What to Expect from 2021's Housing Market

The Michigan real estate market is no exception, especially after such an unpredictable year that 2020 was. Of course, no one can predict with 100% accuracy what is to come this year. However, we can make some guesses based off the information that realtors all over provide. Remember, housing market predictions can only give you an idea of what to expect if you buy or sell a house this year. Don’t let them dictate your housing decisions – only your personal situation and finances should do that.

Housing Market Forecast

Experts are predicting that after 2020 there will be a post-pandemic rebound in 2021. This would involve steady mortgage rates, job recoveries, and the law of supply and demand working together to get home sales rolling. In 2020, there were so many unknowns of the pandemic that caused many home buyers and sellers to feel uneasy about making the big move. However, this time has allowed real estate agents to adapt to the ways they can respect social distancing guidelines when needed.

Due to the low inventory on the market and the excessive number of buyers trying to enter it, experts believe that low mortgage rates and the rise of remote workers with flexible schedules will keep home sales booming in 2021. Home sales and the prices for which they are sold are likely to be higher in 2021 as opposed to last year.

Several Buyers will Enter the Market

Buyer traffic in the market has been consistently stable over the past few months. Often time there are more buyers than sellers which has created a very competitive market to be in. This is a great sign for sellers. Millennials are also reaching the point in their life where they are having to make the decision of continuing to rent or becoming a homeowner. Due to rent prices rising it is becoming increasingly affordable for them to choose taking on a mortgage payment.

Not Enough Homes will be Listed for Sale

Experts predict that low inventory will continue into the new year, which will make it a great time for sellers. This trend will result in homes selling quicker at a higher price. Therefore, it is more important than ever for buyers to have a real estate agent they can trust to get them the quickest access to homes one they’re on the market. Buyers will have to work a little harder to find their dream home.

What Does This Mean for Home Buyers?

If the experts are right it is going to be a very competitive market this year, so buyers are going to have to bring their A game when they are ready to start looking for a home. In order to make sure that you are prepared for the heavy competition as a buyer make sure that you have a pre-approval ready when you start looking at homes and a real estate agent that you can trust!

What Does This Mean for Home Sellers?

With many motivated buyers on the market and the existing low inventory this will create the perfect opportunity for sellers to get multiple high-priced offers on their homes. Due to this low inventory, there will also be a low number of sellers for you to compete with. We have no doubt that a trusted real estate agent will be able to provide you with the knowledge and experience in your market and will be able to guide you to reach top dollar for your home. As a seller in 2021 you should have no problem selling your home!

Feb. 16, 2021

Pre-Qualified VS. Pre-Approved

There’s a lot to learn when you’re starting out on your home buying journey. From concepts like earnest money to closing costs, it’s a lot to take in during a very short period. But of all the things to know, understanding the difference between being pre-qualified and pre-approved for your mortgage is one of the most important.

Why Your Mortgage Application Status Matters

It’s always been a good idea to bring a strong offer to the negotiating table when it comes to real estate, but it’s even more vital when the market is short on inventory and long on buyers. If you’re in a multiple offer situation (and sometimes, even if you’re not), the sellers are going to weigh the various offers they receive to decide if they think your offer is enough to bring in what they need to sell their home, as well as considering how strong an offer it is.

A strong offer is one that has a lot of the obstacles already removed. For example, if you need to sell your house before you can close on the one you’re making an offer on, this might be considered a weak offer for some sellers. A weak offer doesn’t mean a bad offer, necessarily; it’s simply an offer that looks like it could be tricky to actually get to the closing table. The risk versus reward is too high. This is why having the right kind of mortgage application status plays in your favor when it comes to negotiation.

Mortgage Pre-Qualification Versus Mortgage Pre-Approval

When you meet with a lender for the first time, they generally ask some probing questions about your income and assets, as well as your expenses and credit file. They’re not just being nosy; that lender is trying to help figure out just how much home you can qualify for and what programs might be best for your financial picture. Sometimes, these lenders will send you elsewhere because their banks or partner lending institutions simply can’t help you, but in a lot of cases they’ll produce something called a pre-qualification letter.

