Real Estate

Jason Robie: Spring cleaning

By Jason Robie

Don't look now, but the start of next week is forecast to have temperatures stretching up into the upper 60s and low 70s. Turns out old Punxsutawney Phil was a bit off this year. Even if it took us right weeks to get to spring, we'll take it when we can get it. And now that we're well on our way to warmer days, open windows and bare legs in shorts, it's also time to hunker down in the house and do a little spring cleaning.

By now, you know I'm a bit of a neat freak (at least on paper) so you can imagine that I don't mind this time of year. I, of course, take this time to cull out closets and storage areas of those un-needed items. But I also love the ability to open the windows, let the fresh air in and flush out the whole house of that stale winter "ick." I'm not saying our home is filthy but you all know the feeling I'm talking about. It is the ability to move furniture, scrub bathrooms, clean floors and dust every flat surface in the home. The after of these projects is so worth the during.

Let's review a few focus areas that will make a difference in the freshness of your home.

A neat little trick I learned (by asking a friendly woman at the grocery store) for reviving rock-solid brown sugar is to put it in the microwave with a small glass of water. This allows the moisture to wriggle its way back into the sugar and make it useful again for scooping out to make yummy cookies. Another great water trick is to dilute some vinegar in it and put that in the microwave for three to four minutes. When the bell rings resist your popcorn-induced, Pavlovian instinct to open the door and let it just sit there for a few minutes. The insides will be nice and steamy and ready for you to wipe it clean with little to no effort. Give this a try.

I mentioned dusting above and it is one of my least favorite things to do. Typically, this falls in the list of things my honey handles while I don't mind cleaning the bathrooms and vacuuming. Growing up, we always had some sort of aerosol spray of dusting "stuff." I think the major effect it had was dampening the cloth which made the dust stick. Today, we prefer to use either a damp cloth (water works wonders) or even a fabric softener sheet from the laundry room. Those things spread their yummy smell throughout the house and tend to do a great job of getting the dust to stick. They are also inexpensive so using them to clean the baseboards and window blinds gives them extra function and usefulness.

Although seemingly obvious, we tend to leave the dusting until after all the ruckus has died down. There's no point in dusting before you vacuum or clean the floors. This will most certainly kick up additional debris and you'll have to do it all over again.

When it comes to the floors, you may have slacked a bit (like me) during the winter and just did enough to make it presentable. Now that you've got the cleaning bug, take the extra time to clear out rooms, move furniture and get everything possible out of the way. Not only does this make cleaning the floor (or vacuuming) much easier and faster, it allows you to clean up all those little piles you kicked under the couch during the winter. Or is that just me?

"While you are in the mood of cleaning the floors, I encourage folks to truly clean the carpets this time of year," Badger Realty agent Brendan Battenfelder said. "Whether you rent a machine yourself of hire a pro, you'll be amazed (and slightly horrified) at the difference it makes."

One thing to keep in mind, especially when it comes to bathrooms and kitchens, is to allow the product you are using to do its job. When I clean our bathrooms, I work my way through them initially and just spray all the surfaces with the cleaner. This means that by the time I get back to the first one, the solution has had a couple minutes to work its magic. This helps loosen the icky-ness and makes my job a thousand times easier. There's even products like Borax that you can toss in the toilet and let it sit for a couple hours. This helps get rid of those lime scale rings from the water and will make your potty pristine.

Spring cleaning, as I'm sure you've heard me say before, is one of my favorite cleaning times of the year. OK, let's be honest, its my only favorite cleaning time of the year. I love the sense of renewal and I love the feeling (and smell) the first time we walk back into the house after being gone for a few hours. You will enjoy the feeling of accomplishment and the knowledge that you can spend the rest of the weekend enjoying the beauty of a New Hampshire spring day.


Yard appeal for selling success: With spring’s arrival, it’s time to make the outside of your house look as impressive as the inside

By Barbara Ballinger
CTW Features

Almost everyone knows great curb appeal is a major come-on in selling a house, but some of the projects that inspire the biggest oohs and aahs in a yard — an all-sod lawn, mature trees, water features and fancy outdoor kitchens — can add up quickly.

Yet, there's so much that can be done to make a landscape appealing both to potential buyers and for the homeowners themselves at an affordable price point.

Here's a round-up of suggestions to consider as days grow longer and flowers pop out their colorful heads:

Get a snapshot of what looks good and what doesn't
Sometimes it's hard to be objective about your own property. Doug Burnett, president at Burnett Realty in Des Moines, Iowa, thinks the best way to see your front yard clearly is to head to the street and snap photos. You can head to the farthest point in the back yard to do the same.

"The photos will show you what's really there — such as toys all over the yard, dead grass patches, a fence tilting, old beds filled with weeds and thinned out mulch," he said.

Walks and driveways with cracked pavers and missing gravel are additional eyesores. Tackle problems first — before you add anything new, he adds.

Incorporate a variety of elements
Just as you tweak or remodel your indoor rooms to include all the essentials, do so outside. Burnett says most buyers look for a lush green lawn; bushes and trees with different textures and heights and also some that remain green all year; handsome hardscaping for walks and the driveway; some color from flowers and berries; an architectural feature or two such as a gazebo, pergola, fireplace or fire pit, fence, bench, bird feeder and maybe a water feature. A water feature needn't be big and expensive. Something as simple as a sculptural heron or other bird that recirculates water will look nice and add a pleasant sound.

