June 3, 2021

Downsizing Doesn’t Have to Mean Downgrading

Downsizing Doesn’t Have to Mean Downgrading

Thinking about downsizing? It’s not a bad idea, especially if your kids have moved out, the lawn and garden have become a chore to keep up, and your long-time neighbors have already moved away. Perhaps you want to travel more and need a place that you can just lock up and go. Sometimes, all the reasons we chose a particular home or neighborhood don’t exist any more, when you really think about it. 

If this applies to you, a condominium, townhouse, or apartment can offer a great lifestyle, without the work that comes with a detached home. You can potentially live closer to shops and services, and enjoy on-site amenities that you didn’t have access to before. Best of all, those amenities are taken care of by somebody else!

You’ll likely have more leisure time, and even if travel is not on your agenda, the past year has taught us just how much home means to us, and how it can function as so much more than a place to hang our hats. If a more “right-sized” living appeals to you, we can help you get started in your search. There are more benefits in moving to smaller digs than you may have thought.

Security

If downsizing means selling your current home, it’s an excellent time to do so. The current market conditions have put many homeowners in an improved equity situation, and higher selling prices driven by low inventory can mean you’ll walk away with more cash to spend on your new lifestyle.

Condominium living means increased security since there’ll be systems and safeguards in place for all residents. There’s peace of mind knowing your unit is secure when you decide to go on a spur-of-the-moment vacation.

If a townhouse is more your style, having extra funds allows you to invest in things like video doorbells, motion-sensors, cameras, or alarm systems connected to monitoring services and/or police. You can now even self-monitor at any time with mobile apps. 

Convenience

The ability to take off at the drop of a hat is a major advantage of “right-sized” living. What could be more convenient than just picking up your bags and locking the door? But in addition to security devices, smart home tech offers even more day-to-day convenience.

Devices like Alexa and Google nest allow you to run nearly everything in your home by remote control. Dim your lights, check the weather, even run your dishwasher or coffee maker with a voice command. 

For seniors, the ability to play a favorite song or call a friend just by asking out loud can be a great help in warding off loneliness and avoiding confusion with operating “gadgets”.

A New Kind of Night In

Moving to a smaller home might enable you to eliminate a vehicle and its associated costs, saving you even more money. Better still, you won’t have to spend any of it on a night on the town unless you want to. These days, you don’t have to even leave home to be thoroughly entertained.

The world of media streaming has forever changed how we consume entertainment. Today, you can watch first-run movies, access exclusive programming via subscription channels, and even attend live concerts all from the comfort of home. 

With the wide availability of surround-sound speakers, ultra-large screens, and brilliant projector systems, you can virtually “be” at a movie theater, performance stage, or concert hall. And as more of us move into this new stage of life, a bigger screen and better sound aren’t bad things to have.

 

You may have to invest in some acoustic buffering for the sake of your neighbors, but after that, pass the popcorn and cue the music to a downsized, but not downgraded, lifestyle.

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Guest Writer: Karl Kennedy

April 7, 2021

How to Make Sure Your New Home is Smart Tech Ready

Let’s say you bought a new home – or you’re considering one – and you wish to upgrade some devices to smart ones. It’s not just a matter of having your smart tech delivered and then installing it; the process is more complex than that. 

First, you have to make sure your new home is smart tech ready. How do you do that? Well, it’s a matter of assessing your home, your lifestyle, and your needs and determining if you need smart tech, what upgrades make sense for you, if it’s worth it, if you can sustain it, and if the upgrades you want will harmoniously co-mingle. 

Do You Need Smart Tech?

The very first thing you should be asking yourself is whether you actually need smart tech. What is your lifestyle like? Would you benefit from having smart tech in your home? Usually adding smart devices to a home enhances two aspects of your lifestyle: convenience and comfort. 

So, ask yourself whether this is something that’s going to enhance your life, or if it’s just a gimmick that you’ll grow tired of in a few months. 

Assess Your Needs

Let’s say you’ve decided that you do need and want a smart upgrade – what, exactly, are you looking to add to your home? You should be looking at where your needs are to determine where smart devices would be the most useful. 

Do you value time in the morning? A smart coffee maker might be a great option for you. Are you always fiddling with the thermostat? A smart one would make changing the temperature a breeze. What about chores? Would a smart lawn mower save you lots of time and effort?