Pre-qualification goes largely by your word about your income and expenses, and is not a promise to lend. It’s simply a hypothetical among a list of hypotheticals. If you do in fact make this much money, your credit is as assumed, the house you choose lines up with these guidelines, and rates don’t change dramatically, you should be able to buy this much house. You can see how that would be a bit dodgy for a seller to hang all their hopes on.

A pre-approval, on the other hand, shows that you’ve gone through the additional steps to reach the highest level of mortgage approval you can get without actually having a house secured (the house you choose also figures into the final approval, but just how it figures depends on the loan program). For a pre-approval, you’ll need to provide income documents, permission for the lender to pull a full credit report, and details on any assets or liabilities you hold that aren’t included in your credit file.

A pre-approval isn’t instant; it requires more review, and you’ll need to choose a lending program to be approved for. However, doing all this extra work shows potential sellers that you’re already putting in a lot of effort to ensure you can actually close when the day comes, and that you’re eager to move the process along as quickly as possible. That’s the kind of buyer a seller wants to see!

Posted in Buying a Home
Feb. 11, 2021

Countertop Materials for Your Kitchen

 

The countertops in your kitchen can make a big difference in how your kitchen looks overall. If you’re tired of your kitchen looking old and dated, updating your countertops is a great way to completely revitalize its look. There are a number of materials used in modern countertops that will help your kitchen stand out. Here are just a few options to consider if you really want to give things a modern look.

Countertop Materials

Soapstone
Stone surfaces have long been a favorite material for kitchen countertops, but soapstone has come into its own in recent years. It’s heat and stain resistant like granite, non-porous (and thus liquid resistant), and has a softer texture than you’ll find with many stone surfaces. Just be careful, as there are two actually different materials that are sometimes called soapstone; one of these is talc, which isn’t going to give you the surface that you’re looking for. The soapstone that you want to get is steatite, which fortunately is much more common when shopping for countertop materials.

Leathered Granite
Granite has been popular as a counter surface for years, but has always had the drawback of being a porous material, meaning you have to be careful with spills. Leathered granite solves this problem while giving the classic stone a modern update as well. The surface of the granite is slightly roughed by diamond-tipped brushes, enhancing the stone’s natural color while cutting back on some of the shine and closing those infamous pores. The end result is a durable stone countertop with a unique look and a slight texture that really does feel similar to leather.

Engineered Quartz
Like granite, quartz has been used as a countertop material for years. So what’s the deal with engineered quartz? Unlike traditional quartz countertops, these are made with ground quartz mixed with resins to create a very hard and natural-looking surface. Colors can be added to create tints to match a wide range of decorating styles. Engineered quartz resists staining, corrosion, and damage from most cleaners. Just keep in mind that, like natural quartz, these countertops can still be damaged by heat.

Solid-Surface Acrylics
There are a few different brands of solid-surface acrylic countertops available, notably including Corian and Swanstone. These countertops mix acrylics with resin to create a stain-resistant surface that’s available in a wide range of colors, and that can be sanded to repair scratches or other small bits of damage. Perhaps more importantly, the man-made nature of these countertops means that they can be easily customized to meet the specific needs of your home. Their main drawback is that they tend to be vulnerable to heat damage, given that they are still made of plastic.

Concrete
Over the last several years, concrete countertops have become very popular in modern kitchens. They can be made on-site to ensure that they match your unique kitchen perfectly, and their dense nature means your countertops can take a beating without suffering much damage. Textures, acid-stained colors, and more can be added to the countertops during the creation process, and additives or sealants can significantly reduce the porosity of the concrete itself. These countertops do occasionally have issues with cracking, though modern methods have reduced this significantly. Even when they do crack, however, most concrete countertops can be repaired on-site.

