Julie Starr

Time to Winterize Your Home!

Yes, it's that time of year again when your friendly neighborhood realtors remind you to make sure your home is properly winterized. Although we haven't yet seen snow in the Northampton area, history suggests we can count on it's arrival at some point in the not-too-distant future. It makes sense to have your ducks in a row before the first big snow storm and low temperatures descend upon us. To that end, I include the following article from the Realtor Association of the Pioneer Valley website. It provides a thorough laundry list of how to prepare your home for winter.

Avoid Costly Repairs With These Winter Maintenance Must-Dos

Failure to prepare your home for the upcoming winter months can have dire consequences on your wallet, as well as pose a safety hazard for others. Even those in warmer climates will want to be careful this time of year: Everyone can benefit from an annual maintenance tune-up, and even in the South a winter frost can come as a nasty surprise.

Fortunately, there are some relatively easy preventative measures you can implement in the fall months to help ensure a smooth winter. The list below provides a few of the low-cost measures you can take now that will save you from the hassles of repairs and from the cost of winter issues.

Winterize pipes and outdoor spigots. As the temperatures start to dip below freezing, any water that is exposed to the lower temperatures will freeze. When water freezes, it expands; water left in a hose has nowhere to expand to. The copper piping that feeds the water to the hose will eventually split because of this expansion.

 

The easy fix here is to remove all the hoses and make sure that there is no water left in them. Also, for more protection, you can place a foam box over the spigot.

Additionally, if you live in a place where the temperatures drop dramatically or stay cold for an extended period of time, you need to make sure the pipes inside the home are protected. This is very important if your home has a crawl space underneath the house with exposed pipes. Simple and inexpensive foam pipe covers can accomplish this.

Clean roof gutters. If your home has gutters you need to make sure that you inspect how they are attached to the roof and that they are clear of debris. You want to make sure no dams or clogs are created. The best time to check is after all the fall leaves have dropped and then again during the spring thaw. Cleaning the drains will help ensure that the drains do not get ripped off from the roof and that water will not back up, which can cause a leaky roof.

Remove foliage and potential tree hazards. Trees and foliage provide great shade for your home in the summer and help keep the heat at bay. However, you want to make sure that you do not have branches and other foliage over your roof or potentially covering electric lines, cable, gas or any other cables you may have running to your home. It is easiest to trim back or remove any potential problems in the fall. Snow on branches can weigh them down and potentially cause utility problems or even roof damage.

Inspect your furnace. Winter typically requires the use of a heater. Schedule an inspection of your furnace to make sure it is venting properly and will not be obstructed by winter weather. Check and/or replace your carbon monoxide alarms, which is a low-cost fix that may just save your life.

Dryer exhaust.  Much like your furnace, inspect your dryer vent. Make sure no lint is backing up the exhaust and that winter weather will not cause any issues. A backed-up exhaust can lead to house fires.

These few safety precautions will help ensure that the winter months pass safely and that your home is protected. Take a few minutes and make your home as safe as possible for you and your family.

Northampton Annual Toy Exchange Is Happening Next Weekend!

It's wonderful to live in a community like Northampton, which values the idea of repurposing. Between local clothing swaps, consignment stores, the re-center and local recycling events - we Northamptonites (and other local communities) like to do our part in the effort to reduce/reuse/recycle. This time of year where we celebrate our connections to one another, it's so great to be able to pass things along to others who might benefit from them. To that end - the Seventh Annual Toy Exchange is almost upon us! It will be held on December 9th at Smith Vocational High School, 80 Locust Street, Northampton. Toy donations will be collected in the school cafeteria from 4:00 PM-8:00 PM on Friday, December 8, and will be available to the public free of charge at 10:00 AM Saturday morning.

Do you have some toys to donate or exchange?

Northampton's Annual Holiday Toy Exchange is scheduled for Friday December 8 and Saturday December 9. Eight years ago a small event started at Nonotuck School where friends exchanged toys at holiday time, and has now grown into a city-wide event where hundreds of people contribute toys and other gifts. Hundreds of other people come to the Smith Vocational High School cafeteria to take home gifts for their children.

Here's the info if you'd like to donate something: 

Donated items must be clean, in working order and complete (no missing pieces). The following items are sought: musical instruments; action
figures/dolls; books, games & puzzles; model kits & building toys; arts/craft kits & creative learning toys; cars & trucks; outdoor toys &
structures; stuffed animals; electronic toys; video games & DVDs; and baby and preschool toys.
 