Whatever you upgrade, make sure that it’s something that’s going to make your life easier and free up some of your time. 

Assess Your Costs

The other preliminary step you want to take is to assess your current costs. Generally speaking, smart tech tends to be an expensive upfront investment, but the savings over time make it worth it, in the end. 

Think about what you’re looking to upgrade – whether it’s your lighting or your refrigerator – and tally your costs. Are you spending enough on heating to justify putting in a smart thermostat? What about your electric bill? How much are you paying for your regular lightbulbs, compared to the cost-saving smart ones? 

Once you have an idea of your general costs, you’ll be able to make an informed decision on which upgrades make sense for you and your home. 

Does Your Internet Support It?

One thing to know about smart devices is that they all require a strong, stable internet connection. That’s why some homes make better candidates than others for smart upgrades. If you’re in an area that is served by subpar internet providers, you might have a difficult time maintaining your smart devices at optimum efficiency.

It is recommended that you survey your local options for internet providers and plans, and select something that’s going to suit your needs in terms of bandwidth, speed, and most importantly – coverage. Especially if you’re also working from home or are otherwise using your Wi-Fi intensely, you want to make sure there’s enough to go around. 

Make Sure All Devices Connect

One of the primary concerns with smart tech, especially when you’re planning on upgrading several devices, is to make sure that they all work together and connect. You want to make control and maintenance as easy as possible, so streamlining is preferable. 

That means you ideally want them to be part of the same “universe”. A lot of devices work well within Amazon’s Echo ecosystem, for example. Nest makes both smart doorbells and smart thermostats, so it’s a good idea to buy them together. Will the devices you chose work together, or will they clash? 

The last thing you want is to create more work for yourself by introducing too many different control systems, maintenance schedules, and bandwidth hoggers. If you plan your purchases carefully, you’ll be able to get the most out of your smart upgrade.

What’s the bottom line?

More and more, buyers are prioritizing smart homes and planning on upgrading their homes with smart devices. It’s a very popular addition to new homes, but is it right for your home and your lifestyle? How can you make sure that your home is smart tech ready?

The best way to ensure you’re choosing smart is to plan your purchases. Do your homework beforehand – what devices are the best? Do they work well with other devices? Will they help you save money? Is your internet connection suitable? 

That way, you can start integrating smart tech into your home seamlessly, for that ultimate step up in terms of convenience and comfort. The future is coming to a home near you!

Posted in Buying, Tips & Tricks
Dec. 1, 2020

Buying a Home in the Winter

If you've lived in the Greater Boston area, or done research on the housing market here, you will notice that it is incredibly seasonal in nature.  The conventional wisdom is that you shouldn’t buy your home in the winter because no one wants to buy a home and move during the holidays. But, in an area with a perennially low supply of inventory--like Boston, Brookline, or Newton--buyers can have success searching in the winter months and avoid a lot of the headaches that come with searching during other times of year.

Many sellers opt to wait and sell in spring or even take their homes off the market during the fourth quarter. This leads to a lower supply of inventory, but it also leads to a general taper in the number of buyers who are looking for a home.  In short, there will be fewer options out there, but there will be much less competition. 

You should note two other things:  sellers who keep their homes on the market during the winter typically do it because they have to sell on a certain timeline (which means you might be able to get a "deal," which typically doesn't exist in the Boston area.  The other thing is this:  sellers who have withdrawn their listings for the winter months have probably only done so to keep the listing from getting "stale"--they will probably still sell it off-market if a qualified buyer is interested!

Don't let the cycle of the market dictate your buying schedule.  If you're ready to buy now, get out there and look!  If you are super picky, you will likely have very little to choose from....but if you are a buyer who can be creative and flexible, get ready to find a great deal and avoid the multiple-offer battles that always come with the spring market.

Call me today if you're interested in starting your search.

Posted in Buying, Tips & Tricks
April 9, 2020

Forbearance is Not Forgiveness: Navigating Your Mortgage

The COVID-19 virus has appeared to have infected us in many more areas of our lives these days, other than as a profound illness. The economics of the virus has led to millions of layoffs, company shutdowns, and therefore the loss of immeasurable jobs. This burden is requiring many homeowners to search for an alternative or a reprieve from mortgage payments for a few months to help navigate this dramatic period.

