It is finally summer; time for barbecues, summer camp, and family vacations. In recent years we’ve heard of people shortening their vacations, staying closer to home, or going nowhere at all for “staycations”. Another way to save money, while still getting away, is to leverage your own home for a home exchange.
A home exchange—often called “house-swapping”—is a money-smart vacation idea that’s been around for a long time. With virtually everyone feeling the economic squeeze, some exchanges are more popular than ever before.
Why a home exchange? Since accommodations are usually the priciest part of a vacation, a home exchange saves money, allowing travelers to take longer vacations and perhaps splurge a bit on dining, tours, or shopping. Larger families appreciate how homes meet their needs for space, meals, and a good night’s sleep. And, home-swappers often say they enjoy “living like the locals,” especially when traveling internationally.
How it works. The basic idea of a home exchange is that two families agree to live in each other’s home (usually at the same time) at no cost—it’s considered an even trade. Exchangers find one another via home exchange website that provides detailed listings of available homes. Exchanges take place within the United States or internationally, and the length of stay is whatever the parties agree upon. Exchangers typically do not meet in person but get acquainted via phone calls and emails before the exchange happens. Details, including pets, the use of a car, and cleaning are all agreed upon ahead of time, usually in a written contract provided by the website.
What makes a house desirable? You might be surprised! As a general rule, home exchangers are looking for location, location, location. They want to explore attractions in your area, attend an event, or visit family. A beachfront house in California is highly desirable, as is a condo in an exciting city—and even a home in the suburbs will appeal to the right travelers. Because swappers are primarily looking for a convenient jumping-off point for their adventures, your home’s age, floor plan, and furnishings don’t matter too much, as long as it’s clean, comfortable, and accommodating.
Vacation homes are ideal. Whether it’s a rustic cottage on a secluded fishing lake or a condo at a popular ski area, a second home is ideal for exchanges. Logistically, you don’t have to vacate your primary residence, and you have more flexibility as to when the swap can happen. For this reason, many retirees—who often own second homes and enjoy freer schedules—find home exchanges especially appealing.
First steps. If you’re intrigued, start by exploring a few websites; you can view a lot of information for free. Home exchange websites typically charge an annual membership fee of $50 to $100 to list your home. If you decide to join a service, you’ll provide several photos and a detailed description of your home. You’ll also post your desired destination(s) and travel dates, and you’ll be able to peruse the homes that meet your criteria. It’s common to trade information with several homeowners before finding just the right match, and the process may take several months.
Focus on the basics. Once you’ve agreed to an exchange and are preparing your home for guests, think about what makes a hotel room enjoyable. A clean, clutter-free home is universally appealing, and comfortable mattresses and attractive bedding are a must. Your kitchen should be well organized, and internet access is a big plus. Your guests know they’re staying in someone’s home, so don’t worry about scuffed baseboards and well-worn furniture. Likewise, don’t expect five-star accommodations when you step into your host’s home.
Is a home exchange right for you? If the very thought of others living in your home and sleeping in your bed—or you in theirs—makes your palms go clammy, an exchange is probably not for you. But many travelers are hooked!
What are your summer vacation tips?
When you think of your home, it likely conjures up feelings of safety, shelter, and comfort. However, accidental injuries in the home are one of the leading causes of harm to children 14 and younger. By taking certain precautions, many of these accidents can be prevented.
While supervision is the best way to keep your children safe at home, you can’t watch them every second. Childproofing, to whatever degree you are comfortable, will go a long way toward keeping your littlest loved ones safe and healthy at home.
Here are some tips to get you started.
Many accidents happen with or around water.
If you have children at home, it’s advisable to adjust your water heater to no higher than 120 degrees to prevent scalding. Furthermore, you should never leave a small child unattended in a bath tub, even for a few seconds. And be sure to safely secure doors that lead to swimming pools and hot tubs, including pet doors. When cooking or boiling water, turn pot handles in, or better yet use the back burners, to prevent little hands from pulling them off the stove.
Household chemicals can be very harmful to children.
It’s important not to keep poisonous materials under the sink, even if you have a cabinet guard in place. Keep dangerous chemicals up high and in a room that isn’t accessible to your little ones. Seemingly innocuous medicines can also be dangerous. Make sure your medicine cabinet is out of sight, mind, and reach.
Use safety latches and gates.