In making selections, pay attention to scale, color and texture; and have some be able to do double duty for cost effectiveness. The number of flowers and bushes, for instance, should relate to the scale of the house, its style and price and shouldn't be too elaborate or colorful, or they might resemble a shopping mall's landscape rather than a residential one.

Spruce up an area for outdoor living
After remodeling kitchens and bathrooms, one of the best investments homeowners can make is to fix up an existing outdoor living area, such as a deck, patio, terrace or screened porch.. Besides being sure the area looks neat and clean-sometimes by repainting, re-staining or at least power washing the surfaces to get rid of mildew and dirt, be sure all its furnishings look new. Complete the setting with the same accessories you use indoors — rugs, cushions, pillows, candles and lighting — but ones that will stand up to temperature changes.

Remember lighting as the finishing touch
Lighting is among the most underutilized but highest payback features you can install, says Burnett, and it's another relatively inexpensive addition these days. He suggests up-lighting a few trees and corners of the house rather than lighting everything so it resembles an airport runway. He also suggests putting the lights on timers or motion sensors for the biggest cost savings.


Property of the Week: Saco River Run offering multiple homes

Just off Route 302 in Center Conway, near where the Saco River curves close to the road, is Saco River Run, one of the Mount Washington Valley's most inviting residential communities.

There's been a recent surge in interest in the development, according to listing agent Brendan Battenfelder of Badger Realty.

"While buyers have the option of using their own plans, the builder/developer has focused on what we're hearing buyers want: reasonably priced, move-in ready, new ranch homes with the convenience of one floor living," Battenfelder said. "Buyers can also choose the lot they like — there are 39 lots in Phase One, with nearly a quarter of those lots sold — and then they can customize their home with all the finishes and details so it's uniquely theirs."

Up, up and away: What rising home values and flattening rents mean to buyers, sellers, and renters

By Erik J. Martin
CTW Features

Over the past few years, real estate headlines have been dominated by news of rents rising out of control in many markets. Yet new research shows rents are flattening; in fact, rent appreciation stabilized at an annual growth rate of 1.5 percent, clocking in at less than half the pace rents increased by last year, based on data published in Zillow's December Real Estate Market Reports. Today's median monthly rent payment is $1,403.

By contrast, home values grew 6.8 percent during the past year, per the same report, which found that the median home value in America is now $193,800 — a notch below the highest value recorded in April 2007.

"The trends that helped define the 2016 housing market are having an effect on the start of the 2017 market," said Svenja Gudell, chief economist for Zillow in Seattle. "Home values and rents have been trending in opposite directions for the past several months. It's great news for current owners but could cause hardships for buyers. And for renters, it reduces the pressure to purchase in order to lock down a steady mortgage payment."

Indeed, judging by the aforementioned numbers, common sense would tell you that renters should continue leasing, prospective buyers should sit out and wait for prices to drop, and owners eager to sell their homes should list lickety-split.

Not so fast, some experts say that logic may or may not apply, depending on each group's circumstances.

"Flattening rents should allow for more renters to save for a down payment and closing costs on a home," said Jamie Slavin, mortgage sales manager for Bellco Credit Union in Greenwood Village, Colo. "And mortgage interest rates are still very low. With home prices projected to continue their increase, renters and applicants who have been considering purchasing should actually get off the sidelines before rates and prices go higher."

Additionally, owners have to remember that unloading their homes in a seller's market can have repercussions.

"People looking to list their homes to take advantage of the market would probably need to pay more for the next home they would look to purchase," Slavin said.

Hence, instead of being in a rush to list their properties, "this could lead more owners opting for home equity loans and lines of credit to pursue renovations so that they can get the top dollar for their homes when they do sell."

Peter Vekselman, real estate investor and principal with RBP Investments in Atlanta, on the other hand, says prospective purchasers may want to sit out a few quarters.

"As more homes come onto the market and more new construction kicks in, prices should level off toward mid-year or fall, and that could mean a savings difference of several thousands of dollars," Vekselman said. "Buyers will have to weigh the benefits of postponing a purchase to get a lower price as opposed to paying a higher rate of interest in the long-term."

Ryan Hoffman, broker with Watervliet, N.Y.-headquartered Leverage Real Estate LLC, said it's important for buyers, sellers and renters to understand their local market.

"A broad spectrum of data from Zillow's national index is not enough. Buyers should use this information as a starting point to compare to their immediate market," says Hoffman. "Doing research in your local neighborhood can reveal areas that lean more toward buyers. Not every market is a seller's market, and there could be nuances at play that could save buyers money — such as certain style homes selling for much less than other types."

Renters, meanwhile, "may find it financially beneficial to wait and see where prices shakeout, especially with less housing supply available today," Hoffman said.

Looking ahead, Gudell believes home prices will continue to head north as 2017 continues, with rent appreciation maintaining its slowdown.

"We will see continued high demand for housing, especially with many millennials starting to reach the home buying age and tight inventory lingering," she said. "These two forces will keep home prices rising, albeit at a slower rate than we saw in 2016."