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.

Nov. 14, 2019

How to Tell if a Home Has Good Bones

The term “good bones” has become synonymous with opportunity when it comes to buying a home in Greater Boston. A house with good bones is a solid structure with good systems that allows a buyer to renovate the interiors and make improvements to create the ideal living space. However, the term can be thrown around too loosely: Is the home you’re considering really just a diamond in the rough, or is your realtor trying to make you feel better about buying a fixer upper? There are a few aspects of a home you will want to examine closely in order to determine whether it is worth the hype.

Foundation

 

For a home to truly have good bones, a solid foundation is non-negotiable. Problem foundations can be costly to fix, and they can cause problems with other elements of the home, such as buckling walls, sinking floors and cracked ceilings. As you evaluate the sturdiness of a home, look for the signs of foundation problems, such as horizontal cracks in the walls or concrete floors, uneven floors, sticking doors and off-kilter walls. If you like a home but are worried about the foundation, you can call in an inspector to determine if the warning signs are cosmetic or true indicators of a bad foundation.

Structure

Moving up from the foundation, the home should have a strong stud and joist system. Many homeowners wonder about the benefits of metal versus wood studs; both have their advantages and disadvantages. If the home’s interior support system is made of wood, the wood should be free of water, termite or fire damage. Metal studs and joists should be rust free and shouldn’t show any signs of warping or buckling. A great sign for the structure is if it was built with insulated concrete form (ICF) construction. ICF blocks are strong and durable, and they eliminate the problems that can come with metal or wood construction. ICF blocks are fire, water, disaster and termite resistant, and they don’t release harmful substances, like volatile organic compounds, to degrade indoor air quality. On top of that, ICF blocks insulate a building to lower energy bills and lower sound pollution.

Systems

Repairing or replacing systems can be costly, and a home with good bones will eliminate this potential for sinking capital. That means that HVAC, plumbing and electrical wiring are up to date, up to code, and free from any damage or deficiencies. The roof shouldn’t need to be replaced or repaired in the near future, and it should be constructed from a durable material. Windows should be leak free and in good repair. The home should have weatherproofed windows and doors to keep home-energy bills low and to keep the home comfortable on the hottest summer days and the coldest winter nights.

Layout

Often, when people refer to the bones of a home, they’re referring to the layout. A home with good bones will have a layout that makes sense. There will be a natural flow to the rooms, and rooms that are used in conjunction with one another will be conveniently located. For example, the kitchen will lead naturally to the dining room, and bathrooms will be conveniently located near the bedrooms. There won’t be awkward design features, such as doors that open into one another, awkwardly small rooms or architectural features that divide a main living space.

Location

Location doesn’t have anything to do with a home’s “bones,” but a home usually won’t have great potential if it doesn’t have a great location. That means the home should be well-placed on its lot, and windows will make the most of the home’s views. The home also should be situated in such a way that it maximizes sun exposure. Finally, if a home is located on a busy road, near an eyesore or near a loud public venue, those are all challenges that typically won’t be overcome by great design or an expensive remodel.

Ultimately, a home with “good bones” has great potential. Its main structure and systems are in good repair, so homeowners won’t have to worry about costly home improvements. The home is well designed to be comfortable and functional. When a home has good bones, homeowners can focus on making cosmetic renovations they’ll enjoy to create a home they love that will have a strong resale value in the future.

 

Corey Tyner is a writer and business owner who helps sell your house fast. He is the founder of Cash land buyers Arizona and Austin Fast Sell Home Buyers. As one of the top real estate investors in Arizona with over a decade of experience, his work has been featured on Bigger Pockets, Real Estate Agent Magazine, and several other mainstream real estate investor publications.

Nov. 7, 2019

Get to Know your Local Bookstores

     With holiday shopping upon us in Boston and the surrounding areas, I thought I'd take the opportunity to bring a little more local cheer to my blog.  One of my favorite things about living in the Greater Boston area is the commitment to local shops, artists, restaurants, etc. And on that note, it shouldn't be a surprise that New England's smartest city has some of the most unique and wonderful book stores around.

