Thomas Downing

Thomas Downing


Showing 1 - 6 of 33 blog posts

10 Pre-Inspection Checks For All Homeowners

Monday, 12 Sep 2016 at 09:20 am

If your home is being inspected you have had an accepted offer on the property. However, other reasons for a home inspection may arise. One such example is to take care of any issues before listing your home-when a potential buyer may find them. Whatever the case, here are 10 pre-inspection checks any homeowner can manage before an inspector takes a professional look.

The Most Common Mistakes People Make When Renovating Their Homes

Tuesday, 06 Sep 2016 at 09:38 am

Picture this: You just came across a "charming" fixer-upper in your ideal neighborhood—and it's in your price range! Crumbling 1950s cabinets, musty carpets, and frumpy rooms quickly become a vision of crisply painted walls, beautiful wide-plank oak flooring, and beautifully ornate weathered brass fixtures. You can already picture all the boho garden parties you'll throw once the current backyard/dump yard is landscaped and free of rusty nails, and you just know that the extra spare room could be transformed into a smashing walk-in closet. But before you sign the dotted line, you'll need a reality check. Unlike on our favorite renovating shows, gut jobs aren't over and done with in 22 minutes. Most of them take months—even years.


To help you tackle your future renovation as proficiently as possible, we called on a few experts. They say it takes a village to raise a family—we believe it takes a family to complete a renovation project. We asked a builder, a designer, an economist, and even a psychologist as series of questions to shed light on every aspect of a renovation project, from budgeting to hiring professionals, to maintaining your own sanity. Ready to roll up your sleeves and pick up a hammer? Learn from these trusted experts first, and tackle your renovation with competence and peace of mind.

5 Environmentally Safe Actions That Will Increase Your Home’s Value

Monday, 29 Aug 2016 at 11:42 am




Image source: PhotoDune


Sustainable building is all the rage these days, and for good reason. Climate change and the undoing of the earth’s delicate ecosystem is no longer a point of conjecture. According to the EPA, “The global average temperature increased by more than 1.4°F over the last century.” And “the decade from 2000 to 2010 was the warmest on record.” Global warming is a real thing. And the sooner we as a society adapt to this reality, the sooner we’ll adjust the way we live to be kinder to planet earth.


I’ve written in the past about “Ethical consumerism.” That is the idea that we can buy our way to a better version of ourselves. I would also like to suggest that ethical consumerism extends to the home you live in. In other words: the idea that green homes do less harm to the earth has marketable value. If you reside in a more progressive neighborhood, this value is even more enhanced.


Recently, the Institute for Market Transformation released a study showing a positive correlation between home energy efficiency and curb appeal. On average, high-performance homes are valued at a premium of 3.46 percent more than non-high performance homes. Some were even valued as high as 6% to 7.7% more. That equated to between $10,343 to $53,000 that buyers were willing to pay for a high-performance home over a standard performance home.


What does this mean for you, the enterprising homeowner who wants to reduce their footprint? It means that renovations designed to improve the efficiency of your home can also boost its resale value. Here’re some actions to get started.


1. Get an energy audit: When you are just starting out, getting an energy audit can be a great way to identify your home’s specific energy deficiencies. Plenty of private companies offer this service. The Residential Energy Services Network is a database of qualified local professionals. A comprehensive audit can be conducted within the course of an afternoon. The auditor will do a full overview of your home; checking for leaks, examining insulation, inspecting ductwork and more. After a thorough walkthrough, the auditor can make recommendations based on your home’s specific needs.


If you’re up for it, you can go the DIY route. Keep in mind, conducting a proper energy audit is as much science as it is an art. The best auditors have years of construction experience and have reviewed all manner of houses. An energy audit also involves crawling up into your attic and down into your basement or crawlspace. But if you love DIY home projects, then, by all means, give it a go.


2. Spend an afternoon at the hardware store: Before you tackle any of the high budget considerations for upgrading your home (see below), start with the low cost & high yield repairs and upgrades that you can do yourself. Sealing up holes in your insulation and caulking windows is a good starting point. has a comprehensive guide to the process of caulking. This article on energy efficiency basics provides more suggestions on sealing, insulating, and smart home integrations.


3. Install energy efficient windows: When you have windows that are not energy efficient (think “old” or “thin”) your house is losing energy. Through a process called “heat transfer,” hot air is always trying to equalize with cold air. That means that heat is going out in the winter and coming in during the summer, even if you don’t want it to.


