Monthly Archives: August 2014

Which Filter to Use in Your Furnace?

Filters“It’s amazing that something so simple and relatively inexpensive, can make such a big difference in the quality of the air we breath every day.  Not to mention the fact that if you don’t bother to change it, a dirty air filter can cause all kinds of problems for your HVAC system.”


Denise Buck & Ed Johnson – DC Metro Realty Team

A dirty air filter decreases the effectiveness of your HVAC system because it inhibits airflow and allows dirt, dust, pollen and other materials to blow through the system.

The challenge is how often it should be changed to keep the system working efficiently and extend the equipment life. Too often and you’re wasting money and not often enough and your increasing the operating and maintenance costs.

Fiberglass panel filters are inexpensive and easy to find but they’re not very efficient and they allow most dust to pass through. They were popular years ago but there are much better products available currently.

Pleated air filters are available in MERV ratings from 5 to 12. As these filters collect dirt and other particles, they become less efficient to the point of impacting air flow. Allergy sufferers can benefit from this type of filter. These should be changed every two to three months based on local conditions.

HEPA filters stand for High Efficiency Particulate Arrestance. They are very efficient and more expensive than previously described filters. Since they are very efficient, they require changing more frequently; possibly, every month.

Electrostatic air filters are permanent and washable. They generally cost more initially but the savings will be based on how long they last. This type does not add to landfill issues or produce ozone.

Improperly maintained filters will lower the quality of the air in the home, have a negative impact on air flow, cause it to use more electricity and eventually require maintenance to the systems.

In an attempt to easily comparing filters, a rating system was created called MERV, an acronym for Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value. The rating from 1 to 16 indicates the efficiency of a filter based on standards set by ASHRAE. Higher ratings indicate a greater percentage of particles are being captured in the filter.

To create a system to remind you when to change your filters, set a reminder on your electronic calendar to recur for whatever frequency you determine is best for you. Be sure to keep a supply of filters on hand to be ready to change them out when the time comes.

5 of the Most Profitable Renovations

Home Renovations“Quite often we are contacted by homeowners to consult on what they should, or shouldn’t do to their homes.  Small upgrades can be done just because you want to make your house feel more like ‘home’.  Larger ones should be carefully considered, so that you spend your money wisely.”

Denise Buck & Ed Johnson – DC Metro Realty Team

From 2009 to 2011, Census data indicates homeowners spent a combined total of nearly $360 billion on home improvements, with a median cost of $3,200 per venture. When deciding on a home renovation project, most homeowners search for one that will increase both the visual aesthetic and the value of the property.

Some renovations, of course, add more value to a home than others. Everyone has different tastes, but some features such as higher quality materials generally offer a higher return. The key is finding a project that offers the most future benefits, while also being a feature you can enjoy. Some of the more common remodels that do not fit the bill are home office renovations, with an average cost of $28,000. According to Bankrate, home offices only bring in around a 49 percent return when you sell your home.  The same applies for sunroom additions. Priced at over $73,000, sunrooms only recuperate around 52 percent of that back when you sell. While you may enjoy your new sunroom or home office, you have to ask yourself if that current enjoyment is more important to you than future profitability.

1. Steel Door for Entryway

This renovation heightens the curb appeal of your home and also comes with a low price tag. Although a small project, this minor improvement ranked number one on The National Association of Realtors list of remodels that pay off. According to their cost versus value report, this renovation comes with an investment cost of $1,162 and you can get around 97 percent ($1,122) of that cost back when you resell.  Steel doors are also said to increase energy efficiency and durability and they are more secure than other types of entry doors.

2. Garage Door Replacement

Also increasing security, garage door replacements come with a price tag of between $1,500 and $2,800. You can expect to get back around 83 percent of your investment cost. When prospective buyers first walk up to your home, features like a new garage door are more likely to entice them. When the outside is up to par, it leads buyers to believe the inside is in good shape as well. An old garage door is often unattractive. Older models also may not offer the insulation that newer models provide so your new door may save on your heating and air conditioning costs.

3. Kitchen Remodels

The Census bureau reports the median cost of a kitchen remodel at $5,000. In 2011, Americans took on 3.7 million kitchen remodels.  These kitchen adventures can, however, become pricey in terms of up-front investment cost. Many remodels exceed the $100,000 price point. A major kitchen remodel generally returns around 80 percent of its investment costs at resale. This, however, varies significantly based on the project, your home’s value, and your location. As with any project, the way it looks in the end has a large impact on its return.