Collected toys are offered to toy donors and residents referred by community agencies early on Saturday morning and to the general public from 10:00 AM-11:00 AM. Participants are asked to leave children safely at home in the care of others on Saturday.
 
The Toy Exchange is coordinated by the Northampton Department of Public Works and the Reuse Committee and is co-sponsored by the Northampton Public Schools/CFCE via grants from the MA Department of Early Education.

 

Thinking About Buying vs. Renting?

The decision to buy a home is not one that is taken lightly by most. It is among the largest purchases (if not THE largest) one will make in their lifetime. Not everyone is in a position to buy vs rent. For this reason, as realtors in the Northampton area, we always suggest that a potential buyer start the process by speaking with their local bank or a mortgage broker to determine whether they can afford to buy and, if so, what purchase price is within their range.

To me, real estate has always made sense as a place to invest money. It seems less fickle than the stock market, and you have the added benefit of being able to live in and enjoy your home, while (hopefully) building equity. While the following piece from the Daily Hampshire Gazette uses the San Diego real estate market to make it's point about the benefits of home ownership - it is still a salient one. If you are in position to be able to buy a home vs. rent, it is an investment worth making. It's always a good idea to work with a knowledgeable buyer agent when purchasing a home. In this way, you are more likely to negotiate a fair price, and choose a home that has solid resale value. Read on for more about buying vs. renting.

Buy vs. rent: Can you afford to wait?

Buying a home is probably the biggest financial decision most of us will make. Dreamtime


By San Diego Tribune Staff
Thursday, November 09, 2017

Buying a home is probably the biggest financial decision most of us will make. While many variables factor into that decision, one key element is whether it makes more financial sense to buy a home rather than renting one.

According to industry experts, it depends on how long you plan on staying in a home.

“Given certain parameters, I can tell you that if you intend to be in a home for three to five years, it is almost always better to buy,” noted Matt Brady, a loan officer at Skyline Home Loans.

That’s because even though there is sizeable upfront expenditure when buying a home, you’ll be seeing the benefits after a few years.

Principal reduction is the amount paid on the cost of the home itself and not the interest. The idea is that by the time you plan on selling the home, you’ll have paid some of the cost of the house and will get more for it than you paid for, resulting in spending less over time than you would have renting a similar place.

Although home prices are high in San Diego — the median price is $535,000 for a home, $400,000 for a condo and $623,750 for new construction — area rent is also high and increasing. The median rent for a one-bedroom is currently $1,560; for a two-bedroom, it’s $2,020, according to the latest figures released by Apartment List, a national rental marketplace. That’s a 4.6 percent increase over last year.

Brady calculates the financial benefits of owning a home this way:

According to the National Association of Realtors, most people own a home for approximately nine years before selling. If a renter initially pays $2,200 for a two-bedroom home, after nine years, the rent will have increased to $3,000 at a 4 percent increase per year.

While the renter will have paid around $40,000 less in rent over those nine years than a buyer who purchased a $400,000 home, the owner’s home will have appreciated by about $200,000 in those nine years, Brady said. (And while no one can predict the future, most analysts assume that home prices will continue to rise and that San Diego will stay apace with the national average of a 4 percent annual increase).

The homeowner also will have paid down the mortgage by about $73,000 and had the added tax benefits of owning a home, which according to Brady would be about $40,000. In nine years, a buyer is ahead more than $225,000 from someone continuing to rent.

“The bottom line is unless you can rent the $400,000 house for $1,500, it makes much more sense to purchase it,” Brady said.

Buying a home is not for everyone. Renting is often less stressful and more flexible. But if you’re ready to settle into one place for a while, go over the numbers to see what works best for you.

___

 

 

 

Design Elements for Modern Homebuyers

As realtors, we are first-hand witnesses to the changing tides of desirable home design elements for home buyers. Seven years ago, when I became a realtor: granite and poured concrete were all the rage for kitchen counters, everyone seemed to be looking for an open concept living space, flat yards bested yards with any slope, and stainless appliances were a must-have. It's interesting to see preferences for certain types of layouts, paint colors, building materials, design elements and landscaping choices ebb and flow over time. I even notice that my personal preferences change, depending upon what I'm seeing more of. I've grown to love marble in kitchens and baths, but I can imagine that, over time, I might tire of their stark whiteness and required maintenance.