Posted in Home Maintenance
Jan. 5, 2021

Indoor Painting Tips For Homeowners

 

The way your home is decorated says a lot about you, your family, and your lifestyle. Not only does choosing the right colors set the mood in a place, putting those colors in the right spots can also dramatically change the features of a room. There are so many ways to use color to change your home!

 

Using Paint to Change the Game

The possibilities that new paint creates are literally endless. And the great part about playing with paint is that it’s really easy to change if you decide you’re not thrilled with the results. Unlike building projects, changing the paint in your home can be done with limited expense or hassle.

Here are just a few ideas to enhance the details of the house you already have:

  • Pay close attention to the door. Your front door is one of the best spots for setting the mood for your whole home. It says something that your windows never could, so it’s important to paint it like it matters. Matching the house trim is old hat; today’s front doors feature bold or fun colors that complement the rest of your outdoor color scheme. Some houses can also see a bump in interest when homeowners try the same trick on their garage doors.
  • Choose bold trim colors. Your trim doesn’t always have to be white, though it shouldn’t be the same color as the wall. Instead, you can make a huge statement by highlighting some of the more decorative elements of your home with paint colors that have something to say for themselves. Pair light gray walls with black trim, or choose several different colors to accent ornate trim work in older homes.
  • Rethink built-in cabinets and shelving. Plenty of homes have built-in shelving or cabinets, but most homeowners opt to paint these the same color as the trim in their homes, effectively hiding a potentially eye-popping element. Instead of blending your built-ins into the background, choose colors to highlight them. Painting doors a different color than walls and trim, or selecting a bold or bright color for the back wall of an open shelving unit can really make a statement. This trick can also work for the risers on wooden staircases.
  • Why not white? A lot of people shy away from white walls because they feel like the color lends an institutional feel to a room, but white doesn’t have to be hospital-grade. There are a range of barely there colors within the white spectrum, and you can enhance them with color pops in the room itself. It’s your house; if you want a white, don’t let anyone tell you you’re wrong. Choosing a trim color that complements your white is also vital to success with all-white walls.
  • Color on the ceiling? Sure! There’s been a long tradition of ceilings being painted a flat white, but that wasn’t always the case. In the past, ceilings have been havens of color in rooms of various sizes and shapes. Depending on the effect you’re looking to create, you can use lighter or darker colors to visually raise or lower the ceiling, or accent decorative ceilings with color for added dimension.
  • Try textured paint. Wall texture comes and goes as a trend, but it’s a great way to deal with older homes that may have irregular or downright rough walls. Today’s texture paint goes well beyond Venetian plasters, giving you a huge range of options in texture and more ways to get an end result you’ll absolutely adore. Use a heavy texture as an accent, or go a little lighter for interest throughout your living space.
Dec. 28, 2020

Adding A Fireplace to Your Home

 

When the weather outside is frightful, a fire can be so delightful. That’s what the song says, anyway. But loads of homeowners tend to agree with the sentiment, so surely they can’t all be wrong. Adding a fireplace to your home can seem like a big undertaking, but there are several options for homeowners looking to add a little snap, crackle, and pop to their living spaces.

 

Fireplaces: Beyond the Chimney

Long, long ago, there was only one way to have a fire indoors: you had to have a brick chimney to contain the flames and keep everybody safe. However, that was back then; today there are lots of options for adding fireplaces to your home without having to also add a new chimney or repair an old one that’s no longer in use. This is great news, especially if you really want a fireplace for ambiance, rather than to be used as a primary heating or cooking source.

While wood burning masonry fireplaces have a sort of rustic, nostalgic appeal, today’s modern ventless options are far easier to install, require a lot less maintenance, and are often extremely fuel efficient should you choose to use them to help fight back winter’s chill.

Chimney-Free Fireplace Options

If you have an existing chimney that’s in great shape, there are lots of options for units that can be installed into that space. For many homeowners, however, it’s not that simple, because either their home never had an open chimney, or the one they do have is in poor shape. This is where chimney-free fireplace options really shine. They can be placed pretty much anywhere you want to put them since there’s no flue required.

