6 easy, affordable smart home features that could help you sell your house faster

January 18th, 2017 by Emil No comments »

(BPT) – Fresh paint on the walls, professional staging and an asking price that ends in 999 – when you’re selling your home, you’ll do whatever you can to help it stand out and sell faster. Because the National Association of Realtors is predicting modest growth for the 2017 real estate market, as a seller you want every edge you can get. And on the heels of the popular Consumer Electronics Show in January, perhaps that edge is a smarter home.

“Smart home features are designed to make homes more convenient, appealing, secure and energy-efficient – all of which are bonuses when you’re trying to sell a house,” says Geoff Lewis, president of RE/MAX, LLC. “Sellers who want to move their homes faster may benefit from adding smart features that make their properties more appealing to tech-minded buyers.”

According to IHS Markit and CNBC, 80 million smart home devices were delivered worldwide last year. That’s a 64 percent increase from 2015.

Here are six trending smart home features that might catch buyers’ attention and help sell your home faster:

* Keyless/remote entry door locks – Have you ever left the house and worried that you left the front door unlocked? If your home is equipped with a keyless/remote entry door lock – available from multiple manufacturers – you can use an app on your smartphone to lock the door from wherever you are. Some manufacturers make versions that will also send a text or email to your phone when the door opens. Locks that can be programmed with multiple entry codes also allow you to see who comes and goes and when.

* Smart lighting – From lighting automation that allows you to control lights remotely and wirelessly, to energy-efficient LED bulbs that can change color to match your mood and decor, lighting has come a long way. Some smart lights work in tandem with home automation systems to allow you to turn them on or off, or even dim them, from an app on a smartphone or tablet. Others require no communication hub and can be controlled directly from your mobile device. You can also put some smart bulbs on timers (using your wireless device), sync them with certain TV shows or movies, and integrate them with security cameras and thermostats.

* DIY security systems – Don’t want to sign a contract or deal with complex security systems? Install-it-yourself security systems are affordable and offer security features like cameras, sensors, motion detectors and alarms or sirens, without the need for a security service to monitor them.

* Smart appliances – The Internet of Things (IoT) – everyday objects that have network connectivity – includes a growing list of smart appliances. Many manufacturers are offering washers, dryers, refrigerators and other home appliances that can communicate with you – and each other – wirelessly. Many can be controlled remotely from your smartphone – so if you leave the house and can’t remember if you turned off the stove, you can check in and turn it off using your smartphone app.

While appliances aren’t always included in a home sale, they do make for interesting features that keep your home top of mind to buyers.

* Smart plugs – One of the easiest, most affordable smart home upgrades you can make is to add smart plugs to your home. These Wi-Fi-enabled plugs fit existing outlets and can be controlled from a smartphone app. Plug anything into a smart plug, like lights or a television, and you can turn it on or off remotely, track energy consumption, or even create an on-off schedule.

* Temperature controls – Programmable thermostats were just the beginning; today’s home temperature controls are even smarter. Like other smart home features, smart thermostats can be controlled remotely from your mobile device. You can program them to make automatic temperature adjustments and then use your smartphone to override the program like turning up the heat on a particularly cold day. Some smart thermostats learn from household behavior and adjust the temperature to meet your family’s needs and save energy, while others adjust based on the number of people in a room. And several can now be operated via voice-controlled virtual assistants.

“Many of these smart home features are surprisingly easy and affordable to install,” Lewis says. “Sellers who are open to the idea of investing a little money to possibly help get a speedier sale, may want to consider adding the smart features buyers will be looking for in 2017.”

If you’re thinking of selling your home, find more helpful information at www.remax.com.

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4 hot bathroom design trends that don't have to cost a bundle

January 16th, 2017 by Emil No comments »

(BPT) – Coffee bars, TVs in mirrors, smart toilets and pet-friendly amenities – a growing number of homeowners are requesting such upscale features in their bathroom design, according to the National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA). Is it any wonder that association members report the average cost of remodeling a bath is between $10,000 and $30,000? However, you don’t have to spend that much to update your bathroom stylishly and easily.

Here are four popular bathroom design preferences, plus tips to cost-effectively achieve these looks in your home:

Transitional is trending

According to a poll of remodeling professionals, the vast majority agreed that “transitional” was the most-requested style in bathroom settings. Transitional design allows you to blend elements of both traditional and contemporary styles. The result is a comfortable blend of sophistication and simplicity that is easy to create with only a modest investment.