The following article from my favorite home and design blog, Apartment Therapy, talks about *modern* homebuyer preferences. While the Northampton area isn't overflowing with Sub Zero or Viking appliances, per se, I agree that the other elements of this article hold true.

 

What Modern Homebuyers Are Looking For (Hint: It's NOT Granite Countertops)

Brittney Morgan
Oct 25, 2017
 
(Image credit: Emma Fiala)
 
When looking at homes, we all have our own preferences for different home features—one person might want a huge, modern kitchen and another might not care about the kitchen as much as they care about having walk-in closets. But which features are most commonly used as selling points for homes?

Trulia pulled data from homes for sale on the site over the past year to see what design features are most popular for listers, pitting different features against each other. While some trends and design staples unsurprisingly won out—looking at you, subway tile and hardwood floors—others didn't necessarily come out on top, and some were just plain missing (seriously, no mention of granite countertops? I'm shocked!).

Here's how the most popular design features fared against each other.

Marble Countertops vs. Quartz Countertops

The Winner: Quartz countertops—they're more expensive up front, but marble countertops require more maintenance by comparison, which can add up.

Soaking Tubs vs. Claw Foot Tubs

The Winner: Soaking tubs. Claw foot tubs may seem more luxurious, but soaking tubs were far more popular according to the data.

Hardwood Floors vs. Carpet

The Winner: Hardwood floors. According to Trulia, real estate agents frequently see a strong preference for hardwood floors from clients, because they're easier to clean and long-lasting.

Basketweave Tile vs. Subway Tile

The Winner: Subway tile—although Trulia admits the numbers for each were so close, it's nearly a toss-up.

(Image credit: Hayley Kessner)

White Cabinets vs. Dark Cabinets

The Winner: White cabinets, and real estate agents point out that lighter, brighter cabinets can make a kitchen look bigger.

Sub-Zero Appliances vs. Viking Appliances

The Winner: Sub-Zero appliances—although, like the tile style toss-up, Viking appliances were just barely behind.

Bay Windows vs. Floor-to-Ceiling Windows

The Winner: Bay windows. Another close call, but bay windows were still the more popular selling point.

Electric Stoves vs. Gas Stoves

The Winner: Gas stoves—while they're more expensive initially, they save money in the long run as gas in general is less expensive than electricity. Gas stoves were far more popular than electric stoves among listings.

 

 

Expert Advice about Room Arrangement

As a realtor, I see many houses throughout the course of my work days. I always know when a design element, or room configuration, appeals to me. I don't, however, always know how to put together a space on my own, in a way that feels beautiful, functional, and/or satisfying. Thankfully, rarely does a day go by where great ideas from sites such as Apartment Therapy don't pop into my inbox. The following article from does just that, providing great ideas about room arrangement.

Design Master Class: 6 Pro Tricks to Know When Arranging Your Room

by Danielle Blundell for Apartment Therapy

Oct 23, 2017

One-click online shopping and free shipping has made the whole furniture buying process seem super easy and accessible. But what happens when you start unboxing pieces and realize you have absolutely no idea where to put them—or worse, whether they'll even work with the rest of what's in your room? Arranging furniture is really an art form, but the good news is there are several guidelines you can follow to help you figure out the process. Let these six expert tips be your starting point in setting up your ideal space, whether you're working with hand-me-downs or starting from scratch.

(Image credit: Christine Markatos Design)

Identify the functionality of your space and the focal point

For Christine Markatos Lowe of Christine Markatos Design, furniture planning starts with setting expectations for how you want to use a room and what feature, architectural or otherwise, you want to highlight. So basically, figure out what you're working with and try not to go against the architecture in your space. "Things like entertaining, TV watching or a great view all dictate the design and layout of a room in order to best serve those needs," says Markatos. Generally speaking, you want to arrange a room so that all occupants can sit down and see the focal point, whatever it may be, and be close enough to a hard surface (a coffee table, an end table) for setting down a drink.

 

For example, if there's a fireplace in a room, furniture should be arranged around it so that people can see the fire and feel its warmth. That usually means a sectional facing the fire, or two sofas facing each other in close proximity to the fire, which makes for easy conversation between the seated. Additional chairs or benches in the area should capitalize on whatever the focal point offers. If a room doesn't have a natural focal point, make one with a large piece of art, a media cabinet with your TV (plus art!) or a big shelving unit. If your focal point is on the diagonal, try orienting furniture that way.

You'll also want to consider how many people you need to comfortably accommodate, which will influence the kinds of, sizes and number of seating options you need. You may also want multiple seating areas to anchor a really large room.