When you go shopping, consider options like:

  • Ventless gas. Ventless gas fireplaces have been in use for awhile now. Unlike some gas units, the ventless gas units don’t require any kind of vent, so they can be installed on an inside wall, between rooms, or in other tricky spots. Although they don’t need a vent, it is recommended that you put them in larger rooms. You can often use a ventless gas fireplace when the power is out, making them a great emergency backup in a house that’s otherwise heated with electricity.
  • Electric. If you really like the look of a fireplace, but don’t want to deal with cleaning or maintaining anything, an electric fireplace is a great option. These aren’t your grandmother’s electric fireplaces! Most units have beautiful LED-based simulated fire and blowers that can put out a lot of heat. When in heating mode, they work a lot like large space heaters. But like an electric space heater, they need almost no care to keep running year after year. Many units can also have the LED turned on independently of the heating element for cool-to-the-touch flames all year round.
  • Ethanol. Looking for real fire without having to hook up gas lines? Ethanol may be the solution you’re seeking. Instead of piping in gas or tying into the electrical, an ethanol fireplace will produce a real flame with bottled alcohol-based fuel that you simply pour into the burner and light. They come in a huge range of sizes and designs, suitable for many indoor applications. You’ll get some heat from these, but not anything substantial. They’re similar to gel fireplaces, which have been losing popularity to ethanol fireplaces for years, but unlike gel fireplaces they use a liquid fuel instead of a gel-based one.
  • Water Vapor. If you only want the look of fire, but no actual fire to deal with, a water vapor fireplace can give you one of the most realistic experiences without limitations. These fireplaces can be incredibly large and long, limited largely by your imagination. They don’t produce any heat, since water vapor is used to reflect special lights that create the illusion of a flame. All you need is electricity and tap water to set the mood. 
Posted in Home Maintenance
Dec. 10, 2020

Are Smart Smoke Detectors Right for You?

 

Keeping your family and your home safe is an important responsibility. There are a number of devices that you can buy to help accomplish this, with some of the most common being smoke detectors. There are many options when it comes to choosing a smoke detector, including several “smart” smoke detector models. If you’ve wondered whether one of these smarter smoke detectors is right for you and your home, here’s a closer look at how they work.

 

Smart Home Protection

Like other “smart” devices, smart smoke detectors are able to connect to the local internet and can be controlled remotely by your phone or a central device hub. This allows you to customize their functionality and unlocks additional features that standard smoke detectors lack. In some cases, software updates can also add features or additional ways to customize the smoke detectors without having to remove or replace them.

Multiple Warning Types

One big advantage of smart smoke detectors is that you can receive warnings in different ways. In addition to the standard alarm noises that people are used to, many smart smoke detectors feature spoken warnings that are available in multiple languages to make sure that your family knows exactly what the danger is when the alarm goes off. Because smart smoke detectors typically connect to an app on your smartphone, you can also receive phone alerts when a smoke detector goes off so that you’ll know what is going on even if you aren’t at home.

Cooking with Smart Smoke Detectors

A lot of people disable the smoke detectors in their kitchen before pan-searing meat or cooking certain other items because of the smoke produced in the process. This can be dangerous, since it’s easy to forget to turn the smoke detector back on, leaving one of the most common areas for a fire to start left unprotected. Many smart smoke detectors feature cooking modes that you can enable from your phone, device hub, or on the detector itself, letting them know to ignore smoke that occurs now, and automatically reenabling protection afterward.

Smoke Detector Connectivity

Because of the way that smart devices interconnect, you can set up most smart smoke detectors to work with other devices in your home to provide even greater protection. One common use of this feature is to set up a routine with smart lights, so that if a smoke detector goes off, the lights are turned on. That ensures that everyone can see to get out of the house, even if it’s in the middle of the night. You may be able to add other devices to these routines as well, doing things like shutting off the HVAC system to avoid spreading smoke and fanning flames.

Are Smart Smoke Detectors Right for You?

