintenance home materials, see LSU Ag Center’s Low-Maintenance Materials and Products and Top 23 Low-Maintenance Projects from DIY Network

 

For more resolutions you can make for your home this year, see HouseLogic’s Top-10 List of New Year’s Resolutions for Your Home.
 

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3 lighting ideas to make your outdoor space beautiful 24/7

Photo by California Waterscapes (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL, via Wikimedia Commons]

 

Outdoor lighting can seem like an overwhelming prospect — too expensive, too complicated, too time-consuming. But while it is true that you can spend thousands of dollars and hours lighting up your landscape, it is also true that a little lighting can go a long way — without costing an arm and a leg.

1. Use The Power of the Sun

The sun can light up your landscape even at night. Solar powered lights have come a long way from the black posts that flicker unsteadily in the dark. From hanging lights to accent lights to pathway lights to tiki lights, solar lights are available in a variety of styles, forms and strengths. If you search for “solar garden lights” on Amazon.com, you get more than 4,000 results.

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Britta Hanging Solar Garden Light – Cornet Shaped Solar Lights (at Amazon.com)

2. Double the Light — Make the Most of Your Garden’s Water Features

Illuminating water features is a beautiful way to light up your garden at night — think of all the famous fountains in the world you’ve seen brilliantly lit at night. Whether you light from below, the side or floating on top, adding lights to a water feature is a sure-fire way to bring your garden to life at night.

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Bellagio Hotel Fountain in Las Vegas at night

 

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Chill Lite Bubble Floating Light Show – 3 Pack With Remote (at Amazon.com)

3. Watch Your Step with Motion Sensor Lights

Motion sensor lights have also come a long way from the big, metal spotlights mounted above doors and on the corners of your home. LED motion sensor lights can be placed on steps, down paths, on patios and decks — adding light where you need it when you need it.

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Mr. Beams Battery Powered Motion Sensing LED Remote Path Light (at Amazon.com)

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2 products help you set up security by yourself, even without a land line

If you’re thinking about installing a security system, you might be weighing the pros and cons of contracting with a security service or hiring a professional to install a system. The editors at Engadget came up with another option — a DIY security system that requires no strangers fiddling in your home and no ongoing contract costs. In fact, you don’t even need to have a land line in your home to have a reliable fire and burglary monitoring system.

Monitoring and Eyes, or Eyes Only?

For full-on fire and burglary monitoring, complete with Underwriter’s Laboratory (UL) certification, the Engadget folks found LifeShield. If you’re looking for stand-alone video monitoring, they suggest DropCam.

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You Need Good Cellphone Coverage

If you live in an area with spotty coverage, or find yourself leaning out the bathroom window and angling your head just so to keep your connection on your cell phone, this solution might not be for you. If, however, you have strong and consistent coverage in and around your home and throughout your area, there are UL certified wireless security systems available.

You Really Can Do It Yourself

The editors had this to say about installing the LifeShield system: “Installation and setup couldn't have been easier. From unboxing to having the system in test mode, it took me right around an hour, and a lot of that was me walking around and deciding where I wanted to stick things. Each piece of hardware could be stuck onto walls and surfaces — no need for drills, screws or holes.” LifeShield also offers cameras that can be added onto its system — and included in its monitoring for free.

As for setting up DropCams? The USB-powered 720p WiFi cameras are “shockingly easy to setup. It's actually comical how easy it is.”

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You Don’t Need to Sign Your Life Away or Empty Your Wallet

Traditional security systems, such as ADT and Protection 1, generally quote a bare-bones installation fee that can ratchet up quickly and almost always require a multi-year contract — usually three years. At a minimum $100 installation and $50/month fee, that comes to about $2,000. LifeShield offers you the option of leasing its equipment (around $5/month) or buying it outright (around $1,000) and provides all of its monitoring services for one monthly fee ($37.99/month). LifeShield also offers broadband solutions (landline based) — for which both the monthly fee and equipment fee are lower (about $30/month and $900 respectively), the equipment lease fee is the same.