It’s advisable that you use safety latches on drawers, cabinets, toilets, and windows, as well as place covers on all electrical outlets. Gate off stairways and entrances to rooms, such as garages, that contain dangerous or fragile objects.
Secure furniture and other objects.
Heavy furniture, electronics, and lamps must be secured to prevent a child from pulling them over. Bookshelves and entertainment centers often come with devices that attach them to walls so that a climbing child won’t topple the furniture. The end-caps on door stoppers can be a choking hazard, so it’s advisable to remove them. Place plastic bumpers on sharp corners or edges of coffee tables, entertainment centers, and other furniture to prevent cuts and bruises.
Install a carbon monoxide detector.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recommends that consumers purchase and install carbon monoxide detectors in addition to smoke alarms. Be sure to test both devices regularly and replace batteries as needed. The American Red Cross advises families to learn first aid and CPR, and to devise an emergency evacuation plan for fires and earthquakes.
Emergency contact info.
Last, but not least, in case an emergency does happen, always keep numbers for your child’s doctor, your work and cell, and other emergency contact info in an easily found place, preferably near the phone.
Accidents can and will happen, but by following a few small steps you can have peace of mind knowing that you’ve done everything you can to protect your family from harm in your home.
Ipod and water bottle in hand, Dave strolls down a flower lined path toward his first destination of the morning, his gym. At the door to the gym, he is greeted by his wife, Janet. Janet takes a sip of her latte, gives Dave a kiss and tells him she’s off to the studio. While Dave is turning on some music and contemplating how many miles he’ll put on the treadmill today, Janet walks up a staircase to her studio.
The kiln in the corner warms the studio from the chill of the rainy night before. Janet hangs her coat and inspects yesterday’s creations on the drying rack. In her mind, she’s sizing up what glaze and design she’ll use for each piece. Dave will head to his office on the other side of the building after his workout.
Depending upon where you live, you might have your own vision of this scene. Perhaps it’s a downtown building that has ground level shops, like a gym, and small spaces upstairs for rent, like a studio. Maybe an office park in the suburbs. Perhaps even a co-op village. For Dave and Janet, though, the gym and studio are in a part of their backyard that used to be home to a jungle gym, sandbox and 4-square court. When they became empty nesters, they decided to consolidate their life, cut commuting expenses, and take advantage of some unused space at home. They created a two story, backyard cottage that had a gym, bath and shower, and kitchenette on the ground floor, as well as side-by-side offices on the upper level. Dave, rather than a kiln and pottery supplies, has a desk and display of catalogues that he will use in presentations when clients visit him.
Backyard cottages have been gaining in popularity and attention lately. With the changes in the housing market making it impractical to sell some homes, possibly gas prices making long commutes impractical, or maybe the desire to simplify a life that’s been too removed from home, its’ easy to see why someone might choose to build one. Many people build them to be guest quarters, mother-in-law apartments, a rental unit for additional monthly revenue, or temporary lodging for boomerang offspring who are trying to land that first job out of college. Some of these are as simply built as a miniature starter home, and yet others are elegantly equipped as a five-star hotel.
To maximize the value of these buildings, they should be planned by an architect so that they will work for your intended use. In the example, Janet’s kiln would be heavy and very hot, so several building precautions would be warranted. One short cut to avoid would be to do anything less than fully permitted and inspected, as failure there can cost far more than the property tax levy to take care of later. It’s advised that unless you have lots of experience, have the riskier tasks done by subcontractors.
These buildings will add value to the homeowner’s property over time, as if they are built properly, they’ll appreciate in conjunction with the value of the home. The reasons for having one are many and personal, but if you were to drive down many city streets, you will find one hiding under the trees in a corner of the backyard.
Can you see a point of your life, and a place on your property, in which a backyard cottage would make sense?
By Eric Johnson, Director of Education
Johnson has several years experience as a real estate agent and real estate instructor, as well as experience in construction project management, digital media/publishing and insurance. He has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from University of Colorado.
This weekend I spent the greater part of Saturday taking care of the ongoing household to do list and the transformation made a huge impact. There certainly is more to do, as is the nature of home improvement, but having a finite list of things to accomplish and making time to enjoy them made all the hard work worth it! Here is my top ten list of how to make the most of your time when tackling home-improvement projects.
1. Imagine your perfect place. Your home should reflect your personality, the way you spend your time, and fit your needs. If you want a place to entertain, to relax and meditate, to create art, nurture your children, or display your collections, you will want to consider your priorities. Once you have explored the possibilities the next step is to prioritize your to-do list in order to make the most impact.