There are definite benefits to using smart smoke detectors in your home. If you don’t have Wi-Fi set up or don’t use any additional smart devices, though, you won’t be able to get the full benefits that some smart smoke detector models offer. The cost of the smoke detectors may also play a part in your decision, as most smart smoke detectors cost more than similar non-connected detectors. With that said, if you’ve been considering adding smart devices and home automation to your home and they fit your budget, then smart smoke detectors might be a good starting point to making your home a lot safer and smarter.

Posted in Home Maintenance
Nov. 24, 2020

Get Started Winterizing Your Home

 

While the fall has been mild and even warm in many areas, it’s important to realize that winter is right around the corner. There’s no way to tell what the winter might hold, and even if you don’t see much in the way of snow and ice you can still run into some problems if your home isn’t ready for cold winter temperatures. To make sure that you’re as ready as possible for whatever the winter might have in store, here are some things to consider as you make your winterization plans.

 

Weatherproofing and Heat Loss

One big problem during the winter is heat loss, with doors and windows being some of the biggest culprits here. A few big aspects of weatherproofing to prevent heat loss involve things like installing weather strips on your doors and windows, caulking around windows where you can feel a draft, adding a door sweep to keep drafts from occurring under your door, and even installing a storm door if you don’t have one. Adding thermal plastic over windows and other exposed surfaces can help with this as well.

Leaks and Burst Pipes

Depending on where you live, leaky pipes and even pipes bursting after a freeze can be big problems during the winter. There are a few ways to prevent this, including disconnecting external hoses, installing covers over external faucets, and adding pipe insulation to the pipes under your home. Sealing or caulking cracks and other openings where pipes and conduits travel through walls can also help, as can installing heat cables on your pipes if freezing is a major concern.

Prepare for Heat

If you’re like most people, you’re going to need to heat your home during the winter. It’s best to do some maintenance and testing of your heating systems while it’s still warm so that you’re not left in the cold once winter hits in earnest. If you use a fireplace, have your chimney cleaned to remove creosote and blockages before you have to use it. Clean any external components of your heating system to remove leaves and other debris, then turn the heat on to make sure that it’s actually working properly. Don’t be alarmed if you smell a bit of dust burning off, but if the burning smell continues or the heat isn’t coming out of the vents very well then get some maintenance done on your system.

Check the Roof

Your roof and gutters should be checked toward the end of autumn, after the leaves have mostly stopped falling and before the temperatures drop too much. Look for signs of damaged or missing shingles, as well as any obvious dips, leaks, or weak spots in the roof. Clean your gutters thoroughly and make sure that they’re securely fastened to your home. You might consider installing snow or ice guards to prevent large amounts of snow becoming a falling hazard during the winter as well. In addition, take the time to check your attic and make sure that all the insulation is in good condition and that there’s sufficient ventilation to keep mold and other problems at bay.

Last-Minute Maintenance

While you’re not likely to use them much during the winter, be sure to take an afternoon to clean and maintain your mowers, trimmers, and any other power equipment before you stow it away for the winter. This also applies for any grills or other outdoor equipment you won’t be using again until spring. While you’re at it, do some maintenance and testing of equipment such as leaf blowers, snow blowers, and portable heaters that you might need to use over the winter to make sure that everything is in proper working order.

Posted in Home Maintenance
Nov. 12, 2020

How to Take Care of Your Popcorn Ceilings

 

Popcorn is great with a movie or possibly for stringing around an old-fashioned Christmas tree, but it’s a little less universally loved when it’s applied to the ceiling as a texture. “Popcorn ceiling,” a type of texture that looks a lot more like cottage cheese than popcorn, was widely used in homes from the 1950s through the mid-1980s, regardless of architecture style.

 

A Warning About Popcorn Ceilings

Many popcorn ceiling treatments were manufactured using asbestos fiber, which was legal until the mid-1970s in most states. However, the asbestos-containing compound was still legal to sell until all stores were depleted, so if your home was built prior to the mid-1980s, there’s a significant chance your popcorn ceilings contain asbestos.

