Staging and Style

Staging and Style

Make That Home Greener: Energy-Efficient Mortgages

By Michele DiGirolamo, Guest Contributor from MoneyGeek.com 

If you’re in the market for a new home, there’s a way to save the environment and some cash at the same time: Consider a “green” mortgage.

An energy-efficient mortgage (EEM), the umbrella term for these types of loans, allows buyers to fold expenses for energy-saving home improvements into their mortgage.

Shutterstock_MoneyGeek

Photo credit: Shutterstock

EEMs are an option if you’re buying or building a home and you want to add energy-efficient features, if you’re refinancing a mortgage for a home you already own and want to add energy-efficient renovations, or if you’re buying a new home that is already energy-efficient.

The idea is that, in the long run, the money saved on monthly utility bills will offset the higher mortgage payment. The projected energy savings from the lower bills could also qualify buyers for a larger loan amount and a better, more energy-efficient home.

And at the point of resale, homeowners will likely benefit again, as the energy upgrades can boost the home’s value and attract buyers in a competitive market.

Improving Your Home’s Energy Efficiency

Green mortgages can be used to finance a range of energy-efficient upgrades, from weather stripping to new heating and cooling systems to double-pane windows and solar panels.

A required home energy audit provides recommendations for energy-saving improvements and estimates of the costs and savings of those improvements. Lenders use this information to determine how much you’ll save in energy costs with each improvement.

Fannie Mae, the Federal Housing Administration, and the Department of Veterans Affairs all offer a version of EEMs. The amount of energy improvements a borrower can finance varies by program, ranging from about 5 percent of the value of the property through an FHA loan to around 15 percent with a conventional mortgage. A VA EEM, available to military personnel, caps energy improvements at $3,000 to $6,000.

Understanding the Green Mortgage Lending Process

While securing an EEM can be fairly simple for the borrower, it can be cumbersome for lenders unaccustomed to the process of managing the “work flow” of the energy improvements, says Tonya Todd, senior vice president of strategic products at Mountain West Financial in Redlands, California. This may be why they aren’t more common.

“The loan itself is easy; it’s the facilitation that takes some work,” Todd says. “Lenders that are successful at this will find a local energy-efficient mortgage facilitator. The facilitator handles everything from A to Z to ensure a smooth and timely process for all parties.”

The facilitator works with the buyer, the energy rater, the contractor, the realtor and the lender to keep everything moving to avoid delays.

“After closing, the facilitator will ensure the installation of the energy improvements are completed,” she adds. “It just makes everything much smoother.”

So, if you’re interested in pursuing an EEM, go for it — just be aware you may have to put some effort into finding a lender.

“Niche lenders do offer these programs and do them well,” Todd says. “However, a lot of lenders do not offer them because they do not understand the operational component, or they don’t have the support system internally.”

More Homeowners Are Going Green

While they’ve been around in some form since the 1990s, eco-friendly mortgages even today are not particularly well-known. But that could be changing, Todd says.

“Energy-efficient measures are becoming more popular especially as homeowners are purchasing older homes that may not be so environmentally friendly,” Todd adds. “People are more aware of being green. That’s why homeowners are looking for features that will help them save energy.”

The average household spends more than $2,200 a year on energy bills, with nearly half of that going to heating and cooling costs, according to the U.S. Department of Environmental Protection’s Energy Star program. There are significant savings to be had by improving a home’s energy efficiency.

Other Ways to ‘Green’ Your Home

Even if you’re not in the market for a green mortgage, there are measures you can take around your house to save energy and reduce your utility bills. The following are some tips — some simple, some more involved — from the Energy Star program and other experts:

  • Turn your hot water heater’s thermostat to 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Keep your refrigerator at 37-40 degrees and freezer at 5 degrees.
  • Install and properly use a programmable thermostat (this can save about $180 annually).
  • Install low-flow fixtures.
  • Do only full loads in the washer and dishwasher.
  • Fix any leaky faucets, toilets, pipes, and your roof.
  • Seal heating and cooling ducts (in the typical house, about 20 percent of the air in a duct system is lost due to leaks, holes, and poorly connected ducts).
  • Seal the “envelope” of your home – the outer walls, ceiling, windows, and floor (this can save 20 percent on heating and cooling costs).
  • Replace the filters on your air conditioning unit, dryer, and furnace.
  • Turn off ceiling fans when you’re not home.
  • Set ceiling fans counter-clockwise in the summer to draw cooler air upward.
  • Dust your refrigerator coils.
  • Plant shade trees to cool your home.
  • Request a home energy audit for more tips and advice.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Michele DiGirolamo is a former longtime reporter for United Press International and a freelance writer for MoneyGeek.com.