The Federal Government recently approved the ability for mortgage lenders throughout the country to offer the option of Forbearance to help homeowners mitigate their mortgage payments during this unusual time frame. Forbearance, in the context of a mortgage process, is a special agreement between the lender and the borrower to delay a foreclosure. When mortgage borrowers are unable to meet their repayment terms, lenders may opt to foreclose. To avoid foreclosure, the lender and the borrower can make an agreement called "forbearance." According to this agreement, the lender delays his/her right to exercise foreclosure if the borrower can catch up to the payment schedule by a certain time. This period and the payment plan depend on the details of the agreement that is accepted by both parties.

Although investor requirements involving forbearance demands are continually evolving as the COVID-19 virus progresses, here are some of the current mitigation options and terms that many lenders might offer during this time:

  • Reduced or suspended payments for 90-180 days with the option to extend additional days if needed (the best option for homeowners is to pay as much as possible each month to minimize past due amounts)
  • Negative credit bureau reporting and late fee assessments are suspended (if the borrower was up to date or under 30 days delinquent for their March 2020 payment due).
  • Prior to the end of the forbearance period, hardship/financial status must be evaluated to determine next actions.
  • Forbearance is NOT payment Forgiveness. All payments are expected to be paid back in full. Payment forgiveness is not an option here.
  • Servicing companies will also make sure that your escrow payments for taxes and home insurance will continue to be paid during this trying time.

Forbearance options can vary greatly between companies, and here is a breakdown of the most common alternatives in technical terms:

Reinstatement: pay all past due delinquent amounts to bring your loan current. There will be no negative impact to your credit bureau reporting.

Repayment Plan: repayment plans for 3-12 months, with no negative credit bureau reporting ot late fee assessment if you are performing on your repayment plan.

Deferment: eligible to those customers who missed no more than 2 payments, and have resumed making regular payments. However, they cannot remit the additional payments that were missed. These two payments may be deferred until payoff, refinance or other liquidation.

Modification: for customers with long term hardship. The investor may modify some or all terms of the original note, such as, interest rate, payment, or amount or term. 

In order to investigate the forbearance process, consumers will want to call their servicing companies directly. This is the company you send your mortgage payment to, not your lender who owns the note. The servicing company handles the full procedure. They will explain and educate consumers on the options available for their particular mortgage. They would then proceed to help set-up the clients with the forbearance agreements who want to move forward.   Be prepared to experience long wait times on the phone to get through to your servicing departments. Expect a minimum of 30 minutes as the volume of calls is overwhelming at this time. 

In summary, please note that though forbearance is an option for some, many will forgo moving forward with this selection. Even though negative credit reporting will not be applied during the forbearance period, please note that how this economic period will be reflected on your credit report has not yet been determined. Although a forbearance is far better than foreclosure, you must follow the repayment plan exactly to avoid ramifications, and the action will be noted on your credit report.

It needs to be mentioned that if you defer payments, and or skip payments at any time, this does absolutely change the loan's amortization schedule and how much is actually owed at the time of payoff. The forbearance is interest free, but since you are not paying off your principal and interest owed each month in a consecutive manner, you will see an additional cost incurred at the end of the note or payoff. Your payoff will be higher and all payments will be due in full.

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Susan Kelly is a Senior Loan Officer at Fairway Independent Mortgage. She is Licensed in MA.

April 2, 2020

Negotiating Home Repairs with a Seller

Buying a home is rarely a simple and entirely stress-free process, and one piece of the process that potential buyers agonize over is the home inspection.

Unless a buyer is agreeing to buy a home “as-is,” many will want to have a home inspection completed prior to making an offer.

It’s up to you and your real estate agent to decide which repairs to push for and how to get them done. This article will provide advice on how to go about this process. 

Getting the Home Inspected 

If you choose to have a home inspection in your offer to purchase as a contingency, you will choose. a qualified home inspector who will be approved by the state and serve as a third party.  There are some inspectors who will do a pre-offer “consultation” and provide you with verbal information on the home. In this case, you will likely be using that for your own peace of mind, and not for negotiation. If you opt for the more traditional home inspection, which is done after your offer to purchase is accepted, the inspector will provide an impartial report of the home’s condition. No matter what kind of home it is, you can expect the inspector to provide a laundry list of recommended repairs to be made. If it’s a newer home, the list may be shorter. If it’s an older home, there will likely be hundreds of issues that the inspector brings to light. Some of these will be as harmless as loose cabinet knobs in the bathroom, but some may be more serious structural issues.