Just having asbestos bound up on your ceiling doesn’t pose a significant health risk by itself. The problem occurs when these ceiling materials are disturbed. Dust particles containing asbestos can be inhaled, which is really bad for your lungs. Because of this, it’s important to have an asbestos test on your ceiling materials if you’re considering cutting into or removing portions of it. It’s also vital that you invest in filtration respirators that will capture asbestos particles. And in some locations you may need a permit or licensed professionals to remove asbestos containing materials.

Your Popcorn Ceiling Options

Ceiling work can be a huge pain even under the best circumstances, but when you have to add in the risk that popcorn ceilings can represent, it gets even more troublesome. However, you have several different options for refreshing your popcorn ceilings without adding significant risk to your household. Consider:

  • Simply repainting. Sure, popcorn ceilings are hard to clean and can really date your home, but for many houses, popcorn was the original ceiling texture. Regardless of how you may feel about it, it’s period appropriate. If it’s holding well to the ceiling and you’re not experiencing any issues (besides cosmetic ones), repainting your popcorn may be the best way to refresh it. It’s a cheap, simple solution for a ceiling that doesn’t need any patches or repairs.
  • Encasing it in drywall. Choosing thin drywall that’s made for ceilings can give you a brand new ceiling to work with. Not only will this encase any asbestos between two layers of ceiling material, but you can also start fresh with very little mess, unlike scraping popcorn with all its hassle and risks. Fresh drywall can be used on popcorn ceilings that are less than perfect, even if they contain holes, but you’ll need to make sure the attachment surface is consistently level. This may require you to shim out missing bits of drywall.
  • Installing a new ceiling system. Several lightweight ceiling systems exist that can be used to cover popcorn or other texture ceilings. They generally consist of tongue and groove segments that work with a rail system to create a seamless new ceiling with a pattern. Several popular choices include systems that mimic wood ceilings, tin ceilings, or even bead board.
  • Removing the popcorn texture. You can often remove a popcorn ceiling by scraping the material off with a trowel. Depending on how it was applied, you’ll either do it while it’s dry or after it’s been wetted. If you do decide to remove it, be aware that it will create a substantial mess; you’ll need to remove everything from the room and protect the walls to avoid unnecessary mess and damage. It’s a very complicated process, and you’ll definitely need to wear proper respiratory protection.

     

Posted in Home Maintenance
Nov. 2, 2020

Student Loans VS. Mortgages

According to the Brookings Institute, about 42 million Americans (one in eight) have a student loan, totaling about $1.5 trillion in student loan debt. Only 30 percent of Bachelor’s degree recipients graduating in 2011-2012 managed to escape without a student loan; another 30 percent accumulated $30,000 or more in student debt. All this adds up to a whole lot of potential borrowers who have to navigate the added complexities involved with buying a house with student debt.

 

What’s Your Student Loan Repayment Plan?

If you have student debt, you probably were initially given a standard repayment plan. Many students, however, found quickly that they weren’t able to pay those payments reliably and risked default. For 8.1 million borrowers, not quite 20 percent of all student loan holders, those standard repayment plans were traded in for income-driven repayment plans. Although income-driven repayment was meant to help students successfully keep their loans in good standing, they also can create complications for getting a traditional mortgage.

Calculated Student Loan Payments

For students in anything besides a standard repayment plan, it may be necessary for a lender to calculate an estimated loan payment as part of the debt to income calculation, rather than simply using the number from the student loan holder’s documents. This is where the rub really comes in.

For some loan programs, a $14 payment in an income based repayment plan is just that, $14 added to the calculation. However, in others, because the income-based repayment plans are only approved one year at a time, a calculated payment is substituted. This, in theory, sets up a worst case scenario for lenders when it comes to the risk of foreclosure due to housing affordability. For student borrowers, it can turn a long awaited home purchase into a huge disappointment.