For Sale by Owner suggests that you stay with the theme of your home and turn to an expert designer for advice when needed. On the same token, modern kitchens with the newest features are usually a big hit. Back splashes, granite and marble materials, stainless steel, and energy efficient appliances are, in many cases, attractive to buyers as long as the design matches the rest of your home.

The quality of the work also has an impact on your return, and your personal satisfaction with the remodel. The last thing you want is any leaks, misplaced appliances, or malfunctions. Its essential that you work with a contractor you can trust will produce excellent work.

4. Wood Deck Addition

Ideal for cookout, gatherings, and outdoor conversation, a deck can benefit you both now and when you sell. When potential buyers see a new deck out back, it often brings about thoughts of the activities they can do out back at their new house. A deck also increases the amount of living space you have for a low price tag. According to data published on House Logic, the average cost of construction for a two-story, 2000 square foot home is $85 per square foot. With a deck, however, you’re looking at a cost of around $35 per square foot — $50 per square foot less.

With a price tag of just under $10,000 for a pressure-treated wood deck, you can expect to get back around 87 percent of your investment cost for the addition. This cost represents a 16 foot by 20 foot sized deck. A composite deck in the same size costs upward of $15,000, and offers just over 74 percent of this cost back at sale.

5. Go Energy Efficient

According to recent Census data, nearly one out of every four renovations are designed for energy efficiency. Before taking on an energy saving remodeling project, US News suggests you perform an “energy audit.” This means that you examine your home for areas of improvement.

A common find is windows, doors, or an attic that need sealing, which will save you money on your energy bills.  Maybe you have really old windows and you want to go ahead and just replace them all. Is it really cold upstairs? US News also indicates that around 50 percent of U.S. homes are under-insulated, so insulating upstairs may be a project you want to take on. Heating ducts may need attention or you may have an old hot water heater.

If you are really looking to make your house energy friendly, adding an alternate energy source, such as a wind turbine, will not only save you money on energy costs, it will also provide you with tax benefits. These tax benefits generally provide 30 percent of your investment cost back as a one-time tax credit on your return.

Originally posted by Erika Rawes in Personal Finance of Wal St CheatSheet

Do You Have a Home Inventory? Get One!

Homeowner Checklist“Hopefully, you’re fortunate enough to have never had a major incident at your home.  But if you did, would you know what was missing or damaged?  Would you know what you paid for it?  How long you had owned it?  Take these steps to be prepared,  just in case.”

Denise Buck & Ed Johnson – DC Metro Realty Team



How old is your bedroom furniture and what did you pay for it? Don’t know? That’s okay, let’s try an easier question. When did you buy the TV in your family room and is it a plasma, LCD or a LED?

Whether you are the victim of a burglary, a fire or a tornado, most people are comforted they have insurance to cover the losses. However, unless you’ve filed a claim, you may not be familiar with the procedures.

The adjustor will want to know the date and how the loss occurred. Assuming you have contents coverage, the claim for personal belongings is separate from damage to the home.

You’ll be asked to provide proof of purchase, like receipts or cancelled checks, or a current inventory. If they’re not available, you can reconstruct an inventory from memory. The challenge is trying to remember things you may not have used for years and may not miss for years more.

Relying on memory can be a very expensive alternative. A prudent homeowner will create a home inventory with pictures or videos while all of their belongings are in the home and they can see them.

Download a home inventory to make your project a little easier.

Quick Fixes Before You Sell Your Home

Curb Appeal“When you’re going to put your home on the Market, it pays to put a little time into sprucing it up a bit.  There are so many little things that go unnoticed around your home, even though you walk by them every day.  We can help you with this, and most of these don’t cost much, but have a big pay off in buyer appeal.”

Denise Buck & Ed Johnson – Dc Metro Realty Team

If you are selling your home, nothing matters more than making a good first impression. Get potential buyers to stop and notice your property by amping up its curb appeal. With a few inexpensive fixes, you can help your home stand out.

If you are selling your home, nothing matters more than making a good first impression. Get potential buyers to stop and notice your home by amping up its curb appeal. With a few inexpensive fixes, you can help your home stand out.

The #1 thing to keep in mind: Make sure your home looks well cared for. Achieving a fresh, modern look doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive. 