Should you be worried? 

There are certain problems that shouldn’t be overlooked when buying a home. A failing foundation, weak walls or any other kind of structural damage, for example, should be addressed before you make any commitments. Roof problems can  also be serious and expensive to fix. Other major repairs that you want to look out for include electrical, plumbing and HVAC issues. 

Most other, less serious repairs that show up in the inspector’s report can be  best to leave alone and fix yourself once the home is yours. This includes any cosmetic fixes, such as paint defects, stained flooring, holes in the wall and cracked tiles. It also includes any repair that would cost less than $250. It’s better to handle these types of repairs yourself rather than annoy the seller by adding to the overall repair costs.

Negotiating the Costs

Once you’ve determined which defects are of the most concern to you,, you’ll be ready to work out the details with the seller.  Negotiating the price of the repairs and how the repairs will be done is just as important as the inspection itself. Buyers typically have three options in this regard:

  1. Ask the seller to have the repairs done before closing.
  2. Ask for a closing credit for the cost of the repairs. 
  3. Ask the seller to deduct the repair costs from the sale price. 

I rarely recommend that buyers go for option 1 because they will have no control over the quality of the work that is done.  If you do go down that road, though, make sure your agent is exceedingly specific in how the punch-list item is incorporated into the Purchase & Sale Agreement.  For example: “seller agrees to fix roof” can yield very different results than “Seller will have a qualified and licensed roofer of buyer’s choice make all necessary repairs noted in the inspection report. This will be done at seller’s cost and prior to closing”. 

Option 2 is often ideal for both parties, because the seller can move on with their life and you can ensure the repairs are done to your satisfaction. For this option, you should have contractors or specialists give you an estimate for the work that needs to be done, and receive that amount in a credit at closing. This gives you cash on hand that you have effectively mortgaged.  Think of it as a personal loan from the bank at 4% instead of 18%. 

Option 3 can also work for buyers, but you generally want to opt for this only if you have the money to make the repairs yourself. If you’re going to have a $10,000 roof project, it’s usually best not to use the “deduct from sales price” approach.

Nonetheless, either way you go, you want to make sure you’re not getting the short end of the stick.

Negotiating repairs with the seller is paramount when buying a home. Be sure to have the home inspected so that you can determine which repairs the seller should cover and which they shouldn’t, and then work out the best way to have the repairs done. Taking care to do this process the right way can save you a lot of time, money and stress.

March 26, 2020

Seniors: Here's How to Make Downsizing a Breeze

If you’re in your retirement years, downsizing can be both exhilarating and stressful. It can be an exciting time because you’ve decided to move on to a new chapter — you’ll meet new people, settle into a new place, and spice up your daily routine. It’s also a huge undertaking — it can be taxing if it doesn’t go smoothly, and the thought of packing up a home you may have lived in for 20+ years with your family is understandably overwhelming. Some of the following tips and tricks can help you enjoy the transition.  

Choosing the Right Home

Start the house-hunting process as soon as possible. Whether you plan to move to a retirement community or purchase a smaller home, you’ll want to weigh your options and not rush into choosing a new home. Make a list of your needs and wants before you house hunt.

Some items on your list may be:

  • No pool
  • Lower mortgage payment
  • Lower property tax bill
  • Smaller space to clean
  • Equity from your current home for retirement 
  • City center or country locality
  • Close to healthcare facilities 

Bring your needs and wants to a realtor to help you find just the right home. Ask your realtor about current price trends and how close homes are selling to their listing prices. Be honest with yourself about what you must have versus what you want to have. For example, do you require hardwoods in the master bedroom? Or could you purchase a home with a carpeted bedroom and swap out hardwoods yourself?

Sorting and Packing

With a smaller home comes less space to store your belongings. Inevitably, that will mean you can’t bring everything you own with you. In order to avoid stress or regret, give yourself plenty of time to sort through what you want to keep, donate, give away, and trash. Go room by room, box by box, drawer by drawer. Think about one area at a time — rather than the whole house — in order to avoid being overwhelmed. Schedule time to organize and sort. Use a calendar, timer, friends and family to keep you on task.