The most permanent and energy efficient solution to this problem is to install energy efficient windows. The Department of Energy estimates that replacing your windows with ENERGY STAR® rated windows can reduce heat loss by 10%-20%. That means it will take a lot less energy to heat and cool your home. Say hello to lower energy bills.


4. Power your home with renewable energy: Believe it or not, there are some effective alternatives if you want to power your home without polluting the environment. Depending on the state you live in, wind power, geothermal, and solar may be great options.


The easiest way to switch is to work with your utility or an independent supplier to simply choose a 100% renewable plan. Wind energy is the most common form of renewable energy offered by providers.


Choosing to place solar panels on your roof requires a greater upfront investment, but that investment pays for itself over time. The amount you save overall will depend on where you live and how much sun your panels absorb. Project sunroof offers a calculator you can use to estimate savings based on your location.


5. Upgrade your appliances: In the eloquent words of ENERGY STAR Consumer Messaging Guide for 2015 “every appliance comes with two price tags: the purchase price and the cost of operating the product.” Old or inefficient appliances are a significant drain on energy usage. Upgrading them all at once can constitute a major one-time cost but can benefit you over time. Many experts rank updated appliances as the number-one home improvement project for the kitchen.


6. Read up on green home rating accreditations and get your home rated: The term “Greenwashing” refers to people (usually those interested in inflating the price of a house for sale) who falsely represent the efficiency of a home. There are rating systems that will “grade” your home for efficiency so you can legitimize your efforts to prepare for a future sale. HERS, LEED, Energy Star, and Built Green are some of the more well-known certifying bodies. Each one of them has their defining criteria of what makes a home sustainable. Some homes have more than one certification. Once you’ve taken steps to move your home to a more sustainable footprint, research them to find out which one is right for you.


There’s even a search engine to find certified homes for sale called Viva Green Homes. That will be useful if you’d like to do a bit of competitive analysis to determine what ratings are typical in your area.


Bottom line:


Follow these steps to transform your home into a more sustainable place. The world will thank you - so will your pocketbook.


Originally Posted by Brian Hughes on


Mortgage Rate Trends: What You Should Know Before Buying a Home

Monday, 22 Aug 2016 at 10:11 am

There are an onslaught of costs that come with buying a home. Chief among them, of course, is the mortgage that you’ll need to sign before getting your set of shiny new house keys. Tracking real estate and mortgage rate trends can be a fickle business, but it’s important to know those interest rates to make sure you’re getting the best deal possible. After all, you’ll be spending the next 15 to 30 years making payments on that loan, so it’s a good idea to know as much as you can.


Interest rates: How they work

Personal Loans For People With Excellent Credit

Monday, 15 Aug 2016 at 09:30 am

Is your credit so good that loan officers line up outside your door begging to loan you money? Is your FICO score in the thousands?


While those examples may be exaggerated, if you have a FICO score of 750 or above and trending toward that perfect score of 850, you have exhibited the soundest financial practices. You rarely, if ever, miss a payment, utilize only a small percentage of your available credit, and maintain a low debt balance. You are almost certainly eligible for an unsecured personal loan (sometimes called a signature loan) because you pose such a low risk of default that a bank will loan you money with only your signature as a promise of repayment.


On those occasions where you do need a personal loan, why not use your excellent credit score and payment history to your advantage?


Your bank or credit union may offer an excellent rate on a personal loan, especially if you have been a longstanding customer. They may also be willing to loan you more money than an average customer would receive. However, before simply accepting your bank's best offer, we suggest that you shop around with some of the new breeds of innovative online lenders. Their different business models, out-of-the-box financial thinking, and relatively low overhead structures may offer significant advantages that traditional banks simply cannot match.


Going online for a loan can shave up to two to three percentage points off your interest rate, saving you hundreds or even thousands of dollars in interest payments — even with a "good customer discount" at your traditional bank.


Not only can you receive a better rate, you can also receive your funds quickly. Some online lenders can provide your funds in a matter of days, or even the same day, via direct deposit thanks to a streamlined approval process.


The examples below illustrate two varieties of online personal loans and what separates them from a traditional lender's products.


SoFi — SoFi (short for Social Finance) takes a different approach to lending. They began by targeting student loan holders with high-income potential and expanded into other areas of finance, including personal loans. While a credit score is still important, SoFi focuses on other indicators of low risk such as a high salary and a history of regular on-time payments. In essence, SoFi is forming a low risk "club" of vendors by cherry picking those with the best loan qualifications — like you.