An example is the urban depiction of the Townsend widespread lavatory faucet from American Standard in dramatic legacy bronze, paired with a modern vessel sink in sleek white. The high-arc, deep bronze finished faucet harkens to a classic era of design. The tapered faucet shape, reminiscent of classic bridge pediments, evokes an industrial feel of city living that fits well with a lavatory that showcases contemporary angular styling.

Neutrals have staying power

Long favored for their ability to create an easy-to-customize color foundation, neutral hues remain in vogue in the bathroom. Whites and grays are the most popular color schemes, NKBA reports, although these colors aren’t confined to walls or floors.

White continues to be the most popular color choice for toilets, tubs and sinks. In bathrooms with these pristine-toned fixtures, you can cost-effectively play on the neutral trend by adding pale gray to the walls. For a subtle effect that will also add height to the room, paint the ceiling a gray several shades lighter than the walls.

Superior showers

The shower is becoming a highlight of the bathroom, with many renovators reporting that homeowners want customization such as lighting, built-in seating, benches and hand-showers installed. Remodeling your shower can be as simple as replacing an old-style, static showerhead with an upgraded, more luxurious model. One option is the American Standard drenching 6-inch square showerhead, paired with the Times Square shower system that features an ultra-convenient hand shower. A teak shower seat and recessed lighting above the shower are also cost-effective upgrades that can elevate your shower experience to be truly spa-like.

Aging-in-place amenities

Home design experts have long predicted that as baby boomers grow older, demand will increase for home features that will allow seniors to stay in their houses throughout their golden years. NKBA members report evidence of this trend, with more homeowners asking for aging-in-place upgrades such as grab bars, higher vanities and chair-height toilets.

Aging-in-place upgrades are among the most useful and cost-effective bathroom improvements. Following this pattern can be as simple as installing grab bars in showers and tubs, and next to toilets. Replacing knob faucets with single-handle or lever-style faucets allows people with dexterity challenges to easily and safely function in the bathroom.

Remodeling your bathroom to keep pace with today’s hottest trends doesn’t have to cost a lot. With a few creative touches and versatile pieces like new faucets and hand showers, it’s possible to create an up-to-date look with a modest investment.

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Plumbing the power of a powder room addition

January 15th, 2017 by Emil No comments »

(BPT) – Never underestimate the power of a powder room to make your home more livable and increase its resale value. Having more and nicer bathrooms consistently scores high in surveys on homeowners’ wish lists. What’s more, extra baths deliver more than just convenience; a National Association of Realtors study found each extra bathroom boosts home sale prices approximately 24 percent.

With more Americans living in multi-generational households, many will be looking for ways to add a half bath to their homes. If you’re tired of haggling over bathroom time or just looking for a high-value way to spend your home remodeling dollars this year, adding a powder room could be a good investment.

Finding the right spot

Adding a full bathroom can be problematic. A full bath requires you to give up more living space, or even build an addition on your home. However, powder rooms can be tucked into small spaces like part of a walk-in closet and areas you might not use otherwise, such as under a staircase or in a nook in the garage.

A space as small as 20 square feet (5 feet by 4 feet) can make a comfortably sized powder room, but you can even squeeze a half bath into a space as small as 11 square feet. You simply need enough room to fit a toilet and sink, and accommodate required setbacks. When choosing a location for your powder room, be sure you understand building code requirements for your area.

Smarter plumbing

If you attempt to run water and drainage to your powder room using traditional plumbing methods, you’ll be limited as to where you can put it. Typically, with traditional plumbing you’ll need to locate the powder room somewhere that has easy access to existing water and waste lines. You’ll have to open walls, add new piping and possibly even cut through concrete if you’re adding a bathroom in a basement or in the garage or ground-floor of a slab-foundation home.

However, opting for up-flush plumbing opens up a greater range of possible locations for a new powder room, because above-floor macerating plumbing systems, like those from SFA Saniflo, U.S.A. allow you to easily add a toilet and sink where no drainage existed before. Above-floor plumbing eliminates the need to open walls or cut through concrete flooring. The compact systems are a perfect fit for the kind of smaller spaces you find in powder rooms, easily fitting into a closet or space beneath a stairway. Saniflo offers the systems with several toilet designs, including two new, vitreous china, floor-mounted bowls with round or elongated fronts. The fixtures are designed to complement modern powder room designs.

To learn more about above-floor plumbing and how it can help you create the powder room of your dreams, visit www.saniflo.com.