In social spaces, move furniture away from the walls

It may sound counterintuitive, but the more breathing room your furniture has from the walls, the cozier your home will feel. Yes, you need to have the space to float pieces, says Donna Mondi of Donna Mondi Interior Design, but even a few inches can make a room feel more intimate.

Keep traffic flow in mind, however, when setting up your layout. You can angle furniture and cheat if off the wall but only if people can move around freely in the space.

(Image credit: Style by Emily Henderson)
 

Don't be afraid to break the rules a bit in private spaces

Generally, Mondi advises against putting furniture taller than the window sill in front of windows because this awkwardly cuts off a room in a weird way and obstructs the view. But often in bedrooms, particularly when there isn't a designated bed wall because there are lot of windows, it's okay to get creative.

"Sometimes the best solution is to have the window act as a feature wall and put the furniture against it," says Birgit Klein of Birgit Klein Interiors. "When dressed with a great curtain and a tailored bed, the furniture placement becomes intentional." Case in point, Emily Henderson's own master bedroom is anchored around a gorgeous set of inset windows, framed by draperies.

(Image credit: Design*Sponge)

When picking a piece of furniture, factor in finish, shape and how it will relate to the rest of the room

Look at all your furniture pieces together to make sure they complement each other yet the silhouettes and finishes are varied. "You can find the perfect sofa, end tables and cocktail table, but if they all are a bit leggy, it will look awkward," says Mondi. Same is true if you have a room full of just wood or just upholstered items. That's why this dining room from Design*Sponge works so well. You have the white built-in playing off the dark table, another wood tone for the bentwood dining chairs and the Eames-style end chair that introduces yet another finish and material to the space while visually referencing the white of the built-in. Of course, there are exceptions to this breadth of variety, but if your intent isn't to be purposefully matching, then don't go there.

(Image credit: 2LG Studio)
 

Scale is everything

According to Markatos, furniture should ideally be the right proportion for a room, in terms of length, width and ceiling height (if you have a long room, a long casegood—like this extended console seen in a room by 2LG Studio—works beautifully, for example). That said, she will always skew towards fewer over-scaled pieces rather than overcrowding a room with smaller furnishings. "Another trick is to have pieces of varying heights as it creates a much more interesting visual," says Markatos.

Plan out placement before you buy pieces, if possible

When shopping for furniture in stores or online, designers never leave home without a tape measure, and they always reference measurements when considering a space. Most also use CAD programs to completely diagram out the rooms they're creating, though most laypeople don't have access to these types of resources.

If you don't have access to fancy software, there are several apps that you can use for spatial planning instead. Lisa Adams of LA Closet Design likes SketchUpbecause it's intuitive. You could even create a paper drawing as long as it is to scale. Then you can start "dropping" items in to see if they'll work together. Adams also likes to take pictures in a space—even selfies against the walls—so you can reference the walls (and scale) when you are out shopping.

The Benefits of Adding Solar Power to Your Home

In our development in Florence, MA, just 2.5 miles from downtown Northampton, MA, it seems that solar panels are going up on yet another neighbor's home on a weekly basis. We started the process of interviewing local solar providers last year, but had to put the project on hold for a variety of reasons. Now we are ready to open this can of worms once again. Luckily, our neighbors have done a lot of research, which they are happy to share. The following article from Apartment Therapy does a nice job of explaining the costs and benefits associated with installing solar panels on ones' home. The good news is that buyers do seem to be willing to pay more for solar power - so you needn't stay in your home long enough to see a direct return on investment. 

Can Solar Power Pay Off? One Homeowner Crunches Real Numbers

By Julie Sprankles 

Aside from the obvious benefit of helping the planet, solar power can be pretty enticing to homeowners who are tired of paying an arm and a leg for their electric bill every month. Given that outfitting a home with solar panels comes with considerable costs upfront, though, is doing so practical from a financial standpoint? Can solar power in fact pay off?

For starters, it's worth noting that the benefits—as well as costs—of installing solar (also called photovoltaic) power systems will vary from house to house. This makes sense, right? Your house might be much larger than my house. My house may be in an area where solar power is more readily available and therefore more affordable. The variables go on and on.

In general, however, there are a few universal benefits of installing solar power: it lowers your electric bill, minimizes your carbon footprint and, depending on where you live, it can even bump up your home value.

