What You Should Know about Adding Solar Energy to Your Home

solar_panels_sky(1)When you sell homes every day, no one needs to tell you what a bonus green energy-saving items are. Everyone is concerned with maximizing energy efficiency, both to save costs and to minimize environmental concerns. Adding solar energy to a home is a great way to do both.

Solar panels can cut down on the carbon dioxide a home uses by nearly 36,000 pounds annually. Since carbon dioxide emissions are the prime contributor to greenhouse gases and global warming, that’s a green benefit to be proud of. It makes installing solar panels the environmental equivalent of planting 88 trees.

You should do some pre-planning to make sure solar energy will fit into your current environment, needs and budget. Here are 10 questions to ask about making your home solar.

1. How much sun can your solar panels receive? Generally, solar energy panels need sun from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. each day. This does not mean you need bright sunshine, however. It means sunlight should be able to hit your panels between these hours. Does a chimney block part of the available roof space? Do trees? Do other buildings? If so, have a solar panel installer give you an estimate of whether your roof is a good candidate for solar power.

Solar panels receive sun not only from the sky, but also from insolation — the degree of solar radiation the ground receives during a given span of time. This varies according to region. A solar installer will be able to give you an estimate.

2. How much roof space is available for panels? If the roof already has roof vents or skylights, there may not be room for the number of panels needed to give you significant energy. In addition to figuring costs, an estimate can be helpful to determine if your roof is suitable for solar panel installation.

3. What types of shingles do you have? Solar panels are most commonly used on asphalt or composite shingles. If you have other types — wood, Spanish tile or metal — it is still possible to place solar panels on them, but it may be more expensive.  Continue reading “What You Should Know about Adding Solar Energy to Your Home”

5 Investments That Shine Brighter than Gold

Mens luxury round swiss mechanical wrist watch with leather wristband strap. Chronograph or tachometer isolated on white. High resolution photo.

It has been a tough few years for gold investors. Despite a recent uptick in gold prices, the yellow metal is still dramatically cheaper than it was in 2012, now selling at around $1,200 per ounce.

Meanwhile, other investments have outperformed gold, including the following:

Fine Watches 
Watches are not a traditional investment. If you are looking for a safe and solid investment, mutual funds are a better choice. But for investors who like to own something tangible that will hold its value over time, classic watches can be a good choice.

In particular, Rolexes are the best choice for investors looking for a safe watch investment, according to Paul Altieri, a vintage watch dealer and founder of Bob’s Watches in Huntington Beach, Calif. After 20 to 30 years, Rolexes start to appreciate in value, Altieri says. This has continued to hold true in recent years even as gold has declined in value.

Investing in jewelry is often related to investing in gold, since a lot of jewelry contains gold. But jewelry also contains other elements, such as diamonds. The American Jewelry Institute notes that over the last 20 years, jewelry containing diamonds of the highest quality has been breaking records at auctions by major art houses.

That is not to say you can simply walk into a jewelry store and walk out with a ring that will be more valuable in a year. However, it is possible to make a smart investment in jewelry that can beat the returns on gold.

“How one wears and treats the jewelry impacts how long the piece will last or how much repair might be incurred over time,” says Jill Burgum, senior director of fine jewelry at Dallas-based Heritage Auctions. Continue reading “5 Investments That Shine Brighter than Gold”

Better to Own Near Walmart or Target? Where to Save Money and Expect More

Target_storeResearch has shown that homes situated near a Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods see significant increases in value. Can big-box retailers have a similar effect?

According to an analysis by RealtyTrac®, homes near a Target store see higher home value and appreciation than those near Walmart—but homeowners near Target pay higher property taxes.

Of homeowners who sold last year, those near a Target saw an average 27 percent increase in price since they purchased their home (an average price gain of $65,569); those near a Walmart saw an average 16 percent appreciation (an average price gain of $24,900). Homeowners who own near a Target pay an average of $7,001 in property taxes, which is 123 percent more than the $3,146 average paid by homeowners who own near a Walmart.

Homes near a Target also have a higher value: $307,286, on average. This is 72 percent higher than the $178,249 average value for homes near a Walmart.

Comparatively, the average price appreciation nationwide is 22 percent (an average price gain of $40,626), the average property tax nationwide is $4,283, and the average home value nationwide is $215,921.