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There’s an App For That

Both LifeShield and DropCam offer mobile phone apps (iOS and Android) that allow remote monitoring and alerts.

If your current security contract is coming up for renewal, or you’re contemplating installing one for the first time — thanks to modern technology, DIY home security has come a long way. It’s worth considering when you are weighing your options.

For more, see the full article on Engadget and learn more about LifeShield and Dropcam on their sites.

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Time to say goodbye to the bulb that Edison made

Between now and 2014, lighting your home will by law become a more energy efficient endeavor. Standard incandescent bulbs, as per the “Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007,” will no longer be allowed to be manufactured in or imported to the U.S.A, which will change the lighting options available to you.

You can still get (and buy) regular lightbulbs

To be clear — the regulations that passed in 2007 (and that went into effect Sunday, January 1st) mandate a three-year phase out of the manufacture and import of incandescent bulbs. Buying and selling these bulbs is not against the law. According to the schedule laid out, the 100-watt bulb is the first to go — this year, 2012. In 2013, say goodbye to the 75-watt bulb. And in two years, 60- and 40-watt bulbs will no long be allowed.

Banned, but not enforced—yet.

In a rather peculiar turn of events, however, the government voted to disallow spending any money to enforce the ban on 100-watt incandescent bulbs — at the very earliest until October 1st, 2012.

In fact, not exactly banned at all

Although there are plenty of posts and articles about the total demise of the incandescent bulb, this is not actually the case at all. What the new rules demand is that incandescent bulbs manufactured or imported into the U.S.A. must conform to new energy standards. A normal 100-watt incandescent bulb draws 100 watts of power to produce the amount of light it does, but uses most of that energy to emit heat. The new rules require that a bulb that throws off the same amount of light only draw a maximum of 72 watts of power.  In April of last year, Philips Lighting launched a new line of incandescent bulbs that meet the new requirements. These bulbs are not as energy efficient as LED or CFL bulbs, but, according to Philips, the light they give off is the same as the light from traditional incandescents.

 

The EcoVantage bulbs are available at Amazon.com, Home Depot and a variety of online and local stores, if you want to see what kind of light they produce.

 

For more information on the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 and how it could impact you:

·        New York Times: Almost Time to Change the Bulb

·        The Advertiser: Out with the old-fashioned light bulb

·        The Washington Post: The incandescent light bulb is dead; long live the incandescent light bulb?

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5 events that really had an impact

Time Magazine and AOL Real Estate each have lists of the most significant news in real estate in 2011:

AOL’s #1: “Foreclosure Crisis”

The “emotional and economic distress.” The “drag on a recovery.” The “tighter lending practices.” The robo-signing scandal. The prospect of a settlement that will only result in more foreclosures.

 

Time’s #1: “Robo-Signing Reverberations”

The record average foreclosure processing time of 2011 (631 days) can be directly linked to the speedy foreclosure processing scandal in 2010 — without proper or complete documentation. Many homes are still stalled somewhere mid-process, but when a settlement with the banks is reached, experts expect to see a distinct increase in foreclosure volume in 2012.

Time’s #2: “The Debt Ceiling and the Budget Deficit”

“One idea that both Republicans and Democrats didn’t totally disagree about was reducing the mortgage interest and other tax deductions. If and when that happens, high-income homeowners with mortgages would pay a lot more in taxes.”

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AOL’s #3: “Bankrupt Policy”

The very definition of too little, too late — the administration’s multiple attempts to support homeowners in distress (HAMP, HARP, EHLP, or 2MP) all fell flat, failing to reach a substantial percentage of their intended beneficiaries and/or failing to provide substantial assistance.

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Time’s #4: “Natural Disasters Cause Insurance Disaster?”

The federal government’s National Flood Insurance Program (NIFP) is still reeling from Katrina, a problem for the housing market that felt the spotlight when Irene struck this year. In a catch-22 of nearly epic proportions, if NFIP goes under, flood insurance goes away, bringing the housing market in flood-prone areas to a dead stop— as you cannot get a mortgage without flood insurance.

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