Home Values in The Black For First Time Since 2006

Home values increase more than $1.3 trillion

After five straight years of dropping home values, Zillow is reporting that by the end of 2012, overall home values should increase by more than $1.3 trillion. The last time home values went up instead of down was in 2006, when total home values rose $438 billion from 2005.

Considering home values dropped nearly $800 billion last year, this year’s gain is particularly noteworthy.

Home values up in 29 out of 30 major metro areas

The report covers 177 metro areas — of the 30 largest metro areas, there was only one, Philadelphia, that did not show an annual increase in average home values. The five markets showing the biggest gains were Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose (all in California), Phoenix, AZ and Miami-Ft. Lauderdale, FL. In fact, of the 177 metropolitan areas surveyed, more than 75% showed an increase in average home values over last year.

Median home price rises more than 10%

The median home price rose to just over $180,000 in November, reflecting a 10.1 percent annual increase in the median price.

Housing market recovery steady

With improved employment numbers and better consumer confidence, experts seem to agree that the housing market is trending strongly towards continued recovery. Existing home sales rose nearly 6 percent, to the highest rate in nearly three years — while the number of owned homes on the market is at its lowest since 2001.

Via Zillow, Bloomberg and  Businessweek.

 

From Dorothy to Mr. Blandings to E.T. — They All Have One Thing In Common

  • “There’s no place like home.” ~Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz
  • “It may only be four walls and a couple of nail kegs, but it will always be home to me.” ~Bill Cole in Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House
  • “Tara! Home. I’ll go home.” Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With The Wind
  • “Phone home.” E.T. in E.T.
  • “I never realize how much I like being home unless I’ve been somewhere really different for a while.” ~Juno MacGuff in Juno

How Your Lights Can Be Safe, Stunning and Saved for Posterity

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Image from Landscape Illuminations on Houzz

Holiday lights in and outside your home can be a lovely way to celebrate the season — not to mention light up the nights that come earlier and earlier as the year draws to a close. Here are a few things to keep in mind to make sure your lights are hazard-free, pretty and commemorated.

1. Safety

  • Be sure to check that the lights you use outside are labeled “for outside use”
  • Don’t string together more lights than the manufacturer warrants is safe
  • Make sure all the lights inside and out are off (or on a timer) when you leave the house
  • Fasten lights securely against wind and weather
  • Use insulated or plastic hooks or nails to attach lights where you want them
  • For more, check out these Safety Tips from PG&E

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Image from Lowes Home Improvement on Houzz

2. Beauty

  • Plan your lighting and make sure you have enough lighting to bring your vision to life
  • Come up with a theme or idea — take advantage of features of your home: outline all your windows and roofline, scatter lights throughout the shrubbery fronting your home, wrap all the tree trunks
  • Create the simply and stunning luminaries pictured above with some vinyl flashing and a drill (and a few candles) — for details on this DIY project, go to Lowes Home Improvement Idea Library

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Image from Ebirge9’s Holiday Cheer Board on Pinterest

3. Photography

  • Remember the “magic hour” — that time of evening when the sky is lit by a magical, mystical blue and the sun has dipped below the horizon but hasn’t actually set
  • For shooting outdoor lights, try turning the flash off
  • Remember that the higher your ISO setting, the better you can shoot in the dark (higher ISO also means more “noise” — so you may want to experiment to find your personal compromise between lighting and noise)
  • If your camera has an “Auto” setting, look for a night or night scene mode
  • Indoors, try shooting both with and without your flash, for completely different results — you may be surprised which you like more
  • If you’re using your smartphone, check out apps like Snapseed (iOS, Android and desktop), Camera+ (iOS) and After Focus (iOS and Android)— for shots like the one of the lights behind the bench above — to help you take or make better pictures

From Safety to Décor, These Visual Statistics Cover It All

From Brightnest comes a handy list of safety tips to see you through the season.

MetLife Insurance wants to make sure your entertaining goes off without a hitch with these tips and facts about preparing “for your seasonal shindig.”

Overstock offers inspiration for crafty decorations you can do yourself or with your family.

Bonus Infographic (not actually for your home, but seasonally interesting).

The tree in Rockefeller Center (New York, NY) may be one of the most famous erected each year, but it’s not the tallest. That honor actually goes to the tree installed in… Phoenix, AZ — at least according to this Christmas Tree Smackdown of 2010.