In return, SoFi can offer one of the highest lending limits available — up to $100,000 in some cases — as well as relatively low interest rates. As of this writing, fixed rates are available from 5.99% to 12.99%. Variable interest rates can go as low as 4.74% with AutoPay, with rates capped at 14.95% over the life of the loan. Loan terms are for three, five, or seven years, and there are no origination fees, closing costs, or prepayment penalties.


SoFi cultivates more of a community relationship than a traditional lender-borrower arrangement. They offer an unemployment protection program that can allow for up to twelve months of forbearance, along with a Career Services department to help you find new employment. Networking events drive home the community approach. There is also a monetary component — by referring others to the SoFi community, you may be eligible to earn a reward.


Concerned about using a non-traditional lender? SoFi offers the peace of mind of an AAA bond rating from Moody's and a valuation well into the billions (a reported $4 billion according to Forbes).


Lightstream — As the online lending branch of Sun Trust Bank, LightStream offers excellent rates and an efficient process to consumers who qualify at the top end of the good credit bracket.


What sets LightStream apart is the fact that the terms and APR on your loan will be different depending on how you plan to use the loan. It is therefore compulsory for you to use the loan in the way you agreed to. This enables them to offer exceptionally low rates. Their best rate on a short-term (two- to three-year) auto loan is 1.99% with the AutoPay option, while the lowest rates for other loan purpose categories vary from 2.99% to 4.99%. Compare this to most online lenders that charge rates of 6.99% to 8.99%.


It is possible to get same-day funding if you are approved. With terms of up to seven years and loan amounts of up to $100,000 available, LightStream again differs from other online lenders that generally limit their loans to five years and $35,000. LightStream does not charge any fees whatsoever - even if you make a late payment, you will only pay accrued interest.


In order to qualify for a loan from LightStream, you'll need a credit score of at least 680, but you're more likely to get better rates with a score in the 700s. Other qualifying factors include a stable income and a proven ability to save (assets like bank deposits, retirement accounts, etc., will help). LightStream also looks for a credit history of several years with a diverse mix of credit such as a mortgage, auto loan and/or major credit card.


You are not likely to find better rates than those from LightStream. At least, that's what LightStream implies with its "Rate Beat" program. They offer to beat the interest rate of a competing fixed-rate personal loan by 0.10 percentage points, provided it meets certain conditions. LightStream is also confident you will have a good loan experience with them - if it is unsatisfactory, they will give you $100.


Other online lenders are available that have unique takes on loan evaluations and terms, such as lower interest rates with shorter loan terms or a higher weighting of LinkedIn and academic records to assess creditworthiness. With some targeted searches, you may be able to find a lender that is uniquely perfect for your set of qualifications.


Online lenders have one other great advantage with respect to rate shopping. In general, you can shop for an initial interest rate without a hard credit pull (a full credit report from at least one of the major credit bureaus). Multiple hard pulls can harm the credit score that you have worked so hard to attain.


By filling in basic information from a series of questions, you can receive an estimate of your available loan rates based on a soft credit pull — essentially a verification of your identity and the information that you provide, similar to a background check. This allows for comparison of multiple vendors without any significant effect on your credit score.


Should you decide to fill out an application, the lender will then perform a hard credit check. Be sure to verify the credit pull policy on the lender's website before submitting any information.


SoFi and Lightstream are available in almost every state, but not all online vendors have wide coverage. Check each lender's website for availability in your area, along with any other limitations imposed by your state's laws.


Your high credit score gives you leverage, so don't let that leverage go to waste. With a little research and diligence, you can utilize your exemplary credit score to your advantage and secure an outstanding interest rate and terms to match your excellent credit. Of course, we really don't have to tell you that — such habits are how you achieved an excellent credit score in the first place.


If you are interested in a personal loan, visit our curated list of top lenders.


Originally Posted at:

Expert Advice: 4 Affordable Floor Finishes from Dirty Girl Construction

Monday, 08 Aug 2016 at 09:25 am

Joan Barton describes herself as “a general contractor and artist.” The owner of Dirty Girl Construction in Los Angeles, Barton has a background in music—she arrived in Hollywood as a composer—and says that design and building apply surprisingly well to her skill set: “Obsessive attention to detail, a mind for innovation, and a math bent come in handy on construction sites.” She has been one of the lone women in her field since 2008 and has worked on a wide variety of house remodels and new constructions.


A discovery along the way is that flooring, the underpinning of every project, often walks away with a bigger chunk of the budget than necessary: “Macassar ebony and marble mosaic may be out of the question, but you don’t need to break the bank for the floor you’re after,” says Joan. Here are her favorite cost-effective options.


Categories: Home Decor