If you have a lot of mementos you can’t possibly take with you but want to keep the memory, consider having pictures taken or images scanned to be stored on a hard drive. Pass on precious heirlooms to family for enjoyment and safekeeping.

Planning for the Move

A well-planned move makes a world of difference: 

  • Step 1: Decide whether you’re going to pack yourself or hire someone to do it. If you do it yourself, plan for the time and energy it will take, and recruit your loved ones to help. If you choose to hire someone, plan for them to be in your home and to give them instructions for items of particular importance.
  • Step 2: Decide who will move your belongings. If you have a truck or your loved ones have trucks, it’s possible to accomplish the move yourself in multiple trips. If you don’t have transportation, then you can rent a truck. If you’ve hired someone to pack your belongings, they should also be able to move them. Moreover, you can hire a company to transport your belongings from one house to another. A local move typically costs between $500 and $1,400.

  • Step 3: Unpacking is quicker with family and friends. Make it a bit of a celebration with food, refreshment, sweet treats, and music.

Whether you’re moving out of necessity or desire, downsizing can be exciting and overwhelming. Unless you have to downsize due to immediate health concerns, take your time searching for the perfect place and deciding which of your belongings you will keep, donate, trash, or give away. Finally, plan your move thoroughly — from the packing to the unpacking.

Photo Credit: Burst

Guest Author: Michael Longsdon

March 19, 2020

What does 'Pre-Approval' Entail?

Finding a mortgage became easier when the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau began mandating that lenders provide a new, simplified disclosure form to help consumers compare home loans, but the process is still no walk in the park!  Before you offer on a home, a seller will want to have certain guarantees that you are qualified to receive a loan and close on the deal. To better your positioning in an offer and avoid miscommunication snarls, you will have to understand the differences between lender evaluations of your creditworthiness. There are three main types of guarantees a bank or mortgage broker will provide, and they each require different up-front evaluation on their part and strength in the market on your part: the pre-qualification, the pre-approval, and underwritten approval. If you're buying in Boston, Brookline, or Newton you're going to want to know what each of these entail.

 

The Pre-Qualification

A pre-qualification is really just to get you started, so you have a ballpark idea of how big a mortgage you can afford. For a lender to pre-qualify you, they may ask for your employer's name and your Social Security number to verify your income and credit score. When a bank prequalifies you, it's giving you a preliminary statement of how much you could borrow, based on income and asset information you've provided. It is not based on any hard evidence, because at this point, you haven't given your bank statements or had bank officers request your credit report.  It’s super basic and is not good for much in the Boston, Brookline, or Newton markets, but will help you wrap your head around what properties to start looking at online if you’re just browsing.

 

The Pre-Approval

A bank will issue a mortgage pre-approval once it has all your documents in hand. These could include income verification from employers, recent tax returns, bank and brokerage statements, and credit reports. That assessment will result in a pre-approval letter from the lender that you can present when you bid for a home.  Having a pre-approval in hand gives you a jump on other potential buyers. It lets the seller know you're a good candidate, and that the bank is likely to award you a loan. It'll also make you feel more prepared to buy. This is the most common document provided to buyers by lenders.  Keep in mind that you're not required to borrow from the bank that issues your pre-qualification or pre-approval.

 

Underwritten Approval

This is the most powerful type of qualification you can have as a buyer, and it even allows you to waive your mortgage contingency with more confidence (please consult your lender, agent, and lawyer if that is the right move for you in any given situation).  Once the bank has all of your information, they will have a specialist call an underwriter to determine how much you're capable of paying and how big a mortgage loan you can afford. This will take into account the city you intend to buy in, and even calculate taxes and other expenses (like condo fee) liberally to give you an approval with full confidence in its legitimacy. The home still needs to appraise at your offer value (especially if you have a lower down payment or cash reserve), but otherwise you are the next best thing to a cash buyer.  With an underwritten approval, your realtor can make offer and contingency timelines incredibly tight--which just might be the thing that helps you edge out other buyers.