Make the Most Of Your Home’s First Impression

1. Light the way

One of the nicest ways to welcome people into your home is with pretty lighting that leads them to your door. If the lighting by your front door is old, consider replacing it with something stylish — from sleek steel to vintage craftsman, exterior lighting fixtures have come a long way, as you can see from this gallery on Houzz.

2. There’s always paint

Paint isn’t only an easy and inexpensive way to change the look of the rooms inside your home; painting your front door can make a big impact too. Fire engine red, burgundy, black, evergreen, bright yellow — the palette for front doors is endless. For ideas and inspiration check out these painted doors on Houzz.

3. The devil’s in the details

You’d be surprised the difference some spanking new hardware can make — it may seem like a small thing, but changing the knob, lock, knocker and even the hinges on your door can really change things up. Houzz has more than 25,000 photos tagged “entry door hardware” — check them out for ideas.

Little Things Can Make a Big Difference

1. Set the mood

Dimmer switches on your lights not only help keep the mood festive — they help lower your energy consumption and extend the life span of your bulbs. Dimming your lights by just 20% can quadruple a bulb’s life span.

2. If you can’t stand the heat

Take advantage of all that labor “over a hot stove” — if you’re cooking all day with the oven and stove on, you’ll be adding enough heat to your home that chances are no one will notice if you turn your thermostat down a few degrees

3. Stay out of hot water

Check your hot water heater — there’s no reason to keep it above 140 degrees. More than that and you’re just mixing cold water back in to cool it down to a usable temperature.

4. And keep your laundry out of hot water too

Modern detergent and washing machine technology mean that the rules we’re used to regarding different temperatures for different fabrics, colors or stains are outdated now. Cold water is not only just as effective these days, sometimes it can even be better — hot water can set some types of stains and shrink or wrinkle some fabrics. Using cold instead of hot water can reduce the energy required for a load by up to 90%. Real Simple estimates using cold water cycles instead of hot can save most homes about $40 a year.

5. Don’t rinse, scrape

Save water by scraping dishes rather than rinsing them before putting them in the dishwasher — dishwashers are meant to deal with dirty dishes. According to Consumer Reports, rinsing your dishes before putting them in the dishwasher can waste 6,000 gallons of water a year.

No Nails Kitchen Makeover

The Power of Paint

Don’t forget the inside

As you can see from these great pictures on LiveLoveDIY — painting the inside of your kitchen cabinets can have a powerful visual impact. Check out her whole story on painting her cabinets and other projects at LiveLoveDIY.

 

But the outside packs a punch too

On Cottage4C, you can see the magic that can happen when you paint the outside of your cabinets:

 

 For tips on painting your cabinets and more pictures, check out these resources:

And What You Should Do About It

What WAS that?

Are doors open that you swear you closed? Lights on that you turned off? Sounds coming from places no sound should be coming from? Keep a journal and write down when and where you hear, see or smell something strange. Create some mnemonic routines for turning off lights, closing doors, shutting windows, etc. (If there are three light switches you need to turn off — turn them off and then confirm them in your head with a little ditty like “one, two, three — no lights do I see.”)

Who goes there?

Experts will tell you the first thing you should do if you think your house might be haunted is to research the history of the house, the land and the neighborhood. There may not only be other reports of strange occurrences — but an explanation. Go online, ask at your local library and if you have a neighbor who’s been around for a while, bring over a coffee cake and see what you can learn.

Remember Occam’s Razor

“The simplest answer is usually the best answer” — while not a wholly accurate summation of the 19th century “law of parsimony,” it is nonetheless generally true. When you hear banging in the walls of your home in the middle of the night, it is possible that the ghosts of home-owners past are making merry, it is more likely that your pipes are complaining of the cold, the heat or their age.

In other words, check out more ordinary (or “rational”) explanations with experts like plumbers, home builders and roofers for unexplained phenomena in your home before calling on the Ghost Busters to cleanse your home. 

For more on Occam’s Razor, check out this Wikipedia page

For more on how to tell if your home is haunted and what you can do about it, check out these pages:

Part 2: Get the Most From Your Insurance While Still Keeping Your Home Protected

 

1. Consider Your Deductible

If your policy includes a low deductible, consider raising it — a higher deductible will almost always mean a reduction in your monthly premiums. While many insurance companies recommend a $500 deductible, raising your deductible to $1,000 can reduce your annual premium payments by as much as 25%. 