Loan programs typically calculate the estimated payment in one of two ways:

  • By simply using the amount equivalent to one percent of the outstanding loan balance (if you owe $30,000, your monthly payment is figured at $300), or
  • Calculating how much of a payment it would actually take to pay your loan in full in the term that remains (if you owe $30,000 and your term remaining is five years, your calculated payment would pay that loan off in full at the end of the five years).

This also goes for loans that are in forbearance or deferment, so there’s really no way around it.              

Student Loan Payments and Debt to Income Ratios

If you’ve never had a mortgage before, or you’ve only had limited exposure to the lending industry, it’s important to understand how debt to income ratios work. Lenders determine how willing they are to loan to someone not only based on their credit worthiness, but also on how much other debt they have. They want to see that borrowers have plenty of financial wiggle room for emergencies, since they really don’t want to get the house back.

For most loans, that means a debt to income ratio (DTI) under about 43 percent. Anything you’ve agreed to pay over a longer term, like your student loans, are added into this calculation and compared to your actual income. When your car loan, student loan, rent or current mortgage payment, and credit cards are all combined, does that or does that not exceed 43 percent of your income? This is the first and most basic question. Various loan programs will have ways to compensate for high DTIs, to a point, and there are different DTIs for different programs, though generally they’re in the same ballpark. So if your DTI is high, it’s not yet time to panic. However, you should be cautious about your next move.

This is why, if you have large student loans, it’s even more important to carefully consider the debt obligations you’re taking on as you take them. Student loans aren’t the only hurdle, but they are definitely a very large one for many students. Imagine having 10 percent or more of your income suddenly discounted because your deferred student loans are suddenly counted against you, even if you don’t have to make a payment! That’s the situation some borrowers find themselves in when they go to apply for a mortgage they believe they’re ready for.

All Isn’t Lost, Many Lenders Will Help

The good news is that lenders can help you sort your student loan woes out, even if it takes a little time to get you on the right path. Not only can they help you understand compensating factors that could help stretch your DTI a bit higher, they can also point to financial moves you can make to decrease your DTI, such as paying off those loans in their last legs or finding a co-borrower who can help even things out a bit.

If you don’t have a lender that you absolutely love, we can help! Just ask for a recommendation for a lender in your area who works with borrowers with student loan debt and you’ll be connected in almost no time to someone nearby!

Posted in Buying a Home
Nov. 2, 2020

Make Your Smart Home Smarter with Google Assistant

 

There are several so-called “smart assistants” on the market now, providing users with hands-free access to information and services from their smartphone or dedicated smart devices. One of these, the Google Assistant, has recently introduced a number of new features that can be used with Google Home devices. If you have a Google Home device or are thinking of getting one, here are some of the new features that you can look forward to using.

 

Making the Smart Home Smarter

One big focus of the Google Assistant’s changes for Home is expanding the number of smart home devices that Google Home is compatible with. There are a lot of companies selling devices for smart homes these days, including both major companies and new startups. Google is trying to accommodate more of these devices than ever, making sure that small but innovative companies aren’t left out when people try to automate their homes using Google Home.

Easily Adding Devices

Along with adding compatibility with more devices, the Google Assistant is also streamlining the process by which you add devices. This is done both to reduce the steps required to add devices and to prevent confusion for homeowners who might not be quite as tech savvy. By streamlining the process, Google hopes to make the Google Home into a device that anyone can use effectively even if they don’t have a lot of experience with technology or the Google Assistant app.

Scheduling Actions

A big feature being added to the Google Assistant is the ability to schedule actions on connected devices more naturally through Google Home. By simply telling it what action you want taken and when, Google Assistant can schedule the connected coffee maker to start brewing before your alarm goes off or the connected thermostat to change the temperature in the middle of the night. The goal is to make scheduling actions easier and more intuitive for Google Assistant users.