     There are still a bunch of us that love the feeling that comes with holding, smelling, and embracing a real page-filled book in a bookstore--especially during the holiday season, there is something about books that makes me feel warm. Just like the books themselves, these local book stores have irresistible charm that pulls you in. Some have cafes, some host events, some are so small that you wonder how they fit books in them at all--but each of these independent book stores are worth a visit.

Newtonville Books

This sweet little literary paradise is tucked away in an unsuspecting location in Newton Centre.  Really, if you don't know it's there, you may never see it.  The store itself isn't gimmicky; it hosts book readings and events and has a small trinket shop up front, but the vibe of this space is magical.  The front desk is literally made out of books, many of the shelves move and shift as event space is needed, and sliding ladders reminiscent of Beauty and the Beast line the exterior shelves.  The current iteration of the store also came about when it was purchased by the owners, who had fallen in love there years before while it was owned by someone else.  When that owner decided to sell, they knew they had to keep it going.

Papercuts J.P.

Papercuts JP Storefront

This is definitely the smallest of the book stores on the list (it's also the newest, having been opened in 2014) but it packs a punch. Because of the tighter footprint of the store itself, I think the owners have chosen to be more selective with what they carry.  The owners also started a printing press so that they could have more control over what they carry, and often publish smaller works by local authors.  They don't have many events, but they more than make up for it for their carefully selected works on the radical-leaning spectrum.

Brookline Booksmith

Located in the heart of Coolidge Corner, Brookline Booksmith is a local mainstay which opened in 1961. The massive, two-level store is "dedicated to the fine art of browsing." The first floor is stacked top to bottom with new books across all fields, and the used book cellar downstairs is a great for getting your favorite books at discounted prices. They also have an amazing gift area in the store filled with stationary, handcrafted jewelry and journals, it’s a great place to purchase thoughtful gifts.

Harvard Book Store

This gem in Harvard Square has been around since 1932, when it opened to sell used and bargain general interest books. Today, they have a wide variety of used, new and bargain books for sale. Harvard Book Store also has a print-on-demand machine that can print million of public domain or print-on-demand books right in the store, which is just pretty cool.  But the best thing about this particular store is their carefully curated schedule of book readings and signings, many of which are free.  The store is a huge advocate for the Cambridge and Harvard community; it's exactly what you would expect of an independent book store.

Oct. 24, 2019

To Stage or Not to Stage: Why Staging and Professional Photography is a Game Changer

A few weeks ago, The Boston Globe published an article decrying the overuse of staging in the Boston real estate market, and in doing so portrayed agents who express the importance of staging as nothing more than uncreative monkeys just parroting quick one-liners like "buyers have no imagination".

But here's the reality:  in today's digital age, 74% of all home buyers use the internet as part of their home search, and if you look at the demographic under 37 years old, it jumps to a whopping 92%. In fact, 44% of home buyers indicate that the first impression of a potential home is made online. That means that listing photos are a critical factor — they will often determine how quickly your home sells and at what price. This isn’t only about homes ranging above $1 million; this applies to all homes priced at $200,000 or more (which is basically everything in the Boston, Brookline, and Newton markets). Primarily, this is done by increasing the number of buyers who remain interested in the home after viewing online. Yes, a good photo can help to get a homebuyer through the door, but perhaps more importantly — bad photography or staging can immediate dissuade a potential buyer from even attending an Open House.

I'm here to double down on my insistence of the value of staging with a case study.

Two weeks ago, my business partner and I closed on the sale of a single family home in Newton for $3,350,000, blowing the community's average price per square foot of $546 out of the water--an even larger feat given that the home is 5,445 square feet. When you look at closed sales for 5000-6000 square foot homes in Newton over the last 3 months, the price per square foot drops to $434. We closed this property at $614/square foot.

Now that's not the whole story. I forgot to mention: the house was outdated and needed aesthetic improvements in the kitchen and bathrooms, and even a couple of bedrooms. So how did we do it? Superior marketing, which starts with two things:  staging and professional photography.