Spend a Little, Change a Lot

1. If your house numbers are weathered, buy new ones in a style that matches your home’s character. Or paint the old ones to give them new definition.

2. Has your mailbox seen better days? Paint it for a fresh pop of color or swap it out for a new one. You’ll notice an instant difference.

3. If the lighting fixtures near your front door scream “dated,” look for some trendy, inexpensive replacements that are available at most hardware stores.

4. If the hardware on your doors, windows and other areas has been painted over, is getting rusty or is coming unhinged, repair or replace it.

5. Want to take your home’s exterior from drab to fab? Add plants, whether they’re in window boxes, containers or a garden, their color and lushness can transform your house into something special.

6. If you’re lucky enough to have a porch, show it off with comfortable furniture, like a glider or Adirondack chair, to add a friendly, welcoming touch.

Common-Sense Fixes

1. Repair anything that is chipped, peeling or cracked, including garage doors, fences, gutters, sidewalks and more. Sand, patch and repaint as needed.

2. Wash your windows. Simple enough, right? It’s amazing how appealing cleanliness can be! Plus, natural light is a major selling point.

3. Pick up debris on your lawn and edge the grass. A manicured edge shows you care about the details. Prune bushes and trees to maintain their shape. 

4. Remove weeds growing between the cracks in your driveway. While you’re at it, seal the cracks and clean up any oil spills, too!

5. For night showings, put your outdoor lights on a timer to warmly welcomebuyers. If you can, install a spotlight and aim it at a tree or an especially nice feature of your house.

Originally published in American Home Shield Newsletter

How to: Clean Baseboards

how-to-clean-baseboards“One of my least favorite household cleaning chores…Baseboards.  You really have to get down on your hands and knees to get this one done.  And when you stop and look at all the baseboards you have in the house it seems a bit overwhelming.  This article not only shows you to clean them properly but also how to make it not quite so daunting of a task.”

Ed Johnson & Denise Buck – DC Metro Realty Team

You can spend hours washing the floor, dusting the furniture, and vacuuming the nooks and crannies in any given room, but so long as its baseboards are dirty, they are going to attract attention and create an overall impression of shabbiness and neglect. It’s by no means difficult to clean baseboards; this is not one of the great housekeeping challenges that you will face in life. Indeed, the trickiest bit is overcoming inertia. So if you’re actually reading this, the hard part is over! 

– Vacuum (with brush attachment or duster) 
– Sponge 
– Dish soap, vinegar, or wood cleaner 
– Cotton swabs 
– Dryer sheets 

Rather than set out to clean the baseboards in every single room of your house all at once, make an agreement with yourself: Each and every time you break out the sponge and plastic gloves, you will clean the baseboards thoroughly in one room only. That way, the task of cleaning baseboards never becomes overwhelming. Also, remember that baseboards accumulate the dust and dirt that housework stirs up. Save the baseboards for last—don’t waste effort cleaning the same thing twice. 

Begin the process by removing as much dust and dirt as you can from the area. If your vacuum has a brush attachment, use it to suction along the length of the baseboards, paying special attention to the crevice where the trim meets the floor. In lieu of a vacuum, you can rely on a duster to do a decent job of freeing up debris, which you can then corral and remove with a broom and dustpan. 

Once you’ve removed all loose dirt and dust, you can begin to address stains and stuck-on grime. (Particularly in the kitchen, baseboards are the notorious hosts of unidentifiable splatters.) Dip a sponge into a mixture of warm water and dish soap (vinegar works well too), then go about scrubbing any marks that you can find. Note that if the baseboards in the room you are cleaning are stained, not painted, it may be preferable to use a cleaning solution formulated specifically for that application. 

As you’re already crouched over cleaning the baseboards, you might as well do as good a job as possible. For those hard-to-reach spots—the crevice between the trim and flooring, for example, or around any imperfections that appear on the wood surface—use a cotton swab dipped in the cleaner. 

Protect the baseboards’ newly acquired cleanliness by rubbing them with a fresh dryer sheet. Not only will this leave a fresh laundry scent that lasts a few days, but also—and more importantly—the sheet’s anti-static properties actually repel dust. Perhaps it sounds like overkill, but going this one step further can really pay off. 

Unless you live in a fraternity house, you’re unlikely to find that your baseboards need to be cleaned weekly. In the grand scheme of housekeeping, baseboards are rather low maintenance. If you’re like me, you probably notice baseboards only when they are not clean. So if on each occasion that you clean, you live up to the promise of doing the baseboards in one room only, you may never notice them again!