Improved Privacy

As data breaches and other privacy concerns continue to make headlines, the Google Assistant has taken steps to improve the privacy and security of Google Home devices. In addition to overall better security, these changes also make it easier to remove searches and other bits of your history from memory. Instead of having to go in and manually remove items from the app or a website, you can use voice commands to remove these items directly from a Google Home device. You can even tell Google that something you said wasn’t meant for it and the Google Assistant will go ahead and delete the last item right then and there.

Smart Display Notes

One neat feature being added to Google Assistant is the ability to add virtual notes to compatible smart displays from anywhere in the house. The notes are viewable to anyone who has access to the displays and are left simply by telling Google Home to leave a note and providing what you want the note to say. The notes then appear and remain until someone removes them after they’ve been read.

Workday Routines

In response to the large number of people who have started working from home this year, Google has added workday routines to the Google Assistant. This doesn’t mean that they’re only intended for those working from home, though. These routines break down your day into a variety of activities, including appointments, reminders to get up and stretch, lunch dates, and more. Working with both the Google Assistant app and Google Home devices, these little reminders help to give structure to your day and make sure you don’t miss out on anything important.

Posted in Home Maintenance
Sept. 28, 2020

Your Guide to Planting in the Fall

Fall is a little bit like a reverse spring. Everything is starting to wind down as winter approaches, and for a lot of gardeners, that’s a sad time. It doesn’t have to be, though; fall can be a time for laying the groundwork for spring plants and creating dazzling garden displays.

What to Plant

Fall planting can be tricky, largely because the plants that prefer to be planted in the fall can vary widely depending on where you live. However, if you live where it gets cold enough to frost or freeze, you can bet on many of these being excellent candidates:

  • Spring bulbs. Tulip, daffodil, Crocus, Allium, hyacinth, lilies, and even Iris are awesome choices for planting in the fall. They don’t generally need to be lifted, so they can be planted in those short days before the first frost hits. You’ll reap the fruits of your labor when the ground starts to warm up again.
  • Perennials. A huge range of perennials do great when planted in the fall. Bleeding hearts, Rudbeckia, Sedum, Coreopsis, garden Chrysanthemums, Asters, Hostas, and many others are not only great for end of year color, but will reliably return year after year to put on a dazzling show.
  • Shrubs. Looking for some show-stopping fall color? There’s no better time to choose and plant these kinds of shrubs than in the fall, when they’re at their best.
  • Trees. Most trees thrive when planted in the fall; it’s their best season! Planting your young trees in the fall, well before your first frost, gives them time to establish their roots without risking drying out. Not only do you increase the odds that your trees will survive by choosing to plant them in the fall, you’ll skip all the major maintenance required to nurse a fresh, new baby tree through a hot summer. It’s really a win-win.

When to Plant

Timing is everything when you’re planting in the fall. It’s not enough to ensure that the ground is unfrozen and workable; you should also give your young plants time to grow and spread their roots before they go dormant for the year. You can look up your first frost date on a reliable gardening site like The Old Farmer’s Almanac. Count back six to eight weeks and plan to plant your garden at that time.

Planting too close to a frost can cause significant damage to your new plants, or even result in their deaths from too much stress. After all, moving into a new neighborhood can be tricky, even for a plant, and they need time to repair roots that have been injured during the process. A few extra weeks to start going into dormancy will help them come back strong in the spring.

Protecting Plants

For the most part, fall plantings won’t need a great deal of protection as long as they’re planted in a timely manner. What they will need is mulch, and lots of it. It doesn’t really matter what kind of mulch you use, so long as it’s biodegradable and can be piled on deep.  

If your area sees snow and freezing temperatures, go for about four inches of mulch per planting, evenly distributed across the top. Wait to cover the crowns until you’re actually at risk for frost, but the root area of the plant can be covered the day you plant it. These kinds of mulches help the plant retain moisture and acts as insulation to keep the warmth from the sun in the ground longer.

As your plants die back for the year, mulch the entire area, making sure to carefully check tender plants for new growth as temperatures rise in the spring. When you see those little green sprouts popping up, uncover them (but leave the rest of the mulch) so they can continue on their upward journey.   

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