2. Make a list. Some home project lists could go on and on (and on), so it’s a good idea to write out a list and discuss the details with the members of your household so you know where to start and who is responsible for what.
3. Prioritize. Once you know what needs to be done it’s time to prioritize the list. If there is something timely (like getting gutters before the fall) keep that in mind when prioritizing, but also think about those projects that will bring you the most joy in daily life.
4. Do one project that really makes a difference. I recently finished sprucing up the living and dining rooms with new curtains and new furniture for storage and display. These are the rooms I spend the most time in at home, so the difference is palpable to how I view my home. Now we are ready for a big dinner party which is one of the most important things in our household. From this experience, I realized that small changes and some cleanup can make a huge difference.
5. Keep it reasonable. Make sure your list is reasonable. The goal isn’t to get everything done in one weekend, which typically isn’t feasible anyway. Rather, you want the time you invest in your home to be enjoyable and give you the sense of satisfaction (and motivation to do more).
6. Gather your tools. Nothing will derail a project like not having the right tools. Once you know what you are going to accomplish make sure all your supplies are ready. You’ll be far more efficient if you hit the hardware store, fabric store, gas station, etc. prior to getting started.
7. Work together. Some projects are two-people projects. If you share your household, enlist other members to share the work. Some projects need two people to lift, spot, hand tools, push, pull, etc. If you live alone, have a work party by inviting a friend over to help. You can return the favor if they ever need help with a household project.
8. Enjoy the process. Blast music, take breaks, and step back to reflect on your household improvement. If you need to dedicate a weekend to doing your chores, you may as well still enjoy it!
9. Get the list done. If you’ve taken the time to make your list reasonable you shouldn’t have any trouble completing it. Doing so will reaffirm your sense of accomplishment, so when you look at what was done, you won’t be thinking about what you have to do next.
10. Bask in your success. Focus on the improvement, enjoy your space, and most importantly, use it! If you made your bedroom a sanctuary, light a candle and relax with a good book. If you reconfigured your kitchen for more efficient use, have your own Iron Chef moment and cook a huge meal. Just remember, all your planning and hard work should be enjoyed.
What are your tips for making the most out of your home?
Over the last few years, we have seen an increase in homeowners choosing to become landlords rather than placing their homes on the market. In deciding whether or not becoming a Landlord is right for you, there are a number of factors to consider, but primarily they fall into the following three categories: Financial Analysis, Risk and Goals.
The financial analysis is probably the easiest of the three to assess. You will need to assess if you can afford to rent your house. If you consider the likely rental rate, vacancy rate, maintenance, advertising and management costs, you can arrive at a budget. It is important both to be reasonably correct in your assumptions and to have enough reserves to cover cash-flow needs if you’re wrong. The vacancy rate will be determined by the price at which you market the property. Price too high and you’re either vacant or accepting applicants that, for some reason, couldn’t compete for more competitively priced homes. Price too low and you don’t achieve the revenue you should. If you want to try for the higher end of an expected range, understand that the cost may be a vacant month. It is difficult to make up for a vacant month.
Consider the other costs renting out your property could accrue. If you have a landscaped or large yard, you will likely need to hire a yard crew to manage the grounds. Other costs could increase when you rent your home, such as homeowner’s insurance and taxes on your property. Also, depending on tenant turn-over, you may need to paint and deal with maintenance issues more regularly. Renting your home is a decision you need to make with all the financial information in front of you. You can find more information about the hidden costs of renting here.
If your analysis points to some negative cash-flow, that doesn’t necessarily mean that renting is the wrong option. That answer needs to be weighed against the pros and cons of alternatives (i.e., selling at the price that would actually sell), and some economic guesswork about what the future holds in terms of appreciation, inflation, etc. to arrive at an expectation of how long the cash drain would exist.
Risk is a bit harder to assess. Broadly though, it’s crucial to understand that if you decide to lease out a home, you are going into business, and every business venture has risks. The more you know, the better you can mitigate those risks. One of the most obvious ways of mitigating the risk is to hire a management company. By hiring professionals, you decrease your risk and time spent managing the property (and tenants) yourself. However, this increases the cost. So, as you reduce your risk of litigation, you increase your risk of negative cash-flow, and vice versa… it’s a balancing act, and the risk cannot be eliminated; just managed and minimized.