Dec. 5, 2019

Unlimited Sotheby's is Proud to Support 'Toys for Tots'

Our offices are proud to be Toys For Tots drop-off locations this year from now until December 15th We are located at:

  • 1290A Beacon Street, Brookline, MA
  • 673 Centre Street, Jamaica Plain, MA
  • 767 Beacon Street, Newton, MA

We're open from 9am to 5pm Monday through Friday and 10am to 4pm on Saturday and Sunday.

Please stop by with packaged and unwrapped gifts for children in need this holiday season. The recipients range in age from infant to 12 years old. Toy/Gift Recommendations:

  • Generic coloring books –- no holiday reference
  • Soft baby dolls
  • American Girl Dolls, Barbies, Ken Dolls, etc.
  • Crayons,Colored Pencils, and Markers
  • Interactive crib toys/musicals
  • DVDs, books, magazines, video games
  • Pretend play – i.e. kitchen, baby dolls (plastic), tools, etc.
  • Animals, dinosaurs, people figures, etc.
  • Super hero action figures
  • Lego’s ® and Lego kits
  • Cars and trucks
  • Craft and bead kits
  • Pop-up toys (cause and effect)
  • UNO cards and board games
  • Infant Rattles/ Teething Toys

Learn more about Toys for Tots HERE | Make a monetary donation HERE

 

 

 

Nov. 28, 2019

Clean Up After the Holidays in No Time

The holidays are a time for reflection and love--surrounding yourself with your chosen family and creating new memories.  But for many hosts and hostesses the holiday season also comes with the unwanted quality of stress.  Check out these tips that’ll make your kitchen cleanup faster and easier when you host, giving you more time to enjoy family and friends.

Plan a Potluck

Let your guests share the fun and bring dishes to share. Then make sure they take home their serving bowls and platters, which will cut down on dishes to wash and put away.

Set Up a Soaking Station

Soak pots and pans as soon as you transfer food to platters. But instead of filling the sink with soaking pots, designate a small trashcan as the soaking spot. Fill it will soapy water and dirty pots, and hide it under a sink or in a mudroom. That way, your sink is free throughout the evening to clean as you go and rinse dishes on the way to the dishwasher.

Empty Fridge

Start your holiday with a clean slate, which will make the inevitable mess less daunting than piling clutter onto clutter. Before beginning Thanksgiving prep, pick up depressing home clutter and clean out your fridge to make room for ingredients and leftovers. If possible, designate a shelf for Thanksgiving food, which should be empty when you start your meal, then filled with leftovers when you’re finished. In a week, clean out that shelf again. Make soup from leftover meat and veggies, and then freeze. Compost wilted greens. Toss old dairy products.

Line Garbage Cans

Double- or triple-line garbage cans, which saves time when the cleaning campaign begins. After you toss a trash bag, there’s another waiting for action. 

Pump Up the Music

Up-tempo music will give you a second wind for cleaning. So turn off the soothing dinner tunes and get rocking with a cleaning playlist.

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Don't let the holidays stress you out!  Get the most out of your gathering by planning ahead and using a couple of useful tricks. Any other tricks that help you tackle gatherings with ease? Share them below!

Nov. 21, 2019

3 Ways to Lower Your Winter Energy Bill

Cozying up in a warm house is my most beloved winter activity, but long after the holiday cookies are gone, I'm left with soul-crushing energy bills. The average monthly residential electricity bill in Massachusetts is $94, which is actually one of the lowest in the country. It's certainly easy to feel the pinch of utility bills when you add in water and heating costs (The MA Department of Public Utilities estimates heating costs for this winter for a residential customer using the average amount of fuel for each particular fuel type will be $983 for natural gas and $2,359 for heating oil).

You can reduce energy usage and trim your bills with these tips:

1. Check heating filters

A dirty filter will make your heating system work harder and use more energy (which means it will cost you more). You can extend the life of your heater and cut costs just by changing your filter once a month and having your unit serviced once a year. It’s a small investment for huge year-on-year savings.

2. Set your water heater to 120°

Most water heaters default to 140°F, but many households can still get plenty of warm water when lowering the temperature to 120°F (or even 110°F in some cases). This single change can reduce your water heating costs by 10%.

3. Put ceiling fans to work

Ceiling fans can be as good at warming up rooms as cooling them. Simply change the direction of your ceiling fans so they rotate clockwise—most have a small switch to do so. This will cause air to be pushed upward, helping spread warm air throughout the room.