On the flip side, you'll need to drop a pretty penny upfront in order to buy the equipment and pay for the installation. The big question, of course, is whether the potential savings will outweigh those upfront expenditures—or, more pointedly, whether you'll actually be able to save money (or make money, if the value of your house goes up considerably) should you invest in solar power.

How much does solar power cost to install?

Let's talk numbers, shall we? A solar power system for an average-sized house in the U.S. can run anywhere from $15,000 to $40,000. If those figures give you a serious case of sticker shock, don't fret just yet—many companies allow you to "lease" the equipment, which dramatically reduces your upfront costs. But should you decide to purchase outright, you may qualify for government incentives that cut the cost of the system. In all 50 states, installing a solar power system qualifies the homeowner for the Residential Renewable Energy Tax Credit. This tax incentive allows you to claim a credit of 30 percent of qualified expenditures for your system and, most importantly, helps to shave down the time it would take for your savings to equal out or exceed your initial investment.

If you're the type that likes online calculators, you'll be particularly happy to learn that Google has come up with a handy little number-cruncher to give you an approximation of the costs and savings you can expect with solar in your own home. Called Project Sunroof, the tool relies on high-resolution aerial mapping to calculate your specific roof's solar energy potential. According to Google engineer Carl Elkin, the site "figures out how much sunlight hits your rooftop through the year, taking into account factors like roof orientation, shade from trees and nearby buildings, and local weather patterns."

Technology... crazy, huh?

When I plug my home's address into Project Sunroof, it spits out an aerial thermal image of my street that is, if we're being honest, pretty damn impressive in its detail. The fact that my roof is glowing bright yellow clues me into the fact that sunlight is aplenty, but the site spells it out for me, too.

By their estimate, my roof receives 1,606 hours of usable sunlight per year. Based on 3D modeling of my roof and nearby trees, the site figures I have 564 square feet of roof available to be outfitted with solar panels—and they recommend an 8-kilowatt system, which would cover 40 percent of our household electricity usage.

What does all of this mean for my bottom line and, theoretically, yours? That, yes, a solar power system can pay off.

With the system covering around 40 percent of my household electricity usage, my 20-year benefits of utilizing the system would total $37,000. If the upfront cost of a system after tax incentives amounts to $17,000 and we deduct that from the benefits, the 20-year savings comes out to $20,000. In other words, it would take nine years to pay back that initial investment.

You may be thinking, "Yeah, but this only pays off if I actually stay in the home for nine years." In which case you may be relieved to learn that research conducted by the Department of Energy in 2015 showed that buyers are happy to pay more for homes with solar power systems.

The study, which was cited by The New York Times, revealed that buyers were willing to pay a premium of $15,000 for a home with a solar power system, compared to a similar home without one. The only caveat is that these findings apply to systems that are owned, not leased.

So although there's no hard-and-fast rule for whether or not solar power systems will pay off in every unique situation, they can certainly save you money immediately on your electrical bill whether you buy or lease. And if you have the capital to make the full investment upfront, you could be looking at paying off the system in less than a decade and enjoying sizable savings and a big ROI in the long-term.

Potential Pitfalls of Buying a Short Sale

Over the years, I've had a handful of homebuyers ask me about the process of purchasing a short-sale or bank-owned property. In theory, it sounds great! A Northampton area house being sold below market value - what could be better? But, the reality of of purchasing such a property can be rife with potential pitfalls.

I assisted a young couple in the process a couple of years ago. They were interested in a lovely 4 bedroom, 2 bath home with a wrap around porch, garage and private yard in Easthampton, MA - a short sale. The home was empty, we couldn't confirm that the boiler worked, and mold was growing in the basement. Ultimately, my buyers had to back out of the purchase because they needed to sign another year's lease for the apartment they were renting or risk being homeless while the unpredictable closing time frame for the purchase of the short sale unfolded before them. 

I came across this article below from Apartment Therapy  which outlines possible issues that can arise during a short sale purchase.

Thinking About Buying a Short Sale? Read This First

by Tara Mastroeni 9/15/2017

Many buyers, especially first-timers, are enthralled by the prospect of buying a short sale — and it's not hard to see why. Bottom basement sale prices make these transactions seem like a no-brainer. Unfortunately, most of the time, these too-good-to-be-true deals also come with a huge catch.

Before you commit to buying a short sale, read this first. We've outlined a few red flags that you should be aware of prior to taking the plunge. Take the time to consider each of these possibilities and decide if you're prepared to take them on, If so, you can move forward having made an informed decision. If not, then you know that focusing on traditional sales will probably be a better fit for you — one less thing to worry about!