Whatever your deductible is, try to make sure that you have set aside that amount in an emergency savings fund to cover any out-of-pocket expenses in the event of disaster or accident.

2. Research Discounts

Many insurance companies offer discounts to its customers — call your agent to see if you qualify for any, such as

  • loyalty— maintaining an active policy with the same insurer for multiple years can result in discounts from 5 to 10 percent
  • claim-free— if something occurs that is small (less than or just a bit more than your deductible), consider not filing a claim as many insurers offer discounts to customers for every year they have been claim-free
  • policy bundles — many insurers offer discounts anywhere from 5 to 15 percent off your total combined premium if you purchase two or more (e.g., auto and home) policies from them
  • nonsmoking — some insurers offer a discount to households with no smokers

3. Improve Your Home

The more robust and secure your home, the less risk it presents to the insurer — when you’re considering a home improvement project, don’t forget to call your agent and find out if the project will have any impact on your premiums (and if you’ve received all the discounts your home qualifies for):

  • security— sturdy locks, a monitored alarm system, fire extinguishers in your home and smoke detectors can all result in lower premiums
  • weatherize — in heavy weather areas, home insurance can run 25% more than the average in the rest of the country; if you live in areas known for hurricanes, tornadoes or earthquakes, installing earthquake bracing, hurricane shutters and/or hurricane straps can result in a significant reduction in your premium
  • update — if you’re considering upgrading the infrastructure of your home, such as replacing an older electrical system, you may qualify for a reduced premium

Resources for Money-Saving Tips on Your Home Insurance

Part 1: Be Prepared Not Surprised When Disaster (or Damage) Strikes

 

1. Review Your Policy Every Year

Life changes and market changes can impact your home insurance policy — everything from having a baby to declining property values may mean the insurance policy you have in place should be adjusted.

Kiplinger’s 10 Reasons Your Insurance May Need A Checkup goes through items including

  1. Have you gotten married or divorced?
  2. Have you acquired any new valuables such as jewelry, electronic equipment, fine art, antiques?
  3. Did your teenager get a driver’s license?

New or changed circumstances can mean you should make changes to your policy — reviewing your policy at least once a year will help prevent unpleasant surprises.

2. Understand When You’re Covered and When You’re Not

As The Nest puts it “Insurance pays for sudden, accidental events, not for gradual decline and aging.” If a tree falls on your roof, repairing or replacing the roof should be covered by your policy. If, however, your roof starts leaking after 10 years due to age or general wear and tear, standard home insurance policies won’t cover the cost.

Keep in mind, too, that “wear and tear” vs “natural causes/disasters” can be differently addressed by different insurers and in different parts of the country. Policies in hurricane prone areas such as Texas and Florida generally do not cover roof damage that is caused during a storm.

If you live in a flood prone area (either living near the coast or large body of water or in a hurricane zone), be aware that homeowners insurance doesn’t extend to property damage caused by floods. In fact, the Insurance Information Institute estimates that only about 12 percent of homes in flood prone areas have flood coverage. You can obtain flood insurance through the National Flood Insurance Progam. Earthquake damage also requires a separate policy.

3. Make Sure Your Policy Matches Your Needs

Your homeowners insurance policy should be tailored to your life and your home — if you’re not concerned with finding a temporary place to live while repairs are underway, make sure you’re not paying for “displacement coverage,” which provides reimbursement for living costs while you are out of your home.

Confirm whether your policy covers “replacement costs” or “actual cash value.” If you are covered for the “cash value” of an item, its value will be based on the value the item would have had — that is, if your ten year old stereo system is stolen, you will be reimbursed the amount that old stereo would cost. If you’re covered with “replacement cost,” however, your policy should pay to replace that stereo with a comparable brand new one. It’s a good idea to make and maintain a household inventory of the contents of your home (with receipts if you have them), including your clothes and jewelry.

There are online tools that will help you determine replacement costs for your home for less than $10:

  • AccuCoverage walks you through a detailed questionnaire to prepare a fairly specific report outlining the costs of replacing your home
  • HomeSmartReports offers a quick review and then provides high and low estimates for replacing your home, but doesn’t allow for custom features

Homeowners insurance resources

Next Week, Part 2: Saving Money While Keeping Your Home Protected

 

 

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