Before Staging & Photography After Staging & Photography


The survey also found that homes that are staged stay on the market for a significantly less amount of time than those that are not. Our case study from above is another solid example of this. Comparable homes are typically on market for ~120 days where the home we listed was on market just ~90 days from listing until closing.

Not every home is going to have a hefty budget for staging, but even small adjustments can make a big difference. A survey done by the National Association of Realtors of buyers' agents reports that 43% believed that the price increase for homes that are staged can be anywhere from 1%-20%. If you are selling a home for $800,000 even a modest 2.5% boost to your sales price is worth $20,000, and the cost to stage such a home (from my experience) is anywhere from $3,000-$7,000. Virtual staging can be done for free by some agencies such as Unlimited Sotheby’s International Realty, and others offer it at a small cost of $250-$500.

Here's an example of another job where home buyers were having trouble envisioning how to use a couple of the rooms, and couldn't tell how their furniture would quite fit. Virtual staging and professional staging helped paint that picture for them in a tangible and clean way. Each of the photos below were taken of the same room by professional photographers, but you can see the difference staging makes:

Before Staging Virtual Staging Professional Staging

Now if you're going to spend the money to stage a home then it's surely for nothing if you're not going to showcase it with high quality, professional photography.

A first impression is essential. If home buyers aren’t sold on images of a property they see online, chances are they will move on. Bad photos will affect their perception of a home prior to seeing it, and may prevent them from visiting in person. A good photograph will have a positive emotion associated with the home. In the event you still need to live in your home while listing it, keep this in mind: bad furniture and design can often be more detrimental than no furniture and design.

--

Special thank you to Silk Purse Designs and Laura Graziano Staging & Interiors who did the staging work on the two projects from this post.

Oct. 17, 2019

Tips for Renters in a Competitive Market

1. Understand what you can afford.  Some people are better at managing their finances and stretching budgets in specific areas based on their needs.  So even if you have a very specific budget in mind and sense of what you can afford, this can hinder your search if it comes to odds with what landlords see as appropriate for your given income.  Here's a hint:  take your annual gross salary and divide it by 36; this will give you the landlord/agent perspective on what you are "qualified" for.  The basic premise is that it is not financially stable to spend more than 1/3 of your monthly salary on rent.  So, if you make $60,000/year, you are qualified to rent a $1665 apartment by yourself.  If you're eyes are bigger than your wallet, get ready to have a co-signor on board.

2. Prepare your documents ahead of time. If you've ever rented in the Greater Boston area before, then you know that you have to be quick on the draw! Some rental listings don't last through the day once showings start, so you have to be prepared to make a quick decision if you see a unit you like. Part of beating others to the punch will be having all of your documents prepared to submit within an hour of seeing the unit.  Your agent can advise you on specifics, but what is generally needed for a completed application package is:  two most recent pay-stubs, your credit report, the application itself, a copy of your photo ID, and a deposit check equivalent to one month's rent.  

  • Bonus hint #1:  if you are within two weeks of your proposed move-in date, make sure the check is certified funds of some sort (a money order, bank check, or cashier's check).
  • Bonus hint #2: have your agent share the application with you online to fill out as much as possible beforehand (when you choose a property, all you have then is to fill in the details and sign).
  • Bonus hint #3: this includes guarantor forms! Make sure your co-signor (if needed) is available to fill out any necessary paperwork and can also consent to a credit check and provide a copy of their photo ID. This is usually the part of the process that gets slowed down the most and causes people to miss out on apartments they like.

3. Have money set aside. Moving is expensive.  It's a bummer, but it's better to brace yourself early and prepare if possible.  Sure, it is possible to find a steal on a very rare occasion.  Sometimes you can find a place with no fee, or a landlord that doesn't need last month's rent...but you don't want to find your dream apartment and realize you don't have the move-in funds for it.  Be prepared to have First Month's Rent, Last Month's Rent, Security Deposit, and a Broker's Fee for your new place.  One of those checks will be due with the application, and the remaining funds will most likely need to be provided at lease-signing (which can be as quick as two days later).  That $1665 apartment you rented? You're going to want to have $6,660 squirreled away to be safe.  If one of those checks isn't need, then consider yourself lucky!