Size and space wise planning

Because powder rooms typically occupy small spaces, it’s important to be smart about how you lay out the space and keep in mind the size of the fixtures you put in it. As you plan the space, think of where the toilet and sink will go — side by side or on opposite walls — and be aware of clearance needed for the door to open.

Choose a toilet, sink and vanity that fit the space without overwhelming it. For example, a pedestal sink, rather than a cabinet, can make a powder room feel larger. A round-front toilet may fit the space better than one with an elongated bowl. You’ll likely need little or no storage in a powder room, and won’t need to add a medicine cabinet.

Powder rooms frequently lack windows, so be sure to provide ample lighting. If you really crave a window in a powder room, one option is to install a small one above the door. This preserves privacy but allows additional light to enter the room from the space outside it.

A powder room can be a powerful way to enhance the livability and value of your home. For a smaller investment of time, money and space, a powder room delivers the same essential convenience of a full bath and a healthy dose of resale value, too.

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Where there is a will – and more – there's peace of mind

December 20th, 2016 by Emil No comments »

(BPT) – What’s the state of your estate? Robert Fishbein, a vice president and corporate counsel in Prudential Financial’s Tax Department, says now’s a good time to find out.

Changes in federal estate tax law have significantly increased the amount at which federal estate tax is triggered, says Fishbein. The individual exemption is $5.49 million (2017 amount, indexed for inflation) so a couple can accumulate almost $11 million dollars of assets without federal estate tax depleting the value.

The $5.49 million will increase over time. As a result, most individuals no longer need an estate plan to minimize federal estate tax.

That said, Fishbein adds, there are compelling reasons for having an estate plan, and three core documents you’ll need to create one: a power of attorney, a living will or health care proxy, and a will. In this article, Fishbein describes these core documents and how you can use them.

Power of attorney

A power of attorney is the document designating someone to make financial decisions for you, whether you’re out of the country for a long period, have a physical injury preventing you from conducting business in person, or are mentally incapacitated.

A power of attorney can be “springing” – going into effect upon your incapacity – or “durable,” meaning it goes into effect immediately. The challenge with a springing power of attorney is it can be subject to disagreement and dispute between the holder of the power and another family member. One solution is to require the incapacity be certified by a physician, although even those findings can be disputed.

With the durable power of attorney, there’s no basis for contesting whether the holder of the power can act. The risk is the holder has the immediate right and ability to access and take action with respect to the financial assets subject to the power. One possible strategy? Limit the power to specific assets. This won’t help if the grantor if the power is totally incapacitated and the holder may need access to all of the grantor’s assets.

A durable power of attorney is arguably less problematic, provided you are comfortable with the person you’re choosing. The holder of the power has a legal obligation, as a fiduciary of the grantor, to act in the best interests of the grantor and not in his or her interests.

It makes sense to have a power of attorney so you know your financial affairs will be attended to. The alternative could be a costly judicial process and court appointment of someone to manage your assets while you are living and unable to do so yourself.

Living will and health care proxy

A “living will” ensures your health care wishes are acted upon if you are unable to make such decisions. It lets you describe the types of treatment you do or don’t want under specific circumstances. For example, if you have a terminal illness, you may not want extraordinary measures taken to save your life. The challenge is it’s almost impossible to anticipate all possible scenarios to indicate what health care treatment you’ll want.

An alternative to a pure living will is a “living will and health care proxy,” wherein you designate an individual to make health care choices for you. The living will portion describes in general terms your health care philosophy, and the health care proxy allows you to name an individual to make health care choices for you consistent with that philosophy. The choice of such an individual is important, and you should make sure you are comfortable he or she understands and will act consistent with your wishes.

You should have a living will drawn up as part of your basic estate planning. Again, the alternative is a costly legal process for someone – maybe not of your choice – to get appointed as your proxy to make health care decisions on your behalf.

Last will and testament

A “last will and testament” serves several important purposes, including determining how your assets are distributed, who’ll care for your minor children and who’ll invest and distribute property held in trust for your children, grandchildren or other beneficiaries. The basic function of a last will and testament is to ensure your assets are distributed as you’d want. Absent a will, your assets will be distributed in accordance with applicable state law.

You’ll also designate the legal guardian, and possible successors, for any minor children who survive you and your spouse. This is one of the most important and difficult decisions for parents – so difficult that it sometimes can hold up the entire estate plan. But agreement by the parents is important and avoids the possibility of someone else being court-appointed who may or may not share your child-rearing views.