In considering Goals, what do you hope to achieve by renting your property? Are you planning on moving back into your home after a period of time? Will your property investment be a part of your long-term financial planning? Are you relocating or just hoping to wait to sell? These are all great reasons to consider renting your home.
Keep in mind that renting your family home can be emotional. Many homeowners LOVE the unique feel of their homes. It is where their children were raised, and they care more about preserving that feel than maximizing revenue. That’s OK, but it needs to be acknowledged and considered when establishing a correct price and preparing a cash flow analysis. Some owners are so attached to their homes that it may be better for them to “tear off the band-aid quickly” and sell. The alternative of slowly watching over the years as the property becomes an investment instead of a home to them may prove to be more painful than any financial benefit can offset.
In the process of considering your financial situation, the risks associated with becoming a landlord, and the goals you hope to achieve with the rental of your property, – ask yourself these questions. Before reaching a conclusion, it’s also a good idea to familiarize yourself with the landlord-tenant-lawspecific to your state (and in some cases, separate relevant ordinances in the city and/or county that your property lies within) and to do some market research (i.e. tour other available similar rentals to see if your financial assumptions are in line with the reality of the competition across the street). If you are overwhelmed by this process, or will be living out of the region, seek counsel with a property management professional. Gaining experience the hard way can be costly.
J. Michael Wilson is the dedicated broker at Windermere Property Management Seattle, and has 17 years of experience managing properties in the Seattle region.
Posted in Buying, Selling, Community, and Living by Tara Sharp
“Of course, thanks to the house, a great many of our memories are housed, and if the house is a bit elaborate, if it has a cellar and a garret, nooks and corridors, our memories have refuges that are all the more clearly delineated. All our lives we come back to them in our daydreams.”
Gaston Bachelard, the Poetics of Space
I have been following the news about the housing market pretty closely and am pretty disappointed with some of the articles declaring a case against homeownership. I couldn’t disagree more. If anything, I see the value of homeownership: responsible financial investment, social stability and community connection as more important than ever.
I was particularly moved by the story in the Seattle Times yesterday about the Lutz family in Ballard, a family with seven adopted siblings that are helping their parents move from their family home to a smaller condo now that their children have left the nest. Though their story is far from typical, it really resonates how home is the center of family life, a place where memories are created and how houses tell the stories of the lives we build while in their shelter.
Homes do that for people. They are the places where some of our most intimate stories unfold.
Finding and creating a home is an emotional, psychological, social and financial investment. There is a lot of energy involved in finding the place to envision the future, raise a family, and perhaps retire. There is no other investment as enjoyable as your own home. Investments in gold or stocks cannot compare to the feelings about a place where you collect memories, create spaces that reflect your ideals and develop to fit your needs over time.
Beyond the emotional ties to home, a number of studies have shown that home ownership has a great impact on feelings of personal autonomy, life satisfaction and increased investment in the community. The sense of satisfaction goes beyond the ability to paint walls whatever color we want, or make improvements to our homes on our own terms. It goes deeper by improving our sense of well being. Furthermore, when we have a stake in the community we live in, we participate more, making our neighborhoods safer and healthier for all members.
Not all the news about the housing market is negative, actually there are many great articles: “in defense of home ownership”, “ten reasons to buy a home “and “a dream house after all” to name a few. But regardless of where you stand on the housing market right now, we can all likely agree that there is no place like a home.
All of our experiences of home are unique. Please share your best memories of home.
Posted by Geoff Wood
The other day I was searching for my daughter’s cell phone number – which I haven’t memorized because I simply speed-dial it – and I realized it’s been years since I memorized anyone’s phone number. And this was just after I’d booked a flight online and selected my seat, and downloaded some new music into my iPod.
It occurred to me that these are just three examples of the tremendous changes that have happened just since the new millennium began. At the beginning of this decade, iTunes, YouTube and Facebook did not exist. Today, their combined daily views and downloads are in the billions.
An article in Newsweek a few months ago highlighted how much things have changed in a decade. The numbers are staggering and surprising.
- Ten years ago, a total of 400,000 text messages were sent per day; today 4.5 billion are zinging through cyberspace every day.
- In 2000, 12 billion emails were sent each day; today 247 billion are sent daily (many of which were in my spam filter this morning).
- Ten years ago, about 208 billion letters were mailed through the postal system each day; today the number of letters mailed daily is less than 176 billion.