By Bob Vila – originally appearing on

Understanding Reverse Mortgages

Reverse Mortgages


“Reverse Mortgages sound like a good idea on the surface.  And they can be, but they are not for everyone.  There are different types of programs out there and anyone considering these plans needs to do their homework before making a decision on which one is the best option for them.”


Denise Buck & Ed Johnson – DC Metro Realty Team

With all of the encouragement from celebrity spokespersons like Fred Thompson, Robert Wagner and Henry Winkler, there is a growing awareness of reverse mortgages. The fact is that our population is getting older and more than 25 million homeowners meet the age requirement.

A reverse mortgage will allow homeowners age 62 or older currently living in their home to tap into their equity. The amount available is determined by the borrower’s age, the home’s current value and current interest rates. The loan proceeds can be received in a single, lump-sum or periodic payments. The closing costs can be paid in cash or rolled into the loan amount.

There are no payments on a reverse mortgage but the homeowner is still responsible for property taxes, insurance, maintenance and other home costs.

When the borrower dies, moves or fails to fulfill the terms of the loan, the lender is paid from the sale of the home. The borrower or their estate is not responsible for more than the proceeds of the sale. However, if the proceeds are greater than the amount owed to the lender, the remainder goes to the homeowner or their heirs.

Unlike normal mortgage requirements, the borrower’s income and credit are not used to determine the amount of the loan. The homeowner must occupy the home as their principal residence and it must be free and clear of encumbrances or have substantial equity.

Reverse mortgages are an opportunity to generate income or funds for capital expenditures but they can pose risks to homeowners. HUD, the largest insurer of reverse mortgages, is concerned about misleading or deceptive program descriptions encouraging borrowers to obtain HUD reverse mortgages also known as the HECM (Home Equity Conversion Mortgage). As of June 18, 2014, FHA will only insure fixed rate reverse mortgages where the homeowner is limited to a single, full draw made at closing.

A reverse mortgage, like any financial decision involving a home, is an important decision that deserves careful consideration, due diligence and expert advice.

For more information, check out The National Association of REALTORS® Field Guide to Reverse Mortgages, FAQs about HUD’s Reverse Mortgages and Reverse Mortgages – Alternative Home Equity Funding by Real Estate Center at Texas A & M.

Know How the Sq Ft Were Measured

Measuring the home“It is amazing all the misunderstandings that occur when buyers are comparing homes on the internet.  You wouldn’t think that comparing the size of two homes would be a difficult task.  They have the Square Footage in the listing, right? However, there are several things to be aware of when reading those listing to make sure you are interpreting the numbers correctly.”

Denise Buck & Ed Johnson – DC Metro Realty Team

In an attempt to compare homes, one of the common denominators has been price per square foot. It seems like a fairly, straight forward method but there are differences in the way homes are measured.

The first assumption that has to be made is that the comparable homes are similar in size, location, condition and amenities. Obviously, a variance in any of these things affects the price per square foot which will not give you a fair comparison.

The second critical area is that the square footage is correct. The three most common sources for the square footage are from the builder or original plans, an appraisal or the tax assessor. The problem is that none of sources are infallible and errors can always be made.

Still another issue that causes confusion is what is included in measuring square footage. It is commonly accepted to measure the outside of the dwelling but then, do you include porches and patios? Do you give any value for the garage, storage or other areas that are not covered by air-conditioning?

Then, there’s the subject of basements. Many local areas don’t include anything below the grade in the square footage calculation but almost everyone agrees that the finish of the basement area could add significant value to the property.

Accurate square footage matters because it is used to value homes that both buyers and sellers base their decisions upon.

Let’s say that an appraiser measures a home with 2,800 square feet and values it at $275,000 making the price per square foot to be $98.21. If the assessor reports there are 2,650 square feet in the dwelling and the owner believes based on the builder, there is 2,975 square feet, you can see the challenge.

If the property sold for the $275,000, based on the assessor’s measurements, it sold for $103.77 per square foot and by the owner’s measurements, it sold for $92.44 per square foot. Depending on which price per square foot was used for a comparable, valuing another property with similar square footage could have a $30,000 difference.

The solution to the dilemma is to dig a little deeper into where the numbers come from and not to take the square footage at “face value”. It is important to recognize that there are differences in the way square footage is handled.