Posted in Renting, Tips & Tricks
Oct. 10, 2019

Featured Listing: 1 Rockland Place

Pristine Upper Falls Home with 8 Off-Street Parking Spaces

If you're one of the many buyers looking for a turn-key property in Newton, you have surely seen the lack of inventory.  With this listing coming to market, brought to you exclusively by Krystyn Elek & Margie Kern of Unlimited Sotheby's International Realty in Newton Centre, at least one new buyer will find that home they have been looking for. This captivating and delightful Victorian in Upper Falls presents a wonderful opportunity for those seeking a home with gorgeous detail & space. The current owners have gone to great lengths during their 22-year stewardship to restore & improve upon the structure.The Land is beautifully designed, offering a fully Fenced Yard, Gardens & private Zen area. Handsome Foyer, Staircase & 9' Ceilings on the 1st floor with a beautiful Living Room, gracious Dining Room, large Eat-In-Kitchen, Pantry & Half Bath. Kitchen leads out to the mahogany Screened Porch, partial wrap-around deck & access to the Land, Parking & Garage. 2nd floor features 4 Bedrooms, an Office & Full Bath. The 3rd floor offers a finished room & amazing potential to finish a substantial area.The Roof, Gutters, Copper Downspouts, Front & Back Exterior Decks, Porch & Screened Porch, Water & Sewer Lines, Electric Service, Heat & AC have all been updated, as well as some windows.

If you think this could be the right fit for you, call Krystyn today at 843-209-5044.

Oct. 3, 2019

Featured Listing: 73 Beecher Place

Spacious Newton Centre Condo with 2 Off-Street Parking & Laundry

If you're one of the many buyers looking for a turn-key property in Newton, you have surely seen the lack of inventory.  With this listing coming to market, brought to you exclusively by Krystyn Elek & Chris Masterman of Unlimited Sotheby's International Realty in Newton Centre, at least one new buyer will find that home they have been looking for. This pristine townhome boasts nearly 1700 square feet across three levels of living, and a charming wrap-around porch. Nestled on a cul-de-sac next to The Cohen Conservation Area in Newton Centre, this 4-Bed/2.5-Bath strikes a perfect balance of size and location, just minutes to Bowen Elementary, Newton Centre, The Chestnut Hill Mall, Wegman’s, and local bus routes. The first floor features a half-bath, and an open-concept kitchen & living room with breakfast bar and dining nook, which leads directly to the back deck. The kitchen itself plays host to modern finishes of granite and stainless steel, with traditional shaker-style cabinets. On the second floor, you will find three generously-sized bedrooms and a full bathroom. The third level of living was converted into a spacious master suite with en-suite bathroom and large closets. Finally, two off-street parking spaces are located behind the home with direct access to the large, unfinished basement. 

If you think this could be the right fit for you, call Krystyn today at 843-209-5044.

Sept. 26, 2019

Featured Listing: 18 Hale Street

Living Room_18HaleSt

Spacious Upper Falls Condo with Off-Street Parking & In-Unit Laundry

If you're one of the many buyers looking for a turn-key property in Boston, you have surely seen the lack of inventory.  With this listing returning to market, brought to you exclusively by Krystyn Elek & Chris Masterman of Unlimited Sotheby's International Realty in Newton Centre, at least one new buyer will find that home they have been looking for.

This beautifully-updated 3 bedroom plus office sits on the top two floors of a two-family condominium building in the Historic Newton Upper Falls neighborhood. During the day, the unit is flooded with sunlight, showcasing its gracious open floor plan, shining wood floors, and large kitchen with granite countertops, stainless steel appliances, and lovely shaker-style maple cabinets. The living room and dining room flow nicely from the kitchen, making the home perfect for entertaining. Rounding out the first floor are two sizable bedrooms and a full bathroom. Upstairs, you will find an oversized master bedroom with plenty of space for an additional seating area, and a spacious home office or media room.