This decade has been tumultuous, to say the least. Beyond the tremendous technology-driven advances, we are still struggling with this economy. Unemployment rates are too high. Banks are still struggling. And it is heartbreaking that people have lost their homes.
Even though there is a lot of uncertainty, I remain optimistic. I am realistic enough to know that this recovery will take awhile. But recover we will.
One thing that hasn’t changed in the past decade is the resiliency of real estate over time. When you look at median single-family home prices ten years ago versus this year, you’ll see that home values have increased since 2000. This is encouraging, especially when you consider that the stock market today is the same place it was 10 years ago. For most people, their home is worth more today than when they bought it. It might be worth less than it was two or three years ago, but real estate has never been about day trading. It’s a long-term investment. And if the last 10 years, or 100 years, are any indication, we can count on growth in home values.
And that’s a good thing.
July Median Home Prices*
What are some of the most memorable changes for you in the past decade?
Products that let you control every aspect of your home remotely are growing at a rapid rate. Smartphone-connected devices and appliances are increasingly common and deliver a stylish, effective design. You can pick and choose your favorite gadgets to assemble an affordable, intelligent abode on your own terms, or opt for an entire smart home system that does all the work for you.
While home automation is becoming more prevalent, naturally there are more and more products becoming available as “smart devices”. Here are a few types of devices we found that found the mark for function and style:
GE WiFi CONNECT WASHER AND DRYER
Photo Credit: GE Appliances
Check washer progress with an app that lets you monitor cycles and settings, extend drying times, monitor levels of Smart Dispense tanks, download custom specialty cycles and receive alerts when clothes haven’t been removed.
LOGITECH HARMONY ELITE, UNIVERSAL REMOTE CONTROL
Photo Credit: Logitech
More than just a TV remote – the Logitech Harmony Elite offers all-in-one control of up to 15 home devices including your TV, satellite or cable box, Apple TV, Roku, TiVo, Blu-ray player, game consoles, plus connected lights, locks, thermostats, sensors and more. There’s even a free app that turns your smartphone into an additional remote.
FRIGIDAIRE SMART WINDOW AIR CONDITIONER
Photo Credit: Frigidaire
A wifi connected air conditioner that you control through an app on your smartphone allows you to turn the unit on or off, change temperature, control modes and adapt fan speeds – especially handy if you want your home cooled off before you get home!
SAMSUNG FAMILY HUB REFRIGERATOR
Photo Credit: Samsung
A few years ago, having a French door refrigerator with cameras, wifi, and a gigantic touchscreen would have been the stuff of dreams. Today it is a reality. This high-end fridge will let you peek inside it while grocery shopping, search for recipes on the 21.5-inch display, mirror your smart TV so you can keep watching your movie while you grab a drink, share calendars, photos and best of all – it even keeps your food cold.
The holiday season is here and for many of us, that means it’s time to deck the halls. If you’re looking for some inspiration and a place to start, here are some ideas that are certain to get everyone in the spirit.
A Tree of a Different Color
For many, there’s nothing more quintessential during the holidays than a Christmas tree decked out in ornaments. But acquiring a tree can be challenging and expensive. Moreover, housing a tree consumes time and space. That’s why we love the idea of an alternative tree. There are plenty of options you can buy online or create yourself using things you probably already have around the house. And if you miss the smell of a real tree, try a scented candle or essential oils.
The Season of Lights
Photo Credit: Amara
There’s something perpetually charming about twinkling lights. Whether you’re wrapping them around your front porch or adorning your fireplace mantle, extra lights deliver a warm glow during the holiday season. Getting creative and adding light to otherwise unexpected places, including bookcases, around headboards, or even in glassware, is a great way to keep everything looking merry and bright.
Photo Credit: Better Homes & Gardens
Not all holiday climates are built alike. If you’re expecting a white Christmas, you’re probably used to pine trees and winter brush, but for those of you located in regions where the mercury doesn’t drop, sprinkling in natural elements can transform your home into a wintery oasis. Holly and pine needles add a traditional touch, or consider a wreath of olive branches with some sleigh bells interspersed.
Bring it All Home at Dinner
Photo Credit: Amara
When decorating for the holidays, don’t forget the table! A sprig of holly adds a festive touch to your place settings. And instead of the traditional centerpiece, try placing candles in glass vases or mason jars to give your tablescape that added touch of holiday pizzazz.