5 Spring Home Improvement Projects for Under $1,000

stain_deck_sliderSpring is not only the best time of year to give your home a good cleaning, it’s also the best time of year to take on several home improvement projects. Spring projects like these can improve your home’s looks and performance, and rarely cost more than $1,000, so you can easily take care of these issues before they have a chance to lead to bigger problems down the road.

Siding Repair

Winter weather can really do a number on your siding. Hail stones can dent or damage anything from aluminum to vinyl, while painted wood siding frequently needs to have sections replaced that have been subjected to moisture over the cold wet months. In most cases, repairing a section of siding can help your home maintain its curb appeal, while also helping to ensure that problems like rotting wood don’t spread, necessitating further repair.

The average cost to repair siding of nearly any type is about $300, with a full range of up to $1,000 for more invasive types of repairs.

Money-Saving Tips
The best way to save money on a repair is to try to color match the new siding to the old. That way you only have to replace damaged boards, rather than the whole section. You can also paint aluminum or vinyl siding to match existing siding if you are unable to find matching planks to help keep costs down.

DIY Considerations
Aluminum and vinyl siding can both be very easily repaired by most homeowners. Things like dents can be popped out of aluminum, and cracked or broken boards can be removed and replaced without needing to disturb too much around them. Wood siding, masonite, brick, and fiber cement siding, however, should be left to professionals for repairs, as should any major repairs that appear widespread.

Paint Your Front Door

Just like the paint on the rest of your home, your front door can be subject to things like peeling, cracking and fading over time. The freeze/thaw cycle in the winter can make this even more obvious, as can things like salt or ice melt getting splashed on the door by slush as people make their way indoors. Repainting your door is fairly easy and inexpensive, and can really give your home’s curb appeal a big boost. Continue reading “5 Spring Home Improvement Projects for Under $1,000”

5 Home Improvements that Pay Off – and 5 that Don’t

Female hands framing custom kitchen design. Combination drawing and photo.

Favorable economic conditions have long triggered investment in home improvements—more money, more upgrades—and progress on the housing front is set to spur the next wave of homeowner spending on both necessary and discretionary projects.

How should homeowners invest their remodeling dollars this year?  By and large, homeowners can expect to reap the highest returns on projects that cost relatively less, according to REMODELING magazine’s 2016 Cost vs. Value Report.

On a national scale, the top five projects with the greatest return on investment (ROI) in the report’s “midrange” cost category are:

1. Attic Insulation (Fiberglass) (116.9% ROI)
Average Cost: $1,268
Average Resale Value: $1,482

2. Manufactured Stone Veneer (92.9% ROI)
Average Cost: $7,519
Average Resale Value: $6,988

3. Garage Door Replacement (91.5% ROI)
Average Cost: $1,652
Average Resale Value: $1,512

4. Entry Door Replacement (Steel) (91.1% ROI)
Average Cost: $1,335
Average Resale Value: $1,217

5. Minor Kitchen Remodel (83.1% ROI)
Average Cost: $20,122
Average Resale Value: $16,716

On a national scale, the top five projects with the greatest ROI in the report’s “upscale” cost category are:

1. Garage Door Replacement (90.1% ROI)
Average Cost: $3,140
Average Resale Value: $2,830

2. Siding Replacement (Fiber-Cement) (78.1% ROI)
Average Cost: $14,520
Average Resale Value: $11,342

3. Window Replacement (Vinyl) (73.3% ROI)
Average Cost: $14,725
Average Resale Value: $10,794

4. Window Replacement (Wood) (72.1% ROI)
Average Cost: $18,087
Average Resale Value: $13,050

5. Grand Entrance (Fiberglass) (69.6% ROI)
Average Cost: $7,971
Average Resale Value: $5,545

On the whole, regional data mirror these national findings, but variations exist in markets abuzz with real estate activity. Homeowners in the Pacific region (California, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington), for instance, can expect to see six of the 30 projects analyzed in the report recoup over 100 percent of their cost.

At the other end of the spectrum are projects with the lowest returns on investment—improvements generally not in demand by the market.
Continue reading “5 Home Improvements that Pay Off – and 5 that Don’t”