It Could Take a Long Time to Settle

The term "short sale" is misleading. Rather than describing a transaction that can be settled quickly, it actually refers to the fact that a bank has agreed to let the sellers come up "short" on their loan in order to avoid foreclosure. In exchange for this opportunity, the sellers have agreed to give the bank the final say when it comes to accepting an offer. Before the sale can move forward, the offer must go through a lengthy approval process, which can take up to 3 to 6 months, on average.

During the approval process, the bank must first review the sellers' financials — their debts and assets — in comparison to the proposed sale price in order to decide how much of a loss they're willing to take. That documentation must be reviewed by several different departments, which often slows things down significantly. Additionally, if there is more than one loan on the property, each bank will need to make sure that the offer satisfies its needs.

You'll Need to Pay Most of the Transaction Costs

In a normal sale, buyers and sellers have a chance to negotiate who will cover the closing costs, aka the one-time fees associated with the sale that are collected at settlement. (The exact charges will vary, but they can include anything from the cost of inspections to property taxes and title insurance.) Both parties will also negotiate who is responsible for taking care of any necessary repairs on the property.

Since the bank is already taking a loss on the value of the loan in a short sale, it's unlikely that they'll be willing to assume any further costs. Most short sale contracts include a clause where the buyer agrees to take on sole financial responsibility for covering these fees, so if you decide to move forward, be sure that you have enough immediate cash on hand to account for these additional expenses.

You Could Be Held Responsible for the Sellers' Debts

When a debt goes unpaid, a lien or judgment is filed with the court system. Some will follow the individual who's responsible for the debt, while others get attached to a particular property. In a typical sale, a title company or attorney will perform a search to identify these debts and work with the seller to resolve them before settlement.

In a short sale, things may go a bit differently. Depending on the seller's financial situation, these debts may become assumed with the transfer of a deed, meaning that anyone who buys the home will automatically become responsible for their repayment.

Bottom line: Be sure to read all of the paperwork that comes with a short sale carefully before submitting an offer so that you'll be informed of the specifics of that transaction. You should always know exactly what you're agreeing to before signing any legally-binding documents.

Fall Purging Can be Fun!

I love finding a new home for the items that I no longer use. This morning, on my way to take the kids to school, I put my carefully culled boxes of outgrown (by kids) or rarely worn (by me) clothing on our curb to be picked up by the Hartsprings Foundation. This local organization (affiliated with Big Brothers/Big Sisters), circulates all over the Pioneer Valley on an ongoing basis picking up a wide array of household donations for families in need. Another great resource is the ReCenter Swap Shop at the Glendale Road transfer station on Saturdays. This is a great place to get rid of many kinds of unwanted household items that are in durable and working condition. In addition, here is a link to the Northampton MA DPW which provides information about where and when to recycling what. To follow is an interesting companion piece from Apartment Therapy about what to purge, and when.

 

25 Things to Get Rid of This Fall

Brittney Morgan, Sep 10, 2017

A "New England Meets West Coast" Style Home (Image credit: Emily Billings)

Summer's over and fall is here, and that can only mean one thing: it's time to do some major decluttering. (What, you thought that only happened in spring?). The change of seasons is the perfect time to reset by going through your home room-by-room to get rid of all the stuff you didn't use all season, not to mention all the stuff you know won't get much use by winter, either.

To help you get started, here's a list of things you can get rid of ASAP from your closet to your medicine cabinet and beyond.

Wardrobe

  • Swimsuits you didn't wear all season.
  • Summer clothes you didn't wear and the clothes you did wear, but didn't feel good about yourself in.
  • Fall and winter clothes and outerwear you don't feel your best in or don't plan to wear.
  • Sandals and other summer shoes you didn't wear all season.
  • Fall and winter shoes you don't like anymore or don't plan to wear.
  • Clothes, shoes and accessories (including sunglasses) that are damaged if you don't plan to fix them.
  • Socks that you don't have matches for.
  • Inexpensive jewelry you haven't worn in ages.

Beauty Products

  • Makeup that's expired or doesn't match your skin tone.
  • Sunscreen you've been holding onto since last summer.
  • Hair and skincare products that have expired (or that you just haven't used in who knows how long).
  • Old nail polish that's lost its original texture.
  • Your loofah (they definitely don't last as long as you think they do!)
  • Samples and travel-sized products you never use.