The home also plays host to ample basement storage and two-car tandem parking. Enjoy time on the Charles River, shopping, and a burgeoning local restaurant scene, or spend some quality time relaxing on your lovely front porch. With easy access to the MBTA, the express bus, Route 9, I-95, and I-90, this is a commuter’s dream.

If you think this could be the right fit for you, call Krystyn today at 843-209-5044.

Open Houses will be hosted this weekend on Saturday and Sunday from 11:00am to 12:30pm.

June 27, 2019

Moving? What goes in your 'Open First' Box?

If only moving were as fun as movies and TV shows made it seem--sure, no furniture yet so let's just order a pizza and crack open a bottle of wine and lay on the ground in bliss.  Too bad the struggle of that first wave of unpacking goes without note!  Seriously, when 453 boxes get stacked in your living room at the end of an exhausting day, where do you even start?  I was always a proponent of packing by room; there's a box for the bathroom, boxes for the kitchen, etc. but it all still gets to be such a mess.  

Enter the 'Open First' Box.

You can still roughly organize your packing by room if that's what works for you, but this little hack can save you a lot of time and frustration.  You can even make a 'Open Day Two' Box to further ease the stress. The first day of settling in will tire you out, and you’re going to need access to practical things to get you through it. Make sure these two boxes stand out to you, as well.  Cover them in colorful tape, or pack them in a different type of container altogether. 

Here are the must-have items to pack in your own 'Open First' box. It's a combo of kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom items.

  • Mugs
  • Non-perishable snacks
  • Paper towel roll(s)
  • All-purpose cleaning spray
  • A twist-off bottle of something fun to celebrate! (or make sure you pack the bottle opener if there's a cork)
  • Soap, shampoo, and conditioner 
  • Toilet paper
  • Shower curtain and liner
  • Towel 
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Deodorant
  • Sheets, a blanket, and pillows
  • T-shirt for sleeping
  • A phone charger 
  • An extension cord

Now that day one has ended successfully, you can get a good night sleep and get going bright and early on day two.  These items will ensure you’re getting a good start to the rest of your unpacking, and will help get off on the right side of the bed.  For your 'Open Day Two' box, make sure you have:

  • A comfortable change of clothes
  • Instant coffee or bottled cold brew
  • Dish soap
  • Sponge
  • Comfortable shoes
  • Extra cash for tipping movers

Everything beyond that can be a free-for-all.  Good luck!  Comment below if you have any moving day tips or must-haves in your 'Open First' box!

June 20, 2019

Beginner's Guide to Selling Your Home

Selling your home should not just mean hiring a realtor to stick a sign out front, even in an areas as low on inventory as Boston, Brookline, and Newton.  Sure, it's a seller's market and just putting the home on MLS and waiting will eventually lead to something for you, but getting top dollar in the shortest amount of time possible requires some preparation and the involvement of a highly-skilled agent.  As a seller, you can start with three simple steps:

1. Repair. Over the course of your ownership, I'm sure you've gotten use to all sorts of creaking and cracking on the property.  The purchase process is delicate, especially when inspections are involved, so you want to take care of all those little things you've noticed over the years.  Fix the crooked doors and cracked walls, landscape the front of the home, and paint anything that looks a little dingy. The property will photograph better and you won't have buyers distracted by inconsequential details.

2. Neutralize. Replace any bold color choices or "statement pieces" in your home with something more neutral—beiges, tans, and whites. Repainting and reflooring will make everything look fresh and new, and help prospective buyers imagine all the possibilities. You want buyers to be able to see themselves in the home, and too much personalization can make that harder to do.

3. De-Clutter. You're going to have to start packing boxes and de-cluttering eventually, so make it part of the selling process rather than a reaction to an impending move.  Throw away dated items or extra "stuff" you've been keeping around for the right moment.  This will help the home present in its best light both in photographs and during showings. Hide any cords that hang out, and tuck as much away as possible.