Staging and Style

The Wood Paneling Trend Is Back With a Twist

By Melissa Dittmann Tracey, REALTOR® Magazine

Wood paneling is back, but we’re not talking about he 1960s version that you may still be peeling down from some of your listings.

Instead, today’s wood paneling trend is being used as an accent wall, instead of a complete cover of an entire room. For example, wood panels in walnut may be used as an accent wall behind the bed in the master bedroom. Or, maybe one wall will be covered in white distressed shiplap, a trend popularized by HGTV “Fixer Upper” hosts Chip and Joanna Gaines.

Wood in all finishes, whether clear stain or in its natural form, are being used to create sophisticated, sleek accent walls. You may even find wood panels in the closets, such as cedar-covered closet walls  (with added bonuses of having a distinctive smell and being a natural repellant to insects, like moths, too).

Realtor.com® reports on the trend: “Knotty pieces of wood bring a very organic look, while painted varieties are classic and always popular with homeowners and potential buyers.”

Designers are certainly proving you dress up and modernize any space with wood panels. See a few examples from Houzz.

Staging and Style

Showcase Stylish Storage Solutions

By Melissa Dittmann Tracey, REALTOR® Magazine

“The home needs more storage!” It’s a common gripe heard from homeowners and buyers. A home can never have too many shelves or closets.

Indeed, a majority of about 1,000 survey respondents said their number-one biggest annoyance about their home: “The lack of storage,” according to the 2015 HSH.com survey. Sixty-seven percent of survey respondents put the lack of storage as one of their top five annoyances about their home.

In all your listings, showing off the storage potential should be one of the top items on your to-do showing prep list.

And that obviously first brings you to decluttering. Not surprising, the less clutter, the bigger the space will appear. So that means hauling away most of what is cluttering those closets, pantries, and shelves so that homebuyers can see the space, the floor, and the wall.

Here are some ideas for showing off the storage in a home:

Add a mudroom.

Stage a mudroom in your listing next to an entry door or even in the garage. The “drop zone” area is appealing to buyers who seek a place to store shoes, coats, bags, and anything else as they enter the home. These can be small areas, consisting of just cubbies, hooks, and a mat for shoes.

Invest in wicker baskets.

These are a stagers’ best friends. Add them to open shelving in the bathroom or living room to make the area look organized and added drop zones for belongings.

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Designer: Leslie Lamarre; Co-designer: Erika Shjeflo
Photo by: Bernard Andre

Add baskets galore in the closets.

Take a look at the photo below with all the baskets lining the wire shelves. Adding a line of baskets puts the storage potential center stage.

Clean out the closets.

Remove a majority of the clothes hanging in the closet and leave only a few on wooden hangers. The storage space will look less cluttered.

 

Stock the pantry in containers.

An overly cluttered pantry will look smaller. Enlarge the space by using containers for foods and lining items in a row to look organized.

 

 

Staging and Style

Vinyl Flooring Is Stealing the Spotlight

By Melissa Dittmann Tracey, REALTOR® Magazine

Vinyl can get a bad rap. Often it’s confused with linoleum and conjures up memories of outdated, cheap 1980s flooring rolled out in sheets. But lately, vinyl is showing itself as anything but “cheap” looking. It can be laid out in planks, tiles, and sheets and it’s getting some trendy looks.

The vinyl flooring industry is booming as new designs resemble the look of real hardwoods, but without the maintenance. Vinyl is known for being scratch-proof and even waterproof, which is making them especially appealing in the kitchen and bathroom. Plus, vinyl is known for being more pet-friendly and that’s increasingly important nowadays. (Consider, 61 percent of households own a pet or plan to soon, according to an NAR pet study. As such, pet-friendly flooring is proving to be a growing motivator in home remodeling decisions).

Vinyl flooring options are now available in styles that mimic current wood styles, in everything from oak, pine and walnut to even hand-scraped options.

You have several color choices with vinyl too, from gray to espresso and white.

 

 

And vinyl isn’t just for resembling the look of hardwoods. You can also get vinyl that resembles tile, marble, and cement too.

 

 

The installation of vinyl is also getting more trendy. You can install it in a herringbone pattern on the floor or diagonal. Wide plank vinyl is one of the trendiest and some designers even say it can make your room look larger too.

 

Read more about “2017 Vinyl Flooring Trends” at FlooringInc.com.