Sarah's Small & Stylish Brooklyn Apartment (Image credit: Lauren Kolyn)

Kitchen/Pantry

  • Spices you haven't replaced in a few years.
  • Foods you put in the freezer when summer started.
  • All those extra grocery bags you've set aside.
  • Food storage containers that could use a refresh or that are missing lids.
  • Appliances you haven't used since last fall.
  • Extra kitchen utensils you don't use or need.

Miscellaneous

  • Toys, clothes and shoes your kids will grow out of by next summer.
  • Worn-out beach towels.
  • Old magazines you've read through and through or never got around to all summer.
  • Over-the-counter meds or prescriptions that have expired (make sure you dispose of them properly!)
  • Old, worn-out sheets and bedding.

Feeling good? Let's get going!

Don't Forget to Pay Off Your Previous Mortgage When You Refinance!

I came across this interesting tidbit in the Boston Globe today about refinancing an old mortgage. While this piece does suggest the possibility of impropriety on the behalf of ones' attorney... I prefer to see this as information for the informed consumer; another tool in the took kit; a reminder to cross your t's and dot your i's. 

As realtors, we work closely with Northampton area real estate attorneys towards the end goal of home sales and purchases. We are lucky in that we have a wealth of reputable, experienced and communicative attorneys to recommend to our buyer and seller clients. There is always the possibility of human error in any business transaction. This article just makes a salient point about making sure that your old mortgage is paid off at the time of refinancing. Since the current 30 year fixed rate mortgage at Florence Savings Bank, for instance, is at 3.75% with no points - now may be a good time to think about refinancing!

Ask the Lawyer: Refinancing? Make sure your old mortgage gets closed

   

MG/Fotolia

Hugh J. Fitzpatrick III - Globe Correspondent

August 30, 2017 9:41 am

Although the process of buying, selling, or refinancing a home is somewhat standard, as a real estate lawyer, I’ve had more than a few surprises.

One such case was just brought to my attention. Story: Man owns a property in Massachusetts and has refinanced his loan several times. Unable to tolerate another New England winter, he decides to move South and rent out his house. The house burns to the ground, but no one is hurt, thankfully. While dealing with the insurance company, the owner realizes that his prior mortgages weren’t closed before the new ones were opened.

When you refinance, a lawyer is usually involved in the transactions. If the lawyer is representing the lender, he or she is responsible for paying off the old loan with a part of the proceeds from the new one. The money comes into the lawyer’s trust fund account, then he or she issues a check or wires funds to the old mortgage company to satisfy the outstanding balance on the old loan.

Unfortunately, I’ve heard stories over the years of lawyers misusing client funds, taking in the proceeds from a new loan but not paying off the old. In these Ponzi-like schemes, the lawyer will make the monthly payments so the lender will not start foreclosure proceedings. The homeowners never find out; they just assume the loan has been paid.

How do you prevent this? If you are refinancing a loan with a new company, be sure to do the following:

–  Note the phone number on your monthly mortgage statement;

–  Five days prior to refinancing and getting your new loan, call your old mortgage company/servicer to let it know you will be paying off the balance;

–  Wait at least three days after you are issued your new loan (but no longer than a week), and call your old mortgage company to verify that it has received the payoff. (The lawyer handling the payoff should send the money right after the three-day period has passed.)

–  If a week has passed and the loan has not been closed, call the lawyer’s office and ask for an explanation. Tell the lawyer that you want written verification that the loan has been paid.

–  Keep following up with the old mortgage company to verify that it has received payment.

–  If the lawyer doesn’t do as requested, contact the Massachusetts Board of Bar Overseers (www.massbbo.org).

What happens if a loan isn’t paid off? Homeowners can seek protection if they purchased an owner’s policy of title insurance when they bought the home — with the outstanding mortgage company making a claim against the lender’s insurance policy, which is issued with all mortgages.

Hugh J. Fitzpatrick III is the founding partner of New England Title and Fitzpatrick & Associates PC, a Tewksbury-based law firm specializing in real estate conveyancing. Send your questions and comments to Address@globe.com. Look for our special Fall House Hunt coverage starting Sept. 11.

Lighting Updates to Attract Home Buyers

One of the many services that we realtors provide our seller clients, is to preview their homes and make suggestions about affordable updates that can give a dated home, or room, a fresh appearance. It rarely makes sense for someone who is planning to sell their home to make a deep pocket investment such as a total kitchen or bathroom renovation. Style choices are subjective, and expensive renovations that a new buyer would want to "undo" can actually negatively affect the bottom-line sale price.  Sometimes a fresh coat of paint and some new light fixtures can go a long way towards making a space feel updated and attractive.