With the increase of the federal estate tax exemption and an individual’s ability to use the exemption of a deceased spouse, trusts for federal estate tax planning have been made largely irrelevant for most individuals. However, if you have minor children who could take property if both you and your spouse die, or grandchildren who could take property if a child of yours dies and leaves children, you’ll probably need trusts to hold property for those beneficiaries. Such trusts will enable you to determine who’ll invest the trust property, how it’ll be used for the child’s benefit and at what age the beneficiary will receive the remaining property.

Think you don’t have a large enough estate to warrant setting up trusts for your beneficiaries? Consider even the most basic estate when you own a house, have retirement assets and maybe additional investments or property. Given the total value of these assets, you’d probably want to hold them in trust for minor heirs. If there’s life insurance, a trust for younger beneficiaries will almost certainly make sense.

Although federal estate tax is no longer a significant consideration for most individuals, you may want to consider the cost of state estate tax. The state exemption is sometimes less than the federal exemption, and state estate tax can take a meaningful bite out of what you expect to leave to your beneficiaries.

Prudential Financial, its affiliates, and its financial professionals do not render tax or legal advice. Please consult your tax and legal advisors for advice concerning your particular circumstances.

The Prudential Insurance Company of America, Newark, NJ and its affiliates.

0292396-00002-00

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4 statement pieces to elevate your bathroom to a work of art

December 19th, 2016 by Emil No comments »

(BPT) – Investing in a bathroom upgrade is in the cards for nearly a quarter of homeowners planning to renovate within the next 12 months, according to a new survey by Bankrate.com. Improving a bathroom is rewarding on multiple levels; if you’re selling, buyers love great bathrooms. If you’re staying, a luxurious bathroom can be a relaxing oasis where you’ll be happy to begin or end a busy day.

Your bathroom is also an expression of who you are, and it should reflect not only your needs but your unique artistic flare as well. What could be more satisfying than making an artistic statement in one of the most-used rooms in your home? If you’re planning a bathroom renovation, here are four ways to make a statement in the space – and elevate your bathroom to a work of art:

Choose a showpiece sink

Few design elements afford such a perfect opportunity for utility and artistry to blend beautifully as does the bathroom sink. A striking statement vessel in patterned porcelain or smoky glass can be a focal point for your vanity while still providing ample space for essential functioning.

It’s not difficult to find statement-style sinks, but to truly elevate the basin to a form of art, look for options that evoke the look and feel of the era when luxury items were handcrafted by learned artisans. Kohler, a trusted name in bathroom fixtures for more than 100 years, offers Kohler Artists Editions collections that turn everyday fixtures into striking statement pieces. Whether you choose the subtle, carved texture and the complex color transitions of the Derring collection, the organic beauty of the Nature’s Chemistry glass lavatories or the old-world stylings of the Sartorial Line, each piece is a unique statement of your personal artistry.

Stun with a standout shower

Most Americans spend six to 10 minutes or more in the shower each day, according to multiple surveys. But a shower is so much more than just a place to get clean. A shower can soothe at the end of a trying day, or invigorate your senses in preparation for a busy day ahead. Statement showers incorporate luxury features such as multiple shower heads, wall jets, hand showers, rainfall showerheads, seating, customized lighting and even sound and video.

While bigger may be better in a statement shower, it may not always be possible. Start with a glass enclosure that makes the shower feel open to the room. If your space is small, choose lighter-colored tile. Bigger showers can withstand darker tile work.

Create luxury with countertops

Options like granite, marble, concrete, limestone and other natural stones might be too costly for a kitchen, where you have a lot of counter space, but they’re a cost-effective way to make a statement in a bathroom where you have less square footage to cover. These high-end materials pair perfectly with statement sinks to create a unique, one-of-a-kind look. Upgrade bathroom countertops to your dream material and then add luxury touches like a matching backsplash or under-counter LED lighting.

Transformations with tubs

Tub options are virtually limitless these days, and you can find statement tubs in every size and style imaginable. The tub is often the essential element homeowners and designers first fall in love with, and the one that establishes the direction for their overall bathroom redesign.

Soaking tubs continue to be popular installations for bathroom renovations, according to the 2016 National Kitchen & Bath Association trend report. Whether you choose a traditional claw-foot design that evokes a bygone era, a concrete tub that creates a more modern or industrial look, or a porcelain confection with sweeping, graceful lines, you can find a statement tub to match your personal sense of artistry.

Renovating a bathroom is an investment well worth the time, money and passion – and it’s an opportunity to put your artistic mark on one of the most important rooms in any home.

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