Since we do tend to have a fall upswing in home sales here in the Northampton area, now would be a good time to call your realtor for an opinion about which affordable updates to make before putting your house on the market. This recent article from the Boston Globe gives sound advice about light fixture choices:

Ask the Stager: Tips for choosing lighting that attracts buyers

   

Inspired by factories and older buildings, industrial-style fixtures are now used in contemporary kitchens.

Inspired by factories and older buildings, industrial-style fixtures are now used in contemporary kitchens. Tim Lee Photography/Staging by Staged To Move

Kara Woods - Globe Correspondent

August 15, 2017 11:00 pm

Updated interior lighting is one of the most efficient ways to get a potential buyer’s eyes to light up. Just like a fresh coat of “greige’’ (a color between beige and gray) paint, lighting has the power to change the entire feel of a room instantly. It’s an affordable fix with maximum impact.

We’re currently using the transitional style of lighting to get our clients’ homes showcase ready. A mix between traditional and contemporary, its streamlined and sophisticated look tends to appeal to the broadest audience.

Here are a few of my go-to transitional-style light fixtures:

Dining room/kitchen

The “orb,’’ or round fixture, is replacing the traditional six-candle chandelier. In addition to a dining room or kitchen, these fixtures also light up a foyer.

The Solaris 6-light sphere chandelier by Crystorama Lighting. —Photo by David Turner;Staging by Stage To Move

Kitchen pendants

When updating or installing kitchen pendants, it can be tricky to determine the size fixture you’ll need and how many will fit in the space. The rule of thumb is to space the lights 30 inches apart and 30 to 36 inches above the island surface.

Popular styles that will make your kitchen shine include:

Industrial 

Inspired by factories and older buildings, this style is now used in contemporary kitchens. Industrial-style lighting is common in Restoration Hardware designs.

Glass or clear pendants in a transitional style

Selected for its clean, linear lines, this style creates visual impact without taking up a lot of visual space. A favorite among stagers, potential buyers are able to move their eyes easily over, and through, the entire space. Stick with a polished nickel or chrome finish.

The kitchen pictured below had outdated bronze lantern-style fixtures that felt heavy and blocked the view of the large kitchen and eating area. When we installed these lighter glass fixtures, they opened up the space and showcased the full potential of this beautiful kitchen. (We also painted the cherry cabinets white, which also brightened the space.)

Bronze lantern-style fixtures that felt heavy were replaced with transitional-style glass fixtures, Birch Lane by Northport Pendant, that opened up the space. —Photo by Anthony Acocella; Staging by Staged To Move

Bathroom

Sconces

  • Stick with straight, clean lines and a polished nickel or chrome finish.
  • Avoid the glass shades that look like a bell — in other words, pronounced curves.
  • Stay away from sconces with mini shades.

Stick with clean, straight lines for bathroom sconces. Shown here is the Hewitt single sconce. —Courtesy of Pottery Barn

Overhead

  • Stick with the same rule of thumb as the sconces — opt for straight, box-like lines.
  • Stay away from curves or bell shapes.
  • Select polished nickel or chrome finishes. For overhead bathroom fixtures, select polished nickel or chrome finishes. Shown here is the Alcott triple sconce. —Courtesy of Pottery Barn

Hallway

This situation typically calls for a semi-flush-mount light, meaning there is a small gap between the ceiling and the fixture.

Hallway lighting typically calls for a semi-flush-mount light, meaning there is a small gap between the ceiling and the fixture. The fixture pictured here, by Progress Lighting, features a low-slung shade. —Courtesy of Progress Lighting

Final thoughts

A couple of things to keep in mind as you select lighting and prepare your home for sale:

1. Be sure to combine the new lighting with existing fixtures. For example, if the sconces in the hallway are brushed nickel, pick a semi-flush fixture in the same material so they coordinate.

2. Focus your staging budget on high-priority areas, which include the first floor (or public spaces), the master bedroom, and the master bath.

Kara Woods, an award-winning home staging and design professional who specializes in the luxury market, teaches at the Academy of Home Staging and serves as Northeast regional vice president of the Real Estate Stagers Association. Send comments and questions to Address@globe.com. Subscribe to the Globe’s free real estate newsletter at pages.email.bostonglobe.com/AddressSignUp.